What causes Stockholm syndrome?

The room Natascha Kampusch lived in from age 10 to age 18
The room Natascha Kampusch lived in from age 10 to age 18
Photo courtesy AP Photo/Austrian Police

Ten-year-old Natascha Kampusch disappeared on her way to school in Austria in 1998. In 2006, 18-year-old Natascha Kampusch reappeared in a Vienna garden after escaping from her captor's home while he wasn't paying attention. In a statement to the media read by her psychiatrist, Kampusch had this to say about spending eight years in a locked cell beneath her kidnapper's basement: "My youth was very different. But I was also spared a lot of things - I did not start smoking or drinking and I did not hang out in bad company." By most experts' accounts, Kampusch is in a traumatized state and appears to be suffering from Stockholm syndrome.

People suffering from Stockholm syndrome come to identify with and even care for their captors in a desperate, usually unconscious act of self-preservation. It occurs in the most psychologically traumatic situations, often hostage situations or kidnappings, and its effects usually do not end when the crisis ends. In the most classic cases, victims continue to defend and care about their captors even after they escape captivity. Symptoms of Stockholm syndrome have also been identified in the slave/master relationship, in battered-spouse cases and in members of destructive cults.

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