How Your Abuser Brainwashed You
Once the abuser has your empathy (and attention), they use coercion techniques outlined by a sociologist named Albert Biderman in 1957 and adopted by Amnesty International in their Report of Torture.
Abusers isolate victims from family and friends. If the abuser cannot isolate you, then it is unlikely your relationship will last very long because your friends and family support you and point out things they don’t like about your new love. Your support network is your reality check against what the abuser wants you to believe.
Cults and other groups that use brainwashing to control others have multiple members who already fell under the group’s spell. The desire to “go along” helps cult leaders bring victims into the fold. Your abuser is a one-man-band (or a one-woman-band) so they have to work harder than a cult leader to isolate you. Abusers create barriers between you and your supporters by
- finding fault with your friends and implying you don’t want to be like them or else,
- introducing you to their group of friends (often other abusers) and insisting their friends are superior to yours or participating in social events only if their friends host,
- acting jealous of others and implying you are sexually attracted to friends or strangers,
- talking about you behind your back to make your friends doubt their perception of you (especially effective if your friends are catty, new to you, or young),
- acting like such a great guy or gal that your unsuspecting friends cannot believe the abuser is the evil, foul creature they truly are,
- calling you their soul-mate and creating a fictional world where only the two of you exist,
- convincing you to move where they live or want to live, far away from those who love you.
In your relationships to come, be constantly aware of your connections to your friends. If you find yourself slipping away from your support system, reconnect immediately.
2. Monopolization of Perception
“Monopolization of perception” is Biderman’s fancy way of saying four things:
- Abuser keeps your attention on them (may act like they love you so much they can’t bear to be away from you, cause drama in your relationship, act jealous, blow little things out of proportion, break into tears or become angry and expect you to know why, etc.)
- Abuser says things that cause you to turn introspective – you look inward to solve problems of your soul (whether they truly exist or not)
- Abuser attempts to remove from your world anything they cannot control (doesn’t want you to watch certain television shows, talks badly about the groups/clubs you belong to, tells you where to get your clothes or wants to shop with you,…you get the picture).
- Abuser makes it almost impossible for you to do those things that are off-limits (texts/calls incessantly while you’re with friends, shows up unexpectedly, creates uncomfortable feelings, …whatever they can do to force you into compliance while making it seem like you choose to comply).
3. Induced Debility & Exhaustion
Abuser attempts to weaken your ability to resist their control by
- Announcing certain emotions are unacceptable or make fun of you when you show certain emotions (you have no “right” to be angry or frightened, to cry, to find humor in anything other than sarcasm because sarcasm lends itself to accepting abuse through jokes),
- Finding ways to make you feel guilty for not going along with them or agreeing to their opinions,
- Claiming your character is sub-par and insisting that you correct it,
- Keeping you busy meeting their “high standards” of beauty, cleanliness, holiness, parenting, etc.
- Demanding you make friends with their boss’s spouse, attend social functions that enhance their career,
- Adding responsibilities to your life that are above and beyond what is usually expected in a relationship,
- And anything else that forces you to show joy or contentment despite the heavy demands placed on your time and character.
The abuser threatens to leave you (or much much worse!) if you [fill in the blank]. The abuser’s threats are credible to you.
5. Occasional Indulgences
The abuser will sometimes be especially nice or allow you temporary freedoms for being “good”. In the cycle of abuse, the period of indulgences is known as the honeymoon period which follows an episode of intense emotional, verbal or physical abuse. These intermittent treats come at any time the abuser feels they’re pushing you too hard and senses that you’ve had enough of their crap.
The abuser’s occasional indulgences of your wishes works to “keep you in the club” so to speak. If you get one thing you want even after you’ve lost a hundred other things you wanted, it is enough for you to want to “earn” more or to comply with the abuser’s demands. You may even fool yourself into thinking the abuser is “coming around” or changing.
In a reverse situation, consider a child’s temper tantrums. Every day for 3 days you ignore the child’s tantrum and do not give him what he wants. Then, on the fourth day, you can’t take it anymore and give the brat his candy. What do you think that child is going to do on day 5? One good thing after a hundred bad things is enough to make you keep trying to please the abuser – especially after your support network is gone, your abuser is your sole focus, and you’re mentally and physically drained by the abuser’s demands.
6. Demonstrating “Omnipotence”
Most abusers stalk you during the relationship, use their friends or exploit lucky coincidences to prove that they know everything you do when they are not present. Perhaps they have a job in the military or working with computers and convince you that they can track you wherever you are (but, in reality, have placed a GPS locator in your car or purse). Your abuser may seem like s/he is everywhere and you do not have one second to yourself.
Abusers also display omnipotence by playing judge, jury, and prosecutor. They say what you did, why you did it, and dole out a punishment suitable to your crime. Nothing you do or say will stop the verbal or physical violence of their punishment, and by the time the abuser is done berating you, you may feel as if you deserve to be punished.
7. Enforcing Trivial Demands
My husband once told me that I should know the exact cost of cleaning the bathtub. He wanted an account of the cost of the cleaning product, how much of it I used, and how long it took to clean the tub. He insisted that my time was worth minimum wage and wanted to know how much it cost him to get his bathtub clean each week. Your abuser will make the same type of demands on your time, thought processes, and emotional energy as you dread what will happen if you don’t comply.
The demand could even concern something that once pleased you, like gardening or painting. However, due to your abuser’s insane requests to do it this way, or do it during this time frame or under these circumstances, you lose interest or begin to detest your hobby (or job!).
The abuser causes more harm to you when you resist their demands and stand up for yourself. Anytime your anger rises and the abuser must deal with your fury, the punishment is quicker and more severe than if you just did the damn thing to start with. You feel as if complying preserves more self-respect than refusing to do it.
Your abuser will degrade you with words, through physical/sexual assault or rape, and humiliate you in front of their friends or your coworkers at any time. Your humiliation degrades your sense of self-worth to a level lower than scum on the bathtub you clean. You become “nothing” in your mind. You fight to prove your worth to your abuser in whatever fashion they dictate because, by this time, your abuser and your relationship with them is your only reality.
Your brain is washed clean of the healthy thinking and positive relationships you once held dear. I feel drained by simply writing this post and recalling the ways my ex brainwashed me. But, like me and a million other survivors, you can reverse the effects of abuse and brainwashing in less time than it took the abuser to gain control over you.