Mind Control Tactics
And Pseudopersonalities


What our mind control tactics designed to do? Obviously it is to control somebody's mind, to control their thoughts and in this way to control their emotions and behaviors. 

In George Orwell's 1984, a member of the totalitarian regime says "… the thought is all we care about. We do not merely destroy our enemies, we change them. It is intolerable to us that an erroneous thought should exist anywhere in the world, however secret and powerless it may be. Even in the instant of death we cannot permit any deviation."


More specifically…

The best description for the result of mind control tactics is Edgar Schein's three-step process of unfreezing, changing and refreezing of the identity or personality. He wrote about this in his book 'Coercive Persuasion' after studying brainwashing programs in China in the 1950s.

  • Unfreezing is literally breaking a person down, getting him to doubt himself and his reality.
  • Changing is the indoctrination process, installing new beliefs, values, ideas, etc and
  • Refreezing is the strengthening and solidification of the new identity, the pseudoidentity, or sometimes called a pseudopersonality.

The pseudo-personality is best thought of as a personality that represses and dominates the pre-cult personality. It is not, and should not be confused with, multiple personality. To a large extent, it is a clone of the cult leader, with the same ideas, beliefs, values and behaviors.

These are often very different from those the person had before!

Janja Lalich describes it this way:

A person's core self is developed over a lifetime -it encompasses all of the ways in which the person approaches, reacts to, and copes with the emotions, relationships, and events. Each person develops psychological defense mechanisms that she uses to perceive, interpret, and deal with reality. A systematic attack on the central self tears apart the person's inner equilibrium and perception of reality.

For some, Margaret Singer notes, the “easiest way to reconstitute the self and obtain a new equilibrium is to 'identify with the aggressor' and accept the ideology of the authority figure who has reduced the person to a state of profound confusion. In effect, the new ideology (psychological theory, spiritual system, etc.) functions as a defense mechanism… and protects the individual from having to further directly inspect emotions from the past that are overwhelming."

Recognition of this attack on a person's psychological stability and defense mechanisms is critical to understanding why some cults achieve such a rapid and dramatic acceptance of ideology, and why cults may engender psychological difficulties and other adjustment problems.

The goal of a thought reform programme is to change a human being at the very core so that he will believe in a certain ideology, doctrine, or a leader - and adapt and behave accordingly. Once that feat is established, the compliance or obedience of the follower or intimate partner (in the case of abusive relationships) is usually guaranteed.

These ideas that are the result of mind control tactics can lead the member to do such radical things as break off relationships with family and friends, leave their job, donate their finances to the group, and even commit murder or suicide. The degree of change usually depends on the time in the group, the number and intensity of mind control techniques and tools used, the members' activities in the cult, how much hypnosis is used, among others.

So, for example, many destructive cults nowadays have members who live in their own homes and continue in their jobs. However, their beliefs may have changed considerably and along with this their attitude and behaviors. The mind control tactics work 'at a distance', so to speak.


One of the common features of the pseudopersonality is an attitude of superiority, members believe they are better, or know more, than those around them. This makes sense when you consider they are actually copying a psychopath!

However, it is another contradiction of cults, because the member's reality has actually been narrowed, and their decision-making takes place within this bounded reality. Their ability to reason and think critically has been severely reduced by the mind control tactics.

They will not tolerate any criticism of the group or the leader, and they may sound like a tape recording when giving information about the group or defending the leader or their own actions.

Typically, group members will insist that they're happy, even saying that they've never been happier! They will usually refuse help of any kind, especially from psychologists or psychiatrists because the groups have indoctrinated them against these people.

In the worst case scenarios, their memory and comprehension is reduced, the vocabulary is minimal, they lose their sense of humor and are unable to make decisions or sort out problems. Their behavior comes very childlike and they blindly do whatever the leader tells them to.

Read more about how the pseudopersonality is created in this article on controlling girlfriends and about the pseudopersonality itself in this article on controlling husbands.

There is an extensive list of cult characteristics here.

The inner world

Internally, there is often a lot of mental conflict for cult members. First of all, they're made to feel responsible for everything wrong in their lives. They blame themselves if anything goes wrong, or they feel bad, or if they've done something they shouldn't have and so on. They are also typically hyper-alert in terms of trying to please the group and the leader.

As well as this, Steve Hassan says that cult members are at war with themselves. The pseudo-personality may be doing things that the real personality would never do. Anything from lies to criticizing fellow members to the leadership, sexual promiscuity, to murder. Or the person is witnessing other things going on in the group that they don't agree with, but the pseudo-personality provides reasons, excuses and justifications for why it's okay. 

See the videos here for examples of this.

What happens afterwards...

Even after a person leaves a group, and is free of the mind control tactics, the personality persists. Remember the group member believes that he has made his or her own decisions about adopting these ideas and beliefs so they tend to last a long time. They don't realize they have a pseudo-personality. Cults don't exactly advertise the fact when they recruit people!

In some cases members have such severe symptoms due to this that they may be diagnosed as schizophrenic, psychotic, multiple personality, other personality disorders and so on. The symptoms may mimic very closely post-traumatic stress disorder.

Very often ex-cult members have difficulty holding down a job outside the group, or maintaining relationships or even being in social groups. These difficulties may last for years and may never be resolved.

Not until they realize that they have been in a cult and subjected to mind control tactics can they begin to undo the pseudo-personality, and very often it requires the help of professionals.

Let's examine some of the most common mind control tactics used in the stages of unfreezing, changing and refreezing next...

You can also read more about how the pseudopersonality is put in place here, how to leave an abusive relationship and healing from emotional abuse.

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If you think you are or have been in a cult or a destructive relationship, or a friend or family member might be in a cult and you want to talk to someone, send me a message on the Contact page and we can arrange to talk. All communication will be treated in the strictest confidence.

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