Brainwashing and the Inner Child

Brainwashing through mediaI was interested to see this interview pop into my news feed today, about how a filmmaker’s father changed after listening to right-wing talk radio for a number of years. I had to read it, because I could relate. My own father’s personality underwent a change after years of being steeped in Glenn Beck and Rush Limbaugh, so I was curious to understand what Jen Senko had experienced.

There were many similarities in our stories, although it has to be said that my father was never a Democrat, and he was never terribly tolerant of minorities. He always had a rage in him, but it lay at rest more often than not, and his views thirty years ago would not have been considered extreme. I grew to become a different person, with different beliefs, and while he wasn’t happy about many of my beliefs, we had a sort of détente, in which we agreed not to discuss any of it in order to keep the family peace.

Brainwashing Through Media

My father has always been addicted to media, particularly TV, and this grew worse with the pervasive availability that cable TV offered. Round-the-clock news meant that my father could indulge in round-the-clock fixes. He had a TV in every room of the house, all tuned to the same channel so that he could move from one room to the next freely, without missing a word of the news cycle. When FOX news came along, he self-selected the voice that echoed his own, leaving behind the likes of Dan Rather or Walter Cronkite, who, it must be said, no longer really exist in any form.

It does not matter whether one is conservative or liberal, since these are political labels, and I believe that politics are irrelevant in that they are part of the illusion. None of this is real. What is real is Love, and how we treat one another. What is real is that we are not separate; we only believe that we are. Political labels are additional faces of a separation that does not exist.

Jen Senko uses the term “brainwashing” when talking about what happened to her father, and I believe this is an appropriate usage in this case. My father has undergone the same thing. You cannot listen to hateful diatribes against “them” and not be affected by it. It doesn’t matter who “they” are, either. They can be liberals, conservatives, commies, terrorists (so hard to pin down who is and who isn’t), gays, minorities, the 1%, the Muslims, the Jews, the Christians. Whenever someone tries to stir up your emotions against another human being, dehumanized in a group label, then they are attempting to brainwash you. They are attempting to kindle your anger. If your anger is stirred often enough, it will become hate. And when you hate, you are easily led to act in a way that probably goes against your own stated interests, morals, and beliefs. This is the function of propaganda:  to lead you into willful blindness.

My father has an aggressive, in-your-face personality that makes him hard to like, much less love. Underneath, however, there is an insecure little boy who has incredibly low self-esteem. I have seen that boy many times. That boy is capable of being silly, enjoying his food, capering to music, and having fun. I really love that little boy. Over the years, however, he has gradually disappeared. The more Dad listened to people who told him whom to hate and why, the more his anger was invoked, the more self-righteous he felt, the more that little boy slipped away into a long, long sleep.

Propaganda Makes You Hate

When the ego is certain that it sucks, it will try to find ways to validate itself and to reassure itself that it does not suck. The most unhealed way for it to do this is by elevating itself above others. If you can be better than them, then you don’t have anything to worry about, right? But alas, when you start to separate yourself from them and them and them, it becomes very easy to hate them. And this is when human beings start to behave as less than human.

All propaganda, all brainwashing, needs you to hate somebody. It needs you to rally with a given side against a common “enemy.” It will stoke your anger, yes, but also your civic pride. It will stoke your sense of belonging to the “right” group. It will make you feel joyful for being among “the elect.” It is the elect who will save the world from them. At this point, you have all the elements required for a fascist ideology. Let’s get them and save ourselves!

Of course, it doesn’t need to be this way. People who live to control others by brainwashing them to their “side” are indeed pitiable. What misery, to live secretly believing that you have no worth if you cannot win people to your “cause,” which ultimately exists to validate a fragile ego. People who want to be brainwashed to a “cause” are secretly looking for somewhere that they can belong. They want a family; they want to be accepted; they want to be told that they are okay. They want to fit in, somewhere. And of course, everyone wants to fit in with the “winners.”

The Inner Child Seeks Validation

In my book, Discovering Your Inner Child: Transforming Toxic Patterns and Finding Your Joy, I write that everyone’s inner child basically wants three things:

  • To be safe
  • To be validated and heard
  • To be loved

In the case of my father, he has been searching his whole life for validation that he is okay. His overriding need to be “right” is just an extension of that. His inner child literally cannot stand the thought that he could be “wrong.” But no one is right, and no one is wrong. That’s the big secret…

The answer to all problems is always Love. LOVE. Righteous anger may feel good in the moment, but that’s a fire that has to burn itself out, lest it burn down the house. You cannot hate someone without anger. But as with all emotions, anger is just a messenger. It’s telling you something. That anger really isn’t about them. It’s about you. It’s about all of us. Maybe that anger is just saying, “I really want to be heard. I want to be treated like someone who has something to contribute.”

When we start to look at our feelings and take responsibility for them (my anger belongs to me, not them), then we can start to address the real issues. Then we can start to take our own power, instead of giving it away to someone else who just wants to use our anger for their own purposes.

I love my father, and I miss the little boy in him. I miss the person who could express joy. The person who sees enemies everywhere is no fun to be around. But I can offer him Love, even from afar. I forgive him, and in so doing, I forgive myself. I hope he can forgive himself one day and rediscover his child heart.

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