“Mind control is the process by which individual or collective freedom of choice and action is compromised by agents or agencies that modify or distort perception, motivation, affect, cognition and/or behavioral outcomes. It is neither magical nor mystical, but a process that involves a set of basic social psychological principles. Conformity, compliance, persuasion, dissonance, reactance, guilt and fear arousal, modeling and identification are some of the staple social influence ingredients well studied in psychological experiments and field studies. In some combinations, they create a powerful crucible of extreme mental and behavioral manipulation when synthesized with several other real-world factors, such as charismatic, authoritarian leaders, dominant ideologies, social isolation, physical debilitation, induced phobias, and extreme threats or promised rewards that are typically deceptively orchestrated, over an extended time period in settings where they are applied intensively.”
― Steven Hassan,
“Psychotherapy/educational cults, which have enjoyed great popularity, purport to give the participant “insight” and “enlightenment.” Commercial cults play on people’s desires to make money. They typically promise riches but actually enslave people, and compel them to turn money over to the group. None of these destructive cults deliver what they promise and glittering dreams eventually turn out to be paths to psychological enslavement.”
― Steven Hassan,
"I’d like to state that I believe that people involved with destructive cults are as a generalization, intelligent, idealistic, kind, warm, loving, creative, wonderful people. And I resent the kind of blame-the-victim mentality that exists in the media, exists in society today, that “Oh those crazy people in Waco, they wanted to be controlled, they wanted to be raped, they wanted to have their liberties curtailed.” Nonsense! These people were, in my opinion, mind-controlled by David Koresh.
I want to give you my definition of a destructive cult: “a pyramid-structured authoritarian group with someone or some group at the top that has total power, and that uses mind control techniques to recruit and indoctrinate people to be dependent and obedient.” I define mind control in terms of four components or B.I.T.E.: control of behavior; control of information; control of thoughts and control of emotions.."
I’d also like to say that it doesn’t matter what the belief system is. My focus is on the methodology of practices of groups. And so a group could be a religious destructive cult. It could be a political destructive cult. It could be a therapy destructive cult. It could be a business destructive cult. If these controls of behavior, including control of sleep, food, privacy, rules and regulations, not allowing people to be alone, not allowing people to see their families, not allowing people to read letters of critics, of seeing people outside, inculcating thought-stopping techniques."
"For example, with Scientology, this is an organization that says, “We are a religion! We are a religion!” But you can’t know what the upper level beliefs are, what the OT beliefs are, until you’ve gone up through all of the courses, because if you find out that information before you’re ready, you will die. That’s what they teach. So you’re getting involved with an organization, whose upper level of the pyramid, you don’t even know what their beliefs are. And by the way, one of the big ones is, that 75 million years ago, there was a galactic confederation of planets, with Xenu, a despotic dictator, who was trying to solve the overpopulation problem, so he was brought many beings to the planet Earth ? then called Teageak? and dropped them into volcanoes. Then hydrogen bombs were dropped on them, separating their thetan (or spirit) from their physical form. That is why “Dianetics” has a volcano on the cover, to supposedly stimulate our memories of past lives. What sane person, intelligent person, would join a religion with that belief? But you see, nobody knows that until years later, and tens of thousands of dollars later, but I’m telling you this story as related by the documents from former top officials who’ve left. And I think that makes it a very different animal from the Catholic Church or other so-called mainstream religions. But I abhor any totalitarian system that undermines people’s spirits."
The government exists around laws, and if a group isn’t breaking laws, then the government shouldn’t be involved. Do I think the law needs to be updated, to include the fact that there is hypnosis, for example, that people can be manipulated without the use of a gun, or without the use of external force, to do things that are destructive? Yes, I think the law should be updated to include that, but not until there are universal methods for evaluating that, that can be applicable in order to preserve freedom. And by the way, I think the baseline document to read is the United Nations Universal Declaration of Human Rights. And if destructive cults supported the human rights in that document, I wouldn’t be up here criticizing them. Because they don’t."
Three quotes above from Branch Davidians - WACO: The Government’s Failure to Understand Destructive Cults
Transcript of Lecture at Harvard University Science Center
February 27th 1994
by Steven Hassan From Freedom of Mind Resource Center
I have often been asked about how to evaluate if a group is a cult and how can anyone distinguish what is or is not a cult ? It's not all religions or any big religion. What makes a cult a cult is not the presence or absence of religious beliefs or unusual ones.
Cults are groups that use abuse and deception and try to completely or nearly completely control the thoughts, beliefs and emotions of their members. In past posts I have discussed how the eight criteria for thought reform by Robert Jay Lifton are an excellent resource for evaluating and understanding cults. His work is very informative and concise.
I have also referred to Dr. Margaret T. Singer's 6 Conditions for Thought Reform and recommend her book Cults In Our Midst and her videos.
In addition to those two great references I should add the BITE model by Steven Hassan. BITE stands for Behavior control, Information control, Thought control, and Emotion control. Cults use control of the behavior, Information, thoughts and emotions of their members. I have quoted the bite model and put it in blue. I will describe some of the ways the model is accurate in describing the Scientology cult as an example. For one reason the Scientology cult has many, many thousands of cult methods combined and it makes an easy choice as a cult that epitomizes the methods such groups use. Additionally I was in Scientology for twenty five years and have in two years since leaving the cult spent hundreds of hours examining it. So it's what I know best of any cultic group.
BITE model by Steven Hassan
Quoted from Freedom of Mind site
Steven Hassan's BITE Model of Cult Mind Control
Many people think of mind control as an ambiguous, mystical process that cannot be defined in concrete terms. In reality, mind control refers to a specific set of methods and techniques, such as hypnosis or thought- stopping, that influence how a person thinks, feels, and acts. Like many bodies of knowledge, it is not inherently good or evil. If mind control techniques are used to empower an individual to have more choice, and authority for his life remains within himself, the effects can be beneficial. For example, benevolent mind control can be used to help people quit smoking without affecting any other behavior. Mind control becomes destructive when the locus of control is external and it is used to undermine a person’s ability to think and act independently.
As employed by the most destructive cults, mind control seeks nothing less than to disrupt an individual’s authentic identity and reconstruct it in the image of the cult leader. I developed the BITE model to help people determine whether or not a group is practicing destructive mind control. The BITE model helps people understand how cults suppress individual member's uniqueness and creativity. BITE stands for the cult's control of an individual's Behavior, Intellect, Thoughts, and Emotions.
It is important to understand that destructive mind control can be determined when the overall effect of these four components promotes dependency and obedience to some leader or cause. It is not necessary for every single item on the list to be present. Mindcontrolled cult members can live in their own apartments, have nine-to-five jobs, be married with children, and still be unable to think for themselves and act independently.
Destructive mind control is not just used by cults. Learn about the Human Trafficking BITE Model and the Terrorism BITE Model
1. Regulate individual’s physical reality
2. Dictate where, how, and with whom the member lives and associates or isolates
3. When, how and with whom the member has sex
4. Control types of clothing and hairstyles
5. Regulate diet - food and drink, hunger and/or fasting
6. Manipulation and deprivation of sleep
7. Financial exploitation, manipulation or dependence
8. Restrict leisure, entertainment, vacation time
9. Major time spent with group indoctrination and rituals and/or self indoctrination including the Internet
10. Permission required for major decisions
11. Thoughts, feelings, and activities (of self and others) reported to superiors
12. Rewards and punishments used to modify behaviors, both positive and negative
13. Discourage individualism, encourage group-think
14. Impose rigid rules and regulations
15. Instill dependency and obedience
a. Deliberately withhold information
b. Distort information to make it more acceptable
c. Systematically lie to the cult member
2. Minimize or discourage access to non-cult sources of information, including:
a. Internet, TV, radio, books, articles, newspapers, magazines, other media
c. Former members
d. Keep members busy so they don’t have time to think and investigate
e. Control through cell phone with texting, calls, internet tracking
3. Compartmentalize information into Outsider vs. Insider doctrines
a. Ensure that information is not freely accessible
b.Control information at different levels and missions within group
c. Allow only leadership to decide who needs to know what and when
4. Encourage spying on other members
a. Impose a buddy system to monitor and control member
b.Report deviant thoughts, feelings and actions to leadership
c. Ensure that individual behavior is monitored by group
5. Extensive use of cult-generated information and propaganda, including:
a. Newsletters, magazines, journals, audiotapes, videotapes, YouTube, movies and other media
b.Misquoting statements or using them out of context from non-cult sources
6. Unethical use of confession
a. Information about sins used to disrupt and/or dissolve identity boundaries
b. Withholding forgiveness or absolution
c. Manipulation of memory, possible false memories
1. Require members to internalize the group’s doctrine as truth
a. Adopting the group's ‘map of reality’ as reality
b. Instill black and white thinking
c. Decide between good vs. evil
d. Organize people into us vs. them (insiders vs. outsiders)
2.Change person’s name and identity
3. Use of loaded language and clichés which constrict knowledge, stop critical thoughts and reduce complexities into platitudinous buzz words
4. Encourage only ‘good and proper’ thoughts
5. Hypnotic techniques are used to alter mental states, undermine critical thinking and even to age regress the member
6. Memories are manipulated and false memories are created
7. Teaching thought-stopping techniques which shut down reality testing by stopping negative thoughts and allowing only positive thoughts, including:
a. Denial, rationalization, justification, wishful thinking
e. Speaking in tongues
f. Singing or humming
8. Rejection of rational analysis, critical thinking, constructive criticism
9. Forbid critical questions about leader, doctrine, or policy allowed
10. Labeling alternative belief systems as illegitimate, evil, or not useful
1. Manipulate and narrow the range of feelings – some emotions and/or needs are deemed as evil, wrong or selfish
2. Teach emotion-stopping techniques to block feelings of homesickness, anger, doubt
3. Make the person feel that problems are always their own fault, never the leader’s or the group’s fault
4. Promote feelings of guilt or unworthiness, such as
a. Identity guilt
b. You are not living up to your potential
c. Your family is deficient
d. Your past is suspect
e. Your affiliations are unwise
f. Your thoughts, feelings, actions are irrelevant or selfish
g. Social guilt
h. Historical guilt
5. Instill fear, such as fear of:
a. Thinking independently
b. The outside world
d. Losing one’s salvation
e. Leaving or being shunned by the group
f. Other’s disapproval
6. Extremes of emotional highs and lows – love bombing and praise one moment and then declaring you are horrible sinner
7. Ritualistic and sometimes public confession of sins
8. Phobia indoctrination: inculcating irrational fears about leaving the group or questioning the leader’s authority
a. No happiness or fulfillment possible outside of the group
b. Terrible consequences if you leave: hell, demon possession, incurable diseases, accidents, suicide, insanity, 10,000 reincarnations, etc.
c. Shunning of those who leave; fear of being rejected by friends, peers, and family
d. Never a legitimate reason to leave; those who leave are weak, undisciplined, unspiritual, worldly, brainwashed by family or counselor, or seduced by money, sex, or rock and roll
e. Threats of harm to ex-member and family
End quote by Steven Hassan
Note: Cult expert Rick Ross recently made the following comment on the origin of the bite model: