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).

Sound familiar?

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.


Shrink4Men Counseling, Coaching and Consulting Services

Dr. Tara J. Palmatier, PsyD provides confidential, fee-for-service, counseling, consultation and coaching services to help both men and women work through their relationship issues via telephone and/or Skype chat. Her practice combines practical advice, support, reality testing and goal-oriented outcomes. Please visit the Shrink4Men Services page for professional inquiries.


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  1. Marko
    October 25, 2011 at 10:29 pm

    This is very very very helpful and thanks to Dr.Tara a lot. I want to add one more thing. Once you fall into real love with an abusive woman, at the same time you have fallen into bottomless dark emotional hole. If you manage to realize that she is abusive, at the same time you also become aware that she needs help, that she is poor and helpless person. Since you love her, your love will prevent you from leaving her which actually is normal. And you are completely right about that. She desperately needs love, as every human being, but is incapable to feel your real love due to her total mind/emotional blindness caused by pathological fear. No matter what you do, say, try to prove, she will never believe in your love. She lives in constant fear, what explains her occasional rage episodes. The only emotion she really feels is fear of love, fear of opening, fear of vulnerability, fear of loss. Total fear drives this kind of women. FEAR is deeply incorporated into her personality. If you critically observe her behaviour for a while, you will notice that she actaully fears of many things. However, you cannot help her. Simple as that. Only GOD can help such woman. No therapy can help her get rid of pathological fear. There is possibility for her to learn to recognize mechanism that make her behave abusive. The problem is that when she gets into those special mind states when she start to behave abusive, she simply gets into state similar to psychological state caused by life threatening situation and she is incapable of rational thinking. So the abusive episodes repeat again.

    When you realize that she is abusive and start to defend yourself she will try everything to regain control over you in order to keep you beside her as a slave. She doesn’t really need a slave, but the control in order to feel secure. Otherwise, she will experience irresistible fear which will trigger her abnormal reactions in order to get you back under control. Don’t be surprized if she kicks you or slaps you or grabs your ear like mother or even her fist find its way into your face. All this can happen, believe me. And if you return hit, that will be pointless, you will just prove that she had “right” all the time that you don’t love her.

    You see, it’s everything about her can’t feel your love. Actually she can’t feel any love from anyone at all.

    If you persist long enough in selfdefence, she will start to loose interest in relationship, she will start to calm down and eventually leave you for another victim (controllable man), because without her feeling control over you, she feels that you don’t love her any more and that you betrayed her, you left her, you don’t care about her feelings and you deserve to be left forever. It is amazing how these women forget you as if you have never existed when they find new victim. Also, it is amazing how these women suddenly come back to you from nowhere when they loose your successor.

    The core cause for abusive behaviour is absence of self-esteem. Such woman believes deeply that she is not worthy of love. Proof for this is that she is constantly trying to catch you in adultery or flirting. There is NO WAY to prove her that she is actually loved for real. Men who love abusive women suffer very much. I know that.

  2. camdendoughtie@gmail.com
    May 16, 2011 at 2:03 pm

    I recently heard about an old friend (haven’t talked to him in 6 years), who I believe is in this type of relationship. He used to be incredibly jovial and just had a wonderful, happy personality. About 3 years ago he started dating this girl, she got pregnant (coincidence?) and about a year later they got married. Apparently now he is completely isolating, doesn’t talk to anyone at work, asks them to not talk to him, said to old friends, “please do not contact me, i am not the same person that i used to be.” People say, “he is so weird” now and wonder if he is dangerous. It is incredibly sad, as I remember who he was and cannot believe these kinds of changes can occurs.

    It is really, really not my place to get involved. But, do you recommend any ways for people to approach him or begin to open his eyes? He sounds so brainwashed….

    How do you approach the healing process?

  3. Kevin
    March 22, 2011 at 2:12 am

    Dear Doctor Tara,

    I am absolutely astonished and saddened from your findings.

    I mean… if there are more women (people) like this out there to warrant an intellectual introspection of this behaviour, than God help those whom are victimized.

    By the way, I have an address for the woman you chronicled in your findings…



    September 18, 2010 at 12:03 pm

    I let mentioned this website on the L.A to times website, I find one helpful way to spread the word id to post links on as many main-stream media websites as possiable.





  5. Cousin Dave
    August 6, 2010 at 5:33 pm

    Nina :
    I keep wondering if there are other ways to control that don’t involve taking over the money and not giving it to the spouse. I think a woman might control indirectly if she has an overspending problem, keeping credit cards constantly maxed out, running up debt that can’t be easily or quickly paid, or getting a partner to agree to building projects or other big ticket items, like a room renovation or painting the house, or purchasing a fully-loaded car. Or possibly having credit cards she never tells the spouse about.

    Nina, this describes my BPD ex to the Nth degree. There was never a penny that hit her pocketbook that didn’t get spent within a day or so. I didn’t give her control over the finances, but I did make the mistake of having a joint checking and savings account with her. She drained it a bit at a time, and there was always some excuse: “My car is broken down”, “I need a new dress for this job interview”, etc. (The job-interview bit was a special crock, since she had a pathological dislike of work, and the entire time we were together, she never held a job for more than a few weeks.) Once she had drained that, she started with the credit cards. She signed up for cards and maxed them out immediately, and then starting playing games with moving money back and forth between cards, trying to stay one step ahead of the debt collectors.

    Then, as you say, she started wanting the big-ticket items, like vacations. Our first vacation together was a total disaster, and after that, I refused to agree to another one. The next thing was that she wanted me to buy her a car that had all of the following virtues: (1) expensive, (2) piece of crap, and (3) trailer-trash status symbol. Plus, she was $5000 upside down on the car she had, owing to the fact that she had bought it zero down and a 6-year loan. When I ultimately refused, she told me she didn’t love me any more and she disappeared for a week. That was, I think, also about the time she started escorting guys for money.

    Then, with her credit cards maxed out and unable to get any more cards because of her credit situation, she did the next “logical” thing — she started taking out credit card applications in my name, forging my signature on them. She was still in and out of my life, offering reconciliation one moment and dumping me the next. When the first of the bills for the forged credit cards hit my mailbox, that’s when it finally hit me. I went off for the weekend to visit my parents and they helped me get my head straight. First thing Monday morning, I filed for divorce. I got some great advice from the lawyer and ran a public notice so that I could not be held liable for any further credit cards. It was a close thing too, because in the next couple of weeks, she signed up for something like 10 more cards by forging my signature. As it was, I wound up having to pay over $6000 on the cards that she obtained before I got that cut off, but it could have been a lot worse. Last I heard (and it’s been years now), there were still creditors looking for her.

    So to answer Nina’s question: Yes, there are indirect, passive-aggressive ways for one spouse to control the other’s finances. Although I think of it as more of a scorched-earth strategy: “Well, if I can’t have control of your money, then I’ll make sure you don’t have any money.” It’s the typical thing with NPD/BPDs; if they can’t have it, no one can.

  6. Alnico
    August 6, 2010 at 4:15 am

    Sounds like it is time to say goodbye to the GF. I wish I had heeded the early warning signs – it would have saved me years of grief and a divorce.

  7. Aapeli
    August 6, 2010 at 3:28 am

    All of a sudden just before my birthday my NPD girlfriend got an idea that we need to travel several hundreds of kilometres away from home for my birthday.

    She knows very well I like to spend my birthdays with my family. And I know my mother wants to do that very much.

    Her trying to take me away from my family for my birthday was an attempt to prevent me from seeing my family, and perhaps even more importantly, prevent my mother from seeing me on my birthday.

    I have talked to my mother about this difficult situation with my gf and my mother has understood what is going on. My gf has also understood now my mother knows about what is going on and the gf is trying to prevent me from spending time with my mother as a result.

    She is also getting upset if I go do some work with my mother and father. My father for example asks me to do something with him and I agree. Then when I get back my gf is very upset, saying things like “you spend time with them and not me” or “you do work for them but not for me” blah blah bullshit.

  8. Dan
    July 13, 2010 at 4:21 pm

    This article hit me like a ton of bricks. I literally started tearing up when I read the part about Inducing Dependency. I can’t believe I fell for my ex-wife’s line. I think I was easy pickins’ too. I think I did half her work for her… like I was born to put someone else’s needs ahead of mine and she knew it.

    It’s almost comical (if it wasn’t so heart breaking) – my whole rationale for putting myself second in our relationship was that I thought I was strong enough and I could handle it. I thought I was protecting her from pain…but instead, I was allowing myself to be emotionally dismembered, piece by piece.

    What an eye opener!

    Thanks Doc.

  9. Bounder
    July 7, 2010 at 9:39 pm

    For years I’ve wondered how I got to where I find myself today. Now I know. What a horrible feeling. Letting go of the fantacy of getting back to what was is going to be difficult. Somehow I always knew it would come to this. I look forward to the freedom that awaits.

  10. June 14, 2010 at 3:59 am


    Go to the top of this page and click on “A Shrink for Men Index” to scroll over all articles.

  11. June 13, 2010 at 3:57 am

    Hi there,

    I’ve been looking for next weeks article on Deprogramming? Can’t find it….has it been written yet?

  12. Brandon
    May 31, 2010 at 1:55 am

    Lord, I wish there were more T like you out there. I am entering the field and have experienced first hand way too many female and male therapist making me the fall guy, while absolving my NPD wife of any responsibility in our marriage.

    I hope you can keep blogging, you are doing a great service to many men out there.

  13. akn
    April 30, 2010 at 11:22 pm

    I’ve been rereading this to help get my bearings (again). One of the ways that this whole nightmare operates is through the voice. It goes like this: we fall n love with them and they reciprocate. We come to trust the loving intentions of their voice. But then they start to brainwash and say horrible underminng things. This causes immense emotional dissonance for the captive. The voice we identify as one belonging to someone who loves us but the message it carries is anything but loving. It is in fact the opposite of loving – it is full of hate and loathing.

    The message I received was that I am mentally unwell. I have a “mental condition”. Anyone with the normal sorts of vulnerabilities who genuinely trusts the loving voice of their partner will cede some degree of credibility to that message delivered by the “loving voice”. The message is, of course, nothing but projection but until you realise this it is deeply undermining and, in worst case scenarios, actually deranging.

    There is an ethics here: even if you have vulnerabilities including emotional and/or psychological problems your lover ought not to be talking it up all the time. Think of your mind state as a physical disability like having one leg shorter than the other. Now ask yourself: is it right that the person who professes to love me constantly harps on about the fact that I walk with a limp? Is it right to ridicule and humiliate me because I can’t walk fast? And, should she really be calling me a cripple?

    No matte4r what my future holds, and it appears far from rosy, the huge benefit is that it doesn’t have that sort of vicious behaviour in it.

    • Gooberzzz
      April 30, 2010 at 11:53 pm

      That was very well said.

      This reminded me of something I read regarding experiments that were done with a group of rats, referred to as the “Rat Game.” I’m paraphrasing, but it goes something like this. A group of researchers observed a group of rats that were required to push a lever to receive food (food=reward). As the rats became used to this, the researchers would replace the food with a mild electric shock, so when the rates pushed the lever expecting food, they were shocked. In-spite of this, the rats continued pushing the lever expecting food. The researchers kept increasing the voltage, but to their surprise this did not deter the rats from pushing the lever, and in some instances to the point of death. The experiment suggested that people behave in a similar fashion. They associate the early part of a relationship as good and rewarding, but even when met with the proverbial ‘shocks’ from their partner, they keep going back expecting more of the good stuff. It’s a crazy psychological game people can get caught up in. My advise to people living with someone that is BPD is don’t play their “Rat Game,” which is a tactic that these types of personalities are playing with their unsuspecting partners. The ones they profess to love. As we know, it’s manipulative and abusive.

  14. Simon
    April 27, 2010 at 2:12 pm

    Thanks for this article, it helped me greatly. I can see what was going on and why I have been reluctant to go near another woman for nearly 20 years. I own the responsibility for not having my own family and the choices I made. Just wish the experience was different,..oh well…thanks again…simon

  15. Josh
    April 25, 2010 at 2:46 pm

    Oh yeah, and one last important quality cults and abusive partners have in common:

    *After leaving/being expelled from the cult, the ex-member feels a deep loss of identity, social structure, and purpose.
    Many of us who have lost/left our ex-BPD/NPD partners have felt this loss that goes far beyond a normal break-up. Many of us have had to end contact with mutual friends, family members, etc. and have lost a big chunk of our identity after having had to tend to the relationship and her needs for so long. Whatever life we shared with them is now gone and that’s another big blow to our identity and emotional/financial/personal well-being.

  16. Josh
    April 25, 2010 at 1:09 pm

    In regards to the comparisons between abusive women and cult-like behavior, here’s a couple of more points:

    *In a cult, once a member ends all financial support, has doubts, or otherwise deviates from the cult’s ideology, that member is permanently banished from the cult and all contact between their “brothers and sisters” is forbidden.
    I think it’s safe to say most of us posting on this site experienced this behavior when our BPD/NPD exes broke up with us for whatever reason and all contact with mutual friends, family, etc. ended once the ex’s smear campaign got underway.

    *Once out of the cult, the ex-member continues to receive late-night visits from the wacko leader and/or his “enforcers”, threatening phone calls, smear campaigns on the Internet, etc. for a long time to come.
    Once out of an abusive relationship, the abused partner gets a few not-so-friendly visits, phone calls, etc. from their abusive ex long after the relationship is over. And of course, there’s the smear campaign from above….

    BTW, is it just me or are many of these BPD/NPD types vulnerable to cult/cultish ideology? Or any kind of religion where they can focus on themselves and on increasing their own power? I’ve read comments on this post about this and in the case of my own ex, she got involved with a notorious MLM (multi-level marketing) cult last summer. In fact, she was obsessed to the point where at one time, she only slept about 2-3 hours a night. She went out at night and tried to sell her overpriced goods, which could be found at the nearest dollar store or Wal-Mart for a fraction of the price she was charging. When her business failed (she never said exactly how much she made, but I estimate her earnings to be at about $40-$50…mostly from some friends and family members), she blamed me (of course) because I didn’t literally empty my bank account (hundreds of dollars for the start-up kit plus hundreds more for her to get her “promotion” and new merchandise) to help her “become rich.” Sorry honey, but I had my own bills to pay….

    Not only did our relationship start falling apart after the MLM saga, but looking back, what they taught her about focusing on “personal power” just might’ve increased her narcissistic behavior at least a few notches.

Comment pages
  1. December 2, 2010 at 10:50 am
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  3. April 27, 2010 at 12:49 pm

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