Identification With The Aggressor (aka Stockholm Syndrome)

Identification with the aggressor, also known as Stockholm Syndrome, is a defense mechanism characterized by the victim’s psychological alliance with the abuser. A famous example is Patty Hearst who was held hostage by a guerilla group called Symbionese Liberation Army (SLA). Her captors then abused and raped her. However, she later helped the SLA rob a bank and publicly expressed her sympathy towards her captors.

The term Stockholm Syndrome was introduced in 1973 when the hostages in a bank robbery in Stockholm, Sweden defended their captors. Moreover, the victims did not want to testify against the robbers. This syndrome specifies the hostage’s behavior as having positive feelings toward the captor, no former relationship with the captor, defending the captor, and developing the same values with the captor.

This defense mechanism (which is popularly known as having been “brainwashed), may be caused by the victim’s unconscious hopes that by identifying with the aggressor, emotional connection may develop. This may then lead to the abuser’s empathetic feelings towards the victim.