The Human Truth Foundation

Brainwashing and Mind Control
What Can Cults Do?

By Vexen Crabtree 2002

#hypnotism #religion

1. Methods of Indoctrination

1.1. Building the Exit Cost

A cult or religion will build up the "exit cost" of leaving the group. Building up an exit cost is one of the greatest defining features of a cult. The harder it is to leave, the more dangerous the cult. The exit cost can be comprised of many elements: Imagined, real, social, psychological or practical.

1.2. Hugs and Love Bombing

People have a basic physiological need for plain affection. Love-bombing may include a session where all members hold hands, hug each other or perform other light hearted and affectionate bonding. The actual "bonding" that occurs to the other people is very small, most the bonding comes from a general feel good factor resulting from this primal need being satisfied in a safe and consenting atmosphere.

Love bombing appeals to our basic humanity. Associating this with a particular place, teacher, location or concept promotes that concept and makes it homely, acceptable, "normal". If you experience love bombing mixed with intellectual teachings or the preaching of a leader then their teachings will be associated with this brotherly and good feeling of being soothed and accepted.

When encountering criticism of the cult leaders' teachings, the victim himself feels rejected, angry, hurt. It ties a person down to the group and ideas being preached very effectively and does it without them knowing. It increases the social exit cost, and the longer you associate with the group the harder it is to leave it behind.

The opposite of love-bombing is unconditional love. Love-bombing is highly conditional. This means the love is directly tied down to membership and participation in the group.

When it is clear that a neophyte will not join the group or voices doubts or leaves the group, all love ceases; the technical name for those is shunning. It can be hurtful and painful for the leaving member and is something which they suspect will happen if they leave the group.

Love bombing occurs in many traditional, secretive cults and also in many successful organized religions.

1.3. Ego: We're the Best of Humanity!

This cult-like activity is especially prevalent in fundamentalist and extreme churches and groups. The preacher will teach what the congregation expect to hear and continually stroke their egos, pride and self esteem, simply reassuring them that they are correct in what they believe; and this is also what the group believes.

This pseudo-social behavior is similar to love bombing, but appeals to people's laziness and intellectual complacency... they do not wish to be challenged, they simply wish to live. The exit cost is built up in that the victim will not receive this support in the real world; they experience the opposite of it when people attack their beliefs and association with the religion or group. In this case, external criticism can increase the imagined exit cost and make them need the complacency of the group's mutual reassurance.

1.4. Complimentary Tactics

Making a person want to listen to you, feeding their ego and simply being nice to them. Members are given constant encouragement and praised in front of the group.

Children's games employ this (to an extent). For the cult control tactic to work effectively, you must ensure there are no "losers", that the game is completely and utterly trivial, but also with a "fake" element of struggle, so that people must bind together.

These include "trust games", such as blindfolding one member of the group and having another direct him around the room, in order to complete a task. Linking the tasks in the game, for example... you'd have the guy aiming for a basket containing "happiness", represented by chocolate, or something and the person issuing the calm commands would represent some force or idea of good in the ideology the cult is promoting.

1.5. Singing, Chanting, Candles

Used in hypnotism, intense one on one sessions between an acolyte and neophyte, and associated with deep internal thought, candles have an almost magical ability to confine the practitioners/victims to the area.

Used in many rituals and meditation, candles' dancing flames and vague heat have an effect on us. It easy to theorize that they catch our attention and open our minds; but I am not sure how!

Singing/chanting/loss of breath
The loss of breath and growing euphoria that comes with strong repetitive exhalation serves to tie the atmosphere (such as singing in Church) down to the theology and preaching during the "come back" phase.

"Alpha phase" is the relaxation after the singing/chanting is over, and should remain quiet. After alpha phase is a phase of susceptibility and suggestibility, a person is in a more docile state, their minds are fired up with oxygen and they will be slightly light headed. Perfect timing for some indoctrination!

1.6. Them and Us

Increased psychological pressure and social pressure, causing anxiety and stress when the individual faces the outside world. For example... building a "them and us" mentality. E.g., a Church that maintains *it* is true, and all others are false. A religion that claims it is the only true religion and that other religions contain no worth is using this tactic. When you begin to consider elements of the ritual and teachings as the only or authoritive source of knowledge on subjects like morality or cause and effect, then you are becoming a cultist. In rituals this can appear as symbolic stories or plays as part of the ritual (when you are more suggestible), portraying the followers of the group as being better than everyone else.

1.7. Sensory Deprivation

Full sensory deprivation is a situation where we sit in extreme silence, darkness and extreme quiet for extended periods of time. It very rapidly becomes highly uncomfortable and results in all kinds of hallucinations and strange experiences. Our brains are simply not wired to cope with low levels of external input. Psychological experiments on sensory deprivation chambers show shocking and dramatic results. Ten days in such a chamber (the same as with sleep deprivation) results in serious and permanent psychological damage. But on less severe experiments, the chambers were modified so that the analyst could speak, at times, to the subject. The suggestibility of the subject was akin to hypnotism, only much more effective, with the subject being aware of and remembering everything that is said, but also finding themselves uncontrollably agreeing after only a day in the sensory deprivation chamber. The same effects can be achieved with less complete setups, with periods of mild sensory deprivation being a facilitator of self-induced religious experiences.1,2

For more, see:

Other forms of this, leading to suggestibility, are:

  1. Hunger; where food is given along with a "teaching". (Pavlov style!)
  2. Chinese water torture (also results in hallucination and insanity)
  3. A cold atmosphere and uncomfortable seats
  4. Long periods without human communication

The Sensory Deprivation Chambers of the 40s and 50s are now considered a form of torture.

Flotation Tanks
Flotation tanks are not what I am talking about. In a flotation tank you are induced into sleep very rapidly (you are in a laying down position, not a standing position), and it is frequently used by newagers and as a relaxation tool.

2. Examples of Use

Religious ritual (multiple elements)
A cold environment with uncomfortable chairs, candles and a speaker addressing the congregation. Periodical singing serving to cause euphoria and suggestibility (combined with religious lyrics, too). Some moments of group "togetherness". Confusing parables or stories followed by a voice of reason serve as an indoctrination tactic. The speaker is powerful and claims inspiration or authority from a "higher power", etc.

Elements of good-cop, bad-cop exist in most religions, where an "enemy" and his attacks are easily countered by the preacher's ideology and beliefs. Exit costs can be high, especially in more popular religions, as a person's entire social life can be based around the Church, creating a high exit cost of combined

Religious environments (a form of sensory deprivation and voice of reason)
A retreat or location where the members remain mostly in silence, with little communication, or alone is an ideal place to force a person's mind. Other elements must be involved though, for example placing a person in isolation with a carefully set reading pattern can heavily influence and indoctrinate them.

This is hard, however, as it is not "subtle", the person will know they are being forced into reading. A way round this is to provide a vast quantity (scientology...) of material, which is all very similar but which gives the illusion of choice. Material read under circumstances of reduced stimulation will have a greater affect on you.