If you have watched either The Vow on HBO, or Seduced on Starz about NXIVM, or The Aftermath or Going Clear about scientology, this article will ring a lot of bells. Many of the specific control mechanisms Dr. Burkley cites about NXIVM have direct parallels in scientology.
As she says, “the psychological tricks Raniere used are not particularly special. In face, his ability to ensnare so many victims is rooted in his reliance on several core psychological principles — principles to which each of us is vulnerable.”
One of the great accomplishments of The Vow was how it showed why people got involved and how the slow process of brainwashing is carried out.
I have made a few comments within her article concerning how scientology fits these 3 elements.
Keith Raniere, orchestrator of the cult Nxivm, was recently sentenced to 120 years in prison for racketeering, possession of child pornography, and sex trafficking. Many of these crimes took place within an inner circle of Nxivm called DOS—Latin for Dominus Obsequious Sororium, or “master over slave.” In DOS, female victims were lured into a “master and slave” relationship with higher-ranking women in the cult, branded with Raniere’s initials and manipulated to have sex with Raniere.
Chances are that when you initially learned about this modern-day cult, your first thought was “I’d never get duped into joining a sex cult,” but you would be wrong. Recent shows like HBO’s The Vow and Starz’s Seduced have peeled back the cult curtain, giving us a peek at the group’s inner workings. I’ve watched both shows and what has become clear to me is that the psychological tricks Raniere used are not particularly special. In fact, his ability to ensnare so many victims is rooted in his reliance on several core psychological principles—principles to which each of us is vulnerable.
How did Raniere know what psychological buttons to push? Turns out, he minored in psychology as an undergraduate (a fact revealed on Seduced when his college transcript from Rensselaer Polytechnic Institute was displayed). Below, I’ve compiled a list of three “ODD” psychological principles Raniere capitalized on to manipulate and control cult members: Obedience, Deindividuation, and Depletion.
Among the most infamous research in the field of psychology is Stanley Milgram’s work on obedience. You can read more about the details here, but the gist is that everyday adults agreed to give innocent victims electric shocks simply because a person of authority instructed them that “the experiment must go on.” Milgram’s results shocked the research community (no pun intended) by revealing that 60% of participants obeyed the authority member in the lab coat and went all the way up to the “XXX” deadly shock.
In Nxivm, Raniere was set up as an authority from day one. He was talked about by the other members like he was a celebrity and most members didn’t even get to see him in person until they had been in the cult for some time. Those who finally did gain access to Raniere often took 3 am walks with him during which he would randomly command them to do simple acts like sprint to a tree or lick water from a street puddle. These small acts served to establish Raniere as an unquestionable authority member and laid the groundwork for ever-increasing servitude. It also served as a test to weed out anyone resistant to his obedience techniques, ensuring that every woman who eventually joined DOS was unlikely to refuse his sexual demands.
This was Hubbard at the outset, but is very much the case with Miscavige today. He has unquestioned authority. He has people grovel at his feet upon command — literally lick his shoes or lick the bathroom floor clean. He comes up with the most sadistic and humiliating “tests of loyalty” and punishments. It is hard to fathom.
Raniere also ensured obedience from DOS members through his use of readiness drills. Female slaves would receive a group text from their female master, at any hour, day and night. The text would read, “Ready?” and slaves had 60 seconds to respond with “Ready.” If even one slave failed to respond on time, the entire group failed and they were subjected to grueling physical punishments. Like breaking a wild horse, this daily process trained the slaves to respond with almost knee-jerk obedience to their female master. Later, Raniere capitalized on this reflex by informing slaves that the master of their master was Raniere himself, which meant they didn’t just owe their female master obedience, but Raniere as well.
Sea Org members at the Int base were pulled out of bed in the middle of the night to be marched to the lake and thrown in the water, fully clothed. Or ordered to go “run around a pole” in the hot sun. Instant compliance was demanded.
According to The Vow, Raniere was a big fan of another infamous psychological experiment: The Stanford Prison Study. In this study, young, mentally healthy men were randomly assigned to serve as prisoner or guard in a mock prison constructed in the basement of a Stanford University building. Within just a few days, both groups appeared to have lost themselves in their assigned roles. The guards acted sadistic, forcing prisoners to endure humiliating or physically grueling punishments like sit-ups or brushing the toilet with their bare hands, in order to strip prisoners of their identity and encourage obedience. Similarly, prisoners started to see themselves less as a person with a name and more as a prisoner known only by the string of numbers on their uniform. Things fell apart so quickly that the planned two-week study had to be canceled after just six days.
Raniere relied heavily on this study’s procedures for a six-day intensive course within the cult’s SOP (Society of Protectors) group. In this course, men essentially served as prison guards and women (many of whom would go on to join the sex group DOS) served as prisoners. His guise for this course was that women needed to understand the suffering men went through in order to have empathy for them (but note that he never suggested the opposite — that men needed to experience the suffering women endure). The men humiliated the women by criticizing their appearance or weight, forcing them to hold painful planks for minutes on end, and using other techniques to strip them of their identity and agency. Outside of this course, women in DOS were subjected to even more extreme deindividuation techniques, such as having to photograph their own genitals, wearing a dog collar, being locked in a dog cage, and of course being branded with Raniere’s initials. The more these women were treated as objects, the less they saw themselves as people.
This is exactly what The Hole was. There were guards and punishment meted out to the “prisoners” and then among the “prisoners” themselves the abuse and violence became routine.
Research conducted by Edward Burkley shows that exerting self-control weakens our ability to counteract others’ persuasive messages. Put another way, if you deplete people of their self-control, they become more vulnerable to brainwashing.
Raniere capitalized on this principle by forcing Nxivm members to engage in a variety of activities designed to exhaust their self-control. Extreme dieting (e.g., 500 calories per day), sleep deprivation, winter walks at 3 am, and ice-cold showers were just a few of the daily occurrences women in DOS endured, leaving them less able to resist Raniere’s manipulations.
The “rice and beans” diet of Sea Org members is well-known. Take one look at the photos of me when I was in The Hole (see John Sweeney’s first Panorama program). Sleep deprivation is every day in the Sea Org.
We all want to believe we’d never be lured into a cult like Nxivm. But as Raniere’s right-hand man Mark Vicente said in The Vow, “no one joins a cult.” Raniere may not have had a genius-level IQ or been a Rhodes Scholar like he claimed, but he certainly had a good grasp of how to use basic psychology against people in order to get them to comply. And despite what we tell ourselves, we are all vulnerable to manipulation via these basic psychological principles.
To learn more about how basic psychological principles are used for evil, check out Zimbardo’s excellent book The Lucifer Effect.
There is a lot to know and understand about this subject. Much has been written about it by people who have spent their lives studying the phenomena. This is but a brief essay, but I have reprinted it because it is so succinct and easy to grasp. Dr. Burkley has provided a valuable primer on the subject. When I first read Martha Stout’s book, The Sociopath Next Door many years ago, it came as a bit of a shock to me to learn that there are exact characteristics of a sociopath that fit David Miscavige perfectly — that what I had experienced was not something unique, but was classifiable and definable and understood by those who specialized in the field. Even more importantly, it helped me break the indoctrination that my experiences were “my fault” and that I had caused the insanity of Miscavige because of what I had done to him… That I was a victim of a sociopath. It’s quite a revelation when you finally begin to see the light.
Hi. I’m currently in school for Elementary (4k through 9th grade) Education. Besides trying to teach critical thinking as I would anyways, what can school teachers do to try to help students who are in cults like Scientology or The family?
I know many Scientologists go to special Scientology “schools” or join the Sea Org, but on the podcasts, I’ve heard some say that they went to normal public or private schools that were not Scientology schools.
Our hands are somewhat tied because we have to respect religions, but if anyone has suggestions of things that wouldn’t be grounds for the teachers being reprimanded, I would like to hear them.
Hey Mike! I’ve been a fan of the show and recently started binging your podcast with Leah. The one about the NXIVM really caught my attention. I have never been in a cult but I feel like I can relate to the brainwashing as a child of a parent with NPD (narcissist personality disorder). Many of the things mentioned in this blog are so relatable to my childhood. I wasn’t even aware of NPD until my 30’s and I have been able to do so much healing and research in the years since. I was curious if you guys have ever had anyone else mention NPD or if anyone else can relate in this manner?
All of the points mentioned (while not to the extreme of Scientology or NXVIM) are eerily similar. I’ve always resonated with the show, but it wasn’t until the podcast and reading this blog that a lightbulb went on.
Thanks for continuing the work you do because you’re helping people like me who were never affected by a cult but by a parent with NPD.
I have worked with people involved in cults for about 35 years, mainly Jehovah’s Witnesses. I have studied this phenomenon and agree with all and more except that I would call what happens during induction into a cult the use of mind control rather than brainwashing. This may seem like semantics, but I believe the distinction is important.
BRAINWASHING is when you KNOW you are being coerced, such as when you’ve been taken captive and are being subjected to torture which range from the methods described in this blog to the much more often used outright physical and emotional torture. This would be used in totalitarian regimes, for prisoners-of-war, the re-indoctrination of specific ethnic groups with in a regime, etc.
MIND CONTROL is when you are unaware that psychological techniques are being used on you. You are not obviously captive, although you might have been willing taken to a location from which you cannot leave due to its remoteness. You are “gently” coerced into groupthink with subtle techniques. By the time you may realize what has happened to you–can be a relatively short or a fairly long period of time–you believe you are locked in due to your fears of being rejected by the group, all your family and friends are now in the group, and you fear of losing all these loved ones. Also, you may believe you will lose your salvation (ability to go to heaven) if you are outside of the group.
I can see to some degree where “brainwashing” may be a possible term in the context of Scientology, especially for those raised in it. And they are at times physically captive and beaten. Generally in the major cults of Christianity, physical captivity is not in operation. I won’t say never, though.
I work as a lay person and volunteer within a biblical Christian context. I am mostly familiar with cults of Christianity of which Scientology and NXIVM are not. (Every time I hear Leah or Mike talk about Scientology as a “church” I cringe. There is NO resemblance.) I have been reading about Scientology beginning with the book Going Clear (excellent) and moving to Leah and Mike’s TV series and now their Fair Game podcast–all excellent and very informative. I pray only the best and THE truth for these abused folks. The abuse is distinctive from most cults of Christianity, and seems even more harrowing to me.
I agree it isall about control so they can capture their money. One thing I wonder is that is seems that many that speak out seem to speak out against Miscavige. Leading me to believe if he leaf they would gladly join again. The whole religion is a brainwashing cult.
I tried washing my brain a few days ago and all I got was a headache from my head banging around in the the washing machine.
Chee Chalker says
It’s why I always wash my brain by hand and hang it up to dry!
Nancy Vasta says
Excellent blog,Mr.Rinder.I watched a documentary several years ago about the Stanford Experiment.I found it to be extremely informative.I also watched The Vow and Going Clear.The more programs I watch concerning these subjects,the more I feel that my daughter’s now retired therapist might have been on to something when he told her that a certain percentage of the population is hardwired to follow some sort of cult or organized religion.Apparently it skipped my daughter and myself.Maybe it is because I am Autistic.I really do not know.I do know,however,that I never felt like I wanted to belong to any type of group.I never wanted or needed anyone’s approval for anything.I never met anyone in my life who I thought was so intriguing that I believed everything they said,either.I follow no one.And absolutely nobody tells me what to do.Several years ago a black comedy was made about two candidates running for the same office.Things quickly got ridiculously out of hand.At a town meeting,it was discovered that one of the candidates wrote a short story in grade school about a magical place named Rainbowland.One person at the meeting stood up and declared,”I won’t go to Rainbowland and you can’t make me!”Of course this was only a movie but I guess that is how I feel about any type of group that makes promises it has no intention of ever keeping,yet keeps insisting how wonderful and fulfilled your life is going to be once you join.So I won’t be going to Rainbowland and nobody can make me,after all is said and done in the end.And as for that twerp,Keith Raniere,I would not give him the correct time even if he needed it for an insulin injection,much less have his initials branded on me.
Mary Snow says
That’s interesting about hardwiring.
When I was little my mom brought me to the Brownies (pre Girl Scouts) and I spent the day doing arts and crafts with the other girls all in their brown uniforms.
After, mom asked me if I wanted to join. I said: Do I have to wear the uniform? She said yes and explained it further.
I decided against it and told her, “No thank you.” She was fine with my decision.
I actually remember getting a creepy vibe about taking the oath and wearing the uniform. Even that young. I’ve been like that all of my life. I hate labeling people or being labeled. I never join organized groups. Though I’m a spiritual person there’s no religion on earth I feel the need to join.
I must be missing that wiring too.
The examples given in this article are extremes. Lots of people who end up in cults seem to be looking for a guru to lead them from the get-go. So, by way of example, it isn’t surprising to learn that prior to joining NXIVM, Mark Vicente was involved with another cult.
But it is a serious mistake to read something like this and assume that the take-away lesson is “some people are born to fall for this kind of thing.” For every Mark Vicente–someone who was looking to believe–there are many more Sarah Edmonsons, who are skeptical and see cults and their leaders as “weird” or “uncomfortable”, but end up getting sucked in, anyway.
Absolute obedience is a feature of many social groups that aren’t cults. Most notably, the military. See again and again instances of military forces getting charged with war crimes who excuse their actions as”just following orders”. Also, think of parents and children, especially young children. Caretakers count on kids obeying them even when they don’t want to or understand why they should have to, so that they can be kept safe.
As for de-individuation. Again, this is a feature of the military: a good soldier doesn’t just do as they are asked, they are also willing to die and kill for their fellow soldiers–and for the entire country. In many cases, seeing oneself as part of a greater whole that is worth more than the individual by themselves is a virtue. Think about challenging projects at work in which individuals sacrificed time with families, sleep, even pay to help the whole team.
And, finally, depletion: enduring extreme environments, putting up with little sleep and less food and still rising to the occasion–this is actually a feature of extreme strength and dedication. Pushing ourselves to be the best makes us better athletes, helps us protect our loved ones in times of war and disaster, and can teach us important spiritual lessons.
All three of these things are part of normal group dynamics on one level or another, but in a cult they are pushed to an extreme for nefarious ends and they are underpinned by lies and manipulation. The extreme implementation of these three principles happened years after people had joined, and often wasn’t even apparent to them until the very end.
Mark Vicente wanted to make the world a better place–and he wanted to be the best version of himself that he could be. He was already primed to expect that doing so would require great sacrifice on his part, because he had grown up with activist family in apartheid South Africa. NXIVM seemed like a way to do that–both from what people were telling him, but also from what he saw with his own eyes and heart. And NXIVM courted him–went out of their way to chase him down and recruit him. For most of his time with the cult, he only saw the very best.
For Sarah and Mark, NXIVM seemed magical until it wasn’t. Both folks made money, build satisfying careers for themselves, met their spouses, and made incredible friendships BECAUSE they were in NXIVM. There were plenty of warming signs along the way, but also plenty of tangible benefits to being where they were.
It could happen to anyone.
My disconnected brother has suddenly called family members in the past month as well. He is in Sea Org and has been in Scientology for 30 years. He called our mother, first time in 25+ years, he sent me an email and birthday card, and has called 2 other brothers. All within a 2-week period, after many years of no contact.
That is amazing. Was there some change in the circumstances allowing your brother to have this change of behaviour? Is there more info? Was the disconnection overturned or discovered to have been wrongly called?
I’m very curious if this is widespread opening up, or just your individual circumstances.
Mary Kahn says
My son just called his two aunts for the first time (they usually call him), asked about his father and I for the first time. He was handling grievances they had with the church, one of the aunt’s more than the other. But this is as I suspected. Either he was doing a PTS handling or the church is trying to handle their horrible PR by handling concerns in the field.
The “lost Tech” is PTS Type A handling emphasis, which used to be focused on in the late 1970s, and then in 1982 it just went nuts and PTS A handlings got discontinued.
So maybe they have rediscovered PTS A handlings. (When I was in Senior HCO Int, I never had anyone I coached disconnect, I always always used “good roads, fair weather” based on the 1978 emphasis and final Hubbard re-emphasis on PTS A (meaning do NOT disconnect, but repair it all with comm, and follow the Fundamentals of Thought/Problems of Work “tech”, since back in the 1950s, all the “tech” was just “good roads/fair weather” coaching, which was more sensible, since almost everyone is NOT an SP, and disconnection was the wrong PTS handling to swing the person being coached into disconnecting, even though that disconnection choice just over and over would be misused.
It’s got a huge whole history, the misuse of disconnection, versus “good roads, fair weathr” PTS A mild coaching longer term handling, which kept families intact, etc, etc.
I could imagine, that with the statute of limitations protecting them from suits, they might be swinging back to the milder PTS A handlings.
Let’s see? (If Miscavige has allowed Exec Strata to reform, the EEI job in Exec Strata would be the one to discover and re-implement PTS A handlings to swing them back to better “normal” like in earlier eras when PTS A handlings were all there were, namely in the 1950s that was it, up until the PTS A to J policy came out, but even the A to J policy, that’d be a huge improvement if they shifted from their decades of wrongful disconnection back to just PTS A to J).
If they did, that is NEWS to be noted and written about in media.
George M. White says
Better prepare for guests!
To follow up, my brother had been sending an occasional email to some of us siblings the past few years. The few I’ve received were one-line impersonal emails around the holiday that didn’t sound like they came from him. But this recent phone call to our 80-year old mother was completely out of the blue after zero contact with her for 25+ years. She had been vocally against Scientology and he had disconnected long ago. Our parents are divorced and our father had not been vocal about his opposition to it, so my brother has had occasional contact with him over the years.
In one of last month’s phone calls to a sibling the topic came around to how Scientology is handling the coronavirus. (He lives at the Ft Harrison Hotel). The conversation got very stilted then. He followed up the very next day with another phone call, specifically to update this brother on how they are handling the virus.
Interesting. Sounds like they’re doing some sort of “handlings”.
At least it’s a start …….. maybe
Mary Kahn says
Very interesting. See my comment below (last one). Our son recently called both of his aunts for the first time and out of the blue.
Trying to clean up the field? “Handle” disgruntled relatives that have nothing to do with scientology? The church’s PR is in such a dumper that the church is attempting to clean it up. I wonder if the power(s) that be in the church ever thought of just telling the truth. NAH!
As a complement to this article, I recommend Derren Brown’s TV specials where he demonstrates these (and other) factors on the unsuspecting.
The Push (Social Compliance)
The Gameshow (Deindividuation)
Fear & Faith I (Placebo Effect)
Fear & Faith II (Religious Belief)
Messiah (Confirmation Bias)
A member of this community, Chuck Beatty, mentions in a webcast interview with Ron Miscavige, Sr., “Life After Scientology,” episode 77:
“How do confidence men work? They pretty much let YOU provide the false hope, and then they SELL YOU THAT: they sell you your nice little solid FALSE HOPE.”
I believe these methodologies play with our innate sense of expansion, importance, and capacity for effectiveness in the extreme: “Something IS really wrong with this place [planet], and I darn sure am one of those people who can fix it.”
Perhaps making modest, yet true, effects are what endures.
Angry Gay Pope says
Here in Hollywood there are sociopaths everywhere. Look at Harvey Weinstein! That kind of aggressive obnoxiousness will take you far in this town. Remember when Norman Bates looked through the hole in the wall at the lady? Hitchcock did that too in real life! This article mentions potential sociopaths in Hwd and Tom Cruise and Trump are both on the list!
If you work for these people and complain about their behavior you may be blacklisted. LA is a BIG city but Hollywood is a small town.
This list proves absolutely nothing. I could name a random celebrity and get them put on the list if it served the agenda of the people publishing it. Please provide facts, not opinion.
Old Surfer Dude says
I couldn’t have said it better!!!
Howdy Mike. I really enjoyed the picture you used at the beginning of today’s blog entry. All of those sheep staring intently at the dog appear to be waiting for their next command. It seemed hilarious to me and also an excellent depiction of the mentality of a cult and its leader. Well done Mike!
Mary Snow says
Since the human brain isn’t fully developed until around age 25, it’s understandable that people who were sucked into COS at young ages were vulnerable to brainwashing.
I don’t understand those who got sucked in as full fledged adults. Why are they so vulnerable to brainwashing? Why do they accept the abuse and then go onto abuse others?
I suppose certain personality types are more vulnerable than others.
Mike, did anyone in The Hole ever try and stop the violence between the inmates? For example, when someone like Russ Bellin or Jenny Linson beat up whomever was that day’s target, or said “hey, you guys have to crawl on the carpet with your trousers rolled up”, did anyone ever pipe up and say ‘this is wrong, we shouldn’t be doing this, leave so-and-so alone’? Was it seriously ‘fight club’ every day or were there other ‘activities’?
Mike Rinder says
Nobody tried to speak up, for fear of becoming the target of the mob.
There was one exception. Tom DeVocht. He told everyone in no uncertain terms they were insane and Miscavige was insane. He was banished to the edge of the property under guard for months and eventually escaped.
Wow. If that’s the treatment Tom got for speaking his mind, then no wonder no one else did. Thanks for replying.
I always knew there was a special reason why I liked Tom DeVocht so much. I just never before knew what it was. Thanks Mike. That is great to know!
Mary? Do you think there is any chance that some of the higher ups in the church are getting worried about all the bad publicity resulting from Mike & Leah’s Aftermath TV show being broadcast over and over again on national TV and they were thinking that it might help them to make it appear like Sam was taking some steps toward reconnection? Even if they would not ever allow him to reconnect, maybe they were hoping that he could at least make it appear like the problem with disconnection was not as serious as it had been portrayed?
The main reason why I would not believe that to be true is because as far as I can tell, there is really only one higher up and that is the one and only dictator in this cult and I doubt that anyone really knows what he would ever plan to do.
Great article and comments, Mike. After the recent post about Claire Headley, I re-read the end of Marc Headley’s “Blown For Good” (I love to read about people winning!) This time, I was struck by his comments about how a few days of enough sleep and proper nourishment cleared his head (and broke the cycle of unquestioning obedience) I also noticed how he emphasized this to Claire when they got the chance to plan her escape. At one point he compares being without enough sleep for years to feeling like he was in a coma. I can completely understand how this breaks people down, along with the rest of these frightening methods. No wonder diehard S Orgs seem to have no normal feelings or sense of ethical behavior. They’re too tired and hungry to care.
Zee Moo says
Nice work Mike. I think that almost anyone can be scammed if hit up the right way at the right time with the right come on.
Human beings are social animals and are subject to all sorts of psychological ‘tricks’. A good snake oil salesperson can get a few members of any audience to buy in to the scam. It just takes a large audience to generate enough marks who pay up to keep the snake oil flowing.
Geoff Levin says
When I was on the Sea Org ship The Apollo with Ron in 1974 everyone was expected to give instant compliance. There was always the fear that a regular crew member could be thrown into the RPF(Rehabilitation Project Force).
This was the slave labor group. No regular crew were allowed to talk to us. We were shunned. We had to run everywhere. I was part of a group that had no sleeping quarters. Mike talks about his experience under Miscavige which were worse.
I lasted three month in the RPF. It was my path to leaving the Sea Org permanently. The interesting thing was I thought nothing of the experience, it seemed fair that crew that screwed up should be rehabilitated.
That included some kind of auditing
And I continued to be in Scientology for 38 years. I was brainwashed very effectively.
Tory Christman says
I was “in” for 30 years…routed out of the Sea Org after 6 months as I needed a refill for my
Medication for Epilepsy. As my Mother (Who saved my life) told me: “Tory, They are going to
KILL you”. I got back on my medication and have had no seizures in 30 years, except when I finished OT 3 and tried one last time to get off of them. Per the Drs at Morton Plant Hospital in Clearwater:
“Another 5 minutes and you would have been D E A D”.
I know those who were never “in” a Cult, THINK, as Mark said above:
“I would **Never** do that”. I try to remind people:
A) It IS Covert Brain washing so you DO NOT KNOW it is being done.
B) Cults always make things ~sound~ so good, and Cut you off from the facts.
C) Due to not being allowed to look at both sides, and Due to no NET…..it IS just
Like “The Truman Show”….you cannot see the walls.
Love to ALL 🙂 Tory Christman (aka: Magoo!)
George M. White says
This all explains why I never joined the Sea Org and actually tried to beat Miscavige to a pulp on the Freewinds in 1988. My background was serious violence from childhood, through high school, college and the United States Army. Actually I was lucky to have been beaten and to have beaten so many people. It kept me out of the Sea Org and helped me leave the cult totally in 1988. In my last interview at the Sand Castle in 1989, I scared the living hell out of the entire staff with loud yelling, throwing the cans, punching walls, overturning furniture and fist waving mocking up haymakers. They let me leave in peace.
Aimee Robinson says
I was married to a USMC and my oldest son was in the USMC also, I had gotten so used to my ex-husbands silent treatment or his ignoring me, he had been brainwashed since he was about 5, I can see a hint of the hell of brainwashing you and everyone in Scientology have endured. My ex husband had no empathy.. no compassion. My son didn’t become a brainwashed Marine because he was with me as a child and boot camp had become less tolerant of brainwashing compared to the 70’s when his grandfather (A high ranking colonel that brainwashed my ex husband) went through boot camp. The same in the 80’s when my ex husband went through boot camp there was a brainwashing technique that had been done forever….the natural feeling of freedom mentality may not be a feeling some people feel due to a trauma or brainwashing as a child. I can see a big difference in your face at present time compared to when you were in Scientology….. 2 separate people, it’s as if your face now has a releasing of hell… and you will recover from most of this hell you lived in. The past person I saw on the show of when you were in the Church has anguish and chaos from brainwashing…. you fought the shit you dealt with… the anger replaces the depression you were not allowed to feel….my question is : What will happen to your daughters in the church if there is a big investigation into all the child abuse and bullying that no child should ever live in…Keep up the good work, you guys are making sure this becomes inexcusable as humans.
Aimee – Interesting comparison between someone from a hardcore full-family military background who’d been primed as a “mini-soldier” since childhood. My family has a LOT of military (Navy) and I recall when we were kids how Grandpa, Uncles and Aunt down to my cousins and brother who served – ALL felt very strongly about anyone interested not getting into USMC or Army, unless they did so via OCT (officer candidate training – college students who join and become Officers immediately) due to many of the techniques to break one down and “make a soldier out of you.” Not that USNavy or USAF don’t have their own versions, it’s just different, and ESP back when my uncles (now in their 70’s) or Grandpa were initially training – there were techniques used that are now considered psychologically damaging and were known to be “too much” even amongst other servicemen/women. Sorry to hear how that affected you, yet glad to hear your son came out whole and psychologically healthy.
As for Mike, he has a son (Benjamin) and daughter (Taryn) still in. As for what could happen if/when things are investigated, similar to when the FLDS had their TX ranch stormed, many/most of the people on-site will not cooperate or be open with authorities. If/when it comes to determining scale of abuse, victims, perpetrators, etc. there would likely be a majority that were both psychologically abused as children who then grew up to be the person meting out said abuse. Sadly, as we’ve seen with Watchtower/JW’s, FLDS, NXIVM, CO$, etc. conditions where seeking outside authorities’ assistance is prohibited and anything is to be handled within the internal justice procedures, it attracts/encourages bad actors/abusers by creating a system that assists in concealing their crimes, such that they tend to have extensive lists of victims (example would be Willy -can’t recall last name- from “The Ranch” or Mace-Kingsley school where many Sea Org kids or “troubled” children of public scientologists attended and lived for years. Look up Nathan Rich’s story, he was on Aftermath and also wrote a book). If you’ve followed Aftermath and/or Mike’s story over the years, you can hear the pain as he hears from peers of his own children about the abuse (psychological and/or physical) experienced. A number of people on the show were/are people who grew up as peers of his kids and he often expresses the pain he feels for “getting his family, especially his children, IN!” Mike himself was brought in as a child and ultimately lost his whole family (parents, siblings, wife & kids…) by virtue of leaving. For me, the risk of losing my loved ones could create a lot of pressure to do things I wouldn’t otherwise.
There are a lot of people here and other blogs/forums who talk about doing things they’d never do outside that situation and how even now, they’re appalled, ashamed and struggle with hurt from things they were ordered to do. I think that’s the most important thing about this post, books he’s mentioned, Aftermath and similar media out about NXIVM, etc. It is so easy to sit from afar and say, “I would NEVER…!” But awareness is key to educating that nearly anyone could be susceptible at certain points in life to this, whether it’s a cult/high-control group, abusive relationship, addiction and from that can include using that control, shame, fear, etc. to get good people to do things they can’t fathom even tolerating, let alone doing themselves.
I’m so glad you’re out of your own experience of someone controlling you/your circumstances and most importantly, a great relationship with your son and being able to heal together!
BRAINWASHING……Taught from birth to OBEY WITHOUT QUESTION…full obedience to the “leader of the pack”.
There are religions like that….REAL religions…..STRICT Christian Religions that dictate that the MALE is the Head of Household….first the father, then the husband when a female marries & she MUST OBEY HIM WITHOUT QUESTION. Trap the female into remaining forever under the thumb of her father & then her husband with NO CHANCE for a life of her own…or a CHOICE in her life.
The woman has no power or authority to challenge the male head of household, first her father then her husband…..she marries more or less the man her father “chooses or approves” for her….she can’t use birth control and “should be available for sex on her husband’s demand”….can’t work outside the home either where she might “get ideas” & education is limited….again…so she can’t get ideas on what life is like outside her realm of religion.
Sound familiar…..MUST OBEY the “big cheese” or authority figure without question. Again again again…forbidden to hear, view, read or look for information outside the realm of belief hammered into your head…..ONE SIDE OF THE COIN……listen up buddy or else.
Drummed into your head that the world outside will harm you, hurt you in every way, cheat you, lie to you, perhaps even kill you. TRUST ONLY US….WE KNOW what is BEST for you, we are teaching you everything you NEED to KNOW………
FEAR is the great motivator to remain IN safely in the bubble because you’re too afraid to set outside. The little mouse who has been told the huge band of CATS are waiting just beyond your safety net to tear you apart & EAT you .
I had a few high school friends who went into the Moonies, Hare Krishna, Children Of God…….most were kids who weren’t “popular in school, outsiders seeking friendship & enlightenment”. What they found hurt most of them beyond repair. They FULLY believe the carp they were fed & gave up their family, friends everything to be part of IT>>>>only to find out they were suckers.
Preventing CRITCAL THINKING is the key…….without seeing BOTH SIDES OF THE COIN….how can anyone make a CHOICE…… Brainwashing works quite well….that’s why religions use it.
Losing too much…your family, friends, all that you’ve ever known….suffocated into the realm of belief & knowing nothing about life on the outside…. nowhere to live outside the bubble, no job, no car, no education, no clothes, NO MONEY…….Brainwashed to continue to live an existence that you’ve known your entire life….too afraid to step outside…..all too sad.
Great article! We need more of these that detail the process of indocrination
Mary Kahn says
Just last week, my husband and I got a call from his sister saying our (disconnected) son Sammy called her out of the blue because he thought he would call her for a change and catch up. They talked for about ten minutes. We were very excited; maybe he was starting to have doubts; maybe he was starting to LOOK or maybe he just missed her – all good.
That same day we got a call from my husband’s other sister saying Sammy called her and said the same thing. He asked about us, which as she noted was the first time he had ever asked how we were doing. We were all excited.
The second sister went on to describe their really honest and sincere discussion and when she brought up that when she talked to Sammy about me, his mother, he told her that I refused to go in and just talk to them and tell them my grievances. Right then I knew: He was doing a “handle or disconnect.” It appeared from everything this second sister said, that she was willing to give him and acknowledge his responses and even agreed somewhere in that discussion that “Yes, a lot of churches have a form of disconnection.”
I could see why he talked to this sister for an hour and the first sister for only ten minutes. The first sister told him he was in a cult. When he asked her why she said that her response was, “I don’t know; look it up.” I would be surprised if he ever calls her again or even answers her future phone calls.
The next day (or even that same day) he was probably telling his Ethics Office how it went. He will probably disconnect from the first sister and who knows with the second. The second sister was so touched by his phone call, when actually she was being played so he could discover whether she would “handle.” He told a laudable lie to his aunt that I refused to go in and talk to them and tell them my grievances; she, of course, understood what he was saying and didn’t accuse him of twisting what actually happened. So she “handled.”
Lloyd Evans talked about his “Win Win” scenario of asking someone in a high control group with allegations of abuse to do their research and from there it’s a Win Win whether they choose to stay in the group or leave. My son is one of those people who WON’T DO research into allegations of abuse because he can’t allow his mind to be turned against his church, to think less of his church because his church – Scientology – is mankind’s only hope.
Poor Sam. He had to pretend to be an interested and attentive nephew when actually he was just doing what a good scientologist does.
I’m so sorry Mary. I believe you’re an exceptional person for handling this the way you are by continuing to speak out against the abuses of COS and not having a complete nervous breakdown (like I would have had). The ‘handle/disconnect” order has probably gone out to all of those who are related to anyone who appeared on ‘Aftermath’…possibly the order has gone out to every member of the SO. Especially now that it’s on Netflix and obviously that’s killing Miscavige. He’s probably wanting to see how many relatives of Sea Orgers out there are mentioning ‘Aftermath’. It’s just going to isolate the Sea Org members even more. It will be interesting to see if any of the others out there suddenly hear from their disconnected SO relatives via wog/neutral/safe outside relatives (such as your sisters in law).
It’s all about control. Absolute control. Those that have been in these high control groups their entire lives know nothing else. They ‘police’ their own thoughts without even knowing they’re doing it. Scientology is just another high control group telling its members how they are trying to ‘save humanity’ when they have long since removed the ‘human’ from ‘humanity’.
Mary Kahn says
Yes. Sometimes I think they are subhuman.
Thank you for your kind words.