Emotional repression is the keystone of fundamentalist parenting. The strict application of “Biblical law” as cherry-picked by extremists is inherently contradictory & hypocritical, stunting emotional and psychological growth through corporal punishment and capricious applications of anger for sometimes opaque reasons.
When trusted caregivers apply physical violence to a developing mind, seeds of deep distrust and paranoia are planted. Children learn to “obey” by repressing negative parts of themselves so deeply they fall out of conscious awareness altogether & rule the personality “from below.”
Never being given the required emotional support to transcend the paradoxical human project of reconciling the positive & negative aspects inherent in all people, they become “arrested” at a moment of obsession with punishment as the only solution to every problem. They see the world in very black and white terms — the classic “you’re either with us or against us” zero-sum worldview in which everybody who doesn’t agree with you must be delegitimized and eradicated completely.
Phobia indoctrination is one of the principle ways a charismatic leader will lull potential followers into his thrall, by putting them into a state of perpetual fear and anxiety. They know, either instinctively or through training (or both), that people can be induced into a prolonged state of confusion easily, and that many people in states of confusion act quite irrationally. Abusers, cult leaders, and other controllers use demagoguery and other tricks to hide in plain sight and continue to accrue power while passing themselves off as harmless or extremely patriotic.
These chaos agents use emotional manipulation as a tool of control. They whip followers up into a fear frenzy frequently enough to instill a set of phobia-like instinctual reactions to chosen stimuli. In addition to stoking fears of the enemies at the gates, they also inculcate irrational fears of the consequences of questioning their authority. Any doubts expressed about the leadership or its doctrine are subject to terrifying negative results. Cults use this formula to wield undue influence over followers, and prevent them from questioning or leaving the group.
Phobia indoctrination is a tool of cults
As part of a larger overall program of brainwashing or mind control, cults and destructive organizations use imaginary extremes (going to hell, being possessed by demons, failing miserably at life, race war, Leftist apocalypse, etc.) to shock followers into refusing to examine any evidence whatsoever. A form of unethical hypnosis, phobia indoctrination can now be carried out on a mass scale thanks to the internet and our massive media apparatus.
Sociopaths and other types of emotional predators are taking ample advantage of their advantage in time and distance over the slow pace of justice. The wielding of fear as a cudgel in America politics has reached a fever pitch, with anti-CRT hysteria, anti-vaxxers, anti-government, anti-science, Lost Cause-revival zombie MAGA footsoldiers screeching about the “freedom!!!” they wish the government to provide them for persecuting their enemies, and other social horrors are merely the tip of the climate changing iceberg.
A technique of torture and compliance, brainwashing is used in many contexts to control victims. From personal relationships and marriage to cults, all the way up to the scale of nation-states, removing or reducing independent thinking and action in a person or population gives the brainwasher enormous power and advantage.
The word’s origin is from a Chinese term meaning “forcible indoctrination to induce somebody to give up basic religious, social, or political beliefs and attitudes in favor of a belief system imposed by the brainwasher.” It’s also been referred to as mind control, thought reform, undue influence, or coercive persuasion — and is a form of highly unethical emotional and psychological manipulation.
Brainwashing is essentially a method of inducing a false personality into a target, after breaking them down psychologically. There are many different methods and techniques employed, from disinformation and sleep deprivation to hypnosis to emotional, physical, and sexual abuse. The goal of this “thought reform” project is to remove the individual’s agency and train them to follow the orders of the cult or high-demand group.
Seemingly normal, totally “average” people can fall under the sway of brainwashing techniques in use by cults much more easily than one might think. Cults and abusive organizations prey on people at vulnerable times in their lives, when they are most suggestible and least likely to mount an opposition. People who have gone through a loss, or a major life change, or are feeling particularly adrift may be lured by the sway of a deceptive organization. It can be very exhilarating to feel plugged in to an intense community after going through a period of grief or anxiety — almost irresistable, to some.
7 brainwashing tactics
isolation — separating you from family and friends, or any kind of support network who may provide alternative and negative views of the abuser
monopolization of attention — they seek to have the target orient their entire world around the abuser, leaving them little time to think about anything else
weaken your resistance — wearing down your defenses over time, so their messages take firmer hold
give occasional indulgences — providing temporary relief or even pleasure contributes to the overall program of intermittent reinforcement, to induce dependency on the abuser for stimulation of any kind
demonstrates “all-knowingness” — becomes an absurd moral authority on your entire life, presenting the truth about your inner self and past history with more omniscience than you yourself possess. They know you better than you know yourself — and you believe them!
destroy all sources of joy — the brainwasher needs to ensure that they are the sole source of pleasure and pain, for complete operant conditioning control over the target. All other pleasures in life are eradicated or eroded.
degradation and humiliation — if the target gets close to figuring out the truth about the power imbalance and impropriety of the abuser’s behavior, the abuser will immediately begin a scathing shame campaign to punish the temerity of daring to stand meekly on one’s own
Brainwashing in politics and religion
Use of brainwashing by communist officials in China, Korea, and Vietnam gained attention in the U.S. in the mid-20th century. The brainwashing technique is also used by gangs, cults, and organized crime networks to control both members and outgroups.
Perhaps most commonly it is associated with fringe religious groups like the Peoples Temple, Unification Church (or Moonies), Children of God, Branch Davidians, Heaven’s Gate, Aum Shinrikyo, The Manson Family, and thousands of other cults less well known. Sometimes the brainwashing is intended to limit the followers’ access to the outside world, and sometimes it is about grooming them to perform criminal acts from financial crimes to murder to starting a race war.
Many interdisciplinary minds across multiple fields have studied the topic of brainwashing and undue influence, or have contributed significantly to our understanding of behavioral influence. Here are some highly consequential thinkers, researchers, and experiments on the subject:
Chances are you’ve had an encounter with an emotional predator — whether you’re aware of it or not. Most everyone is familiar with the physical abuser: typically the man who beats his wife or female partner. But emotional abuse, and psychological abuse, are also integral components of abuse and are often present with, and precursors to, intimate partner physical violence.
Often individuals who abuse others have a personality disorder that increases their chances of becoming an abuser. Many of these personality disorders have narcissism at their roots — a psychological defense mechanism in which an individual harbors grandiose fantasies about themselves and feels selfishly entitled to having all their demands met.
Narcissists require a constant stream of admiration, or “narcissistic supply,” coming their way. They achieve this through charm, emotional and psychological manipulation, and all sorts of shady, unethical, or downright illegal tactics and behaviors. When a narcissist wants something from you, or wants you to do something, he can become a devious emotional predator who takes advantage of your good will for his own ends without thinking twice.
How to identify an emotional predator
One way to protect yourself from emotional predators is to understand how they behave, and become familiar with how to detect manipulative and deceptive behavior as early on as possible. If you see any of the warning signs below in a loved one, coworker, community member, or position of leadership, then use caution in dealings with this individual. Seek external advice and assistance in threat assessment before placing further trust in this person.
Emotional predators are often found leading cults, so take a look at those who surround them and ask if they seem like mindless followers in thrall to the cult of personality of one individual. Assess whether you and/or others who interact with the psychic vampire experience the following phenomena:
Arm yourself with as much information as you can about emotional predators and the tactics they use, as well as the real world history of cults and their consequences — and how to get people out of them. Here’s a cults and mind control book list to get started.