In the summer of 1979, I met a couple of guys on the streets of San Francisco who invited me to lunch at their cooperative home where they lived with a bunch of other people, and then to stay for the weekend at their commune in Boonville, California. Within days, I was going to give my life to them, give up everything, my job as nanny, my education plans, my future. I was twenty-one years old.
When you become brainwashed, it doesn’t mean you are weak-willed or had bad parents or are unintelligent. Plenty of stable, educated, and scientifically-minded people fall prey to brainwashing. When a person gets brainwashed, what it does say is that the brainwashers were skilled and used good brainwashing technique.
How does this happen? Looking back, the Moonies did a lot of things to brainwash me that worked. I go into this a lot in my book, Summer in November, but I don’t really discuss it from this angle. Summer in November is about spirituality but it is also about the body and it is also about being controlled. In This Hunger Is Secret, I refer to the Moonies as The Family, which is what they called themselves. They didn’t say that they were the Moonies because I would have run in the other direction right away! At any rate, on the streets of San Francisco, the first thing was that these two guys assumed that I was straight, so they were guys, and this supposedly was going to appeal to me that they showed interest in me.
I was kind of suspicious, actually. What were their motives? What did they really want from me? I liked that they showed interest in my dog. I liked that while kneeling there petting him, they weren’t staring straight at my boobs, cuz if they had been, I would have walked off immediately. So I decided that they were okay. But it took a bit.
So this whole sex appeal thing they try on you. Then the food. I haven’t a clue if they drug it or not, but it was very high in starch and they did add sugar, interestingly. It was usually beans and rice or something like that, vegetarian. High sugar and starch is part of the brainwashing. It is supposed to do something to your brain, and the timing of the meals and the “lectures” to make you more suggestible…trust me, this was all based on careful planning on their part.
Sleep deprivation. We got five hours. They had us go to bed real late, and then woke us up super early, like 5am. Old-timers fell asleep during lectures even. This makes the brain more suggestible.
Well, on and on. Eye contact. People cried a lot, too. Gearing the lectures toward individual members. I have a book about a guy that went through all this a few years before I did, called Crazy for God. It’s out of print but that’s about what it was like to be brainwashed by the Moonies in the late 1970’s.
After ten days, they kicked me out. I think that this is really similar to what happened at Alcott last month, actually. I figured out what was going on, that we were being deceived. I tried in every way I could to communicate to other newbies that this was brainwashing. I had to do this by secretly passing notes. They were always watching. They quietly took me aside. They had all my things. They didn’t allow me to say goodbye to anyone. I had to go into a van. They shipped me off and abandoned me at a dark, closed-down train station outside of Oakland at 3AM.
I have said it before and I will say it again, my experience with the Moonies changed me for the rest of my life and this experience makes me who I am.
Okay, okay, that isn’t what happened at Alcott, but there was a lot of talking I could have stirred up among the patients about this thing called “human rights” that I didn’t do. I was hush-hushed out of there for sure.
But anyway, there’s one brainwashing technique that I want to focus on and that’s the lecture style that was used. It pretty much goes like this: Talk about the evils in the world, and how bad the person is, break him down, make him feel real bad personally, get him crying, and then insert the idea about how he can be better and improve and be saved and maybe it won’t be so bad after all.
Example: There are many diseases in the world. It’s terrible that so many suffer from these diseases while the rest of us walk around with money in our pockets. When was the last time you thought about Blue Hair Disease? Look at this photograph of children crying who have Blue Hair Disease. You have not helped them all these years. This is why your life is so miserable. You will feel so fulfilled when you give money to the Blue Hair Disease Fund. You are One of Us in the Blue Hair Disease Fund Church now that you have given us money. This is the Way. This is the Light. Feel the Light.
And so on. You can structure many forms of writing in this manner, actually. It’s like a plot structure. It’s a simple essay form or sermon form or political address or form for creative nonfiction.
But just think about using this technique as a form for the 50-minute therapy session! A gold mine!
Typical therapy session: How are you? What have you eaten this week? You won’t tell me? That means you haven’t eaten anything. You are starving yourself. You are addicted to starving yourself. You are doing this to be manipulative and provocative and are playing games.
To continue: This eventually will become a crisis and you will end up in the hospital. Is this what you want? Do you want to end up in the state hospital? Or do you want to listen to me?
[Insert suggestion here.]
Just think of what this suggestion could be! It could be anything, because the patient, if broken down enough and hopeless enough, will agree to anything.
This might be a good thing. Might. Like a therapist might save a person’s life and suggest that a person not jump in front of a train.
On the other hand, this technique, this brainwashing technique, can be used to convince a patient to do something that is not in the patient’s best interest, but in the therapist’s interest. Or perhaps the therapist is just plain wrong. Or perhaps the therapist wants to convince the patient to do what is in the patient’s parents’ best interest, because the parents are paying the therapist. Or the spouse is paying the therapist. Or the daughter or son. Or maybe these well-meaning family members are sitting in on every therapy session, as “support.”
(How many times I have heard other patients tell me how frustrated they are that their domineering spouse or kids insist on sitting in on every therapy session and every psychiatrist session! These patients tell me they have never been able to meet with their treaters alone! What kind of treatment is this? This is not treating the patient with respect and dignity! How can any humane doctor allow this?)
Okay, like I was saying, the “inserted suggestion” could be anything. The therapist could convince you to give up your apartment and move into a halfway house. The therapist might convince you that this would solve all your problems. I was afraid that my therapist might use my DMH services to find a group home for me and then try to corner me into giving up my Section 667 housing and move to this group home. I was scared that she would present this to me in such a way that would make it look like I had no choice.
I HAD to get out of mental health altogether because I foresaw this down the road. That is, I saw the end of the road.
The “inserted suggestion” could be some treatment that might save your life. I have seen staff at hospitals talk diabetic patients at psych wards who have refused their insulin into agreeing to taking their insulin.
When I started going to therapy in 1981, I was not going there because I was “curious.” I was desperate for help. I was ready to try anything. I had already contemplated suicide because my eating disorder was killing me. The following October I entered day treatment, again ready to try anything and still desperate.
I was ready to try anything. I had my ears tuned in and I was open to suggestions. I believed everything anyone told me. I didn’t question. I didn’t look at anyone’s qualifications. I did as I was told. I followed suggestions.
I took the pills that were given me. They didn’t work. They said when I felt bad, I should ask for a pill, so I asked for one. I said please give me pills that work for my problem. I said these pills don’t work. They said, “What problem?” I took two bottles of pills at once.
Then I lost a bunch of friends, of course.
And on and on. Brainwashing for 30+ years. I’m out.
Stay tuned for a report on my FIRST EVER ACUPUNCTURE SESSION! Absolutely amazing!
Also stay tuned for a piece I plan to write on How to Lose Friends (written by an expert in the field, me)