Examining Corporate Stockholm Syndrome

The country is governed for the richest, for the corporations, the bankers, the land speculators and for the exploiters of labor. The majority of mankind are working people. So long as their fair demands – the ownership and control of their livelihoods – are set at naught, we can have neither men’s rights nor women’s rights. The majority of mankind is ground down by industrial oppression in order that the small remnant may live in ease.
— Helen Keller (Rebel Lives: Helen Keller)

Unless you are a CEO, a professional athlete or a rock star, you will likely encounter the psychologically unhealthy work conditions that typify the average working American. With the economy heading towards unprecedented collapse, a culture of avaricious materialistic consumerism is infiltrating corporate culture.

There are more than 146 million Americans classified as “low income,” more than 100 million Americans enrolled in at least one federal welfare program and tragically, an all time high in child homelessness.

Governmental looting of pensions and savings has begun, devastating retirees and their surviving spouses while corporate moguls earn 380x more than the average wage earner.

Minimum wage is not commensurate with inflation. Fiscal corruption is exonerated and, in fact, encouraged. We are stuck with a broken and corrupt healthcare industry.

Given the government’s track record, it is ignorant to think the absurdly wealthy will be justly taxed, in conjunction with not increasing or even decreasing taxes on the middle and working classes.

A Mythical Pursuit

Hence, expecting a return for one’s efforts has sadly become a mythical pursuit. Employees are demoralized and are plagued by omnipresent fears of disposability.

According to a Workplace Democracy Association/Zogby Interactive survey, 25 percent of Americans compare their workplace to a dictatorship. Accordingly, it’s not surprising that work related trauma is on the rise.

In fact, in this fiscal climat,e many of my psychotherapy clients are evidencing specific symptoms catalyzed by work environments akin to indentured servitude.

Specifically, a number of clients I treat are victims of Corporate Stockholm Syndrome, a psychological phenomenon in which employees feel pathologically beholden to their abusive employer.

Victims of Corporate Stockholm Syndrome are brainwashed to uphold corporate values of working long hours for less compensation, alienating workers who are not in compliance with excessive demands and designating those who question authority as traitors.

A woman I treated recently began a new job in which she is denied a standard supervisory orientation. She is expected to have information and knowledge that has not been explained.

This sink or swim mentality is dehumanizing and exhausting yet it’s normalization has catapulted her into a state of emotional distress and confusion.

Another client is embroiled in such extreme work overload, that the possibility of a life outside of his job is obsolete. In fact, his colleague who requested time off to get married was subject to scrutiny by the corporate powers that be.

Unfortunately, federal labor laws, such as the Fair Labor Standards Act don’t require that employers give their employees time off. Having to forfeiting vacation time in order to get married may not be fair, but it is becoming a common reality in hostile work environments.

Abusive Work Environments

In abusive work environments, intermittent promises of promotion, pay raise and accolades are interspersed with hostility and indifference. This sort of corporate culture is infused with ambient terror, sending the message that non-compliance will result in merciless demotions and terminations.

The results in victims of Corporate Stockholm Syndrome feeling robbed of volition. They come to experience themselves as dependent on their employer for their very survival. They begin to question their reality and sense of worth and competence.

With the rapid diminishing ,of union influence and organizing, and the economic decline in contemporary America collective bargaining has become a near impossible feat. This fact gives the unethical employer the latitude to disregard the basic humanity of employees. The fulfillment of organizational goals at the expense of basic human respect produces a toxic chaotic work environment in which metabolic stress and psychological and physical illness occur.

With culturally sanctioned work harassment and bullying on the increase, it is imperative that victims receive validation of their truth by a trusted witness. Dismantling the toxic systematic indoctrination means identifying the external sources of abuse so that self-blame can be released and cognitive dissonance resolved.

Taking care of one’s physical health and defining bottom line limits is crucial to regaining a sense of agency. Should all self-care efforts to endure the toxic workplace lunacy not attenuate symptoms, a job search to a healthier work environment may be the only recourse.

Factory photo available from Shutterstock

Examining Corporate Stockholm Syndrome

Rev Sheri Heller, LCSW

Rev. Sheri Heller, LCSW, is a seasoned NYC psychotherapist with 25+ years experience in the addiction and mental health fields. Sheri is also an interfaith minister and playwright, and the founder of The Sistah Tribe - Phoenix Project, a therapeutic theater event for at-risk women and girls in the public sector of NYC. For more information, visit


APA Reference
Heller, R. (2015). Examining Corporate Stockholm Syndrome. Psych Central. Retrieved on September 18, 2020, from


Scientifically Reviewed
Last updated: 21 Oct 2015
Last reviewed: By John M. Grohol, Psy.D. on 21 Oct 2015
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