What are mind control tactics designed to do? Obviously it is to control somebody's mind, to control their beliefs and thinking processes and in this way to control their emotions and in turn their 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."
If you change someone's perceptions, beliefs, attitudes, thinking strategies, emotions and behaviors, (whether in a cult or in an intimate relationship) you have basically changed someone's identity or personality.
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.
This 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 mostly 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 new 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 in a person's personality depends on such factors as the time in the group (or the relationship), the number and intensity of mind control techniques and tools used, the members' activities in the cult, whether hypnosis is used, whether there is a sexual relationship, among others.
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.
The pseudopersonality is basically programmed to believe the manipulator, to trust them and to take care of them. It is programmed to put the manipulator's needs before its own. It is also programmed to be very dependent on the manipulator.
One of the common features of the pseudopersonality created in cults 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 one of the contradictions 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.
The pseudopersonalities will not tolerate any criticism of the group or the leader (or the manipulative girl/boyfriend) and will immediately defend against disparaging comments. The members may sound like a tape recording when they defend the leader or their own actions, or even when they are just giving out information about the group.
It is one of the characteristics of cult members that they always say that they are 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 many cases, the memory and comprehension of the pseudopersonality is reduced, the vocabulary is minimal, it loses its sense of humor and is unable to make decisions or sort out problems on its own. The behavior becomes very childlike and it blindly does whatever the leader tells it 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. You can also read more details in this article about how to brainwash someone.
Internally, there is often a lot of mental conflict for cult members and other victims of mind control tactics. First of all, they're made to feel responsible for everything wrong in their lives. They end up blaming themselves if anything goes wrong (even if it's not their fault!), or if they feel bad, or if they've done something they shouldn't have and so on. They are also usually hyper-alert in terms of trying to please the leader or the abusive partner and especially in making sure that they don't upset them.
As well as this, cult members often describe being at war with themselves. The pseudo-personality may be doing things that the real personality would never do. Anything from lies, to conning others, 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.
Remember that the pseudopersonality does not completely destroy the real personality , it only suppresses and dominates it. It's very common that the real personality wants one thing but the dominant pseudopersonality is programmed for the opposite. The real personality may want to get out because of the abuse, but the pseudopersonality is programmed to stay. As long as the pseudopersonality is in control, leaving is very, very difficult. The individual may feel that they are going crazy because there seems to be no way to resolve such conflicts.
Even after a person leaves a group, and is free of the mind control tactics, the pseudopersonality 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 or an abusive relationship 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...
Would you like to talk to someone about your situation?
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.
You have the theory but how do you actually apply it? This book spells it out...
Do you think that you might be in an abusive relationship? Are you realizing that the group you are in may be a cult?
Do you think you are being taken advantage of emotionally, physically, sexually or financially in your relationship? Do you want to leave but you can't seem to get away?