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If you do not adapt, if you do not learn, you will wither, you will die.

Wednesday, August 17, 2011

Brainwashing turned useful

If sect leaders, lover boys, and religious groups and the likes can influence you in such a way that you seem and act brainwashed and adhere to the leader’s rules and governance, even if this harms your personal interests, it should be possible to transform the techniques used by the people controlling you into techniques you can use in your own best interest, say, to accomplish something challenging or to exercise self-control in a difficult area.

In her book Brainwashing, the Science of Thought Control  researcher Kathleen Taylor from the University of Oxford explains that brainwashing is nothing more than the application of certain psychological techniques for convincing others, which, if applied in extremes, result in  the person believing in a different reality.
I will briefly go into the different steps and techniques used in brainwashing to transform them into techniques you can use to your advantage:

1.     The first phase is the infatuation stage, intended to convince potential members of a sect or group to join. You will be overwhelmed with attention, friendliness, compliments and the like in order for you to feel very welcome and special, attracting you to the group. This technique can be used by yourself by taking good care of yourself with positive attention, living in and appreciating the moment, and good self-care. This will make you feel so much better about yourself as opposed to quickly or constantly criticizing yourself and focusing on the negatives. This can be continued until you wish to never let go of this good feeling, which, in the case of the sect, means you are entering dangerous territory, and in the case of self-care it means you are in for an addiction to self-affirmation, one of the better addictions in life.

2.     The next step for the manipulator is isolating you. Isolation from your family and friends in order to envelop you more and more into the group and its doctrine with less and less influence from your old circles and world. The manipulator might convince you that your friends and family keep you from fully developing yourself and leading a happy, independent life. We also see this isolation on a much larger scale where a people of a country is isolated from real information, denied access to multiple sources, and is only provided with government–controlled information and news. Translating this isolation technique into a tool for effective self-care and reaching your goals, you can start with isolating yourself from bad habits and from negative views of yourself.  You can train yourself to focus on what you can do, on what you’re proud of, on what gives you energy, and on what is close to your passion. Just like the manipulator you can gain more and more control over what you think and do and thereby how you feel. But we all know how hard it can be to change habits. In this regard I recommend a Harvard Business Review article by Peter Bregman titled How to Stay Focused on the Important Things. In this post Bregman emphasizes the importance of changing your environment in order to help sustain a change like a new habit: http://blogs.hbr.org/bregman/2011/07/how-to-stay-focused-on-the-rig.html

3.     Control is obviously an important if not the most important aspect of brainwashing. In addition to isolation, reinforcing and punishing all behavior can serve as a great tool for control. In most sects, if you show doubts or divert from the beliefs and practices of your group and especially of its leader, you will be ignored or openly punished. As long as you do exactly as the sect prescribes you’ll be in heaven and reinforced with so-called love, attention, and compliments. But the next minute, as you doubt or divert, you can be trampled to death with scolding, humiliation, and other punishments. This has proven a very effective way to control people especially when combined with emotional blackmail in order to make you feel guilty about your doubts. Now it should be clear that none of this is recommended for self-control or reaching the moon. The lesson in all this is to reinforce all accomplishments in your challenge to whatever goal you have set for yourself, and to reinforce all steps and efforts in the right direction even if these efforts did not result in the desired outcome, or not yet.  Reinforcements can come in many forms like complimenting yourself, keeping track of reaching subgoals and celebrating whenever a new step has been reached, sharing accomplishments and efforts with others so they can provide you with constructive feedback and encouragement etc.

4.     Undermining your self-image is unfortunately another tool regularly used in certain sects, for example in an exercise where everyone has to share all the things he or she has done wrong during the past week. If you convert this to the opposite, i.e. being aware and appreciative of all the thoughts and actions that are heading in the right direction and of everything that went well this day or week, your self-image will strengthen and you will get a better sense of which actions but also thoughts might help you master your challenge and which ones are keeping your from success.

5.     Manipulation of language is the last aspect I’d like to mention. In the case of a sect, members of the sect are often called ‘family’. In the case of a loverboy whose actions where documented, after beating, raping, and locking up one of his girls, he repeated, over and over again “I will help you do what I need you to do”. These are examples of the language - game being played in the worst possible way. Our language is influenced by what we belief and think, but in turn, language also affects our beliefs and thinking. The more we here someone tell us we’re great (or terrible) the more we start believing it, as many cognitive, linguistic, and child rearing experts have proven. The way I suggest you use your language is the way I use it in my coaching practice: I make people aware of patterns in their language, of certain words or phrases they tend to use when talking about themselves, when describing situations at home, or when discussing problems at work. Next, I help them discover which beliefs are behind these language patterns and whether these beliefs are beneficial to them. If not we work on those beliefs, mainly through the Rational Emotive Training developed by Albert Ellis and based on wisdom dating as far back as Epictetus. At the same time, I encourage my clients to replace words like ‘terrible’ with ‘not good’, or ‘never’ with ‘it’ll be difficult’ knowing that the language you use persistently, influences your beliefs. You can do the same thing and be your own coach.

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