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Mind Control and the Adult Child | Pt. 4

In the context of being an adult child who experienced mind control throughout their upbringing or who still experiences it within adulthood, it's essential to understand how it works and why it's unhealthy. In this series we are discussing Steve Hassan's BITE model of mind control (see introduction here; part 1; part 2; part 3). Hassan is recognized worldwide for his work as an exit counselor and has written two books: "Combatting Cult Mind Control" and "Releasing the Bonds: Empowering People to Think for Themselves."  
     Continuing with the third portion of Steve Hassan's BITE model:  
III. Thought Control
by Steve Hassan
1. Need to internalize the group's doctrine as "Truth"
a. Map = Reality
b. Black and White thinking
c. Good vs. evil
d. Us vs. them (inside vs. outside)
2. Adopt "loaded" language (characterized by "thought-terminating clich├ęs"). Words are the tools we use to think with. These "special" words constrict rather than expand understanding. [emphasis added] They function to reduce complexities of experience into trite, platitudinous "buzz words".
3. Only "good" and "proper" thoughts are encouraged.
4. Thought-stopping techniques (to shut down "reality testing" by stopping "negative" thoughts and allowing only "good" thoughts); rejection of rational analysis, critical thinking, constructive criticism.
a. Denial, rationalization, justification, wishful thinking
b. Chanting
c. Meditating
d. Praying
e. Speaking in "tongues"
f. Singing or humming
5. No critical questions about leader, doctrine, or policy seen as legitimate
6. No alternative belief systems viewed as legitimate, good, or useful
From a Christian Perspective

Thought Control is a hallmark of cults. But much of what we see here is part of our daily walk with the Lord! As believers, certainly we are to pray. Singing is biblical, and so is right thinking. Meditation upon God's word is always encouraged, and Paul reminds us, Finally, brethren, whatever things are true, whatever things are noble, whatever things are just, whatever things are pure, whatever things are lovely, whatever things are of good report, if there is any virtue and if there is anything praiseworthy—meditate on these things. (Phil. 4:8) Additionally, as we discussed in the beginning of this series, we are to be transformed by the renewing of our mind. So what is the difference? How can something good be used destructively?
     It's important to understand that doctrine or belief systems are not always what makes a group cultic. Leaders within a church or family who wield undue influence and use mind control to coerce (control, manipulate, train, etc.) their members may actually believe right things. In other words, they may believe Truth. However, one can have correct doctrine and yet through authoritarian, sinful, or destructive orthopraxy—the practice of one's doctrine—still be aberrant in nature. In my article The Cultic Family, Part III  I offered several biblical refutations of cultic criteria, of which some appear to be the responsible activity of diligent, earnest Christians. Please review this article as you reflect on this element of mind control.

The Subtle Power of Adjectives (and other words)

     Thought-stopping techniques and loading the language are common methods of influence. Sometimes we don't even know we're doing it, much less having it done to us. For instance, adding words like "biblical", "unbiblical", or "worldly" subtly influences (pre-prejudices or sways) a listener or reader to or from certain ideas or material. Knowing I have a relatively conservative audience, suppose I heard a speaker I disagreed with and called her a "feminist." 'Feminist' is a buzz word in many circles. It causes others to become instantly guarded and discouraged from listening to that speaker because they will expect anything she says to be tainted by a feminist worldview. Or perhaps I called something "biblical". For those of us who try to follow the Bible, we might relax our guard a little and be more receptive to a message or belief, because that word means something good to us. These are simple examples of what can be very complex. What if I did this intentionally, according to my own prejudices or beliefs? It's one thing to state my opinions or even encourage someone to consider my view, but I am not the Holy Spirit and my understanding is limited. What if I didn't do it intentionally, but still achieved the same effect? Jesus says,
But let your ‘Yes’ be ‘Yes,’ and your ‘No,’ ‘No.’ For whatever is more than these is from the evil one.
Although the context is swearing, I think this is an important precept that we can apply in our communication with others. To use loaded language is psychological manipulation. It creates confusion. It is highly disingenuous. A lifetime of training like this can be very difficult to overcome, but through the Lord's help it is possible.

Without Question

     Loaded language can be frequently seen when someone questions their leaders within an authoritarian environment. If an adult child, still living at home for example, begins to question the lifestyle of his family, how many times is that child labeled "rebellious"? When others learn that such questions are "rebellious", they understand that they should not entertain these thoughts either lest they, too, be rebellious. By labeling the one who speaks up and dispelling any chance of challenge or critical thinking, the group is manipulated in favor of its leader.

     For those just tuning in, please understand that the context of this series is unhealthy and ungodly psychological control taking place within the milieu of an authoritarian home. 

For discussion...

     There are many ways that thought control manifests within the authoritarian family. As adults, recognizing and addressing the strongholds they have in our own minds is often a daily battle. In what ways do you find yourself still caught up in black-and-white or us-versus-them thinking? Do you see this as healthy or unhealthy? Why? How were some of these things used to control your thoughts: denial, rationalization, justification, wishful thinking, chanting, meditating, praying, speaking in "tongues", singing or humming? Was this good or bad? What distinguishes godly thought patterns and teachings, versus manipulative? How do you differentiate between undue influence and godly, responsible influence?
The BITE Model: From chapter two of Releasing the Bonds: Empowering People to Think for Themselves © 2000 by Steven Hassan; published by Freedom of Mind Press, Somerville MA


  1. I'm not going to post in detail how this was used in my family, but I can say that I identified with every point. What I struggle with now is how much of it was intentional. In religious cults, the leaders often know exactly what they are doing to control their followers. I used to believe that parents in spiritually abusive families were just clueless, but the more comes to light over the years (in my own situation and that of others) the more I'm not sure. It's painful.


  2. I also identify with this. It's something I want to be conscientious of myself. I see it used so often in churches that I feel on guard every where. Never free to just "listen".

  3. When I first became committed in my decision to follow Christ as a young adult, I went to a church that had many cultish characteristics.

    The loaded language was thick. The worst thing any one could possibly be was "rebellious" because that was equated with "witchcraft" which is of course punishable by death in God's eyes. Remember how Korah was swallowed up by the earth for rebelling against Moses? And even his own sister Miriam was stricken with leprosy for daring to criticize her brother?

    I was so diligent to keep rebellion out of my heart that I ignored things obvious to everyone. When the pastor broke up two marriages with an adulterous affair, I remembered all the obvious signs that I had chastised myself for noticing at the time.

    Looking back, it is so obvious why a teacher might want to emphasize these stories: so that no one will challenge anything that teacher says or does and they can reign unchallenged in their little kingdoms.

    Now my bs detector goes into high alert when I hear a teacher use the word "rebellious". Happily, in the church I attend today it is very unlikely I will hear it. Questioning is seen as healthy, a sign that people are hungry for truth. My pastor isn't lording it over anyone, so he is completely comfortable admitting he doesn't know everything, but is a mere mortal like the rest of us.

  4. Very good points on the manipulation of words in the Christian circle. I call it "Christianese" and so many of us were trained to speak it well. Phrases like "bless God did you sow a "good seed" today? Glory, hallelujah, you are living as an "overcomer" if you are sowing your seed faithfully! "Doubting and negative thinking" only open the door for the "devil" in your life and bring "curses" right into your life! Positive thinking attracts "blessing and prosperity" to the "obedient" child of God, you will lack nothing, praise the Lord!

    These are all good words when used in a context where mental manipulations are not the driving force. So glad to be free and my spiritual antennas are fine tuned. :)

  5. And yet, people continue to view "19 Kids and Counting" as harmless show about a sweet bunch of kids all the while neglecting to see that this is exactly how they are all being brought up. Great Post.


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