Stockholm syndrome is most often linked with hostage situations, but it can be applied to just about any abusive relationship. It is a non-diagnostic term for paradoxical situations in which victims not merely comply with their abuser(s), but actually idealize them and identify with them—frequently beyond the point of disengagement.
When viewed as a natural mammalian defense reaction, as an evolved adaptive coping strategy, the paradox disappears.
Mammalian responses to threat follow a predictable pattern depending on the nature and proximity of the threat. For distant or mild threats, the first defense is avoidance. If the threat is more proximal, the animal engages in "attentive immobility" where it freezes in order to better assess what to do about the situation. The next step is active withdrawal (running away). If withdrawal is not possible or unlikely to be successful in the situation, the animal engages in aggressive defense (fighting). If fighting is not possible (when the opponent has a clear and present advantage), the animal engages in appeasement behavior. Finally, as a last resort, the animal engages in "tonic immobility," freezing in an attempt to confuse the predator.
Stockholm syndrome happens in "traumatic entrapment" situations that are perceived to be well beyond the fleeing or fighting stage but not yet to a terminal stage that would call for tonic immobility, and so appeasement becomes the relevant choice. Appeasement behavior causes cognitive dissonance (treating an aggressor nicely does not make sense given the victim’s true feelings about the aggressor), and in order to make sense of their own appeasement behavior, the victim comes to believe that they must really be on the side of the abuser.
Psychologists have identified four conditions that need to be present in order to produce Stockholm syndrome:
- perceived threat to one’s physical or psychological survival at the hands of an abuser(s)
- perceived small kindnesses from the abuser to the victim
- isolation from perspectives other than those of the abuser
- the inescapability of the situation
Notice how easily these conditions can be applied to life under the thumb of the global corporate machine.
- Perceived threat: it is not just our personal physical and psychological survival that is under direct threat, but the survival of the entire biosphere
- Small kindness: the corporate world gives us polio vaccines, iPhones, and professional sports even as it rapes us
- Isolation of perspective: corporate media provides the only valid perspective
- Inescapability: industrial civilization has become the air we breathe, and the corporate machine has the power and demonstrated will to use overwhelming lethal force against any and all who would resist
We should pity those civilization apologists who promote the status quo, those who want to appease their captors, those who argue that the corporate rapists really have our best interests at heart, those who believe that mass technology is our lifeline, those who claim that industrial civilization is our salvation. Their cheerleading is a symptom of Stockholm syndrome. Their pleading appeasement today will become silent immobility tomorrow.
We are all victims of traumatic entrapment. We are all corporate hostages. But a few of us still refuse to abandon the urge to fight back.