Writing a Deconditioning Whumpee Part One: Escaping
tw for discussions of cults, abuse, brainwashing/conditioning, death, and Faith-Crisis.
This is one of my favorite Whump Tropes, so I figured I might as well share my personal experiences with having to go through the deprogramming process after I escaped a Cult (I will not be giving its name or any specifics as I don’t want to attract it’s attention), and some of the things I’ve noticed that have been overlooked in a lot of the deprogramming whumps I’ve seen.
Deconditioning or Deprogramming is the act of reversing trained responses to certain stimuli, deconstructing harmful/incorrect beliefs, and reintegrating into society.
This can take many forms, such as Exposure Therapy, Discrediting the Whumper(s)’s authority, the building up of Self-esteem and expression, etc.
This is by no means an easy process, and it can take anywhere from months to years to gain a sense of normalcy.
So, without further ado, let’s dive in!
The first step to deprogramming is escaping the situation that has caused the conditioning.
This can often be a very long and dangerous process, depending on the situation. In some cases, someone (Caretaker?) may come and rescue your Whumpee, in others your Whumpee may need to escape themself.
There are many different factors to someone’s escape, and generally it’s never one cause, so feel free to make it as complex as you’d like!
There are many different ways that someone may escape, but here are the most common types.
Someone may come and physically remove them from the situation.
Pretty straightforward. This can be anything from rescuing them from an abusive partner/family member/friend, getting them out of a villain’s base, or taking them from a cult compound.
Generally, these types of situations will be highly dangerous and have most likely cause Whumpee physical harm at some point.
Keep in mind that a heavily conditioned Whumpee will likely resist being rescued, due to the fact that most people or groups who brainwash and condition usually instill a fear of outsiders and the outside world in general, and that they genuinely won’t notice anything is wrong with their situation because that’s what they know to be normal.
My experiences with this: I was not physically removed from the Cult I grew up in, but at one point when I was planning on how best to leave I considered asking my aunt to come and get me. This was ultimately vetoed, as I was able to convince my parents to leave also. (kind of)
Someone/something could be a whistleblower, causing them to question their beliefs and make them realise that they don’t deserve the abuse they’re getting.
It could be a book, a movie, a YouTube video, a stranger making a comment, or a whistleblower exposing a terrible side to the Whumper/group, but in this case it just needs to be something that shakes Whumpee’s beliefs hard enough that they start to fight their way out.
These situations will most likely be less physically dangerous, and more emotionally/psychologically damaging.
In the case of the Whumpee actually knowing the person who brings this about, it could be an ex-member of the group if they’re part of one, a concerned friend/relative/bystander, a whistleblower, or someone they know getting hurt or killed. (it can be by Whumper/the group or unrelated. In the case of cults or even religion, death or injury may cause people to lose their faith and leave)
As stated before, conditioning will lead Whumpee to be highly resistant to their newfound knowledge or understanding. This will lead them to Cognitive Dissonance, a Faith Crisis, extreme emotional duress, etc. Remember, if the Whumper/group has done their job correctly, Whumpee won’t want to leave.
My experiences with this: While I was in a high-control Cult, it did not put a ban on the internet for some reason. This is how I found a Ted-Ed video about cults and how they function, and that, along with the discoveries made by a whistleblower, lead me to have a Faith-Crisis and eventually escape.
Whumpee may be forcefully pushed away by the Whumper/group.
Be it disownment or being dumped, excommunication or disfellowship, or being left to die, somehow, Whumpee is left stranded without Whumper/the group. This can be a very shocking experience that will definitely violently change how they view Whumper/the group.
These types of situations can range anywhere from physically abusive to psychologically abusive.
While all types of escape will be traumatizing to your Whumpee, this one is often the worst.
Not only were they abandoned (And will often be left without many options), they will also have to go through something akin to a faith-crisis without someone to help them like they would have if they had been rescued (at first, at least), or without the gradual transition that usually comes from learning about the bad side of the group/Whumper from a whistleblower.
My experiences with this: My mom was forcefully excommunicated from the Cult after it’s local leaders discovered she was practicing something akin to Wicca. This happened mid-way through my faith-crisis and only solidified my growing doubts about the Cult.
So there you have it! This is by no means a complete list, but hopefully it should give you some insight on how to write this trope. This is the first part of a series of posts that I’m going to do, so stay tuned if you’re interested!