When I was in college, some friends and I went to see a professional stage hypnotist perform in our college’s auditorium. I remember thinking the guy, whose name I no longer remember, was very funny, attractive, charming, and entertaining. He seemed trustworthy even as he promised that he, along with a few students who had volunteered to assist him, would make some of my classmates do things on stage that they never dreamed of doing. We would all have a good laugh at their expense.
I went to a small college, so I knew several of the assistants, who were basically on stage to make sure the act went smoothly and nobody got hurt. I also knew several of the people who ended up being the hypnotist’s volunteer guinea pigs. These were people with whom I had attended classes and respected on some level.
The hypnotist took about a dozen people from the audience and had them sit in chairs that were set up on the stage. As he began his work on these volunteers, it soon became very clear who was very susceptible to the hypnotist’s powers of suggestion and who wasn’t. The assistants hung around the volunteers, watching for any sign that the hypnosis wasn’t working. Those who didn’t readily “go under” were asked to leave the stage.
One by one, the group of a dozen volunteers who were originally on the stage dwindled down to just three people. Those few people who did fall completely under the hypnotist’s spell then became entertainment for the audience. The hypnotist controlled them with his words, much like a puppeteer controls puppets with his hands. Pretty soon, the hypnotist had his subjects clucking like chickens, dancing to music that wasn’t playing, and singing at the top of their lungs while the audience laughed uproarously. I wouldn’t have believed it if I hadn’t seen it with my own eyes. The hypnotist had made fools out of the three who were the most susceptible to the power of his words.
Beware the hypnosis of abusive behavior
Recently, it occurred to me that abusive people can often behave very much like that stage hypnotist did. Abusive people are often folks who have a special need to be in control and manipulate others to do their bidding. Just like the stage hypnotist, an abusive person relies on charm, good looks, fast talking, and wit to get people to trust them. Once that trust starts to build, the abusive person, much like a stage hypnotist, starts to say and do things to get their victims to go along with what they want.
Those who don’t readily fall under the abuser’s spell will end up being cut out of the victim’s life. That’s because the abuser, much like the stage hypnotist, doesn’t want that stubborn person who refuses to comply to contaminate his or her targeted victim with another viewpoint. Like the stage hypnotist, an abusive person wants the victim’s undivided attention and obedience. There’s no room for anyone who can’t or won’t fall in line; non-compliant people are just too distracting and ruin the abuser’s dazzling effects. They’re almost always “asked to leave the stage”. When the victim’s loved ones are out of the picture, the coast is clear for the abuser’s next step… total control.
How an abuser chooses a target
Like the stage hypnotist, abusive people are somewhat selective when they go looking for a victim. Abusers often strike when their victim is already weakened by a stressful life event. People who are dealing with the death of a loved one, divorce, illness, or financial problems may be especially vulnerable to an abusive person’s charms, especially if the abuser approaches them with confidence and charisma. At first, it may seem like this charming person is the answer to the victim’s prayers. The abusive person has all the answers and reassurances that makes the victim want to hear. Trust builds, which then leads to intimidation and confusion.
Before too long, the victim starts doing things the abuser’s way in an effort to keep the abuser happy and appeased. He or she stops listening to friends and family. More worrying, the victim will also stop heeding his or her own common sense, because the hypnotic abuser has them second and third guessing every thought they have or decision they want to make. Like a cult member, the abuser’s victim will surrender his or her will in favor of the abuser’s will. Loved ones will soon find themselves on the outside, anxiously looking in. Meanwhile, the abuser distracts the victim with more stress and doubts, using threats, trickery, and doublespeak to maintain control.
When the hypnotic effect ends…
A few days after my college friends and I left the stage hypnotist’s show, I ran into one of the guys who had been the stage hypnotist’s guinea pig. This guy’s antics while under the hypnotist’s spell had been particularly funny, especially when the hypnotist had asked him to dance with reckless abandon. He did so with gusto, making everyone laugh. At the time, it never occurred to me that this guy might be offended when I told him how much I had enjoyed the show. But when I went up to him and complimented him on his dance performance, the guy reacted with shame and anger; clearly he was very embarrassed about what the hypnotist had managed to get him to do.
Though abusive people would probably like to maintain their controlling relationships for as long as possible, often the time comes when the victim “snaps out of it”, much like the stage hypnotist’s volunteers eventually do. However, instead of feeling refreshed but slightly confused, a victim of abuse often feels foolish, hurt, and very confused. As he or she gets distance from the abuser, the bewilderment starts to fade as the reality of what’s happened starts to become clearer. The victim often ends up, at the very least, feeling very angry and humiliated. Oftentimes, the aftereffects of an abusive relationship can be much worse than just a little anger and embarrassment.
Years later after that stage hypnotist’s show and my acquaintances reaction to it, I realize that people who are taken in by an abuser often have similar feelings of shame and anger. It’s generally not a nice feeling to know you’ve been manipulated, even if it is part of a harmless stage hypnotist’s comedy show.
Avoid falling under the hypnotic spell of an abuser…
A real hypnotist can be helpful to you if you want to stop an undesirable habit or change your lifestyle. However, abusive people can use subtle hypnotic tactics to get you to do what they want. I find the best way to avoid an abuser’s spell is to be a skeptic and maintain critical thinking skills. Take the time to get to know someone and don’t be afraid to use the word “no”, especially if you’re under an unusual amount of stress in your daily life. If someone suddenly comes into your life and sweeps you off your feet, proceed with caution. People who approach you as if they are on stage really are often performing instead of being real.
Always keep your friends and loved ones close to you. If someone new comes into your life and starts demanding that you spend more time with him or her and less time with the people you’ve always trusted, that’s a red flag. Abusers isolate their victims because they don’t want them to be distracted. They see anyone else who has an opinion that differs from theirs as a threat. If you start to recognize this pattern in a new love interest, try comparing notes with your friends and loved ones. You may find out that he or she has been talking to them, too. Talking to others is a great way to avoid falling into a manipulator’s abusive trap.
If you recognize yourself in my words today, you might want to take the first step in deciding whether or not you’re in an abusive relationship. Talk to a trusted friend, speak to a professional counselor, or at the very least, take a look at a checklist describing the signs of an abusive relationship. Remember, if you’re with someone who abuses you, you can “snap out of it” and take steps to reclaiming control of your life.