A few months ago, we discussed psychological manipulation in interpersonal relationships, defined the difference between manipulator and influencer, and mentioned some risk factors or emotional hot buttons that make you more susceptible to manipulation and some signs and symptoms that you are in an emotionally abusive relationship.
Today we are going to discuss some real mind control techniques that were traditionally used not just by ordinary people in interpersonal relationships but also in groups.
Physical isolation can be very powerful, but even when physical isolation is impossible or not practical, manipulators will typically attempt to isolate you mentally. It may be achieved in several ways, from one-week seminars in the countryside to criticizing your family and circle of friends. Limiting any other influence by controlling information flow is the ultimate goal.
Criticism may be used as an isolation tool. Manipulators will usually speak in “us against them” terms, criticize the outside world and claim their superiority. According to them, you must feel lucky to be associated with them.
Social proof and peer pressure
Those who attempt to manipulate large groups of people will typically use social proof and peer pressure to brainwash newcomers. Social proof is a psychological phenomenon where (some) people assume that the actions and beliefs of others are appropriate and, because “everyone does that”, they must be justified.
It works exceptionally well when an individual isn’t sure what to think, how to behave, or what to do. Many people in such situations will simply look at what others do and do the same.
Fear of alienation
Newcomers to manipulative groups will usually receive a warm welcome. They will form many new friendships that seem much deeper and more meaningful than anything they have ever experienced. Later, if any doubts arise, these relationships will become a powerful tool to hold them in the group. Even if they aren’t entirely convinced, life in the outside world may seem lonely.
Constant repetition is another powerful persuasion tool. Although it may seem too simplistic to be effective, repeating the same message makes it familiar and easier to remember. Combined with social proof, repetition delivers the message very effectively.
The existence of affirmations (as a self-improvement technique) is another proof that repetition works. If you can persuade yourself through repetition, chances are someone may attempt to use repetition to manipulate you into thinking and behaving in a certain way.
Fatigue and sleep deprivation result in physical and mental tiredness. You are more susceptible to persuasion when you are physically tired and less alert. A study mentioned in the Journal of Experimental Psychology shows that individuals who had not slept for only 21 hours were more susceptible to suggestion.
Forming new identity
Ultimately, manipulators want to redefine your identity. They want you to stop being yourself and become a robot who mindlessly follows their orders.
Using all methods and mind manipulation techniques mentioned above, they will attempt to extract a confession from you — some form of acknowledgment that you believe they are good people doing a good thing (slight variations are possible).
Initially, it might be something seemingly insignificant, like agreeing that group members are fun and loving people or that some of their views are valid. Once you accept that one little thing, you may be more ready to accept other ideas too.
Before you know it, out of the desire to be consistent with what you do and say, you start identifying as one of the group. It is particularly powerful if you know that your confessions were recorded or filmed — just in case you forget, there is physical proof of your new identity.
After reading this, you may wonder about “groups” in your life. Are they manipulating you?
Let’s pretend you joined Greenpeace. It all started with a small donation, then some fun event (lots of new friends), and, before you know it, you are sitting in a little boat protesting Shell’s drilling in the polar region while your education and career are put on hold.
What happened here? Did Greenpeace manipulate you into doing this? No. They influenced you. While they got you to do something you would never consider doing before, Greenpeace doesn’t use you to their advantage.
They asked you to do what they believe is right (although opinions may vary), and you agreed — there is no personal gain here.
Compare that to a controlling karate coach who is verbally and physically abusive toward his students, expecting total admiration and obedience in return. He makes them feel like they are the only group of people who are about to know some special secret that will put both Terminator and Rambo to shame.
Whether his motives here are financial or a simple desire to control and feel superior, there is no doubt he is using the mind manipulation techniques mentioned above.