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Abusive Women, Cults, Brainwashing and Deprogramming, Part I


My last article, How Abusive Women Brainwash You, examined similar brainwashing techniques used by cults, POW camps, political movements and abusive personalities such as narcissistic, borderline, histrionic and sociopathic women. It also explored where and how they diverge.

Specifically, cults break down your personality and belief system, then rebuild you and give you a new belief system. Whereas abusive women break you down and keep breaking you down until there’s nothing left. They don’t rebuild you nor do they have an ideology beyond, “It’s all about me and my feelings” and “I’m always right no matter how wrong I am.”

Over the next few weeks, I will publish a series of articles that will explore: a) the shared characteristics of cult victims and abused men; b) the similarities between abusive women’s courtship behaviors and cult recruitment; c) the way cults and emotional predators break you down and control you; and d) different ways to “break the spell” and come come out from under an abusive partner’s control.

Similarities Between Cult Victims and Abuse Victims

Bullies, narcissists, borderlines, histrionics and sociopaths like easy targets. They go after people who are kind, generous, trusting, eager to please, self-reflective, competent, talented or “gifted” and, most importantly, people who have a desire to cooperate or work things out and a non-confrontational personal style (Namie, 2003). Men of the men I work with became involved with their abusers during or after an event in their life that caused them significant distress like a divorce, the death of a loved one, a prolonged illness, etc.

Cults like easy prey, too. They typically target individuals who are in a state of heightened stress.

Much like emotional predators, cults seek individuals who have recently had a destabilizing experience such as a bad break-up, the death of a loved one, being fired or some other significant life stressor such as a young man who’s left for college and is on his own for the first time. During a period of heightened stress, certain people are more susceptible to an individual or group who claims to have all the answers and/or offers instant companionship or instant intimacy. Michael Langone, PhD has compiled a list of cult victim traits that are similar to the traits of abuse victims. The similar traits are:

  • Dependency: An intense desire for a sense of belonging, approval, acceptance and a fear of being alone.
  • Unassertiveness: Non-confrontational, people-pleasers who are reluctant to question authority.
  • Gullibility: A willingness to believe what another person says without critically thinking it through or challenging it.
  • Naive Idealism: The belief that everyone is good, has some redeeming quality or can change for the better.
  • Desire for Spiritual Meaning: The belief that life has a “higher purpose” or that everything happens for a reason. Sometimes people are just abusive jerks and there’s no deeper meaning attached to it, but good targets keep searching for it despite all evidence to the contrary.

The above personality traits and a state of heightened stress aren’t sufficient to brainwash a potential victim. A conscious knowledge or instinctual knowledge of mind control techniques is also required. Margaret Singer, PhD cites 6 conditions necessary for brainwashing or thought reform. Many cult leaders study these principles and know exactly what they’re doing.

Most abusive women have not studied these techniques. They seem to have an instinctual knowledge of them. [Please note: If they are aware of what they’re doing it’s highly likely that they’re full blown sociopaths and you should regard them as dangerous.]

Singer’s 6 conditions for thought reform:

1. “Keep the person unaware of what is going on and how he is being changed one step at a time.” Not a problem since most abusive women are only vaguely aware of what they’re doing or completely unaware.

2. “Control the person’s social and/or physical environment; especially control the person’s time.” She doesn’t want you talking to outsiders who might challenge the “reality” she feeds you or her authority.

3. “Systematically create a sense of powerlessness in the person.” She instills a sense of learned helplessness within you by placing you in no-win situations.

4. “Manipulate a system of rewards and punishments in order to inhibit the person’s natural personality and behavior.” The goal is to break you down and turn you into a hand puppet.

5. “Manipulate a system of rewards and punishments in order to promote the group’s ideology or belief system and group-approved behaviors.” In other words, she’s right. She’s always right. Don’t question her. Don’t challenge her. She always comes first. You live to serve.

6. “Put forth a closed system of logic and an authoritarian structure that permits no feedback and refuses to be modified except by leadership approval or executive order.” The group has a top-down, pyramid structure. “The leader must have verbal ways of never losing” (Singer, M., 1996, p.64-69).

Most abusive women are mental and verbal contortionists/escape artists. They can twist the most obvious set of facts into a Gordian knot or find ways to evade the conversation by changing the subject (derailing and tangenting) or attacking you on a new front.

Similarities Between Abusive Women’s Courtship Behavior and Cult Recruitment Techniques

Cults and abusers create feelings of guilt, covert and overt fear, powerlessness and dependency in their victims in several ways.

Manipulation, deception and “love bombing” are how cult recruiters and emotional predators get their foot in the door. They lure you in by misrepresenting themselves, lying, hiding their abusive nature and drugging you with praise and affection. Once they insinuate themselves into your life, the outright abuse ensues. First, let’s look at their seduction and relationship building tactics.

Manipulation and Deception. Both cult recruiters and emotional predators employ manipulation and deception to ensnare their targets. Initially, they hide their true natures and intentions and wear a carefully crafted, too-good-to-be-true persona. “Recruiters identify the specific needs or desires of their targets and play to them. They learn to pick up on a person’s fears and vulnerabilities and portray [themselves] accordingly” (Layton).

Abusive women, particularly histrionics, narcissists, sociopaths and borderlines, are natural chameleons and shape shifters. They intuitively discern what you want—e.g., sexy, sweet, adventurous, sporty, artsy, etc.—and play it and you to the hilt. As soon as they’re secure in your attachment, the facade drops away and the emotional and/or physical abuse starts. These women insidiously misrepresent themselves to their potential partners. Sometimes they’re impossible to detect until you’re in over your head.

Furthermore, most abusers aren’t abusive all the time. If they were nasty the majority of the time, psychologically healthy people would keep their distance. This kind of woman is like the wicked witch in a fairy tale who transforms herself into the beautiful maiden to attract potential lovestruck suitors. Shortly after you pledge your devotion to her, she exposes her inner ugliness. It’s hard for many men to let go of the initial illusion and so they continue to play right into her hands.

The Love Bomb. Cult recruiters and many emotional predators drug you with love, admiration, validation, affection, adoration, flattery, laser beam attention, responsiveness and sexual and non-sexual touching. They hang on your every word and create a sense of instant rapport, connection and intimacy. Margaret Singer (1996) describes the technique:

As soon as any interest is shown by the recruits, they may be love bombed by the recruiter or other cult members. This process of feigning friendship and interest in the recruit was . . . part of their program for luring people in. Love bombing is a coordinated effort, usually under the direction of leadership, that involves long-term members’ flooding recruits and newer members with flattery, verbal seduction, affectionate but usually nonsexual touching, and lots of attention to their every remark. Love bombing – or the offer of instant companionship – is a deceptive ploy accounting for many successful recruitment drives.

Many people are seduced by this kind of behavior. Everyone wants to feel special. Abusers play to your ego needs and then turn the tables on you, which is why it’s so difficult to break away once the abuse begins in earnest. You yearn for her to return to the kind, loving person she was when you first met. You believe that’s the real person and the abusive, hostile, cold, unempathic harpy is the aberration. In reality, the opposite is true.

This is how emotional predators and cults seduce you. They flatter you and make you feel special—at first. Next week, I’ll explore how they break you down and keep you down. Meanwhile, don’t drink the Kool-Aid.

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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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References:

Photo credits:

Mind control at photobucket.

Love bomb by soul food on flickr.