Stockholm Syndrome is a psychological curiosity which describes a condition in which victims of oppression find themselves experiencing feelings of sympathy and even affection for their persecutors. It takes its name from a hostage situation in the capital of Sweden in 1973, when bank employees were held at gunpoint for six days. During this time they developed emotional attachments to their captors, declined to co-operate with attempts to release them and even kissed and hugged the hostage-takers when the siege ended, before going on to defend them during the trial. This sort of phenomenon is also known more broadly in the world of psychologists as “capture-bonding” and “traumatic bonding”. Apparently victims come to mistake any lack of abuse by their captors/tormentors as positive kindness. Captivity gives them an irrational sense of security and belonging, and they dread liberation into the wide world.
Stockholm Syndrome is one of the more baffling vagaries of human nature, and it is as old as original sin. The serpent promised Eve that if she took the forbidden fruit she would be like God and would never die. Flattered by the attention, silly old Eve immediately forgot that she had already been created in the image and likeness of God and bestowed with the gift of immortality. In sinning, Adam and Eve subjected mankind to the tyranny of Satan. With our intellects clouded and the original harmony that existed between our mind, will and passions disrupted, we are easily convinced that imprisonment in vice is more fulfilling than the freedom that comes with virtue. The devil is the architect of a “Project Fear” which he uses to persuade us that slavery and darkness are preferable to freedom and light.
We can detect an early manifestation of Stockholm Syndrome in those Jews who were reluctant to allow Moses to lead them from bondage in Egypt to a land flowing with milk and honey and who, after their release, pined for the three square meals a day with plenty of onions that they had enjoyed in captivity. In the New Testament Our Lord declares: “If you continue in my word, you are truly my disciples, and you will know the truth and the truth will set you free.” The Jews, oppressed by the pagan Roman invaders on one side and the tyranny of religious leaders who have turned the law into a crushing burden on the other, reply: “We are descendants of Abraham, and have never been in bondage to anyone.” Our Lord has to explain: “Everyone who commits a sin is a slave to sin.” It is significant that it is within this context that He makes the explosive revelation: “Before Abraham was, I am”, recalling God’s revelation of His own Name (“I Am Who Am”) when He commissioned Moses to deliver His people from bondage in Egypt.
Spiritual Stockholm Syndrome can afflict us in many ways. In an era in which there are so many stimulants within easy reach, there are numberless addictions which can have us enslaved before we know it. The Internet offers resources which, if used prudently, can enrich our spiritual lives. At the same time, if meditation on the Gospel is substituted with the devouring of every morsel of Catholic “news”, then our hearts can soon become dungeons of despondency, cluttered with the dead bones of ecclesiastical political intrigue. We need to allow ourselves to be freed from this if we are to flourish into that for which we have been created. If we have made idols of our anxieties and fears, then we need to pray for the grace to smash them so that unfettered we can proceed in hope and joy.
The Holy Door of this Jubilee Year of Mercy is a potent symbol of the liberation offered by the Gospel. Unburdened of the guilt of sins and refreshed with Sanctifying Grace in the Sacrament of Penance, we may also be freed from all temporal punishment due to sin by means of the indulgences attached to the Holy Door by the Sovereign Pontiff. The conditions are Confession, Holy Communion and prayers for the Pope, and we also need to pray for the grace of detachment from all sin if we are to gain a “plenary” or complete indulgence for ourselves or for a Holy Soul in Purgatory. If we have not yet taken advantage of this blessing, we should do so. Holy Doors have been erected all across the country to make it as easy as possible.
Imaginative readers might be wondering if considerations of Stockholm Syndrome are relevant to this month’s referendum on our future relations with the E.U. The Provost would not dream of inflicting his antediluvian political views on the Catholic public. The Bishops of England and Wales have encouraged us to pray to the Holy Ghost for guidance, and have proposed a good prayer for us to use as we prepare to cast our votes:
“Lord, grant us wisdom that we may walk with integrity, guarding the path of justice, and knowing the protection of your loving care for all. Amen”.
Fr Julian Large