Ok, so I established that brainwashing exists and is possible, or I hope I did.
Now, before I start I want to add a little bit of a disclaimer. I am not saying that everyone who has been with a narcissist/psychopath has been brainwashed; I am just laying out the information I have accumulated and letting you decide what fits and what doesn’t. For me it was a big AHA moment and explained a lot, although I still have to digest it for a while because just like when I discovered he was (most likely) a narcissist and then psychopath it is hard to get your head around the knowledge. Every time I have an epiphany it takes time to absorb it, I still find myself struggling with the fact that he has no feelings, never loved me, and now to think he brainwashed me; that is pretty huge. When I say I struggle with him not having feelings, it is not that I don’t believe it on an intellectual level, but my brain still wants it to not be true. I don’t miss him, don’t long for him, and the only dreams I ever have of him are terrifying nightmares. Just wanted to clear that up.
In the 1950′s, psychologist Robert Jay Lifton studied former prisoners of the Korean War and he discovered a set of steps used to brainwash the prisoners in war camps.
1. Assault on identity
4. Breaking point
6. Compulsion to confess
7. Channeling of guilt
8. Releasing of guilt
9. Progress and harmony
10. Final confession and rebirth
In the war camps and especially in cults once the victim adopts the beliefs of their tormentor they are rewarded with better treatment and are relatively content with their life because they feel whole again with new beliefs taking the place of their old ones. Like I said in part one, parents had to kidnap their children to save them from cults.
The narcissist never rewards, only briefly and then he changes the rules again. The victim is constantly reaching for the carrot and never grasping it, they are never good enough and then are discarded after having been stripped of everything they ever believed of themselves and given nothing back except to be told they are evil, wrong, bad and responsible not only for their own pain but the behavior of their tormentor.
Why isn’t the narcissist happy when he finally breaks his victim? My theory is that he derives great pleasure from the tormenting, the process of “converting” his victim, it is a source of ns. As we have stated before the narcissist is empty of emotions for the most part and imitates the emotions of others, to be able to instill sadness, pain, fear in a person gives him a sense of control and power. He insists the victim conform to his way but once they do he no longer has interest in them. He may scream at them that he hates their crying and that they are too sensitive, too emotional but that is what feeds his ego, once the victim gives up and stops reacting he quickly loses interest. He is looking at a shell of the person he met, he is looking at a reflection of himself and it’s pretty ugly, so he goes looking for fresh supply; someone with their feelings intact, someone who will bleed for him and he discards the victim. He has stripped her of everything that made her who she was and puts nothing back. Is it any wonder the victim feels so lost, empty, and that he is the only one who can put her back together? The victim is lost, disoriented, unsure of everything, even how she feels.
I have been there and I still get frustrated with victim’s fresh out of a relationship with an N or someone still in the relationship and unable to accept the N for what he is. I remember going to a forum or reading an article and having a sense of relief, I had the answers. I would feel confident I could stay away now that I had that knowledge, yet later that same day I would be stricken with a panic attack, horrible self-doubt and doubt my sanity. So many times women read an article and have an epiphany and two weeks later read an article that says the exact same thing and have another epiphany. They need the information over and over again because as soon as they are alone their mind starts repeating everything the N said to them. “It is their fault, if they wouldn’t have said this or done that then things would be ok”. Everything they read that made sense now means nothing as the narcissist’s programming takes over the brain and the brain goes where it always does, to what it knows. With time, reading the information over and over again and rehashing the relationship over and over again, the victim eventually, hopefully, reprograms their brain and they heal and feel whole again. But it takes time, a lot of time.
How does the narcissist do this?
Remember the steps below are the steps used to brainwash cult members and prisoners of war; I have just adapted them to suit a domestic relationship, the techniques are the same.
First of all, it requires isolation from other positive influences like a person’s support system of family and friends, sleep deprivation and often malnutrition. Physical abuse is not necessary to brainwash a person but it helps, even a perceived threat of death or physical harm will amplify the effects.
It makes sense that it is easier to brainwash someone who is isolated, not just because people might tell the victim that the abuser is actually abusive BUT they will derive feelings of self-worth from doing a good job at work, from earning their own income, from things as simple as being told they look nice that day; all of that undermines the abusers attempts to strip the victim of their identity.
I don’t know about everyone else, I think JC was especially evil and I think he did study up on mind control. In my case all three were present, isolation, sleep deprivation and malnutrition, especially in the last 2 years. I was isolated, he often kept me awake by badgering me about perceived transgression on my part, making noise, like playing his guitar in the bedroom while I tried to sleep, or decide to sort his paperwork out on the bed while I am laying there trying to sleep and just because I was so upset I couldn’t sleep. I developed the ability to sleep under any conditions and could will myself to sleep. He left his son and me at home where we ate porridge and rice all week while he ate microwave meals he bought at the corner store. When I left JC I was told by the doctor I was anemic, no wonder when you consider my diet.
Breaking the person down
Assault on identity. After initially loving everything about the victim in order to hook them the abuser starts a slow, subtle and insidious attack on everything about them. The victim sees it as him being picky or irritable and at first lets it slide not realizing that it is eating away at their self-esteem little by little. Before too long their thoughts and beliefs are wrong, they are stupid, they aren’t allowed their own feelings, they are wrong to feel the way they do, even things they see with their own eyes are denied. The barrage of criticism dumped on the victim can last days, weeks, months on end, with brief doses of acceptance and praise when they conform to the beliefs of the abuser. They learn that if they conform to the abusers beliefs they are granted reprieve from the abuse, but only briefly, as soon as they give their abuser what he says he wants he changes what he wants. The victim ends up confused, disoriented and exhausted. At this point they don’t know what they believe any more.
Guilt. Everything the victim does is bad, from the smallest acts like they brush their teeth wrong to how they dress, or for looking at another man, even if they didn’t. the victim becomes almost paralyzed, afraid to do anything for fear of being wrong. They feel guilty because if only they weren’t so bad this wouldn’t be happening to them. I remember when JC and I first moved into the house he was always complaining because I never helped him in the shop, but I worked full-time plus did all the cooking and cleaning inside the house and the yard work outside. I tried to explain to him that I did everything else in the house why should I have to clean up his shop also but as you can guess that went over like a lead balloon. So feeling guilty one day I stacked all the firewood he had split. When he was splitting it I had mentioned I thought it was too long but he insisted they were the exact length they should be. When I went to stack it the pieces would not fit cross wise in the wood room beside the house so I stacked them length wise. He came home, noticed I had stacked the wood, checked and gave me shit for stacking them the wrong way. “Now he had to restack it all, I should have stacked it cross wise.” Of course any defense on my part was over ridden and I just gave up. Anything I ever did, clean the car – it wasn’t good enough, I said dumb things, I assumed things I shouldn’t, I felt things I shouldn’t, I didn’t show enough appreciation, you name it……I didn’t do it or did it wrong. I got to the point where I was afraid to say anything for fear he would cut me off and twist my words. I became a nervous wreck at the thought of approaching him about anything.
Self-betrayal. Out of self-preservation the victim denounces their family and friends who hold the same beliefs they do. This instills more guilt in the victim, forcing them into self-inflicted isolation and a belief that if they left they would have no one to help them.
Agreeing with the abuser I remember screaming at JC, “You are right, I am a horrible person, what ever you say, just leave me alone, if I am so horrible why don’t you just leave?” and he would come to me and comfort me, say I was too hard on myself. My natural instinct would be to push him away, but I wouldn’t, because I knew that would only start the abuse again, so I would allow him to comfort me because it gave me a reprieve from the barrage of abuse.
Breaking point. This is where you hear the victim say they are having a nervous break down. The victim experiences uncontrollable sobbing, deep depression, disorientation, they have lost their grip on reality, feel alone and empty. At this point the person’s sense of self is pretty much up for grabs. In cults, with prisoners of war it is at this point they rebuild the person, instilling their beliefs which the victim accepts – trying to end his inner torment.
Salvation. As the victim reaches their breaking point the abuser offers some small kindness, shows remorse even, or
offers up some form of an apology, “I am sorry you made me do this to you”, they do something nice for the victim, it can be something very small and insignificant but the gesture is exaggerated in the victim’s mind and the victim shows gratitude totally out of proportion to the gesture.
One incident I can remember very clearly was nearing the end of the relationship, my truck was not running. I had to walk a long way to the bus and everywhere I went was by bus and took hours, I had no money and my cell phone had been disconnected, every morning I hoped and prayed my truck would get fixed and everyday I was gutted when it wasn’t, I was at my breaking point, it seemed JC was blocking me at every turn. I called him from a phone booth one day in tears, tired from trying to get the right bus to where I needed to go and had just discovered the bus I needed had just left and my pass would expire before the next bus. Kato had been locked in the house all day and would need to pee, I was sobbing and he said he had to make a run out-of-town to fix a broken down company truck and he would pick me up on his way. He sounded so concerned and I had mixed feelings, it meant I had to leave Kato locked up even longer but I really had no choice.
I waited and waited where JC told me to, I was used to waiting for JC, he always made me wait hours. I was watching the traffic zoom by when I heard a semi honk behind me when I turned around he was kneeling down with Kato standing there wagging his tail like crazy. Just typing it now brought me to the point of sobbing, I had to stop typing because I was getting the keyboard wet. 🙂 But I can remember the relief, the immense gratitude I felt for JC’s effort. He knew I would be worried about Kato, it is one of the kindest things JC ever did for me. He had brought dog food and water for Kato. I must have thanked him 10 times and I fell in love with him all over again, my hope for the relationship was restored. I thought, “He must really love me to do something so thoughtful” I went to show my gratitude and gave him a hug and said, “I love you.” I was gutted when he pulled away and didn’t say it back.
Another time we were living in a 2 room dive that only had cold water. We were going to the local Tim Horton’s late at night to wash and I so longed for a nice hot bath, I used to love to lounge in a hot bubble bath.
JC had built a kind of shop behind the cabin we were living in and put up black plastic for walls and told me to stay out of it. He banged and hammered away in there for a couple of days and then asked me to come see what he had been doing. He pulled the plastic back to reveal the most beautiful thing I had ever seen. He had built a room out of scrap wood, one wall even had an old window in it, he had found some plastic ivy that he strung through the rafters, the floor was made of pallets, there was an old fireplace insert off to one side with a fire flickering, it was winter and cold outside but as soon as the plastic was pulled away the warmth of the fire enveloped me and drew me in. It took me a minute to absorb what I was seeing and then I saw it in the corner, an old iron bathtub filled to the brim with hot water and bubbles; the stream rising like arms pulling me into it, surrounding the tub were a half-dozen stubby candles flickering, a towel was draped over my old rocking chair across from the tub and an old carpet on the pallet beside the tub completed the picture. I was speechless, in awe of the scene in front of me and half expecting it was some cruel joke. I hadn’t seen anything that beautiful in my life and the fact that he had gone to that much work to surprise me filled me with gratitude for years after.
Just to complete the story the way he had heated the water was with the burner off of an old barbecue. I was so thrilled and he had said, “Get in, it’s for you.” I jumped in and slowly lowered myself into the hot water, it was heaven, and then I realized my ass was getting hotter and HOTTER and HOTTER!! I stood up and started dancing in the tub, then it dawned on JC, he had forgotten to shut off the burner!! I light-heartedly teased him about trying to cook me alive. We actually had a good laugh, I was almost giddy with joy at being able to have a bath and fell asleep in the tub and didn’t wake up until the water chilled, but the fire was still burning and the room was toasty warm. After the first night JC modified the system and devised a network of piping that went from the tap down through the fireplace and into the tub with a shut off valve so I could lay in the tub and add steaming hot water as the bathtub cooled. The two nicest things JC ever did for me bought him a lot of forgiveness from me and totally obliterated much of the abuse.
Enter the Guilt. The victim feels guilty for thinking ill of the abuser, look at the nice thing he did for them and the relief of being in the abusers “good graces” reinforces that the victim just has to stop doing wrong and listen to the abuser and everything will be ok. And that is when the abuser starts feeding his belief system into the victim’s psyche.
The last 2 years with JC it was my truck, he would tamper with it, it would break down, he would gallantly offer to fix it. He’d put his arms around me, “It will be ok Babe, we’ve gone through worse and we always make it through, don’t we?” I had learned that getting angry or nagging got me no where so I became very grateful for any effort he made, didn’t mention fixing the truck for weeks, didn’t cry about it and waited patiently. 1 week, 2 weeks, 3 weeks went by with the parts in the driveway going rusty. I didn’t expect him to work on it during the week so as his days off approached I would casually mention I had customers waiting for pick ups and did he think he would get to my truck on his days off. He would say he was bringing his tools home on his last day of work. He would work on other people’s vehicles, he would put straight pipes on my truck (yeah it looked great but it wasn’t running so I wasn’t making money) If I said anything I was ungrateful for not praising him for the work he DID do. A month went by and the 2 months, the whole time I was dying inside, everyday I lost more of my independence and I literally felt myself dying a slow death. Just as I would get to the breaking point he would fix it so it ran for a day or two and then it would break down again. My spirit broke, I stopped fighting it, I didn’t cry, I didn’t get angry, I was a zombie. He would come to bed I would spread my legs, he wouldn’t come home all night I wouldn’t react. He would still give me shit for crying everyday but I kept track and I knew I didn’t cry. His lies became more blatant, like he didn’t get home until after 8 on a Saturday when he was supposed to pick his sister up at the bus at 3, had called and told us both he was on his way and then never showed up. When he did pull in at home at 8 he said he had been at the bank until 7:30. I said, “The bank closes at 3 on Saturday”. He argued that his was open later. The next day I actually borrowed his truck and went to the bank to check what time they close on Sat, 3:00. But I never said a word to him about it.
It was at this point JC discarded me and it seems to me many other victims are discarded at this point, he has drained the person of their self-worth and usually material wealth also and that is all he wanted so he discards the victim for a fresh supply.
Whereas cults and captures have a purpose to their brainwashing-converting the victim to their beliefs the narcissist has no other purpose to his torture than to derive supply and once he has it he has no interest in putting the person back together, they are pitiful in his eyes.
* Contrary to popular belief the victims are NOT weak going into the relationship, the narcissist does not like weakness in people, it is not what he seeks, he despises weakness. He needs a strong person, a person who has a strong sense of their self-worth because it is through the destroying of the victims self-confidence and identity that the narcissist gains strength and his sense of self-worth.
In Part 3 I will discuss how a person recovers from brainwashing.