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Brainwashing and hypnosis – are they the same thing? is a question I get thrown at me a lot.

Sure, both seem very similar on the surface. Both deal with the idea of making someone behave in a way they usually wouldn’t, or believe something they consciously don’t. But not only there is massive differences between the two, the idea of brainwashing as most people know it is actually more of a Hollywood myth than anything else.

Brainwashing suggests we can make people think things or act certain ways without that person’s consent. It is possible, yeah, but not without going to some extreme lengths! It all comes down to the person’s free will.
Let’s forget for a second how we see hypnosis portrayed in films and TV and let’s look at what it really is. When it comes to stage hypnosis, the volunteer has offered their participation in the craziness that will ensue on stage They want to be part of the show.

Sure, the volunteer might feel kind of embarrassed when he doesn’t remember dancing like a maniac but he’s not doing anything against his or her will. In fact, dancing was against their will they likely woulnd’t have gotten up and danced in the first place. The volunteer knows that nothing of harm is going to come to him in the long term besides his friends making fun of him for the next few weeks. Even if he doesn’t remember what’s happened, he knows it will all just be light hearted fun.

Brainwashing, on the other hand, is kind of a dirty word. People confuse it with hypnosis because there’s an obvious overlap in what both of them do, but brainwashing is a pretty harsh subject when compared to stage hypnosis.
First of all, brainwashing is the act of forcing someone to do as you say and to bend to your will. The volunteer hasn’t come along with an open mind, they’re just getting hammered at until their free will breaks down. Brainwashing won’t place someone into a calm, relaxed state under perfectly safe conditions. It cuts through the conscious mind with brute force until it reaches the subconscious.

Extreme cases of brainwashing usually occurs through physical and psychological torture or deprivation of some kind. Such as hunger or thirst.

In the past, brainwashing has been used for malicious reasons by the worst of the worst. It is completely different from stage hypnosis in every possible way. Brainwashing traumatizes the mind and body to the point that a person will accept any information as long as it gives them release! Believe me, these torturers aren’t attempting to gain compliance with yes sets or by saying “please.”

Such things as sleep deprivation can make a person believe whatever they have to believe in order to get what they need. Anyone who has ever had kids knows this feeling! When a baby is crying all night, a parent will do whatever it takes to make them quiet down. It’s sheer desperation. It’s the same with inflicting excessive pain on a person. All that person will want is for you to stop, and will therefore believe or do whatever their tormentor asks!

Because brainwashing inflicts trauma on the mind to weaken a person’s unconscious, hypnosis isn’t really a very good method to do this. Hypnosis, and stage hypnosis in particular, needs the total co-operation of a person for it to really shine. Brainwashing takes away a person’s control of their own ability to think, whereas stage hypnosis is a dance between two willing people, with no malicious intent whatsoever.

Despite what Hollywood might have you believe, there’s a world of difference between the two. Brainwashing is a tool to contort a person’s reality, whereas stage hypnosis heightens reality and makes it much more interesting.