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REVEAL: The Crisis Line

Mind Control

So how do abusive groups get away with this? Cults are able to keep their members uninformed and passive through a combination of sophisticated psychological techniques collectively known of as mind control.

Mind control is not "brainwashing", although brainwashing is a primitive form of mind control. A victim of brainwashing is usually under few illusions about his situation. Most victims of brainwashing are prisoners of war or of a totalitarian government, and their jailers make it clear that their very existence depends on cooperating.

Victims of mind control are usually not imprisoned or physically held against their will. They are given enough food. Most are not subjected to physical abuse or torture, or threats of torture. On the surface, most appear to have joined their cult by their own choice, and on the surface, most appear free to leave their situation if they want to.

Appearances are deceptive in this case. Human beings are usually capable of spotting twisted thinking, deceit, and sheer nonsense when their critical thinking abilities are working properly. But human beings do not always use their minds. Most people don't start from a position of scepticism and critical thinking when a friend tells them about his cool new church -- we trust our friends.

In certain circumstances, people can become friends very fast and without learning much about each other. Such circumstances include students starting college, people starting a new job, a family moving to a new area, or a person in trouble. When someone is kind, welcomes us, and offers help, we tend to feel it is ungrateful and cynical to question their motives.

A cult will take full advantage of this -- they recruit heavily on college campuses, especially at the beginning of the school year, at unemployment offices, on the job, and among new neighbors. They'll be there when a close family member dies. They'll offer support to people in the middle of a divorce, or facing financial or legal problems. Often several people from the group will reach out to a particular person, apparently spontaneously. This "spontaneous" kindness is usually well planned.

This "love bombing" usually will continue during the full recruitment/conversion period. The prospective convert learns quickly that being open to the information given by the group is rewarded with praise and affection. Asking questions and especially bringing up outside negative information, however, will result in angry denunciations of the sources of that information, rather than any attempt to address the questions it raises. If the prospect persists, the praise and affection will be withdrawn and he/she will be criticized for being unspiritual, ungrateful, and blind to the group's "Truth".

This pattern of attacking the sources of negative information, rather than addressing the issues it raises, does warn some prospective converts that something isn't right. Many people who are subjected to recruitments by psychologically abusive groups, though, are under stress or facing a major life change, and are therefore especially susceptible to love bombing. Outsiders often wonder out loud how "an intelligent person like you" could be taken in by such a group. The answer is simple -- mind control techniques such as love bombing are designed to bypass a person's intelligence and especially his critical thinking skills. When a lonely and hurting person suddenly receives an overwhelming amount of love and acceptance, it is extremely difficult for him to stand back and assess the reasons for this or question something he desperately doesn't want to have disappear.

Love bombing is not the only technique such groups use. Cults target idealistic people, offering them the opportunity to work on these problems with a large group of like-minded individuals. They target people on genuine spiritual searches, offering clear, simple, black and white answers to the most complex spiritual questions.

Once someone has joined, things change. After a "honeymoon" period of a couple of weeks to a couple of months, new members find that the intense love bombing stops, and they are suddenly expected to start producing and to give, where they had been receiving. The new member then usually desperately tries to regain the praise and love they were receiving before their conversion by becoming an "ideal" member.

When this happens, the group owns you. It can largely determine what you believe by controlling the information you get and interfering with your ability to think critically. It can indoctrinate you so that you distrust your own ability to reason and believe Satan is sowing doubts in your mind when you see abuses or irregularities in the group. It can implant phobias against doubting what cult leaders say, talking about one's doubts with other people, reading outside information about the group, and leaving the group. It can detach you from your support network of family and friends, leaving you totally dependent on the group for all emotional, social, and physical support.

Under these circumstances, a member of a psychologically abusive group will usually think, feel, and do what the leaders of his group want him to. When he starts to question something or have doubts, he'll suppress them, until they build up to the point where he can't any longer.

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