Steven Hassan's 'Combatting Cult Mind Control' is a must read for cult members, ex-cult members and their families. It gives a marvellous overview of cults and sects today with details of how they work and what you can do to protect yourself.
He spent several years in a large cult himself and was quite senior in the organization, spending a considerable amount of time with the leader. This is important for several reasons.
The closer to the leader a member is, the more influence the leader has on the member, so the more profound is the effect of the mind control. It also means that the member gets to see more of the inner workings of the cult, which are usually hidden from members in the outer circles (and certainly from outsiders).
So Hassan is writing from first hand experience. And Combatting Cult Mind Control is very clear, concise and easy to read.
The book starts off with a description of how he was recruited and how the things occurring in his personal life made him vulnerable to recruitment, and he shows very nicely how every person is vulnerable at particular times in their lives.
Next he outlines how cults are evolving and adapting with the changes in society and the idea that many people have of cults being groups of young people with shaved heads and saffron robes living in communes is obsolete.
If you only read one chapter of Combatting Cult Mind Control, read this one.
He talks about how mind control differs from brainwashing, hypnosis as applied to mind control and some basic principles of social psychology and group dynamics.
He then explains his BITE model. (Behavior, Information, Thoughts, Emotions)
Leon Festinger's theory of Cognitive Dissonance suggests that if you change one of these items, behaviors, thoughts or emotions the others will change in order to relieve any discomfort or 'dissonance', so that they can maintain order or meaning in their lives.
For example, a person may believe that they do not tell lies. But if they are in a situation of great fear, they may tell a lie to alleviate the fear, and then they justify it by thinking, say, it was only a small lie and it was just once. Change the emotions and the behaviors and thoughts follow.
If all three are managed, as in a cult, a person can make changes very quickly indeed.
Hassan explains how cults control behavior by controlling the physical reality. Anything from living quarters to clothes to what food is allowed, how many hours sleep a person gets, may be controlled. In 'live-out' groups it can be much more subtle. Members end up doing tasks assigned by the group, listening to tapes they have bought, doing exercises or meditation, selling courses to family and friends, doing errands or even using their expertise (without pay!) for the leader, e.g., building web sites, designing business cards, fixing computers etc.
Cults control thoughts by indoctrination. This process occurs over time and the 'master program' of the cult becomes the framework within which the members think. In fact, thinking is not encouraged, following the program is. The program dictates how the member acts in any given situation. The cults clichés further reduces thinking in members. They are encouraged (often berated) to use the cult lingo, where complex ideas are condensed into simple phrases.
The members also learn to block out any criticism of the leader or the doctrine. They simply do not want to hear. They will usually defend their leader and group, even aggressively.
Emotions are controlled by using lots of fear and guilt. But often the members are not aware that their levels of guilt and fear are being manipulated! Many destructive groups create emotional roller coasters, because when emotions are 'running high', critical thinking is practically impossible.
In Combatting Cult Mind Control, Hassan adds in control of information as the 4th aspect to mind control. In 'live-in' groups this control can be brutal, extending to needing permission to phone family or friends, not having access to internet or TV, new converts not being allowed to talk to each other without an older member being present, and so on.
In other groups it can be that the leader is suggesting books to read and books to avoid, criticizing some ideas so the members do not research more in that area, and feeding the members information bit by bit, as and when they are 'ready for it'. That is, as their indoctrination proceeds (remember it is a progressive process), when they accept one idea, they are then given the next. Because if they got all the information all at once, they might not accept it.
In Combatting Cult Mind Control, he explains how the personality is unfrozen, how the person is broken down, how changes are made to the beliefs, values and personality, and this new pseudo-personality is then 'refrozen' or stabilized so that the changes stick. Again this is a process, the time varying with the techniques used, the number of techniques, the skills of the manipulators (not just the leader but other adepts in the cult as well).
He points out that the new pseudo-personality simply represses and dominates the precult personality, and this dual personality (not multiple personality) often causes conflict if and when the precult personality dominates. For example, the precult personality may not agree with come activities of the pseudopersonality, and when the precult one is dominant, there is dissonance.
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In later chapters of Combatting Cult Mind Control he talks about the psychology and thinking behind cults that allows them to control and manipulate the members step by step, so that normal healthy people can be made to do extraordinary things that previously would have violated their personal morals and ethics, such as rob, steal, prostitute themselves, kill themselves and/or others.
He then offers ideas on combatting cult mind control and how to protect yourself. This basically involves eduction about how mind control works and knowing yourself, your strengths, your weaknesses and how they can be exploited by the psychopathic cult leader.
Combatting Cult Mind Control then offers ideas about how to help members in cults with his emphasis on communication with their 'precult' personality. He does not agree with the forceful deprogramming. He experienced this and it is risky in legal terms (involving 'kidnapping') and potentially very traumatic for the cult member.
Instead he offers exit counseling, which involves getting the cult member to agree to 3 days spent chatting with him and a team (including family members and often ex-members of the specific cult). The person is presented with information about how cults work, mind control techniques and information about the leader and group which indicates that it is a destructive group.
The idea is to allow the member to start thinking critically again so that they can decide, (among other things!), whether they stay in the group or not.
Then he briefly runs through some of the problems people experience when they leave groups, and these may differ depending on whether they are thrown out (the worst way to leave), they leave because they are dissatisfied over something, or whether they are counselled out.
In Combatting Cult Mind Control he also relates many stories of members of various groups to illustrate the various points he makes. He has been working in this field for over 35 years, so he has many examples!
Combatting Cult Mind Control is a mine of information and is a must for anyone leaving a cult as part of their psycho-education, which is the basis for the undoing of mind control.
If you are wondering if your group is a cult or not, if you have left a cult, if you have a family member or friend you think may be in a cult, beg, borrow, steal or buy this book. It's worth it.
And if you only read one chapter, read chapter 4...
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