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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, 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 ChangingMinds.org.)

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.

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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153 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!!!!

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