Most of the original research on mind control comes from studies done not on religious groups but rather on Chinese re-education techniques used on dissident Chinese and political prisoners during the 1950s. Robert J. Lifton wrote "Thought Reform and the Psychology of Totalism" (1961; New York: W. W. Norton). He was studying the process and effects of mind control techniques on individuals. The work that he did was remarkable in that when you apply his "eight criteria for thought reform" to almost any group you can identify which groups fall into the category of using mind controls on their members. Some people might say that all education is a form of thought control but the reality is that thought control techniques rob the person of their ability to think, feel, and act in ways that are uniquely "them". The individual takes on a group identity which is wholely dependent on the present ideology of the leaders. If that ideology changes tomorrow the individual en masse change their thinking to adopt the new ideology without question.
Years later when Lifton was presented some information by Steven Hassan, an ex-Moonie, on the indoctrination techniques used by the Moonies, Lifton replied "What you are telling me is so much more sophisticated than what the Chinese did in the 50s. Its like a hybrid mutation of a virulent virus strain!" (Taken from "Combatting Cult Mind Control" Steven Hassan P 28).
EIGHT CRITERIA FOR THOUGHT REFORMMilieu Control
Milieu control takes over human communication from both within the group and outside the group. The leaders decide what information you can and cannot have. Eventually the process is intense enough that the individual begins to control their inner thought processes not allowing forbidden thoughts to be entertained in their own minds. There are controls in place both within the group to limit access to everything a person sees, hears, reads and writes. Peer pressure is used to maintain the control. And the last aspect of milieu control is implanting a fear that the only place you are safe is inside the group; that people on the outside will not understand.
Awake! Jan 8, 1998: "So, when it comes to reading or watching TV, it is good to examine your habits. . . Some have been able to take stock of their reading and TV intake and have eliminated material that cluttered their minds and also their homes.. . Keeping life simple and uncluttered was advocated by the greatest man who ever lived, Jesus Christ." and "Immoral individuals use the Internet to pursue their sexual perversions and to contact willing partners or innocent victims. Others use the Internet to promote their own personal agendas. Apostates also create Web sites to catch the nave. . . one has to recognize the harmful influences out there, including pornography and apostasy.. . . We have to realize that many Web sites may not be immoral or dishonest, such as chat groups, are a plain waste of time. From all such, stay away!: p 12
These are common examples of how the Society (WT organization as opposed to members) controls the information that members get. Members are STRONGLY discouraged from associating with non-members and can be disfellowshipped for talking to ex-members. They can be disfellowshipped for having material written by ex-members. Reading, watching or talking about forbidden topics can result in being thrown out or disciplined. (external control).
People are even counseled to not even allow themselves to think about these things (internal control)In the August 1, 1997 Watchtower there is a whole article on how to control your thinking so as not to dwell on forbidden things. They use scriptures to back up everything they say and to instill fear of dire consequences if not obeyed.
Leaders who use mind control techniques almost always claim that they are agents of some "higher power" or force. Their purposes are higher, more pure, uniquely righteous, and exclusive. By claiming this they can then claim that they are the ONLY path to salvation. Since members are convinced that they are the ONLY chosen ones, whatever they do to enhance or put forward that belief is acceptable. It also allows members to use deception or playing with words to hide their real purpose.
Witnesses are often told that since they alone have found the truth if they left there would be no where for them to go for salvation. They are constantly reminded that they have the truth and they are the ONLY ones who have it. This special status allows them to play with words. For example; if you were to ask any witness who came to your door whether he was there to try to convert you, he will say NO, knowing that is exactly why he is there. Witnesses go door to door in the hopes of finding people who they can convince and train to join them. Sounds like converting people to me both then and now. They will say that it is God who acts on the person and that somehow negates what they do.
Demand for Purity
For groups that use these techniques the world becomes divided into "us" and "them". We are right, absolutely good, pure, chosen and everybody else is wrong, absolutely bad, evil and doomed. To maintain your status in the group as one of the chosen you must continually prove yourself worthy by conforming to ever changing beliefs. The demand for purity also permits leaders to expel those who do not absolutely conform. The need to conform in thought, feeling, and behavior would move to get people to confess if they personally did not conform in some manner.
Jehovahs Witnesses will disfellowship any person they deem as a threat to the demand for purity. That is what happened to me. To prevent the truth from coming out that one of their leaders was an abuser, they threw me out.
Many group require forms of confession. In a thought controlled group this takes on intense dynamics. In these groups confessions can go on for hours with constant criticism all with the goal of the individual acknowledging that they have not conform to the group ideology. The individual must surrender any sense of self and go back into the group mentality.
After having gone through this process which lasted for three sessions over three days each session lasting 2-4 hours in length, all I can say it was grueling. At the end I almost fainted from exhaustion, fear, degradation shock and confusion.
Since a totalistic group believes that they alone have the only true ideology. Questioning or criticizing the group is the equivalent of questioning God - an absolute sin. It is only the leaders of the group who can interpret the group ideology. For many members there is a sense of security in this because they do not need to think for themselves about the validity of the beliefs. They can simply allow others to do the thinking and they just accept.
The WT Society disfellowships any member that criticises or questions the beliefs set out by the leaders. Honest questions are suspect. The ability to not think when changes are made to the beliefs can be demonstrated by a ruling that I recall. At one point the witnesses were not allowed to talk to or help ex-members. You could get thrown out if you did. I had an uncle who had been disfellowshipped and none of us talked to him. Then there was an change in policy saying that we could talk to them and even help them get to meetings. We were thrilled .We could now at least talk to him. Soon after the Society discovered that by letting witnesses talk to ex-members we were getting information that was against the witnesses and causing us to question some of t what was happening. They changed the rule again to say that we couldnt talk to them anymore. So like obedient little sheep we stopped talking to him. I dont know if anyone ever even told him what was going on. We didnt question it. For a while I felt bad but learned to ignore that feeling and just quietly accept what was taught.
Loading the Language
Most of these groups develop a special use of words that is exclusive to the members. Outsiders would not know what these words meant. Using the words will help members identify other members. A second purpose of special words is to segregate members from non-members. If people do not understand how words are being used it is difficult to communicate. A third purpose of this special language is to stop the thinking process. By using these words or sayings the individual does not need to consider a point. It constricts the language which in turn constricts thought, therefore making it easier for the group to maintain control.
As a witness if I was in a strange group and wanted to know if there were any other witnesses in the group I could ask a carefully worded question which would be picked up by other witnesses in the group. This serves one purpose to find other witnesses but a secondary purpose would be to identify people consider not proper associations. I know that after I left the witnesses I had to learn how to talk to people all over again. My mind was so full of these special language that I had to stop myself constantly to remember that most people would not understand me. The third part - thought-stopping - prevented me from thinking. If somebody said "So-and-so was disfellowshipped" a normal response would be Why? What happened? Some curiosity. Witnesses will stop themselves from thinking normal questions like that because it might be seen as questioning the societys decisions which come from God.
Doctrine over Person.
Group ideology ALWAYS takes precedence over the individual. If a person questions the group ideology then the person is made to feel like there is something wrong with them. It is always turned around so that the individual is wrong and they are made to feel guilty.
Interestingly witnesses who have studied the Bible and come to a conclusion that the society does not teach is accused of either questioning God - a sin, or "jumping ahead" (understanding what God will help us to see in the future - such understanding is only given to leaders). IN the example I gave previously about my uncle, nowhere was any consideration given to the feelings of either those shunned or the members who had to give up a second time relationships with family or friends who were no longer members.
Dispensing of Existence
According to totalistic groups they have the right to decide who belongs and who doesnt Those who belong will be saved or honored; those that dont are condemned. This instills fear that if one leaves the group one is doomed.
In spite of the evidence the elders (leaders) in my congregation decided that I was unfit to belong and disfellowshipped me. I firmly believe that if the members knew all the facts and were to decide the decision would have been very different. According to the society I am evil and my only concern is to draw others away from "The Truth" and I will die for my apostasy.
Copyright 1999: Lee Marsh