Blog on emotional well being and personal development

Brainwashing in relationships

Brainwashing in relationships

Perfectly sane, normal people can end up on the receiving end of brainwashing in relationships. It’s a consistent process whereby one person slowly becomes indoctrinated by the other. At first this occurs quite surreptitiously where the ‘brainwashee’ is unaware of the brainwasher’s intentions. In fact, it comes so naturally to some people that they don’t do it deliberately, it’s just how they ‘naturally’ operate.

The typical brainwasher is someone who loves control and is skilled in the art of manipulation. Part of their motivation lies in their underlying fear of the world. They fear many things, not least abandonment and not being in control. For them, it is imperative that they are able to control their partner as much as possible.

Typical behaviour of a brainwasher – they are possessive and jealous. They will try to isolate their partner from friends and family. They don;t want outside influences, they definitely don’t want competition. The fewer significant others there are, the more important and unchallenged their opinion will be.

Brainwashers have an uncanny ability to find people who will be quite passive and will be more easy to control. They start by showering their new girlfriend/boyfriend with love, compliment and gifts. This is one way to speed up the emotional attachment of their ‘target’. A person who is emotionally attached and trusts is far easier to manipulate. Another word for this is” love bombing – affection and compliments that are over the top and excessive.

People who low self esteem lap up love bombing – they find it flattering and the brainwasher loves it because they see someone who will be easy to brainwash.

Once emotional attachment is in place, brainwashers will begin their campaign – dropping hints to create doubt about friends and family in order to isolate them. They will point out a family member’s weaknesses, they will do anything to create doubt and shake up their partner’s original view of this family member or friend.

At the same time, brainwashers will start to subtly criticise their partner. Decreasing their self confidence is part of the plan. More self doubt = more control over their partner. This long term criticism, such as over the way they dress, cook, behave in public etc can be incredibly debilitating. It slowly erodes a person’s self esteem and can render them a ‘shell’ of their former selves.

Some brainwashers are exceptionally hard work. They will use emotional blackmail (if you loved me then you would trust me and do this) to assert themselves. If that doesn’t work they will become emotionally volatile. This causes the other person to go along with whatever they want just for an easy life.

You may ask why someone would put up with this but getting to this point takes months and sometimes years. Once there is a huge emotional investment, it can be very hard to just up and leave a relationship. Especially if the brainwashed person has lost all their confidence and lost all of their support network.

Of course, party of the manipulation involves being aware of how far they can push their partner. They need to know where the limits are. if they push too far, they quickly back down and become charming and lovely again – the person their partner initially fell in love with. This abusive cycle is often what keeps someone in an abusive relationship like this. They hope that the part of their partner that they love will return. Often they blame themselves – if only I was a better girlfriend/boyfriend then my partner would be nicer and kinder. WRONG! Some one treating you well should NEVER depend on you doing certain things – being treated with respect and love should NEVER be conditional. By keeping up this mean person-nice person cycle, their partner becomes trauma-bonded to them.

Brainwashers never accept responsibility for their own behaviour and will twist things around. Somehow it is always someone else’s fault. Over time the abusive partner changes the way their victim thinks.

The abuser creates the reality, defines what reality is, tells the victim why she/he is wrong and what they need to do to fix it. They deflect a lot – putting the pressure on their victim so that no pressure can be levelled at them. Like I said – they are faultless – part of the brainwashing is how clever they are twisting reality. The victim is filled with self doubt and often retreats even further.

Often, the victim of brain washing believes that they will one day fully please their abusive partner. This is a cycle that may initiate from their childhood where they felt they were never quite good enough for one or both of their parents. Some parents unwittingly create low self esteem in their children by only meeting their children’s emotional needs when they achieve. Love is conditional and this can set up an unhealthy psychological dynamic that then continues into their adult relationships.

Victims stay out of fear, self doubt, low self esteem and sometimes because they know something is wrong but they can’t quite put their finger on it. The abuser cleverly leads their victim into a corner of self blame. self doubt and confusion, making any health action to get out nearly impossible.

Signs of brainwashing in relationships:

Jealousy and possessiveness

Isolation from friends/family

Criticism – verbal and emotional abuse

Emotional blackmail – given the silent treatment if you don’t behave as they feel you should or telling you that if you loved them you would do as they ask

Everything seems to be your fault

Arguements tend to go round in circles with no resolution

Selfish behaviour – hypocritical behaviour

Empty promises that never happen


Remember that in a healthy relationship, you should be entitled to your own opinion without any type of emotional punishment. You should be able to live freely without restrictions on where you go and who you see. You should not have to report back every half and hour or an hour. This is not how adult relationships operate. You should not feel afraid to voice an opinion or go against what your partner wants. In a healthy relationship, your partner should want the best for you and support you without any hidden agendas. They should be truthful and honest. If you have a niggling doubt that your are in an abusive relationship, speak to a counsellor. They are neutral, objective professionals who can help you make sense of your thoughts and feelings. Life is too short to waste it in an abusive relationship that will damage and destroy your true potential. Get off the sinking ship!!

Mandy X


Photo by Sharon Mollerus

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