Abusive Women, Cults, Brainwashing and Deprogramming, Part II
In Abusive Women, Cults, Brainwashing and Deprogramming, Part I, I discussed the shared characteristics of cult victims and abused men and the similarities between abusive women’s courtship behaviors and cult recruitment. This post explains common techniques cults and emotional predators use to break you down and control you.
Techniques Used by Cults and Abusive Women
1. Isolation. Emotional predators and cult recruiters isolate you from the outside world. They make you totally dependent upon them, which makes you more susceptible to their distorted reality and other abusive behaviors. They “cut [you] off from the outside world. . . to produce intense introspection, confusion, loss of perspective and a distorted sense of reality. The members of the cult become the person’s only social contact and feedback mechanism” (Layton).
Abusive intimate partners isolate you in a multitude of ways. For example, they explicitly forbid you from seeing or speaking with your friends and family. They start smear campaigns against them –“Your family is so controlling. They’re dysfunctional. It’s unhealthy for us to be around them. Your friends are a bad influence. They’re disrespectful to me. They’re trying to break us up. It’s me or them.”
They schedule activities or plan crises that conflict with holidays or special occasions — e.g., she gets a migraine when you’re supposed to have dinner with your parents or desperately needs your help when you’re supposed to go out with your friends. Spending time with friends and family means you don’t really care about her, don’t respect her, she’s not important to you, you’re a momma’s boy, you’re an immature jerk, blah, blah, blah, blah and blah.
2. Thought Stopping. Cults use methods like chanting, meditating and repetitive activities to induce a state of suggestibility and to help the target shut off their ability to engage in critical thinking. Abusive women use non-stop talking, verbal tirades, rage episodes, chanting and withdrawing in cold silence which causes you to obsessively ruminate about what you did to upset her rather than wondering what the hell is wrong with her.
Thought stopping techniques include anything that gets you to turn off your better judgment, reasoning and any counter narratives such as, “This is nuts and I need to get out of here.”
3. Induced Dependency. “Cults demand absolute, unquestioning devotion, loyalty and submission. A cult member’s sense of self is systematically destroyed. Ultimately, feelings of worthlessness and “evil” become associated with independence and critical thinking, and feelings of warmth and love become associated with unquestioning submission” (Layton). The same is true of abusive relationships. Taking care of yourself and healthy pursuits are seen as a betrayal to her. Love means control.
Inducing dependency employs several techniques including:
a. Fear and Guilt. This involves sharing secrets, fears and other intimate “confessions.” Abusers use this information to create instant intimacy and to keep their targets in an emotionally vulnerable state by using covert and overt threats and alternating punishment and reward. She accomplishes this by:
- Punishing you for any doubts, challenges to her “authority” and your ties to friends, family and colleagues through criticism and alienation. They are bad and you are bad if you continue these associations. You are bad if you question, challenge or disagree with her. She turns everything around so that you feel bad for speaking the truth and pointing out the facts of a situation. To quote a client’s wife, “The truth is mean. Facts are mean.” She was saying this in the face of being confronted by her own behavior. I kid you not. I heard the audio recording. You receive “love” or are “rewarded” (or aren’t actively abused) when you renounce your other relationships and your own will.
- Making you feel bad, embarrassed, worthless, ashamed, guilty or afraid to express any special skills, talents or gifts you have. They’ll punish you for being creative, musical, outgoing, funny, business savvy, competent or any quality you possess that makes you feel good and that she envies. This causes identity confusion and diminishes your self-worth.
- Alternating love and praise with contempt and punishment to keep you unbalanced and confused. This creates feelings of self-doubt and a desire to “work harder” to please her. It also makes you cling to belief that the kind and loving person is her real self and that the abusive behaviors are an aberration. In reality, the opposite is true.
- Making you publicly confess your “sins.” This subjects you to public scorn and ridicule, which induces self-doubt, shame and a sense of worthlessness. You are loved again when you publicly commit to devoting yourself to her and her happiness. Several men have told me they were coerced into making public confessions about how they “wronged” or “sinned” against their girlfriend/wife via Facebook and other social media websites. It’s crazy. They did it in a vain attempt to finally prove how much they loved these women. If your partner wants you to publicly shame yourself, you need to end the relationship. This is beyond abusive. A person who really loves you protects you from public scorn; they don’t subject you to it.
- Putting you in no-win situations. Creating double-binds to ensure that you fail. No matter what you do, you’re wrong. This creates a sense of learned helplessness and increases your dependency.
- Punishing you for the sins of others. If your mother is disrespectful to her, it’s your fault. If the kids are misbehaving, it’s your fault. If one of the other school mothers snubs her, it’s your fault. If something doesn’t go her way it’s your fault. If anything goes wrong, it’s your fault.
- Holding you to unrealistic and super-human expectations of perfection. This keeps you in a perpetual state of jumping through hoops in order to make yourself worthy of her. When in reality nothing you ever do will be good enough. You will never measure up.
b. Sensory Overload and Deprivation. She dismantles your self-perceptions, beliefs and values by telling you that you’re wrong, bad, sick, dysfunctional, angry, selfish or evil. She then feeds you her version of reality — how you should feel and how you should act “if you really love me…” or “a real man would…” — in a relentless torrent with little or no chance for critical examination. She accomplishes this by:
- Making you account for every minute of your time and monopolizing your time. You have no time to yourself or with others. If you’re not actively paying attention to her, you’re performing tasks for her. This leaves you little time to focus on yourself or to engage in effective reality testing.
- Criticizing everything you do. This includes criticizing what you eat, how you eat, what you wear, how you talk, how you laugh, how you take care of the children, how you drive, how you do the dishes, how you fold the laundry, how much money you make, how undesirable you are, etc.
- Stripping away your autonomy. She decides where you’ll go on vacation, how to discipline the children and how to spend the money you earn. When she gives you the illusion of choice, it’s usually a set-up for failure or disappointment. Alternatively, she doesn’t offer suggestions. When you ask for guidance, she makes you feel stupid for not intuitively knowing what she wants you to do.
- Depriving you of sleep, sustenance and other basic physiological and safety needs. This includes sex, money, shelter, stability, material resources and emotional support. This keeps you destabilized and vulnerable.
- Taking control of your finances including credit cards, bank accounts, stocks and other assets and making you account for every nickel you spend. Taking charge of the finances is another control technique. If she controls the cash or you’re worried about losing your assets, it makes it difficult for you to leave. If you try to hold her financially accountable, she accuses you of being controlling.
4. A Sense of Dread. Once dependency is induced, you develop a persistent sense of dread. You’re constantly waiting for the other shoe to drop and are hyper-vigilant to triggering the displeasure or wrath of your “leader.” If you don’t keep her happy — an impossible task, by the way, she makes your life a living hell.
She rages at you, belittles you, denies you affection or ignores you as if you don’t exist. Because she’s isolated you, you may not feel like there’s anyone you can turn to for support. You probably believe no one else will ever love you and that you couldn’t live without her. You try to “act right” and learn how not to trigger her.
“Indoctrination, or thought reform, is a long process that never really ends. Members are continually subjected to these techniques. . . Some adjust well to it after a period of time, embracing their new role as “group member” and casting aside their old sense of independence. For others, it’s a perpetually stressful existence” (Layton). Many men become desensitized to the abusive behaviors and let the fear of real and imagined punishment keep them stuck. Breaking free of a cult or an abusive relationship can be difficult and often terrifying, but it must be done if you want a chance at health and happiness.
Next week, I’ll explore different ways to “break the spell” and free yourself abusive partner’s control. Meanwhile, I repeat, don’t drink the Kool-Aid.
- Langone, M. Cults: Questions and answers. International Cultic Studies Association.
- Layton, J. How cults work. Howstuffworks.
- Namie, G. (2003). Workplace bullying: Escalated incivility. Ivey Business Journal, 88, 1 -6.
- Singer, M. (1996; 2003). Cults in Our Midst: The Continuing Fight Against Their Hidden Menace. Wiley and Sons.
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