Some of us remember watching in disbelief when the young kidnapped heiress, Patty Hearst, later joined her kidnappers in threatening hostages during a bank robbery. A bank robbery in Switzerland introduced Stockholm’s Syndrome into everyday conversation. We named it mind control or brain washing and assumed we’re immune because we are opinionated. But, that’s not my experience. Mind control is in fact very common, and we’re unaware when under its influence.
It doesn’t take an evil hypnotherapist waving a watch in our faces for our minds to be controlled. The media we consume and the information we choose to focus on defines our reality. Our minds are controlled whenever someone else successfully defines our perceptions and identity. Abusers are very familiar with these concepts.
The abuser in my life was stationed in Alaska during the Vietnam War where he trained Air Force pilots how to withstand enemy abuse if they were to be shot down and captured. By training pilots to resist mind control, they might preserve their mental faculties long enough to escape.
The abuser used these enemy methods to manipulate me, but unlike the pilots, I had no skills for resisting the abuse. At 19-years old, I hadn’t formed a clear identity and was open to suggestion. As I describe in my memoir, he used repetition, humiliation, and harassment to break down my defenses and create a perception of captivity. He controlled my perception of my own authority and redefined my identity.
This website and my memoir are named to defy his attempts to define me. He called me a variety of names, but most often stupid ugly whore. Once free from his abuse, I reasoned that if he could break me down with one identity, I could build myself up with another. I chose powerful, beautiful, and wise.
Mind control begins when an abuser convinces a target that we are incomplete and need someone else’s authority to guide us. In domestic abuse, this process can even feel pleasant. A female abuser might convince a male target that he is sexually inexperienced and her authority and approval is what he needs. A male abuser might convince a female target that she is ignorant and needs his intellectual authority to guide her. Submitting to someone else’s authority may in fact be comforting because someone we love and trust is offering to resolve a deep-seated issue for us. We mistake their attempts to control as acts of love.
We’re quickly snapped out of our comfort if we assert any conflicting identity. We are punished for our independence with a disorienting mix of rage, gaslighting, name-calling, or silent treatment. We aren’t reaccepted until we conform to their version of our identity. Slowly and subtly, our reality evolves to match that defined by the abuser.
The abuser’s definition of my reality faded once I removed myself from further abuse and accepted that his story no longer defined me. It was time to choose my own reality and identity – something that resonated. It became a framework around which I could build strengths and embrace parts of me that I once perceived as weakness.
Every day, my chosen identity of powerful, beautiful, and wise is challenged by life and muddled by my own emotions. Yet, I persist with my chosen identity, because it is mine.