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Thursday, February 15, 2007

Stockholm Syndrome

Stockholm Syndrome

"At 10:15 A.M. on Thursday, August 23rd, 1973 the "Sveriges Kreditbank" of Stockholm, Sweden was rocked by sub-machine gunfire. "The party has just begun," announced a 32 year old prison escapee named Jan-Erik Olsson. "The party," indeed, continued for some 131 hours, or five and a half days, as Olsson held four of the bank's employees hostage in an 11 by 47 foot bank vault until late in the evening of August 28th.

"While the "Sveriges Kreditbank" robbery itself may not have been of world shattering importance, later interviews with the four hostages yielded amazing, even shocking results -- results that have been confirmed in numerous other "hostage situations" in the years that followed. Even though the captives themselves were not able to explain it, they displayed a strange association with their captors, identifying with them while fearing those who sought to end their captivity. In some cases they later testified on behalf of or raised money for the legal defense of their captors. The Swedish location of the "Sveriges Kreditbank" gave its name to this mental aberration as "The Stockholm Syndrome."

"Long-term psychological study of this and similar hostage situations has defined a fairly clear and characteristic set of symptoms for the Stockholm Syndrome:

1. The captives begin to identify with their captors. At least at first this is a defensive mechanism, based on the (often unconscious) idea that the captor will not hurt the captive if he is cooperative and even positively supportive. The captive seeks to win the favor of the captor in an almost childlike way.

2. The captive often realizes that action taken by his would-be rescuers is very likely to hurt him instead of obtaining his release. Attempts at rescue may turn a presently tolerable situation into a lethal one. If the bullets of the authorities don't get him, quite possibly those of the provoked captor will.

3. Long term captivity builds even stronger attachment to the captor as he becomes known as a human being with his own problems and aspirations. Particularly in political or ideological situations, longer captivity also allows the captive to become familiar with the captor's point of view and the history of his grievances against authority. He may come to believe that the captor's position is just.

4. The captive seeks to distance himself emotionally from the situation by denial that it is actually taking place. He fancies that "it is all a dream," or loses himself in excessive periods of sleep, or in delusions of being magically rescued. He may try to forget the situation by engaging in useless but time consuming "busy work." Depending on his degree of identification with the captor he may deny that the captor is at fault, holding that the would-be rescuers and their insistence on punishing the captor are really to blame for his situation.

5. If the captors are numerous the captives may identify with some and not with others. They may perceive a set of "good guys" and "bad guys" amongst their captors. The captors may make use of such perceptions to gain information or desired behavior from the captives by having the "good guys" gain the confidence of the captives and by the subtle threat of what the "good guys" will not be able to keep the "bad guys" from doing if the captives are uncooperative.

6. The captives may blame some of their captors and exonerate the others. Depending on which set they are able to identify with, they may hold that "their leaders forced them to do it," or conversely, that "their leaders don't know the terrible things they are doing."

7. Finally, it has been seen that captors too are influenced by the interaction of personalities. They are rarely able to retain their ruthlessness if they come into contact with and learn that their captives are also human beings with problems and aspirations. To this end, they may seek to isolate themselves from their captives. It goes without saying that they can never communicate their limitations to their captives; never admitting, for example, that the "explosives" they brandish are made of rubber instead of dynamite!"

I would like to suggest that the Stockholm Syndrome may be the key to understanding the success of the PAP Government of Singapore in being so successful in holding the entire small (3 million) population of Singapore, in a tiny "bank vault" of 225 square miles, captive for so long and being able to elicit 'co-operative' responses from the people.

Certainly, if you re-read the above description of the Stockholm Syndrome, just replacing the words "captors" with "Lee Kuan Yew" or "the PAP" and the word "captives" with "Singaporeans", you might realise how appropriate the Stockholm Syndrome is in describing the present abject people of Singapore and the success of their "captors".

It might also explain why even highly educated academics like Mr James Gomez can ignore the real facts of PAP repression and even criminal behaviour like death threats and unlawful beatings of political prisoners to obligingly whitewash it all as "self-censorship" on the part of Singaporeans.

The study of the Stockholm Syndrome can explain much of the present situation in Singapore, especially the relationship of the people versus the government, or the "captives" versus their "captors". For to me, that is exactly the situation in Singapore; the people are hostages to their PAP government and many have developed the same exact syndrome of captives, probably even Mr Gomez.

Perhaps psychologists will want to study Singapore in the context of the Stockholm Syndrome. We can even christen this the Singapore Syndrome. And in a small community like ours, with a government that is all-controlling, it is all too real.

Robert HO