Most of us know or have known someone we care about who has come under the influence of a perpetrator using him/her for self-serving purposes.
Very smart, educated, healthy people can, for some unknown, reason come under the spell of opportunistic, toxic, and insecure people. It is very puzzling for an observer of this phenomena to understand how the brainwashed person can’t see what is happening.
How it happens is a complicated process which we won’t address here. How we can help these people as a friend is, however, something we will tackle here. You will also see similarities to our conversation regarding befriending victims. But being brainwashed by another, in my assessment, is much more complicated and dangerous. When someone is brainwashed they may be at risk for joining a cult and blindly following the orders of that cult.
We must find our old friend compassion and understand how powerful this emotion is during times when our friends/loved ones seem to have lost their brains/common sense. Manipulative people, knowingly or unknowingly, can use very effective emotional tools to hijack another’s brain. Once they have accomplished this, they pretty much can control the brainwashed person.
There is a loyalty, a belief system, a history, a distrust of others, a lack of self- esteem, a lack of belief in one’s own thoughts, a loss of sense of self, and a loss of contact with reality for starters that interferes with the brainwashed person getting help.
Compassion for the victim’s suffering is not something the perpetrator will be giving to his victim. Compassion, for this discussion, is the ability to be concerned for someone’s suffering with kindness and tolerance. Someone needs to understand somewhere, somehow, you have lost your sense of self and someone needs to gently coax you, the victim into seeing this. Compassion will be a big help here, even if you never say anything, but rather just come from the understanding that this situation is difficult.
After listening to and understanding this person is under the influence of someone who is taking advantage of him/her for the purposes of controlling to manipulate, your best move is to start to question the person’s distorted reality. You want to come from your heart as you question their reality. There will be little phrases you can interject:
- I don’t see it that way.
- Funny I was thinking the opposite was true.
- I remember when you and I were more in agreement on major issues like this one.
- That sounds like bad behavior to me.
- Are those your thoughts or someone else’s?
Remember, we are bumping up against the distorted reality the perpetrator has sold them as truth. We are also challenged with the person’s bonding with the perpetrator and/or the perpetrator’s ideals. So how do you gently nudge the brainwashed person into remembering who they were and how far from center they have become? We want to help them regain a sense of their self. Some examples of honest seeds to plant are:
- Remember how much fun we use to have hiking that crazy trail by the river? We laughed so much it never seem difficult.
- Remember when we agreed we would never allow anyone to interfere with our friendship?
- Do you think you will ever be able to get back to being involved in the things that have always been so important to you?
- When was the last time you saw your family for the holidays/friends for a trip?
- When did you start mistrusting people?
- I don’t remember you ever being this sad.
- Your world seems so small. I don’t remember you so antisocial.
- Do you miss your old friends/life?
Obviously, you need to ask questions appropriate to the situation, but to be successful, brainwashing must shut down new information coming in. By relating to the person in a way that reminds him/her of how life use to be and feel, you can hope to give the person some new information. If you can trigger your friend into remembering when he/she was an autonomous person, it may help weaken the brainwashing.
Watching someone have his/her brain hijacked is very painful. Why can’t he/she see what is going on? Why can’t I just shake him/her and get my friend back? Read some of the literature from people who explain what happened to them. You will start to realize it is like having a blanket thrown over their head. If any light starts to get in, the perpetrator will fight to keep the darkness.
Rationalizing also kicks in for the victims and explains away irrational behavior. Who knows why, when, or what causes someone to finally say “no more”? Even after they begin to see the light, it is a long road back. The bonding with the perpetrator is a very powerful damaging tie that must be broken. Again, this takes time.
A few steps forward, several steps backward, and hopefully – eventually – there will be more forward. While you are being patient, it is important you live your life, set boundaries to take care of yourself and pay attention to what gets positive results.
Again, it is important to forgive yourself for your feelings of anger and frustration. Forgive the victim for his/her blindness and vulnerability. Forgive yourself for the boundaries you must set so you don’t dive too deeply into the mess. Forgive life for sending this challenge.
Forgiving the perpetrator will probably be last on the list, but also a necessary assignment.
Images Courtesy of iStock
This article was originally published on Recovery.org