is an adaptation to extreme stress in conditions of captivity, torture, and/or institutionalization. It occurs most often in prisoners, abused spouses and children, kidnapping victims, and members of """"destructive cults"""""". The syndrome is not a clinical diagnosis; the purpose of identifying signs of Stockholm syndrome in an individual is to understand how he or she can seem to "consent" to abuse or captivity and even have fond feelings for the perpetrator, which is a difficult concept for most of us to understand. The presence of Stockholm syndrome indicates that even though an individual may have mixed feelings toward her abuser, including compassion and even love in addition to fear, she is still very much a victim of abuse and not responsible for her own victimization.
Although the classic definition of Stockholm syndrome applies to victims of violent crime and torture, I also want to emphasize that these dynamics occur on a continuum. I believe battered women can suffer from a form of the syndrome, as well as abused children (often including those who are victims of Munchausen by Proxy abuse). The defining characteristic of Stockholm syndrome is the tendency to react to threatening circumstances not with the usual fight-or-flight response, but by "freezing," as some animals do by playing dead in order to fool predators. Stockholm syndrome is a position of passivity and acquiescence that works in a similar way as a strategy for survival.
The person with Stockholm syndrome identifies with her captor and willingly submits to his demands; she is often grateful and loving towards him in response to a reprieve from torture, brief periods of freedom from captivity, and minimally decent treatment (such as adequate meals after having been starved). Children with Munchausen syndrome by proxy often display this disorder by being complicit with the parent who is making them ill; they don't tell doctors what is really wrong, even after they are old enough to understand what is happening. These children may believe the parent is fragile and really needs them to be sick, or they are afraid of losing the parent's love if they tell. They also have not truly learned that this behavior is dysfunctional, especially if it has been going on since their infancy. People who are kidnapped and held for long periods of time often learn to behave in ways that will earn them favor with the captor; total obedience can be the victim's only technique for trying to survive in these circumstances.
This was the case for Colleen Stan, the victim of a sadistic sex offender who kidnapped her for several years and tortured her with captivity, rape, and physical injury. He also told Colleen that she had been sold to him as a sex slave by a powerful "Company" who would certainly kill her and her whole family if she tried to escape. Colleen believed she might never be released, so she did her best to adjust to the horrific situation and stay as strong as possible. Kidnapping victims also learn that they can sometimes avoid physical abuse by pleasing their captors or even pretending to love them. People with Stockholm syndrome also tend to suffer from post-traumatic stress, and those with a history of childhood or domestic abuse can have borderline personality disorder. Survivors with Dissociative Identity Disorder (described below) can have alters with Stockholm syndrome, which tends to result in the "host" being the target of cruel reenactments of old trauma by the alter who identifies with the abuser.
I believe that a form of Stockholm syndrome occurs in women who are in love with killers and end up witnessing and participating in their crimes, such as Charles Manson's female co-defendants and possibly serial killer Paul Bernardo's wife Karla Homolka. Witnessing abuse and murder is traumatic enough to influence women to keep silent even if they are not being physically harmed themselves, and in fact their husbands tend to be violent towards them as well as other women. Karla Homolka and the wife of Colleen Stan's kidnapper were both physically abused and degraded.