This Is What Stockholm Syndrome Really Is, And How It Can Affect Your Brain

by Imani Brammer
Getty Images/Noam Galai

If you haven't heard by now, R. Kelly is back at it again with his perverted, Pied-Piper ways.

On July 17, BuzzFeed published a disturbing, bombshell account of the R&B singer's abusive "cult," in which he's allegedly holding young women hostage and tearing them apart from their families.

According to Jim DeRogatis, the reporter who first broke the story on the infamous R. Kelly sex tape almost a decade ago, “six women live in properties rented by Kelly in Chicago and the Atlanta suburbs, and he controls every aspect of their lives: dictating what they eat, how they dress, when they bathe, when they sleep, and how they engage in sexual encounters that he records.”

One of the six women is 21-year-old Joycelyn Savage, whose family held a news conference Monday to accuse Kelly of essentially forcing Savage and the other women to be his personal sex slaves, according to TMZ.

But then Savage herself made a video to address her parents' (and the world's) concerns, stating she is totally fine, she is “in a happy place in [her] life,” and she “is not being brainwashed.”

Savage said the last time she spoke with her parents was about six months ago. When asked where she resides, she refused to say.

Her father, who saw this video with the rest of the world, believes Savage is suffering from what is called Stockholm syndrome.

So what exactly is Stockholm syndrome?

Stockholm syndrome is a psychological condition in which victims of hostage situations develop an affinity for their abuser.

The hostages essentially side with their abuser on all issues, and go against anyone who tries to “save them” from the situation. The victims genuinely feel they do not need to be saved from anything.

In fact, denying help from others is often a key survival tactic in these types of situations.

Elite Daily spoke with therapy professional Dr. Kathryn Smerling, who also watched the TMZ video. She makes it clear that it's difficult to say whether or not Savage actually has Stockholm syndrome simply from watching the video.

But Dr. Smerling can't deny the 21-year-old woman's responses are very peculiar.

"The fact that she didn't want to tell anyone where she was, she didn't want to elaborate on anything she's doing is very strange," she says.

She continues,

But there's a whole other narrative which no one else is privy to. You could easily tell she's very estranged from her family and there's a rupture between her and her parents. She may have even run away or had an undisclosed family dilemma. She seems very lost, and may be being watched or controlled by her [alleged] keepers. She's trying to make it clear that she does not want to be found.

Generally speaking, it's important to note that Stockholm syndrome is not something that is associated with a particular “type” of person.

Elite Daily also spoke with clinical trauma professional Dr. Paul Hokemeyer, who explains that individuals who typically fall victim to Stockholm syndrome do so more because of their past circumstances, rather than their personality type:

People who are lured into developing the syndrome typically have a history of trauma. The initial trauma gets deeply rooted in their brain and causes them to be wired to seek out other relationships that fit into the schema of the past trauma. They equate relationships with trauma, love with pain, and connection with submission.

Because it is a survival tactic, it really can happen to anyone.

"We are all susceptible to trauma," Dr. Hokemeyer explains. "The syndrome is not a sign of weakness, it's a sign of an adaptive psyche that's built to survive."

He goes on to say that the reason why Stockholm syndrome is so incredibly powerful, is because "it occurs below our consciousness, deep in the primitive part of our brain known as our limbic system."

Dr. Hokemeyer adds,

It's so powerful that it totally demolishes our reason and intellect and forces us to move forward in a biological reaction.

OK, I'm just going to say it: That is some seriously scary sh*t.

This means, no matter how powerful, grounded, hyper-vigilant and intelligent of a person you consider yourself to be, your brain will always work to protect you in the most unusual circumstances -- even if that entails protecting your abuser.

When it comes to something as easily accessible and seemingly harmless as the life of a famous R&B singer, it can be easy to offer flippant opinions and brush situations off lightly.

But when it comes to Stockholm syndrome, on the other hand, there is nothing light about it.

The serious implications of this condition are not to be ignored.

Dr. Smerling describes Stockholm syndrome as "a truly terrifying reality."

She tells Elite Daily,

You lose all sense of yourself. You're basically taking orders from someone who is controlling everything about you. You start to try to make friends with your captors and do whatever they tell you as a matter of survival. It's powerful in the sense that the length the victim goes to in order to survive is incredible. To anyone who believes that they're too strong or 'that would never be me,' I would say, never say never. You cannot possibly tell what you're capable of unless you're confronted with the situation itself. Until you're placed in that dire situation, you never know what you're going to do.

With Stockholm syndrome, the phenomenon simply knows no bounds. The brain does whatever it can to ensure your survival.

If you see a loved one suffering from this, the best thing you can possibly do is kindly suggest therapy, or maybe medication, depending on the circumstances.

Until then, refrain from becoming angry with the victim.

After all, they are only doing what they believe is going to keep them alive.