Is Belle Suffering From Stockholm Syndrome?

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What did you think of Beauty & The Beast the first time you saw it? I distinctly remember being terrified but also absolutely loving it at the same time. As I got older more and more people were telling me that it was just a story sugarcoating the effects of Stockholm Syndrome. Little, uneducated me immediately believed it. But with the live action film coming out this year and my background in Psychology now I started to question whether Belle is actually suffering from Stockholm Syndrome.

A Definition of Stockholm Syndrome


Before we get into the nitty gritty of analyzing the film, we should have a look what Stockholm Syndrome exactly is. Well, that´s easier said than done. Stockholm Syndrome is generally described as a phenomenon in which a victim of kidnapping (or other abuse) is developing a positive emotional bond towards their captivator. However, the syndrome is not recognized in any classification system of disorders and therefore does not have a clear, clinical definition or definitive criteria.

In the (very little) literature about Stockholm Syndrome some authors have tried to come up with such criteria. Graham et al. (1995) developed a questionnaire and then used the data from young women to extract three factors of Stockholm Syndrome. The first he named Core Stockholm Syndrome and it contains cognitive distortions as well as other strategies to cope with the abuse. The second factor, Psychological Damage, is characterized by depression, low self-esteem as well as loss of sense of self. He named the third factor Love-Dependence which is described by the feeling of not being able to survive without the partner´s love.

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In another article Graham also postulated four criteria (or precursors) for the development of Stockholm Syndrome (cited from Namnyak et al., 2008). Firstly, the captive must experience a threat to their survival and they must believe that the threat will be carried out. Additionally, the captive needs to experience a small kindness from their captor in the context of terror. Thirdly, the captive experiences isolation from perspectives other than those of the captor. Finally, the hostage perceives an inability to escape from the situation.

With these 7 criteria in mind we can easily have a look at the story and Belle´s behavior and see if she is suffering from Stockholm Syndrome

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Does Belle Fulfill the Criteria?

I´m basing this analysis mostly on the animated Disney movie from 1991 as I believe the original gives us the best and most reliable information. If you are interested in the live action remake you can read 50 thought I had while watching it.

Core Stockholm Syndrome

Personally, this feels to be the easiest criterium to dismiss if you´ve watched the movie. Belle seems like a well-read and very rational young woman throughout the whole story. She also endures very little abuse as "only" her freedom is taken away. You could argue that her belief that there is a way out of the castle is a cognitive distortion but I don´t think so - read criterium Inability to Escape for a further discussion.

Psychological Damage

Belle is a very strong personality from the start of the movie on and she doesn´t lose this at all. She is herself all throughout the story. She is also very determined to protect and help the people she loves and she never loses her determination. She never shows signs of depression nor of having a low self-esteem. Even when Gaston threatens to throw her into the asylum with her father unless she marries him Belle refuses to marry Gaston. A person with low self-esteem would not stand up to the "town hero".

Love-Dependence

When Belle has to choose between saving Beast and her father, she decides to save her father within seconds. For me, this is a very clear sign that she still has her priorities straight and is not dependent upon Beast´s love. Yes, she does go to save him too when Gaston and the town people wander off to attack the castle but as I mentioned earlier, she is always determined to help the people she loves. Who wouldn´t try to help Beast in that situation?!

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Threat Of Survival

Beast never actually threatens Belle´s survival. Instead he agrees to give her a big room and lets her walk freely around the castle (except for the West Wing). The only threat he ever says to her is that she´ll have to starve if she doesn´t want to eat with him. And while Belle may believe that he will go through with this threat she doesn´t seem bothered by it at all.

Small Kindness

I´d call the context of being attacked by wolves in a dark forest a strong context of terror. So when Beast saves her life here, this can definitely be interpreted as a showing of kindness. Similarly, after that when Belle is stell held hostage - an aversive context at least - Beast is very nice to her which all can be interpreted in the sense of this criterium.

Isolation

Belle might be isolated from the people she usually interacts with and most importantly, her own father. However, I don´t believe she is isolated from other perspectives. The servants of the castle definitely don´t share Beast´s perspective on everything and show her other views and opinions. They even go behind Beast´s back to make her dinner!

Inability to Escape

Being held hostage might seem like there´s an inability to escape first. But Belle is pretty determined that she´ll find a way to escape from the day she takes her father´s place. Since this criterium specifically states that the victim has to perceive the inability to escape I´d say this is not true for Belle. Also just looking at it objectively: The castle isn´t guarded and when Beast scares Belle away she easily escapes! So much for the inability to escape.

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I´d say there´s a pretty solid case to make that Belle is not suffering from Stockholm Syndrome. I can see how on the surface it might look like she is though! Especially the small kindness aspect of the syndrome - the only criteria Belle´s case fulfills - seems to be quite well-known in the public. Of course, as long as there isn´t much more study of this syndrome we can´t say anything for sure. There´s even discussion if Stockholm Syndrome even really exists. Seeing it from the scientific standpoint right now though it´s quite clear that Beauty & The Beast is not sugarcoating anything but that it´s a story about inner beauty and true love.

Do you think Belle is suffering from Stockholm Syndrome - maybe even name a few scenes for your view?

3 comments

  1. I watched the movie and never thought about this until I read this post, makes sense now I am thinking about it.

    Yiota
    PinkDaisyLoves

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  2. This was such an interesting read ! I agree with you. I don't think she had the syndrome. I am interested in Psychology and combining it with a Disney film is such a great idea ! Looking forward to more posts like that ��

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  3. This is such an interesting post! I actually watched the live-action today funnily enough. I love when people use their knowledge on things for blog posts like this :)

    Paris x
    www.71featherstreet.com

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