Tracing back to medieval times and beyond, evil and twisted minds have thought up a range of psychological torture methods that will make even the strongest men and women break. Many of these techniques continue to be used today, especially by secret government agencies.
The term psychological torture uses non-physical methods, meaning it does not hurt, maim, or even touch the body. Rather, psychological torture refers to techniques that deeply penetrate and traumatize the human mind and psyche.
Many of these torture techniques are popularized in films or crime shows. The most recognizable forms of torture are sleep deprivation, sensory deprivation, being subject to long periods of interrogation, and Chinese water torture.
Although not all psychological torture has physical violence involved, the two can still intertwine. The effects of the fear and pain induced by physical torture often result in long-term psychological damage. As well as this, there are many forms of psychological torture that involve some type of pain or coercion.
Scroll down this list to see the 15 craziest forms of psychological torture known to man. Each of these have been proven throughout history to be effective techniques for inflicting terror on a continuously weakened mind.
Blackmailing is considered a form of psychological torture. It can be used to coerce, or force another person to act in an involuntary manner due to the intimidation and threats being made against them.
The Merriam-Webster dictionary defines blackmail as a crime of threatening to tell secret information about someone unless the person being threatened gives the blackmailer what they want. This is usually in the form of money, but in some cases, like relationships, it can be used as psychological torture to coerce a partner to stay with someone.
A law in England was made in 2015 after a man used emotional blackmail to torture the mother of his child. A middle-aged man from Manchester threatened to commit suicide and threatened his girlfriend because he feared she would leave him.
He also monitored her social media pages and controlled who she was friends with and spent time with. He was arrested for “coercive and controlling” behavior and was subsequently jailed for 15 months.
14. Long Periods Of Interrogation
Interrogators often rely on psychological methods to get what they want out of the people they are questioning. Psychological methods are specifically used on detainees with the goal of making people talk. The use of psychological ploys is not necessarily legitimate, but it is often condoned by authorities.
There has been a lot of controversy over the years in determining which methods of interrogation are legal and which would be categorized as cruel and inhumane treatment.
The International Committee Of The Red Cross (ICRC) published a document regarding psychological torture, which says that torture during interrogation includes methods that do not physically assault the body or cause actual physical pain. Psychological methods used during interrogations are often those that cause a disturbance of the person’s senses or personality.
It is often seen in police interrogations where the detainees are held for long periods of time while someone questions, accuses, and intimidates them. Police use many different methods to get their perpetrators to admit or confess to whatever crime they think they have committed.
13. Sleep Deprivation
The U.S. Senate Select Committee released a report in 2014 on Intelligence focused on the CIA’s detention and interrogation program following the terrorist attacks on 9/11. Published in those reports, was the use of “enhanced interrogation techniques”—sleep deprivation being one of the most popular.
In order to practice sleep deprivation torture on a human, they must be kept away for up to 180 hours. During this time, people are often standing or put in uncomfortable positions.
People who are sleep deprived often suffer from troubling hallucinations. Sleep deprivation is a debilitating form of psychological torture because it attacks the deep biological functions.
The core of a person’s mental and physical health is dependent on them getting the proper amount of sleep. Without it, it can be far more damaging and painful than any physical torture if pushed to the extremes.
The first signs of sleep deprivation include feelings of fatigue, irritability, and difficulties concentrating. However, that is nothing compared to the problems of reading and speaking clearly, poor judgment, lower body temperature, and an increase in appetite that victims often suffer the further their torturers push them.
Gas-lighting is another form of psychological abuse where a victim is manipulated into doubting their own memories, perceptions, and sanity. This can be anything from an abuser denying previous abuse incidents to an abuser staging bizarre and traumatizing events with the intention of disorienting the person.
The term gas-lighting comes from the 1938 play, Gas Light. It has been used in clinical and research literature.
Gas-lighting often leads to a person not being able to trust their immediate sense of their feelings and surroundings.
Sociopaths and narcissists love using gas-lighting tactics, whether they are fully aware of what they are doing or not. Sociopaths will often transgress social norms, break laws, and exploit others, but they will seem charming and convincing the entire time. These people will consistently deny their wrongdoing, even to the point where others are victimized by sociopaths who make them doubt their own perceptions.
11. Solitary Confinement
Solitary confinement has been a form of psychological torture used for centuries. It is known for bringing on madness and is still used today in most prisons.
Real terror arises for a person once they realize they are alone, spending days, weeks, or months by themselves in a room with nothing to do. Lack of human contact has been shown over and over again to bring on depression and anxiety in previously well-adjusted individuals.
Prisoners left in solitary confinement often begin talking to themselves to combat their inevitable loneliness. Although there are often many prisoners at a time in solitary confinement, they are nowhere near one another. Solitary confinement can bring forth physical and mental anguish in someone who didn’t even know such extremes existed.
Solitary confinement implicated in prisons today is considered by many, to be an important civil rights issue. Solitary confinement also disproportionally affects people of color. Despite the evidence, states are not required to keep statistics of who is held in these segregated facilities or what race those people are.
10. White Torture
White torture is a form of psychological torture that includes sensory deprivation and isolation.
White torture is often used in Middle Eastern countries, like Iran, where it is practiced on political prisoners. Sensory deprivation is allegedly the CIA’s “favorite” torture technique. This type of psychological torture involves removing stimuli from the five senses- light, sound, smell, touch, and taste.
Sensory deprivation is considered a first level of torture used to induce confessions and retrieve information from suspected terrorists. Simple devices like blindfolds, hoods, or earmuffs are often used to cut off sight and hearing. More complex devices exist to further cease the senses of smell, touch, and taste; even heat-sense (thermoception) and sense of gravity can be simulated to deprive someone.
Deprivation of light and sound, especially, can have drastic effects on a human’s well-being. Victims of sensory deprivation have cited hallucinations, heightened sense of smell, and even the sense of an evil presence in the room as a result of such torture.
9. No-Touch Torture
No-touch torture is a method of psychological torture rumored to have been used in the United States in the past. The U.S. government denies, to this day, any claims that they have implicated this type of torture on people.
The technologies used during no-touch torture are still classified as state secrets. The torture method had been leaked by American citizens who have survived the no-touch torture program.
The assumption is that no-touch torture was used for revenge, punishment, interrogation, and behavior modification. However, this form of torture has shown to be unreliable and often induces false confessions from victims.
Some of the forms of no-touch torture can include the induction of a depressive or manic state, memory erasure, electricity and shocks, fear and terror, dietary manipulation or forced sickness, sexually disturbing tailored pornography, personal and spiritual defamation, and psychological intimidation.
Such torture methods can take days or months to build up to their full capacity. Pain and fear of death are common tactics to use among interrogations, but it is often unseen pain and fear that will cause the most damage.
8. Threat Of Permanent, Severe Disfigurement
Threatening someone with the alleged intention of permanently and severely disfiguring them is a form of psychological torture. Physical disfigurement does not even necessarily have to occur; the severity of the threat alone can be quite detrimental to a human’s psyche.
The threat that another person can also apply to the administration or application of mind-altering substances or other procedures that are intended to disrupt the senses or personality.
The constant threat of physical torture can have long-term permanent or prolonged mental harm. Often with this type of torture, the violence is incremental by nature and injuries are not visible, which causes the victims to downplay its traumatic effects.
Public shaming is a unique type of manipulation and psychological torture. For instance, if a person is photographed naked without knowledge, and then those photos are passed around in a public forum, where people gawk and stare and their naked body— it is a form of shaming.
This happens quite frequently in the form of cyberbullying with teenagers in school. Teens often send nude photos to one another, thinking that it will never be seen, and then that person shows the entire class. These people often become outcasts in the community. A lot of the time, victims end up leaving the area or living with a great amount of shame and sorrow.
Back in primitive tribal regions, the public shaming that would be cast upon a deserving member may also extend to immediate family members as well. Meaning, they will suffer the consequences of the victim just because they are related.
6. Chinese Water Torture
Chinese water torture is one of the most familiar forms of torture. This type of psychological torture is carried out with single drops of water that fall repeatedly onto the head of a constrained individual.
Although the water is physically touching the person, this is still considered a psychological torture method because the drops do not physically harm the person. Instead, the constant drops of water become a relentless force, which causes the mind to wander, inducing a great amount of mental agony.
This form of torture is credited to Hippolytus de Marsiliis in Italy in the 15th or 16th century. He originally had been observing how drops of water falling one by one on a stone eventually created a hollow in the rock. He then applied this method to the human body, because, why not?
5. Music Torture
Music is often thought often thought as a form of entertainment, but did you know that it is also used as a form of torture?
The term music torture is used to describe the practice of playing loud music incessantly to people being held captive. Currently, both the European Court of Human Rights and United Nations have banned the use of loud music during interrogations.
Music at such extremely loud volumes creates a vibration which travels deep within a person’s bones and violates their well-being. Music torture has been used in totalitarian regimes throughout the 20th century and in a variety of other contexts from the middle ages until now.
A lot of the music in our culture is considered extremely offensive in others. Detainees are also often deprived of sleep while being forced to listen to such music.
Fun Fact: The most popular songs used by the CIA to torture are Eminem’s “The Real Slim Shady,” “Take Your Best Shot” by Dope, “Dirrty” by Christina Aguilera, and “Babylon” by David Gray (for the biblical connotations in the title).
4. Environmental Manipulation
Environmental manipulation creates a psychologically coercive environment for the detainee by forcing them to adapt to a series of small, seemingly invisible steps. Each step is sufficiently small enough that the subject does not notice the changes or identify the coercive nature until much later on, if ever at all. These torture tactics can be implemented in a group setting. Victims often are deceived by perceived friends and allies.
Environmental manipulation causes emotional distress and impacts cognitive processes, values, ideas, attitudes, conduct, and ability to reason or make decisions. Changing a person’s environment can also refer to the sudden rejection of their information or opinions, setting permissible topics to discuss, and having strict control over their communication.
The manipulation of a person’s environment without their control creates a sense of powerlessness by subjecting the person to intense and confusing actions which are intense and often conflict each other. You can understand why this constant form of torture is likely to create anxiety.
3. Stress Positions
Stress positions are often known as submission positions. Stress positions place the human body in a way that places a great amount of weight on one or two muscles of the body. For instance, a prisoner may be subject to stand on the balls of his feet or squat so that their thighs are parallel to the ground.
This form of torture creates a disproportionate amount of stress causing discomfort at first and eventually leads to intense, long-term pain.
Stress positions were often implemented at Guantanamo. Detainees were subject to “short-chaining,” which is when they are restrained in uncomfortable positions where a seated detainee cannot sit up straight and a standing detainee cannot quite stand up straight.
This technique of torture is referred to as an “enhanced interrogation technique” that political officials have justified in the past as necessary by means of safety and security.
Other positions include something called a “strappado,” which places an extreme amount of stress on the shoulders, causing an unbearable amount of pain, sometimes leading to dislocation and nerve and ligament damage.
2. Pharmacological Torture
Pharmacological torture is the use of psychotropic or other drugs to punish or extract information from a detained individual. The goal of pharmacological torture is to force compliance by causing distress in the form of mental pain, anxiety, psychological disturbance, immobilization, or disorientation.
A popular form of pharmacological torture used in the Middle East was to forcibly inject a person with addictive drugs in order to induce physical dependence. After an addiction is established, the drug is then withdrawn and then officials will begin the interrogation process. If the individual chooses to comply with the torturer’s demands, the drug is then given back to them. If the person decides to fight back or keep quiet, the withdrawal torture will continue.
In Brazil, various forms of pharmacological torture were used in the seventies, including the injection of alcohol into the tongue and scrotum. They also injected prisoners with drugs to induce seizures. The use of muscle relaxants was also reported to minimize physical injury when giving victims electric shocks.
1. Exploitation Of Phobias
The exploitation of phobias is often used by torturers who know their victims or are able to make the detainee reveal their fears. Torturers will devise specific situations that are specifically horrific for that individual and are designed to play on certain phobias.
People who are afraid of snakes, for example, might be placed in a room filled with snakes and no way out. Maybe spiders are what gets ya? How about being confined, unable to move, with a dozen hairy tarantulas crawling over your body?
Rather than deal with the traumatic fear which is right before them, individuals often mentally shut down and their heads fall into a daze. Phobias upon which torturers can prey upon include anything from the fear of heights to the sight of blood.
This method was another favorite of the CIA and was used often at Guantanamo Bay and eventually spread to U.S. detention facilities in Afghanistan and Iraq.
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