I have been interested for a long time regarding what makes people change their beliefs, mindset, and attitudes towards things. I firmly believe that most eating disorders are caused by people’s wrong beliefs and attitudes towards themselves and others. Genetic predisposition also plays the role too.
Once I was reading an article about brainwashing. Brainwashing is any effort aimed towards instilling in the mind of one person different beliefs and attitudes that eventually make a person behave in a certain way and believe in certain things. Brainwashing was used a lot by communists to spread the mentality of communism. It was also used on war prisoners in the Korean war – when American soldiers after being captured and kept in Chinese camps sometimes ended up taking the side of the communists and considered themselves to be their supporters.
So, you see, brainwashing is something that can change your total identity. The media does it all the time too. And not just only the media things like the culture you live in can also brainwash you.
When I was reading this – I thought: How much is brainwashing relevant to developing anorexia! Anorexics really become the victims of brainwashing: their whole value systems and thought-patterns are changed in a matter of months after contracting anorexia.
American Psychiatrist Robert Jay Lipton did a special research project on what’s involved in brainwashing. He came up with a list of steps on brainwashing techniques:
1. Assault on identity
2. Guilt and shame
4. Breaking point
6. Compulsion to confess
7. Channelling of guilt
8. Releasing of guilt
9. Progress and harmony
10. Final confession and rebirth
I believe anorexia goes through similar stages? I think it really does when you think about it. The only difference is that when people get brainwashed it is done deliberately by someone else. In the case of anorexia, people normally perceive events in their life and what happens to them and take it the wrong way then they become prisoners of their own thoughts and feelings.
I have analyzed the brainwashing steps above in relation to eating disorders and here is what I have come up with:
1. Assault on identity: when anorexia begins after an emotional event or a number of events, the anorexic starts to think that they are not who they should be and who they want to be. The person is under constant self-identity attacks for days, weeks or months, to the point that she/he becomes exhausted, confused and disoriented. In this state, their beliefs seem less solid. They look around for a substitute for their identity.
2. Guilt and Shame: Constant thoughts: “You are bad the way you are.” They feel that their body is disgusting, they feel ashamed of their own body. When the development of anorexia coincides with the time of puberty – thoughts of being ashamed of their own body is associated with feelings of disgust about sex and intimacy and this can have dramatic consequences. Associations of guilt and shame about intimacy can end up being a lifelong sentence for many sufferers unless major neuroplastic changes are instigated later in life.
Eating can be also associated with guilt and this is a major reason why anorexia turns into bulimia at later stage of the disease for some sufferers. People begin to feel a general sense of shame, that everything they do is wrong.
Many researchers have shown that feelings of guilt are tightly associated with the development of eating disorders (especially bulimia and binge eating).
3. Self-betrayal: This is when the anorexia starts to tell her/him: “Agree with me that you are bad”. And once the person is confused and drowning in guilt, these thoughts force them to withdraw from her/his family, friends and peers who are eating normally and enjoying their life. This betrayal of her/ his own trust in themselves and people close to them increases the shame and loss of identity that the person is already experiencing.
4. Breaking point: The sufferer is constantly asking her/himself: “Who am I, where am I and what am I supposed to do?” At this point the person has her/his identity in crisis, experiencing deep shame and guilt. Also, the person may undergo a “nervous breakdown.” This may involve uncontrollable sobbing, deep depression and general disorientation and withdrawal.Not everyone has the same severity of symptoms but lots of people do have this exact reaction.
5. Leniency: The Anorexia then tells the sufferer:” Follow me – I can help you.” Anorexics often believe that their anorexia is the only way of life they can follow. Performing anorexic behaviour – like starving, purging which brings them temporary relief of their feelings, although short lived. But then it demands more and more attention until the person becomes 100% consumed by their distorted anorexic thoughts and feelings.
6. Compulsion to confession: “I can help myself.”
For the first time in the brainwashing process, the anorexic is faced with the contrast between the guilt and pain of identity and feelings of sudden relief and leniency. The person may feel a desire to talk to other people with the same problems and visit ‘thinspiration” sites. (Sites that are set up by other sufferers to try and justify their inability to deal with their anorexia in the real world). They may start sharing their experiences about anorexia, give each other advice on a best diet, on tricks to induce vomiting, make competitions about who has lost the most weight etc. The sufferer starts to confess that anorexia is their life style.
7. Channelling of guilt: This is why you’re in pain. After weeks or months of suffering, confusion, breakdown and moments of leniency, the person’s guilt has lost all meaning – numbness replaces it all. This creates something of a blank slate that lets the anorexia in deeper and deeper into the soul. The anorexia attaches itself to the person’s guilt and belief system opposite what healthy people have. For example, food is associated with guilt and shame.
It is the stage when anorexics start to display bad tantrums when parents try to feed them or persuade them to eat and stop their abnormal behaviour. They start to believe that anorexia is not an illness but it is a life style and associate their own self with the anorexia: they become one with the disease.
8. Releasing of guilt: It’s not me; it’s my beliefs. With her/his full confessions, the person has completed his/her psychological rejection of their former identity. The sufferer has gradually giving up all their previously enjoyable activities, left their job or college quite their university. All this is just for the sake of practicing the life style anorexia provides. People start joining pro-anorexia groups, forums, looking for justification etc.
9. Progress and harmony:” If you want, you can choose good.” – say their “thinspiration” friends.
These “Thinspiration” friends introduce a new belief system as the path to “good.” At this stage the anorexia stops to hurt, offering the sufferer physical comfort and mental calm in conjunction with their new belief system. People get a “team spirit “attitude with their friends who practice the same dangerous way of living.
10. Final confession and rebirth: Their mind equals their Anorexia that tells them:” I choose good.”
Good is the anorexia. The person has no doubt in the righteousness of her/his choice to be anorexic. At this stage separating them self from the anorexia seems impossible. People continue practicing this dangerous way of living. Thousands of them die as a result of this sooner than later. Some can live longer but still eventually die from severe complications or commit suicide because of their starving and the fact they can’t cope with life and can’t evaluate things logically.
This is how the anorexic mind gets programmed (brainwashed) to be the way they are suffering from severe anorexia. Most eating disorder sufferers go through similar stages but often these stages happen differently for each sufferer and it is difficult to differentiate between them.
The purpose of this article is to show you what the brainwashing process is all about and that what happens in cults and in prisoner of war camps is similar to what happens in people with anorexia.
Also I want to point out that the phenomenon of anorexia is mainly in the relatively young.
People in the past didn’t have anorexia to the same extend we have today. In the past single cases of anorexia was described only in people who starved themselves for religious purposes, cult purposes and the like. There were no anorexic cases reported of people striving to be thin for beauty sake or for prestige purposes.
This all points to anorexia being a modern disease: I believe caused by some beauty product advertisers and the media that promote beauty standards that are impossible to achieve by normal human beings. You can say that it is designed to make people buy more and more beauty and slimming products, making someone extremely rich, built on the suffering of many.
The solution to this problem is to teach young people and emphasise natural and internal beauty. To make young people strive for learning, studying and expanding their minds, not to strive for this unattainable look which some of the media and others portray as beautiful. For many young people to reach for this unattainable level only brings suffering, hardship and death.