Jaycee Duggard, now reunited with her family after being held captive for 18 years by convicted sexual offender Phillip Garrido, is reportedly struggling with symptoms consistent with Stockholm syndrome.
During her ordeal, which began at age 11 when she was kidnapped by Garrido, she has apparently bonded with him. The term Stockholm syndrome was coined by psychiatrist Nils Bejerot, who assisted police during the robbery of a Stockholm bank. The robbers held bank employees hostage for just six days. Yet that was long enough for the hostages to become emotionally attached to their captors and defend them to police, even after being freed. Duggard was held hostage more than 1,000 times as long as the Stockholm bank employees.
She was alone much of that time, not part of a group. There was no hint that anyone was searching for her. Her first sexual experiences were almost certainly with Garrido. She bore him two daughters. Her survival and theirs depended, every minute of every day for 18 years, on acquiescing to him and pleasing him. He was not only her kidnapper and rapist, but the man who kept her fed and clothed and kept her makeshift hovel dry when it rained. When she wept, it may have been he who comforted her and reassured her that everything would be alright-because he loved her.
The human mind is resourceful. It can conjure comforting fictions to protect itself from realities that would, if seen clearly, lead to unbearable fear, despair, sadness, insanity or suicide. The fact that you are an 11-year-old girl, safe at home, snatched off the street, never to see your parents again, held by strangers who can punish you ceaselessly at their whim, as severely as they see fit, day or night, is simply too much truth to live with.
So it is understandable that that 11-year-old would eventually grasp for anything that felt like safety, even the myth that her kidnappers were, for example, sent by God to take care of her, usher her into womanhood, give her a family and make sure she was never again exposed to the darkness and danger of her prior, sinful existence. Jaycee Duggard's road back depends upon the mind's agility, too. Because now she must see that she was in danger from predators who posed as her saviors. She must somehow find her original sense of self, revisit the horror it must have been to cede all control to her assailant and take the journey from viewing herself as a helpless victim to seeing herself as a survivor.
While I am not treating Jaycee Duggard, I have helped hundreds of people take this journey. Because her story-while far more dramatic-is a cousin to every story of an abused girl or boy who clings to parents who are that only in name and not in deed, parents who erode self-esteem by inflicting emotional or physical suffering on their offspring. These children, like Ms. Duggard, fear they will be abandoned or that they are unlovable and they ally with their "captors," too. Only from the relative safety of adulthood, in a healing and therapeutic relationship, are they able to admit the terrible truth that what they took for love all through childhood was never that, and that finding what they need in the world will mean seeing what was unfairly denied them. Stockholm syndrome, it turns out, is far more common than most people think. It doesn't take a bank robbery or an abduction to trigger it. It happens in many, many "homes" that are that only in name.
Dr. Keith Ablow is a psychiatry correspondent for FOX News Channel and a New York Times bestselling author. His newest book, "Living the Truth: Transform Your Life through the Power of Insight and Honesty" has launched a new self-help movement. Check out Dr. Ablow's Web site at
Keith Ablow, MD is a psychiatrist, and was host of the nationally-syndicated "Dr. Keith Ablow Show." He is a former member of the Fox News Medical A Team.