The letter below is somewhat longer than most you run in your newspaper, I know. I hope you will run it however, as painting the picture of cults and their insidious control is not something that can be done in a few words.
Fleeing from Mind-Control Cults
I spent almost 50 years in a cult. Since leaving, I have become rather an expert on the subject, in ways that most will never experience, hopefully. That, in fact is the essence of this letter.
Steve Hassan (LMHC and NCC), wrote a book entitled, Combating Cult Mind Control after his exit from a different, but equally dangerous, cult. By the time he wrote it, he had become one of the world’s eminent experts on cults and their techniques of control. Any short letter to the editor could not do justice to this subject, but Steve’s abbreviated model for identification is worth at least a moment of consideration for anyone who wonders about themselves or a relative’s involvement with an ‘odd’ religion.
He outlines a model he refers to B.I.T.E., an acronym.
B is for Behavior Control. My former cult did this, as most do, by controlling with whom one may associate, demanding uniform grooming and dress, creating rules that even peek into a person’s most private decisions, and tying up much or all of one’s time in meeting attendance or ritual activity.
I is for Information Control – Typically this involves deceptive reporting of anything that originates outside of the cult’s doctrine, demonizing any ideas that don’t originate from the leadership, minimizing access to education or non-cult materials, excessive demands to keep busy with internal information, and encouraging spying on other members and reporting any violation of the groups’ standards to those in charge.
T stands for Thought Control, and is often seen in the groups’ black/white view of the world, an ‘us versus them’ mentality, an excessive use of ‘loaded language’ – buzz words that reduce principle ideas to platitudinous and trite concepts understood primarily by those within. A major red-flag is indicated when doctrines are viewed as absolute, no critical investigation of the religion is tolerated, and anyone who dares differ in opinion is branded as ‘evil’ or ‘apostate’, often vilified and then booted from the group, with all remaining ordered to cease any contact with that person.
E is for Emotional Control. This is powerful, as it employs guilt and fear to drive the person’s choices, rather than rational thought patterns most of us develop as adults. Fear of independent thinking, fear of losing one’s salvation, fear of displeasing the leadership, fear of shunning that will result from any misstep, fear that life is not worth living outside the group. The group will instill the idea that there is never any legitimate reason to leave the group. Any who leave are labeled as ‘weak’; ‘worldly’; ‘under the influence of the Demons’; seduced by sex, money and rock and roll.
Some or all of this BITE model will be obvious to those who look carefully at the potential religion, from the outside and with a clear mind. One of the problems is that often much of this is insidious, not revealed until long after one has made commitments to the organization, often not until one seeks to escape many years later. But those who are suspicious can access information from former members, cult experts, books and the internet. Much help is out there for those who are worried that a family member is getting involved in a cult. As I look back, I so wish that this help was available to others before my mother was inducted in the 50’s, subsequently drawing me in also 10 years later.
I have escaped, but not unscathed. I lost all my ‘friends’ – who really were only conditional associates unfortunately – I passed up education, career opportunities, and put my very life in danger by adopting medical stances that could have killed me or my family in an emergency. I wasted countless years in ritual activity and recruiting. Sadly, I aided several others to a life of cult involvement, and for that sin against them I will forever have pain in my heart. My world view had been warped, and it has taken me most of the past 7 years to recover fully. Thankfully my wife escaped with me, but that is often not the case, leading to horrible marriages or divorce at a moment of intense emotional pressure. In many cases, if one seeks to leave, he/she loses his spouse, his children shun him for the rest of his life. Many are forced to live out a lonely life and die without support from the cult-membership that they had thought of as family.
My deepest wish is that if you, or anyone you love, is considering joining a religion that seems the least bit ‘odd’, out of the mainstream, that you will make it a goal to investigate, investigate, investigate. Life is too short to waste by being part of a dangerous mind control cult masquerading as legitimate religion.