Scientology and the BITE Model©

In June of 2018, I did an interview with psychologist and ex-Mormon John Dehlin for his Mormon Stories podcast. In preparation for the show, John read Combating Cult Mind Control and told me that the book was transformative. Then he did a wonderful analysis of the BITE model of the Mormon Church which we included in a blog. Afterward, we got the idea to do a similar analysis of the BITE model and the Jehovah’s Witnesses. Now, it is Scientology’s turn. I encourage people to use the BITE model to systematically evaluate the core beliefs and behaviors to determine if it is a destructive group which uses mind control techniques.

Mind control refers to a specific set of methods and techniques, such as hypnosis or thought-stopping, that influence how a person thinks, feels, and acts. I developed the BITE Model to describe the specific methods that cults use to recruit and maintain control over people. “BITE” stands for Behavior, Information, Thought, and Emotional control. It is based on research and theory by Robert Jay Lifton, Margaret Singer, Edgar Schein, Louis Jolyon West, and others who studied brainwashing in Maoist China, as well as cognitive dissonance theory by Leon Festinger.

Destructive mind control can be determined when the overall effect of these four components promotes dependency and obedience to some leader or cause; it is not necessary for every single item on the list to be present. In fact, there only needs to be a few major behaviors under each of the four components.

To learn more, download this detailed handout on The BITE Model or read Combating Cult Mind Control which explores cult psychology, curing the mind control virus, how to protect people you care about and strategies for recovery. (The new 30th-anniversary edition is available in print, digital format, and audiobook.) Or watch What is a Cult? Whiteboard Animation Explaining the BITE Model.

Below is a list of main points included in the BITE model. With the help of Karin “Spike” Robinson, we have colored the bullet points in the following ways:

  • Green means does not apply to anyone in the group
  • Orange means it partially applies (true for a subsection of members such as Sea Org or RPF)
  • Red means it absolutely applies to all members

Since each person’s experience is unique, there may be some slight differences in opinion. We did our best to represent the majority. This is our initial assessment, and we welcome feedback. I am interested in developing a comprehensive analysis for everything from public Scientologists to Staff to Sea Org to RPF. Please let me know what you think! (contact us)

  • Regulate an individual’s physical reality
  • Dictate where, how and with whom the member lives and associates or isolates (all members are told to disconnect from SP)
  • Dictate when, how, and with whom the member has sex
  • Control types of clothing and hairstyles
  • Regulate diet -food and drink, hunger and/or fasting
  • Manipulation and deprivation of sleep
  • Financial exploitation, manipulation, or dependence
  • Restrict leisure, entertainment, vacation time
  • Major time spent with group indoctrination and rituals and/or self-indoctrination, including the Internet
  • Permission required for major decisions
  • Thoughts, feelings, and activities (of self and others) reported to superiors (e-meter/audits & reporting on each other by all)
  • Rewards and punishments used to modify behaviors, both positive and negative
  • Discourage individualism, encourage group-think
  • Impose rigid rules and regulations
  • Encourage and engage in corporal punishment
  • Punish disobedience by beating, torture, burning, cutting, rape, or tattooing/branding
  • Threaten harm to family or friends (by cutting off family/friends) (fairgame policy)
  • Force individual to rape or be raped
  • Instill dependency and obedience
  • Deception
    • Deliberately withhold information
    • Distort information to make it more acceptable
    • Systematically lie to the cult member
  • Minimize or discourage access to non-cult sources of information, including:
    • Internet, tv, radio, books, articles, newspapers, magazines, other media
    • Critical information
    • Former members
    • Keep members busy so they don’t have time to think and investigate
    • Control through a cell phone with texting, calls, and internet tracking
  • Compartmentalize information into Outsider vs Insider doctrines
    • Ensure that information is not easily accessible
    • Control information at different levels and missions within the group
    • Allow only leadership to decide who needs to know what and when
  • Encourage spying on other members
    • Impose a buddy system to monitor and control member (RPF, “twinning”/course partner)
    • Report deviant thoughts, feelings, and actions to leadership
    • Ensure that individual behavior is monitored by the group
  • Extensive use of cult-generated information and propaganda, including:
    • Newsletters, magazines, journals, audiotapes, videotapes, YouTube, movies, and other media
    • Misquoting statements or using them out of context from non-cult sources
  • Unethical use of confession
    • Information about sins used to disrupt and/or dissolve identity boundaries
    • Withholding forgiveness or absolution (RPF – the act of confessing through auditing “blows the charge” and makes you no longer guilty – but in the RPF, you’re “the lowest of the low” and a “degraded being” until you get everyone in your group to forgive you – in writing.)
    • Manipulation of memory, possibly false memories (remembering past lives via auditing)
  • Require members to internalize the group’s doctrine as truth (this is a bit complicated because they’ll trumpet the quote “it’s only true if it’s true for you.” But until you actually AGREE with the course materials, you will have to keep “word clearing” it (looking up the definition of each word), because the only reason you wouldn’t agree is that you didn’t understand. So, you have to agree, even though they claim you don’t.)
    • Adopting the group’s ‘map of reality’ as reality
    • Instill black and white thinking
    • Decide between good vs. evil
    • Organize people into us vs. them (insiders vs. outsiders)
  • Change a person’s name and identity
  • Use of loaded language and cliches which constrict knowledge, stop critical thoughts and reduce complexities into platitudinous buzzwords (use of acronyms, words are given different meanings,” study tech” and “word clearing”)
  • Encourage only ‘good and proper’ thoughts
  • Hypnotic techniques are used to alter mental states, undermine critical thinking, and even to age regress the member
  • Memories are manipulated and false memories are created (past lives, reframing of the past)
  • Teaching thought-stopping techniques which shut down reality testing by stopping negative thoughts and allowing only positive thoughts, including:
    • Denial, rationalization, justification, wishful thinking
    • Chanting
    • Meditating
    • Praying
    • Speaking in tongues
    • Singing or humming
  • Rejection of rational analysis, critical thinking, constructive criticism
  • Forbid critical questions about leader, doctrine or policy
  • Labeling alternative belief systems as illegitimate, evil or not useful
  • Instill new ‘map of reality’
  • Manipulate and narrow the range of feelings – some emotions and/or needs are deemed as evil, wrong, or selfish (negative emotions are only allowed during auditing)
  • Teach emotion-stopping techniques to block feelings of hopelessness, anger, or doubt
  • Make the person feel that problems are always their own fault, never the leader’s or the group’s fault (anything bad that happens, they “pulled it in” – even if it’s an ancient sin committed billions of years ago on a distant planet.)
  • Promote feelings of guilt or unworthiness, such as:
    • Identity guilt
    • You are not living up to your potential (thus need to “stay on course” and continue spending money)
    • Your family is deficient
    • Your past is suspect
    • Your affiliations are unwise
    • Your thoughts, feelings, actions are irrelevant or selfish
    • Social guilt
    • Historical guilt
  • Instill fear, such as fear of:
    • Thinking independently
    • The outside world
    • Enemies (psychiatry, pharmaceuticals, critics)
    • Losing one’s salvation
    • Leaving or being
  • Extremes of emotional highs and lows – love bombing and praise one moment, and then declaring you are a horrible sinner
  • Ritualistic confession of sins (auditing, rundown, and reports)
    • sometimes public confession of sins
  • Phobia indoctrination: inculcating irrational fears about leaving the group or questioning the leader’s authority
    • No happiness or fulfillment possible outside the group
    • Terrible consequences if you leave: hell, demon possession, incurable diseases, accidents, suicide, insanity, 10,000 reincarnations, etc
    • Shunning of those who leave; fear of being rejected by friends and family
    • Never a legitimate reason to leave; those who leave are weak, undisciplined, unspiritual, worldly brainwashed by family or counselor, or seduced by money, sex, or rock-and-roll
  • Threats of harm to ex-member and family (threats of cutting off friends/family) (fairgame)

Many people incorrectly think of mind control as an ambiguous, mystical process that cannot be defined in concrete terms. In reality, mind control refers to a specific set of methods and techniques. Destructive mind control can be determined when the overall effect of these four components promotes dependency and obedience to some leader or cause; it is not necessary for every single item on the list to be present. In fact, there only need to be a few major behaviors under each of the four components.

However, it is obvious from the above evaluation that Scientology is a dangerous and destructive group that exercises control of the behavior, information, thoughts, and emotions of its members. All members must follow rules, some more strictly than others. They must behave according to these rules, disconnecting from SP (suppressive persons) and critics, confessing private thoughts and actions during auditing sessions, and reporting on each other. Information about Hubbard and certain teachings are kept hidden with certain beliefs being revealed only at higher levels in the group. The fear of losing friends and family from disconnection is a powerful example of control. Scientology uses internally-produced propaganda along with misquotes from non-cult sources to manipulate members. They use all of the methods above to reshape a member’s identity and reality. Yes, Scientology exercises dangerous undue influence and destructive mind control on all involved.

If you have never been a Scientologist but, rather, have been involved with another controlling group or relationship, I encourage you to review the BITE model components, along with the Influence Continuum and honestly evaluate whether your organization or relationship practices some of most of these behaviors.

Jon Atack interview – Author of A Piece of Blue Sky

Tory Christman, ex 30yr Scientologist (OT7) August 2012

Steven Hassan and Jeffrey Augustine

Denise Brennan interview – February 2013

Hakan Jarva, Ex-Scientologist, a psychologist with Steven July 2013

Sasha Zbitnoff ex 2nd generation Scientologist November 2012

Karen Pressley, Ex-Scientologist, Paul Grosswald, and Steven Hassan

Chris Shelton: Sensibly Speaking Podcast #77: Dealing with Destructive Cults ft. Steve Hassan


Additional Resources:

The Aftermath Foundation

The Underground Bunker: Scientology News

The Open Minds Foundation

Ex-Scientology Kids

Chris Shelton