Ways to evaluate a group’s control over person freedom

From Chapter Four of Combating Cult Mind Control (Park Street Press, 1990) by Steven Hassan
(with comments by Diane Muir)


Destructive mind control can be understood in terms of four basic components, which form the acronym BITE:

1. Behavior Control

2. Information Control

3. Thought Control

4. Emotional Control

These four components are guidelines. Not all groups do every aspect or do them extremely. What matters most is the overall impact on a person’s free will and ability to make real choices.

1. Behavior Control

A person’s uniqueness, talents, skills, creativity, and free will should be encouraged, not suppressed. Destructive mind control seeks to “make people over” in the image of the cult leader. This process has been described as “cloning”. This “cult identity” is the result of a systematic process to dissociate a person from his or her previous identity including important beliefs and values as well as significant relationships. The result is the creation of a dual identity, what I refer to “John-John” and “John group-member”. (Comment: The story and language are slowly learned through contact with leadership in the training. Lev 3 students learn not to “preach” and under the “privilege of silence” they are told not to reveal the teachings/language. They of course try to share with others, who do not have a clue as to what they are talking about. The teacher then gets to reinforce that this is indeed special privileged information that no one less than their vibration can comprehend. This causes a ‘split’ life, further divisiveness between the students and their families and worldly environment. They are taken out of the world, separated into an “elite” system with its own rules and language. In Lev 4, this continues with a more severe admonition threatening loss of soul if they reveal what others have no context for, thus it is a danger to others to reveal the teachings/language. Again, a division, an us/them split that conditions them into an elite position of power. At this level they are told they are on the leading edge of a wedge of consciousness led by the founder and leadership, who has taken the brunt of the battle and has protected them, held position for them. This creates loyalty and sets the tone for how ‘service’ is defined: devotion to the organization and the leaders who have worked so hard on their behalf. After this conditioning, students are convinced they are “the way” and proceed to adopt the beliefs of the founder and leadership. It was said often that the founder is “cloning” herself: “You will be me”)

Members feel pressured to choose group over personal time, little or no time spent on leisure, entertainment, vacations (Comment: pressure is always there, for those who do give all of their time must make others feel guilty for not helping with the “cause”.)

Major time commitment required for sessions and group events (Comment: excessively so)

Need to ask permission for major decisions (Comment: not as overt as some groups in this way, but people are rewarded with time and attention if they act dependent on the expert advice of leadership, and are certainly given more approval the more they decide to devote to the training, and the more they copy upper levels)

Need to report thoughts, feelings and activities to superiors (Comment: this is very rewarded, it shows they are doing their ‘work’; leadership encouraged to report “trouble makers”; ministers told to “Watch” people who did outside work, it Reiki or other healing systems)

Rewards and punishments (Comment: behavior modification techniques- positive and negative, approval/disapproval by group leaders is a strong factor in this training, it has been demanded, in a wrist-slapping or angry manner that students respect and honor leadership, for they work hard and have “held the line” for them.)

Individualism discouraged; group think prevails (Comment: This is done with sometimes subtle but strong built in adherence to what a leader thinks; dissent kept at bay)

Rigid rules and regulations (Comment: arbitrary and constantly changing by leadership)

Need for obedience and dependency (Comment: in only one of many such in incongruent practices, it is said that one must be obedient only to God, but in practice, those who voice concerns or questions are addressed from the position of “power” rules, and students expected to listen. If a student voices a difference of opinion or goes outside the story, shame, humiliation and disapproval get them back “on board”.  Leadership deflects, or redirects blame onto the student: ie the expression “look in the mirror” is used often)

2. Information Control

Access to former members, critical information is minimized or discouraged (Comment: there is an underlying energy of right vs. wrong, us vs. them that keeps people either away from former members or those who do remain in contact with former members hide the fact.)

Keep members so busy they don’t have time to think (Comment: or keep them in the group think to such an extent that thinking anything other than what the group thinks is unthinkable!)

Compartmentalization of information:

Outsider vs. Insider doctrines

Information is not freely accessible

Information varies at different levels and missions within pyramid

Leadership decides who “needs to know” what

Reporting of deviant thoughts, feelings, and actions to leadership

Unethical use of confession (Comment: confession then used to “assess” people, students expected to take advice from upper levels, who mold them into the group rule book of “power”, proper language and practices.)

3. Thought Control

Need to internalize the group’s doctrine as “Truth”

Map of Doctrine = Reality

Black and White thinking (Comment: students told that truth is black and white, not gray, see consciousness level 250- neutrality on the Power vs. Force page; the only truth is the power training story)

Good vs. evil (Comment: again, Training in Power vs the rest of the world, they are not as good, enlightened, or in power as us)

Us vs. them (Comment: inside vs. outside, divides and causes uncompromising win/lose rather that the seeking of solutions; alienates from those outside)

Adoption of “loaded” language (Comment: characterized by “thought-terminating clichés”, reduces complexities of experience into trite, platitudinous “buzz words”. Within the group this stops dialogue and creates hierarchy: “You’re not in power”, you’re in denial, you’re out of position, look in the mirror, have all been used to deflect scrutiny of an issue that is brought up. The language list is long, many common words become ingrained with training meaning.)

Only “conforming” and “proper” thoughts are encouraged. (Comment: by upholding the robotic rule book, leadership gives approval for conforming and disapproval for disagreeing.  This behavior is seen as strong authoritarian and “in power”)

Rejection of rational analysis, critical thinking, constructive criticism. (Comment: again, deflective statements that reduce communication stop criticism; outreach lost most of its student body because issues were deflected back onto the lead. ‘You’re out of position’ has been used often to deflect a problem just because someone is too emotional about it; it’s your problem. The attitude is that if you are critical you are against us. A brick wall method that is supposed to be used to cut through a student’s “bullshit”, yet most times it’s actually used to stop free expression, or self discovery. This authority position undermines self trust and self awareness, again creating dependency on the authority of the group.

No critical questions about leader, doctrine, or policy seen as legitimate (Comment: across the board this is the general operating style of Training in Power)

No alternative belief systems viewed as legitimate, good, or useful (Comment: leadership upholds that no other system has “power”, a power ‘construct’ or the whole truth, and that people are wasting their time doing any other work. Students believe this, and of course when they go to other workshops they report back that they saw no power or construct etc. People are told to go out and try other things, and that they will come back when they see the truth.)

Make the person feel like if there are ever any problems it is always their fault, never the leader’s or the group’s. (Comment: consistently, to the point of using rage, shame, humiliation. Screaming at students was justified because of what the students ‘do’ to the founder. I witnessed years of verbal abuse at students, and when they tried to protest or discuss the issues, after being shamed or humiliated, they were then ignored, banished, soldier-gathered against and made to feel they were attacking the founder or people who supported the founders beliefs.)

4. Emotional Control (Comment: all these tactics were used)


Identity guilt
Who you are (not living up to your potential)
Your family
Your past
Your affiliations
Your thoughts, feelings, actions
Social guilt
Historical guilt


Excessive use of fear (Comment: students are warned about fear and guilt in the beginning, and they so believe in the training and the people that they cannot see that their fear comes not from their wounding but also from the built in web of fear in the training itself. When told fear is being used, they disassociate and justify it, or say it doesn’t affect them, that they don’t participate in it. This is also a type of disassociation that by ignoring it, not speaking to leadership about it, they give their support for it to be done to others. The training is seen as so valuable that those who wish to continue must ignore/deny/avoid that which is controlling and hurtful, which is mostly justifiable by saying it is “for their own good”.  I see now that if as a teacher/leader you can produce fear and compliance in students, the founder thinks you have power; fear is thus an implicit mechanism in the structure of the training and assumes students need fear in order to change. This method further drives students away from their inner process and externalizes them into the training story of power and dependency.)

Fear of the “outside” world
Fear of thinking independently
Fear of enemies
Fear of losing one’s “salvation”
Fear of leaving the group or being shunned by group
Fear of disapproval

Extremes of emotion. Extremes of emotional highs and lows. (Comment: exalted by “power transfer” and into the training story, where they are bonded by drama (grief of people leaving, camaraderie of the battles, the common bonds of “confession” etc.)

Ritual and often public confession of “sins”. (Comment: It is said that the training does not do ritual, which is rote, yet repeats and builds upon, level after level, compliance to the a fabricated story of power. Students are rewarded for upholding these ‘power rules’ and eventually step into authoritarian, self interpreted and arbitrary dispensation of the story. Since they are holding an authority position, when faced with truth they must uphold the rote story, and therefore miss reading the true energy! Basic meditations are built upon level after level to build the same story people are expected to progress and adhere to. I would say that this is ritualistic programming by reward and punishment. To be witnessed by others as you reveal your pain has been found to be helpful to healing. In the monthly meetings in this training, this vulnerable place is closely linked not to self realization but to what meeting leaders ‘see’ and insist the students ‘get’. Protest is not allowed by saying the student is “in denialâ” .  Students who do not agree are “resisting.  In this vulnerable place, the ritual of the ‘story’ and the ‘construct’ of the training is reinforced. )

Phobia indoctrination. Programming of irrational fears of ever leaving the group or even questioning the leader’s authority. The person under mind control cannot visualize a positive, fulfilled future without being in the group. No happiness or fulfillment “outside” of the group. (Comment: as the story is learned through the levels, people get more and more convinced of the truth, more in alignment with upholding the story for others coming up in the levels behind them, and more rigid in denying the abuse that is used to control themselves and others. Those who do leave the group are in trauma for a long time)

Consequences. Terrible consequences will take place if you leave: “hell”; “demon possession”; “incurable diseases”; “accidents”; “suicide”; “insanity”; “10,000 reincarnations”; etc. (Comment: inferred that you will lose vibration, fall, get sick, get fat, throw away your spiritual journey if you leave. I often heard it said about those who left: if they had stayed they wouldn”™t have died, they got fat, look terrible, are in denial, evil. People are reminded over and over the only reason they are alive is this training; they believe this and repeat the story, as testimonial and in tearful thankfulness. Members are often asked to recount how they ‘found’ the training, and the more thankful they, the more they touch people with their story, the more accolades they get)

Shunning of leave takers. (Comment: they’re said to be “fallen” which ties into students fear of being rejected by the group, fear of being fallen etc. Leave takers are ‘evil’ and trying to “take down the training”)

Never a legitimate reason to leave. From the group’s perspective, people who leave are: “weak”; “undisciplined”; “unspiritual”; “worldly”; “brainwashed by family, counselors”; seduced by money, sex, rock and roll. (Comment: consistently true)

Thought Control in Group Movements

Since the early 1970’s there has been a burgeoning not of governments, but of independent entrepreneurial groups going into the mind manipulation and personality-change business. Myriads of faddist, cultists, quacks and “new age” and “new-movement” groups have emerged using Orwellian mind manipulation techniques. The groups recruit the naive, the unaffiliated, the trusting and the altruistic. They promise intellectual, spiritual and self-actualization utopias whereas the pied pipers of the past promised primarily social and political new worlds. The New Age pied pipers offer pathways to development, enlightenment and egalitarianism. Many later subject their followers to mind-numbing controls that discourage dissent and subjugate free will in a context of a strictly enforced hierarchy. (Comment: consistently true)

1. Type of members.

There are many types of members, each with their own motivation. First of all there the ones who have been moved to do so out of a genuine spiritual aspiration, prepared to sacrifice. Other members may have been searching for a truth behind the dreadful aspects of life around them and an escape there from.

People who wrestle with a psychological problem seek (unconsciously) a key or solution to it in a particular teaching or discipline.

Then there are those that did so out of a feeling of isolation and loneliness. Lack of true companionship may have made them long to be taken up in a fraternity of kindred souls.

People will be drawn to a brotherhood whose aims are within their reach of comprehension and nearest to their hearts. A religious background may make them veer towards a sect that accommodates nostalgia, like the Jehovah Witnesses. (Comment: yearly Level 6 retreat with its “first life” story gives the group a common story)

For younger people it may be an escape from having to enter into a harsh materialistic society. They are in an idealistic life-cycle, prepared to give up their study and career to a worthy cause. Some older people can never make up their minds and wander from one cause to another.

The weaker the individual’s independence, the more will he be tied to the group. Members who understand group-mechanisms, prepared to cope with them in order to direct their attention to the spirit, will benefit most as they are selective in picking up the cream of what is given and taking the rest with a grain of salt.

2. Leader/founder

New religious movements arise usually around a father/mother figure who has gained authority after receiving a special revelation, communication, truth or insight. His/her charisma will vouchsafe loyal followers, even if his/her lifestyle may give rise to severe doubts by some. He may boost his prestige by claiming to follow the footsteps of an esteemed spiritual teacher, represent an esoteric tradition, be of noble descent, or channel the wisdom of a great mind. (Comment: yes)

He represents an archetype in member’s subconscious minds. That of a wise father, or mother. He will have a compelling influence on followers who project their father/mother complex on him/her.

During his lifetime the leader will act as a moderator and steer the movement. He will re-interpret his teachings as he sees fit from the responses he receives. The death of the founder marks a turning point. His teachings will become inflexible, as no one dares to temper with them as he did himself. A rigidity may enter, unless another figure arises that leads the movement in a different direction, for better or for worse.

3. Doctrine/teaching

The teachings are secretive. The pronouncements are characterized by great certainty and authority as if it was the word of God. In some cases it is presented as such. The more incomprehensible the secret doctrine of the master the stronger its appeal. After all it is beyond reason and should appeal only to the heart. An exception should be made for true mystical literature based on inner experience which can hardly be expected to appeal to the intellect, but be appreciated intuitively, especially by those who had similar experiences. Members may adopt fresh meanings to words, talk to each other in a jargon that the outsider can hardly follow (group-speak). The result being an inability to relate in speech, or explain new concepts to the outsider (Fourth Way). (Comment: Language above Level 1 becomes exclusive; level 3 and beyond secret and filled with the founder’s particular jargon.)

4. Uniqueness of the movement

Movements will extol their benefits over others usually. After all there should be a strong reason to join that particular group. Some present themselves as being the sole way towards salvation, the only or best way. Others make a promise of a benefit that is only reserved for members of that sect. To avert attention some pride themselves for absence of a teaching, or their openness and democratic rules.

In short new movements will advance a variety of reasons for their uniqueness. Herewith a few:

Never before has mankind been offered through the leader this discipline/interpretation/insight.

Do not pour new wine in old bottles. (Comment: “cast not your pearls of wisdom before swine”, Level 1)

God’s, or a celestial, new message to mankind for this particular time.

Impending disaster (pollution, atomic explosion) calls for drastic measures. Salvation only reserved for faithful members.

Fresh interpretation of holy book thanks to insight/revelation of founder.

Esoteric tradition, once accessible to adepts only, now revealed. (Comment: never before taught on the earth plane; Level 4 and up).

Only those following that particular work on self, discipline, or belief, will reach eternity, be released from earth’s evils, cycle of rebirths, etc.

Preparatory group to make way for the coming of the new messiah/world-teacher/avatar. (Comment: the students are taught in to the ‘world teacher’ and avatar positions in higher levels – they are the savior)

Noteworthy is the vehemence with which groups stress differences between each other. The closer movements share an outlook the more virulent the attacks on their rivals become, seemingly more than on groups which follow a completely different belief. This manifests itself especially when original groups split. In Christianity one could not steep low enough to attack other followers of Christ, who held a slightly different opinion. It resulted in disastrous wars.

Attacks against spiritual movements, for instance by SCICOP, are reminiscent of the zeal of a Christian crusade, be it that they have their roots in humanism and its rationalistic/materialistic outlook of the turn of the century. Consequently they are not much different from the movements mentioned here. The psychological background will be discussed further under points 10 and 11.

5. Probation and conversion

Many movements will put up a barrier by means of an initiation to test the probationer’s fitness to become part of the group. Henceforth they will play an important pioneer-part in the foretold future. Having reached such coveted stage members will not fail to follow what they are being told for fear of expulsion.

The new member may undergo a conversion, gaining a completely new insight in the meaning of life, see it in a way the group does. His previous life with all its relationships has become meaningless. He may have turned himself inside out by a confession of his previous “sins”. He may have ‘cathartic’ emotional releases marked by a feeling of peace, happiness and transcendence.

6. Belief versus intellect

Intellectual analysis of belief is tantamount to heresy. Often disciplines followed in the movements are accompanied by a lowering of the threshold to the unconscious mind. Suggestion will begin to play an important part. Precepts are being experienced as the truth.. There is no element of doubt anymore about assumptions and speculation often without any factual foundation. (Comment: again, incongruity: it is taught that students are coming out of belief into their own “knowing” yet they are actually trained to believe in a particular “power” story that they must act as if they believe in and understand, which causes them to doubt any critical thoughts.)

7. Common practice, work and ritual

Communal singing, ritual and (incomprehensible) practices are strong binding factors that keep followers emotionally tied. Others are a special food regime, a new or secret name, or a common grudge or cause to work against. Joint work for the benefit of the group gives the feeling of a common endeavor and unites the participants. So does proselytization to get people in the group and excessive volunteer work unite and bond. There is a thin line between true participation and exploitation.

Dubious was the practice, common in the seventies, to incite members to criticize one of them to an extent that he/she would break down under the weight of often absurd allegations and insults, resulting in a brain-wash effect.

8. Sacrifices, financial secrecy, favours to the rich.

Finances are always a ticklish matter. Human groups always wish to grow. Finances are important. Accountability is often not considered appropriate. Danger arises that members of the inner circle become lax in expenditure of members’ contributions. Ambitious schemes call for a constant need for funding. This is the ideal breeding ground for favours to wealthy members. Those who contribute generously stand more chance to be taken in confidence and admitted to the inner circles.

Members will often be expected to offer services to the group. However, if they also have to work for practically free while others benefit it becomes dubious. Movements that gather wealth at the top at the expense of their members are questionable. Seldom or never requests for return of contributions/investments are honoured. (Comment: long documented history of money problems in the training; anger, shame, humiliation directed at those questioning the money policy; severe battles between US/CAN boards, people speak out then recant or withdraw when reprimanded. One tactic was to use their past to remind them of their errant thoughts. The pyramid scheme of compensation for teaching was as controlled as the information that was taught. There was a great manipulation of teachers and who got to teach in outreach, outreach was given then taken away to prevent dependency of students (which is the very thing created in the training!). This sabotaged the teacher’s building of an area. Continual non resolution, non acceptance of suggestions for change kept inept leaders in control and everyone without a cogent system to operate within. People expected to give time and money constantly as a service to the organization.)

9. Reprehensible behaviour amongst members.

Man in a herd may not show the best side of his nature. Unconscious drives may reign his behaviour. This is applicable especially in circumstances that man strives for the spiritual. He may tend to show split-personality behaviour. On one hand the spiritual personality which is supposed to have come to terms with its animal nature. It is wise, friendly and compassionate on the outside. In the shadows lurks the personality that has been forced into the background, still ridden with all the expulsed human frailties. In moments of weakness it will see its chance to play its tricks. It will do so without being noticed by the person involved.

The result being: uncharitable behaviour, envy, malicious gossip, harsh words, insensitivity, unfounded criticism and even worse, not expected from such charismatic figure. It is one of the main reasons for people leaving a particular group in great disappointment. (Comment: harshness was considered ‘good for us’)

10. Fear of exclusion

The stronger members are tied to a group, the more the fear of exclusion lurks. They may have invested their life’s savings in the work (Scientology), paid a percentage of their income, failed to conclude their study, or make a career, or sacrificed a successful one. (Comment: or just devoted years and years)

In many cases a member will have alienated himself from family and friends, who have not been able to appreciate his or her conversion. The accompanying fanaticism and urge to proselytize has shied them away. In turn the converted individual will seek comfort and understanding with members of the spiritual group. (Comment: What I have seen is that it was only after leaving the group that students again began to see their family members as people again, and these family members began to reveal how worried they have been about the member; how cold and clinical the member became, how separate and unapproachable they have been.)

Such isolation seems sometimes to be intentionally sought. Formerly, in the Bhagavan movement, members went about in red/orange dresses and wore mala’s with a photo of their master, so setting themselves aside from the mundane world. The Hare Krishna movement goes even further when groups of members go out into the streets in their oriental dresses for song and dance acts. In most movements the alienation is far more subtle and the natural outcome of their general attitude towards the materialistic society.

The true nature of the so-called friendships within the group will only be revealed after a devotee has left the fold. Members have seen this happen, not giving it a thought at the time because it happened to someone else. Suddenly those expulsed experience the humiliation of not be greeted anymore, marriages split up – even children may not recognize a parent anymore. The outcast feels thrown in an abyss. To be cut off from social contacts, to see one’s life crumble, is a desperate experience, the magnitude of which for the individual should not be under-estimated. He will feel deep shame. The expulsee, in his disappointment, may become embittered and even enter into a suicidal mental state. (Comment: those who leave are dismissed as ‘fallen’, friendships disintegrate under the us/them divide)

Those readers who have been a member of a movement may recognize some of the above psychological mechanisms. Their first reaction may be to vow never to enter a group. Let us bear in mind, however, that it should be considered a challenge to face these obstacles for the benefit that may result from association with kindred spirits. A prerequisite is that these conditions are being noticed, looked in the eye, and not denied. (Comment: leadership consistently denies the problems, and deflects back to the questioner or rationalizes the problem) The closer people live together, the more group-tensions will build up. Few communes are granted a long life as a result of one or more of the pitfalls summarized above. Headquarters, contrary to expectations. are known to be hotbeds of gossip, mutual repulsion and cynicism. Yet, do not be disheartened and join a group to your liking. After all people who marry also see the pitfalls around them, yet go ahead focusing on a happy union in mutual trust, without regard to the outcome. Involvement with other people will lead to personal growth if the consequences are anticipated. The more one stands on one’s own feet the more benefit will arise from cooperating with others. It should be borne in mind that the saying “It is better to give, than to receive” is not merely a moral precept.