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How Did You Brainwash Me?

When people ask, “Why do women stay in abusive relationships?” the answers are often too simple. There could be financial reasons, but if the abusive spouse died, would the victim wonder if they could support themselves to the point of doing nothing to advance their employability? (No.) There are the children to consider, but if the abusive spouse died, would the victim insist on finding a replacement right away? (No.)

Although finances and children are reasons victims cite for staying, the true reason they stay is a deeply implanted fear that they cannot make it in the world alone. My abuser implanted this fear so deeply in my mind that instead of recognizing the abuse in my relationship, I instead prayed that he would die.

I consciously acknowledged the fact that he made my life hell, but the thought that I could divorce him remained outside my realm of consciousness. Abuse causes sickness of the mind and body, and brainwashing sets in motion both sicknesses.

What is Brainwashing?

Merriam-Webster’s concise encyclopedia states that brainwashing is a

“Systematic effort to destroy an individual’s former loyalties and beliefs and to substitute loyalty to a new ideology or power… The techniques of brainwashing usually involve isolation from former associates and sources of information; an exacting regimen calling for absolute obedience and humility; strong social pressures and rewards for cooperation; physical and psychological punishments for noncooperation, including social ostracism and criticism, deprivation of food, sleep, and social contacts, bondage, and torture; and constant reinforcement….”

I could have asked, “What is Domestic Abuse” and posted the same definition.

Brainwashing Works Best On A Special Type of Victim

Sandra L. Brown, M.A. says in her book “Women Who Love Psychopaths” that the best victims for brainwashing are women who are:

  • perfectionists, and/or
  • hold themselves to high standards, and/or
  • persistent, and/or
  • resourceful, and/or
  • goal-directed, and/or
  • self-sacrificing, and/or
  • previous victims of abuse or neglect, and/or
  • experience dependence, vulnerability, or incompetency issues.

If you are in an abusive relationship and do not recognize yourself in the first five or six bullet points, think back to the beginning of your relationship. Do you recognize aspects of who you were?

How Abusers Use Brainwashing Techniques Naturally

According to Ms. Brown’s book, abusers do not “feel” the way we normally think of what it means to feel. Due to childhood abuse or perhaps mental disorder, many if not most abusers detach from their feelings at an early age. Instead of feeling, they observe how other people behave, and then mimic those behaviors appropriately.

In this way, abusers become expert behaviorists without taking a step inside a class room. They know what works and what doesn’t work to get you to do what they want, and because they’ve detached from their feelings, abusers do not feel guilt for their manipulative actions.

brainwashing abuseThis is probably why abusers cannot take responsibility for what they’ve done to you or admit they abuse you (with lasting regret). They do not comprehend that any wrong took place and may think that your fear and tears are merely a “show” designed to manipulate them, and baby, they ain’t fallin’ for it.

In short, abuser’s use brainwashing techniques naturally because “the set-up” is all they know.

Lifton’s Brainwashing Technique

Robert J. Lifton was an early psychologist who studied mind-control and brainwashing. He broke the brainwashing technique down into the following categories. I’m going to change the descriptions to align with domestic abuse. (See the original list at Changing Minds.)

Assault on identity

The abuser attacks the victim’s self-identity by making statements that define the victim, eventually causing the victim to break down and doubt their own perceptions of “who they are.” ( i.e. “You’re not good with money” “You are a slut!”)

Guilt

Arguments in which the abuser expresses hurt or discontent leads the victim to feel guilty (these complaints may be completely fabricated or loosely based on fact). Eventually, these arguments cause the victim to break down and feel guilt and shame for almost everything they do and come to feel they deserve punishment.

Self-betrayal

“When the person is forced to denounce friends and family, it both destroys their sense of identity and reinforces feelings of guilt. This helps to separates them from their past, building the ground for a new personality to be built” (quoted straight from Changing Minds because I couldn’t say it any better – a.k.a. isolation)

Breaking point

The breaking point is best defined by it’s symptoms: Depression, crying jags, a nervous breakdown or panic attacks, vague overwhelming fear or explicit fears of dying or loved ones dying. Unconsciously, victims begin losing their sense of “who they are” and experience the fear of “total annihilation of the self”.

Leniency

Just when the victim can’t take it anymore, the abuser offers a small kindness. The victim feels a deep sense of gratitude (more gratitude than is justified by the abuser’s act). Does it feel like a honeymoon? Yep.

The compulsion to confess

The victim may feel a compulsion to offer up an act of kindness to the abuser, as if the pain the victim caused the abuser is anywhere near the pain the abuser caused the victim. The victim, knowing that nothing would make the abuser happier than to agree with the negative statements made early on, may “confess” to being exactly as the abuser said they were (“You’re right, I did act like a slut by wearing that dress” “Please take over all the bank accounts – I don’t understand money”)

The channeling of guilt

The victim’s overwhelming sense of guilt and shame combined with the assaults on their identity and unsubstantiated accusations cause major confusion. In time, the victim feels that everything they do is “wrong” and “I can’t do anything right!”

After the victim enters this state of confusion, the abuser can redirect the victim’s guilt toward anything the victim thinks, feels, or does. This causes the victim to wonder if everything they were taught or learned previously was “bad” and that maybe the abuser’s take on life in general is “good”.

Reeducation: logical dishonoring

The victim thinks, “Hey – if I am such a mess because of what I was taught, then it’s not my fault that I’m so messed up!” The victim finds relief for their guilt by thinking such thoughts, so they “confess” to their abuser more of the “stupid” beliefs they hold but now want to rid themselves of.

In this way, the victim begins to deny their own identity and willingly take on portions of the identity the abuser wants them to have.

Progress and harmony

As the victim empties herself of previous beliefs, the hole left inside of her acts like a vacuum, sucking in the abuser’s ideas of good/bad and right/wrong. The abuse eases because the abuser sees less of “her” in her and more of “him” in her. The victim receives a pleasurable response in his lack of abuse. There’s not more love, just less abuse.

Final confession and rebirth

Typically, the above steps will recur repetitively in the abusive relationship. “Final confession and rebirth” cannot be reached until the victim is completely and totally brainwashed to be exactly who the abuser wished. This is the point of no return.

This entry was posted in Abuse in Marriage, Abuse in Relationships, Abusive Behaviors, Accusing, Codependency, Confusion, Fear, Gaslighting, Guilt, Insinuating, Isolation, Lying, Name Calling, Recognizing Abuse, Stopping Verbal Abuse, Symptoms of Abuse, Teen Dating, Uncategorized, Verbal Abuse Signs and tagged , , , , , , , . Bookmark the permalink.

63 Responses to How Did You Brainwash Me?

  1. Kati says:

    I was in abusive marriage for 10 years and I’ve been out of it for 4. Healing takes a lot of time. Even my family expected I’d be better immediately after the divorce and thought there was something wrong with me. It’s completely normal to need time to get healthy. I have supportive friends and my faith in God that helps me know that goodness will prevail. My ex has targeted my kids to turn them against me and tells all mutual friends that I’m crazy. I have to document everything and keep taking him to court. It’s a hard road, but you can and will get your life back if you continue to persevere and keep hope. Pulling for everyone here!

  2. Risa says:

    Kellie,

    WOW!! You have done such a Great Job on your Posting!! I have just learned SO Much about Abusers and Victims!! I was trying to locate some information because I Truly believe that My 22 year old SON is being Mentally and Emotionally Abused by his Girlfriend of almost 4 years now and it just Breaks My Heart!! I am a Single Mom and I raised My 2 Boys Completely on My Own, with NO Help Financially or Emotionally from their father that walked out when my oldest son was 12 and my youngest son was only 2 years old. I often wonder If my youngest son is Allowing this Abuse to continue because his father has Never been a part of his life and he has become Close to his girlfriend’s father!!?? Could that be a Factor?? His girlfriend started off acting as if she really did Like Me and Our Family, but then things began to Change!!?? Over the past couple of years my Son has become Very Distant with Me and We used to be Extremely Close. I had noticed that She would always say things around me like “You Are Such a Momma’s Boy” and he used to smile and say “Yes I Am”!! You could just Read the Expression on Her Face that those words and Our Close Relationship just Infuriated Her, but I honestly Never Understood until Now!! She has also Never been Close to her Own Mother, but Very Close to Her Father. Her Parents were also Divorced when she was 3 years old, but her Father uses “$Money” as His Way of being Close to Her and she Uses It, letting me know now that this is probably how she first learned how “Manipulation” was done!!?? She has Totally Isolated My Youngest Son away from ME, His Brother, his Entire Family, And ALL of His Friends!! She has even Started Arguements with Me and turn All of the Blame on Me and then I have had to actually watch My Own Son Totally Take Her Side and Take UP for Her on Everything! I have even witnessed Her Yelling and Screaming at Him and watched Him just Sit There and Take It and Not say One Word back to Her!!?? Does this All sound like Abuse to You?? I Don’t know What to Do and he Won’t even Talk to Me Anymore! It’s Heart Breaking for Me because My Son was Always Such a Great Kid and Very Outgoing with Lots of Friends!! Help Me Help My Son!!!

  3. Roz says:

    I KNOW that I’ve been brainwashed in this 17 year marriage, now living in a state where there is no family to go to for help. I want to have a life before it’s too late, but how does one “break away” from a brainwasher? Thanks

  4. Koko says:

    OMG! It’s so good to hear another person say that they wished that their abuser would just die! I always felt so awful for feeling that way, but it is SO hard to leave it would be easier if he just dropped dead. My abuser got sick and nearly died and I felt bad, but inside I thought “at least now it can truly be over!” There is that fear of doing life alone, but there is also the fear of what terrible thing he might do. It seems irrational to think that way, considering it has never been a physically abusive relationship, but he has done such terrible things to my psyche that I find myself in an almost catatonic state when I think of having to face his abuse, especially if I left for good. I really have no clue what he is capable of as his abuse sometimes feels SO random. I want out, but I also love him (when he is not abusing) and don’t want to lose the man that I love, so instead I keep deceiving myself that if I “let sleeping dogs lie” and jump through all of his “hoops” maybe I can keep that good side of him in control. It never works. He will blow. And then I wonder why I have stayed so long!

  5. chris60 says:

    This is an interesting article and clearly explains the tactics and outcome of abuse. It is easy to repeat abusive tactics as they give someone a sense of power, and the world seems to find the victim weak instead of recognising the way that abuse erodes their sense of self and demanding that the abuser enter therapy instead of opening the door to treat the victim’s wounds. The best tip is to be by yourself for a period of time and to educate yourself about abuse so that you can recognise the warning signs and change your own behaviour to enable healthier interactions. My family is highly abusive and in denial about the fact that incest and domestic violence occurred and still occurs. I have opted to remain away from the crazy-making behaviour and refuse to appear like a happy good daughter to mask the truth in public.

    Unfortunately, finding help can be hard as many therapists also come from abusive backgrounds and are blind to their own desire to maintain control and have you comply with their world view and assumptions about your character and motivations. After seeking help from a sexual abuse counsellor, I left with my head reeling after being accused of being an observor, when in reality I do engage emotionally in relationships and am wary when others display red signs. The fact that this lady then proceeded to attack me for agreeing to seek help – Do you do whatever someone wants? Demanded to know what I wanted, and then ignored my requests for information about meditation and boundaries, claiming not to be a relationships counsellor – heck, how can you deal with sexual abuse and incest with no understanding or relationships? – and proceeded to claim that people from abusive homes have been hard-wired to repeat the abuse or be just like their parents as they grow up with that schema, shocked me. Her refusal to listen or validate my feelings, as well as her insistence that intimacy means ‘sex’, left me stunned. She then claimed the principal who attempted to syphon money from my contract and then attacked me in private was “clever”. I left the office disappointed and confused as I had hoped to receive support instead of feeling invalidated and accused of being foolish and overly compliant for agreeing to seek help. Walking away is not a cowardly act but a sensible choice if you want to regain your sanity. A healthy moment arises when you start to recognise abuse for what it is: an attempt to erode your sense of self to make the other person feel more powerful and in control. Please learn to believe that you are better off alone than in a bad relationship, and do not give a hoot if people find that odd. Communities have been brainwashed people to believe that having a partner is a sign of being normal instead of something that often suits one person at the expense of the other. Most abuse happens within personal relationships rather than at the hands of a stranger. This is a fact that people need to consider seriously before diving in and then floundering with the reality that many people are abusive and all of us have the ability to hurt those we claim to love or want to help. An appreciation of difference helps a lot in overcoming the abuser’s desire for us to share and mimic their world view and be a slave to their needs or a mini-me.

  6. Mel says:

    I have been in an abusive relationship for the last 23 years of my life and still don’t know how to get out. I haven’t lived in these years at all just merely existed. I was 15 when I started dating him and moved away from a dysfunctional family at age 16…from the pan to the FIRE. At first he told me all my gf were sluts and if I hung out with them, that I would be one too?!! Btw my gf were nice girls and to this very day I still regret leaving them for him cause I have NOBODY in my life anymore!:(. One day he had some friends come to our apartment to buy some weed from him, when they arrived I said hello and offered them something to drink….WOW…that was the first and last time I ever did that..after the guys left he went upside me and down the other calling me a dirty slut and that he could see the way I was looking at them?!!! Called me a slut and said he knew I wanted to sleep with them??? I didn’t realize saying hello and offering a drink really meant I wanna get naked and have you right now?!!! After a few other incidents like this I started to learn to NEVER talk to the opposite sex and I learned to hold my gaze to look at the ground so I wouldn’t accidentally look into the eyes of the opposite sex and be accused of flirting with them. I was still in high school when I moved out and in with him, he would drive by my school on breaks and make sure I wasn’t talking or hanging with anyone he didn’t approve of, he never took or let me go to my prom or graduation…things I still regret to this day!!:( one day I was putting my makeup on and getting my day started..he came up to me and said..who are u trying to impress? I said nobody this is just how I start my day..we’ll u don’t need that anymore now that your with me he said…after that day it’s was no more hair and makeup..which I loved to do and only baggy jogging pants and oversized t shirts…I was a 16 year old girl?!!!! Who does that to someone??? He did..TO ME!!:( and I was so naive and had such little self confidence I guess I believed I deserved to be treated this way. Eventually I became pregnant and threw my life into raising our kids…we had 3 kids in 4 years…I kept busy for years being the best mom I could be…he settled down a bit during these years but only cause I lived exactly how he wanted me to. When my youngest was about to start school I got scared thinking what will become of me…I didn’t continue my education after high school, I lost all my friends? I needed something more, I told my husband I needed a job or to continue my education…he wanted nothing of it, just happy to have me stay home and have him take care of everything. I ended up getting deeply depressed and eventually kicking my heels down and insisting I needed a job, eventually I got one and it did wonders for my self esteem, I finally had friends again and felt worthy. Eventually I took this strength and decided to further educate myself for a better job and better opportunities, my husband kicked and screamed and tried to manipulate everything I did, but at this point in my life I had gained a bit of confidence and just went forward, it was all great for awhile that is until I made some amazing friends at work and they started wanting me to go out with them..he caved letting me get a job but no way was he caving about letting me out with friends…I had gained confidence but not enough to go out and have fun…eventually my friends started getting upset with me when I would never do anything with them and eventually I lost them..now work wasn’t so great cause I felt isolated there too. I’d love to keep writing and tell you all the hell and pain I’ve suffered and continue to suffer but because of my husbands abusive ways I cannot even finish writing this post because I’m not allowed to be doing this and he is almost finished his shower, please if you find any of what I’ve written to be familiar of what your going through, find a way to get OUT…I’m still looking!:( but have to go before he sees this!:(

  7. Amy says:

    Dear Kellie,
    I’ve been with my bf for about 7 months now and the last month has been utter turmoil. Everything seemed great and I had a decision to make and job offer in another state and was debating on going (a conflict I had before even meeting the bf). I decided to stay for myself, family and seek out this new relationship as I’ve never felt this before. Anyway, so when the bf asked me to move in, I was ecstatic, but told him although it’s a little premature, I’ll think about it. We agreed if I did stay that I’d move in 6 months later, but that he felt that’s the direction that our relationship was headed. Anyway, fast forward to last month. I came to find out he was still in communication with his ex (rebound -who is engaged and in another state) and speaks to her once a month, on the dating site we met on. When I confronted him, he gave me the excuse if “well, I didn’t know if you are moving or not and we haven’t decided on what we are doing?” Let me preface all this by saying I didn’t want to date him at first because I didn’t want to get attached and he pursued, wanted to “label” us and be with me. It just flowed, felt amazing and was so easy and natural. I’ve never felt this before. So once I told him I still want to be committed and serious even if I move, he agreed to stop communicating with the ex and deleted his dating profile.
    That same night I found out about his communication with the ex and dating profile, he said “if you leave me-you’re replaceable.” I was in tears. Who would think that if you are happy?? Then he goes on to say “well, it’s true, everyone is.”
    He apologized for the comment and said what we have is special, but it still hurts me to this day and I wonder if I should still be with him.
    What does he want? He was married for 8 yrs, divorced for 2 and had a rebound last year before me. I don’t think he’s ready for a relationship of this caliber and needs to date more.
    Please advise-he hasn’t said I love you yet and when I ask “what do you want or are you looking for?” He responds with “I want a gf.” Which to me, just means anyone, he didn’t say “I want you as my gf and I’m happy.” Am I wrong???

  8. kathy says:

    Is there some serious advice for me.legally sep.frm a severe narcissistic abuser with 9 kids,he has tortured me with mind games,brainwashing of myself and children,who hr uses at times to help him bring me down.they are vjctims being used by him.i mved to another state and he followed.he is 3 miles away,he has isolated and made all my friemds and family and neughbors not be a support for me anymore.he has dragged me to court
    Spent all our money,caused me to lose my apartment,then called social services and said i was homeless and he wanted custody.he caused thr breakup of older daughter to her fiance just to get to me as a warning for me to stay in line.he will not be ignored
    No contact doesnt work.and i have a restraining order against him! He has coached the kids that if i turn him in for violating restraining order,he will lose his job and he wont be able to help them financially so they are to defend him of mim gets crazy again and falsely accusing him. He is the victim,i am mentally ill, how can i be free,

  9. mustafa says:

    I always wondered why women stay with abusers and I discovered why when I became a victim myself. It’s incredibly difficult and exhausting. It’s the most difficult thing, relearning everything and trying to find yourself again. An awful trial in life, but light at the end of the tunnel. If it wasn’t for my faith in Jesus i have no idea where I would be right now. He has been with me through it all. Such peace comes from crying out for Him to save you. He does just that. Through Him I have strength. I can do all things through Christ who strengthens me.

    Reach out to Jesus to save you, and He will :)

  10. I’m sure my husband is brainwashed to leave me and his children and has married his cousin ( who has brainwashed him). We rarely hear from him and hardly ever see him. We had a good marriage which has fallen apart and has been destroyed by his cousin. I love him desperately and I know he loves me too. His three children love him and miss him desperately. He left us fifteen years ago and I haven’t stopped praying for him to turn around and come back to us. Please tell me what I can we do.Thank you

  11. FiFiMomma says:

    Wow, so much recent feedback from so many people. I’m glad a place like this exists so women can share their testimony freely without consequence (hopefully). I’d tell my story but I think I’d rather just post my progress at this point cause I think I’m finally getting to the point where I’ve had enough. Last night I took the initiative and filed a police report for electronic eavesdropping (he bugged me with a small recording device to spy on me-crazy right?! Its a class c felony btw in my state that is punishable up to 15 years in prison and fines of 10k per day that I had been recorded without consent) and domestic violence-verbal.

    I then returned home formally emailed him that I had filed reports and I would continue to file them for **Every Incident** future forward. The following day (today) he didn’t say a word. It was a very empowering feeling during a long stretch of feeling very powerless.

    Even though I’m not ready to leave right at this moment at least I have begun legally documenting abusive incidents so that, if need be I will have records.

    I’m hoping with these actions, if we did actually split-that monitored visitations and domestic violence courses would be a requirement by the courts.

    Anyway, I hope someone finds this useful. I’ll have to come back and update this later and keep reading these posts to keep me motivated and hopeful. Thank you for this virtual safe haven.

  12. Jennifer, it’s been 15 years. It is time to move on. He will always be the children’s dad, but he hasn’t been your husband for a very long time.

    Have you considered the possibility that he is using you for something? What do you give him when he comes around? Anything from attention to money could be his reason for keeping you on the leash. Or maybe he likes knowing you are waiting for him.

    Could you be romanticizing the relationship you had 15 years ago?

  13. Mahlo says:

    I have been with my boyfriend since 2005, moved in with him in 2010 after giving birth to twins in 2009. Kids live with my mom. I have been working since 2007. He was working full time as well. He then left his full time job after getting a part time one. He used to complain that I don’t buy anything for the house. I then started by buying small things and then even bigger things from the kitchen unit, couch, wardrobe to a kitchen stove. He started by borrowing small amounts of money then changed to bigger then biggest. I would get a loan for him and he he wouldn’t pay me back. Then he stopped buying groceries promising me that he is saving to pay lobola. He now does not want to reason with me about anything. He doesn’t like when I ask him where he is going or how did his meeting go if he had one.
    he would make comments like “I don’t like driving with chicks next to me cause they are irritating” that’s if I comment about him drinking while driving.
    I am currently expecting another child.
    I feel like he is using me for money and possesions but it is not easy to go back to my mother’s house. I also don’t know what to do. I think he does not love me any more but I don’t want to accept it.
    He would come home and ask me whether I have been crying for him.
    I lost all my friends a few months after meeting him and now I am lonely all the time.
    I threatened to take the kids if I leave him.
    I feel much better when I am at work because I do customer service and after work I don’t look forward to going to that house.

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