April 19, 2024
Now You See It, Now You Don’t

Now You See It, Now You Don’t

Why We Need to Recognize Brainwashing and its Close and Distant  Cousins

A Work in Progress by Janja Lalich, Ph.D.

Despite some scholarly efforts to deny the existence of brainwashing – both its processes and its consequences – the need to understand this phenomenon is perhaps more pressing today than it was in the past.
I say this because we are surrounded by sophisticated technologies of persuasion, of influence and control, which can be aimed at mass audiences or individual targets.
I include in these “technologies”: mass media, the Internet, the gaming industry, prescription and illegal drugs and herbal potions, hypnotic techniques, sensory stimulation, forms of restraint, physical contact, physiological processes, and verbal communication.
Social psychological processes are at the root of influence and control mechanisms, whether applied to the individual or the collective.
This paper, then, will explore the many different areas of contemporary life in which there has been evidence of brainwashing, as well as lesser forms of social influence.
By having a clear understanding of when the ultimate form of social influence – brainwashing – occurs, we will be better able to distinguish it from lesser attempts at manipulative-persuasion processes – and thereby be better equipped to combat any potential negative outcomes of any of these forms of social influence.
Sometimes the entire process of brainwashing occurs; at other times, the application of a selection of hyper-persuasive efforts is aimed at a lesser but related conclusion – that is, a type of single-mindedness, trust in the manipulator, blind loyalty, reduction or loss of critical-thinking capacities, and directed behavior.
My ultimate goal is to be able to tease out the interrelated features of social-psychological influence in its many forms, so that we may better understand each type, how it occurs, and the short- and long-term effects of each.
To present my ideas, I have created a typology of Types of Efforts at Manipulative Persuasion. The typology is intended to illustrate forms of social influence and control that are related to brainwashing, those close and distant cousins. I place these efforts on a scale from less to more persuasive and invasive, from relatively benign to more harmful outcomes. Lacking a better descriptor, I use the term “manipulator” or “perpetrator” to refer to the person who is instigating or carrying out the influence program. I use “subject” or “victim” to refer to the person being influenced.
But first, let me make some important clarifications.

  1. Typologies are useful in helping us categorize concepts in our mind. The visual representation lets us see what we are thinking about or discussing and allows us to make distinctions so that not everything is lumped together. Big lumps comprised of all different kinds of things are not easy to understand or study or talk about.
  2. Even though typologies offer us useful categorizations, unfortunately, they tend to get reified, rigidified. People tend to interpret them as though they are written in stone. Because something falls within a certain grid or category does not rule out fluidity, or cross-boundary phenomena. So while we are creating or using a typology to help us understand, let us also remember to think outside the box. The typology presented here does not mean that a particular type occurs only this way each and every time and that there are no variations.
  3. All of the types I discuss here are forms of social influence and are interactive. That’s what the word “social” means. There is interaction between the manipulator and the manipulated. There is a give and take. There is not some magic wand directing from on high. This is not mystical, not paranormal, not extraordinary. Neither is it “an action external to the person,” which is what our detractors have tried to convince the world that we are saying.
  4. Yet, at the same time, all are coercive – meaning that there is a power imbalance, some kind of power play going on. The perpetrator has an ulterior, and sometimes hidden, motive. The subject or victim may have an ulterior motive, but most probably does not have a hidden one.
  5. Motivations of the perpetrators may vary – from egocentric glory, to personal gain, including various forms of exploitation or abuse, to the complete command and control of others. The responses of the subject also vary, and are activated at different stages of the process.
  6. The methods of social influence and social control that I will mention may or may not be present in any one of the efforts at manipulative persuasion outlined here. And when and if present, each method will vary in its application, intensity, and impact.
  7. In every instance of a manipulative-persuasion effort, there are individual and situational variables that will affect the process, progress, and outcome. Those variables are (1) predisposing factors in the individual, and (2) specific situational enhancements, or the selection and application of particular methods of influence and control aimed at “closing the deal.”
  8. A third variable revolves around the manipulator’s desired outcome. In most cases, this involves the giving over of something on the part of the person who is being influenced – be it money, time, personal transformation, or loyalty in words and/or deeds, including carrying out the will of the manipulator.
  9. Even though I am describing processes as going from less to more, any type of social influence, no matter its type, may result in a disastrous outcome. This is akin to the eggshell-skull defense used in malpractice cases, which was recently described to me by my friend, psychotherapist Shelly Rosen. That is, the type of vulnerability or fragility of a client doesn’t matter if there is a disastrous outcome from a particular practice/technique. What matters is that there was a disastrous outcome. So, for example, if you drop a feather from a tall building and it hits and kills a person with a skull as fragile as an eggshell, it doesn’t matter that the person’s skull was so fragile. What matters is that you killed him.

In the cases I describe here, it doesn’t matter if it’s a simple Internet scam that most people laugh at and suss out in a minute; what matters is that some individuals DO get taken in and could even be quite harmed.



Extent of Persuasion Subject Type Consequence Examples
Type I Everyday Scam Ordinary Target Duped Ponzi schemes
Extreme marketing
Multi-level marketing
New Age trainings
Special cures
Internet scams
Influence peddlers
Type II Intense Influence & Control “Voluntary” Association Induced State of Dependence, Fear & Anxiety Abusive intimate relationship
(incl. prostitute/pimp)
Forms of elder abuse
“Bad” associate (friend,
Power relationship (teacher,
  priest, therapist, doctor)
Type III Harsh Influence & Control Involuntary Association Extreme State of Dependence, Fear & Anxiety Boot camps
Human trafficking & modern-
day slavery
Kidnap & hostage situations
Coerced confessions
Power relationship (child
Type IV Extreme Influence & Control Ultimate Pawn, or Deployable Agent Total Control Cults’ true believers, including
recruits to martyrdom
Family cults
One-on-one cults
Children in cults
Child soldiers
Totalitarian societies

Remember, this not written in stone.
Trying to tease out the differences.
There will always be crossover between types.
The following are illustrations of cases from each type of manipulative persuasion effort. I am not going to provide examples of each type.


Extreme marketing: According to the author of Fast Food Nation, big corporations are having children as young as five undergo MRI scans to determine how their brain reacts to advertisements. Schlosser claims that sometimes brand logos are recognized by children long before they know their own name. Children in the U.S. see about 20,000 ads for junk food each year, for a total of three hours a week. With tie-ins to sports heroes, film stars, cartoon characters, and pop icons, every inch of a child’s life is covered. There is hardly any aspect of children’s imaginative life today that isn’t connected with the fast-food industry and its marketing. Has Big Mac become Big Brother?
Multi-level marketing: Critics claim that outfits such as Shaklee, in addition to promising riches to their distributors, also exaggerate their products’ claims. Interested or intrigued parties might want to check out something like Quackwatch before getting involved with the likes of these organizations. Not only are these schemes plentiful and multiplying, but also they are now multinational, such as Herbalife, which turned to China for renewed success after the founder died.
New Age training: Numerous examples of this type of packaged persuasion are described in Cults in Our Midst. While these programs became a tremendously popular trend in the 1970s and ’80s, they are still with us – in fact, today there are even more of them.
One of the originals, Lifespring, was featured in a recent news story. A session participant said, “It’s a psychological pyramid scheme. They promise all these results. They say you’ll ‘maximize your potential’ and other unquantifiable jargon. But the main result is that people who go through it praise Lifespring as the greatest thing ever and recruit new people to take the course and give Lifespring more money. That’s not a real result. It’s a pyramid scheme whose only purpose is to feed on itself more and more.”
In another instance, a 43-year-old community college student suffered trauma injuries from a fall during a ropes course at a Youth With a Mission facility, as part of a leadership development training. A disabled person, he was hoisted up, and then fell about 12 feet. What kind of leadership training is that? This example also reveals the now often-seen mix of New Age and Christian practices and beliefs.
New Age publications and bulletin boards in coffeehouses and bookstores have ads for dog psychics, aura balancing, psychic readings, MasterPath teachings of light and sound, shamans offering soul journeys and body therapies, lectures on the emergence of Advanced Beings, Akashic record readings, direct transmission of Divine Energy, and work with crystals, pendulums, and personal mandalas. There is no end to this, and it has been growing since the 1960s, or even earlier.
Special cures: Ex-con Kevin Trudeau’s book, Natural Cures “They” Don’t Want You to Know About has been on the bestseller list since 2005.
Here’s another ex-con: The clinic in Mexico where Coretta Scott King died is a nontraditional clinic offering alternate therapies to severely ill patients. Treatments offered there include ozone and hydrogen peroxide therapy, biomagnetics, microwave hyperthermia, and others, none of which is approved by the FDA or the AMA. The so-called medical director has no medical degree and in the past has been sentenced on three felony counts related to unapproved drugs and interstate commerce.
Influence peddlers: Celebrities often get approached to attach their names to various efforts, thereby lending credibility. A few years ago, Rosie O’Donnell, whose voice and name were attached to a documentary, learned afterward that the filmmakers are involved with what some have described as a homophobic cult. O’Donnell demanded that her name and voice be removed from the documentary. The group in question emphasizes personal development, bans homosexuality, and believes gays shouldn’t be parents. Ironically, O’Donnell is a lesbian who has adopted three children and the film was about orphaned and abandoned children in the Soviet republic of Georgia. Rosie had been had!
Internet scams: An Internet “suicide cult” in the UK (South Wales) claimed the lives of seven young people, who thought it was the “cool” thing to do. The police were investigating a social networking link that created this suicide “chain.”
In another Internet-related case, a 49-year-old Missouri woman has been blamed for a 13-year-old girl’s suicide. The woman posed as a 16-year-old boy who first “cyber-courted” the young girl, then dumped her and wrote cruel messages, one saying that the world would be better off without her. Shortly after receiving the message, the girl hanged herself.
These last two are excellent examples that the potential for disastrous outcomes exists even in Type I.
Summary: In this type, we tend to see more of a hoax or a trick. It is characterized more by inducements to purchase something (a service, product, course, or quick cure). This may be accompanied by some form of enticement, often including ridicule or humiliation – for example, “you’re not with it, if you don’t do it.” The idea is to get someone to jump on the bandwagon, or to get someone to endorse something or someone.


Abusive intimate relationship: Despite the publicity surrounding the 1987 incident in Manhattan of Hedda Nussbaum and Joel Steinberg’s beating death of their six-year-old “adopted” child, abusive relationships are ever-present. With women’s shelters in every town, we still can’t do enough to educate about this type of entrapment and somehow instill the courage to escape in those who are so entrapped.
In a recent California case, a defense attorney argued that a woman who watched her boyfriend stomp her 6-year-old son to death “had been forced into submission by months of physical and emotional abuse.” Because of her boyfriend’s domination and abuse, the mother was “absolutely helpless to resist.” She was sentenced to one year in jail.
Elder abuse: Out of shame that a trusted family member, friend, or caregiver deceived and took advantage of them, elderly victims of financial abuse tend to keep these incidents hidden. For that reason, the actual number of cases is hard to come by. About 80,000 cases were reported in 2005, and more than two-thirds of the victims were defrauded by someone close to them.
However, some cases do involve strangers. A close-knit and closed nomadic group known as the Irish Travellers are regarded as having a fair share of con artists and petty criminals among them. Not all the Travellers are criminals, but the non-criminal ones tend to cover up for the others. Travellers have been accused of preying on the elderly, conning them into paying thousands of dollars for unnecessary work or jobs that never get finished.
Hazing: Not just public humiliation and degradation through emotional abuse and verbal violence, but countless injuries and even deaths have occurred during hazing rituals. These occur in fraternities and sororities on college campuses, but also sports, professional, and other organizations engage in these types of demeaning rituals. The appeal is that membership in an elite “brotherhood” will open up networking opportunities for a lifetime, if you come out in one piece.
Military initiation ceremonies have been known to be equally as dangerous. A recent story described a rookie soldier whose body was badly bitten by his squad-mates.
On my own campus at Chico State, a few years ago a young man died of “water torture” after a hazing gone bad. In the dirty basement of the frat house on the last evening of Hell Week, Matthew Carrington died from an overdose of water, which caused the swelling of his brain and lungs. He collapsed in seizure; the frat brothers did not call 911 right away. Later that evening, Matt died alone in the local hospital. At his sentencing, one of those responsible said, “Hazing is not about brotherhood. It’s about power and control.”
“Bad” associate: In another celebrity case, none other than Britney Spears was said to have been under the influence of a Svegali-like man who “held Spears a virtual hostage in her home, drugged her, [and ] took over her finances.” Spears had met this person in October and by February he was well-ensconced in Britney’s home and had taken over her life. He eventually disabled all her cars to keep her from leaving, cut phone lines, and removed cell phone batteries. He went so far as to tell Britney’s mom, “You’d better learn that I control everything.” The mom was able to get a restraining order against him.
This is an example of Type II shifting over to Type III.
Power relationship (pastor): In Decatur, Georgia, a woman is suing her former church, alleging that the pastor “manipulated her into a 4-year affair by telling her that it was her only path to salvation.” Other women have also claimed to have been coerced into sex with this pastor. A second scandal hit when it was revealed that the young man known publicly as the pastor’s nephew is really his son.
Power relationship (therapist): Numerous examples of therapy abuse and malpractice are mentioned in “Crazy” Therapies, one of the books I co-authored with Margaret Singer. But here’s another one: A woman signed a contract for a master-slave relationship with one of British Columbia’s most prominent psychiatrists. For more than four years, she endured whippings and had to serve him and kiss his hands and feet. Two other former patients testified to signing similar contracts.
Summary: This type involves long-term submission and dependence. There is dominance/power to get something, take something, control someone.


Boot camp: An excellent portrayal of the types of degradations that are endured at a boot camp can be found in the book entitled, Jesus Land: A Memoir. For an in-depth investigation into this whole industry, see Maia Szalavitz’s, Help at Any Cost: How the Troubled-Teen Industy Cons Parents and Hurts Kids.
Human trafficking and modern-day slavery: Today, there are an estimated 27 million slaves worldwide, with about 17,000 trafficked annually into the United States. Trafficking victims are often lured from less-developed nations or regions of the world into supposed job opportunities elsewhere. They end up as sex slaves, domestic workers, field and factory laborers, and so on. Most often they are kept in check through physical and sexual abuse, as well as threats of violence against their families back home.
Kidnap: No doubt we were all glad to hear of the multiple life terms in the recent sentencing of Michael Devlin, who kidnapped and sexually assaulted two young boys in Missouri, one for more than four years. Devlin tortured the boy during his first days of captivity and made him promise not to flee in order to stay alive. The boy was described as “under Devlin’s sway” even while he had Internet and telephone access.
Probably we all remember 15-year-old Elizabeth Smart, kidnapped in 2003 by Brian David Mitchell, the self-styled polygamist prophet, in Salt Lake City in 2003. Smart was subjected to physical restraint, constant monitoring, threats, and emotional, physical, and sexual abuse.
A case that perhaps generated less sympathy because it involved an adult, but it brings up similar dynamics, is that of the warden’s wife who “vanished” with a convicted killer for more than a decade (1994-2005). She was found living with the fugitive in his mobile home, and she worked at a nearby chicken farm. The perpetrator admitted to “kidnapping her at knifepoint and brainwashing her into staying with him.” He had convinced her that he would kill her husband, her two children, and her parents if she left. As her boss at the chicken farm stated, “She sacrificed her life for her family’s safety.”
Hostage: Last year a case of a 15-year-old girl sparked some interest along these lines. Missing for a year, she was found locked in an acquaintance’s home and no longer knew her original identity. According to the FBI, the girl was “compelled to use a new name, to assume a new identity” so that she appeared to fit in with the family. The girl had been a runaway who sought help from this person, who then allegedly kept her against her will.
No doubt most of us were stunned by the recent case of the man in Austria who imprisoned his daughter, fathered seven children with her, and ran his house like a dictator. He has been described as a “shrewd liar and an obsessive tyrant.”
It is necessary, of course, to mention here what’s known as the Stockholm Syndrome, a phenomenon where hostages form emotional bonds with their captors. The name originated with a 1973 bank robbery in Sweden, where hostages were held in a vault for six days. When fear is involved, people tend to identify with the one they’re afraid of – for survival, if nothing else. The police became the “bad guys,” and the captors the “good guys.”
Interestingly, while many people can understand the change that takes place in these hostage situations, they seem puzzled by the change that takes place in other forms of manipulative persuasion, such as many of the ones described here. People tend to blame the victim, which Dr. Singer always believed stemmed from people’s innate desire to believe it won’t happen to them so there must be something wrong with that other person.
Coerced confession: This year, social psychologist Richard Ofshe was called in on the review of a case of a borderline mentally retarded man who was coerced by police into writing a confession after a 12-hour interrogation regarding the murder of a college student who lived next door. Ofshe claims that the accused killer was subjected to “psychological coercion” that generated a sense of hopelessness in him because the police repeatedly told him there was overwhelming evidence against him.
Power relationship (child molestation): These situations are more extreme than the power relationships in Type II because they involve children, who do not have a choice or have not voluntarily entered into the relationship.
Malachi York, leader of the United Nuwaubians, was sentenced to 135 years in prison for molesting boys and girls at the group’s Egyptian-style compound between 1998 and 2002.
A prominent child psychiatrist who treated generations of troubled youth was accused of molesting three former patients, between the ages of 9 and 12, during their psychiatric sessions. There were nearly two dozen others who had also been molested by him, but their cases had exceeded the statute of limitations.
In a terribly tragic case, a young boy, 16, murdered and dismembered his mother, at the suggestion of the 50-year-old man who was sexually abusing him. The molester wanted the boy to get rid of his mother so that the abuser could take the 16-year-old and another younger boy with him to New York.
Summary: Type III involves being held against one’s will. There is more coercion; it’s less “voluntary” compliance.


True believer: In 1999 Karin Robidoux, a 10-year member of a religious cult starved her 1-year-old son to death because she thought she was fulfilling a vision from God delivered to her via her sister-in-law.
In 1994 Kerry Noble, a 7-year member of the Covenant, Sword and the Arm of the Lord, a Christian Identity hate group, carried a briefcase filled with explosives into a gay church service in Kansas City, intending to blow it up. While sitting there, he realized what he was doing was wrong and it led to his departure from the movement.
Martyrdom missions by extremists around the world are showing us once again the power of indoctrination programs that turn concerned individuals into hard-line killers.
Family cult: In the summer of 2000, the Helzer brothers and their roommate declared war on Satan and brutally murdered and dismembered five people in the San Francisco Bay Area. This family cult  called themselves the Children of Thunder, and were also involved in extorting money to hasten Christ’s return to earth. In trial, the younger brother’s defense argued that he, Justin, was “under the direction of his older brother [Glenn, whom] he considered a prophet of God.” Glenn ruled by commanding those around him to follow his “12 Principles of Magic.” One of his goals was to slaughter the leaders of the Mormon church so that he would become its true prophet. Both brothers have been sentenced to death.
A family cult of another type was organized and controlled by a 55-year-old man in Aromas, California. Another failed musician, he fathered six children with the three women who lived with him for about two decades. He enticed them by offering them the opportunity to be in his band. Richard Monde could not be charged with bigamy as California, believe it or not, does not recognize common-law marriages, but he was charged with child molestation.
One-on-one: Over time, trained into submission and obedience, Lee Malvo evolved into a sniper at the command of his “adoptive” father, John Mohammed. Malvo had been completely under the spell of Muhammed when he took part in the sniper shootings in Washington, DC in 2002.  He was 17 at the time. He had been more or less raised by Muhammed from the age of 14. Malvo believed Muhammed when he told the boy that their goal was to create a utopian society for homeless children in Canada. In 2006, 21-year-old Malvo was sentenced to life in prison, several times over.
Children in cults: From many recent autobiographies, documentaries, and news programs, as well as presentations at conferences such as this, we are learning a great deal about the lives of children in cults. Naturally, these experiences vary depending on the level of restrictiveness within the cult; yet, in most cases, these children’s lives are controlled in such a way as to discourage, if not outright forbid independent thinking or independent action. A sense of entrapment prevails, often accompanied by fears and anxieties that are inappropriate for a developing child. In my current research, where I have interviewed about 60 women and men who were born and/or raised in a cult, they invariably reply “Freedom!” when asked what is their best experience since leaving the cult.
Child soldier: In A Long Way Gone: Memoirs of a Boy Soldier, Ishmael Beah describes the horror of being taken captive and trained to shoot an AK-47 and commit brutal acts, fueled by trauma and drugs. Ishmael was 13 when he was kidnapped by the government army in Sierra Leone. His story is not unusual. In more than 50 violent conflicts worldwide, there are an estimated 300,000 child soldiers. Ishmael wrote: “We were dangerous, and brainwashed to kill.”
A young female child soldier in Joseph Kony’s Lord’s Resistance Army in Sudan was abducted when she was only 11. After five years, she was able to escape, but her life has been permanently marked. In an interview she describes how the urge to kill haunts her. She was one of Kony’s favorites because she managed to kill so many enemies.
Totalitarianism: I came across a fascinating article about a young man who was born and raised (if you can call it that) in a North Korean prison camp. He knew no other life for 24 years, until he escaped one day. Beatings, torture, and executions were everyday fare, along with hard labor. He had never heard of cities only a few miles away, never even heard of North Korea’s dictators Kim Il Sung or Kim Jong Il, much less about South Korea or anything about life outside the camp. He sometimes wishes he were back there as he finds life on the outside difficult. At the camp, he was just told what to do and didn’t have to think about anything.
Government coercion: An ailing Japanese man came forward recently to describe how he and others in his Okinawan village were coerced by Imperial troops into committing murder and mass suicide. They were told by the Japanese soldiers that victorious U.S. troops would rape all the women and kill all the men and children. Everyone was supposed to commit suicide, but this man didn’t when he realized that the Japanese soldiers weren’t. By then it was too late for he had already beaten to death his mother and two siblings.
Summary: This type involves total control. There is a transformation of the individual to do the manipulator’s bidding. We see here the “deployable agent” – it is here that the individual is most likely to be brainwashed.
It is my hope that these examples will help you better understand my typology, as well as see the potential risk inherent in all the variations of manipulative persuasion.
The following is a chart listing the most commonly-used methods of influence and control, indicating in which type each method is likely to be employed – with the caveat that this is very preliminary work.


This chart indicates where each method is most likely to occur. In practice, any of these methods may be used in any type of manipulative persuasion.

Method Type I Type II Type III Type IV
Seduction X X X
Enforced isolation X X X
Reduce critical thinking
through circular logic
Alter reality through various processes X X
Manipulate emotions X X X X
Sensory stimulation X X X X
Deprivation X X
Obedience training X X X
Intimidation X X X
Threats X X X
Use of force (physical or
Physical restraint X
Peer pressure X X X
Public confession or public
Loyalty tests X X
Demand for personal
Displays of authority X X X X
Alienation from outside X X
Punishments X X X
Demand for deployability X

As stated earlier, a method of social influence or social control may or may not be present in any particular efforts at manipulative persuasion. And when and if present, each method will vary in its application, intensity, and impact.
Now, what does my chart show?

  • Most methods turn up in almost every type of effort.
  • Nothing unusual is going on at the “upper” level, Type IV, just more intensity and used more often
  • And it shows that I have more work to do……

In examining each situation, one might consider the concept of “bounded choice.” This theory identifies the intersection of charismatic authority, ideology, and the systems of influence and control, such that a person’s life becomes increasingly constrained in an increasingly oppressive and suppressive social system. This occurs to the point that one lives within – and makes decisions within – a narrow realm of constraint and control, of dedication and duty.
The following questions to consider are derived from the bounded-choice framework and may be useful in analyzing situations that involve manipulative persuasion.

  1. What and how much has the subject given away?
  2. How much has the subject changed? In other words, what is the extent of personal transformation?
  3. How much power does the manipulator/authority figure hold? Could the context be described as ultra-authoritarian? Is it OK to go against the wishes of the manipulator?
  4. How much autonomy does the subject have? Does she or he regularly entertain at least several options when there are decisions to make, especially important life decisions?
  5. Is the subject living within a “self-sealing system”? In other words, are all the answers to life’s questions provided by the system?
  6. Is the subject expected to engage in practices that alter his or her ways of thinking or viewing self and the rest of the world? In other words, is there a “reframing” of the subject’s personal history and experiences and interpretation of events?
  7. Are there persons, practices, rituals, behaviors, or other environmental factors that are inflicting emotional distress on the subject? Is the subject in harm’s way?
  8. Is the subject required to engage in repeated acts of self-renunciation, leading to personal sacrifice and disempowerment?
  9. Are the subject’s behaviors and choices hampered by the structure of the system and the nurturing of internalized mechanisms that prompt the subject to perform in unity with the worldview and goals of the manipulator?
  10. How easy is it for the subject to walk away? In other words, in the mind of the subject, is it impossible to imagine life “outside” the closed system?

Questions for more extreme situations, and which may help us determine when brainwashing has occurred?

  1. If someone came in to rescue the subject, would she or he go?
  2. Has the subject totally internalized the ideology and goals of the manipulator?
  3. Is there a demand for unquestioning adulation of the manipulator?
  4. Has there been a restructuring of the subject’s value system?
  5. Is the subject living in the social-psychological state called bounded choice, wherein he or she sees no exit, no way out?

This is as far as I have gotten.


Several important issues flow from this.

  • Clarity will help us be better educators which will lead to a better informed general public.
  • More precise information about and data regarding these manipulative persuasion efforts may inform policymakers in areas where relevant, such as Internet controls, fraud laws, the legal interpretation of undue influence, and so on..
  • Understanding the variety of processes involved in manipulative persuasion and their varied consequences will equip social service agencies & practitioners with the means to create more effective resources for the victims and survivors.
  • The more we know and the better we can convey it, clinicians will be able to better assess the treatment needs of survivors of brainwashing and related psychological manipulation.

Do not cite or reproduce without permission of the author.


Dr. Janja Lalich

Janja Lalich, Ph.D. is a researcher, author, and educator specializing in cults and extremist groups, with a particular focus on charismatic relationships, political and other social movements, ideology and social control, and issues of gender and sexuality.