Coercive persuasion, mind control and brain washing

Over the last six months we have received many letters from desperate family members asking, “How can I get my ____ away from the psychopathic con artist?” What family members are really asking for is advice on how to overcome the brain washing of a loved one. When answering these kinds of questions, I like to provide some scientific evidence validating my point of view. Unfortunately, a search of the scientific literature, using the terms coercive persuasion, brain washing and mind control, does not reveal much. This week I will share some of what I have come to understand about how one person can assume control over another. Next week I will discuss how to overcome mind control by a psychopath.

Scientific studies are the best way to gain information about psychology. When these are lacking, it is valid to turn to authorities or experts for guidance. When learning from an authority, we must critically evaluate all claims made. From what I have been able to determine, there are two authorities in the United States on the topic of mind control or brain washing. Behavioral scientists also call this coercive persuasion.

The first authority who has taught a great deal on this subject is Steven Alan Hassan. He is a licensed counselor and former member of the Unification Church. He operates the Freedom of Mind Center. According to Hassan, “destructive mind control takes the ‘locus of control’ away from an individual.” He further states there are four basic tactics used to achieve mind control and allow for “an individual’s identity (to) be systematically manipulated and changed.” These four things are remembered with the acronym BITE, and are behavior, information, thoughts and emotions.

Behavior control starts with one person’s regulation of another individual’s physical reality. Our physical reality means the clothes we wear, the food we eat, the amount of sleep we get, how we spend our time and how we spend our money. There are rigid rules and regulations the controlled person is supposed to abide by regarding these. Over time, this behavior control fosters dependency. The controlled person gets used to not behaving autonomously.

All the authorities I read identify information control as central to mind control. Donna said in her last week’s post, Sociopaths at first don’t act like jerks, in the beginning those wishing to take control use deception to make themselves look good. They deliberately hold back information and distort important facts. This allows them to get a foot hold in a person’s life. After the foot hold is established, the controller makes sure to isolate the person from information potentially damaging to the relationship.

Thought control is established as the controller encourages the person to adopt an “us vs. them” mentality. Any attempt by the controlled to criticize or question the controller is punished. The controller withdraws affection or otherwise induces fear in the person. Faced with this punishment, the controlled uses the defense mechanisms of denial, rationalization, justification or wishful thinking to survive.

Lastly brain washing involves manipulation of emotions. The controller uses tactics that narrow the range of the controlled’s emotional experience. The controlled experiences extremes of emotions, highs and lows that keep him/her off balance.

Nothing controls behavior like guilt and fear. (Note this is true only for people who are not sociopathic.) Controllers are experts at inducing guilt of all sorts. Hassan identifies many types of guilt: identity guilt; family guilt; guilt over past deeds; guilt over present thoughts, feelings and actions. Controllers also subtly induce fear. The controlled fears thinking independently, fears the “outside” world, enemies, leaving or being shunned by the controller. The controlled also fears the controller’s disapproval.

Ultimately the goal of all the emotional manipulation is “phobia indoctrination” or the programming of irrational fears of ever leaving the controller or even questioning the controller’s authority. According to Hassan, “The person under mind control cannot visualize a positive, fulfilled future without (the controller).”

Unfortunately, my next respected authority Dr. Margaret Singer passed away at the age of 82 in 2003. There are several articles by Dr. Singer posted on Lawrence Wollersheim co-founder of, is also a former cult member. I highly recommend reading Dr. Singer’s articles. The first is entitled Coercive Mind Control Tactics also details the techniques of brain washing.

The Supreme Court of the United States has adopted some of Dr. Singer’s ideas and has recognized that, “…the weakness resulting from a lack of food, sleep, or medical care can eliminate the will to resist as readily as the fear of a physical blow. Hypnosis, blackmail, fraud, deceit, and isolation are also illustrative methods but it is unnecessary here to canvas the entire spectrum of nonphysical machinations by which humans coerce each other. It suffices to observe that one can imagine many situations in which nonphysical means of private coercion can subjugate the will of a servant.”

Dr. Singer writes “In such a program the subject is forced to adapt in a series of tiny ‘invisible’ steps. Each tiny step is designed to be sufficiently small so the subjects will not notice the changes in themselves or identify the coercive nature of the processes being used. The subjects of these tactics do not become aware of the hidden organizational purpose of the coercive psychological program until much later, if ever. These tactics are usually applied in a group setting by well intentioned but deceived ‘friends and allies’ of the victim. This keeps the victim from putting up the ego defenses we normally maintain in known adversarial situations.

“The coercive psychological influence of these programs aim to overcome the individual’s critical thinking abilities and free will apart from any appeal to informed judgment. Victims gradually lose their ability to make independent decisions and exercise informed consent. Their critical thinking, defenses, cognitive processes, values, ideas, attitudes, conduct and ability to reason are undermined by a technological process rather than by meaningful free choice, rationality, or the inherent merit or value of the ideas or propositions being presented.”

There are times when trying to influence someone does not constitute mind control. To further clarify what mind control is, Dr. Singer wrote a list of acceptable influence tactics. These are:

• Reflection
• Clarification
• Discussion
• Information Giving
• Directed Questioning
• Creative Expression
• Advisory/Therapeutic
• Commenting on Problem or alternatives
• Suggesting Ideas
• Recommending solutions
• Rational argument (message oriented)

Unacceptable influence tactics which do, indeed, suggest mind control are:

• Selective reward/punishment
• Denigration of self and of critical thinking
• Dissociative states to suppress doubt and critical thinking
• Alternation of harshness/threats and leniency/love
• Control-oriented guilt induction
• Active promotion of dependency
• Debilitation
• Physical restraint/punishment

Those of us who fell into the grip of a sociopath/psychopath recognize these techniques of mind control that are also used by cult leaders. Anyone who would want to exert this kind of power over another person is by definition a sociopath. Sociopathy/psychopathy is a set of personality traits that includes an excessive drive for power and control.

Cult leaders use human nature to gain power over others. It is human nature to respect authority and want to live peacefully in a group. Cult leaders exploit the desire people have to belong to a well-functioning group.

Perpetrators of love fraud also exploit human nature. Most people want to belong to a loving, well-functioning family. Sociopaths begin their relationships promising happiness to their victims. People in love relationships are even more vulnerable to brain washing than people joining cults. The reason is that sex makes people vulnerable. It is no coincidence that many cults use sex to trap people. Pregnancy is also used to trap women psychologically and physically in relationships and in cults.

A non-pathological loving relationship is freeing. In it, a person becomes more fully him/herself. Love enables a person to be self-actualized and his/her best. I will conclude with the motto of only You have the right to control Your Mind!

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83 Comments on "Coercive persuasion, mind control and brain washing"

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I thought I’d bring this one back. It’s a goody.

Thanks for bringing this back up Kim, it is indeed a goody! It is also interesting to read the old comments and wonder about the people who blogged with us back then. Only a few are still here.

I’m glad this was brought up.Creepy when I read hens post defining brainwashing…I lived it.~ shudder~but happy now 🙂

I also liked console12’s post: “I for one only strive for power and control of myself. Whoever doesn’t like it can just go away. I don’t need people in my life who are downers.
As for those who want to come and share with me, I have no issues with that.”

As for health issues,I was already coping with epilepsy when I married.But the fibromyalgia didn’t develop until 15 yrs later.There are different theories as to the cause of fibro.So I won’t blame ALL of it on stress;maybe 60/40,lol!

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