Tuesday, March 5, 2019
The Stockholm Syndrome's Obverse
If the Stockholm Syndrome is the paradoxical development by hostages of sympathetic sentiments toward their captors, then, turning that definition on its head, what would you call it when it is the captors who develop sympathies for their hostages?
If you don't have an answer to that question just yet, hang with me. I promise this will lead to an observation about genealogy.
Any hostage situation in which the violent captor, in spite of behaviors calculated to incur severe reactions of fear, comes to be seen, in the eye of his captives, in a more positive and even sympathetic light can be dubbed a case of Stockholm Syndrome. While this curious psychological dynamic was dubbed with its name after the resolution of a bank robbery gone bad, in which the perpetrator took four bank employees hostage and held them captive for six days. After their release, the hostages not only refused to testify against their former captors, but actually began raising money for their defense.
As you likely have surmised, that bank robbery occurred in Stockholm, Sweden.
The label, Stockholm Syndrome, has since come to be applied to similar relationships formed in spite of other types of abusive relationships: human trafficking, sexual abuse, terror, and other forms of oppression.
In mulling over the situation regarding the King Stockton story, and some oral reports reflecting on the relationship between King, his mother Hester, and my McClellan ancestors—indeed, of any other genealogically-uncovered story of inordinate connections between slaves and masters—I've struggled to ascertain exactly what the psychological dynamics were between those household members, and even, in some cases, relationships between slave and master which went beyond that to actual relationships of kinship.
Wouldn't there be some form of resentment? I've thought of slave-holding men's wives: how did they feel, knowing the child just borne by one of their slaves was actually their husband's son? Wouldn't it be akin to the feeling a wife experiences in our own times when she discovers her husband has been cheating on her?
Or take it from the perspective of siblings: how would the white children of a slave-holder see their half-sibling from an enslaved member of their household?
And from an entirely different perspective, how would the enslaved woman feel, having been so abused? How did, for example, a Sally Hemings receive the amorous advances of a man who, in reality, also held the supreme and final word about her well-being?
In thinking this over, as it related to what I'm beginning to uncover in the story of King Stockton, it is difficult to juxtapose what surely must have been the case during that era of separated "races" with the tender endearment expressed through gestures reported in oral traditions in our family. I have discussed this entanglement with other researchers who have also traced lines of the enslaved, particularly of mixed-race heritage, and others have found inferences of care taken to give preference to such individuals who, eventually, could be demonstrated to actually be blood relatives.
But how did such victims feel about what they were going through? I know there has been a genre of fiction that romanticized the pre-Civil War era of the old South; my mother's disdain at her mother for reading such books is a distinct memory I have of both women, though I couldn't tell you the title of any such stories. On the other hand, to read histories of egregious mistreatment of human beings on the basis of their position as slaves hardly leads me to think that any enslaved person could have truly developed warm and accepting feelings toward their captors.
The search is on—at least for me—to find any indication that there was any middle ground in relationships between the enslaved and their slave-holding masters. One possible resource, as was mentioned by reader Lisa in a comment yesterday, is to consult Civil War diaries. Of course, there are several books on this same subject which I am considering, including one I hope to review later this month.
That tenuous interpersonal relationship, though, reminds me of the Stockholm Syndrome. In a situation so radically opposite of warm human emotion, the paradox is that—sometimes—those very accepting emotions do develop.
And yet, the Stockholm Syndrome, while a handy moniker to depict such interpersonal psychology gone wrong, is exactly the opposite of what we'd see in an intimate (I'm putting it delicately, here) master-slave relationship. The captive is not warming to the captor; it's the captor who is experiencing a shift of perception. Not, necessarily, toward the victim, but more likely something developing as an outward manifestation of an inward shift: the slave owner seeing himself in a more benevolent light—perhaps even to assuage conscience.
While I am still experimenting with this exploration of just how an enslaved person would feel toward the person enslaving her, I realize that turning the definition of the Stockholm Syndrome on its head does turn out to have a name of its own: the Lima Syndrome. Just as the Stockholm Syndrome got its name from the place where its strange behavior first manifested itself, the Lima Syndrome was also named for a violent event occurring in a city—this time, in Lima, Peru.
The history of the Lima Syndrome involved an event in which a militant group took hostage hundreds of high level government officials at an occasion at the home of the Japanese ambassador to Peru. The definition for the Lima Syndrome, following at least the initial few days of its ultimately tragic outcome, is said to have been when the abductors develop sympathy for their hostages. Although the originating incident itself doesn't clearly represent the later definition applied to it, the concept may be usefully applied to the curious psychological contortions demonstrated in some stories of slave-holding families.
Whether psychological models built on the backs of violent episodes in modern life apply to the interpersonal dynamics experienced in even the most benevolent of slave-holding households of a bygone century, I can't say. I think a lot more needs to be explored on this topic. Of course, I'll keep reading—and gratefully accepting any suggestions for helpful material to explore. But rather than dismiss those oral histories out of hand, I need to first seek out any other family members' memories of the stories about the family during that era. That family memory, as we've already seen in the long-standing disdain for George McClellan's second wife Celestia, tenaciously will not forget past wrongs; let's hope that tenacious grip on memory will also serve us in the more positive of those remembrances as well.