I’m a self admitted research hound. For my latest medical thriller, Poison, there were lots of interesting areas I looked into. Medical benefits of spider venom (yes, there really are some!), whether or not repressed memories can really happen, hypnosis and brainwashing.
Brainwashing is the stuff of movies but can it happen in real life? It’s not so easy an answer. Some say yes and some say no.
What some agree on is that there have to be certain aspects in place for the process to work. For someone to be able to reform someone’s thought to what they want it to be for whatever nefarious purpose it will serve.
First of all, for brainwashing to have any hope of working, the subject has to be completely isolated and dependent. For this reason, the concern for brainwashing stems from those held captive in prison camps or are part of isolationist type cults and would have little to no interaction with the outside world.
Here is a general process of brainwashing as outlined in this article.
- Assault their identity. This is tearing down the individual’s belief in self and who they are over a period of days, weeks or months. For someone like me who is a wife, mother and nurse—it might go like this, “You are not a wife. You’re not a mother. How can you be when your children hate you? You don’t save lives. You don’t really help people.”
- Instill Guilt. Goal here is to get the target to feel shame.
- Self Betrayal. Get the subject to confess that everything he believes in is wrong. This could be getting someone to deny their deeply held religious beliefs.
- Breaking point. Now the subject is experiencing an identity crisis. Just who am I really? At this point, something akin to a nervous breakdown occurs and the subject is open to the temptation of grabbing onto the alternate belief system.
- Leniency. Now captor becomes savior and offers help to the suffering individual by acts of kindness like food and rest or suspending abuse/torture. In light of what the individual has experienced, the subject’s response may seem out of proportion to the offered gift like his life has truly been saved even though he remains imprisoned.
- Compulsion to confession. The subject feels a need to return the kind favor and the agent may use this opportunity to use this guilt to spur a confession.
- Channeling the guilt. Considering what the subject has gone through—he really doesn’t know what to believe anymore and his guilt has lost all meaning—he just feels what he believed is wrong and is now a blank slate for the agent to instill what he desires.
- Releasing of guilt: The means of escape for the subject is letting go of his previously held “wrong” belief system. That it’s not him that’s evil—just what he believed as true is evil. The subject has fully rejected his old belief system and is open to the new one as offered by his captors.
Memory is an interesting brain function. Science doesn’t quite understand how it works biologically. What makes memory interesting for a suspense author to use is it has been proven to be fallible and what circumstances can an individual experience to make that happen.
How about you? Have you used memory issues/concepts in your suspense novel to increase the tension? How about use of amnesia or falsely held beliefs?
Poison synopsis: Five years ago, Keelyn Blake’s armed, mentally ill stepfather took her family hostage in their house in rural Colorado. She and her half-sister Raven made it out alive, but others did not. Authorities blamed the father’s frequent hallucinations about a being named Lucent, but in the end, even the best of the FBI’s hostage negotiators failed to overcome the man’s delusions and end the standoff peacefully.
Now, Lucent is back, and he’s no hallucination. In fact, he is a very real person with dangerous motives. He has kidnapped Raven’s daughter, and–Keelyn worries–maybe has hurt Raven as well. Though she is estranged from her sister, Keelyn feels the immediate need to find Raven and save what family she has left. But when others who were involved in that fateful day start dying, some by mysterious circumstances, Keelyn wonders if she can emerge unscathed a second time.
You tube video link: http://youtu.be/slsX8j_Q_Ic