OBSERVATIONS OF A FORMER
The following are some excerpts copied from a book by a man who was
recruited into the Moonies while he was in college. He rose fairly high in
the Moonie organization. He is now a cult exit-counselor, which is different
than a deprogrammer. He says, "People will always choose what they think
is best for them ...on the basis of their information and experiences. The
member permitted himself to be indoctrinated in the first place only because
he believed the group was wonderful and that he had something to gain from
it. People inherently move in a direction that will support and encourage
growth." So he tries to facilitate that growth and give people information
they lack rather than try to get them to leave their group. He also thinks
society is served by making people aware of mind control methods, so as to
be able to protect themselves. Here are excerpts from his book:
"I believe the only solution to the damage done to people in destructive
cults is to "immunize" the general population against mind control groups.
The most effective way to do so is to expose people to information about
how the groups work. A person's resistance them becomes higher because he'll
know what to watch out for if he encounters a recruiter. (p.5)
"Moonies believe the world's only salvation lies in Moon and in the establishment of a theocratic form of government which will replace secular democracies. (p.9) "When I told Phil what it was like to be in the Moonies, I especially tried to convey what it felt like to be around Mr. Moon--the excitement, the honor, the awe....Imagine what it feels like to be a Moonie who believes that Moon is ten times greater than Jesus Christ, to feel the incredible honor of living on earth and seeing the Messiah in person. (p.164)
Telling about how he got involved with the Moonies: "I enjoyed the
stimulating conversations and energetic atmosphere at the meeting. These
people related to each other as easily as brothers and sisters and clearly
felt they were part of one global family. They seemed very happy with their
lives. After my depression of the previous month, I was invigorated by all
that positive energy. I went home that night feeling lucky to have met such
nice people. (p.13)
"I was elated at the thought that I was "chosen" by God and that my life's path was now on the only "true track". I was emotionally high on the thought that God was actively working to bring about the Garden of Eden. No more war, no more poverty, no more ecological destruction. Just love, truth, beauty, and goodness. (p. 19)
"We truly identified with the early Christians: the more people opposed
us, the more committed we felt. It was as if we were God's army in the middle
of a spiritual war - the only ones who could go to the front lines and fight
Satan every day. (p.24) "Every person but us was being controlled by Satan.
We truly believed that we were saving the world from Satan and Communism
by selling those products, and that we were giving people the opportunity
to help the Messiah create the Garden of Eden on earth. (p. 26) [The author
of the book fell asleep at the wheel, had an accident and broke his leg.
He stayed with his sister, and his parents decided to have him deprogramed.]
"I could slow down and think, being away from the group's constant
reinforcement... The Moonies do a very thorough job of convincing people
that former members are satanic and that even being in their presence could
be dangerous." (p. 3) "As a committed member, I fought to keep from hearing
their words. I wasn't going to allow my faith in God to be broken by Satan.
I knew that what I had been doing was right. I
knew that God wanted me to remain in the group. I
knew the Divine Principle by heart. What did I have to fear?
Besides, I believed that I could prove to my parents once and for all that
I wasn't brainwashed... The former members were not at all what I expected.
I assumed, because of my training, that they would be cold, calculating,
unspiritual and abusive. They were warm, caring, idealistic, and spiritually
minded, and they treated me with respect. As former members, they should
have been miserable and guilt-ridden. They weren't. They were very happy
that they were out and free to lead their lives as they were doing. All of
this was very perplexing... The fantasy I had used to inspire myself day
after day and month after month was gone. I was sad and missed my friends
in the group, particularly my "spiritual children", the people I recruited.
I missed the excitement of feeling that what I was doing was cosmically
important. I missed the feeling of power that singlemindedness brought. I
was broken. I felt tremendous embarrassment about having fallen for a cult...
I read for months. For me, the burning issue was how the Moonies had ever
managed to convert me and indoctrinate me so thoroughly that I could no longer
think for myself. (p.29)
"It was my ideals and my own fantasy of an ideal world that had lured
me into the Moonies. Those ideals ultimately enabled me to walk out and publicly
condemn mind control. (p.33)
"A destructive cult distinguishes itself from a normal social or religious
group by subjecting its members to persuasion or other damaging influences
to keep them in the group. (p.37)
"Indeed, the sheer number of sincere, committed members whom a newcomer
meets is probably far more attractive to a prospective convert than any doctrine
or structure. The large cults... indoctrinate members to show only the best
sides of the organization. Members are taught to suppress any negative feelings
they have about the group and always show a continually smiling, "happy"
"Often, people look at a cult victim and say mistakenly, "What a weak-
minded person; he must have been looking for a way to escape responsibility
and have someone control his life." In that way people deny the reality that
the same thing could happen to them. This kind of behavior is called
blaming the victim. (p.43)
"In cults, members are systematically made to be phobic about ever leaving
the group. They implant vivid negative images deep within members' unconscious
minds, making it impossible for the member to even conceive of ever being
happy and successful outside of the group. When the unconscious is programmed
to accept the negative images, it behaves as if they were true. The unconscious
mind is made to contain a substantial image-bank of all of the bad things
that will occur if anyone should ever betray the group.(p.45.)
"Members are so conditioned to suppress their real selves that they
aren't even aware of their desire to leave. They think they are so happy
in the group that they would never want to leave. Such people can't generate
positive images of themselves after leaving the group. Members truly believe
they will be destroyed if they leave the safety of the group. They think
there are no other ways for them to grow - spiritually, intellectually, or
emotionally. They are virtually enslaved by mind control.(p.46)
"When I lecture at colleges, I usually challenge my audience with the
question "How would you know if you were under mind control?" After some
reflection, most people will realize that if one were under mind control,
it would be impossible to determine it without some help from others. In
addition, one would need to understand very clearly what mind control is.
"The essence of mind control is that it encourages dependence and
conformity, and discourages autonomy and individuality. ...seeks to undermine
an individual's integrity in making his own decisions. (p.55)
"The three basic components of mind control (as described by Festinger,
a psychologist) are control of behavior, control of thoughts, and control
of emotions. Each component has a powerful effect on the other two: change
one, and the others will tend to follow. However, from my experience in
researching destructive cults, I have added one additional component which
is vital: control of information. If you control the information someone
receives, you restrict his free ability to think for himself... Cognitive
dissonance refers to the conflict which occurs when a thought, a feeling,
or a behavior is altered in contradiction to the other two. A person can
tolerate only a certain amount of discrepancy between his thoughts, feelings,
and actions. If any one of the three components changes,the other two will
shift to reduce the dissonance. The important thing to remember about cult
groups is that they deliberately create dissonance in people and exploit
it to control them. (p.59)
"In totalistic cults, the ideology is internalized as "the truth", the
only "map" of reality. All that is good is embodied in the group. All that
is bad is on the outside. The doctrine claims to answer all questions to
all problems and situations. A member need not think for himself because
the doctrine does the thinking for him. A destructive cult typically has
its own "loaded language" of words and expressions... which puts up an invisible
wall between believers and outsiders. The language helps to make members
feel special and separates them from the general public. It also serves to
confuse newcomers, who want to understand what members are talking about,
and think they merely have to study hard in order to "understand" the truth.
In reality, by incorporating the loaded language they learn how not to think.
They learn that understanding means believing.
"Another key aspect of thought control involves training members to
block out any information which is critical of the group. A person's typical
defense mechanisms, includes denial ("What you say isn't happening at all"),
rationalization ("This is happening for a good reason"), justification ("this
is happening because it ought to"), and wishful thinking ("I'd like it to
be true so maybe it really is").
"If information transmitted to a cult member is perceived as an attack
on either the leader, the doctrine, or the group, a hostile wall goes up.
Members are trained to disbelieve any criticism. Critical words have been
explained away in advance as "the lies about us that Satan puts in peoples'
minds". Paradoxically, criticism of the group confirms that the cult's view
of the world is correct. The information presented does not register properly.
"Whenever a cult member begins to experience a "bad" thought, he is
taught to use thought-stopping to drown out the "negativity", thus learning
how to shut out anything that threatens his reality... any problem that crops
up is assumed to be the fault of the individual member. He learns always
to blame himself and work harder. Guilt and fear are necessary tools to keep
people under control. (P.61-63)
"Loyalty and devotion are the most highly respected emotions of all.
Members are not allowed to feel or express negative emotions, except toward
outsiders. Members are taught never to feel for themselves or their own needs
but always to think of the group and never to complain. They are never to
criticize a leader, but criticize themselves instead. (p.64)
"In many cults, people have minimal access to non-cult information.
This is partly because they are kept so busy they don't have free time. When
they do read, it is primarily cult-generated propaganda or material that
has been censored to "help" members stay focused. Information control also
extends across all relationships. People are not allowed to talk to each
other about anything critical of the leader, doctrine, or organization. Members
must spy on one another and report improper activities or comments to leaders.
Most importantly, people are told to avoid contact with ex-members or critics.
Those who could provide the most information are the ones especially to be
shunned. Information is usually compartmentalized to keep members from knowing
the big picture. A member in one city will therefore not necessarily know
about an important legal decision, media expose' or internal dispute that
is creating turmoil in the group somewhere else. Cult members naturally feel
they know more about what's going on in their group than outsiders do, but
in counseling ex-members I find that they often know the least. (p.65)
"If a person is kept in a controlled environment long enough, he will
usually suspend his critical judgment and adapt to what he perceives everyone
else is doing. In such an environment, the tendency within most people is
to doubt themselves and defer to the group. The mind snaps into neutral and
ceases to evaluate the material pouring in. The group has intentionally
structured it that way. (P.68)
"The group now forms the member's "true" family; any other is just his
"physical" family. The new member is typically assigned to proselytizing
duty as soon as possible. Research in social psychology has shown that nothing
firms up one's beliefs faster than trying to sell them to others. Making
new members do so crystallizes the cult identity quickly... These experiences
become a form of glorious martyrdom that helps freeze commitment to the group...
Thus, the victim becomes victimizer, to perpetuate the destructive system.
"Since my departure from the Moon cult, I have spoken with more than
one thousand former members of cults of all kinds. The great majority were
stable, intelligent, idealistic people... Many men and women have a genuine
impulse to work together with others as a team for a variety of social or
religious causes. Relatively few communities offer such organized activity
to idealistic people. Cult life gives them just such an opportunity, along
with the apparent benefits of the "togetherness" that comes from an intense
group experience. (P.76)
"Whenever recruits leave the group environment long enough to discover
revealing books, articles, or testimonies by former members, they almost
always break away. The problem occurs when people rely on the group for all
key information. Not knowing any better, they give the cult members or leaders
the benefit of the doubt. They may assume that any problem is merely the
result of one member's idiosyncratic behavior, not the system itself. (P.78)
"There is no room in a mind control environment for regarding the group's beliefs as mere theory... the doctrine is reality. Cult doctrine always requires that a person distrust his own self. The doctrine becomes the "master program" for all thoughts, feelings, and actions... The doctrine allows no outside group to be recognized as valid (good, godly, real) because that would threaten the cult's monopoly on truth. There is also no room for interpretation or deviation. (p.79)
"Members are made to feel part of an elite corps of mankind. This feeling
of being special, of participating in the most important acts in human history
with a vanguard of committed believers, is strong emotional glue to keep
people sacrificing and working hard. Ironically, members of cults look down
on anyone involved in any other cult groups. "THEY are the ones who are
brainwashed". They are unable to step out of their own situations and look
at themselves objectively. (P.80)
"One of the most attractive qualities of cult life is the sense of community
that it fosters. The love seems to be unconditional and unlimited at first,
and new members are swept away by a honeymoon of attention. But after a few
months, the flattery and attention are turned away toward newer recruits.
The cult member learns that love is not unconditional but depends on good
performance. Behaviors are controlled through rewards and punishments. (P.81)
"Real friendships are a liability... of course, when anyone does leave
the group, the "love" formerly directed to him turns into anger, hatred,
and ridicule. Relationships are usually superficial within these groups because
sharing of deep personal feelings, especially negative ones, is highly
discouraged. This feature of cult life prevails even though a member may
feel he is closer to his comrades than he has ever been to anyone before.
Indeed, when cult members go through hardship or persecution, they do feel
a depth of camaraderie and shared martyrdom that is exceptional. But because
the only real allegiance is to the leader, a closer look shows that such
ties are actually shallow and sometimes just private fantasy. (p. 82)
"In a destructive cult, there is never a legitimate reason for leaving.
Unlike non-cult organizations that recognize a person's inherent right to
choose to move on, mind control groups make it very clear that there is no
legitimate way to leave. Members are told that the only reasons why people
leave are weakness, insanity, temptation, brainwashing, pride, sin and so
"Many mistakenly assume that people must live together in a closed community
to be adversely affected by group involvement. Those persons who are forbidden
to think "negative thoughts" or have contact with critics or former members,
even though they may have outside jobs and live separately, may still be
under mind control, though perhaps not as highly controlled as someone who
is a full-time, completely devoted member. (P.104)
"The final criterion for judging a group is the members' freedom
to leave. To put it simply, members of destructive cults are
psychological prisoners. Destructive cults plant phobias into members' minds
so that they fear ever leaving the group. By doing so they shut the door
on free choice. People had the freedom to join, but people don't have the
freedom to leave a destructive group. In fact, in the eyes of a destructive
cult, there is no "legitimate" reason for a person to ever leave the group.
"In the case of destructive cults, being an educated consumer can save
your mind. If you are ever approached by someone who invites you to participate
in a program, you can ask some very specific questions which will help you
avoid over 90% of all cult recruiters. These questions work best if you ask
them in a very direct yet friendly manner and demand very specific answers.
"Although most groups use deception, it is important to realize that
most cult members don't realize they are lying in the process of recruitment.
For that reason, by asking these direct questions one after another, you
can usually discover that either you are not being told a straight story,
or the cult member doesn't have the straight story to begin with.
"Because members have been trained to avoid thinking negatively about
the group, you will often receive less than direct responses. Among the more
common strategies are vague generalities, evasive remarks, and attempts to
change the subject. Vague generalities such as "We're just getting together
to study the Word of God" should make you suspicious. Evasive remarks such
as "I understand you are feeling skeptical; I was, too, before I really came
to understand" should also ring warning bells. Another common
technique is to change the subject: you may hear a long monologue about how
all the world's great religious leaders have been persecuted. You may be
told about Jesus having been accused of association with prostitutes, and
so forth. Make sure you get a direct answer about the group, not a debate
about Jesus. (P.107)
"Here are some of the questions I have found to be most effective:
How long have you (the recruiter) been involved? Are you trying
to recruit me into any type of organization?
I like to find out very quickly who I am dealing with. A person who
has been involved in a destructive cult for less than one year is less likely
to lie, and his lies are not as convincing as those of a more experienced
recruiter. If the person has been involved for many years, I expect to get
concrete answers to all my questions, and will confront the person with an
exclamation such as "You've been a member for X years and you don't know
the answer!" When confronted about recruitment, very often the recruiter
will answer, "No, I just like you and want to share this with you. What you
decide to do with the information is totally up to you." If the group is
a destructive cult, it will become obvious at some point that you are indeed
being recruited. At that point, you can remember that the recruiter lied
to you. Get appropriately angry and walk away.
What does your group believe?
If a person is not willing to summarize the key points of the group's
beliefs right then and there, you can be sure he is hiding something. Of
course, he might say that he is just afraid you will get a misconception
from a short description. Ask him for it anyway. Any legitimate group will
be able to summarize its central beliefs. (Of course, cults have two levels
of "truth", bland generalities for the general public and new recruits, and
"insider" beliefs that are doled out gradually , only as fast as the person
is deemed ready to assimilate it.)
What are members expected to do once they join? Do I have to quit school or work, or cut myself off from family members and friends who might oppose my membership?
If you are being approached by a destructive cult, the person you meet may tell you that you will be expected to do little or nothing once you join. However, this question will make most cult members very uncomfortable and defensive. Watch the recruiter's non-verbal reaction carefully when you ask this question. Ask the person what he did when he first met the group and what he is doing now.
Is your group considered controversial by anyone? If people are critical of your group, what are their main objections?
If you ask this question politely and with a smile, you will be surprised
at how many times you will hear "Oh, some people think that we are a cult
and that we are all brainwashed! Isn't that silly? Do I look brainwashed?"
To that question I usually respond, "Oh, how are people supposed to look
if they are brainwashed?"
How do you feel about former members of your group? Have you ever sat down to speak with a former member to find out why he left the group? If not, why not? Does your group impose restrictions on communicating with former members?
This is one of the most revealing sets of questions you can ask any cult member. Any legitimate organization would never discourage contact with former members. Likewise, legitimate groups would support any member's decision to leave, even though they might not like it.
Destructive cults, on the other hand, do not accept any reasons for person's departure no matter what they are. Likewise, cult groups make sure to instill fear in members, insuring that they stay away from critics and former members.
What are the three things you like the least about the group and the leader?
I can't remember how many times I have seen reporters and television hosts ask cult members whether they were brainwashed. The cult member usually smiles and says, "Of course not, that's ridiculous." It is absurd, however, to expect an objective answer from someone under mind control. A much better challenge for such people would be "Tell me three things you don't like about the group." If you get an opportunity to catch a cult member off guard and ask that question, I suggest you watch his face very carefully. The pupils will dilate, and he will act momentarily stunned. When he does answer, he will very likely say that their is nothing he can think of that he doesn't like.
The clincher question is whether or not the person has taken the time to talk with former members and read critical literature in order to make up his own mind. A person under mind control might say that he would be willing to do this. However, I have often seen family members call the member's bluff, and almost always the cult member doesn't follow through. (p. 107-111)
"The pattern of doctrine over person occurs when there is a conflict
between what one feels oneself experiencing and what the doctrine or dogma
says one should experience. The internalized message in totalistic environments
is that one must find the truth of the dogma and subject one's experiences
to that truth. Often the experience of contradiction, or the admission of
that experience, can be immediately associated with guilt; or else (in order
to hold one to that doctrine) condemned by others in a way that leads quickly
to that guilty association. One is made to feel that doubts are reflections
of one's own evil. (p.204)
"Former members report a variety of psychological difficulties after
they leave a cult. Probably the most common is the
depression they feel during the first few months after leaving.
It is difficult to describe the pain of realizing that you have been lied
to and enslaved in a mind control cult--when you discover your "dream" is
really a nightmare.
"Many of the people I have met described the experience as having fallen
deeply in love, giving every ounce of love, trust, and commitment to someone,
and then finding out that person was a false lover and was just using them.
The pain and sense of betrayal is enormous.
"Others describe the realization in more graphic terms: feeling as though
they had been spiritually and psychologically raped. The sense of personal
violation is indescribable. I myself came to realize that all of the love
and devotion I felt towards Sun Myung Moon and Hak Ja Han as my "True Parents"
was totally one-sided. I realized after I left that they didn't care about
me personally at all. If they had, they would have tried to contact me to
try to find out why I had left. Instead, I was automatically labeled "Satanic"
and a traitor.
"When people are depressed, they tend to only see the bad side of things. Their pain can be so great that it blots out the hope of a positive future. It is essential that former members acknowledge and work through their pain, and go through the necessary grieving period. What seems to help the most is to enable people to realize that positive things did come out of their involvement, and to show them how they can now be much stronger because of the experience. (p.173)
"Former members need to learn how to trust themselves
again. They have to realize that they didn't choose of be lied to
or abused. They are not at fault. Eventually, as they learn to trust themselves
and their own inherent wisdom and instincts, they learn that it's okay to
begin trusting others. (p.182)
"At some point, the person may begin a voracious research project to
find out everything he can about his group and answer every one of his questions,
to his satisfaction. This is a very positive therapeutic step. Often, the
number one priority of someone who has just left a cult is to help rescue
the friends who were left behind. For cult members, their major regret in
leaving is usually losing contact with people they came to know and care
for in the group. It becomes particularly difficult when a former member
realizes that the friendships he thought were so good were conditional on
continued membership. A former member can quickly see the strength of mind
control bonds when his closest friend in the group refuses to see him. (p.183)
"Eventually, when all the questions are answered, and all the cult issues
are addressed, the ex-member reaches a saturation point. He gets to the point
of saying "They're not going to take the rest of my life!" and starts making
plans for the future. (p.183)
"Why are destructive cults thriving? While the development of more
sophisticated techniques of mind control has helped lead to increased group
membership, the proliferation of destructive cults can also be attributed
to the diminished sense of community that characterizes life in our present
age. We no longer live and die within the same forty-mile radius; it is indeed
common for an individual to move several times and many miles during his
lifetime. This transience undermines the sense of community that I think
human beings need in order to feel whole. I hear over and over again that
a person is initially attracted because he or she enjoys being around a group
of people acting like one big family; more than anything else, former members
miss that sense of being part of a tight-knit community.
"Reliance on television for entertainment and information is also a factor in predisposing one to cult membership. Unfortunately, most television viewing does not stimulate our intellect, imagination, or higher aspirations. Instead, television encourages conformity and creates a distorted perception of reality... We become desensitized to our own values and lose the powers of creativity and discrimination."
(The rest of the book is about strategies for recovery.)
The name of the book is "Combatting Cult Mind Control", by Steven Hassan (Park Street Press)
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