Freedom almost always brings a sense of elation and relief. However, adjusting back to the real world after being held hostage can be difficult. Hostage and kidnap survivors can experience stress reactions including denial, impaired memory, shock, numbness, anxiety, guilt, depression, anger, and a sense of helplessness.
Adjusting to life after being held hostage or kidnapped can hold significant difficulties. Hostage survivors often develop an unconscious bond to their captors and experience grief if their captors are harmed. They may also feel guilty for developing a bond, following extensive research, this is known as the Stockholme Syndrome
Some suffer the feelings of guilt for surviving while others did not. It is important for survivors to acknowledge that these are usual human reactions to being held captive.
Hostage and kidnap survivors can experience stress reactions. Predictable reactions occur in:
- Intrusive thoughts, denial, impaired memory, decreased concentration, being overcautious and aware, confusion, or fear of the event happening again
- Shock, numbness, anxiety, guilt, depression, anger, and a sense of helplessness
- Withdrawal and avoidance of family, friends, activities, and being on edge
Such reactions to an extremely stressful event are understandable and normal. These are typical responses and generally decrease over time, and common for people’s reactions to vary from one individual to another.
When hostages are released, it is essential for them to
- Receive medical attention
- Be in a safe and secure environment
- Connect with loved ones
- Have an opportunity to talk or journal their experience if and when they choose
- Receive resources and information about how to seek counselling, particularly if their distress from the incident is interfering with their daily lives
- Protect their privacy (e.g. avoid media overexposure including watching and listening to news and participating in media interviews)
- Take time to adjust back into family and work
Family and friends can support survivors by listening, being patient, and focusing on their freedom instead of engaging in negative talk about the captors.
It is important to realize that families and friends of hostages are confronted with numerous issues in coping with fears and uncertainties as well and may also need support in dealing with their own emotional reactions.
Recovery and the future
Released hostages need time to recover from the physical, mental, and emotional difficulties they faced. However, it is important to keep in mind that human beings are highly resilient and can persevere despite tragedy. Positive growth and resilience can occur following trauma.
Hostage survivors may feel lost or have difficulty managing intense reactions and may need help adjusting to their old life following release. Some experience chronic indications of stress, continued feelings of numbness, disturbed sleep, as well as other signs, when this happens the hostage survivor may want to consider seeking help from a mental health professional, , who can help develop an appropriate strategy for moving forward.
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