The power of Brainwashing and Lies

Unfortunately, I am an unwilling product and survivor of divorce: my parents divorced when I was a child and I went through two unwanted divorces as a married man.

But what matters most to me is the damage that divorce does to children; this is of particular concern because I have children that were dragged through divorce (my oldest was dragged through two divorces). And for them, I know it has been particularly painful and brutal, as it is for countless other children.

When my parents divorced when I was a small child (probably not more than five or six years old), half of my brothers and sisters (including myself) went to live with my dad—a violent pervert—in Illinois. Those were some of the worst, terrifying years a child could have lived through, and I will forever be scarred because of the physical, mental, and psychological abuse I and my siblings were routinely subjected to. Worse, my sisters were sexually abused, something I myself was spared, but nonetheless further scarred by.

As a survivor of divorce, I know the untold amounts of lifelong damage children can carry because of it. Thankfully, the help that is available today to children facing divorce is light years ahead of what it was when I was growing up.

Now in my early sixties, though this may be hard to believe for some people, I’m still coming to terms with the damage that divorce had—and continues to have—on my life. More importantly, I’m still trying to come to grips with what happened to my children from when our family passed through divorce. It is a wound that never heals, is always bleeding, and never scabs over.

Divorce is hell enough for any child, but when the pathology of Parental Alienation Syndrome (PAS) and its sister pathology, Parental Alienation (PA), is added to the toxic mix, the negative effects on the children are exponentially compounded and magnified, causing catastrophic damage to their developing psyches.

Is there a way through such a dark wilderness that these children of PAS/PA find themselves aimlessly wandering through? Most of the research I read on this question—until recently— was quite grim, with many experts reporting children psychologically damaged by this form of child abuse may never recover from it.

The good news, though, is that real progress can, and is, being made for such children, and the one-time depressing outcome is far more positive than before.

My study and interest in PAS/PA is going on 20 years, and though I am not a mental health expert or psychological professional, I have opinions and real life experiences dealing with PAS/PA that can help children desperately trying to escape from this prison house of evil.

One of the paths to this healing process that interests me stems from a lifelong concern and study of coercion that religious cults have over multiplied millions of people around the globe. If you type in “cults” in the search bar (the magnifying glass) on this blog site, at least four previous articles that I have written on this will appear, going back to 2014.

But my interest in cults extends much farther back than 2014; in fact, I would estimate my first serious study of cults started around the early part of the 1980’s. One of the common denominators all people who eventually become involved in cults is this: all of them have been seduced by lies through a systematic process of brainwashing.

Interestingly, I myself was involved in a rigid religious cult for most of my life which I am continually dealing with in trying to make sense of, continuing to this day.

Children affected by PAS/PA also fit into this category of individuals being brainwashed by lies; and not only lies, but half-truths and “near truths” that are told to the child about the targeted parent. These half-truths and near-truths are then twisted in such a manner that the child is completely turned against the once loved parent. As the old saying goes, “The most effective lies are the ones that stick closest to the truth.”

Brainwashing is a serious and sometimes deadly matter, but if we can separate our revulsion of this damaging process and look at it through a non-emotional, scientific lens, we will discover a fascinating (though dark) process that everyone will benefit from studying and understanding.

Let me begin with this real life observation I have repeatedly witnessed over the decades dealing with students on university campuses: the religious cults that abound on universities capture some of the most intelligent students that attend these institutions of higher education. Does this surprise you? Do you shake your head in disbelief and say, “No, this can’t be true. Intelligent people cannot possibly be that stupid or gullible.”

I thought the same thing until I saw with my own eyes, year after year, decade after decade, students who were far more intelligent than myself, who willingly donned saffron colored robes, streaked their faces with light yellow or white paint, shaved their heads, endlessly beat on drums and tinkled small brass cymbals, all the while deliriously chanting “Hare Krishna! Hare Krishna!” for hours at a time. I’m not making this up. And, believe it or not, it still happens to this day.

You would think that intelligent men and woman would never fall for such outright nonsense…but they do. In fact, I postulate that the more intelligent you are, the easier you fall to deception in some fashion or form. And certain religious cults are disproportionately populated with really smart people. It’s unbelievable. Intelligence—even super intelligence—is no safeguard to being deceived and brainwashed by religious charlatans and other con artists. High intelligence may even make such people more susceptible to such deceptions.

Since these observations are true, is it no wonder that children are routinely brainwashed by a mentally ill parent who uses them as mere pawns in certain divorce scenarios? It should come as no great leap to understand this because intelligent adults are susceptible to brainwashing and lies…so why not children?

Why do I write this? Because if you are a child who may be coming to a point in your life where you might be suspecting, for the first time, that you might be a victim of PAS, but perhaps embarrassed because you allowed your young mind to be highjacked by a parent you thought loved and cared for you, take heart: brainwashing happens all the time, in one form or another, to adults who posses IQ’s that are off the charts. This fact alone should bring you comfort and hope.

I’m in the process of reading an absolutely mind-blowing book titled, “The Confidence Game” by Maria Konnikova. Here it is, for free, on It is all about con artists and how they operate, and the author gives many examples of real people who have been conned out of their money, valuables, possessions, bank accounts, houses, etc. Jaw-dropping stories where some of them are almost impossible to believe they happened. After reading about them, you walk away scratching your head and saying, “No, this cannot possibly be true. People cannot be this stupid and gullible.” Trust me, people can be—and are.

One story from this book particularly interests me, beginning on page 173. It details what happened to a well established, French aristocratic family whose pedigree went back approximately 300 years who were spectacularly conned by a confidence man named Thierry Tilly. Here are two paragraphs from the book providing some introductory details:

When Ghislaine de Vedrines, a member of the old French aristocracy and the director of a successful Paris school, first met Thierry Tilly, a man who had almost, but not quite, completed a law degree and had few professional qualifications, she could hardly have known that within a few years he would come to dominate not only her life but that of her entire family, in an intricate plot that would rival any of Dan Brown’s fictional creations. By the time Tilly and an accomplice were sentenced to prison for “despoiling” the de Vedrines family and “depriving them of ten years of their lives,” in November 2012, eleven family members, spanning three generations, had handed over $6 million in assets, the three-hundred-year-old family estate, and countless personal items to the conning duo. Tilly had managed to convince them all that they were protectors of an ancient secret—and that they were being hunted by Freemasons, Jews, and multiple other “sinister” forces. And so, little by little, they entrusted their entire lives to his keeping. At the end of it all, they would be living in England, working at menial jobs and subsisting on little more than biscuits and water, their wealth, education, and aristocratic pedigree a thing of the distant past.

When the story came to light, the public was shocked. How could an intelligent, educated, successful family fall, one after the other, for a story that more resembled fiction than fact? How could they, day by day and year by year, impoverish themselves for a vision with no proof, a fantastical creation that looked like it wouldn’t pass muster in even the most accommodating of circumstances? Therein lies the power of the tale: it is a story of your exceptionalism.

It is almost impossible to believe that this story actually happened. The people conned were not stupid people—far from it. In fact, one of the men in this aristocratic family who willingly gave his money to this con artist was a doctor, a gynecologist. These were educated people, some highly educated like this doctor.

Why I bring this story up is this: if an influential, aristocratic family like this one with a 300 year old history behind them can be so expertly brainwashed they literally lose almost everything (and remember, we are talking about a con job that deceived almost the entire family…not just one person) they owned, worked for, and inherited, what does this say about how a mere child can also be brainwashed?

Here is a disturbing fact: given the right set of circumstances and falling into the hands of a skilled confidence artist, every one of is a target for brainwashing. Every one of us.

This is why I believe children who have been brainwashed by a parent, before they can hope to escape out of the false narrative they were raised in that pitted them against the other parent they once loved, must come to the point where they can ask themselves, “Have I been deceived? Is it possible my own mother has lied to me about my dad?” Coming to this point is the key that unlocks the door to understanding.

Tilly was ultimately caught and found guilty. During the legal proceeding that was held in the Criminal Court in Bordeaux, France, one of his charges was “criminal exploitation of the ignorance or the weakness of a person in a state of psychological or physical subjection…”

Let me key on these above words: “criminal exploitation of…the weakness of a person…” Would not a child be in this status, the “weakness of a person”? How much weaker can one be than the state of dependency children find themselves in when they are growing up in a family? Among their natural weaknesses are physical, mental and emotional; after all, they are immature in each of these categories due to the nature of “growing up” and the need to gain crucial life experience through many years of existence.

This is one reason why, at its heart, PAS/PA is criminal in nature because it targets the weakest and most psychologically vulnerable members of our society (except, perhaps, the aged and infirm who cannot take care of themselves) for exploitation.

The other portion I wish to highlight is “criminal exploitation…of a person in a state of psychological or physical subjection…” Depending on how one looks at it, a child under the care of a parent cannot pack up their bags whenever they wish and move somewhere else; thus, we might say, broadly speaking, they are held “in a state of psychological or physical subjection…” Not quite, of course, because a child is loved by their parent(s) and we cannot believe they are held involuntarily like what occurs in a criminal environment.

But since a child is not simply “free to go” wherever and whenever they like, a mentally ill alienating parent pitting that child against the other parent understands that keeping that child away from the targeted parent is the best way to manipulate that child against the targeted parent. By not allowing the child to visit the other parent and brainwashing the child into not wanting to visit the other parent, the criminal element of PAS/PA is introduced.

Again, the true story of the con artist Thierry Tilly has application to children harmed and exploited by PAS/PA. The techniques used by criminals such as Tilly are frighteningly similar to those used by the alienating parent against the targeted parent, only worse: while Tilly deceived mature adults who should have known better, children do not yet possess the mental and psychological maturity to recognize and fend off such manipulations and brainwashings.

Here is an article from Vanity Fair that goes into detail about this story. Please download the article or save it, if possible, as a PDF because like many such articles, you only get to read a few before you have to pay a subscription to keep reading articles from their site. Again, this story is so far out of the realm of believability that it is almost like something a creative storyteller made up. The fact that it is true makes its lesson all that more powerful and a potent warning to each of us of the vulnerability we face at the hands of con artists—even con artists that reside in our own families.