comparison of parental alienation to the “Stockholm syndrome”
Ludwig.F. Lowenstein Ph.D
Southern England Psychological Services
What follows is in great part fact and what is not fact is based
on supposition and psychological assessment of how the Stockholm
Syndrome develops and how it has worked in the case of Natascha
Kampusch recently reported in the press. She was abducted and kept
in a prison in an underground cell without natural light and air
being pumped into her enclosure. The Stockholm Syndrome was coined
in 1973 by Nils Bejerot, a psychiatrist, while working for the police.
It occurred that there was a bank robbery and four bank clerks were
taken hostage by an armed robber who threatened to kill them. To
the surprise of the police, the hostages stated that they had no
wish to be rescued indicating that they felt sympathy for their
It was assumed that the feeling of stress and helplessness and
possibly a desire to survive led to this unlikely scenario. All
the captives were eventually released without harm. The hostage
taker himself must have been influenced by the behaviour of his
victims as they were influenced by him. One can only wonder how
this phenomenon occurred after such a short captivity. In the case
of Natascha Kampusch her period of captivity of eight years probably
brought about deeper psychological changes and more enduring ones.
As a specialist in the area of parental alienation and parental
alienation syndrome where I have acted as a psychological expert
in the courts, there appears to be a considerable similarity between
parental alienation and the Stockholm Syndrome. The alienator in
the case of the Stockholm Syndrome also needs to extinguish any
desire in the victim’s past, seeking to demonstrate any allegiance
to anyone other than the powerful captor of that individual.
Here too is demonstrated the power of the alienator and the insignificance
of the power of the alienated party/parties. It is almost certain
that Natascha Kampusch had opportunity in the past to escape from
her captor, yet chose not to do so. This was despite her initial
closeness to her family. A combination of fear, indoctrination and
“learned helplessness”, promoted the total loyalty and
obedience of the child to her captor. This captor was no longer
viewed, as was the case initially, as evil but as necessary to the
child’s well-being and her survival. A similar scenario occurs
in the case of children who are alienated against an absent parent.
My forthcoming book about to be published and my website www.parental-alienation.info
provides information as to why Natascha may have remained so slavishly
with her captor for eight years of her young life. Why she decided
finally to escape her enslavement will in due course be established.
I will attempt to explain what might have occurred to finally induce
her to escape.
A child who has had a good relationship with the now shunned parent
will state: “I don’t need my father/mother; I only need
my mother/father. Such a statement is based on the brainwashing
received and the power of the alienator who is indoctrinating the
child to sideline the previously loving parent.
In the case of the Stockholm Syndrome, we have in some ways a similar
scenario. Here the two natural loving parents have been sidelined
by the work of subtle or direct alienation by the perpetrator of
the abduction of the young girl. At age 10, the child is helpless
to resist the power of her abductor.
To the question: “How does the abductor eventually become
her benefactor?”, we may note the process is not so dissimilar
to the brainwashing carried by the custodial parent. This is done
for the double reason of: 1) Gaining the total control over the
child and consequently its dependence upon them. 2) To sideline
the other parent and to do all possible to prevent and/or curtail
contact between the child and the absent parent/parents.
The primary reason for such behaviour is the intractable hostility
of the custodial parents towards one another. This reason does not
exist in the case of the abductor of a child such as occurred in
the case of Natascha Kambusch. Nevertheless the captor wished to
totally alienate or eliminate the child’s loyalty or any feeling
towards her natural parents. Due to the long period away from her
parents and a total dependence for survival on her captor, Natascha’s
closeness to her family gradually faded. She may even have felt
that her own parents were making little or no effort to find her
and rescue her. This view may also have been inculcated by her captor.
Her captor’s total mastery and control over her, eventually
gave her a feeling of security. She could depend on the man to look
after her with food, shelter, warmth, protection and hence led to
her survival. Such behaviour on the part of the captor led over
time not only to “learned helplessness” and dependence,
but in a sense to gratefulness. As he was the only human being in
her life this was likely to happen. She therefore became a ready
victim of what is commonly termed the “Stockholm Syndrome”
or the victim of “Parental Alienation.”
This led even to her beginning to love her captor. This view has
been substantiated by the fact that Natascha found it difficult
to live and feel any real closeness to her natural parents once
she was rescued or once she ran away from her captor. She even pined
for the loss of the captor who had since committed suicide. Even
her speech had been altered from the native Austrian or Viennese
dialect to the North German speech due to the fact that she only
had access to the outside world via radio and television. This again,
however, was carefully monitored by her captor. He controlled what
she could see on television and listen to on the radio from outside
her underground cell. There was little in Natascha’s present
life to remind her of her past except for the dress that she wore
when she was captured.
While she developed physically from 10-18 years, her weight changed
but little. Why did she decide eventually to leave her captor? This
is a question that requires an answer. It is the view of the current
author that the answer lies in the fact that she may have had a
quarrel with her captor, possibly over a very minor issue. The result
was her leaving her captor and then regretting doing so, especially
after she heard of his death. By the time her captor, undoubtedly
fearing the retribution by the law, had ended his life, she had
pined for him.
After eight years or living in close proximity to his victim,
some form of intimacy undoubtedly occurred including a sexual one.
This led to a mutual need and even dependence. It is likely that
the “learned helplessness” of the victim succumbed eventually
a caring, perhaps even loving relationship developing. It is also
likely that the psychological explanation is that attribution, helplessness
and depression in the victim for the loss of her parents quickly
gave way to seeking to make the best of her situation while under
the total domination of her captor.
Again the same scenario occurs in the case of parental alienation
where the power of the dominant custodial parent programmes the
child/children to eschew or marginalise the absent parent. That
absent parent no longer appears to be important and is even likely
to be viewed as damaging to the child’s survival.