The first recorded English use of the word “brainwashing” was done by Edward Hunter in New Leader in 1950. He used the phrase while writing about the Chinese use of brainwashing during the Korean War. Even though the term was used to discuss the various strategies of war, brainwashing has been used by individuals in cults (Jim Jones), relationships, and families. Brainwashing has also been used by those holding someone captive (Patty Hearst).
An abusive husband or wife can brainwash their spouse through isolation and mental abuse. If a man consistently tells his wife how ugly she is and how no one else would have her and she is so isolated that there is no evidence of the contrary, she begins to see herself through his eyes. She begins to feel as if she deserves the abuse and stays in the relationship because she believes that what he says is true.
A child can be brainwashed by a family member to not like someone by telling them stories, usually lies, about someone else. If a child is told over and over that their mother is bad and given examples, the child loses that mother/child bond. Many adults claim that it was done out of love but that’s not the case at all. Brainwashing has nothing to do with love…it’s simply manipulation.
The largest groups to be brainwashed are in religious cults. According to cult expert, Rick Ross, there could be as many as 5,000 religious groups in America preying on the weak. There are five to seven million victims and approx. 18,000 new recruits each year.
There are other names for it: mind control, coercive persuasion, mind abuse, thought control, or thought reform. Any of these terms fall under the same definition, “systematically using unethical manipulative methods to persuade others to conform to the wishes of the manipulator, often to the detriment of the one being manipulated”.
The favorite tool used is isolation (being told that the manipulator is the only one that cares). Warning signs that someone is trying to brainwash you is an all-or-nothing attitude, everything is one-sided, they see people believing different from them as wrong/negative/evil, or they discuss conspiracies.
Anyone can be brainwashed, no matter the background, but these manipulators go for the weak (children, chronic illnesses, personal tragedy, etc.). Overcoming being brainwashed is a difficult path but it can be done. One needs to take back their own thoughts and opinions and rid themselves of the manipulator. This is not an easy task as your rights and wrongs become mixed. The best way is through professional counseling.