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How Did You Brainwash Me?

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!

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!”)


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.

Author: Kellie Jo Holly

Kellie Jo Holly advocates for domestic violence and abuse awareness through her writing. You can find Kellie Jo on her website, Amazon Authors, Google+, Facebook and Twitter.

158 thoughts on “How Did You Brainwash Me?”

  1. I no longer knew Who I was. All I knew was who she wanted me to be. It didn’t matter whether it was right or wrong only that it stopped her from leaving again as if I did something wrong. I never know what I do wrong I only knew that how I reacted determined my punishment and my only reward was a lack of it. This was our love this was my everything.

    She knew I needed her, she made sure of that. She was the only one I could talk to or rather it was the only choice she gave me. I was young I didn’t know jealousy was her fault she had me believe it was my fault for making her jealous. She’d given me an ultimatum the first of many to come. This ultimatum only had one condition, to get rid of anyone else she thought would ruin the person she wanted me to be.

    I felt alone, completely alone in the world when she was not there. She became my world and without her I no longer knew Who I was. Whenever I met someone new, someone threatening to her she threw a melodramatic fit and left and she knew my world shattered each time.
    It was my punishment after all. All I could do was stop making friends and also eventually stop bonding with anyone else close to me.

    I felt isolated… but it pleased her not upset her, its my fault she’s jealous… I was rewarded contact with her after that.
    Finally my world made sense again she was here and I could speak and laugh and be myself… This seems odd… I no longer know who I am why is it that I’m “myself” around her.

    I guess you could say she’s the only one who knows me she’s the only one I can share myself with. After all if a give a piece of myself to anyone else I feel guilty and afraid of upsetting her afraid of her leaving… I need her.
    Oh no! No! It’s like she can tell, she knows I was thinking about it again. I’m sorry angel. Please don’t leave please don’t get angry. I have confession to make, I … I … I felt something today.

    She’s left what do I do, I don’t know what to do. I can’t have feelings of my own. She’s right I am not like him he’s perfect and I’m too soft hearted she’s right I’m not a man. I can never please her everything I do makes no difference. I’ll never be perfect as much I want to be as much as I try. I don’t want her to leave again what am I doing wrong.
    I know what to do now, I have to be perfect. I have to do then maybe she won’t leave again then maybe she’ll love me the way I love her. Yes, that’s it, that’s perfect, I’ll be perfect I was messed up before but now I know what’s perfect, she tells me because I ask her otherwise I know nothing, only she knows… Of course idiot … I can only share myself with her. She’s the only one who knows me…

    Years have passed I still wonder what I did wrong, what I did to make her cheat, what I did to make her lie, what I did to make her leave I still don’t know what to do to make her love me.
    I guess I’m not perfect… Nobody is. But she still calls and I still try to convince her how perfect I am. She’s gone now and I’m finally free I don’t miss her but I need her to be me.

    I’m lost without her, she’s my purpose, my reason for living. I’ll do what can to please her when she needs me, although not so often since she’s gone but I’ll be in waiting until we meet again.
    I am hers and she’s not mine, I’m her puppet, she’s my sweet innocent angel.

  2. Guys, everybody! You are not alone. I had experienced this one too, like every single thing in the signs was all here. How this person brainwashed me is a pure psychopath, Its a nightmare to deal with that draining ex, until I fought for my sorry ass through getting into my safe haven preparing for the worst. It lasted for about 18 mos.

  3. OMG as I read this I began to cry I can’t believe how brainwashed I was n more then likely still am by my ex I met him when I was seventeen he was twenty three we were together six years recently broke up yet still in contact with each other I still think if him dream of him etc but back then I was crazy about him I gave him access to my bank account I lost a baby by him in two thousand twelve he calls me names and leaves me at hotels tell me to find away home he argues with me then when I’m really down he gives me nice compliment and make me feel good about myself he tells me if I love him I’ll go places with him n sneak out from with my parents just to be with him he ask me for money if I say no he will have sex with me roughly and ask me again then when he’s done he sneaks into my bags and get my money and bank card and leave me almost broke then I get in arguments with my family cause I don’t have money to help with bills then he leaves me homeless at a hotel I tried to commit suicide got sent to the hospital he came and got me when the discharge me. He asked for gas money and food and sex etc I lost my job he needed more money for his other kids etc so I end up making five hundred dollars he spent all of it on himself then called me his h** and we broke up I ended up getting with someone else then later he got jealous n got back with me then he asked me who have I been with saying I belong to him then later he hit me up talking about he was burning so I got tested found out I had an std I told him then he laughed in my face n called me a bitch saying he was just playing n he wasn’t burning but he knew I had some s**t cause he called me a cheater saying I f*cked around on him after we got back together which I didn’t he humiliate me yet sometimes I find it hard to get over him before I met him I was raped before that I was bullied in school n told no one would ever want me so he was the longest n in my eyes realest relationship I ever been in I didn’t n still don’t want to let anyone else in like I did with him..

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