Elizabeth Smart was not simply a victim of the “Stockholm syndrome,” which draws its name from a 1973 hostage situation related to a bank robbery in Sweden. At that time robbers held hostages for several days and their prisoners developed a seemingly strange affinity for their captors.

Instead, Smart who was abducted by force, controlled and isolated by her captor Brian Mitchell, also known as “David Emmanuel Isaiah,” was apparently “brainwashed.” And her father recently used that word to explain his daughter’s behavior.

More information emerged yesterday during news conferences and through various reports, which support that conclusion.

Brainwashing” is the word often used to describe a process more precisely called “thought reform.”

When initially questioned by police Elizabeth Smart identified herself as “Augustine” and seemingly attempted to frustrate the efforts of officers to help her.

Eventually Elizabeth broke down and admitted her real identity. But why did she not do so immediately? Police also said she spoke in a prosaic biblical language.

Other witnesses supposedly saw Smart at a “party” with her captor Mitchell and his wife Wanda Barzee. Elizabeth stood silently behind her captor submissively, robed in what some have called a “berka.”

Asked why the women wore these garments and were veiled Micthell reportedly said, “To protect them from the sins of the world.”

However, it appears the kidnapper actually wanted to hold Elizabeth within a “world” of his own creation.

Another witness said, “She didn’t seem like she was kidnapped. She acted like she was part of the family,” reports Associated Press.

One Salt Lake City resident told reporters he provided shelter for Mitchell, Barzee and Elizabeth for several days and that the girl never expressed fear, tried to escape, call police or sought his help.

How did Mitchell, a self-proclaimed “prophet” and supposed messenger of God change the 14-year-old Salt Lake City teenager into his willing follower?

Thought Reform, often called “brainwashing,” depends upon control of the environment. And certainly Mitchell controlled Elizabeth’s completely. He also isolated the teenager from her familiar support system of family, friends, school and church.

After gaining environmental control Mitchell then effectively could filter all information flowing to Elizabeth. She became dependent upon him to interpret everything, from her daily surroundings and situation to the bible and perhaps even the meaning of life.

The teenager then had no outside frame of reference or accurate feedback from others to oppose Mitchell’s growing influence.

Step-by-step this control led to the undue influence witnessed by those recently interviewed. Elizabeth gradually seemed to assume a cult identity, which may have included the new name “Augustine.”

What can the family do now?

Elizabeth Smart’s happy reunion with her family is proof that her authentic personality, developed through 14 years of nurturing within her home and community, is by far more powerful than whatever cult identity Mitchell may have imposed upon the girl.

Now the family instinctually seems to understand what Elizabeth needs immediately, which is unconditional love, acceptance and sense a safety.

Elizabeth’s father Ed Smart is now carefully avoiding any painful confrontation with his daughter about what happened during her nine months with Mitchell. He said, “What is going to come out is going to come out, I don’t have it in me to try and make this harder for her than it is.”

He acknowledged though that Elizabeth seems changed by her experience and sees her now as “a young woman.”

The Smarts will no doubt soon seek professional help to assist them in their daughter’s recovery process. This may include mental health professionals, their church and others familiar with the cult phenomenon.

Polygamists in Utah have made many Mormons in that state increasingly familiar with the kind of control and undue influence young girls suffer from in cult-like groups. Some teenagers in recent years have fled polygamy and their abusers were arrested and sent to prison.

Intense indoctrination, control and resulting unreasonable fears are apparent amongst the victims of polygamists, much like the “brainwashing” that may have overcome Elizabeth Smart.

Patricia Hearst spoke about her own kidnapping ordeal in 1974 on CNN News. She was abducted and later “brainwashed” by a political cult called the Symbionese Liberation Army.

Hearst said, “You’ve, in a way, given up, you’ve absorbed the new identity they’ve given you. You’re surviving — you’re not even doing that – you’re just living while everything else is going on around you.”

Steven Stayner was abducted at the age 7 by a sexual predator and held for several years. He explained, “When I disappeared, Steve Stayner died and Dennis Parnell was born — the name I went by — and then it’s kind of like going back again to switch from Dennis Parnell back to Steve Stayner again.”

Has “Augustine” switched back to Elizabeth Smart?

It seems so, but the girl who is now a “young woman” may take years to fully sort through and recover from her ordeal and it is unlikely that her life will ever really be the same again.


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