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, one 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 illness of the mind and body, and brainwashing sets both illnesses in motion.

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

Brainwashing is commonplace in abusive relationships. The abuser doesn't have to study mind-control in school to know how to use it in life. Watch out for this!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 classroom.

They know what works and what doesn’t work to manipulate you to do what they want. And because they’ve detached from their feelings, abusers do not feel guilt for their manipulative actions. This 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

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!”)


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.


“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”.


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.

You are reading this. You are not at the point of no return.

You can find Kellie Jo Holly on her website, Amazon Authors, Google+, Facebook and Twitter.

*Both women and men could be abusers or victims, so do not take my pronoun choices as an implication that one gender abuses and the other is victimized.

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159 Responses to How Did You Brainwash Me?

  1. justfresh says:

    i ticked nearly every dotpoint in the domedtic abuse handbook u der every heading, financial, social, emotional, physical, sexual…

    if you wonder” how can i leave? ” don’t. that is their thought.

    he tried to tell me i couldnt survive without him, ” leave if im so bad” he’d say. i took his advice, successful on the 4th attempt.

    if you live with abuse, you definitely are strong enough to live without it.
    .. and you deserve it.

    i found myself calculating if i could afford the third banana yesterday but yet i was happy that buying bananas was my choice. its been 3 months and he has ordered me to court for abusi g the kids and i cant stop laughing when i see his paperwork. there definitely is something not quite right in these abusers heads!
    sorry to sound so cheerful on a horrid topic, but i alway had the motto ” you can laugh, or you can cry” living with him. it helps alot.

    poor soul he doent even know where bowls are kept for his breakfast, because i did everything. more than normal everything too an acre and a half of gardeninig, pet dog, pet chickens, pet lizard, pet fish, pet yabbies, i ran a fencing business completely including pickups, dropoffs of materials, all the accounts and tax return, all the time being a mother and keeping the house, cooked dinner everynight sandwiches to go for everones lunch and breakfast served at 5am, even if doi g paperwok til 11.30pm. it was hard.
    we had an acre an a half in the beautiful Barossa, debt free house (paid off within 6 years with me) , successful business, beautiful family but i left it all because my kids deserve ve to be happy and im their healthy role model

  2. Aubrey says:

    I really confused our love into something amazing but little did I know that my mental confusion was my fault. (SINCE IM A LOGICAL PERSON) I was surprised by the fact that I was totally different than I really was when he wasnt around me and so on until such time I was already totally clouded and then thats all until I stepped in that point of no return perhaps thats life, Glad I fell out of love with him and saw the real thing

  3. Sarrah says:

    I just left my abusive boyfriend a few weeks ago after two years on and off of abuse. I lost my mother a few months back and he acted so nice and liked he cared…i now know that it was an act and feel totally disgusted with him and me letting him stay around. He acted like he would have moved heaven and hell for me around that time. Little did I know that he would blacken my eye, suffocate me, and break my things only three weeks after the loss of my mother. He is a monster and doesn’t deserve the life he pretends to have…I’m almost certain he cheated and kinda let me know with out saying it…just so he could throw it in my face. It’s been almost three weeks since I left and I have no love left for him. I’m sure he has put my name into the ground besides stalking me the other day. All I know is honestly if you are being abused leave…no he won’t change. I watched my father abuse my mom for 30 years and all she got from it was to be 6 feet under. Please do yourself the favor and run and never go back….kids or not!!!!

  4. Florence Young says:

    I need much more articles like this, they really help me alot.

  5. MaryJane says:

    I was in my abusive marriage for 17 years. Left and went back a year later, thinking it would be better. However, the abuse has been much worse. He was on a mission to destroy me this time. To the point that he completely financially ruined me, became much more physically abusive. But now he is seeking help because he says “I” am abusive to him. For example, if I asked him to give money back that he had no right to take. He informed me that he was told and read from an abuse website that if one continues to ask a question and is not happy with the answer….they are abusive. He honestly has people believing that “I” am the abuser. At the moment I have a broken rib and he was ordered to have no contact so he had to leave he house. I feel guilty because 1) he also dislocated his shoulder when he was pushing me away on the steps and we both fell) 2) I am staying in “his” house because I was forced to sell “my” house and was left with no time to find a new place or given enough financial funds from my attorney (we were going through the divorce process for the second time since being remarried, but he always convinces me to stop the process). Has anyone else been accuses of being the “abuser?”

  6. Debbie says:

    @MaryJane — yes, he is accusing me of being physically and emotionally abusive. He is going to trauma counseling to deal with the PTSD I caused him.He is telling everyone he knows about how horrible I am. He did the same thing when I left four years ago; I believed him then. I took responsibility for everything, and apologized my ass off of four years. I went to therapy; I took medication to help me with my “problem.” I degraded and hated myself, and it still wasn’t good enough. I had to keep apologizing, and keep “making it up to him.” Just before Thanksgiving, after he had been living in my house (the poor thing “couldn’t” work and was kicked out of his rental) for almost two months, something finally clicked. It was probably being berated for four hours for all my past crimes *again.* In the middle of those four hours, I was going to ask him to take my to the emergency room so I could be placed on a 72-hour hold. I convinced myself that I really was crazy — because he said so. Fortunately, I called the local crisis hotline instead, and told them what was going on. The crisis counselor talked sense into me, and when he told me he could go stay at his mother’s house for a few days, I said “yes.” (He later said he really didn’t mean it and that he didn’t think I would say yes. Ooops on him.) I never let him back in the house, and called the cops when he tried. I felt guilty, too. He hates his mother, and had to stay with her after *all* of his friends wouldn’t help him. I felt guilty because I was literally the last person who loved him. (Not even his daughter will speak to him. Oh, that’s my fault, too, as is his unspecified health condition, as is the fact that he “can’t” work.) Your ex *owes* you the house; because you already paid for it and much more with your love, your hard work to “fix” the relationship, and your self-esteem. You are going to go through a long period of recovery, and the only thing you should feel toward him is anger. Every word out of his mouth is a lie, including “and” and “the.” Of course he wants you to feel guilty — he can’t take any responsibility (he’s actually NOT capable of it), because if he’s truthful with himself — if he faces his real self for even a second — all his lies and abuse will come crashing down around him and he can’t face the shame. My ex really believes what he says about me. The important part is that I don’t anymore. He will have to live with himself for the rest of his life — that’s my revenge. My worst day without him is better than my best day with him. Good luck, stay No Contact, and you are doing a good thing!

  7. George says:

    I’m in a situation like this right now. I’m waiting for everything to ripe because u have seen the truth. I have set my boundaries and I have defended it twice within 24hours. I also spoke spoke with her pastor who happens to be her relative. The sad thing is that…I’m a stranger in United States. I’m African. I’m happy I came across this piece.

  8. Maria says:

    Yes, he tells me I abuse him phisically and emotionally. He also tells me how ungrateful I am. If I tell him “Ok, since I am so wrong and awful I will leave you alone” – then he tells me he is not perfect either and that he was never ashamed of me (eventhough knowing what a slut everybody says I am).

  9. Marie says:

    Hello to all the victim woman
    I have been to the same situation with an abused man for 15 years. Which I tried everything to have a beautiful perfect life, but now I know that is impossible to change an abusive man.
    They are in dark holes and they want to keep you with them. They get worse every day and they never change…
    I wonder how I lived with him all these years and with my 3 beautiful children.
    Its good that my childrens are out of his life or else they would have been brain washed as their mom.
    Like every other victim woman I did everything in the house worked outside and inside thought he would appreciate one day. But no instead his questions for me at the end was” what have u done for me ha?” Which I stayed silent because even I explain to him what I have done still means nothing to the dumm psychic.
    I am glade now I control my life and no more pain and scary moments…

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