"Mind control” techniques are not necessarily bad. Although I typically use the term “mind control” when describing unethical and abusive social influence, many of the techniques can be used ethically to promote positive spiritual and personal growth.
For example, prayer can be used ethically or it can be used destructively as a tool of manipulation and coercion. Praying with a person aloud, and asking “God’s blessing to help direct and guide him” (in an “open-ended” way) is just fine. Praying with a person, and asking God to “keep this person from making the mistake of leaving the group’s workshop and returning to Satan’s world” is unethical.
Meditation techniques can be used to build awareness and self control, or it can be used as a way of “thought-stopping”-undermining independent thinking and reality-testing. For example, if a person is having doubts and questions about a leader’s behavior, and meditates to get rid of “negativity”, it might stop the person from taking necessary action.
There are thousands of different “mind control” techniques which can be used for positive benefit. Some of these techniques include: prayer, meditation, chants, singing songs, visualizations, affirmations, positive self-talk, breathing techniques, hypnosis, “speaking in tongues”, ecstatic dancing, music.
I personally enjoy the benefits of prayer, meditation, chanting, singing as well as self-hypnosis techniques. At my Jewish Temple ((www.tbzbrookline.org)) people are free to participate at their own comfort level. A healthy skepticism toward dogma and exclusive elitism is encouraged. People can and do ask penetrating questions. Rabbis Moshe Waldoks and Ellen Pildis usually respond with answers that include a variety of scholarly perspectives, and then offer their own point of view. There is an independent board of directors and a healthy system of checks and balances.
Being in control of your own mind includes: being in touch with your feelings; having the ability to question and think analytically; the freedom to act independently as well as the ability to look at issues from multiple perspectives.
If you have been involved with a person or group for a long time, can you have time away to take a vacation, visit friends or family, or just be by yourself? Are you irrationally afraid to really evaluate for yourself any critical information, including speaking with ex-members? Do you have the access to this “negative” information? If you are reading this on our web site, then you should be able to find out what former members and critics have to say. Then you can evaluate the information for yourself and make your own independent decisions.
A destructive cult is a pyramid-shaped authoritarian regime with a person or group of people that have dictatorial control. It uses deception in recruiting new members (e.g. people are NOT told up front what the group is, what the group actually believes and what will be expected of them if they become members). It also uses mind control techniques to keep people dependent and obedient. The BITE mind control model is my way of understanding the phenomenon. Dr. Robert Jay Lifton has his Eight Criteria for Thought Reform. Dr. Margaret Singer has her Six Conditions for understanding Destructive cults typically seek to “clone” recruits in the image of the cult leader, rather than respect and encourage their individuality, creativity and self-will.
Benign cult groups are any group of people who have a set of beliefs and rituals that are non-mainstream. As long as people are freely able to choose to join with full disclosure of the group’s doctrine and practices and can choose to disaffiliate without fear or harassment, then it doesn’t fall under the behavioral/ psychological destructive cult category.
Of course, there are destructive groups that are clearly anti-social teach hate and encourage criminal activity. A case-by-case evaluation must be made to determine if a particular group is using elements of the BITE model to recruit and control.
There are groups which combine all of these, especially when the group is large and has a variety of “fronts” or other entities. For example, the Moon organization combines most of these categories. However, because the central figure, Moon, claims to be the Messiah, the group is primarily thought of as a religious cult. This should not minimize the fact that Moon is very active in the world of politics and business. In fact Moon controls more business and political entities than he has religious ones.
Any pyramid structured authoritarian group which uses deception and mind control to recruit and indoctrinate their followers is considered to be a destructive cult.
While in the past, terrorist cults have focused on recruiting the disadvantaged, uneducated youth in recent years there has been an increased emphasis on recruiting middle-class, college educated individuals – including married individuals with families.
Apparently, Osama bin Laden and his Al Queda group is a well-financed, destructive cult which employs a whole host of classic mind control techniques in its training program. Suicide bombers undergo a thorough and extensive indoctrination, reportedly spending hours in a coffin reading from the Koran in an open grave. They are told that they are already dead and will be hailed in heaven for their heroic deeds. Like members of other destructive cults, they are programmed to think in simplistic black and white, us-versus-them terms. They not only depersonalize but also demonize their enemies.
It is crucial that we understand how cult functions in order to help neutralize this grave threat to the world.
No, there are definitely wide variations among different organizations. Aum Shinrikyo, the Japanese “nerve gas” cult, used physical imprisonment, illegal drugs, and forms of torture. People would be forced to turn over all of their assets and cut off from their families and friends. If members tried to leave the group or oppose its leadership, they would be threatened and in some cases, killed. This is extreme when compared with large group “training” programs which use hypnotic techniques to get you to believe the leader is the “messiah” and which inculcates the membership to recruit all of their families and friends.
When a cult figure gains absolute political power over a people or a country, typically the BITE mind control model is put into place. Perceived enemies are imprisoned or killed. Free press is abolished. Hitler, Stalin, Mao, Hussein are all examples of political cult leaders. When you compare the multitudes of people killed by political cult leader’s commands, the 39 deaths of Heaven’s Gate seem insignificant.
Yes. In my book, Combatting Cult Mind Control, I write about some of my cases involving this form of personal control. Sometimes, it can be an authoritarian family system. Sometimes it can be husband, wife, “friend” or relative. Many times it can be someone in some other position of authority. Battered-wife syndrome and prostitutes controlled by an abusive pimp also fit this category. These situations are sometimes far more destructive than involvement in a larger group because all of the energy of the abusive authority figure is concentrated on the victim.
Destructive cults understand that to keep believers dependent on them, they must try to neutralize sources of criticism. Information control is one of the four main components of mind control. One destructive group, Scientology, even goes so far as to have “dead agents packs” for their critics in an attempt to destroy their credibility. Their terminology is revealing.
I am a human rights activist who very much values my spirituality as the core of my existence. My work has received endorsements from virtually every major religious denomination. I definitely believe in a God who created us with free-will and wants us to use our minds to live lives of love, peace, beauty, and goodness. My work has grown out of my own desire to grow in understanding and to help people to realize that they need not be psychologically constricted.
If you were to only read and accept as true what cults say about me, then you would think that I am a kidnapper and religious bigot.
The truth is that I have never kidnapped anyone and I support people’s rights to believe whatever they want to believe. The truth is that when I got out of the Moonies in 1976, I was involved in some involuntary deprogrammings of fellow cult members for about one year. I never abducted anyone. I was present along with family members to talk to the cult member about why I left the Moonies. Most of these cases worked. A few did not, and the people returned to the Moonies and wrote “affidavits” saying that I did these horrible things to them. Look at the dates. It is important to note that I have never been charged either criminally or civilly for any deprogramming case (or for anything else for that matter).
Of course, over the years I have been accused of doing other involuntary deprogrammings in order to create the illusion that I am a continued threat. The truth is that I stopped doing involuntaries and have been speaking out against deprogramming since 1980. I have written three books, which give much more detail about my history and my approach to counseling cult members.
If the term "deprogramming" means abducting people and holding them against their will to help them exit a cult, the answer is NO!
Some people like to use the term deprogrammer in a positive way – as someone who helps people get out of cults. I feel that the term has become too associated with negatives. Besides, I do not think brainwashing and mind control is like computer programming. I think it is a “dissociative disorder.” Helping a person recover from detrimental effects requires much more than counter-programming. My approach empowers the person to regain control of their own mind, rather than just attacking the cult belief system or the cult identity.
When I wrote my first book, Combatting Cult Mind Control in 1988, I described what I did as exit-counseling. But I ran into trouble with this terminology when working with active cult members. When they would agree to meet with me, often at the request of a family member, I would tell them that I was there to help them with information and counseling to decide if they wanted to reevaluate and leave their group. When they asked me why it was called exit-counseling, I realized that they had a point. It could be called exit-counseling at the point that a person was asking for help to leave a group, but not before. I also decided to abandon this term because people who were still doing involuntary deprogramming started calling themselves exit-counselors. I wanted nothing to do with them.
NOTE: Please understand that there are individuals who still call themselves exit-counselors who are reputable and will only do voluntary cases. In addition, there is a new term called Thought-Reform consultants. Most of these people are former cult members and are not mental health professionals. Nevertheless, they are excellent at providing information and most do valuable work.
I am a licensed mental health counselor in the State of MA. I received my Master’s degree from Cambridge College in 1985, and have taken the time and undertaken the expense to receive counseling training from some of the top people in America and the world. I have experience doing individual, couple and family counseling. I teach communications techniques and strategies. I advocate respectful, loving, compassionate and legal method of influence. I call it the “Strategic Interaction Approach (SIA).”
My best advice is to get help before you do or say anything. Continue to act naturally. Learn before you act. Think before you speak. Adopt a “curious, yet concerned” attitude with the person you suspect is in trouble.
Don’t get hysterical in front of the individual. Don’t attack or confront. Don’t ask him or her if they are in a cult.
Position yourself as a possible “recruit” and try to elicit as much information as possible. Ask questions in a friendly manner and insist on getting specific answers. Don’t settle for global generalizations or evasions. Ask for any literature, but be cautious about going to meetings without getting properly prepared first. From time to time I hear stories of people falling victim when trying to help someone else.
If a group is legitimate, it will stand up to scrutiny. Members will be forthcoming with information and that information will be verified by facts. If a group is legitimate, they will not pressure people to make commitments before there is complete disclosure. If a group is legitimate, it will not lie nor will it use phobias to enslave new members.
Get information. Maintain contact. Try to get the person to engage with you in a process of researching the group objectively. Talk with former members, particularly former leaders if you can. Destructive cults vilify critical former members and make up stories to make them untrustworthy. While that might be the case, use your own good judgment to listen to all of the facts objectively. Make your best decision based on your experience and the information you have collected. Periodically, as new information or experiences present themselves, you might review your evaluation.
Search our web site as well as other web sites mentioned as resources. We can also produce custom research reports using the extensive files in our office and our extensive network of contacts. For pricing information, email us at email@example.com or call 617 396-4638.
Please see Mind Control – the BITE model.
You can use this evaluation checklist to begin to assess the situation you, or someone you know, is in.
We have prepared a number of questions that help you to be a responsible “group” consumer.