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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.

References:

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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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.

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.

Donations

If you find the information I provide free of charge helpful and valuable here on Shrink4Men, please consider making a donation via PayPal to help me maintain the site.

References:

Photo credits:

Mind control at photobucket.

Love bomb by soul food on flickr.