Lima Syndrome

February 24, 2019
Why do some kidnappers care for their victims as if they were loved ones? In this article, we explain what Lima syndrome is.

The human mind is still a mystery. In fact, many conditions such as Lima syndrome completely baffle us. This phenomenon is so complex that it surprises both kidnappers and victims alike.

Lima syndrome is when kidnappers empathize with their victims. Usually, we assume these people have little respect for human life. So how do they eventually develop positive feelings and sympathy towards their victims? Read on if you’d like to find out more about this strange phenomenon.

Lima syndrome

Lima syndrome is a condition in which kidnappers develop an emotional bond with their victims. You could say that it’s the other side of Stockholm syndrome.

Paradoxically, the kidnapper begins to empathize with their victim. In addition, at one point, they even begin to worry about their needs and well-being. It can manifest itself in behaviors such as:

  • The kidnapper avoids hurting the victim.
  • They give the victim certain freedoms or even releases them.
  • The kidnapper worries about the victim’s physical and emotional state.
  • They have conversations with the victim.
  • Sometimes, the kidnapper even shares personal information with the victim. For example, childhood stories, goals, and desires.
  • They can even make promises to the victim. For example, they may say things such as “I will protect you” or “Nothing will happen to you”.
  • In some cases, the kidnapper may even be attracted to the victim.
Lima syndrome is a strange phenomena that occurs during a kidnapping or hostage situation.

Causes of Lima syndrome

You’re probably wondering what the causes of Lima syndrome are. First of all, it may be good to clarify that, in some situations, suffering from a specific syndrome doesn’t mean a person is crazy or sick. Beyond the person’s internal state, there are certain environmental conditions that can make them react in one way or another.

Therefore, to understand Lima syndrome, you must focus on the kidnapper’s internal conditions. Likewise, you must analyze the conditions of the kidnapping. Thus, it would help you to know the psychological conditions of the kidnapper as well as the circumstances that led to the kidnapping:

  • Maybe the kidnapper is part of a group that forced them to commit the kidnapping.
  • Perhaps the kidnapper doesn’t agree with the way in which the kidnapping is taking place.
  • At best, the kidnapper has been forced to hold the victim due to extreme needs. For example, they might be going through family problems or serious financial issues or may be suffering from a mental disorder.
  • The kidnapper may not have any previous experience.
  • Finally, maybe the kidnapper thinks they won’t be able to survive the hostage situation.

The paradox of Lima syndrome

Perhaps the most surprising thing is about this syndrome is that the abductor behaves as if they weren’t holding the victim hostage. This is the paradox of Lima syndrome.

Therefore, the kidnapper does their best to improve the victim’s conditions. In fact, they avoid causing any damage or discomfort. If the victim is sick, they give them medicine. If they’re injured, the kidnapper heals them. If they’re hungry, the abductor will try to give them the best food available. The kidnapper believes that they’re the victim’s caregiver.

In the worst case scenario, the kidnapper may even fall in love with their victim. Consequently, they’ll try to seduce and woo them. This is because they want the victim to reciprocate their feelings.

What’s the origin of Lima syndrome?

As you may have guessed, it got its name from a hostage situation that occurred in Lima, Peru.

In 1996, a terrorist group took over the Japanese embassy in the Peruvian capital. As the days passed, the kidnappers began to establish strong bonds with the hostages. Surprisingly, the abductors began to release them all.

A depressed woman covering her face in front of a wall.

Final thoughts on Lima syndrome

In conclusion, Lima syndrome is related to an intrinsic human being condition: establishing bonds with other people (even in extreme conditions such as kidnapping). It’s very hard to study this syndrome as it’s practically impossible to replicate the conditions of a kidnapping in a laboratory and control all the variables.

What we do know is that the manifestation of the syndrome depends on different variables. Likewise, it also depends on the kidnapper, the kidnapping situation, and the victim. Finally, this syndrome reminds us that people can be very irrational and tend to act based on their interpretation and understanding of reality.

  • Camelo, R., & Vargas, N. (2002). El vínculo secuestrador-secuestrado. Una mirada desde el secuestrador. Trabajo de grado. Departamento de Psicología, Universidad Nacional de Colombia.
  • González Ruiz, S., Buscaglia, E., García González, J. C., & Prieto Palma, C. (2002). Un estrecho vínculo. Revista Universitaria76, 55-62.
  • Villegas, V. J. S. (2010). Creencias y conductas irracionales presentes en familiares y víctimas de secuestro y extorsión. Criminalidad52(2), 33-54.