It’s okay to admit you were Brain Washed

Elisa A. Escalante/ LCSW/ 1-7-2022

“I don’t feel like watching brain washed people get angry at other brain washed people, and then constantly argue about who is more brain washed”

How many times in your life have you reflected back on your younger mental state, opinions, and behaviors? After reflecting, how often have you asked yourself: “What in the world was I thinking?!” Or “What had gotten into me at that time?” Even after asking questions like this, did you also find it hard to come up with any logical answers? All you could possibly sum it up to was that you were “young and dumb” or “clueless”? Here’s a very taboo but very real part of life: all humans are susceptible to being ‘brain washed’. All humans have been brain washed, and … all humans will get brain washed again. This comes in many forms. Often times, we like to believe only those that fall into a “Cult” are brain washed. Even this is debatable, the very definition of a cult is debatable. The very definition of what defines brain washing is debatable. If you ever find yourself in a concrete pattern of thinking that causes you to become cognitively dissonant and polarized, you might just be brain washed. It could be by yourself while following along with literature or online groups. It could be with a group of people that follow the same rigid pattern of thinking, it could be in a relationship with one other person who has you changing everything about how you think and view the world. One large indicator of this for those that cannot tell: If you find yourself losing your sense of self and identity, if you find yourself losing your balance and equilibrium, it could all be warning signs. Let’s take a closer look at how this happens and within what realms of life.

Family- I will start with the topic of family because this is typically where it all starts. Our family environment is often times our primary and main influence throughout childhood. What our family ascribes to is what we will be subjected to, whether we like it or not. This can include your family’s religion, political preferences, job choices, hobbies etc. Whether or not we agree or disagree, we are exposed to our parents/ guardians choices and ways of thinking. It is also not uncommon for parents to saturate their children with the same way of thinking/ way of life. Many people describe a sense of feeling influenced and sometimes brain washed by their families, and taking many years after leaving their households to undo certain teachings and find their own way of life, and their own ways of thinking. I personally went from my blood family ties to my military family right after High School. So from ages zero- 24, I was taking orders. The pro was that I was disciplined and structured, the con was that I had zero sense of who I was because I was often times a part of ‘families’ and ‘communities’ that enforced community wellness over individual wants/ needs.

Friends- There’s a reason many of our elders will caution us against ‘peer pressure’. It’s very real. Often times, the pressure comes from a peer projecting their issues onto us. Not to mention when we engage in the same harmful behaviors as a peer, it feels more normalized and therefore, ‘okay’ to do. If you are not participating in the group activity, there is a good chance you will be ostracized from the group. And even if not cut out completely, will be heavily misunderstood. The temptation is real. But the answer is not to follow along even though you are uncomfortable, the answer is the find your crowd. This will lower your risk of being pressured and brain washed into doing things you may regret later. It is because of this that many express by the time they hit their thirties or forties, their friend crowd is extremely small. The top reason I did not party when I was in the military or in college: I was not a drinker. I got tired of the pressure to drink, and I got tired of the strange stares I got when I said ‘No’ to drinking. Bad friends may brain wash us into thinking we must be like them. Good friends will always recognize that you are an individual with free will.

Career- We are what we do. We are most definitely going to be influenced by the job we do. Especially if it’s forty plus hours a week. The military did brain wash me to some extent, the career field in mental health did as well. I found myself often debating between letting it take me over but also having a personality outside of these careers and finding more to life. Jobs can not only brain wash us, but consume us and take over our entire lives. It may widen the gap between you and the people around you. It can end sever friendships and relationships as you find yourself going in ‘too deep’. A career is often associated with an “I have no choice” mentality. ‘This work must get done, this money must get made, and these bills must get paid.’ And because of this mentality, we may forget about the most important thing of all: our physical and mental health as well as the relationships we have with the people we love the most. Careers may brain wash us into believing that work is the only thing on this Earth that matters.

Politics- I’m not a fan of political debating… anymore. I fell deep into this hole once upon a time, as many others have. I’ve seen it destroy relational ties. I’ve seen people get so deep into the vacuum that their entire days, weeks or months were dedicated to the vicious cycle of internet debating while simultaneously forgetting all their individual life goals. Politics is important, and it is a part of life. But many can agree if it has taken you over to a point where you no longer have a sense of self, a sense of purpose or goals or no more relationships with anyone, you may have gotten sucked in too deep. I was a trauma therapist in Brooklyn during 2020. The majority of therapy sessions that year was me teaching my clients harm reduction tactics when it came to this very thing. There were people quarantined all day with their electronic devices, arguing over politics. What was worse is how severe their depression, anxiety, anger and health were getting because of this vacuum and vicious cycle. As much as people want to argue that it is important to stay informed and on top of our political climate (I’ll never disagree with this of course), it is more important to put your health first. Sometimes this will mean walking away from the fight for a while and getting back to yourself. When Politics is sucking you in and zapping your health, you have gone too deep.

Significant Other- You know those jokes we make about how we become our significant other? We start to behave like them, talk like them and even think like them sometimes? This is very real. The intimate partner/ spouse is often times the person we spend the most time with, and with that being said, who we choose can either make or break our lives. It is one of the most serious decisions we will make, and unfortunately, sometimes taken very lightly. An abusive partner can brain wash you into believing you are less than nothing. A manipulative or immature partner can brain wash you into exhausting yourself while they free load. Meanwhile, a healthy and loving partner can make you feel loved and help remind you of your worth. If you find that you are in a relationship where you have changed a lot, and not necessarily for the better, it is best to evaluate if it’s serving you well. A person may have a lot to gain by brain washing a vulnerable intimate partner. As they can get a lot out of someone who is very giving, and likely to give the benefit of the doubt even when someone presents red flags.  

Social Media-  By now, we should all know that social media is a huge money generator. The algorithms work in a way to keep us on the screens and in these platforms, with the compulsion to buy into things. It’s a very effective and profitable business, and one of the most powerful brain washing devices I have seen in mental health practice. On the surface, you are communicating with friends/ family and laughing at memes. But, on a deeper level, you are showing traces of what draws you in, what you are likely to hover over, what you are likely to buy and what is likely to get an emotional reaction out of you. You will be fed more of this, and will then be susceptible to the brain washing vacuum of social media that can take over the majority of your day. If you go in too deep, it can also take a lot of your money. Time and money we cannot get back, and it’s even worse when there is something that’s main purpose is to do exactly that: take your time and money. Obviously it is not going away, therefore education is imperative and harm reduction tactics are a must. Time limits, practicing self-control, setting a budget for yourself, also scheduling real world activities that take you away from the phone/ social media for a while etc.

Religion- When religion does good for an individual or a group, it looks like this: -Community service, volunteerism, love, caring, social activism, prayer, positive spirituality, family values and more. When religion turns dangerous, and may be brain washing people, it could look like this: Exploitation of money, judging those that do not share the same belief, encouraging violence and war, taking away an individual’s identity and more. Spirituality is just as important as our mental health and physical health, but like anything else, we may get wrapped into a harmful practice and be in danger of doing harm to ourselves and others. Pay attention, does your religion align with your spiritual values, is it supplementing your life and the ones around you or doing harm?                                                                                                

Sport/ Hobby- Yes, even sports or hobbies can brain wash us! Coaches, teachers and/ or instructors are so important. More importantly, are they teaching and instilling good values and practical advice, or are they doing more harm by breaking us down and destroying our self-esteem? Some coaches and instructors may encourage you to work through injury or horrible mental states, while some know to encourage rest when rest is warranted. Some may go as far as to expect that you give your entire focus and attention to the activity at hand, while some will recognize that a sport or hobby is rarely ever your entire life, and other things may take priority. It’s often very easy to forget this simple fact: A hobby or sport is typically supposed to be FUN! If it stops being fun due to ridiculous demands from coaches/ teachers, then perhaps you were brain washed into taking it too seriously to a point that you were robbed of money, time or happiness. Always make it a point to turn inward and ask yourself the hard questions. You owe no person or activity your loyalty if it’s making you unhappy.

Published by functionallymentall

Social Worker, Writer, USAF Veteran

One thought on “It’s okay to admit you were Brain Washed

Leave a Reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in: Logo

You are commenting using your account. Log Out /  Change )

Twitter picture

You are commenting using your Twitter account. Log Out /  Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out /  Change )

Connecting to %s

%d bloggers like this: