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Unraveling the Enigma: Berlin Syndrome and its Existence as a Psychological Disorder

by | Mar 7, 2024 | Original Berlin


While the psychological thriller film “Berlin Syndrome” may have captured the attention of many viewers, it begs the question: is Berlin Syndrome a real illness? In this article, we will explore the concept of Berlin Syndrome, its origins, characteristics, and whether or not it can be classified as a legitimate psychological disorder.

Understanding Berlin Syndrome

Berlin Syndrome is a term that emerged from the 2011 novel of the same name written by author Melanie Joosten. It later gained further recognition through the 2017 film adaptation directed by Cate Shortland. The story revolves around a young Australian photographer who becomes trapped in a psychologically manipulative and abusive relationship while on a trip to Berlin.

Origins of the Term

The term “Berlin Syndrome” is not recognized as an official psychiatric diagnosis. However, it draws inspiration from Stockholm Syndrome, a well-known psychological phenomenon where captives develop positive feelings towards their captors. Stockholm Syndrome originated from an incident in Stockholm, Sweden in 1973, where hostages formed an emotional bond with their captors during a bank robbery.

Characteristics of Berlin Syndrome

In the context of the novel and film, Berlin Syndrome is described as a condition where an individual experiences emotional and psychological entrapment. This entrapment often results from a toxic relationship characterized by manipulation, coercion, and isolation. The captor uses psychological tactics to assert control over the victim, who gradually becomes dependent on their abusive partner.

Evaluating Berlin Syndrome as a Psychological Disorder

Identification in Diagnostic Manuals

As of now, Berlin Syndrome is not categorized as a recognized psychological disorder in established diagnostic manuals such as the Diagnostic and Statistical Manual of Mental Disorders (DSM-5) or the International Classification of Diseases (ICD-10). These manuals serve as authoritative sources for mental health professionals to identify and diagnose various disorders.

Overlap with Existing Disorders

While Berlin Syndrome may not have a standalone classification, it shares similarities with other psychological disorders, such as Stockholm Syndrome, Complex Post-Traumatic Stress Disorder (C-PTSD), and Dependent Personality Disorder (DPD).

Stockholm Syndrome

As mentioned earlier, Berlin Syndrome draws inspiration from Stockholm Syndrome. Both involve a victim developing a psychological bond with their captor, blurring the lines between captor and captives. However, Berlin Syndrome focuses more on the power dynamics within a romantic relationship, whereas Stockholm Syndrome can occur in various hostage situations.

Complex Post-Traumatic Stress Disorder (C-PTSD)

Victims of long-term abuse, such as those portrayed in Berlin Syndrome, may exhibit symptoms aligned with C-PTSD. This disorder encompasses symptoms of Post-Traumatic Stress Disorder (PTSD) with additional symptoms such as emotional dysregulation, difficulty forming trusting relationships, and distorted self-perception.

Dependent Personality Disorder (DPD)

DPD can also be relevant to the portrayal of individuals with Berlin Syndrome. It is characterized by excessive reliance on others to meet emotional and decision-making needs. Victims in abusive relationships often find themselves dependent on their partner due to manipulation and control tactics employed.

The Importance of Recognizing Berlin Syndrome

Although Berlin Syndrome is not officially classified as a psychological disorder, it remains crucial to acknowledge the underlying themes and patterns it represents. Fictional narratives like those in the book and film adaptation shed light on abusive relationships and the psychological trauma victims may experience.


In conclusion, while Berlin Syndrome is not currently recognized as a distinct psychological disorder, its portrayal touches upon real-life psychological phenomena and existing disorders. By exploring the themes and elements depicted in Berlin Syndrome, individuals can gain insights into the dynamics of abusive relationships and the potential effects on victims. It is important to continue studying and understanding the complexities of abusive relationships to offer support and resources for those impacted.

Thank you for reading. If you're inspired by the stories of Berlin and want to delve deeper, why not join us on our Free Berlin Walking Tour? It's a wonderful way to immerse yourself in the city's rich history and vibrant culture. We look forward to welcoming you soon.


  • 3.5 hours walking tour
  • Berlin’s major highlights
  • Brandenburg Gate
  • Reichstag and Berlin Wall
  • Historical sites

Free Walking Tour Berlin

When: Every day 10am & 12pm every day
Where: The meeting point is in front of the ehemaliges Kaiserliches Postfuhramt Berlin, Oranienburger Straße, 10117 Berlin, Germany, next to the entrance.
Price: Free