Ways to evaluate a group's control over personal freedom
From Chapter Four of "Combatting Cult Mind Control" (Park StreetPress, 1990) by Steven Hassan]
Destructive mind control can be understood in terms of four basic components, which form the acronym BITE:
I. Behavior Control
II. Information Control
III. Thought Control
IV. Emotional Control
These four components are guidelines. Not all groups do every aspect or do them extremely. What matters most is the overall impact on a person's free will and ability to make
real choices. A person's uniqueness, talents, skills, creativity, and free will should be encouraged, not suppressed. Destructive mind control seeks to "make people over"in the image of the cult
leader. This process has been described as "cloning". This "cult identity"is the result of a systematic process to dissociate a person from his or her previous identity including
important beliefs and values as well as significant relationships. The result is the creation of a dual identity, what I refer to "John-John"and "John cult-member".
I. Behavior Control
1. Regulation of individual's physical reality
a. Where, how and with whom the member lives and associates with
b. What clothes, colors, hairstyles the person wears
c. What food the person eats, drinks, adopts, and rejects
d. How much sleep the person is able to have
e. Financial dependence
f. Little or no time spent on leisure, entertainment, vacations
2. Major time commitment required for indoctrination sessions and group rituals
3. Need to ask permission for major decisions
4. Need to report thoughts, feelings and activities to superiors
5. Rewards and punishments (behavior modification techniques- positive and negative).
5. Individualism discouraged; group think prevails
6. Rigid rules and regulations
7. Need for obedience and dependency
II. Information Control
1. Use of deception
a. Deliberately holding back information
b. Distorting information to make it acceptable
c. Outright lying
2. Access to non-cult sources of information minimized or discouraged
a.Books, articles, newspapers, magazines, TV, radio
b. Critical information
d.Keep members so busy they don't have time to think
3. Compartmentalization of information; Outsider vs. Insider doctrines
a.Information is not freely accessible
b.Information varies at different levels and missions within pyramid
c. Leadership decides who "needs to know"what
4. Spying on other members is encouraged
a.Pairing up with "buddy"system to monitor and control
b.Reporting deviant thoughts, feelings, and actions to leadership
5. Extensive use of cult generated information and propaganda
a.Newsletters, magazines, journals, audio tapes, videotapes, etc.
b. Misquotations, statements taken out of context from non-cult sources
6. Unethical use of confession
a.Information about "sins"used to abolish identity boundaries
b. Past "sins"used to manipulate and control; no forgiveness or absolution
III. Thought Control
1. Need to internalize the group's doctrine as "Truth"
a. Map = Reality
b. Black and White thinking
c. Good vs. evil
d. Us vs. them (inside vs. outside)
2. Adopt "loaded"language (characterized by "thought-terminating cliches"). Words are the tools we use to think with. These "special"words constrict rather than
expand understanding. They function to reduce complexities of experience into trite, platitudinous "buzz words".
3. Only "good"and "proper"thoughts are encouraged.
4. Thought-stopping techniques (to shut down "reality testing"by stopping "negative"thoughts
and allowing only "good"thoughts); rejection of rational analysis, critical thinking, constructive criticism.
a. Denial, rationalization, justification, wishful thinking
e. Speaking in "tongues"
f. Singing or humming
5. No critical questions about leader, doctrine, or policy seen as legitimate
6. No alternative belief systems viewed as legitimate, good, or useful
IV. Emotional Control
1. Manipulate and narrow the range of a person's feelings.
2. Make the person feel like if there are ever any problems it is always their
fault, never the leader's or the group's.
3. Excessive use of guilt
a. Identity guilt
1. Who you are (not living up to your potential)
2. Your family
3. Your past
4. Your affiliations
5. Your thoughts, feelings, actions
b. Social guilt
c. Historical guilt
4. Excessive use of fear
a. Fear of thinking independently
b. Fear of the "outside"world
c. Fear of enemies
d. Fear of losing one's "salvation"
e. Fear of leaving the group or being shunned by group f.
Fear of disapproval
5. Extremes of emotional highs and lows.
6. Ritual and often public confession of "sins".
7. Phobia indoctrination : programming of irrational fears of ever leaving the group or even questioning the leader's
authority. The person under mind control cannot visualize a positive, fulfilled future without being in the group.
a. No happiness or fulfillment "outside"of the group
consequences will take place if you leave: "hell"; "demon possession"; "incurable diseases"; "accidents"; "suicide"; "insanity"; "10,000
c. Shunning of leave takers. Fear of being rejected by friends, peers, and family.
d. Never a legitimate reason to leave. From the group's perspective, people who
leave are: "weak"; "undisciplined"; "unspiritual"; "worldly"; "brainwashed by family, counselors"; seduced by money, sex, rock and roll.
The Three Stages of Gaining Control of the Mind
[Adapted from Kurt Lewin's three-stage model as described in
Coercive Persuasion (Norton, 1961) by Edgar Schein]
a. Disorientation / confusion
b. Sensory deprivation and/or sensory overload
c. Physiological manipulation
1. Sleep deprivation
2. Privacy deprivation
3. Change of diet
1. Age regression
3. Story-telling and metaphors
4. Linguistic double binds, use of suggestion
5. Meditation, chanting, praying, singing
e. Get person to question self identity
f. Redefine individual's past (implant false memories, forget positive memories of the past)
a. Creation and imposition of new "identity"done step by step
1. Formally within indoctrination sessions
2. Informally by members, tapes, books, etc.
b. Use of Behavior Modification techniques
1. Rewards and punishments
2. Use of thought-stopping techniques
3. Control of environment
c. Mystical manipulation
d. Use of hypnosis and other mind-altering techniques
1. Repetition, monotony, rhythm
2. Excessive chanting, praying, decreeing, visualizations
e. Use of confession and testimonials
3. Refreezing a. New identity reinforced, old identity surrendered
1. Separate from the past; decrease contact or cut off friends and family
2. Give up meaningful possessions and donate assets
3. Start doing cult activities: recruit, fundraise, move in with members
b. New name, new clothing, new hairstyle, new language, new "family"
c. Pairing up with new role models, buddy system
d. Indoctrination continues: Workshops, retreats, seminars, individual studies, group activities
Remember, cult mind control does not erase the person's old identity, but rather creates
a new one to suppress the old identity (John-John and John-cult).
[Adapted from Robert Jay Lifton's Thought Reform and the Psychology of Totalism (Norton,
1961) (now reprinted by the University of North Carolina Press)]
Dr. Lifton's work was the outgrowth of his studies for military intelligence of Mao Tse-Tung's "thought-reform
programs"commonly known as "brainwashing."In Chapter 22, Lifton outlines eight criteria for when any environment can be understood as exercising "thought-reform"or mind control.
Lifton wrote that any group has some aspects of these points.
However, if an environment has all eight of these points and implements them in the extreme, then there is unhealthy
thought reform taking place.
1. Milieu control Environment control and the control of human communication. Not just communication between people but communication within people's minds
2. Mystical manipulation Everyone is manipulating everyone, under the belief that it advances the "ultimate purpose."Experiences are engineered to appear to be
spontaneous, when, in fact, they are contrived to have a deliberate effect. People misattribute their experiences to spiritual causes when, in fact, they are concoc ted by human beings.
3. Loading the language Controlling words help to control people's thoughts. A totalist group uses totalist language to make reality compressed into black or white;" thought-terminating
clich_s."Non-members cannot simply understand what believers are talking about. The words constrict rather than expand human understanding.
4. Doctrine over person No matter what a
person experiences, it is the belief of the dogma which is important. Group belief supersedes conscience and integrity.
5. The Sacred Science The group's belief is that their dogma is
absolutely scientific and morally true. No alternative viewpoint is allowed. No questions of the dogma are permitted.
6. The Cult of Confession The environment demands that personal
boundaries are destroyed and that every thought, feeling, or action that does not conform with the group's rules be confessed; little or no privacy.
7. The demand for purity The creation
of a guilt and shame milieu by holding up standards of perfection that no human being can accomplish. People are punished and learn to punish themselves for not living up to the group's ideals.
8. The dispensing of existence The group decides who has a right to exist and does not. There is no other legitimate alternative to the group. In political regimes, this permits state executions.
Hopefully, this summary will motivate you to read the entire Chapter 22 and possibly the entire book. It is considered to be one of the most important descriptions of political mind-control programs. It is
also important to note, that now there are 3rd, 4th, and 5th generation mind-control groups a nd the patterns have evolved and become more refined and sophisticated.