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The BITE Model of mind control outlines many key elements that need to be controlled: Behavior, Information, Thoughts, and Emotion. If these four components can be controlled, then an individual’s identity can be systematically manipulated and changed. Destructive mind control takes the “locus of control” away from an individual. The person is systematically deceived about the beliefs and practices of the person (or group) and manipulated throughout the recruitment process- unable to make informed choices and exert independent judgment. The person’s identity is profoundly influenced through a set of social influence techniques and a “new identity” is created- programmed to be dependent on the leader or group ideology. The person can’t think for themselves, but believes otherwise. The cult system reinforces an “illusion of control.”
No. Although we typically use the term to refer to unethical and abusive social influence, many techniques such as prayer, meditation, singing, chanting, and dancing can be used ethically to promote positive spiritual and personal growth. Positive influence keeps the locus of control within the individual, while unethical or undue influence undermines their ability to think and act independently.
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 these techniques include: prayer, meditation, chants, singing songs, visualizations, affirmations, positive self-talk, breathing techniques, hypnosis, “speaking in tongues,” ecstatic dancing, and music.
A destructive cult is a pyramid-shaped authoritarian regime with a person or group of people that have dictatorial control. It uses deception to recruit new members and does not tell them 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, obedient, and loyal. The BITE Model is our 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, which 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 is not a destructive cult.
There are destructive groups that are clearly anti-social. They 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 people.
For more information, visit our Influence Continuum page.
Being in control of your own mind includes: being in touch with your feelings, having the ability to question and think analytically, having the freedom to act independently, and being able to look at issues from multiple perspectives. Use the BITE Model to evaluate your own situation.
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 about a specific group. Then you can evaluate the information for yourself, and make your own independent decisions.
No, there are definitely wide variations among different organizations. For example: Aum Shinrikyo and ISIS/Daesh have committed horrific acts of violence and terror against the public. 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.
Individual experiences also vary within the same organization based on how the individual conforms to the norms of the group. For example, a lesbian teen in a homophobic church will be subject to a different degree of undue influence than a straight man who is married with children in the same church.
No. In addition to religious cults, there are psychotherapy cults, political cults, commercial cults, terrorist organizations, and trafficking rings. There are also personality cults, particularly if one person absolutely controls another (or a small group of people, such as in a family).
There are groups which combine all or some of these elements, especially when the group is large and has a variety of “fronts” or other entities.
Yes. It is useful to think of them as destructive cults (with political and/or religious orientations) which advocate the use of violence. Any pyramid structured authoritarian group which uses deception and mind control to recruit and indoctrinate their followers is a destructive cult.
Members of terrorist organizations are programmed to think in simplistic black and white, us-versus-them terms. They depersonalize and demonize their enemies.
It is crucial that we understand how cults function in order to help neutralize this grave threat to the world.
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 them if they are in a cult, or use the word “cult” at all.
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, we 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 verifiable information. They will not pressure people to make commitments before there is complete disclosure, lie, or use phobias to enslave new members.
Freedom of Mind is based in Newton, Massachusetts. We also have FoM consultants in Illinois and California. We use phone and video conferencing to work with clients around the world. Our consultants can travel to your location.
You will have the opportunity to ask any questions you have during your initial consultation with one of our FoM consultants. Together, you will discuss your case, assess the situation, and devise steps to move your case forward.
If you have a list of questions for us, please use our contact form.