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How easy is it to brainwash and manipulate someone?
Believe it or not, it’s not as complicated as you might think. Manipulation comes along as sort of “part of the package”, as brainwashing is also referred to as thought reform. Think about it, your thoughts are literally being manipulated. The subtleness of how this can be done is actually pretty scary. There are multiple techniques that can be used to alter your opinions and beliefs.
The definition of brainwashing, according to Merriam-Webster:
- A forcible indoctrination to induce someone to give up basic political, social, or religious beliefs and attitudes and to accept contrasting regimented ideas
- Persuasion by propaganda or salesmanship
So, how easy is it to brainwash another person? It’ can be as easy as someone repeating an opinion over and over until eventually, you start to believe it. We form our beliefs around whatever opinion is most familiar to us. Making assumptions, something many of us as humans are guilty of, plays a role as well. While this is a mild version of brainwashing and doesn’t influence most people, it’s amazing how something so simple can cause you to question yourself.
Brainwashing, or thought reform, falls into a category known as social influence. Three methods are used for social influencing: compliance, persuasion and education. Compliance is focused on altering a person’s behavior, while persuasion is used to change your attitude towards something. The education method, also known as the “propaganda method“, focuses on trying to change your actual beliefs.
Brainwashing combines the use of all three of these methods to cause changes in your way of thinking, all without your permission.
How brainwashing works
Brainwashing works by first breaking down your sense of self. This process attacks your core belief system by denying everything you know about yourself, ultimately creating an identity crisis. Once the identity crisis begins, you are attacked and criticized for everything you do. You begin to feel like you can’t do anything right, manifesting as guilt and shame.
This guilt and shame you’re feeling then leads into self-betrayal, the betrayal of your own beliefs. Self-betrayal enhances the guilt you feel, along with your loss of identity as an individual.
Eventually you reach a breaking point, causing you to experience a period of intense mental distress. Deep depression, anxiety, extreme mood swings, and insomnia are just a few symptoms caused by this distressed mental state. This combination leads into feeling completely lost and alone, with no clear understanding of who you are or what is happening to you.
Once you’ve reached this breaking point, in comes the possibility of salvation. Suddenly you’re given some leniency, an act of kindness, or some other form of comfort. This kindness in contrast to the assault on your identity provides some relief from the pain you feel. And after weeks or months of assault, confusion, breakdown and moments of leniency, you’re not sure of what you’ve done wrong, you just know that you’re wrong.
Your “wrongness” can then be attached to your beliefs. You are then convinced that it isn’t you that’s inherently bad or wrong, it’s your belief system.
This is where rebuilding the self comes in. The brainwasher convinces you that you can choose good, by introducing the new belief system. Physical comfort and mental calm are offered as part of this new belief system. From there, the illusion of choice is given. You’re made to feel as if you are in control, all you have to do is choose “good”. The choice is not a difficult one, this new identity is safe and desirable because it’s nothing like the one that led to your breakdown.
You’re now convinced this new belief system is going to make your life better, causing you to not only choose this new belief system, but to cling to it for dear life.
How to recognize brainwashing tactics
Not everyone is susceptible to brainwashing tactics. Most of the time, we recognize manipulation and see it for what it is. Those most vulnerable to brainwashing tend to be insecure, have low self-esteem or self-worth, and a general unhealthy view of themselves. One of many reasons why your mental health is so important!
Here are some of the signs of brainwashing to look out for:
- Isolating you from friends and family
- Insisting they be with you at all times
- Attacks on your self-esteem
- Any type of physical, mental or emotional tortures
- Never allowing you the space or time to think
- Repetition of messages through phrases or chanting over and over
- An “us” versus “them” mentality
- New ways of thinking within the brain
Self-awareness is key in situations like these. If you start to notice any of these things within yourself, or in someone you know, please don’t hesitate to reach out for help. SAMHSA has a national helpline that’s free, confidential, and available 24/7. Another option is The Hotline. They have tons of information, resources, and an 800 number available if you need help.
I hope the information I shared with you was both helpful and informative. If you’ve ever had an experience where you felt like you were being brainwashed, please leave a comment with your story. I really enjoy hearing from all of you, and I appreciate you all sharing your stories!
Related Questions –
Fortunately, many experts believe that even under ideal brainwashing conditions, the effects of the process are most often short-term. The brainwashing victim’s original identity is not actually eradicated by the process, but instead is in hiding. Once the “new identity” stops being reinforced, the person’s former beliefs will start to come back to them.
Brainwashing is an indoctrination that forces people to abandon their beliefs in favor of another set of beliefs.
Brainwashing is said to reduce its subject’s ability to think critically or independently, to allow the introduction of new, unwanted thoughts and ideas into the subject’s mind, as well as to change his or her attitudes, values, and beliefs.
Manipulation is a type of social influence that aims to change the behavior or perception of others through abusive, deceptive, or underhanded tactics.
By advancing the interests of the manipulator, often at another’s expense, such methods could be considered exploitative, abusive, devious, and deceptive.
Yes! Thankfully it’s completely reversible once you recognize what’s happened to you. There are some really great books on how to do this, and I found a great article that also explains how to do it as well! Check out the article, How to heal from brainwashing and regain control of your mind. They also provide information on who to reach out to for additional help.