The Difference Between Being Influenced and Brainwashed

Ever feel like you’re being brainwashed? And by the way I’m not suggesting that you totally agree with everything in this article because I’m a nice guy and have your best interests at heart. It’s just that you know there are times when you find yourself suddenly craving a big Mac or salivating about that new GM muscle car or the new Ford mustang or just absolutely have to have those special tooth whitening strips so you’ll be more attractive… And moments before you watched the commercial or read the ad, you weren’t even thinking about it.  The question is… are you being brainwashed?

Or just influenced?

According to my secret sources in the US Military, for brainwashing to be present all 5 of the following conditions must be met. So ask yourself now

  • Have you been removed from your normal environment of influence or confined to the compound and not allowed to leave no contact with outside?
  • Have you been deprived of sleep getting less than 6 hours per night? (psst are your children brainwashing you?)
  • Are you given emotional, physical or psychological pain or punishment if you disagree?
  • Do you get pleasure or rewards if you agree to get with the program?
  • Has your bio-chemistry been forcibly changed through diet or drugs?

Now maybe one or two of these elements are present in your marriage, your job, your sports team, church, chamber of commerce, fraternity or sorority, etc.

But remember, all 5 elements must be present for more than a weekend. After all it may take a bit of time to be internalized into your unconscious mind.

Now, you don’t have to think about army basic training or boot camp unless of course you want to…But if you were to think about it, imagine this:

  • You are far from home and confined to some sweltering, mosquito infested base
  • You are woken up at the crack of dawn every day by scratchy recording of a bugle playing reveille. When you least expect it they wake you up in the middle of the night for drills.
  • If you don’t get with the program you are shouted at, made to do extreme physical penance (give me 50 push-ups worm) and are subject to other emotional and psychological punishment.
  • If you get along and follow orders and are a good little soldier you get praise, awards, medals, shore leave, extra dessert etc.
  • Think about the food in the military! Just eating S.O.S and mountains of potatoes every day will change your bio chemistry.

I don’t know why, but all of a sudden I’m thinking about this Christian summer camp I went to with my church youth group for a week the summer between 9th and 10 grade.


  • I wasn’t in my normal environment. It was way nicer. A beautiful camp on a pristine lake in the mountains.
  • They kept us up late singing songs and woke us up really early. Averaged about 5 hours a night.
  • They didn’t shout or use overt physical pain. But they made us feel guilty as hell about all the impure thoughts we were having about the opposite (or same) sex. And all the sin we were carrying around with us. It felt painful to me. Very painful. So very, very painful. Forgive me Father for I have SINNED.
  • If you gave your life to Jesus you got applause and that special feeling of getting with the program.  Plus some of the cutes girls were serious bible thumpers and I wanted in with them for more SIN for which I must feel shame and guilt!
  • Damn! No drugs or bizarre food. The food was good. For some people it was better than home.  Nobody was made to drink actual cool-aid or eat bugs.

So even though 4 out of 5 is pretty darn close, I managed to survive Christian summer camp with all my skepticism and doubts intact. Never underestimate the power of bad food or at least very different food to tip the brainwashing scales. It’s all in the details.

Now let’s talk about TV.

  • You are not isolated from your normal environment of influence. When you’re watching the tube you are most definitely in a zombie like trance but you are usually sitting on your own couch.
  • You’re sleep patterns are not interrupted. In fact many people prefer to fall asleep watching TV. There seem to be few reports of people sleep walking into a Hummer dealership with a bag of cash after falling asleep in front of the telly.
  • A really good commercial may remind you of the pain you are already in and may anchor pleasure to the idea that you can get out of pain by making a decision and taking action. Think about your hard earned dollars sneaking out your leaky, inefficient old windows pain
  • A master influencer will definitely link pleasure to his or her idea or outcome for you.  now think about how wonderful the snug, tight, energy efficient thermal windows will be as they save you bushels of cash over the next 30 years…
  • An argument could be made that McDonalds food will change your body chemistry and get you hooked. Or all those pharmaceutical ads for the weight loss drug (with the rectal leakage side effect) could get you hooked and change your bio chemistry. But you’re still in your own home and they have yet to figure out how to get the TV to dispense their stuff. Plus, the other elements of brainwashing must also be present and you can always turn off the TV.

So in a nutshell, TV advertising, is not brainwashing. Ads may be powerful. They may be insidious. They may be persuasive. They get stuck like a sappy love song in your rostromedial pre-frontal cortex and play over and over again. They may be hugely influential. They may not always be a force for good in our lives.

But you can always hit the off button so it ain’t brainwashing.

Now I know you didn’t totally agree with everything I’ve said in the past or right now or in the future so if there are other things you agree with me on feel free to leave a comment below or just think of me as a genius for the next few moments… that’s right.

About the Author: Mark Shepard, NLPT is a Master Practitioner and Trainer of NLP, Hypnosis & Time Line Therapy. Read his blog:

4 thoughts on “The Difference Between Being Influenced and Brainwashed

  1. snitgard

    Like your post Kumar, but I personally think that brainwashing is not as clear cut. It is more of a sliding scale. I agree that in military Brainwashing, you will need all 5 things to be present, but only due to the time factor. A well trained interrogation officer can depersonalize most people within 24-48 hours, but this doesn't mean that all brain washing needs to do this.

    Think of Hitler would you call his method highly influential or Brainwashing. What about scientology or even Coca Cola. Why do you think most people “think” that they can't see a movie flick without having a coke and a smile and a bucket of popcorn resting in the lab.

    We are all brainwashed to some extend I think. Realising how much is the tricky part…

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