Psychiatry & Psychology--General/Stolckholm Syndrome
My Father-in-law is a wealthy hotelier who married a much younger woman 2 years ago. After an alcohol-withdrawal related seizure last February, his wife warehoused him in a lock down memory care facility. She eventually isolated him from all friends and family, convinced doctors that he had a seizure disorder, severe cognitive impairment, violent outbursts and was given free rein with Seroquel PRNs. (He was taking up to 400mg per day!) After a 6 month court battle and an intense neuropsychological evaluation, his diagnosis was that he did not have a seizure disorder, and cognition was normal for a 75 year old. That he be moved to a less restrictive environment immediately, and that his wife should not be able to assist in any decisions regarding his health or residence as she had greatly failed him, and created a true Stolckholm Syndrome in him. He is now living in assisted living, but still wants to see his captor, and has recently started to push friends and family away. My question is; what can we do to help him get over this syndrome, and realize that she tried to kill him and is very dangerous? We are desperate, his guardian (appointed to him by the court) doesn't want to address the issue of his wife with him until he has been weened from the many harmful drugs he has been forced to take. Which he is handling Very well, no side effects so far.
Thank you for your time!
I am sorry to hear of this troubling situation. I have not had professional experience treating anyone with Stockholm Syndrome so you may wish to consult another clinician who has. However, I can share with you what I know about this phenomenon and my own clinical sense of what may be helpful to you and your family.
You can look online to see various understandings of Stockholm Syndrome but simply put, this syndrome is a constellation of symptoms which have at the heart a situation where the person affected has experienced a hostile, frightening and isolated environment for some length of time. That person then develops a sympathy, a connection, and/or a bond with the person who has caused this situation and to has been in constant contact. It is named after a robbery in Sweden where hostages were held for 131 hours with their captor and then developed a kinship to him as well as adversarial feelings towards those who were trying to help free them.
So...the most important thing is that your father-in-law is safe. However, I am worried about his mental ease or state of mind. It is unclear to me whether your father-in-law is suffering from Stockholm Syndrome. He seems to have accepted, at first, his separation from his wife but is becoming more insistent on wanting her and is beginning to push his other family away. It certainly could be related to Stockholm Syndrome. However, there also may be a sense, on his part, that he had more companionship from his wife under captivity than he has now. He might long for that companionship and would rather be back in that situation than in some assisted living facility where he has now been placed. I am curious about where he felt most captive...with his wife or in this facility. So..this may not be a mental illness...it may be simply exerting his right to be shut away in the place of his choice.
Only your father-in-law knows for sure. I am going to repeat some advice that I often use here...it is hard for a therapist at a distance to now what is going on. However, you might suggest your father-in-law get some serious talk therapy to understand better what is going on in his mind. You may be right...his wife certainly had no good intentions in her isolation of this man from his family. But that isolation might have been pleasurable for him...from his perspective he is connected to someone he must have loved enough to marry. Now he is alone, in assisted living, separated from that person. I believe his family wants to keep him safe. They also need to keep him connected to the relationships that matter to him. Frequent visits with all members of his family, frequent pleasurable outings, bringing music and art into his life so that his current situation is one filled with love and activities of family...THAT would be the best medicine for him.
This might not be Stockholm Syndrome...it might be loneliness...one of the most painful of syndromes a person can experience.
Thank you for this question...I hope this is helpful.