I recently read former Scientologist official Mike Rinder’s blog piece on “Word Clearing.” I suspect that most people who read his blog are ex-Scientologists, but I think it might be interesting for former members of other destructive groups to give it a read. I thought it could be a useful introduction to a blog I have been wanting to write for a few weeks on “Loaded Language.

When it comes to freeing one’s mind from cult influence, one of the hardest things for many to overcome is the involuntary use of “loaded language.” Loaded language is something I first learned about by studying the work of Robert J. Lifton. In his book Thought Reform and the Psychology of Totalism: A Study of ‘Brainwashing in China, Lifton has this to say:

“The language of the totalist environment is characterized by the thought-terminating cliché. The most far-reaching and complex of human problems are compressed into brief, highly selective, definitive-sounding phrases, easily memorized and easily expressed. They become the start and finish of any ideological analysis.”

As most people know about my work, Lifton’s book was pivotal in helping free me from the Moon cult and his model serves as the foundation for my BITE Model of mind control.

Have you read George Orwell’s 1984? It was a masterful novel that showed the power of words. In modern days terms: “Citizens United” actually means super-wealthy people buying off politicians…. Not average citizens coming together. Destructive cults use a system of Orwellian loaded language but in my experience, Scientology has the most extensive use of this Thought Control” method. “Study tech” and “word clearing” are methods for programming people into a totalitarian mind control system of slavery, while calling it, “The Bridge to Total Freedom.”

Mormons use terms like “eternal perspective,” “sealing,” “burning in the bosom,” and “peculiar” in ways that differ from their common meanings. Jehovah’s Witnesses often talk about “pioneers,” “new light,” and “the truth” in their teachings. Sometimes the words are unique to the cult itself, like the “thetans” spoken of by Scientologists– a group that has not one but two dictionaries of terminology that is to be learned by followers. Whether the words are completely new to the follower or unique to the cult itself, loaded language essentially rewires the brain to internalize the ideology of the cult.

When a person leaves a cult, loaded language is still there for those who have not taken the time to step back and learn about brainwashing and mind control. Anyone who has not made the effort to “re-wire” their neural circuits can be still living in a version of the cult, even if they left decades earlier. Cult words can still trigger an emotional and psychological response–anything from a flash of memory to a panic attack. This issue is one that I have seen in a number of clients and have even dealt with myself. After my deprogramming from the Unification Church (which you can read about here) I had to put a lot of work into unlearning the loaded language I had been indoctrinated with. For example, I had to learn to associate the word “moon” with what it truly means. For a time after leaving the cult, when I heard the word “moon,” I would immediately think of the cult leader Sun Myung Moon. I had to train myself to visualize the moon in the sky and say to myself, “The earth only has one natural satellite, the moon.” After intentionally firing the trigger, but reassociating it with the definition/ term which was “normal” or healthy, I no longer had the unwanted reaction. People can rewire their brains quickly. In just a few hours, I found that my reaction to the word “moon” had returned to a normal one I had before being in the cult. I was able to move on to more words and terms in the same way. I found myself needing to read a dictionary as well as the cult “Bible” – The Divine Principle to “unpack” the belief system and all it loaded terms.

Former cult members who regularly associate with other former members can sometimes keep the cult’s loaded language alive by using it when talking to one another. This is NOT recommended! I suggest making a deal with your ex-member friends to please point out when you are using cult jargon or loaded language, so you can take the moment and say it in English (or your native tongue). Hopefully, your friends will see the value in this and ask you to help them reclaim language which has no cult triggers or associations. For example, if a former LDS member, starts talking to her friend about her previous “calling,” that friend could stop her and remind her that “calling” is an LDS term and the correct word is “job” or “assignment.” This reminder will help her retrain her word choices, thereby freeing her mind even more.

I encourage anyone recovering from cult indoctrination to examine their own vocabulary for loaded language and work towards freeing themselves of it. Taken step-by-step, anyone can get rid of the residual effects of cult influence and gain freedom of mind. The best way to recover from cult mind control is to learn how to take control of your own mind. Reclaiming words and de-activating any cult associations is well worth the effort. Think of it as cleaning out the cobwebs from the past.

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Steven Hassan

About the Author: 

Steven Hassan M.Ed. LMHC, NCC has helped thousands of individuals and families recover from undue influence (mind control). With over 40 years of experience, he is sought after as one of the foremost authorities on undue influence and controlling groups and individuals. Steve understands the subject from a unique perspective as both a former cult member and as a clinical professional.

Steven is the Founding Director of the Freedom of Mind Resource Center, a coaching, consulting, and training organization dedicated to supporting individuals to have the freedom to think clearly and to freely consider how they want to live their lives.  Steven pioneered a breakthrough method called the Strategic Interactive Approach (SIA), an effective and legal alternative for families to help cult members.  The SIA teaches family and friends how to strategically influence the individual involved in the cult.

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