The Eighth and Final Square

with courage face the thing you fear so the pawn becomes the queen

I wasn’t originally planning on writing a Part 2. The previous post was intended to be a stand-alone. But it occurred to me…what is the difference between teaching and brainwashing? So I’ve been looking up methods of brainwashing, and felt the need to share. I was reading through stuff and going wow. I don’t know if my dad knew he was truly using mind control techniques, or if that’s just the way he thought necessary to get his point across. I believe he loves us in his own way, and truly wants the best for us. However, that does not negate any damage done, or mean I should just “move on” with my life and forget about it. Someone exiting a cult they have been in for 23.6 years would need some serious counseling. This blog is my way of processing my thoughts on the issues. And again: just because someone “means well” does not mean they did no harm, and it does not negate the fact that damage was done.

There are quite a few differences between an adult coming out of a cult and an adult coming out of a cultic home (although the example I read about was an adult coming out of a cult they grew up in…second-gen so to speak. Not sure when or where I read it; it was a while ago.). Something to the effect of, when an adult comes out of a cult, they have to re-integrate into society, but they already have had a background. Someone coming out of a cultic home is different: their whole identity has been wrapped up in that cult, and they have to find out who they truly are, what they really believe, and attempt to sort of re-train their thinking out of the cultic ways of thinking. That’s what I’m doing on this blog. Yes, I say negative things about them; some of it is to expose to those who thought my family was “perfect” what it really was like.

I think I keep saying this over and over in this post, but I want it to be clear for those who think my blog’s sole purpose is a smear campaign against my parents, and a tool to hurt them. As my husband said in reply to one such commenter, “If it would hurt her parents to hear her talk about the things they were proud they did, perhaps her parents should stop taking pride in doing them (or stop doing them all together).”

I found quite a few very helpful list-style breakdowns of techniques used in brainwashing. I’ll condense them into one list, and post only the ones relevant to my situation, but I’ll include the links so you can read the rest for yourself.

  • PEER GROUP PRESSURESuppressing doubt and resistance to new ideas by exploiting the need to belong. — Family was “the thing”. You always had to stick together, nobody could go visit with friends alone, it was always the whole family or nobody. If I wanted time alone, I was “anti-family” (that was only me though). Supposedly the worst form of punishment dad could come up with was sending someone to bed, therefore distancing them from the family for a period of time.
  • CONFUSING DOCTRINEEncouraging blind acceptance and rejection of logic through complex lectures on an incomprehensible doctrine. — Yes. Dad would lecture for hours, and in the meantime I would think of things I wanted to say but I couldn’t interrupt him and by the time he was done, it was all kind of mushy and he’d say “So what do you have to say?” and I’d just say “You’re right” because I had no other answer — my mind was blank.
  • METACOMMUNICATIONImplanting subliminal messages by stressing certain key words or phrases in long, confusing lectures. — I didn’t think this was the case, until Scottie pointed out dad did stress words…such as rebellious/rebellion, honor parents, obey parents, loyalty to parents/family. You know how sometimes you go away from something getting an impression that wasn’t really said? I think that’s part of it.
  • DISINHIBITION/ENFORCING TRIVIAL COMMANDSEncouraging child-like obedience by orchestrating child-like behavior and creating habitual compliance. — This is a weird one, but I think it’s true. Besides the unquestioning obedience thing, dad always said “if you act like an adult, I’ll treat you like one”, meaning of course “if you act like a child, I’ll treat you like a child”. However, I never found that they treated me as anything other than a child, and when I subconsciously realized that, I actually started becoming more childlike again.
  • FINANCIAL COMMITMENTAchieving increased dependence on the group by ‘burning bridges’ to the past, through the donation of assets. — In our case it wasn’t financial commitment, per say, it was just controlling of the finances. As kids, we didn’t have spending money, and even up through my late teens, I couldn’t buy anything unless I asked. Sometimes there were also involuntary donations…if someone gave us money for Christmas with a note that said to divide it amongst the kids, and “the family” needed something (once it was something to do with the van), mom and dad decided to use the money for that instead because it was something we all would need, using the money that was for all of us. We didn’t have a choice, and if they had given us a choice, we would have felt pressured to give it to them anyway regardless.
  • FINGER POINTINGCreating a false sense of righteousness by pointing to the shortcomings of the outside world. — Hell yeah. When I began re-thinking things and realizing stuff just wasn’t right, that bothered me SO MUCH. We lived on a hill, and dad would gesture to “all those people out there”, about how they were lost/going to hell/blah blah blah. He would say “I don’t mean to say we are the gurus on the hill and everyone else isn’t as good as us, but so many people really are [whatever he said].”
  • ISOLATIONInducing loss of reality by physical separation from family, friends, society and rational references. — Um, yeah. One of the biggies. Not much explanation needed there.
  • NO QUESTIONSAccomplishing automatic acceptance of beliefs by discouraging questions. — If they are so right…why can’t they stand up to questioning? That’s what I wonder. When I actually did attempt to question them to their faces, mom would brush whatever it was off and dad would basically say “You have [these sins] in your life that you need to deal with before you question us”.
  • FEAR/THREATSMaintaining loyalty and obedience to the group by threatening soul, life or limb for the slightest ‘negative’ thought, word or deed. — Yes. Dad was very fear-based rather than grace-based, even in his beliefs of the Bible and his teachings to us.
  • REPEATED CONFRONTATIONBreak down a person’s resistance, expose poor habits, and allow the person to start over with correct methods and new goals. — It was mostly called “teasing” or “positive peer pressure” from dad. I’m ashamed to say I did it as well while I was there, even when I knew it wasn’t very nice. People’s poor habits, instead of dealt with in a loving, gentle, non-humiliating way would be mocked in front of the whole family. One of my sisters didn’t like the “teasing”, so dad decided he had to tease her until she liked it. All it did was push her further inside herself. (Not sure if this is exactly the way “Repeated Confrontation” is supposed to work, but it’s how it worked in my family.) Except we didn’t have the chance to “start over”…old habits or sins were constantly brought up, and the lens for how our current life was seen.
  • GUILTING/SHAMINGGuilting or shaming a person for thinking or believing anything other than the approved beliefs. — Yes. I remember a while when my dad made fun of one of my brothers’ views on politics/voting. For weeks he would bring it up in conversation in an extremely negative light. (Oddly enough, a year or two later, he ended up taking my brother’s views on politics/voting as his own.) I can’t remember all of it…but guilting you into stuff was something they did all the time. I am considered “selfish” for leaving, and even after I told them I was leaving, they were still guilting me by accusing me of having no love for them or anything/anybody.
  • RESTRICTION OF INDEPENDENT THINKING/ACTIONSForcing a person to ask for permission before making decisions or doing certain things. — Sure, part of it is probably a part of parenting, but requiring your adult sons and daughters to ask you to go somewhere (not just “Hey mom, I’m gonna go to the store…do you need anything?” it was more like “Mom, I can I go to the store? I need to get these things”< then a sometimes-lengthy conversation where mom tries to figure out if she thinks you really need to go or not) or before spending money is a bit too much. As far as independent thinking goes…dad would say “think about it” (whatever he said). Thinking “out of the box” was discouraged.
  • SPYING Heighten paranoia within the people and loyalty to the group leaders. — While I think this happened to a lesser degree, it was still there. For instance, one of my brothers confided in another, and that brother deemed it his purpose to tell dad. One of my brothers was kicked out for NOT telling my dad something (namely, my secret relationship).
  • DEMONSTRATING “OMNIPOTENCE”Instilling in the people the idea that the leader has the power to control the fate or existence of the people in their group; suggests futility of resistance. — This was more of something felt, not exactly said outright, though my dad joked “I brought you into this world, I can take you out of it”. Fear of dad, fear of what dad would do. When he sat me down and asked me “So, are you going to leave or stay?”, I didn’t want to say anything (and didn’t, for half an hour) because I was afraid of what he would do to me.
  • UPHOLDING THE LEADERThe ideas of the leader are equal to God in terms of purity, sacredness, and truth. — Another “hell yeah”. I think I’ve mentioned before on my blog his “I’m-like-God” schpiel…”God put me in authority over you, therefore I represent the power of God to you, therefore you must do as I say” basically.
  • SELECTIVE VISIONThe tendency to acknowledge only those things that are consistent with one’s belief system. Anything that contradicts or conflicts with the belief system are irrationally interpreted such that they are consistent with the belief system or entirely disregarded. — This is very very common among ultra-patriarchal types and those who promote this stuff like “umbrella of protection”, dads being the ultimate authority in the house, etc, when it comes to what the Bible says. The Bible truly does not say “girls should stay at home until they get married” unless you irrationally interpret (twist) the Scriptures. As much as my dad liked to say “some people pick and choose what they believe in the Bible”, he did it himself — anything that was “good”…anything that promised grace, forgiveness, blessings, etc, were pretty much skipped over to get to the part about “FEAR GOD”.
  • MONOPOLIZATION OF PERCEPTIONFixes attention upon immediate predicament; fosters introspection. Eliminates stimuli competing with those controlled by the leader. Frustrates all actions not consistent with compliance. — Yes. Pretty self-explanatory.
  • DEGRADATIONMakes cost of resistance appear more damaging to self-esteem than capitulation. — Kinda goes along with the teasing thing. We weren’t allowed to have self esteem…it was “bad”, “selfish”, “worldly”, and “sinful”. Anything we saw promoting any kind of self-esteem was mocked. Anything promoting the idea that kids were intelligent beings was mocked and/or completely not allowed (such as some children’s books geared towards their audience, so a kid was the protagonist).

Here are a couple more true facts about cults/mind control/brainwashing; I included them because they are true for my family. (This is not an exhaustive list of techniques or facts, only ones that apply to myself and my family.)

Despite torture, victims often end up feeling a bond between themselves and their captorAfter accepting the new ideals of the group, victims will also accept their treatment and even feel bonded and loyal to their captors. — You know, when they’re your parents, of course you feel bonded and loyal! They think it was easy for me to leave, that I’m so callous that I didn’t care about what they thought. In reality, the opposite was true; I knew it would hurt them (or hurt their pride, which is the same thing), and once told my husband (before we were married, of course) that I “could never hurt my parents that bad” when he suggested I should leave.

Ideals and beliefs are viewed as black and whiteThere is no room for debate, analysis or questioning when brainwashing. A victim must completely accept any new ideas and wholly reject any competing beliefs, lifestyles, people or experiences. — This is a really hard one to shake. Believe me. My dad acknowledged there were most likely “gray areas”, however he said it was better to be on the safe side and think in black and white. I’m an extremely all-or-nothing person in a lot of areas, and I’m trying to find the happy medium in everything.

Reference links:


Brainwashing & Mind-Control Techniques

25 Scary Facts about Brainwashing

An Article on Brainwashing

Abusive Brainwashing Techniques

Phoenix On January - 26 - 2011

3 Responses so far.

  1. Valerie Morrison says:

    I think this is really good information for ALL church goers… there are far too many pastors who get caught up in their own power and influence, and start to practice many of these techniques…

  2. Rebekah says:

    Wow, that’s some heavy stuff. I relate to some if not most of it. I’m horrified. I think that deep down I’ve been minimizing my childhood despite knowing it was wrong.

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Welcome! This is my space on the internet to explore myself and my life and find my courage to turn into a queen. My Quilt No content on this blog may be used or reproduced elsewhere without a link back.

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