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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110 Responses to How Did You Brainwash Me?

  1. Barbara says:

    I cried as I read the article, as well as many of the comments here, because I’ve been married for over 34 years now, and I am almost ready to break away. I’ve tried three times before, even ending up in court once before deciding to stay for couples/individual counseling. It didn’t’ work. I have lost any sense of who I am, yet I know she’s still in there somewhere. On top of that, whenever I am emotionally/mentally abused and get angry about it, I am accused of being “an angry woman,” or a person with an anger problem who needs help. I don’t go overboard when I’m mad, either. I simply express my feelings as positively and respectfully as I can, or walk away and come back later when I am more composed. Life is a living hell. I know I’m not perfect, but I have changed for the better over the years. People who know me will tell me I’m not an angry person at all, and in fact, I can be too nice. Thanks so much for this article. I feel like a fog has been lifted. God bless.

  2. rachel says:

    I am strong. I stand strong against him. All I just read, I recognize. I’ve left so many times. We went from Oklahoma to California. He called demanded by the courts the kids and I return. I would have never come back. I am trapped. I have been strategically making plans to leave. Saving money, slowly moving out. One box at a time. It’s getting worse. He put his hands around my throat and pretended to squeeze. I need out. I can’t find anywhere to go. I read articles like this often to keep my strength up. Also to remind me of who and how he chooses to behave.

  3. Marie says:

    I have been in a relationship for five years now, I read this article because my boyfriend and I are going through a major ordeal. I still find myself more concerned about his well being and how he is doing than my own children or my own. I am currently separated from him and I am thinking how did I become this way and why. I know he has brainwashed me throughout the time we have been together and every step in the process described above fits my life perfectly! I trying to stay strong and this article has helped me realize the hold he has on my concious and sub concious, and the effort he has taken to keep me under his control! I’m so overwhelmed with feelings of failure, and confusion. I am just taking it day by day.

  4. mary says:

    I have the same experience. Unfortunately he was a minister in Iran and was very powerful. Now he is teaching in the university now. He was an abuser. He used to make relationships with women and girl..
    Every time, I said anythings about his relationships with women and girls or I wanted to see his cellphone, he shouted on me and leave me for several times..
    He was in my life for 18 months and during this time, I was very stressful..Each time I complained about any things, he told me: You don’t have any things to loose…

  5. Robert says:

    Thank you

  6. Erika says:

    I cannot take it anymore… almost 10 years of verbal abuse. .everytime I tried to leave he threatens me with something.. I don’t know what to do….

  7. Call the NDVH or chat with a representative at Tell them about his threats, tell them you can’t take it anymore, and tell them you don’t know what to do. They will advise you, and I suggest you follow that advice. That’s what you do.

  8. Irene says:

    Inam hoping someone reads this, I am 8 years in. The the first 5 I had no clue what was going on, I thought I was going crazy, thought I was all these horrible things he said I was, confused and broken I almost had a nervous breakdown. He never hits me, doesn’t even really have to yell. Silent treatment, dosas appointing looks, passive aggressive jabs, constantly telling that I’m bad, selfish, bad with money, too sensitive too forgetful the list goes on. I left n I don’t any idea why I thought it would be different to come back. I’m an idiot, it’s happening all over again. I’m so sick of it yet all I do is feel guilt, over everything. I spend 10 bucks and I’m made to feel like a useless person over it. I work I have always worked.why can’t I just cut him off completely, why . Also when telling others my issues with him , it always sounds as if I’m crazy as if mb I am the bad one

  9. Abusers are adept at making you feel like “the bad one.” They are expert blamers and manipulators. I suggest you start building a support system so you can run what he says to you past a sympathetic pair of ears. Someone to validate that you are NOT the crazy one and to say, “OMG – I can’t believe he said that to you. You know he’s an idiot, right?” This validation of what you think and feel is very important to regaining your focus on the truth of your situation. Right now, you’re focused on what he says is the truth, but he has no problem distorting your perception and lying to you.

    You can start with the NDVH ( and build out from there. Don’t enlist his family or friends in your support network because what you’re doing or saying will get back to him. Attend groups, call hotlines, speak to your family doctor and get a therapist. If one of your friends takes his side right now, that person is ignorant of domestic abuse and should not be in this support network. Be choosy.

    You fear of “sounding crazy” or “like the bad one” is partially based on the fact that abuse makes you feel as if you can no longer communicate rationally with others. The problem is that you CAN communicate with the right people – people who understand and can help. For example, you do not sound crazy to me at all. In fact, I know there are a hundred other little things that happen to you that you didn’t include in your comment. It’s a big ball of lies made up by your abuser to make you feel weak. But you are not weak. You are capable, responsible, level-headed and completely sane.

    Visit the NDVH and start putting together a support system of domestic violence survivors, domestic violence support organizations, a DV support group or two, trusted (and educated about abuse) friends and family, perhaps an attorney if legal issues concern you, your family doctor, a therapist, … whoever you can think of to support you, validate you, and help you get back on track.

  10. Melissa says:

    I have left my abuser a month now it hasn’t been easy lots of self doubt, confusion, what if he really does love me, what if he has really changed this time?! I was with him only a year and 8 months but long enough to get me to point where I was going to have a nervous break down! I lost my children , my family , my friends he def had me in iosolatiin and would daily break me down. Thank God I held on to my job through this that was the last thing he was trying to get me to lose n he was working hard on that! One of my co-workers is one of my dearest friends and now has given me a roof over my head until I get on my feet! That man had me brain washed and I didn’t even realize how bad it was until I read this because even now sadly I feel guilt about leaving him and his pain! He had hit me, called me slut ( and many other choice words), made me think that everything I knew or thought I was was wrong, he would give me daily lectures of what I did wrong and could do better , would tell me if I only did this or that I would have him and his heart forever, he would talk to other women on IG or Twitter , he made me choose him or my children , he would text me all day at work telling that I am cheating that I was probably doing oral pleasures on men at work , he forced me to watch porn while giving him oral pleasure, he would hit me during sex ! The list goes on and on ! I am so thankful I have made it out! Alive !!!!

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