SPEAKING TO BRAINWASHED: A STEP-BY-STEP GUIDE
How to speak about the war in Ukraine with the Kremlin propaganda victims
By Anna Solntseva, a psychologist. Translated by Simon Joseph. Introduction by Zarina Zabrisky
The Kremlin is waging a hybrid war. In addition to the full-scale aggression on the ground in Ukraine, troll factories are attacking the information space worldwide. Using the old Soviet combat propaganda textbooks and the KGB tricks adapted for the digital era, the propagandists sow confusion in order to create doubts in reality and weaken the international support for Ukraine. The Kremlin propaganda reaches not only the population of the Russian Federation. It is not uncommon to run into a Putin sympathizer in the West. Below are tips by a psychologist Anna Solntseva, slightly adapted to serve as a practical guide to “un-brainwash” the victims of Putin’s hybrid warfare — or other propaganda plots.
“NOT A MATERNITY HOSPITAL”
“Ukrainians are bombing themselves”, “that wasn’t a maternity hospital”, “pigeons used as bioweapons” and other Kremlin narratives parroted by your loved ones do not make any sense to you. You can’t believe your ears. Eventually, you realize that your loved ones are the victims of brainwashing.
WHAT TO DO?
There are two options:
- Break off the relationship.
- Break the hypnotic hold of propaganda. WARNING: it’s agonizingly difficult. It’s almost as hard as talking someone out of a cult. The only thing that can help is sensitivity, time, and certain rules described below.
THINGS TO REMEMBER
1. Never hit the brainwashed with logic. Never shame them. You need warm, emotional, non-verbal communication. If you are experiencing hatred during the conversation, your interlocuter will sense it on an unconscious level. If you can’t help it, hold off for now.
2. Understand that the brainwashed people have an equivalent of “a dark funnel” in their minds. Information that contradicts their beliefs is filtered and dumped straight into the funnel. The person presents like everyone else but the information isn’t processed rationally. Be patient. If you don’t have patience, hold off for now.
3. Brainwashed people are always convinced that they have thought of everything on their own.
If you don’t mind the above obstacles, here is a step-by-step guide to bringing your loved ones to the light.
1. Remember that though this person might be under hypnosis, he/she/they is someone close and important to you. Before starting a conversation, remind yourself how much this person means to you. (“But this is my Mom!”) This is important for creating an atmosphere of goodwill and hope in order to establish rapport.
2. Speak to the person often. Create the right mood. Speak calmly and choose neutral subjects. This is important for finding a dialogue, hearing, empathizing, and connecting with each other.
3. When engaged in conversation, try to breathe in sync with them. Exhale with the same intensity. Experts call this method tuning in. It prepares for the next step: leading. This method allows you to win over your interlocutor in a non-verbal way, create kinship and become “one of them”.
4. Try to get 5–6 “yes” answers to your questions. Questions could be about any subject, and not related to the war. Lead the person to common ground. This could be something completely banal: “I wish this would end soon”, “oh how I want to go home”, and “wish it would warm up soon.” The main goal is to reach a compromise.
5. Try a secret tactic: begin to “conspire” against a third party. This will help to create a sense of unity.
6. The final step: once you have covered all the previous points and you get some results, you can begin to introduce actual eyewitness stories. For example: “my friend writes from Lviv…” Stick to the facts. Avoid explanations. Simply introduce concrete facts, tell a story, then re-tell it, softly leading to a brief discussion.
7. Remember: you won’t be able to speak like two adults. Brainwashed people do not think rationally. Avoid pressuring them, using generalizations, or emphasizing details.
8. Tell these stories on a daily basis.
9. When the moment is right, express your point of view.
WHAT REACTION TO EXPECT?
If you lay the groundwork properly, the reaction will be a kind of calm sadness, defenses still up — but with a hint of understanding. There will be sighs and pauses: “I understand everything but it just can’t be, I just can’t believe it…” This is the crawling out of the darkness towards the light.
Your loved one will act like a recovering addict: mood swings and sudden leaps from acceptance to denial are common. There will be a few cycles, but each time it will get easier. Eventually, your loved one will arrive at some changes. It is crucial that they “do it on their own terms.”
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More information about the Kremlin propaganda: