In 2004, when I finally made the decision to pack up and exit the cult, I had in my mind reached the conclusion that we had been brainwashed, and were being systematically exploited. (One might think that this would have been a foregone conclusion. Alas, the human mind is fragile, and religion is dangerous.) In my heart, though, I felt like leaving the group was spiritual suicide. On this level, I was convinced it was God that I was turning away from, no matter how twisted and wrong the things that had been going on in our lives really were. This was a conundrum. I couldn’t figure it out, no matter how hard I tried, and it absolutely drove me out of my mind.
I began reading a lot. I studied cults, and how cult leaders used brainwashing and mind control to manipulate their followers. There is actually quite a bit of material out there written on the subject, because the problem of cults is, as it turns out, pretty widespread. We see it brought to the forefront of the world’s stage sometimes, as with the Peoples Temple (The Jim Jones cult that reached its climax in the mass suicide of over 900 members via cyanide-laced fruit beverage, from whence we derive the phrase, “drinking the Kool-Aid,” used to describe when a group of people hold an unquestioned belief, which they refuse to examine in the light of reason or logic) and the Branch Davidians (A heavily apocalyptic sect of Seventh Day Adventists who, led by a man calling himself David Koresh, entered into a gun battle when the FBI attempted to raid their compound. The gunfight resulted in a fire which destroyed the compound, killing those still inside.)
Cults and cult-like groups spring up all over the place, though, often on a much smaller scale. They don’t usually pick up steam and result in something like North Korea, or Scientology; usually, they happen within a relatively isolated community of believers, and then fizzle out after a while. What my family and I experienced was just such a flash-in-the-pan type of manifestation.
ENOUGH OF THIS GARBAGE. HOW DOES BRAINWASHING WORKI?
There are lots of web pages out there that provide a rundown of the steps/stages of brainwashing. What I want to do is to try to use some of what I’ve read from resources like that and combine them with what happened to me, to provide a brief synopsis of what the process was like in my own experience. Okay? Okay, here goes.
The Love Bomb
When a new person first showed up in the group, they were overwhelmed with what seemed at first to be an incredible amount of unconditional love and acceptance from the other members. Everyone was all smiles and laughter. Whenever new people began attending group meetings, Brad would be sure to commend them on some sort of personal virtue of theirs that he had observed, and he would give them lots of affirming, encouraging ‘words from the Lord.’ As it turns out, this is textbook love bombing, a technique used by cults and other tribal groups to manipulate vulnerable people into letting their guard down.
Everything You Think You Know is Wrong
Once a person had been assured the acceptance and approval of the group, things got really dark really fast. Brad would change his tune completely. “You might as well just take everything you’ve ever learned about God and flush it right down the toilet,” he would say. In Brad’s world, God was concerned primarily with ‘punishing sin.’ After he was sure that a person’s defenses were down, he would barrage them with a non-stop onslaught of quotations, analogies, scripture, and ‘prophetic words from God.’ He was perfectly open about his reasons for doing this. “The Lord has to tear you down before He can build you back up,” was a common explanation he would offer. He made no secret of the fact that his main goal with new converts was to dismantle their mind piece by piece, and then reconstruct it based solely on his own interpretation of the Bible and far-right American political ideology (which, in his mind, were completely conducive to one another.)
Eventually, I began to notice that the ‘Building you back up’ part would never actually happen. Once they were under the spell, a person was pretty much limited to a life of being psychologically disassembled over and over, forever, in hopes that someday things would get better. The carrot was always dangling from the end of that stick, though. It never changed.
Cut Off From The Rest of the World
New members of the group were told that anyone who had been a part of their ‘old life’ (and especially anyone who seemed uneasy about their newfound life of increasing dedication to the group) were dangerous for them to associate with. People were told that they would need to ‘cut ties’ with such people if they intended to actually give their life to the Lord.
Mind you, no one was ever forced to make changes like this. They were simply presented with a clear choice between complying with these and whatever other suggestions were offered to them, and ignoring the leading of the Holy Spirit, and eventually ending up in Hell.
Once the initial stages of wooing and flirtation had passed, a person was expected to attend all group functions without fail, despite other obligations. This included fundraising activities as well as official meetings and social functions. Failure to comply would result in a phase of gradual rejection that would increase if gatherings continued to be neglected, or subside once committal became satisfactorily complete. Gatherings would last a long time, often until one or two in the morning. Fundraiser activities were even more lengthy and rigorous. Carwashes, grocery baggings, and promotional booths were run with increasing frequency over the years, with these types of events eventually being held six days a week. The length of a fundraiser depended entirely on how soon the financial goal was met.
Details aside, the fact is that members were kept in a state of physical and mental exhaustion. Later, when studying mind control, I learned that such keeping members in such a state is a textbook characteristic of cults, and it is done because it weakens the mind to the point where the subject eventually gives up and submits to the programming.
When I first moved in with Brad, I experienced this to an extreme degree.
I was working overnights in those days, and I would come home and go to bed at around eight in the morning. Every single day, without fail, Brad would pop his head through the doorway at eleven o’clock, knock on the open door and say, “Hey, dude, let’s get something to eat.” So I literally had three hours of sleep a night during the week. Saturdays was carwash day, so usually I wouldn’t sleep at all on Friday night/morning. All day long we would be at the carwash raising money. Group social activities would carry on late into the evening. Sunday was, of course, church, which was followed by more social activity. Sunday night was the only night of the week back then that I would actually be able to get a full night’s rest.
Fasting was practiced with a great deal of regularity (this is where a person chooses to abstain from eating for a given period of time.) Every month, during the early days, Brad would fast for ten days. These ten-day fasts eventually came to be a group activity. If you were serious about God, you would participate in the fast.
Dietary restrictions like this are also a classic method used by cults to weaken a person’s mind and body, in order to make them all that much more susceptible to third-party suggestion.
After I’d left, I spent about a year seriously expecting to be killed in some sort of freak accident because I had been told over and over that anyone leaving the group would mean that God would probably “take them out.” I remember so many times sitting there, listening to Brad preach, and hearing about how those who turn away from God have a habit of getting themselves killed inexplicably. He would even go so far as to refer to God’s people as the “Holy Ghost Mafia,” and say things like “once you’re in, there’s only one way out.” It was because of the irrational fears that had been generated by harboring such a worldview for years and years that I eventually relapsed and started trying to drink it all away.
As I learned in my research, though, this is just another common weapon in the arsenal of the cult leader. In my own experience, it was perhaps the most devastating one. On the one hand, you have the option to remain in the abusive situation. On the other, you have the option to escape and perhaps experience a brief moment of freedom before God kills you and tortures you with fire for all eternity. It literally took collapsing into an alcoholic heap for me to be able to get away from the fear. It was just that overpowering.
So there you have it…
To be honest, I really can’t stand writing about this anymore at the moment. I will come back and touch this post up, later, because it’s really not buttoned up very well as it is.