Being Right

In 1973, a year after Martial Law was declared in the Philippines, Jan-Erik Olsson bungled a robbery at the Kreditbanken bank in Stockholm, Sweden. He thereafter took four hostages, until the Swedish police subdued him six days later.

Then something strange happened.

The former hostages: three women, one man, started showing public support for Olsson. They talked of his kindness and how they were actually more scared of the police. They described having opportunities to escape but didn’t take them. They refused to testify against Olsson, visited him in prison, and even raised money for his defense.

That specific incident puzzled psychiatrists and led them to studying what is now known as the “Stockholm syndrome.” Celia Jameson, in the Journal of Cultural Research (2010), defines it as “a condition in which hostages develop a psychological alliance with their captors during captivity.” In other words, when the captive or hostage starts having positive feelings toward their captor or hostage taker. It is not, as LiveScience points out, a psychological disorder. Rather, it is a “psychological concept used to explain certain reactions.”

In a 1995 study led by University of Cincinnati’s Dr. Dee L. R. Graham, Stockholm syndrome is said to occur when the following conditions are present: the captive feels a perceived threat to their survival at the hands of their captors; the captive perceives small kindnesses coming from their captors, such as receiving food or not getting hurt; the captive is isolated from perspectives other than those of their captors; and the captive feels unable to escape from the situation.

Stockholm Syndrome is different from domestic abuse, as well as “trauma bonding” (i.e., loyalty or positive feelings toward a person who is destructive) in this one key aspect: in Stockholm Syndrome there is no previous relationship between hostage and captor.

Oftentimes, the symptoms of Stockholm syndrome involve having positive feelings towards the captor, negative feelings toward loved ones and authorities, and supportiveness towards the captor.

Those suffering from Stockholm syndrome may even justify or look for any reason — no matter how implausible — for continued captivity, and feel anger at those seeing reality and seeking freedom. They may even refuse to cooperate or work against those trying to help them.

Stockholm syndrome can happen within institutions as well. Psychology Today’s James Ullrich wrote of the “Corporate Stockholm Syndrome,” which happens when employees of a business begin to “identify with — and being deeply loyal to — an employer who mistreats them.”

The suffering employee “typically displays a tendency to become emotionally attached to the company to the detriment of their own emotional health. The employee will also rationalize to themselves and to others the employer’s poor treatment of them as necessary for the good of the organization as a whole, and angrily defend the employer’s actions when those actions are questioned by an outsider.”

Now this is significant because if a corporation or organization can trigger Stockholm syndrome among its employees, then there’s no reason why it cannot be done on a massive scale by a government on its citizens. And, interestingly enough, this has been indeed brought up before regarding the Philippines.

In “Philippine foreign policy afflicted with Stockholm Syndrome” (The Nation, 2018), it describes the Philippines behaving as if with Stockholm Syndrome in relation to China: “Philippine relationship with China is abusive. Imagine a farmer with a bully neighbor: The bully takes over the choicest part of the farm and then fences it. The bully proceeds to harvest all the fruits and crops in the area. Each time the farmer mentions the encroachment on his farm, the bully threatens him. In such a case, the victim would go to the police. But that will make the perpetrator look bad, and, as noted, victims afflicted with Stockholm Syndrome do not want to do that.”

So it’s no big leap to see that the Philippine population, under lockdown for 124 days as of today, may possibly — just possibly — be exhibiting the biggest Stockholm Syndrome in history.

Never mind that we have the world’s longest lockdown, never mind (as the YouGov/Imperial College survey pointed out), that Filipinos (at 92%) are amongst the world’s most compliant in wearing masks, never mind that the Google COVID-19 Community Mobility Report found Filipinos reducing activity and staying at home by as much as 90% at one time. It is — still — the “pasaway” Filipinos fault for the present dire situation.

What is tragic is that many Filipinos irrationally accept they’re to blame. They’re actually happy to continue this lockdown, with closed schools and churches, even lose their jobs. Constitutional rights are viewed as luxuries kindly gifted by the government. And anyone having the temerity to say that our present situation goes against science, reason, and sheer good sense are met with furious anger.

Psychologists and psychiatrists, of course, would know better, but that seems pretty much like a national Stockholm syndrome right there.


Jemy Gatdula is a Senior Fellow of the Philippine Council for Foreign Relations and a Philippine Judicial Academy law lecturer for constitutional philosophy and jurisprudence.

Twitter @jemygatdula