The truth about brainwashing

It doesn’t only happen in books and in the movies – radically changing peoples’ beliefs through brainwashing is, sadly, a very real situation, evident in the methods used by organisations such as El Qaeda. Dr John Demartini, human behavioural specialist, business consultant, educator and internationally acclaimed author explains how people can be indoctrinated.

1.    Is there such a thing as brainwashing? What exactly is it?

Brainwashing is simply stacking up a sufficient quantity and quality of newly emotionally charged associations toward or against something, someone, or some ideology. It is a form of propaganda to influence outcomes of human behaviour. Almost anything can become perceived as favourable or non-favourable if enough supportive or challenging associations can be stacked up for or against it.

2.    Why would someone go from a decent upbringing to fundamentalism, for instance becoming an Al-Qaeda follower?

An individual who is already fulfilled in life and is fulfilling their highest and most meaningful values is less likely to be pursued by any extremist’s polarised views. This person would be more rational and reasonable and think more clearly about such a polarised and extreme view. But an individual that seems to have come from a stable background on the outside but for whatever reason has not perceived their life as fulfilled and meaningful can become more vulnerable to polarised positions of extremism. This type of person is more easily persuaded by emotionally charged ideologies. Some wound or unrealistic expectation that is unmet makes that individual more vulnerable to such polarised ideologies.   

3.       How does this relate to herd instinct, when people act in groups to do ‘atrocities’ such as gang rape, stonings, etc?

When vulnerable individuals who subordinate to outer authorities (individually or en masse) and who are unfulfilled with their current position in life listen to someone who is skillful at persuasion and who has linked enough facts with fictions in a way that they can be easily swayed into a new ideology, if the individual perceives there will be more advantages than disadvantages and more rewards than risks in life because of this new ideology, that individual will be vulnerable.

4.    Why would someone be vulnerable to brainwashing?

That person is unfulfilled with their current position in life. They may express family repressions depending upon the type of repressions that exist within the remaining family. They need to express their power in some way that gets attention. If they feel they will receive more appreciation and honour or attention and more advantages than disadvantages and more rewards than risks, they will be open to a new ideology, whether true or not. Kamikazes, for instance, would die for their cause with enough persuasion.   

5.    What is the difference between what is perceived as a religious cult versus a religious militant movement?

A cult is any religious or non-religious group that follows the ideologies of some individual and / or central group towards some cause. If that cause is associated with what is believed to be a greater, more favourable life outcome with more perceived advantages than disadvantages, more rewards than risks, the individual will join and participate in the cult, and if it is persuasive enough, the individual would even be prepared to die for the assumed cause, whether real or delusional. Military groups use the same persuasive principle with new soldiers to make them willing to kill for a country’s cause or ideology.  

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