Note: To understand this article best you need to familiarise yourself with my: Understanding Mental Sickness.
My favourite psychologist, Dr Arthur Janov, recently wrote an interesting piece on "Conversion Experiences". I believe that conversion experiences, as described by Janov, give us a direct insight into the relationship between unconscious pain and beliefs.
A 'conversion experience' can happen when an individual is in a state where their defense system is breaking down completely [Meaning: they are struggling tremendously to contain severe repressed pain imprinted from their early childhood and infancy]. They are basically at a point so low that they're fighting a full disintegration into psychosis. When their 'conversion experience' happens, they may see an image of Jesus (or whatever) and will then be shown a new 'path' and a new way of being, usually with a religious association. They have an hallucinogenic experience which restructures their focus, and their entire defence system.
So what's really going on with these people? With confidence, I can say that their minds have simply defaulted into a more ruthless defensive structure, because the old defensive structure was just not cutting it. (Is it not co-incidental that people who go through these 'conversion experiences' do so at the most desperate points in their lives?). Subjectively this transfer feels like a conversion into some kind of 'higher state'. But it is not an enlightenment, it is an hallucination. It is a psychotic event. The individual is driven further from reality - not closer to it.
But what's interesting is that conversion experiences work. And this, most importantly, shows us the tremendous power of beliefs to help repress pain.
So how exactly do beliefs repress pain?
We don't know exactly. But very rigidly held 'core' beliefs seem to facilitate a mental state where everything is "simplified". My best guess is that that 'simplicity' functions to stop the mind from wondering...that is, wondering into reflective territories that could trigger unconscious pain. Hence, the beliefs, in this way, would reinforce the secondary defense system (secondary defence system = the defence system that stops unconscious pain from being triggered).
Also, the new beliefs provide a new way for the 'converted' individual to see the world around them, and this in turn will serve to dissociate their minds from the real-life context linked to their (imprinted) pain. [Memories are always linked to context]. So, the new beliefs should basically facilitate a heightened form of escapism.
--Nothing spells-out the relationship between repressed pain and beliefs (or more specifically, the need to repress pain with beliefs) more transparently than conversion experiences.
Resistance to change:
With the conversion experience we can also see why certain people with rigidly held beliefs cannot change their minds, regardless of what information is presented to them. Imagine, for example, an individual who has previously gone through a conversion experience being (somehow) forced to realise that what they believed was nonsense. How would they react?..
You only have to remember why they formed their beliefs in the first place to know the answer to that. If they really could change their minds, then they would probably be thrown back to the very state that they were in just before they had their conversion experience - pre-psychosis. Hence, it's just not going to happen (and doesn't!).
The power of the beliefs will be proportional to the valence of the repressed pain that the beliefs are containing. If the individual does ultimately change their minds, then it will only be over a very, very long and delicate period of time - where they might switch from one defensive ideological structure to another.
Extreme brainwashing: A forced conversion experience?
I don't know much about the art of Orwell 1984-style brainwashing, but it looks a great deal like, basically, a forced conversion experience. The individuals defenses are weakened through incredible abuse and deprivation, and then from there they re-form their ideologies with the help of a psychopath.
So you can assume the individual is put into a state of pre-psychosis, and then from there has no choice but to embrace whatever defense they can to mentally escape the agony...and ultimately any belief structure will do, so long as the mind can escape into it and likewise away from the pain.
The conversion experience is dramatic, and it illuminates the from-A-to-B path towards embracing beliefs for defensive purposes.
But does such a dramatic path need to be taken, to employ beliefs into the service of blocking pain? I doubt it. People with massive unconscious pain can still simulate the end-product we see from conversion experiences, without going through the pre-psychotic phase. (And they can get there with the help of others, or by themselves). And I think these people are what you would recognise as your normal run-of-the-mill Zealots.
And you can see why they are dangerous in politics. Their beliefs aren't just beliefs - they are entire psycho-emotional "religions" for them. And likewise, you must assume their ideas/positions to be immune to serious reason. If they have the power, then you're going to get their "vision" whether you like it or not. Their ideas are not open to reconsideration.
The drive of a Zealot:
The belief structure is one dynamic, but the drive behind the beliefs (that motivates the individual to enforce their ideals) is the other. That is the primary defence system - the compulsion.
Compulsions are the "converted" energy coming from repressed pain. The more the repressed pain, the greater the compulsion. Again, refer to my Understanding mental sickness. I can't give a simple explanation on this here.
Further on brainwashing:
It has long been my thinking that brainwashing is first an expression of the state of the individual, and not what others have done to that individual as such. I believe that if you can brainwash someone then that someone always was brainwashed. It's just that someone from the outside changed the ideological variables.
Take someone who has run away into a cult and "lost their minds". I would say their mind always was lost, it's just that the fact if it becomes obvious when they "mindlessly" internalise the ideation's of another [sub]culture. Our sanity shows not so much in what we believe, but our psychological relationship to what we believe.
So what's the difference between someone who can and can't be easily brainwashed? Pain! The more our ideologies are linked to our defences, and the more potent our defences are from the amount of pain they must contain, then the more rigidly we must stick to our ideologies/defences.
I made the point earlier that serious brainwashing begins with abuse. But the truth is, I believe, that all brainwashing begins with abuse. It's the powerful pains that occur within womb-life, birth and the first year or so of our lives in particular that must be avoided. This is the common "torture zone" that nearly all of us have to absorb, that in turn leads to ideology-escapism in our future.