What is Brainwashing?
With all the media around us, whether television, social media or the radio, there’s so much information we are receiving daily that we take for granted what we hear. Would we know, however, if we were being brainwashed?
The word itself brings images (for me at least) of a load of brains inside a washing machine – in goes the detergent and conditioner. But don’t tumble dry, don’t want them to shrink. Now you have that image as well right? I’ll come back to this later.
Brainwashing is when our beliefs are changed or controlled, by someone else, a single person or a group, to accept their beliefs and ideals as truth. This can be done through force or it can be done through manipulation.
Best examples are cults, such as the Manson Family and the Branch Davidians (the Waco incident). On a smaller scale but just as impactful, is the Stockholm syndrome (the hostage or victim bonds with their captor or abuser).
These are extreme cases that people outside the field of influence can see what’s happening. But what about the more gentle type of influence, that you and I are influenced by?
Every day we speak to people who have their own opinions on what and how things should be done, and depending on who they are, that message can influence us to different degrees.
Your direct environment
Take your own family for example. You have grown up around them and you will have taken on some habits that they also have. That is actually normal and natural. What makes the difference is the type of habits that you would have picked up.
For example, in the USA it’s accepted, in most states, that you’ll find some form of weapon in the house, whether for hunting or protection. In the UK the laws are stricter and the ownership of a weapon is unlikely unless it’s for hunting.
This is not a debate on gun laws but it should make you realise that one country sees it as normal were as the other one doesn’t. Can this be called brainwashing?
Wikipedia describes brainwashing as:
“… the concept that the human mind can be altered or controlled by certain psychological techniques. Brainwashing is said to reduce its subjects’ ability to think critically or independently, to allow the introduction of new, unwanted thoughts and ideas into their minds, as well as to change their attitudes, values, and beliefs.”
We may not have had the choice to take on the beliefs we were given as children, but, if we go by the definition above, we have been getting brainwashed since the day we were born.
This is not a doom and gloom scenario, however. If it wasn’t for those early influences in our lives, we would not be able to think, we wouldn’t know what we know and we definitely wouldn’t know how to read or write.
We have given it the term “learning” and that is what it is.
Unfortunately we also learn things that inhibit us in life, based on the beliefs of the people that we are surrounded by.
“Money is evil”, “you are lazy”, “you’ll never amount to anything”, “who gave you that face”, “you didn’t learn that here”… add your own phrase.
I’ve heard parents, schoolchildren, teachers, other family members, people’s friends, say things to individuals that make me cringe that they have actually said those words. The words flow out of their mouths without an inkling of the effect that those words can have.
Attached to this is the stigma that those words will actually affect the person, with the one that said them responding with, “It was just a joke”, “No harm was meant” and the various other excuses that a sudden, thoughtless outburst brings along.
There is a saying – everything we say has a touch of truth attached to it.
Every word we hear and we feel, will have an impact on us, however slight. Hurtful sentences can have a major impact, so far as to cause a change, in the person receiving.
How many young girls go on “diets” because someone called them fat, which can lead to bulimia and anorexia? These can be fatal conditions that will need psychiatric help. But can something like this be brainwashing? Well, if it wasn’t a belief in the individual to start with and it later was, through repetition, then yes it is.
The consistent words we hear daily about who we are, what we are, how we can succeed or fail, are all forms of brainwashing. It is the beliefs that we take on that tell us that we can’t succeed, we can’t get it done, that we are not good enough that are the harmful ones. They are the inhibitors that keep us in one place, never to move forward towards our dream, unless we break those beliefs and replace them with better ones.
And we do that through…
Washing our own brains
I bet you now have an image of a brain in a washing machine, getting washed. And if you didn’t, you do now.
That’s me installing an idea in your head that you didn’t have before. You read it once at the start of the article. I told you that I would come back to it, so I prepared you to see it again, which meant that it did not leave your mind as soon as you read it – it stayed there, lingering. Then I mentioned it again and reinforced the idea.
You’ve been brainwashed.
It’s that simple. You now have that image in your mind and it will never leave. Every time you hear the word “brainwashing” you’ll get the image of a brain in a washing machine with soapy water. Oops! Just reinforced it again.
How can this help us with our life, to move ahead, to be do and have who and what we want? What if you used the same technique to reinforce beliefs and ideas that you want? This is where affirmations come in and yes, you are brainwashing yourself (washing machine!).
The key, however, is not to utter the words alone. In the example I’ve used up to now, there has been truth based behind it. We wash things in a washing machine, we see the soap bubbles, we put conditioner in and it’s what a washing machine is for. Because we know this, as part of our daily life, we can associate with it, mentally but also, more importantly, emotionally.
Any affirmation you make up needs to have those elements in place:
- There has to be a truth behind it and this is where your beliefs come into play.
- You must be able to feel it.
- You need to be able to see it in your minds eye, to imagine it.
The image, combined with the truth of it and backed by the feeling will drive it into the mind, like a nail being hammered into a piece of wood. And just like the hole the nail leaves even when it’s pulled out, you will be doing the same thing.
You will have established a place for that belief to take hold, but it will need repetition to get it to stick until it becomes your new belief. You have to keep hammering that nail into the same hole, until it feels a natural process, a normal idea.
You may have thought that I’d be talking about the influence that all media have on our lives. Well, they do. They are designed to. It’s nothing new and it isn’t going to go away. It’s just the way we are. We can all be influenced by ideas, especially ones that sound good to us (cognitive bias). (See this article in Psychology Today about brainwashing and the media.)
But we don’t have to accept them. We do have a choice of what to accept and what not to. So why not accept beliefs and ideas that are beneficial to us.
In the end the Party would announce that two and two made five, and you would have to believe it. It was inevitable that they should make that claim sooner or later: the logic of their position demanded it.
George Orwell from the book “1984”
One believes things because one has been conditioned to believe them.