Sunday, January 8, 2012

Another Example of Transformed Memory in Response to Psychological Stress and Interpersonal Pressure in a POW Camp: Understanding Doctrine Over Person, Part III

Robert J. Lifton was a physician who helped to care for the liberated US servicemen who were brainwashed while in Chinese prison camps during the Korean War. He determined that eight primary techniques were used against those prisoners, a fully-orbed process of thought reform with each technique representing a particular blend of logical fallacy that attacked a person's sense of self. The nature of the manipulation was surreptitious, and as the prisoners lost touch with their prior identities and the perspective of life outside the camps. As a consequence of the isolation and these pressures, they adopted new beliefs and false memories as a matter of survival.

In his landmark book, Thought Reform and the Psychology of Totalism, Lifton presents details concerning several individuals in a more informal case study format in order to help the reader understand the process that he saw emerge, over and over, in the soldiers and some other Westerners who were also captured and held at the camps. One of those individuals was a Catholic priest named Father Luca, someone Lifton uses to illustrate how delusions (reinterpreted belief about events and his own personal history) developed because of the intense psychological pressure and physical factors employed at the camp during the brainwashing process. (Today, we call this process thought reform, mind control, or spiritual abuse, and some prefer to call it undue influence because of its covert and surreptitious nature. In many respects, the terms are largely interchangable and speak to the same process, but some of the terms carry obviously more disturbing connotations.)

Please consider that lack of nutrition, heavy labor, physical beatings, corporal punishment in general, shaming messages, degrading conditions, and other types of abuse produce the environment which facilitates and enhances this process. Consider also the possible responses of the girls at Hephzibah House who were starved, beaten, verbally abused, mentally and physically tortured, and treated like human trash that was unworthy of any kind of consideration of human dignity because of their allegedly sinful status and “strange woman” identity. Consider that they were trapped and isolated from the outside world and were denied free communication with their families in a lockdown prison that exceeding conditions in many US government correctional facilities for convicted adult criminals.

The following excerpts from Lifton's book describe Father Luca's case (emphasis mine).

Chapter 4: Father Luca's False Confession, pp 45-6:
Father Luca's false visualizations (or illusions) varied in duration from a fleeting moment to a period of a few weeks or months, merging into a dream-like state in which 
"I was mixed up between real and imaginary things and persons. I was no longer able to distinguish what was real and what was imaginary. . . .

I had the notion that many things were imaginary, but I was not sure. I could not say, “This is real,” or “This is not real.”

This inability to distinguish the real from the unreal extended beyond his immediate confession material. Once, just after he had fainted,
"I had the idea that I was no longer in prison. I had been put in a small house outside the cathedral. People were going about outside – chiefly Christians. I heard voices and recognized some of them."
But this delusion was by no means completely removed from the confession, because in it he “came out into the garden” and saw two men, remembering the name of one of them but not of the other. . . The next day he questioned whether all of this had really happened, ans it had become to him half-dream, half-real.” He had two additional delusions which also contained fantasies of rescue, but were more elaborate and more lasting. . .

So convinced was he that this episode really occurred that one year later, during a special movement for the exposure of all “bad behavior,” he “confessed” to having coughed on this occasion to attract the attention of his fellow priest. It was only when he arrived in Hong Kong after his release, and was told that this other priest had never been arrested, that he gave up his belief in the incident. And the same was true of another rather similar episode. . .

The chapter goes on to explain more details about the specific experiences of Father Luca who demonstrated a typical manifestation of the Doctrine Over Person technique, that which systematically caused him to confabulate and believe in events that never took place. Both the physical conditions at the camp, the isolation from his life and self prior to imprisonment, and the intense program of thought reform at the camp (an attempt to change him into a supporter of the Communist effort in Korea) created the conditions which forced the prisoners into adapting as a means of survival. They changed their understanding and even their memories through dissociation, their way of coping with the abuse in order to survive.

Consider how similar this effect compares to the experiences of the Ingram Family, described in this previous post. And consider how the minimum required 15 months or more of incarceration at Hephzibah House might affect a young woman between the ages of 12 and 18, especially those girls who entered the home to escape abuse. 

 For a child born into the foster system and shuffled from abusive home to abusive home while being sexually abused, consider that such a child would have few internal resources or sense of personal strength and self to resist psychological and spiritual manipulation while subjected to beatings, insufficient nutrition, and degrading psychological treatment reported by so many former residents and staff members at Hephzibah House. 

 We who are raised with excellent or even adequate parenting take for granted that a child raised in an environment of abuse finds abuse to be the norm and accepts it without question. People also take for granted that severely abused children think the way that they do about things, when in fact, the abuse has deprived them of much ability and development. Think about this in terms of a child like Lucinda Pennington.

Read more about what Lifton had to say specifically about the technique of Doctrine Over Person in the next post.