This is how brainwashing works.

There’s one aspect of indoctrination that people commonly understand, and one aspect that they mostly miss. The first aspect is repetition and relentlessness. The person or institution doing the brainwashing makes sure that you hear their central messages over and over and over again, every day or even every hour (repetition), while also working hard to keep you from ever hearing alternate viewpoints (relentlessness), especially ones that might support or confirm your independent thinking,  your sense of what’s real.

But the second aspect, just as central to how brainwashing works, is mistreatment. When someone is being indoctrinated, they’re not just subjected to constant lies, they also get traumatized, typically through tactics such as deprivation of food, water, sleep, and movement, brutal verbal abuse, scary threats to self or loved ones, and physical or sexual assault. This trauma tears down our defenses and makes us much more vulnerable to the lies; without the trauma, we would mostly see through the lies and reject them.

Survivors of abuse sometimes get criticized for having believed the lies told by a cruel parent or partner; judgmental people may say, for example, “Why would you believe someone who was so abusive to you?” At times this is also a voice inside the abuse survivor’s own head.

But it’s precisely because of the abuse that the lies get so powerful and so successful. If the abusive person weren’t messing so badly with your emotions, you’d notice that they were messing with your mind, and you’d be able to keep your clarity. Try to stop blaming yourself for having believed.

Thoughts from the 2nd Peak Living Network Training

Thoughts from the 2nd Peak Living Network Training

Fourteen people gathered at a lovely retreat center outside of Edmonton, Alberta for the weekend of November 15-17, nine Canadians and five Americans. We did “Co-Counseling and Community Building, Level 1,” the same training that I gave to 30 people in NY state in August.

This training had a key difference from the last one, which was that roughly half the participants were from the local area, and they had various connections to each other prior to the weekend. They had already started building a support network and were eager to bring PLN skills and principles into their approach to supporting each other. These folks will have the luxury of not having to go home and build a local PLN network from scratch; they already have their core group and now they’ve all had two full days of intensive training.

The training participants were such a lovely group of women; caring, outspoken, sticking up for each other, fiery, fighting for their kids, big hearts, willing to take risks. I am carrying these awesome people around inside me and feeling buoyed by them in the days that have passed since the training.

I want to share some specific thoughts I have as I reflect back on the weekend:

*   I’d like to see everybody in the Peak Living Network make a list of all the things you can think of that the world needs that you have to offer. Some things on the list might be skills or knowledge you could share, and others might be personal qualities you have that the rest of us could benefit from.

When you first start making the list you may have trouble coming up with ideas; most of us have been invalidated a lot over the course of our lives, so we underestimate what our abilities and positive qualities are. You might also run into a message in your head telling you not to say (or even think) positive things about yourself because that would be conceited. Try to push past those injuries and those negative voices and start building a list.

I explained at the training that it’s false to think of some people as “the leader type” and other people as “not the leader type.” Everyone has important leadership to share in some aspect of life, and one of the missions of PLN is to help everyone develop their leadership skills.

*   Learning to co-counsel is challenging, not because it involves any hard-to-attain skills but because it requires breaking a number of long-standing habits. The hardest parts seem to be: 1) Breaking the habit of switching the subject back to ourselves when it’s the other person’s turn, and 2) Breaking the habit of making reference to things the person said during their counseling turn after their turn is over. We’ll need to find ways to frequently remind ourselves and each other of these principles.

As happened at the August training, several people commented that they were already starting to feel the power of co-counseling. This is all the more reason to do it with commitment and discipline, because its power depends on those things.

*      People are reporting that they get messages in life, from a number of different directions, that say that it’s unrealistic to expect or hope for very much healing. Society seems to be rife with the outlook that things inside of us can only improve a little, and even that can only happen with a tremendous amount of hard work. Some people reported getting this message even from their therapists. So we need to put our passion into this movement and help people believe – and experience – what a huge healing potential we all have.

Photos from Unsplash, top to bottom:
Jens Johnsson, Greg Raines, Maxime Bhm


Successfully Healing Anger

Successfully Healing Anger

Today I’m offering a collection of strategies for successfully releasing anger. Anger, and more specifically how to work through it, is one three or four topics that I receive the most questions about. So I know that many people struggle with carrying a lot of anger and rage around inside them and don’t know how to relieve it.

Two key opening points about anger release:

1) The release needs to be quite physical in order to work.

2) You need to be feeling powerful while you release it, or at least not completely powerless, or the anger won’t get out.

With respect to my second point above, many people spend hours screaming and yelling without feeling any relief from their anger, and that’s because they are feeling too isolated and too powerless while they’re doing it.

There can also be one other reason why they aren’t getting relief:  because they’re screaming and yelling at actual people, instead of working on releasing their anger. Running your anger at other people — which may be necessary sometimes in order to stand up for yourself — won’t ever relieve it. I’m not entirely sure why this is true, but it’s easy to observe in practice. For anger to successfully get out, you have to release it alone or, even better, with a support person accompanying and encouraging you.


As always when you’re trying to work through deep emotions, I recommend working with a partner if possible. You may be able to release anger successfully alone if you are feeling generally well-supported in your life in the current period. In other words, if you can picture a specific person being with you, someone whom you feel close to and whom you trust, that may work well enough if they can’t be with you in person at the moment. Having someone with you on the phone is another good option to pursue rather than being alone.

Here are some ways to help yourself feel powerful so that you can release anger:

1)  Stand up tall, take a powerful stance (feet at least shoulder width apart), hold your head high but your chin in, which radiates the most confidence.

2)  Use a voice that is strong and powerful, not screechy or whiny. Try to sound like someone who is giving orders, not someone who is pleading or begging.

3)  Stomp on a pillow or cushion, or pound cushions on a couch or bed. Another great device is a plastic baseball bat that you can hit things with (without harming anything). Speak loudly and forcefully while you pound, but don’t yell your loudest or scream — not because there’s anything wrong with doing so, but because ironically doing so tends to make us feel less powerful, not more so.

4)  If you are working with a co-counseling partner, take frequent quick breaks to make eye contact with your counselor and take in the fact that s/he is there. Keep absorbing the person’s support and caring.

5)  Ask for reassurance periodically if you need it. When we’re releasing anger, we often feel ashamed or embarrassed about doing so, or feel that it looks kind of ugly. These barriers can be even greater for women than for men, so keep checking in with your co-counselor to see that s/he is still approving of you and accompanying you.

6)  Imagine that the person you’re enraged at is present in the room, and direct your anger at that image. (It might be multiple people.)

You might also try spewing your anger at your co-counselor as if s/he was the person you’re angry at, rather than directing it toward an imaginary person in the room. I don’t recommend, however, having your co-counselor actually play the role of that person, which can rapidly become overwhelming for you (because then there’s no one in the room being your safe person). So it’s fine to have your counselor be a stand-in for someone else, but s/he should still continue to act like herself, smiling at you and encouraging you as you blast out your rage.

7)  Keep the words simple, and say them over and over again with great force. This technique tends to work much better for releasing anger than giving a speech about all the things you’re angry about. Choose one or two short phrases (perhaps things like “Get away from me!” or “Don’t even think you can get away with that!” or “F*** you!”) to use repeatedly.

8)  It often works best to use a phrase that goes against what actually happened; for example, you might try yelling “You can’t get away with this!” at someone who actually did get away with what they did to you at the time. This contradictory-seeming approach will tend to release anger more successfully, as it will help you feel more powerful in the present. Try it.

9)  Follow on into other feelings that come up. When anger is successfully getting out, it will commonly lead to moments of crying or laughing, or even of cycling between laughing, crying, and angry storming.

10)  Take pride in your outrage. You are right to feel enraged and bitter in the face of the injustices you’ve experienced. You of course need relief from your anger because it’s eating you up inside, but that doesn’t mean there’s anything wrong with you for how angry you are; anger is only an unhealthy reaction when it’s used by violent or abusive people to frighten or control others. This tends to be especially important for women, who’ve been societally conditioned to feel that their anger is ugly.

11)  If you are doing this work by yourself, keep giving yourself encouragement (“Go for it! Don’t hold back! Fight hard!”) just the way a co-counselor would do for you. And keep picturing your close people — whoever they are at this point in your life — and imagine that they’re present with you and rooting for you.

12) As always when doing deep emotional work, take plenty of time at the end to bring yourself out of the painful feelings into positive awareness and into looking forward to the rest of your day, ideally doing so with the support of a co-counseling partner.

One final point: Some people — and this is particularly common with men but is also sometimes true of women — don’t really need to be discharging anger at all, at least for the time being. For those people, the anger they’re feeling day to day is primarily a layer of deep frustration, which is different from true anger, and tends most commonly to be cover for unshed tears. These people need to focus much more on getting their laughing and crying channels opened up and then spend a lot of time working on those kinds of feelings. This is why it’s important to follow your feelings wherever they take you, and don’t try to control the process.

(* I put a shorter version of this post up on the PLN blog as well. *)

Photo credits from the top:

Photo by Etty Fidele on Unsplash

Photo by Egor Barmin on Unsplash

Photo by Alex Iby on Unsplash

Black and White Teachings Interfere with Healing

Black and White Teachings Interfere with Healing

      The most popular and visible approaches to emotional recovery — the philosophies typically promoted in commercial self-help and personal growth books and websites — are making numerous errors. One of the most common and problematic mistakes is their tendency to spread rigid, inflexible thinking. They claim that these rigidities will free us, but in fact what we’re trying to liberate ourselves from is rigidity itself. Emotional wounds cause us to become inflexible — in our bodies, in our emotions, and in our thinking — and emotional healing helps us to regain our suppleness in all three of those areas.

    Here are some examples of the false dichotomies we get taught:


you “focus on the positive” and “stop allowing your distress to have any power”


you spend time feeling your emotions and processing them (which, according to many philosophies, means that we’ll sink into self-pity, wallow in our painful emotions, and spend our lives in pointless ruminating)


you find other people to love you


you learn to love yourself (which, they seem to be saying, means that you stop needing love from anyone else)


you accept the world as it is


you don’t accept it, so you try to change it (and the message here seems to be that if you don’t accept the world as it is, you’ll live constantly unhappy about the state that it’s in)


you look to people to rescue you


you take charge of your own life (which apparently means you stop needing anyone’s help)

    These are all false choices; you don’t actually have to select between the two things in each of the examples above. In fact, the effort to make these rigid choices slows our healing rather than speeding it up.

      Why? Because we need all of these elements in our lives. Successful emotional healing only comes if we attend to them all.

     What does this mean in practice? It means that some days we need to be tough, and other days we need to recognize that it’s a bad day to fight and just let ourselves fall apart. (Yes, we need times of melting down.) Some days we’re all we need, and other days we really need support, companionship, and encouragement. Some days we need to live with the world as it is and let the rest go, and other days we need to be right up in the world’s face, demanding justice and demanding change. Some days we need to be taking care of other people, and some days we need them to take care of us — including times when we could really use a rescue, thank you very much.

    Yes, it’s a dead end to stumble through life constantly looking to other people to rescue us. But it’s equally a dead end to decide we’re not going to rely on anyone, or to pretend that we’re never desperate.

   Vibrant health and healing come from learning to move and shift, some weeks going one way and some weeks going the other, challenging ourselves to grow in one direction today and in a different direction tomorrow. This spring may be my time to kick some asses and this summer may be my time to curl up in a ball while a loved one strokes my head.

      Rigid thinking has to be left behind and replaced with flexibility. Emotional healing helps us to regain smooth and comfortable — yet solid — motion in our bodies, our emotions, and our thinking. And that flexibility in turn helps us go toward further and deeper healing.


Lundy’s new book is  The Joyous Recovery: A New Approach to Emotional Healing and Wellness.

Establishing and Maintaining Boundaries

Establishing and Maintaining Boundaries

This is a brief introduction to key points about boundaries. If, after you read this, you find that you would like more detail, and some great worksheets to guide you in establishing stronger — yet still flexible — personal boundaries, I recommend the terrific materials you can find at the boundary section of the Positive Psychology website.


1)  You have to the right to decide who touches you in any way. For people you choose to allow to touch you, you have the right to determine what level of intimacy they touch you with. This is an inalienable right; you can’t lose it. So no one has the right to say, “Well, I get to go ahead and touch you because of something you did or said, or because you owe me money, or because I’m angry at you, or because you owe me something emotionally.” You can never owe anyone your body.

2)  You have a similar and equally powerful right to decide who enters other realms that are private to you; who knows your inner thoughts and feelings, who reads your diary, who looks through your belongings, who is in your house or car or bedroom. In other words, someone doesn’t have to touch you to violate your boundaries. Demanding to know what you think or feel when you don’t want to share that, or telling you what you (supposedly) think or feel, are violations of your boundaries.

3) Children whose boundaries are respected, and who are supported to set the boundaries they want and need, learn to establish the boundaries they crave and to know when they’re being violated.

4) On the other hand, people who have grown up having their boundaries frequently or severely violated can lose their sense of where there boundaries are and where they want them to be. They can develop difficulty recognizing when their boundaries have been violated. They may blame themselves when they feel violated by others. They may start to feel a generalized mistrust toward everyone and, for example, may come to dislike being touched even by trusted people.

These effects can become even more severe for people who not only grew up with boundary violations, but were blamed for those violations (“It’s your own fault I’m invading you”) or who had to listen to those violations being justified (“This shouldn’t bother you, there’s nothing wrong with what I’m doing to you”).

5)  Boundaries are like a gate to our inner world. When we have strong, healthy boundaries, we feel in control of who comes close to us and who doesn’t. We feel like our gate is working well to let the right people in and keep everyone else out. When we have unclear boundaries or feel that we don’t have the right to defend our boundaries, the gate doesn’t work well; we end up having people coming into our inner world that we don’t want there. And we may also end up shutting certain people out that we later wish we had made more room for or had let in closer.

6)  It isn’t healthful for us to allow intimacy, physically or emotionally, that we don’t really want. At the same time, it isn’t healthful for us to keep intimacy away that we would have benefited from. However, no one has the right to tell us which intimacy would be good for us, or to pressure to accept intimacy we don’t want. It’s entirely up to us to decide when and how we want to make that gate open more, if that’s one of our goals.

7)  Healing well depends on safety. Therefore it’s very important in the Peak Living Network that we respect each other’s boundaries, and that no pressure ever be used on anyone to open up more than they choose to. Awareness and knowledge about boundaries needs to be shared and spread through our network.

8)  If you feel that your boundaries have been violated during a co-counseling session, don’t split time with that person again until you’re fully confident that the violation will not be repeated. If you believe that the violation was deliberate, please tell what happened to at least one other trusted person in the network, and consider together how best to confront the behavior. If you feel that your boundaries have been violated in any other PLN activity, the same principles apply.

9)  If anyone you meet at a PLN event, or with whom you meet to co-counsel, asks you to get together socially, whether the intention is romantic or not, that is inappropriate during at least the first few months they have known you and been interacting with you in the network. PLN is not to be used to seek partners; we are not a dating club. Anyone who is repeatedly approaching other people in the network for social contact or for dates should be asked to leave the network.

10) People who were already friends before becoming part of PLN are of course welcome to continue their social connection, and the same goes for romantic partners. People who come to know each other through PLN and decide mutually that they would like to have a friendship or become dating partners should consider doing so only after they have worked together within the network for several months and have had a substantial connection over that time. We have to ask people to respect this guideline so that we can trust that everyone in PLN is participating in the network to pursue their own healing and not for other purposes.


In The Healing Partnership you can find a longer discussion of why maintaining good boundaries is important to the healthful functioning of the Peak Living Network.


One point I wish to reiterate:  You do not, under any circumstances, owe your body or other aspects of your privacy to anyone for any reason. Anyone who tries to convince you that you owe them intimacy or access, or who tries to convince you that intimacy with them will help your healing, is behaving exploitatively. Get distance between yourself and that person as quickly as you can, and don’t keep a secret about what the person said or did; find at least one trusted person that you can talk to about what happened, and consider whether you should take further action, including telling other people.


Written by Lundy Bancroft