Chapter 2: What is it like to be a hostage?

Blue and red lights are flashing everywhere, stress levels are extremely high and escalating, and bull horns are being used to make demands by authorities. Ann Patchett is painting a picture for us of what it might be like to be in a hostage situation. She is painting it from both sides though, not solely the hostages nor only the militant terrorist group. Thoughts are running through both groups minds. The terrorists are rapidly trying to think of how they will get out of this situation, and what demands they should make in response to the authorities. Hostages just wondering if they will make it out alive to see their families again. All of the thoughts that go through their minds intrigues me a lot. How psychology plays in to the situation on both sides of the situation. Even down to the psychology of negotiation between the authorities and the terrorists. What intrigues me the most however is the hostages, so that is what I decided I would do my research on. What are their thoughts, how are they feeling emotionally, and what physical effects do hostage situations have on them?

Right off the bat I started to realize that there isn’t just a generic response, or generic list/cycle of emotions that hostages go through. Rather, each person reacts to a hostage situation differently based on what they perceive. Not only is each person’s hostage experience different, but they also perceive the situation totally different, even when put into a very similar situation. Our brains are hardwired to see and notice things differently than each other, so it allows everyone to see the situation in a different way.Some people may see the hostage takeover as an end to their existence, while others may spend the whole time thinking of how they will get back to their families.

How well people can handle a hostage takeover genuinely depends on several things: their ability to remain sane, their thoughts prior to the hostage situation that have conditioned them for this situation, and sometimes just the overall mental and emotional strength of the individual. Those who have a strong desire to survive will likely do much better throughout the hostage situation versus those who role over and accept it as a loss.

Many hostages try to play hero in a situation or think of their “imaginary pistol” as in Bel Canto. Thoughts arise like “How do I get out of here?” and “How can I stop these guys and save everyone?”. It is thought of by many psychologist to be good to think about escape, or how you think you could escape. The problem tends to come when that is all you think about and when it consumes the thoughts so much that a reasonable exit strategy can not actually be made. However the thought of and plan of escape is extremely beneficial to keeping a sound mind while in captivity.It is also thought to be very good to talk to others in captivity with you about planning to escape as well, as it builds the belief that you actually can escape.

Being in a hostage situation is extremely stressful. It takes a huge tole on an individuals emotions, psychology, and even physical body because of the great amount of stress and anxiety. That being said, I was able to find many things and tips that allow hostages to stay healthy in all aspects. Physical activity, even just pressing your hands together firmly help to keep you physically fit, which in turn can help with your escape and maintaining a sound mind. Having conversations with people (especially loved ones) in your head, while aware that they are still just in your head helps with being able to stay perseverant about your escape/release. Playing games, talking with others, solving problems, and other tricks such as these help with the psychological aspect of being in this situation.

Surprisingly, there are a lot of people who end up surviving hostage situations, more than do not actually. Because of this there are many stories of varying hostage situations that can be found, so I will share some that seemed very interesting to me, and pertain to what it is like to be a hostage. Nicholisis Henin, a journalist from America was held hostage recently by the Isis militant group. After surviving he said that he did not think that the violence and brutality was the worst part, even though most people would assume it was, but instead it was the fear of what could happen in the next day, hour, or even minute that tore his mind to pieces. Others speak of the coping mechanisms they used such as telling jokes to break the tension. One hostage said that he kept a sound mind by knowing he was far more superior in intelligence than his captors, as their incompetence was always evident. At one point he said he new they were idiots when they blew up the engine on their boat in the middle of transporting him!

It is evident that all hostage situations are extremely different for each individual entrapped in the situation. It affects each person in a different way psychologically. I am really looking forward to seeing the different reactions of the hostages in Bel Canto. We are already seeing some, but the psychological affects will continue to increase as time prolongs

-Bryson Allen

Works Cited:

  1. http://www.independent.co.uk/news/world/middle-east/what-is-it-like-to-be-held-hostage-by-islamic-militants-9710674.html
  2. http://abcnews.go.com/blogs/headlines/2013/02/6-ways-to-survive-being-taken-hostage/
  3. http://www.salon.com/2011/09/04/when_i_was_held_hostage/
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2 thoughts on “Chapter 2: What is it like to be a hostage?

  1. sariegel says:

    Surprisingly enough, I had not considered doing research into the mindset of a hostage, much less what could be beneficial to making one a successful hostage. I particularly find interesting the account you summarized of the man who was held captive by ISIS. That he had a greater fear of the unknown than of physical brutality is something I hadn’t considered. I suppose it makes sense – though it is human nature to fear death, it is usually the unknown after death that frightens people most. It reminds me of the speech Shakespeare’s Hamlet makes when he expresses this idea with, “To sleep: perchance to dream: ay, there’s the rub; For in that sleep of death what dreams may come”.

    The differences in reactions between hostages that you looked into with your research are demonstrated in Bel Canto. We see the nervous breakdown of the accompanist, the determination of Roxanne Coss to inspire love and admiration from her captors, and the reflection on life and love by most characters given spotlight in this chapter. The way Gen began rattling off translations of “stand up” in various languages, most of which were unnecessary, makes me think that Patchett is acknowledging that if hostages can act in a way that is nonthreatening and lets them feel more in control, they are more likely to do well. I wonder if Patchett did any research into the psyche of hostages before writing this novel.

    Your research is definitely interesting. One thing that I think you could do to enhance credibility and dig a bit deeper is to look at psychology-based scholarly articles. Perhaps you could focus your research on terrorist hostage situations. One specific question I had was whether the percentage of hostages who lose their lives in terrorist situations is greater than the overall percentage of hostage deaths in all hostage situations.

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  2. Colin Murphy says:

    Hi Bryson,

    You’ve written an outstanding contribution to our class blog! I also conducted research on the hostages’ mental states and emotions. Not surprisingly, sources both you and I used claim keeping an active mind will help maintain a healthy, working mindset. Psychology clearly plays a major role here and can explain the behavior of just about every character introduced thus far. Roxanne Coss’ accompanist, for example, seems to have lost all hope in considering an escape and is even suffering from the physical discomfort you discuss in your post. And Mr. Hosokawa plays the role of a hero when he lifts the accompanist from Roxanne’s tired shoulders; other characters come to his aid as well. In other words, you’ve hit a “home run” in explaining how the stressful environment is having such an impact on the party guests.

    As for the creditability of your research, I have to agree with Sarah that you should consider a few “more scholarly” resources. Although the sources you did use are perfectly acceptable, it might be a good idea to practice “Slow Research” with the University’s online Atkins Library search engine. Oh, and please include some in-text citations so other readers can easily extend your research in other posts. This is neat stuff and I’m sure you and I aren’t the only ones interested in this topic! And on your hunt for scholarly resources next week, perhaps you might be able to find some more information about how the government officials actually feel during these types of situations? Our colleague Diane has written an excellent evaluation on this side of the topic – feel free to give her post a read!

    Again, you’ve got an excellent UHP-quality piece here. I can’t wait to see where further research will take you in the next chapter!

    – Colin

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