Sunday, February 13, 2011

Escaping Stockholm

In August of 1973 in the city of Stockholm, Sweden, two robbers held four bank employees hostage for six days. The hostages were strapped with dynamite and held in a vault. In an amazing twist, the captives became enamored of their captors and even defended them when their ordeal was over. The term “Stockholm Syndrome” was soon born, coined by psychiatrist Nils Bejerot.
The syndrome is marked by the denial of abuse by one’s captors and the staunch defense of one’s captors for all manor of psychological reasons. Oddly, an emotional bonding often occurs between captor and captive, abuser and abused; sometimes even between rapist and rape victim.
The Stockholm Syndrome dynamic could even apply to those who have been raised by overly zealous religious guardians. A blind loyalty to one’s religious manipulators often reveals a perverse bonding having taken place between these religious manipulators and their victims. When someone’s indoctrination into the cult of religiosity is so all-consuming it becomes the prism through which he measures all things in life, he may well come to value his deluded state so much he will go to great lengths to defend his intellectual and spiritual oppressors. And as long as the connection to his abusers’ religion undergoes regular maintenance through occasional church attendance, religious holidays, weddings, funerals, etc., he or she will want to continue to show his one-time captors loyalty and affection, thereby legitimizing his own status in the religious tribe otherwise known as family and friends.
Escaping this religious manifestation of the Stockholm Syndrome and its numbing effects entails the virtual deprogramming of the intellect. It also involves relearning—or learning for the first time—the value of independence and inquisitiveness in the free-thinking mind. This is no easy task. There’s a reason the Jesuits claim that if they have the attention of a child’s mind for the first seven years of life or thereabouts that child’s mind forever after belongs to them, and that reason is frighteningly clear: children want to please their guardians; they want the approval of those who feed them and clothe them—and ‘love’ them.
For a long time I was ‘stranded in Stockholm.’ Fortunately, my deprogramming ultimately succeeded, and I came to understand the nefarious nature of religious brainwashing. My captors, however, went on living the lie, believing it was their own failure that led to my escape. Little did they know, as long as they persisted in denying me intellectual freedom, they were destined to fail. 


  1. Very true. How often do we meet very religious, very uptight folks who are clearly unhappy -- they often speak of their parents with fear and adoration by turns. I think certain kids get conditioned to that. Parent(s)=God. Parents who say "I brought you into this world; I can send you back out any time I want." Funny when Bill Cosby says it; not so much when a "kid" is still believing it at the age of 40.

  2. I'm going through this deprogramming right now. I thought that once I fully realized my childhood faith was little more than crumbly speculation, I'd be able to move on faster. But I still feel psychologically wounded, and a constant need to further debunk Christian beliefs to reassure myself that I'm on a good path.