Negative Psychological Manipulation (Brainwashing)
Brainwashing was an expression primarily used to clarify religious change by the British psychiatrist William Sargant, author of Battle for the Mind in 1957. This manuscript is the chief basis of the expression as utilized now. Sargant fights that evangelical adaptations from St Paul to Billy Graham can be given details in conditions of emotional procedures that he declares are similar to what was described as “shell shock” all through World War I. Shell shock is a mental process that can be engineered to create character alterations and Sargant asserts that “brainwashing” to create a religious change is a parallel procedure. By associating brainwashing with shell shock and involving together with religious change, Sargant was purposely connecting the exchange course with illness (Hexham and Poewe).
Mental manipulation – or psychic conditioning or “coercive persuasion,” thought reform,” “mind control” and “menticide” – terms all pertain to one: brainwashing. These might jokingly be defined as activity that persuades people to adopt beliefs that you don’t like. Indeed, people are more likely to label and activity “brainwashing” if they don’t like the beliefs it advances. However, if one has a clear definition of the word, then one can both avoid name-calling when a process isn’t brainwashing and confidently say “That’s brainwashing” when it really is (Schmidt).
Other groups of people who try to get you to impress them are bad leaders. They use these tactics to cover their own inadequacies, they use brainwashing techniques. Brainwashing is a way of fogging your brain so you can be seduced into acceptance of what otherwise is not acceptable (abhorrent) to you. It is also usually disguised as submission or unquestioned respect. This is what makes it hard for most people to recognize the evil effects of brainwashing. Do you see it is the same old tactic the devil used on Eve? Good leaders always have a profound concern for the welfare of the people they lead without any desire to control them and be thanked by the people they lead, or enjoy the process. That is what Jesus did when He washed the feet of His disciples (Asante).
Leaders of cults and clusters utilizing thought-reform procedures have been considered and proscribed millions of individuals to the disadvantage of their wellbeing. Sometimes such influence is called coercive persuasion or extraordinary influence, to distinguish it from everyday persuasion by friends, family, and other influences in our lives, including the media and advertising.
The secret to unbeaten consideration improvement is to remain the person ignorant that they are being influenced and manipulated – and in particular to maintain their condition clueless that they are being stirred along a trail of transformation that will direct them to provide benefits that are to their inconvenience. The common result of thought-reform procedures is that an individual or cluster increases approximately unlimited control above the person for unstable phase of time.
When cultic groups using this level of undue influence are seen in the cold light of day, uninformed observers often cannot grasp how the group worked. They wonder how a rational person would ever get involved. Recently, because of the media attention garnered by the actions of certain groups, the world has become somewhat more aware of thought reform, but most people still don’t know how to deal with situation of extraordinary influence (Dawson).
The “Brainwashing” Controversy
Extreme examples or resocialization are seen in the phenomenon popularly called brainwashing. In the popular view of brainwashing, converts are completely stripped of their previous identities. The transformation is seen as so complete that only deprogramming can restore the former self. Potential candidates for brainwashing include people who enter religious cults, prisoners of war, and hostages. Sociologists have examined brainwashing to illustrate the process of resocialization. As the result of their research, sociologists caution against using the word brainwashing when referring to this form of conversion. The term implies that human are mere puppets or passive victims whose free will can be taken away during these conversions. In religious cults, however, converts do not necessarily drop former identity (Andersen and Taylor).
In many ways the public controversy over “cults” has been a dispute over the claim that they retain their members through process of brainwashing, mind – control, or coercive persuasion. This accusation has been the focal point of the criticisms by the anti-cult movement and the subject of debate in the numerous legal cases both criminal and civil. The idea of brainwashing like what Jim Jones and David Koresh did with their members was invoked to account for the seemingly sudden conversion of many young people to their “cult” out of legal necessity. With the help of some psychologists and psychiatrists, the lawyers struck upon the idea of arguing that these young adults were not competent to control their lives, and as victims of “brainwashing” they needed to be put under the temporary legal protection of their parents (Dawson).
The Power of Persuasion
Brainwashing is more than neurosis or psychosis. Such states may be induced as part of the brainwashing process, but they are only a step on the way to the goal of forcing the victim to succumb to the propaganda of the brainwashers. Brainwashing is characterized in wholly negative terms as a kind of mental rape: it is forced upon the victim by an attacker whose intention is to destroy the victim’s faith in former beliefs, to wipe the slate clean so that new beliefs may be adopted (Taylor).
Victims of brainwashing were thought to have lost their power to act freely and in their own best interests. Moreover, it was assumed, they had been psychologically harmed by the process. In the cases of the “cults,” at first many judges were successfully persuaded that the members had been brainwashed, and young believers were forcibly removed from groups by “deprogrammers” – self-styled anti-cult crusaders who could be hired to reverse the effects of brainwashing. By then, however, the concept had been repeated so often in the media that few people could hear the word “cult” without immediately associating it with the highly derogatory process of “brainwashing” (Dawson).
‘A forcible indoctrination to induce someone to give up basic political, social, or religious beliefs and attitudes and to accept contrasting regimented ideas’ and ‘persuasion by propaganda or salesmanship” are just two of the definitions of brainwashing in the dictionaries. What this has in common with the first definition is the use of pressures to override the victim’s capacity to think rationally about his or her situation and beliefs. This overriding of reason is what a good advertisement aims to achieve. Failure is giving the person time and space to think. The advert will therefore try and tap directly into emotions, hoping that they will bypass this more rational approach to the message being put across. Often the approach is to arouse a negative emotion (guilt, anxiety) and then present buying the product as the only, or easiest, way to remove the emotion. Alternatively, the product may be associated with a positive emotion, to encourage the assumption that buying it will lead to pleasant feelings.
Brainwashing has also been alleged in two very different fields of human endeavor: advertising and the media, and education. Both seek to change minds, though for different reasons, and both are thought to exert considerable power. Unlike brainwashing by force, however, they generally employ less coercive methods, relying instead on stealthier forms of persuasion. Both are framed within, and transmit, a set of beliefs about the world, an ideology. That ideology defines the social roles of individuals as State subjects, teaching them their proper place in the status quo. The ideology itself may never be explicitly stated, and the individuals who purvey the adverts of lessons may not even be aware that they are reinforcing certain beliefs, but the underlying message is all the more powerful for being covert (Taylor).
Recovery from Brainwashing
There is not one simple answer since each cult is different, and even within the same cult, conditions may vary at different times and different location. Equally important, every person’s experience is so individual, as is each person’s recovery. But as much as cults might differ from one another, in certain ways, they are similar. When the ideological veil is stripped away, cults look very much alike because of their use of classic thought-reform techniques and processes (colloquially, brainwashing). That is why in support groups that on the surface appear to be vastly different, yet they understand one another quite easily because, across all types of cults, the control techniques more or less boil down to the same familiar few (Abgrall).
Not only was deprogramming seen as necessary to “freeing” a person psychologically trapped or being brainwashed in a group, but some form of continued post deprogramming counseling was also recommended. Ex-members are so weak once they have been presented with the realities of how they have been psychologically, financially and sometimes sexually abused, that they have need of constant attention. Ironically, this causes the parents and professionals to act similarly to the cults in their close surveillance. Once there is some restoration of ego functioning, the weaning process takes place again and hopefully the person is on the way to recovery. Some that are not so fortunate have to be hospitalized because they are so dependent, suicidal, or because they have suffered complete breaks with reality. The recovery process takes almost a year, for the person to be back to where they first began in the cult.
This rationale gives family members and friends a “kind of moral power over the ex-members.” In the families of ex-members, the notion of “brainwashing” has been employed for the purpose of reminding them that their moral capacity is suspect and that they are not to be fully trusted until they come to their senses (Hexham and Poewe).
Whatever perspective one favors, it is important to realize that the accusations of brainwashing, have had some very real and deleterious consequences for people’s lives. Individuals and groups have had their plans and activities grievously disrupted and experienced serious criminal and financial penalties as a result of legal and legislative actions prompted by brainwashing claims. The issues at stake can be clarified significantly by reliable social scientific research. But matter is not strictly academic. The resolution of the issue cannot be reasonably and justly separated from its legal and political implications (Dawson).
Abgrall, Jean-Marie. Soul Snatchers: The Mechanics of Cults. New York: Algora Publishing, 1999.
Andersen, Margaret L., and Howard Francis Taylor. Sociology: Understanding a Diverse Society. 4th ed. Belmont CA: Thomson Wadsworth, 2006.
Asante, James N. Who Am I? USA: Xulon Press, 2006.
Dawson, Lorne L. Cults and New Religious Movements: A Reader. Malden MA: Blackwell Publishing, 2003.
Hexham, Irving, and Karla Poewe. Understanding Cults and New Age Religions. Vancouver, British Columbia: Regent College Publishing, 1998.
Schmidt, Jeff. Disciplined Minds: A Critical Look at Salaried Professionals and the Soul Oxford: Rowman & Littlefield, 2000.
Taylor, Kathleen. Brainwashing: The Science of Thought Control. Oxford New York: Oxford University Press, 2006.