Abusive Relationships and Variable Reinforcement

Why is it so hard to stop a cult? The same reason it’s hard for people to exit abusive relationships. And … the same reason we find it so hard to stop bullying.

Depressed Businessman Sitting At Outdoors” by stockimages

The BBC ran an article about the trials around a cult known as Nxivm. Link below. Basically – it was like any other cult – there was – acceptable outward appearances to recruit people in, and then increasing levels of abuse as people were drawn in.


This is about cults – their definite attributes – which include quite a bit of psychological abuse.

In my opinion – the psychological abuse of a person for the benefit of the perpetrator. – should be illegal. It only is illegal in a few places.

The reason it should be illegal is because – victims will almost always claim that they are there willingly. This phenomenon occurs in all abusive relationships and is a byproduct of the variable reinforcement that is at the heart of all abusive relationships.

Basically – the abuser alternates between positive love and anger, abuse and stress. This is the definition of variable. The variable nature of responses the victim is getting IS the brainwashing part of this. It’s an incredibly powerful way to bind someone to a group.

We know from 7 plus decades of behavioral research that variable reinforcement – STRENGTHENS behavior. It’s why people in abusive relationships don’t want to leave and claim they are there willingly.

The reality is – they are being manipulated through abusive behavioral conditioning. They are not actually in an intellectually independent position to even know whether what they are experiencing is abusive or not. Again – if there is such a thing as brainwashing, this is it.

We need to start teaching people abusive relationship self defense – and help them understand – the positive/negative cycle they are experiencing IS the abuse and there is a reason they are intellectually torn between staying and going but can’t seem to go.

And our laws – should outlaw it and it should not require the victim to be a witness against their abuser to prove it because – in most cases – they aren’t cognitively fit enough to be witnesses.

If you want to learn more about how bullying and abusive behaviors condition people and how to make it stop – join the website and take one of my online courses. And definitely get my book