Why are most people with money brainwashed?

Psychological manipulation: brainwashing

Brainwashing describes methods to manipulate people psychologically, i.e. to wear down those affected by physical and psychological violence and more subtle methods until they adopt the identity intended by the brainwashers.

Pavlov's dogs

The Russian researcher Pavlov discovered the conditioned reflex in experiments with dogs. One day water seeped into the rooms where the dogs were staying and the animals had to swim for their lives for a day. After that, they had forgotten almost all of the reactions they had learned.

Pavlov concluded that by forcing a person to overstrain their physical capabilities, they can get them to give up the learned contents of their consciousness, values ​​and norms, as well as memories. This void can then be filled with new content - for example with a previously rejected ideology.

Physical Torture or Manipulation?

Methods to induce this loss of consciousness include: sleep deprivation, hunger, thirst, fear of death, or solitary confinement. However, the collapse of previous beliefs as a result of such torture methods is seldom permanent.

The classic image of brainwashing is a victim in a torture cell who makes an inquisitor docile with a carrot and stick, puts the thumbscrews on, and promises to end the ordeal if he cooperates.

In reality, the soft methods work better and, above all, sustainably. Margaret Singer, who conducts research on psycho cults, writes: "Brainwashing is the invisible social adjustment."

According to Singer, deprivation of liberty and physical violence do not lead to success at all: “All research (...) clearly shows that imprisonment and the use of force are not necessary conditions, on the contrary, when it comes to people's attitudes and behavior change."

She writes: “If you really want to turn others around, then the soft methods are cheaper, less conspicuous and highly effective. The old motto that honey attracts more flies than vinegar still applies today. "

Brainwashing is therefore not a one-off breaking of a personality through violence, but a creeping manipulation in which social and psychological influences are exchanged little by little. A person's perception of their environment is being reprogrammed.

Singer explains the meaning of such programming: "The programs aim to destabilize a person's self-concept, to get them to completely reinterpret their life story and to accept a new version of the reality of the causal relationships."

Personality training

In postmodern turbo-capitalism, personality training is a boom that does not stop. Some of these "trainers" are serious and there is little objection to educating people on how to better use their potential than they are now.

But manipulative methods harmonize with the neoliberal achievement ideology that everyone who is socially marginalized is to blame if he is not swimming in money.

Unlimited energy, inner strength, self-confidence, harmony., Joie de vivre and, above all, to be on the side of the winner. These are the promises of the “Become what you want to be” seminars.

Authoritarian drill, "overcoming" internal blockages by the participants spreading their fears, belong to the usual methods, as well as night-long group sessions and, as a traditional method of brainwashing, to reprogram oneself because the person concerned is not right as he is Such exercises are very emotional.

But the participants who accept the system go along with it and consider the critics to be “not ready yet”. At the end of the seminar, the "new person" should be there, and bizarre training prepares for salvation.

These crash courses promise what serious psychotherapy can only achieve in the long term. It is not about effective therapeutic approaches such as self-reflection or a change in behavior, but rather about drill and humiliation.

Many participants are enthusiastic after the seminars. This is not because you are now denying your life as a successful personality, but because of the subtle manipulation: You do not see yourself as a victim of manipulation, but feel enlightened.

Often they react aggressively to any skepticism - like members of sects. In contrast to Scientology, however, such seminars are standard in many companies and employees who (have to) participate in them often do not dare to express criticism.

The Milgram experiment

The bad news is, brainwashing works, and not just for people who are particularly unstable. In the 1960s, the psychologist Stanley Milgram had test subjects tortured with (fictitious) electric shocks if they made mistakes.

The test person had an electrode on his arm that was connected to an alleged electric shock machine in the "teacher's" room. This “teacher” saw the test person and was able to give them supposedly electric shocks of 15 to 450 volts. Above it read: "Slight shock", "Danger", "Severe shock", and at the end just "XXX".

For every task that the test person answered incorrectly, the “teacher” should increase the “penalty” by 15 volts. At 120 volts the “tortured” shouted that he was in pain, at 150 volts “get me out of here”. If the teacher now had doubts, the "senior scientist" said, "You have no other choice." 60% of the participants went down to 450 volts, where they had to assume that the test person had died because they did not dare to disobey.

When they didn't see the test person, almost all of them stepped up to 450 volts.

Repetitions of the experiment in other countries led to the same result. If there is an authority, in this case scientific, then people relinquish responsibility for actions that they would otherwise ethically reject.


Brainwashing means systematic manipulation, i.e. influencing someone against their will; it changes thought patterns and memories, psychological and emotional impressions.

However, manipulation in milder forms takes place all the time: in relationships, at work, in marriage, school or university.

People use them when they want to enforce their own will over others in order to force them to behave as they expect.

A common method is to suggest to the victim that the desired behavior has no alternative, is correct, and is best for the manipulated.

Isolating the other, portraying them as abnormal, is one of the common forms of manipulation: “I don't understand. Everyone else goes to bed early, only you want to watch DVD at night. "

Manipulation turns into open or hidden power games, for example when a wife threatens because her partner does not do what she wants: "Okay, get the divorce documents."

The manipulated person is thus in a quandary, even if he sees through the game: Even if he assumes (he cannot be sure) that it is only about a forced favor, according to some words, the marriage is at stake.

Such a practice turns into psychological violence, for example insinuating "you break everything" if someone drops a glass. It's not about the specific incident, but about gaining control over the other person so that the victim functions as the manipulator would like.

Direct devaluations of personality are even clearer: “You are boring, you are lazy, you are stupid.” Most of the time, something sticks out, but even people with a stable sense of self-worth cannot react appropriately to such defamations. It is important to understand that the manipulator is primarily saying something about himself.

Projection and double messages

Devaluation is often associated with projection: the more brutal the verbal aggression, the more the aggressor usually projects his or her own negative feelings onto another person. This, often unconscious, manipulation becomes clear when the aggressor gives the other person responsibility for their own destructive feelings: "Now I'm freaked out again because of your behavior."

Duplicate messages are a trap in relationships to unsettle the partner. For example, the manipulator says with a sarcastic undertone: “And, do you feel good?” If the person concerned asks: “Why are you angry”, the manipulator replies: “I only asked whether you felt good.” Aim it is to create a queasy feeling in the partner and to occupy him with what annoys the manipulating person. If the manipulated person now approaches the partner and asks what is going on, the answer comes: "Nothing, is not important ..." If the victim does not take up the game, the manipulating person suggests: "You are indifferent to me."

Parents like to use this remedy to induce fear, insecurity and self-doubt in their children, and in relationships it serves the same purpose. A strong self-confidence and reflection are necessary so that this power game does not establish itself as a system, because then the manipulator will use it again and again because he has learned that the other works.

Abuse of social behavior

Why do we allow ourselves to be manipulated? Sympathies for the manipulator play a role, the need for recognition, the confusion of an increasingly complex society and the attempt to reduce the flood of stimuli to simple explanations.

Manipulation plays with our social behavior, with give and take. We help each other, that's a good thing. However, it can be exploited if the manipulator does us a “favor” and we feel “obliged” to him. Then he demands something in return or keeps us in the balance to owe him something.

The “foot in the door” has also proven itself as a manipulation technique, for example if we do not want to take on a job and our supervisor asks us to “take a look at the matter first”. This ties in with the fact that it is difficult to say no once we have said yes.

Manipulation also works through repetition. Constant repetition of a statement does not say anything about its correctness, but it does memorize us. The known becomes trusted and we are more positive towards it than the unknown.

Those who manipulate us usually first address our feelings before bringing up their concerns in order to disable our ability to criticize.

The manipulator puts those affected under time pressure and also only provides them with limited information. He also flatters the victim. We are under pressure, feel recognized at the same time, and fail to look for further information.

Bluffing and questioning techniques that lure out of us what we don't want to tell are further means of manipulation.

Think positive?

"Think positive" is the motto of the liberal idea, according to which "everyone is the maker of their own fortune". Among those psychologists who provide cues for the functioning of capitalist usability, “positive thinking” is the mantra to be successful in every respect, and whoever is unsuccessful does not think positively enough.

Empirical psychological studies, however, show that exclusively “positive thinking” is dangerous. At best it leads to ignoring the obstacles that arise with any plan, in more serious situations it drives people with psychological and social problems into isolation, believing that their legitimate bad feelings are the reason for their being is.

To suggest "you don't think positively enough" to someone suffering from depression is like punching them in the pit of the stomach.

"Positive thinking" is an esoteric ideology, whether with the help of supposedly supernatural beings, psychological banalities or the suggestion that wishes come true if one only "thinks positively" and, as is usually the case in esotericism, forbids people to think themselves .

Optimistic thinking becomes dictatorship, those affected submit to a fiction that they cannot achieve. The need to win, have to be rich or have to be good is a coercive system that drives the victims into despair of being worthless.

All of their gurus have in common that the "path to success" excludes any criticism. If you think about what happens when a project fails, you are out of the game. The core of scientific honesty, namely to doubt, is forbidden.

Conditioning of “positive thinking” includes wiping out the old personality and replacing it with a new identity. A protagonist of this ideology, Norman Vincent Peale says: “Let us make an effort until we have really understood that it is possible for us to positively influence and shape our future through our attitude of mind. If we create a successful picture of our personality in our imagination, we hold onto it until it becomes reality. "

Another propagandist of “positive thinking”, Erhard F. Freitag, even speaks openly about the brainwashing: “Start immediately to subject your thoughts to a certain control. Banish all negative considerations and all doubts. "

That leads on to L. Ron Hubbard, the founder of Scientology, who said, "All the happiness you find is within you."

The followers of positive thinking are stripped of their identities and experiences, their life stories and their way of thinking - in the end they lose their personality.

Political brainwashing

The English word “brainwashing” comes from the Chinese and was introduced in the USA during the Korean War.

The show trials during the Stalinist purges, in which the victims of terror accused themselves of the worst crimes, became famous in the 1930s. Mao Zedong had so-called re-education programs carried out, which the Chinese call brainwashing. Between 1966 and 1976, tens of thousands of teachers and students had to move to the countryside to do farm work.

The psychologist Kurt Lewin examined the supporters of National Socialism in Germany and tried to understand how National Socialism could establish itself and how the brainwashed Germans could be de-indoctrinated. He developed a model of re-education to re-teach Germans humanism and human rights.

What happens when you are brainwashed?

The psychiatrist Dr. Ivo Planava, born in Brno in 1934, analyzed in the Czech newspaper “Listy” in 1969 what happens during brainwashing, which people are particularly at risk, and how people can defend themselves against it. He summarized:

There are two ways to lose the belief that your own actions make sense: On the one hand, a sudden mental breakdown. But it rarely has a lasting effect because people are aware of the threat and resist.

On the other hand, the slow self-abandonment, a process of gradual change, especially when people in a similar situation make up the environment. Individuals isolated in this way are no longer able to make decisions on their own that go beyond “living from hand to mouth”. Such people are easy to manipulate.

Civil liberty would consist, on the one hand, of choosing and, on the other hand, of being able to choose. The freedom to choose is objectively given by politics; the ability to choose, on the other hand, requires assessing situations and acting accordingly.

Modern dictatorships, according to Planava, know very well that they cannot rule “with bayonets” alone. As long as the citizens can judge, they resist. Authoritarian systems therefore controlled freedom of thought. In addition, the citizens would have to suspect that the state has an organization, the secret police, against which one cannot legally proceed. Citizens therefore felt a vague fear, regardless of whether they had a clear conscience or a guilty conscience.

Political programming begins, for example, with a surprising shock action: the victim is suggested that they will not live long; his family is in danger and those affected are isolated at the same time.

In the second stage, the victim is persuaded of an ominous guilt until they think they have done something wrong.

Then the henchmen of the regime present information that supports the distorted perception: twisted statements by those affected, forged documents or fabricated denunciation of family and friends.

If the individual now feels left alone by everyone, he opens up to influence. Now the carrot begins: “If you cooperate, then maybe you can come free.” This ties in with the victim's hope and unconscious feeling of guilt. The manipulators slowly build up paranoia and self-accusation on the part of the victim. They appeal to “reason” and offer “adaptation to reality” as a way out.

Suggested hopelessness to live with the old identity goes hand in hand with promises to get out of the situation when those affected “adapt”. On the other hand, absolute hopelessness is counterproductive for brainwashing. Those who have nothing to lose are more likely to resist than someone who is given vague hopes.

In order to make judgments, a person needs differentiated information, and interpersonal communication integrates him into the group and society. The "re-education" therefore prevents all contact with confidants and access to alternative information; however, the brainwashing of the masses undermines the structure of communication.

Totalitarian regimes therefore control the mass media with inconspicuous censorship until it becomes superfluous because the monopolized media dominate the monopolized media. In addition, historical experience is brought into line and reduced to the narrative of the regime.

The regime disrupts and destroys families, friendships and social groups, clubs and unions. The henchmen of the powerful in the workplace prefer to look for people who are in a difficult situation, do not have a good reputation, have alcohol or other problems, are under-challenged or underpaid.

It is suggested to them that they will advance if they pass on information about other employees. Non-conforming groups can be broken down by resigning, relocating, or promoting the most unfit. The less information people receive, the more insecure they become. Now the regime offers a false security: "If you recognize us, you have nothing to fear."

Forced personality change

Sects and psychocults do not have the means of violence of political dictatorships. On the other hand, they tie in with the needs of unstable people who are dissatisfied with their life situation and promise them healing when those affected “change”.

People who are in the clutches of such sects show typical behavior:

1) They align their lives absolutely and according to different principles than before.

2) They treat their environment as hostile.

3) They completely subject their own judgments to another authority.

4) They only surround themselves with like-minded people (party, ashram, etc.)

5) You are extremely attached to a leader and uncritically represent his worldview.

6) You want to "transform" others with this absolute belief as well.

The three steps of "transformation" are:

1) Fascination with the Guru's teaching

2) Destruction of personal security and break with the social environment

3) Building a new identity

Recognize brainwashing and protect yourself

Who is particularly at risk of falling victim to brainwashing - whether through sects, psycho cults, esoteric "healers", "personality trainers", cold-calculating company bosses, advertising professionals or political demagogues?

First, there are people who suffer from serious illnesses that neither they nor reputable doctors understand; second, those who suffer the loss of someone, whether after divorce, death, or relocation; Thirdly, young adults who have just left their parents' home and do not yet know the outside world - religious and political sects in particular fish here.

Psychocults are masters at recognizing traumatizations and tragic life circumstances and explaining them to those affected with their belief system in order to then build a slavish new identity on this narrative pattern: For example, they suggest to a woman who was beaten by her father as a child that she was a woman who was raped in a previous life and she now has to go through those rebirths.

People who are stuck in crises and changes usually feel lonely; the "brainwashers" reinforce this loneliness by further isolating the victims and only allowing the psycho group, esoteric sect etc. as social contact.

In violent relationships, the perpetrator cuts off the victim's contact with family and friends. In the prison, the guards isolate prisoners from one another.

The following applies to any brainwashing: the perpetrators primarily seek out victims who are weak and vulnerable.

These include:

People who have lost their jobs and fear for their future; newly divorced people who do not dare to start over; People who are generally too open to stimuli due to psychological peculiarities such as bipolar or highly sensitive people; People who, because of their biographical characteristics, tend to subordinate themselves; People who come from an overprotected home and are looking for a replacement family; People who come from broken families and long for an ideal world; Drug addicts and alcoholics looking for a way out of addiction; People who are particularly naive and have little access to information; lonely people.

In any case, the perpetrator has to find a victim against whom he can assume a superior position. For example, he starts by lying to the victim, shaming them and intimidating them. He twists the statements of those affected and blames the victim if they feel worse and worse.

He sets a framework such as a "seminar" of his psycho cult, in which humiliation supposedly belongs to the learning training: Insults and harassment are just as much a part of it as exposing those affected. In doing so, they are forced into passivity.

At the same time, the perpetrators offer the victim a supposedly better alternative to their old environment: They bring them into contact with people who have already been brainwashed; those affected get into peer pressure and strive for a position in the group, which they can only achieve if they fulfill the suggestions of the brainwashing.

The suggestions are constantly repeated, spoken, sung or “prayed” until key words are unconsciously memorized, often with the rhythm of the heartbeat and with suitable music.

Those affected do not have time to reflect on what is happening, for example they have to take part in "seminars" without interruption, do group work or have individual conversations with "brainwashed" people.

The victim is constantly presented with a “we against them” and criticism from the outside world is reinterpreted as a conspiracy by dark forces - every “declaration” amounts to the fact that the guru is right and the critics are wrong.

Once the brainwashing is complete, the victim can be reprogrammed.

Now the same methods of conditioning are used to rebuild those affected: if those affected act as the perpetrators wish, they are rewarded; if they show remnants of their own thinking, the perpetrators link this with negative experiences, humiliation and incapacitation.

What can be done about brainwashing? In the postmodern democracies we are not brainwashed by a political regime as with George Orwell, but rather by a multitude of advertising strategies, competing psychocults, “motivational gurus”, “alternative explanations” etc.

First of all, we must painfully realize that no one is immune to brainwashing. It is linked to human needs such as social community and recognition as well as to the fears and hopes that everyone has, no matter how psychologically stable we are.

When we are trained in manipulation techniques, we can watch out if someone is using them. Are we obviously in a crisis to outsiders, for example when we walk alone in the park with our heads down? If a stranger speaks to us and promises to build us up, we should become skeptical.

For example, we could ask: "Do you want to influence me now or is it serious?" Of course he will deny manipulating us, then we ask further: "Why are you talking to me?"

Does he leave it to friendly words or does he ask for our phone number? Does he stay on our heels even though we show him that we want to stay alone? Does he recommend a group that has a solution to our problem? Does he have the right answer ready for our worries immediately? These are all indications that something is wrong.

We can also let the manipulation fail right from the start by addressing the motivation behind it.

But what do we do when friends and relatives are brainwashed? We should seek professional help, for example cult representatives or critical psychologists who work with cult victims.

We should inform teachers, colleagues and confidants of the victim, research the perpetrators and ask the police whether a report is possible, seek advice in critical forums.

Above all, we should show our affection for those affected and make it clear to them that they can trust us. If our friend, partner or child has psychological problems that the perpetrator can relate to, we can involve reputable therapists who can offer the victim a real perspective. (Dr. Utz Anhalt)

Author and source information

This text complies with the requirements of specialist medical literature, medical guidelines and current studies and has been checked by medical professionals.

Dr. phil. Utz Anhalt, Barbara Schindewolf-Lensch
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Important NOTE:
This article is for general guidance only and is not intended to be used for self-diagnosis or self-treatment. He can not substitute a visit at the doctor.