Mind control is also known as manipulation, thought reform, brainwashing, mental control, coercive persuasion, malignant use of group dynamics, and many others. The fact that there are so many names indicates a lack of agreement which allows for confusion and distortion (especially by those using it covertly for their own benefit!!)
Let's agree that mind control comes under the umbrella of persuasion and influence - how to change people's beliefs and behaviors.
Some will argue that everything is manipulation (very often cult members, who's leader is trying to hide it from them!) But in saying this, important distinctions are lost. It's much more useful to think of influence as a continuum, at one end we have ethical and respectful influences which respect the individual and his or her rights. At the other end we have destructive influences which strip the person of their identity, independence, and ability to think critically or logically.
It is at this end that we find destructive cults and sects. These groups use deception and mind control tactics to take advantage of the weaknesses, as well as the strengths, of the members, to satisfy the needs and desires of the cult leaders themselves.
A one-on-one cult is an intimate relationship where one person abuses their power to manipulate and exploit the other, e.g., teacher'/student, therapist/client, pastor/worshipper, wife/husband. This cultic relationship is a version of the larger groups, and may be even more destructive because all the time and attention is directed towards only one person.
It's best to think of it as a system of influences that significantly disrupts an individual at their very core, at the level of their identity (their values, beliefs, preferences, decisions, behaviors, relationships etc.) creating a new pseudo-identity or pseudopersonality.
It can of course be used in beneficial ways, for example with addicts, but here we are talking about situations that are inherently bad or unethical.
Philip Zimbardo says that mind control is a "process by which individual or collective freedom of choice and action is compromised by agents or agencies that modify or distort perception, motivation, affect, cognition and/or behavioral outcomes" and he suggests that everyone is susceptible to such manipulation.
It is not some ancient mystery known to a few, it is words and group pressures, packaged in such a way that it allows a manipulator to create dependency in his or her followers, making their decisions for them while allowing them to think that they are independent and free to decide. That is, the person is not aware of the influence process, nor of the changes occurring within themselves.
There are some important points that need to be made very clear.
First of all, it is a subtle process. Subtle, meaning that the individual is not aware of the extent of the influence being imposed upon them. In this way they make small changes over time, often believing that they are making decisions for themselves, when, in fact, all the decisions are being made for them.
And it is a process, in that it does not happen abruptly. It takes time, although the length of time will depend on such factors as the methods used, the duration of exposure to the techniques and other social and personal factors.
There is force involved. There may or may not be physical force, but there definitely is psychological and social force and pressure.
Steve Hassan makes an interesting distinction between mental control and brainwashing. He says that in brainwashing the victim knows that the aggressor is an enemy. For example, prisoners of war know that the person doing the brainwashing and/or torture is an enemy and often they understand that remaining alive depends on changing their belief system. They are coerced, often with physical force, into doing things they would not normally do. However, when the victim escapes from the influence of the enemy, the effects of the brainwashing frequently disappear.
Mind control is more subtle and sophisticated because the person doing the manipulations is often considered a friend or a teacher, so the victim is not actually trying to defend themselves. In fact, he or she may be a willing participant, and believing that the manipulator has their best interests in mind, they often providing private information willingly, which is then used against them, to continue the mind control.
This makes mind control as dangerous, if not more so, than physical coercion. In other words, it can be even more effective than torture, physical abuse, drugs etc.
That's worth repeating. In mind control, there may be no physical coercion or violence, but it can actually be much more effective in controlling a person.
That's because coercion can change behavior, but coercive persuasion (mind control) will change attitude and behavior. And the 'victim' is happily and actively participates in the changes, believing it is best for them!
So later, to accept that someone they trusted and liked has deceived and manipulated them is very difficult, and is one of the reasons that it is not easy for people to recognize mind control. Even when the person is free of the influence of the manipulator, the attitudes, beliefs, and behaviors persist, in large part because the person believes they have made these decisions themselves (the effects of decisions we make ourselves are stronger and more long lasting than decisions we know we have been pushed to make), and in part because the person does not want to admit that they have been manipulated without their knowing, that they have been tricked by a 'friend'.
Manipulators are fond of saying that no-one is holding a gun to the manipulated person's head, and this is powerful in two ways. To the outsider who does not understand mind control, it is difficult to argue with.
For the manipulated person, they know that this is true, no-one has actually held a gun to their head, so it reinforces the idea that they have decided for themselves. And decisions we have made ourselves are much more powerful and the effects last longer, so it further propels the manipulated person deeper into the reality created by the mind control.
Who would use these techniques, destroying the lives of others for their own selfish benefits? Or manipulating others simply because they can or because they want the control? The answer is psychopaths, or sociopaths, and narcissists. Probably the vast majority of extreme manipulators who use mind control fit the profile of psychopath. And the reason they can do it is because they have no conscience!
Because people don't know what exactly a psychopath or a narcissist is, the manipulator is often called something else, a controlling wife or husband, a jealous boyfriend, a verbally abusive man or a very strict boss. Closer examination often reveals these people to have a personality disorder.
Every person is susceptible. That includes you!
It is a myth that only weak and vulnerable people are susceptible, or that there is something wrong with them. In fact, the belief that “it would never happen to me" makes a person particularly susceptible to mind control tools, because they're not on the lookout for it!
The best way to protect yourself from being recruited by a cult (it is a myth that people join cults, they are actually recruited) and being subjected to mind control is to understand how it functions as well as the cult tactics that are used to attract and keep members.
For example, Robert Cialdini has described six principles of influence that he describes as weapons of influence. It seems that these function in all societies in the world, and they are actually useful in terms of allowing society to remain stable and prosper. He talks about reciprocity, commitment and consistency, social proof, likability, authority and scarcity. He calls them weapons of influence because they work outside of the normal consciousness of most people and for this reason cults take advantage of them to manipulate and influence their members.
Cult psychology and sects have been studied by various cult experts and while many have their own descriptions and models of how these groups function, there are many similarities.
Robert Lifton, who originally coined the term thought reform after studying American prisoners of war in China, describes his eight principles that are present in a thought reform program, such as in destructive cults.
Steven Hassan, an ex-member of a destructive cult has his own four-point system which he describes in depth in his book Combatting Cult Mind Control. He explains how dangerous cults use mental control tactics to change the identity of the members by controlling the Behaviors, Emotions, and Thoughts of its members and how it further increases its influence by also restricting access to Information (his BITE model)
Margaret Singer in her book Cults In Our Midst describes her six-point system, where
Read more about how to escape a cult.
The destructive effects of mind control are proportional to:
For example, a person who has lived and worked in a cult environment for 5 years where the members live together, who rarely leaves the group compound and who has frequent, direct contact with the cult leader will have suffered much more from the effects of cult control than someone who attends a 2 hour class given by the cult leader once a week for 2 months.
In one-on-one cults, in an intimate relationship with a sociopath, for example, a husband and wife situation, where all the attention is given to one victim, the results can be very disturbing.
Cult members and people in abusive relationships typically believe that they have made their own decisions and are continuing to do so - even when to outsiders their beliefs and their logic seem very strange and almost unreal! But their volition, their free-will, has been severely limited. Cult members may believe all sorts of things, they are part of an elite group, having special or important information that can change or save the world, amongst other things.
If you have a family member or a friend in a cult, you will recognize some of these things!
Remember that mental control is a process and that cult members have reached where they are one step at a time. Their reality has been shifted because of their membership of the group, and within this reality they believe they are making their own decisions, even though these decisions are often designed to keep them trapped in the group.
Even when they are presented with contradictions, unreasonableness and incongruencies in what they say and do, they will often argue to maintain their belief systems intact, for the very reason that they believe that they have chosen and have made their own decisions about it. And indeed, in their new, imposed reality, very often there are no contradictions or incongruencies for them! (Remember their critical thinking abilities have been repressed).
People also develop beliefs to help them deal with their mind control situation. These beliefs can actually hamper recovery later on, as explained in this article about abusive mothers.
With the state of the world as it is today, it seems that more and more people are turning to fundamentalist ideas to try to find order or safety or security in today's chaos.
It also means they are more susceptible to being recruited by cults because cults offer simple solutions to life's difficult problems, and cults thrive in difficult times. And in all areas, religious, political, financial, health e.g. yoga cults, fitness cults etc., and personal development.
It also seems that there are more and more cult films being made today, and that doesn't mean films with a cult following. There are more and more films about mental control, destructive cults and psychopaths, if you know what you're looking for!
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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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