Brainwashing is a technique used in the reformation or alteration of an individual's thought process and beliefs. The motive or purpose behind brainwashing a person is mostly evil or antisocial. The person who does brainwashing generally resorts to harassing the victim, both physically and mentally.
Robert Jay Lifton, a psychiatrist from the United States, studied brainwashing techniques implemented in Chinese war camps. These techniques were used to brainwash American prisoners of war (POWs). According to him, the process of brainwashing involves various techniques that are grouped under different steps mentioned below.
Breaking the Self-belief
This is the first step of brainwashing. It involves breaking down a person's morale and the current beliefs by means of physical and mental torture. Techniques used in the process of brainwashing are enlisted below.
- Attack on Identity: In this technique, identity of the person to be brainwashed is attacked. It creates a dent on the self-esteem of the person. The process may continue from a few days to several months till the person becomes exhausted, disoriented and loses control over his mind.
- Guilt: The victim is constantly humiliated, so that he feels guilty about simple mistakes and the beliefs he holds. Eventually, a sense of shame develops in the mind of victim and he begins to lose confidence.
- Self-betrayal: In this technique, the victim is coerced to give up or denounce his beliefs and also the social system he comes from. It creates an identity crisis in the mind of victim.
- Nervous Breakdown: The victim who, by the time is already, completely exhausted and disoriented, might suffer from nervous breakdown. He becomes prone to several psychological disorders.
Possibility of Salvation
In this stage, the person who undertakes brainwashing doesn't have to make use of torture or coercive techniques. He uses the following methods to bring the victim under his control.
- Leniency: After bearing the harassment for a long time, the victim gets shattered, both physically and mentally. At this point of time, the person or agent carrying out the task of brainwashing shows some leniency towards him. Such a change in the behavior comes as a pleasant shock to the victim.
- Confession: Leniency shown by the agent comes as a relief for the victim. He may express his gratitude for the kind of treatment being offered. At such a time, an option of confessing the past mistakes is offered to the victim.
- Channelizing and Releasing the Guilt: The entire process creates a void in the mind of the victim. Now comes the time for the agent to fill this void. At this crucial juncture, he has every opportunity to manipulate or control the victim's mind. All the past sufferings of the victim are attributed to the alleged 'wrong' belief system he followed in the past. Now, the victim is offered the 'freedom' to blame his past and not himself for the agony he underwent. It frees him from the blemishes of the past.
Rebuilding a New Belief System
At this stage, the agent treats the victim in a friendly manner. He persuades the victim to choose a completely new belief system. At this stage the need to force or compel the victim doesn't arise; this is because he is already on the path toward believing a new concept. The agent just gives him a mental 'push'. The victim then starts thinking about the new principles and fundamentals consciously.
The fact that he is treated well, attracts the victim towards the new thoughts and 'teachings'. After the victim is under total control of the agent, a ritual is conducted to 'stamp' the new belief system on his mind. This ritual, kind of binds the victim and forces him to remain loyal to the new world he has entered. It can be termed as a 'rebirth' and new beginning in the life of the victim.
Brainwashing techniques are harmful for those who are at their receiving end. The process of brainwashing is carried out mostly in prisons, war camps, etc. These techniques have not been studied extensively till date, as they induce harmful effects on the target. Brainwashing is a destructive technique and it can reduce a healthy and happy person into a mere puppet and in some cases, it also proves fatal.