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
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)
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.
*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.
Holly, K. (2012, June 21). How Did You Brainwash Me?, HealthyPlace. Retrieved on 2019, September 22 from https://www.healthyplace.com/blogs/verbalabuseinrelationships/2012/06/brainwashing-abusive-relationships
Author: Kellie Jo Holly
This will help me in my healing process . . . I am very grateful to have this an amazing comfort that it wasn't me.
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.
I appreciate how brave and honest you are, to share your stories here. I am a psychotherapist in Vancouver, BC, and I have written an article about abuse and trauma (www.liviachan.ca). Childhood abuse involves many layers of suffering, and one of them is an impaired sense of self, as you have described. Recovery and healing takes time and practice. I hope you will have the courage to try talk therapy again; sometimes, it takes a while to find the right therapist for you. If you would like, art therapy is also another option. Wounds from childhood abuse, if left untreated, can affect people in different areas of their adult life, so I encourage you to seek and persist with psychotherapy.
Healthy self-esteem can be built, with affirmations, positive social relationships, hobbies that interest you, etc. CBT is an evidence-based therapy style that is found to help increase self-esteem. Perhaps you can discuss this further with your therapist.
I wish you all the best, Clare. Hang in there. There is help, and there is hope!
Remember, you are precious. You deserve love, respect, and kindness.
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.
Is that the case for all abusers?
One problem is that I see descriptions of domestic abuse and sexual all over the internet. I don't see my story, to read and start to absorb. Are there resources, books, stories? I will look into that book you got the brainwashing from, because it was a brainwashing, just without the sleep deprivation and physical assault. (It wasn't not a sexual relationship.) I can't figure out how she get me pulled in and manipulated into "alternative realities" so quickly. She had my family falling for the garbage or struggling, without knowing what to do with it. It took 3 sessions to get me to see her full time, and maybe 1 to start the alternative realities. I was an emotionally healthy person when I started, and my family was a good one (with it's issues but healthy). I never disconnected from family, though that's certainly part of what she was trying for. I'm intelligence and capable (honors student, etc.)
It's similar to the stuff that people accuse the book "Courage to heal" of creating for them in conjunction with psychopathic therapists. Only she pushed that book at me, and the idea that maybe all my problems were from a sexual abuse. I read the book, and every creepy event in my life flashed up, and none of it remotely was sexual assault. So I knew that wasn't my problem, and ended that sequence she was pushing. There's so much more to tell. They had me in with them (group too with two other therapists) for a total of 3x a week for a bunch of years.
I finally left. I tried putting it behind me. But something's kicking up and messing with me, and working with my current therapist, this is definitely the cause, and it's deep.
We've pinpointed a few of the "how it was done." One, that I was directed to her and only her by a "colleague" from the Employee assistance program. I was young so didn't know how to judge her. She redirected conversation in that first session in ways that were setups (or seem to be.) From there it gets hard to sort out what she did. Some of the items here have parallels. I'd like to dig in and figure out some of the brainwashing and how they played out with her. It's verbal and hard to remember (I do have notebooks I kept from a year into it and on --- so I have records of how intensely creepy it got.)
I just want to figure this out. So if you have any resources to suggest, please do. Right now I don't have any specific questions on what you wrote and how it played out, but i"ll come back if I do. However, it helps to see it in the less than usual "abusers do this" format, when with her, it was not as easy to spot the elements from those usual words. Thank you.
Sorry for the lengthly message
Anyway, you don't have to tell your abuser anything. You don't owe him even one peek into your private life. You can choose to continue lying to him or say, "That's not your business," or "I don't talk about my private life with anyone anymore." Or something like that. Say what makes you feel empowered.
Alternatively, cut off all communication that has nothing to do with the children. Every time you open yourself up to him, he files the information away to use against you later. Or gets aggressive immediately, as you fear. So stop giving him ammunition. Speak only of things concerning the welfare of your children.
I hope this stage of continued concern for your abuser disappears soon so you can be free from the past, too.
What are the people you're talking to advising you to do to get through it?
Keep in mind that male discrimination over what women should and shouldn't be has effectively minimized the study of women psychopaths until fairly recently. For example, it hasn't been that long since female reporters were shooed out of trials that involved pedophilia, molestation or rape to protect their "delicate constitution." For whatever reason, in the beginning of psychology (a relatively new science), men were studied and men did the studying. Now that society considers women to be (almost) equal to men, there should be more studies that go into the female psychopath's mind-set. I hope.
All that said, I believe the male and female propensity for psychopathy goes deeper than gender. I believe, in the future, studies will show that both males and females can be abused in equal proportion, as well as an equal proportion of males and females as abusers.
But then in court even the Judge says that the way I perceive the relationship is not reality and he is not this person, and I go back to doubting myself all over again.
And I'm trying to remember situations that happened in our relationship and how I felt and if it was in my head and what was going on and why is he so nice now and why can't anyone else see it and it must have been in my head because nothing makes sense and I feel like I'm going crazy. And I'm now the bad party for making these allegations and he is the victim because he has 'only ever been a good dad.'
But then when I read this article it all makes sense again because its exactly how I felt. But its just so painful that even the courts are telling me that he isn't this person so it feels like I have to suffer in silence and that I'm not entitled to feel this pain. And I just have to continue having him in my life as the father of my children and him just pretending like nothing ever happened. And I don't feel like I can cope with that. And he tries to involve himself subtly in other ways instead of just contact with the children. I feel like he has been given the power all over again and that I will never get my strength back.
Learn to recognize abuse (verbal, emotional) and detach yourself from it. Ise this page is a guide: http://goo.gl/Fd0mKx
At one point my own couselor, didnt understand about verbal abuse.
I came across this article because I googled "was it me? abuse". I think the fact that I'm googling stuff like that indicates that I'm trying to understand what happened to me because I have absolutely no idea.
I can't remember what I was like before. I have anxiety now and I never had it before him. I doubt myself so much. I am constantly in low mood and depressed. Not sure what to do. I take antidepressants and have therapy but it's me. It doesn't feel like a normal break-up. It feels heavy and dark.
The problem is me now. He's gone. He's left me.
I wish I was the one who was dead.
And I'll go on record saying that it only appears that he is having the relationship of your dreams. You are on the outside now. The outside is not allowed to see what is going on inside the relationship. Do you remember your happy times with him? Well, he is pretending to be exactly the man he thinks the new woman wants. If he hasn't started the abuse yet, he's priming her for it. If he's actively abusing her, he and she have the convoluted agreement to hide the abuse and to carefully guard the truth. Remember how confused you were when he changed? She will experience that too.
There is nothing wonderful about that man. It was an illusion. That's why it feels so heavy and dark now. The full weight of the lie he wove for you is easy to feel now that you're out from under it.
Instead of asking, "was it me?" ask to see the truth of your abusive relationship so you can come to terms with it. Feel the betrayal, the dark lies, the loss of the future you thought you would have. Mourn it all so you can move on.
You will move on. You will reclaim yourself. When you say "it's me," I understand that you know you're fighting your own mind on this one. It's okay. You'll get through this. You'll feel better on the other side.
Thank you for posting that! My husband of 5 years I left in January, and it's now been 5 months. He was at first super super hostile, he was angry and starting dating other woman but still wanted to reconcile. I stopped talking to him entirely and he asked to seem me in a counsellors office after 2 weeks of that, and now it being 5 months he's normal again in temperament towards me and says "He cares" but doesn't want to get back together. When I got to the session the counsellor asked me why we were there and turned out my husband told him I had wanted to talk with him, which I have a recorded text conversation that it's the opposite. So maddening. Anyways, perhaps after being violently angry doesn't work they go back to being "normal", it's just more manipulative tactics of behaviour mimicking, "ok that's not getting the result I want, I have to do something else... let's try this...." It's not a game, but this description also gives me cautious compassion - I know my husband turned off his emotions early as a child at 5 as he told me and why (it's sad why) - GREAT ARTICLE and thank you.
I'm in therapy and my therapist believes I am being emotionally abused. Sometimes I see it and others >I don't. Because I don't want to, I'm aware of this.
I feel so angry at myself for not being able to get it together to leave him.
We met when we were coming out of a drug rehab period. I guess I was a harder for me than for him... or that is what he made me believe, or lead me to believe, that I would relapse again if I wasn't with him. Never clearly stated... but implicit all the time. That was 5 years ago, going on six... and I haven't relapsed, but a part of me does believe that it's thanks to being with him.
It was easy for him to isolate me from most of my friends because they were, in fact, toxic. I really did have to start from more or less scratch at the age of 51... I am not the person I was, but who am I? I'm lost and totally taken up by keeping my head afloat, keeping my job, because I also support him...right now I'm scared he'll come up and ask what I'm doing.
He has never laid a hand on me, nor does he really insult me...it's all more subtle than that. Irritated, angry tones of voice all the time.
Ughhh, I'm feeling like shit putting all this into words here; I cannot abide the fact that I can't seem to get out of this situation.
The good news is that it sounds like your heart is switching sides. The confusion and self-blame you're going through is typical for people who "know" something is right but can't justify "feeling" it is right. And the inability to "feel" that it is right comes directly from the emotional abuse. You've been trained to doubt your feelings, to doubt your intuition. To doubt yourself.
I'm going out on a limb to guess that he has relapsed whether you know that for a fact or not. He desperately needs you to stay with him so he can continue using you like the drug he attended rehab to free himself from. One of our bloggers said that addiction is a behavior, not a substance. He's addicted to the relationship he has to you. You give him a sense of control over his world - perhaps a replacement for what the drug did for him. That makes sense because when you suffer an addiction, your ideas of healthy relationships gets all mixed up in the behavior of addiction. You came out of rehab together, so this relationship has been unhealthy for you from the start.
Anyway, my thoughts on the matter aside, it is time for you to give your brain, your "knowing," a chance to be heard more loudly. Purposefully stop listening to your fearful emotions (Who am I? and I can't get out of this, etc.) in favor of brain-truths. Compare what he does to what literature says about abusers and what they do. Rethink your past: where were your successes? List them so you begin to regain the knowledge that you were successful before him. Write out what you WANT in a relationship and then compare that to what you have.
Does your therapist use cognitive behavioral therapy with you? Ask him or her about it. Tell your therapist that you need help battling back your emotions and enriching what information your brain is giving you.
I hope this is of some value to you. I'm so happy that you've kept your sobriety. That takes guts, strength, and the ability to manage the "knowing" vs "feeling" aspects of yourself. Basically, you already have the skills you need to separate from the abuse. You only need to learn to apply them.
•hold themselves to high standards, and/or
•previous victims of abuse or neglect, and/or
•experience dependence, vulnerability, or incompetency issues" so I was one of those women who wondered why women never leave. Then I met Troy and he systematically took me down to the point of wanting to die, wanting him to die. Life was so hard. I was so depressed and crying all the time. I was like a robot pretending everything was ok because I was ashamed. Then one day (after 8 years of constant emotional and physical abuse) I just knew I had to get out or one of us would die. I needed to live. I was a mother. Plus I just wanted to live again. It was so hard but I finally did it. It's been a couple of years now. I appreciate my life and my freedom so much now. If I could say one thing to women, know this Love does not hurt. When someone loves you they do not hurt you.
Since then he continues his same pattern with numerous women. I have received phone calls from various ex-lovers or wives of his recounting their own relationships with him. I have turned into a sort of beacon of hope and validation that they are not crazy. He has 7 total children from three ex-wives, and he has numerous lovers all over the country. He has profiles on various dating sites and cheating is easy for him because he is in the military. He has broken up women's marriages and he never leaves one woman without having another two or three standing by. He proposes to all of them and even buys them rings. He talks with them about having more children. I have not seen him since 1999, and I have always been cordial with him. He had no idea I knew about anything in regards to his life until the very last girl he was with spred his business all over social media and then contacted me. He truly is some piece of work.
He did not seem to be that bad but read articles on the Internet about it and took on these symptoms. I don't know what to believe.
He has been manipulating me with his disease for over 10 years now. I did everything for him but he could still do the things he really wanted to do. He was verbal abuser, he would make me and the girls feel guilty all the time. They could not stand him but I would make excuses for his behavior. Nine months ago our 23 year old daughter who graduated collage became pregnant. It was consensual but she was not actually with the boy. He became furious and ask her how she could do that to him. She had ruined her image. He began telling his therapist that she was raped. I guess he wanted sympathy. My daughter found out and was devastated. He tried to cover up the lie by saying they made it up and tried to have one of the therapist fired because she would not back up his story. That was the final straw. I was not going to let him make a hard situation even harder so my daughter and I moved out. It was so hard and still his because of his disabilty, and I continue to feel quilty. My grandson is beautiful, my daughter is becoming successful in her job but I still feel quilty because he brainwashed me all those years.i have talked to over 30 people we know and everyone of them are so glad I left and tell me I did the right thing, but it still hurts. I wonder if I will ever get over the guilt.
I must go & not feel an inches of sorrow for him losing his family. lord please give me strength!