A dear friend sent the following to me just yesterday and felt I should post something about it ASAP. I have edited it only to remove names in order to protect their confidentiality:
“My father told me about brainwashing techniques from his days in the military. If you were to read down a checklist, there would be a lot of things checked off that apply to cult activities we have been confronted by in recent days. For example, separate people from their normally trusted people, create breaches in all of their supportive or close relationships, talk to them unceasingly with the ideas you want them to believe, Praise them regularly, make them feel special…Make the authority, the enemy, so any super that was there will be undermined. Yeah. It’s a whole process. Pretty creepy stuff.”
I have discussed this sort of thing in my classes a number of times through the years. I must admit that in India I met such a group and their leader. They can at first be remarkably enticing, fascinating, and alluring. At first, I wanted to hear more. But at some point early on, like a flash out of the darkness, it is as if I woke up and saw so plainly what was going on. The mind control that happens creeps in seemingly harmlessly. The techniques are powerful, yet subtle and seemingly so beneficial. In fact, they are seemingly lifes panacea… the cure all for humanity.
I have told the story of ‘mystical manipulators’ who would do miraculous ‘healings’ that changed peoples lives and seemed to immediately lift them to higher states of consciousness. The manipulations can have incredibly compelling and hallucinatory effects. People see colors, have feelings of euphoria, see God everywhere, and believe they have just been given Gods greatest gift. We may wonder how anyone of any psychological stability could be manipulated and taken in so easily. It can happen seemingly unnoticed and feel like what you have been looking for.
There is of course, such a thing as spiritual growth and even enlightenment. I remember back in the 70s when I was giving a talk about it, a guy jumped up and said he knew exactly what I was talking about and it happened to him when on one of his LSD trips. There are a myriad of ways cults induce such beliefs and feelings into their followers. Just like the guy on LSD, they think they just became enlightened!
It is important to realize that these leaders are usually not intentionally malevolent. In fact they too have been intoxicated with the very things they offer. They truly believe the things they promote are good. A powerful collusion exists with them and within their group.
Often the potential followers are coerced into believing that their current mentors are wrong, foolish, misguided, or even ill intended, etc. They are thusly segregated from their previous support group. They become convinced that their previous bonds are, in fact, their enemies.
Interestingly enough, people outside those groups when they pass by them on the street often easily and obviously see and feel the cultish ‘vibe’ and are instantly off put by those groups. They see the group followers tagging along behind the leader, hanging onto the words of his alleged sermons from God.
I have in the past mentioned how they offer ‘instant enlightenment’ or ‘enlightenment in 30 days’.
Commonly, the leader is highly charismatic, a ‘smooth operator’, loving, kind and seemingly nonaggressive, attentive, innocent, and harmless. They shower their followers and potential followers with praise, telling them what they want to hear. Perhaps, for example, telling them they are already one of the ‘enlightened few’ or if not, then they are soon to be if they just follow his lead.
The leaders often present themselves as ‘Gods messenger’. They claim to speak with God and offer their followers Gods personal messages to them. They offer to teach the followers how they too can talk with God. Those not taken in by such leaders often immediately see the masks and overlays those leaders are living. Certainly, their sugar coated behavior is not what spiritual attainment means.
Chanting is a tool they misuse to induce hallucinatory states of happiness and health. Often, they promote chanting as their primary tool of spiritual growth. The followers are indoctrinated into reaching to live ‘outside of their bodies’ in a mirage of heaven above. It creates unity and loyalty within the group and to the leader. They come to believe that nobody else knows or understands God. Enraptured euphoria is the common enticement.
This is very spooky stuff. We all do well to be very careful in our lives. As Adi Shankara said, the spiritual path is the path of discernment. Things need to make sense. As is said, things that seem too good to be true, are just that. Flashy experiences and promises of quick enlightenment can be very tempting but are to be avoided. The spiritual path is wisely likened to traversing a razors edge or passing through the eye of a needle. Think, think, think. Proceed wisely with your life.
There are many online links discussing this. Here is one example:
You have taken a courageous step to help people navigate a particularly difficult topic. I also read the link and learned a lot from it. This is helping me through a personally painful and difficult time in my life. I can’t thank you enough for all the support, honesty and loving care you constantly provide.
I agree with Marcia- this is a particularly difficult topic. Maybe the biggest difficulty is the sincerity that people who think they are “God’s Messenger” express. Their belief system is so strong that they come across as sincere.
Logic or examples often do not dissuade them. I do know of some cases where people come out from under the spell. It can take quite awhile- often years.
I feel it as one’s fear, fear of loss of control, loss of identity, respect. Fear = false evidence appearing real.
I agree with with mark and marcia.
It’s such an important issue for people to be aware of. Brainwashing is so illusive. It’s hard to perceive for the person it’s happening to. It’s generally a slow distortion of the perceptions and reality of the person experiencing it. It slips in gradually, allowing time for the victim to dismiss their protective instincts. They initially feel like something’s not right, but over time, they silence their internal voice of concern. This information is an opportunity to pause for a moment, and look at things from another view. Very informative Blog and article. Thank you for posting this.
Thank you for posting this thought provoking information.
I wonder if brainwashing is so hard for people to discern because abuse of all kinds is so rampant in our culture and world today? It’s in our homes, work places, governments . . . . . Isn’t this a hugely exaggerated form of what we already experience and listen to on a daily basis …..? Are we becoming accustomed to such a world?
Thanking you for encouraging us to explore even the most difficult topics.
You have a good point Mary. I believe the Hollywood portrayal of the stereotypical ‘bad influence’ also has a lot to do with it. Unlike Hollywood, in the real world it is not usually so easy to identify. I have warned about this in classes throughout the years with examples from India, the Philippines, and the USA. Yet when it happens to someone, they are just caught off guard and pulled in. And in the case of cults, the techniques can be incredibly seductive and powerful. How else would it happen?!