“The abuser’s mood changes are especially perplexing. He can be a different person from day to day, or even from hour to hour. At times he is aggressive and intimidating, his tone harsh, insults spewing from his mouth, ridicule dripping from him like oil from a drum. When he’s in this mode, nothing she says seems to have any impact on him, except to make him even angrier. Her side of the argument counts for nothing in his eyes, and everything is her fault. He twists her words around so that she always ends up on the defensive.” – Lundy Bancroft, Why Does He Do That?: Inside the Minds of Angry and Controlling Men

Manipulative abusers generally seek out and then assess the vulnerabilities of their victims. To create a sense of intimacy they often share personal information about themselves and the target often feels obliged to reciprocate, but the manipulator is often lying. He presents a caring and trusting personality which encourages the target to divulge personal information that can be later used. At first the abuser seems charming, attentive and thoughtful and will often suggest living together, getting married or having children very quickly. In the meantime, the woman may have some doubts but generally feels happy having finally met a man who seems almost perfect. During the dating stage, they tend to spend a great deal of their free time together and the target gradually drops her defenses and begins to fall in love.

The purpose of systematic domestic violence and emotional abuse is to gain and maintain total control over the victim; abusers do not ‘play fair’ and will use fear, guilt, shame or intimidation or may even threaten to hurt the people you care about. We all seek to influence other people to a greater or lesser degree and this is a natural part of healthy social interaction when conducted with direct and honest communication where individual rights are respected.

Abusers often seek to brainwash their partners using methods similar to those used by prison guards who recognize that physical control isn’t easily accomplished without the cooperation of the prisoner. The most effective way to ensure compliance is through subversive manipulation of the mind and feelings of the victim, who often becomes a physical and psychological prisoner within the ‘relationship’.

The Process of Abusive Brainwashing – Biderman’s Chart of Coercion includes:

• Isolation: The abuser deprives the victim of all social support from friends and family causing the victim to become dependent on the abuser.
• Monopolization of perception: The abuser frustrates all actions not consistent with compliance to their will.
• Induced debility and exhaustion: The abuser weakens the mental and physical abilities of the victim to resist the abuse.
• Threats: They cultivate anxiety and despair in the victim by wearing down the victim’s belief in their own power to either leave or change the situation.

Emotional abuse can be crippling. It robs a person of their self-esteem, the ability to think rationally, confidence in themselves and their independence of thought. The abuser keeps the victim unaware of what is going on and what changes are taking place. For example, an abusive partner might control your finances, make plans for you without any consultation or even talk negatively about you to others behind your back in order to begin a process of isolation. Abusers often seek to control the victim’s time and physical environment, and work to suppress much of the victim’s previous personality and behaviour.

How Manipulation and Brainwashing Keeps Victims Trapped In Abusive Relationships

Many men and women suffer destructive emotional abuse but often fail to understand they are actually being abused. This ‘blind spot’ is usually the result of the victim being susceptible to manipulation (submissive or co-dependent personality type) combined with some very effective brain washing techniques.

Personality traits which make it more likely to be manipulated include:

• A people pleasing personality
• Lack of assertiveness
• Poor personal boundaries
• Low self-esteem

Those who are naïve often find it difficult to accept some people can be devious, cunning or ruthless while others are simply in denial. Victims can be too willing to give the abuser the benefit of the doubt or try too hard to empathize with or understand the abuser. Some people rationalize the abuser’s behaviour while submissive or co-dependent personality types often have a pattern of becoming involved with toxic partners due to low self-esteem or unresolved subconscious patterns of relating.

Manipulation and Brainwashing Tactics can include:

Dating seduction: Uses charm, praise, or flattery to lower the defenses of the victim to gain trust and loyalty.

Positive reinforcement: Public recognition, appreciation, sympathy, excessive apologizing, attention, approval and gifts, especially at the beginning of the relationship.

Intermittent or partial reinforcement: This tactic begins with constant positive attention and reinforcement which is withdrawn gradually or suddenly.

Direct intimidation: Toxic abusers cultivate feelings of anxiety and despair in their victims by using intimidation. This can take various forms including threats, bullying, intimidating looks or gestures, belittling or taunting, smashing things, destroying property, hurting pets or displaying weapons and inflicting physical abuse.

Verbal assaults: Berating, belittling, criticizing, name-calling, screaming, threatening, excessive blaming, and using sarcasm and humiliation. Blowing flaws out of proportion and making fun of you in front of others can also take place. Over time, this type of abuse erodes your sense of self-confidence and self-worth.

Isolation: In order to increase dependence an abusive partner may also try to cut off the victim from the outside world. They might try to keep the victim from seeing family and friends demanding the abused ask permission to do anything, go anywhere or see anyone.

“If you are an approval addict, your behaviour is as easy to control as that of any other junkie. All a manipulator need do is a simple two-step process: Give you what you crave, and then threaten to take it away. Every drug dealer in the world plays this game.” – Harriet B. Braiker, Who’s Pulling Your Strings? How to Break the Cycle of Manipulation and Regain Control of Your Life

Such abuse tactics are highly damaging and designed to manipulate and the victim never knows what’s to be expected next. Abusers employ these and other techniques seeking to manipulate and they are often successful at breaking the spirit of their victims over a period of time. Becoming a victim of toxic manipulation and emotional brainwashing can be frightening, confusing and recovery can take a very long time.

Extract: How To Avoid Abusive Relationships: A Practical Guide to Toxic Personalities by Nigel Beckles (Due for release November 2017)