Victims held captive by terrorists or other criminals know that at any moment during their ordeal they may be killed. Under the threat of death, then thoughts and feelings often take an irrational turn.
Hostages frequently develop a childlike trust in and dependence on those who terrorize them. By identifying with their captors, hostages assuage their feelings of isolation and helplessness. Studies show that the closer hostages feel to their captors, the less likely it is that they will be harmed. They come to view their captors as the "good guys." The people who try to liberate them without giving in to the captors' demands then become the enemy.
Once a hostage is released, it may take a few months for the acute effects of the syndrome to wear off. Psychologist Curt Toler notes: "Long-term follow-up studies show that this is a trauma that is there for life. It will poke its head up occasionally throughout a person's lifetime, when his or her resources are low."