Posted in Psychology & Medicine

Stockholm Syndrome

August 23, 1973 – Stockholm, Sweden. Two men entered a bank and took four bank workers hostage by gunpoint. The police quickly responded by surrounding the bank but could not act due to concern for the safety of the hostages. The stand-off lasted six days until the police finally negotiated the release of the hostages. During this ordeal, a very strange phenomenon was observed. The hostages had grown emotionally attached to their captors, rejecting rescue attempts and even defending their captors after their freedom. It was clear in subsequent interviews that the hostages had bonded with the criminals, supporting their cause and not minding the fact that they were threatened, abused and were made to fear for their lives. In fact, one woman later became engaged to one of the criminals, while another funded the legal fee for their trials.

Psychiatrist and criminologist Nils Bejerot studied this case and coined the phrase Stockholm syndrome to describe the phenomenon of hostages expressing empathy and sympathy to their captors, leading to bonding with and having positive feelings for them. This seems irrational as bonding is perceived as the product of a positive relationship where two people are loving and caring for each other, not threatening their life. This phenomenon has been well-documented throughout history in hostages, domestic abuse victims, prisoners of war and cult members. One study showed that up to 27% of hostage victims showed evidence of Stockholm syndrome in the U.S.

There are a few explanations for the Stockholm syndrome. The Freudian explanation is that the bonding is an individual’s response to the trauma of being threatened. By rationalising that they are in fact on the same side as the captors, the effect of the trauma is reduced as the victim feels less victimised. Evolutionarily speaking, human beings have always been under the threat of being invaded by a neighbouring tribe or country. This often involved the raping and abduction of women by the aggressors. Victims who would resist and fight back would have more likely been killed (along with their children), while those who responded as per the Stockholm syndrome would have been more likely to survive. It has been observed that the Stockholm syndrome is found more commonly in women.

Stockholm syndrome is a very common feature of human society, found in households in the form of battered-wife syndrome, in groups in the form of hazing and basic military training and in the bedroom in the form of bondage and masochism.

Posted in History & Literature

Zodiac: Taurus

Taurus is the Zodiac sign for those born between April 21 and May 20. The symbol for Taurus is a giant ox.

The model for Taurus is none other than the king of gods, Zeus. Zeus often came down to the human world for fun, but one day he set his eyes on a beautiful princess by the name of Europa. Europa often played on the farm with the herd of cows. Zeus fell head over heels for her and plotted how he could profess his love to her (alternatively, rape her). He decided to transform into an ox and hid among the herd. Europa was drawn to this magnificent, white ox that could even sing. She was fascinated by it, caressing it and even riding on its back. At that moment, Zeus dashed for the sea and jumped in with Europa on his back. He swam across oceans until they reached the island of Crete. There, he transformed back to his usual form and told her how he was madly in love with her. She accepted his love and the two lived happily on Crete. To honour her, Zeus named the land across the ocean they crossed Europe, thus naming the continent that we know so well.

(Part of the Zodiac series:

Posted in Psychology & Medicine

Sleep Paralysis

Sometimes just before you fall asleep, or just after you wake up, it is impossible to move any muscles. The panic caused by this sudden paralysis is soon followed by a sense of impending doom and unknown horror. When trying to look around to figure out what is happening, you see a ghost or demon sitting on your chest, pinning you down.
This is a typical scenario of sleep paralysis. It occurs when the mind wakes up before the body (in loose terms) and is experienced by everyone at least once throughout their life. 

Sleep is divided into two phases: REM (rapid eye movement) sleep and non-REM sleep. These two phases cycle to make up sleep at a 1:3 ratio (i.e. about 90 minutes non-REM, 30 minutes REM, repeat). NREM sleep is often thought of as “shallow sleep”, but this is incorrect as the third phase of NREM is literally “deep sleep”. This is followed by REM sleep, characterised by relaxation of muscle tone and the eyes darting in all directions (rapid eye movements). The brain cuts off motor signals to the body during REM sleep to prevent it acting out the movements in a dream (without this, many people would injure themselves or others during sleep). For example, patients suffering from diseases such as Parkinson’s disease with REM sleep disorder show vigorous movements during sleep, often hitting their partners in the process.

The problem occurs when the onset of REM atonia (relaxation) comes before the person fully falls asleep, or fails to disappear after waking up. As the motor system has been shut down, the muscles cannot be moved yet the person has regained consciousness. The more frightening thing is that sleep paralysis is usually accompanied by an intense visual and auditory hallucination, which is almost always related the person’s worst nightmares and fears. This explains why so many cultures associate it with demons and ghosts, and it is also possibly the cause of alien abduction experiences and ghost sightings. Reason being, the hallucination is so vivid the person easily believes that it actually happened.

Sleep paralysis can be caused by excessive drinking, stress or the induction of lucid dreams, but tend to be spontaneous and can happen to you on any day.