Five Aspects of Mind Control

1. Information Control

Important information which is available to the general public is withheld from members and potential members. Deception is the basic feature of all cult recruitment. It is also what keeps people inside cults. Therefore, information is one of the best weapons against cults. History, purposes, doctrines, financial disclosures, methods of dealing with problems; counseling, training, and discipline for offenses are kept as confidential as possible. Only those with trusted status are allowed inside information.

2. Thought Control

“Truth” and reality are distorted for members inside the group by subtly changing the definitions of common terms with new meanings through the use of code words, clichés, and slogans. Different words make the members feel special and separate from outsiders. They confuse outsiders who attempt to understand the belief system. The change in definitions of significant words keeps even the members from understanding their own beliefs.

The leaders repress questions by conditioning members to employ “thought-stopping” statements, prayers, hymns, Bible verses, mantras, tongues or rituals to drown out doubt, questions, anxiety or uncertainty.

“I can’t think about that.” “(The Leaders) speak for God!”

“How can you question (the leaders) after all they have done?”

“You just aren’t willing enough.” etc.

These “thought-stoppers” aren’t employed to deter immoral thoughts or behavior, but rather questions regarding the church system or leaders.

The word “faith” is employed in a negative sense. Members are conditioned to feel guilty for any curiosity about what is going on in the group; curiosity is a lack of faith. (Therefore, even after some people leave a mind control group, they may be afraid to examine information that explains the doctrines and background of their old belief system.) Typically, the word “grace” has a different meaning from its Biblical use. God is defined by and eventually becomes the group.

3. Emotion Control

Guilt, fear and shame are projected onto the members, prompting self-blame for any depression, lack of understanding, anxiety or inability to cope; rather than examining the leaders, the group’s doctrines, policies, history, scandals or even crimes. Phobic attitudes or behaviors are sometimes noticeable when attempts are made to talk to the leaders or members about their beliefs.

Fear, depression, anger, rage or repetitious statements and circular logic keep members from thinking through to any rational conclusions. Fear of confrontation with the leaders or family members within the group is common. Conversations and questions regarding the belief system are almost impossible unless they are conversations that reinforce the belief system.

4. Behavior Control

Tight control of behavior secures the leaders’ position of authority and importance. The behavior control impresses members and some outsiders to view the group as especially spiritual or successful. The leaders link the required behavior to their special “revelation” of a text of scripture. However, the required behaviors are superficial controls, affecting appearances and outward activity rather than inward character or morals. These can include grooming, daily activities, career choices, clothing, specific technology, posture, speech mannerisms, food choices, recreation, education, decisions about marriage, sex and discipline of children. They usually do not deter moral sin.

If a person does not conform, he may be urged to become more like an older group member; to follow the leaders’ “example”. Obedience and proper attitude to the human leaders is the most important lesson to learn. The leaders cannot totally control one’s inner thoughts, but if they can command behavior and use of time, hearts and minds will usually follow. The behavior control isolates the members from society quite effectively because outsiders become estranged by the weirdness.

5. Friendship Control

Cult leaders demand that members spend as much time as possible with the control group. Meetings are scheduled to occupy as much spare time as possible. Members are cautioned against friendships outside of the group. Recreation is restricted to the control group. The leaders often schedule annual or semi-annual camp meetings or celebrations to gather larger groups for pep-talks to encourage the members.

Outside influences are looked down upon as “worldly,” “dangerous,” “evil,” “devilish,” “poisonous,” etc. Therefore, a member who begins to look outside the group for information or friends becomes targeted for lectures, shunning, glares, sarcasm, meaningful gossip, isolation or excommunication. Other members are warned against the wayward one. Violent groups may resort to physical harm, torture or murder as a deterrent to leaving.

Recovery From Mind Control

People leave religious cults in several ways.

Walk Outs

These people simply leave out of frustration with the mind control. They are tired of having someone else tell them what to think and what to do all the time. Unless they shed the mind control, walk-outs may lead destructive or fear-filled lives. They still assume the leaders are right, therefore, they believe God is angry with them. They often fall into self-destructive or addictive lifestyles. They are rarely able to reconnect with society or their own God-given personalities.

Kicked Outs

These people are shunned or excommunicated for a variety of reasons, usually related to the fact that they failed to respect the leaders as required. Or, they may have emotional problems that created issues within the group. Or, they may have discovered that the leaders have committed a crime or harmed some members in some way. Their knowledge or objections make them a hazard to the leaders.

Burn Outs

These people have been so abused spiritually, mentally, physically, emotionally or financially, that they are barely able to function on a normal basis. Some have been sexually abused and have emotional stress, self-hatred, and anxiety as a result. Some exhibit the Post-Traumatic Stress syndrome commonly experienced by war survivors. They are confused, perhaps even physically ill, afraid and unable to trust anyone, most of all themselves.

Grow Outs

These people have simply grown past the mind control and retained or regained confidence in their own judgment. They have taken charge of their lives again. However, these people may find it very difficult to trust God or another church affiliation.

Find Outs

These are people who are given or stumble onto information that explains the situation; enabling them to leave the mind control without fear and guilt. These people usually take several years to work through the adjustment to normal living and attitudes. Ten years is about average. Education: scriptural as well as secular, cultivating new friends and establishing a new environment and restoring one’s God-given personality are most helpful. The more one learns, the greater the healing.

Counseled Outs

These people are rare. No studies have been done on the needs of people who were born and raised within a mind control group. Few studies have been done on those who have stumbled into or out of a mind control group. Most counselors are ill-equipped to handle the complexities of “exit counseling” because there are so many factors involved in mind control, and each person’s experience is different, even within the same group. However, there are exit-counselors available, although hard to find.

Common Myths

1. “Real” Christians can’t be fooled by religious cults.

False! Christians, pastors, theological students, and professors can become involved in religious cults, given the right conditions, false information, and deception. In fact, some of these people have been the origin of mind control groups.

2. Only uneducated or emotionally troubled people become involved in mind control groups.

False! Very sophisticated, wealthy people, college professors, college students, and well-adjusted, intelligent people are deceived into mind control groups every year. Idealism and wealth are often taken advantage of by cult leaders who usually aren’t interested in uneducated or troubled people.

3. Mind control and brainwashing are the same things.

False! Mind control is accomplished through subtle, friendly persuasion. Brainwashing is done against one’s will by a known enemy. Different methods are used.

4. Cult involvement happens to “other people”, not me or my family.

False! Religious cults are common dangers to every one of us. Many families are broken by them. Society, culture, even nations are affected by them. New Age and Islamic groups are particularly harmful to entire cultures. The eternal consequences to souls can never be tallied.

By Kathleen (Munn) Lewis

Suggested Reading

1. Churches That Abuse by Dr. Ronald Enroth

2. Recovering From Churches That Abuse by Dr. Ronald Enroth

3. Out of the Cults and Into the Church by Janis Hutchinson

4. Combating Cult Mind Control by Steven Hassan

5. Coping with the Cults by Lori Mac Gregor

6. The Subtle Power of Spiritual Abuse by David Johnson & Jeff VanVonderen

7. Cult Proofing Your Kids by Dr. Paul Martin

8. Shame and Grace by Lewis Smedes

9. Toxic Faith by Stephen Arterburn and Jack Felton

10. The Bondage Breaker by Neil Anderson

11. Understanding and Applying the Bible by J. Robertson McQuilkin

12. How to Study the Bible for Yourself by Tim La Haye

13. Jesus: Who Is This Man Who Says He’s God? by RBC Ministries, published by Discovery House Publishers.

14. God in Three Persons by Allen Vander Pol