8 subtle warning signs someone is trying to brainwash you, according to psychology

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As people, it’s essential to be aware of how we are treated and perceived by others.

This awareness can guard us against manipulation, control, and even brainwashing.

Brainwashing, though a strong term, refers to the subtle, psychological manipulation that influences our thoughts and behaviors.

Often, these manipulative tactics are so sly that they go unnoticed until it’s too late.

These tactics can come from anyone – a romantic partner, a friend, family member, or even at the workplace.

Recognizing these signs can be challenging, as they often start off subtly and gradually intensify over time.

To help you identify these signs early on, we’ve gathered insights from psychology that can guide you in spotting these subtle warning signs of attempted brainwashing.

We hope it equips you with the knowledge and tools needed to protect your thoughts and maintain your personal autonomy.

1) Subtle changes in your beliefs and values

Brainwashing doesn’t happen overnight.

It’s a gradual process that often starts with subtle changes in your beliefs and values.

You may not even notice it at first.

It could start with someone introducing new ideas to you, ideas that they insist are better than what you currently believe.

They might argue that your current beliefs are outdated or wrong, and that they’re helping you to see the “truth”.

Over time, these new ideas may begin to replace your original beliefs.

You might even start doubting your own judgement, thinking that perhaps they’re right and you were wrong all along.

Remember that everyone is entitled to their own beliefs and values.

While it’s okay to be open-minded and consider other perspectives, it’s not okay for someone else to force their own beliefs onto you.

2) Dependence and Inferiority

A common tactic in brainwashing is making you feel dependent, inadequate, or inferior.

This could be carefully crafted through comments or actions that undermine your confidence and self-esteem.

You might find yourself constantly being criticized for your actions, even the smallest mistakes.

They may point out your flaws more frequently than they acknowledge your strengths, constantly making you feel like you’re not good enough.

Simultaneously, they position themselves as the ‘superior’ one – the one who knows better, the one who is always right.

They may make you believe that you need them for guidance, support, and even for making basic decisions.

This tactic makes you doubt your own abilities and judgment, creating a sense of reliance on them.

Over time, this dependence becomes so deep-rooted that it feels natural and even necessary.

Everyone has strengths and weaknesses. It’s completely normal to rely on others at times.

But a healthy relationship involves mutual respect and support, not domination and dependence. 

3) Constant positivity

Contrary to what you might expect, an excess of positivity can sometimes be a subtle sign of brainwashing.

This isn’t genuine positivity or optimism.

It’s a forced and constant positivity that dismisses any negative emotions or thoughts you may have.

You’ll find this person always insists on “seeing the bright side” of things, even when you’re facing real challenges or feeling genuinely upset.

They might tell you to “just be happy” or “stop being so negative” when you’re dealing with something difficult.

While it might seem helpful at first, this relentless positivity can slowly invalidate your feelings and experiences.

It can make you feel like your reactions are wrong or abnormal, and that you should always be happy and positive, just like them.

It’s normal to experience a range of emotions, both positive and negative.

No one can realistically be happy all the time, and it’s okay to feel upset, angry, or sad when faced with difficult situations. 

4) Gaslighting

Gaslighting is a powerful manipulation tactic that can make you question your own reality.

It’s a form of psychological abuse where the manipulator makes you doubt your own memories, perceptions, or judgments.

For instance, you might confront them about something they said or did that hurt you.

Instead of acknowledging their actions, they might turn it around and convince you that it never happened, or that you’re misremembering things.

You might hear phrases like “You’re too sensitive,” “You’re imagining things,” or “I never said that.”

Over time, this can cause you to question your own sanity and trust their version of reality over your own.

Gaslighting is a cruel and damaging tactic.

Remember that your feelings are valid, and your memories and perceptions are reliable. 

5) Emotional blackmail

Emotional blackmail happens when someone uses your feelings of love, guilt, or fear against you to get what they want.

They threaten to leave you if you don’t comply with their preferences.

They play the victim and make you feel guilty for not meeting their demands.

They say things like, “If you loved me, you would do this for me” or “You’re selfish for not considering my needs.”

This kind of manipulation is often subtle and can leave you feeling cornered and trapped.

It’s important to remember that in a healthy relationship, decisions should be made together.

It’s not fair for someone to use your emotions against you to get their way.

Your feelings matter too, and it’s okay to say no when something doesn’t feel right.

You deserve respect and kindness in all your relationships.

6) Constant criticism

We’ve all experienced criticism at some point in our lives. It’s normal to receive feedback and make improvements.

But when criticism becomes relentless and targets your every move, it may be a sign of brainwashing.

This person may pick apart everything you do, from the way you dress to how you speak or even how you eat.

They might disguise it as “helpful advice” or insist they’re “only trying to make you better.”

But the reality is, it’s a strategic tactic to break down your self-esteem and make you more susceptible to their influence.

The key here is balance.

Constructive criticism can lead to growth, but constant negative feedback only serves to diminish your confidence.

7) Over-the-top flattery

We all love a good compliment, right? It makes us feel good about ourselves and boosts our mood.

But when someone constantly showers you with over-the-top flattery, it might not be as sweet as it seems.

This person might always tell you how perfect you are, how they’ve never met anyone like you, or how you’re the best thing that’s ever happened to them.

While these compliments might make you feel special at first, they can also be a subtle form of manipulation.

By consistently placing you on a pedestal, they may make you feel like you owe them something in return.

This could lead to you being more agreeable to their demands, even when they’re unreasonable.

8) Your gut tells you something’s off

Sometimes, despite all the signs, we choose to ignore the red flags because we don’t want to believe that someone could be trying to brainwash us.

But here’s the thing: your gut feeling is a powerful tool that you should never ignore.

If you constantly feel uneasy or uncomfortable around this person, if you feel like something’s just not right but you can’t quite put your finger on it, trust that feeling.

It’s your intuition telling you that something is off.

We’re often too hard on ourselves, dismissing our gut feelings as overreactions or paranoia.

But your feelings are valid and they are there for a reason.

Listen to what your gut is telling you. If something doesn’t feel right, it probably isn’t.

Don’t ignore your intuition; it could be alerting you to an attempt at brainwashing.

You have the right to autonomy

Ultimately, the most important thing to remember is this: You have the right to think for yourself, to make your own decisions, and to live your life however you choose.

No one, no matter who they are or how close they are to you, should be able to take that away from you.

If someone constantly manipulates or influences your thoughts and behavior for their own benefit, it’s not healthy. It’s a form of control that borders on brainwashing.

You deserve respect, autonomy, and the freedom to be yourself without fear of manipulation or control.

If you feel someone is trying to infringe upon these rights, it’s okay to distance yourself from them and seek help.

Remember: Your life is yours to live. You are capable, you are strong, and you have the power to resist manipulation and brainwashing.

Always trust in yourself and your ability to recognize these subtle signs.

Ethan Sterling

Ethan Sterling has a background in entrepreneurship, having started and managed several small businesses. His journey through the ups and downs of entrepreneurship provides him with practical insights into personal resilience, strategic thinking, and the value of persistence. Ethan’s articles offer real-world advice for those looking to grow personally and professionally.

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