Stockholm Syndrome in the Written World

Stockholm Syndrome is something we use often incorrectly in conversation and in writing. Often when it’s used in writing it’s to describe a kind of master slave situation. The busty female character is held captive by the domineering master. Half a book in she goes from fighting and trying to escape to falling in love with her master. The master of course falls as well making a for a hot love story the masses eat up.

The lack of realism often annoys me when I’m reading. I admit I’ve been accused of being a literary snob by a friend of mine. I can’t help it! You can write that the sky is purple with pink clouds, but if you tell me it’s futuristic Earth you better give me a reason it’s not blue and white! Personally I can only take so much on blind faith for the sake of a story.

I enjoy the research I put into my books and even my fanfics. Reading about something I know makes it worse when it comes to errors. Reading about a current drone that’s flying in the rain and high winds is going to make me ticked. It tells me the author didn’t do their research which leads me to believe they’re lazy. From there I tend to believe they didn’t care enough about their book to do the proper research. Did they not know that the military never refers to it as a drone? Did they not look up the type of UAV or UAS’s limitations?

Stockholm Syndrome is a prime example of this. The correct information is out there but rarely used. Often people believe they know what it is and don’t bother to look it up to double check.

When dealing with SS you’re looking for three things:

  • the captive developing an attachment to the captor
  • the captor reciprocating
  • and, possibly the most important, everyone on the inside hating the ones on the outside

You can see how it’s easy to mistake the above example for the real thing when writing. Two out of three is pretty good right? Not so when talking about SS.

In SS the captives are going to be shocked by the situation and rapidly denied everything from food to bathroom breaks. Over the course of time these things are returned, slowly. With each renewed freedom the captive feels grateful to the captor.

Imagine for a moment that you’re in line at the gas station when suddenly a gun is pulled on everyone. Rapid orders are issued with the implied threat of violence. You know in your bones you’re going to die here. After hours of being miserable, unable to talk, move, or even pee you’re granted the privilege of going to the bathroom one at a time with an escort. Relief floods you. You’re grateful! By this time you’re full to bursting worried if you’d make a mess on yourself. No violence has been used on anyone and while you still aren’t allowed to talk you’ve been granted a privileged.

With each privileged renewed that feeling of gratefulness is reinforced. Your captor tends to your needs and demonstrates a kind of paternal caring. Perhaps he even confides in you his motives or you see the cops as overly hostile to the situation.

Somehow, somewhere, along the days held captive in a confined area with your captor you can see his reasons. His reasons make sense and he hasn’t harmed anyone. The cops are toting guns and outnumber your captor. You begin to see the outside world as the enemy. The only people you can trust is those inside with you. Only they understand what’s happening and why. You certainly aren’t going to allow harm to come to someone feeding you, and asked about your life.

He’s listened to your trials and tribulations. He commiserates with the hardship of finding a job and trying to raise a child in the current economy.

SS is a complex syndrome that even the experts can’t agree about. Very few cases of hostages have actually met the requirements of SS. Recently there was a case of a girl crying when she learned her captor of ten years died. This is not necessarily SS.

Given the duration of captivity and the reliance on a specific person for survival it’s actually normal for her to mourn. Even if she desperately wanted freedom a person held for that long would be much like a child. They would rely solely on their captor as one would a parent.

The trauma of being captive for so long then thrust into freedom is staggering. You knew what to expect from your captor and what was expected of you in return. It becomes a symbiotic relationship even if you hated them. Suddenly being free is overwhelming. You might even long for captivity again simply because it had become familiar where as your family and friends are now strangers.

Given the similarities between SS and long term captivity how do you tell the difference? In all honesty short of being an expert it’d be hard. When writing about a psychological problem it’s best to do research. A lot of research.

While taking a little artistic license is fine it’s best to be careful. The masses are easily led. Think about how many out there think that if someone has MPD that means one of those personalities is a killer. While in my book Hybrid the father is a psychopath I tried my best to have him follow the psychological dictates of the disease. Most psychopaths are not in fact hostile.

It’s best to be very careful when writing about SS or any other mental condition due to public perception and inaccuracies. It wont stop most writers from diverging into misconceptions but it’d be nice to start a new trend of following the true hardships of mental disorders.


About Marcia Young

I’m the wife of an NCO and the mother of one, home schooled, special needs child. I have won several people’s choice awards for my fanfiction under the moniker MLMonty. All of my current published works can be found via Smashwords and other retailers under my nom de plume Marcia Young. I am currently open to finding a new literary agent and publisher.
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