Jan 18, 2022 in Counseling
The History of Cult Mind Abuse: Thought Reform and The Psychology of Totalism
“Under certain kinds of stress or duress, individuals can be made to comply with the demands of those in power" 93, West
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Cult Mind Abuse & Lifton's 8 criteria
Excerpt from Masters thesis on cult trauma and recovery by Ingo Michehl, Library of Congress, 1996
Historical Background of Cult Mind Abuse
Cultic manipulation and mind abuse find their most obvious historical roots in the Chinese cultural revolution, in which Mao Tse-Tung used a carefully orchestrated array of psychological techniques to effectively indoctrinate the intellectual elite of China with Communist ideology (Thought Reform and the Psychology of Totalism, Lifton, 1961). Terms that have been associated with describing the phenomenon, such as “thought reform” (Lifton, 1961), “coercive persuasion” (Schein, 1956, 1961), and “mind control” (Hassan, 1990), are an attempt to conceptualize this complex and subtle process of social influence which causes people to undergo often dramatic paradigm, personality and lifestyle changes.
As West (1993) puts it,
“Under certain kinds of stress or duress, individuals can be made to comply with the demands of those in power - adopt beliefs and behaviors far different from those that were characteristic of them before the stress was applied.”
Lifton (1961) identified eight aspects of “thought reform”:
1) milieu control (control of the environment and information)
2) mystical manipulation (surrounding the leader with a mystical aura of moral perfection or superhuman qualities; “planned spontaneity”: inducing “spiritual experiences” through psychological manipulation)
3) the demand for purity (requiring absolute obedience and compliance with the rules and expectations of the group)
4) the cult of confession (inducing guilt for non-compliance; requiring confession as a means of cleansing and restoring oneself in order to use the confessed weaknesses against the victim to control him/her)
5) the sacred science (pseudo-scientific rationale for the groups teaching; all criticism is discredited as “illogical”, “unreasonable” and “negative” or “evil”)
6) the loading of language (the use of thought-reducing clichés which an instant, simplified analysis and solution for the “problem” in line with the cult ideology; e.g. “He has a Cain-Abel problem!” in Moonie language means that the member - in the position of the biblical Cain (further from God than Abel whose offering was received by God) - is disobedient or rebellious and should “submit” to his leader in the position of “Abel”.
7) doctrine over the person (the teaching and purposes of the group are more important than the welfare of the individual; members are often asked to sacrifice themselves “for the cause”.
8) the dispensing of existence (anyone outside the group or anyone who disagrees with the ideology of the group is denied any human rights - including the right of existence - and is often declared as “non-human”; this explains for example why during the communist revolution millions of people were killed; they were labeled “bourgeois pigs” or “counter-revolutionaries” and thus did not fit Marx’ definition of a human being: part of the proletariat (revolutionary working class).
Singer et al. (1990), who traces the evolution of terminology from “brainwashing - a colloquial term applied to any technique designed to manipulate human thought or action against the desire, will, or knowledge of the individual” (Encyclopedia Britannica, 1975) to the later concept of “thought reform” (Lifton, 1961), a more accurate translation of the original Chinese term, distinguish between “first” and “second-generation programs”: Whereas first-generation programs attack a peripheral property of self, i.e. social and political views, second-generation programs “attack the core sense of being—the central self-image, the very sense of realness and existence of the self.” (Ofshe & Singer, 1986, p.18)
Cults and cult apologists often dismiss the concept of thought reform based on studies such as two studies (Barker, 1983; Galanter, 1980; cited in Singer, 1990) done on two of the less successful centers of one organization which show that only approximately 10% of the persons recruited into an introductory workshop leave their old lives behind and become full-time missionaries for the group within one month (Barker, 1983; Galanter, 1980). As Singer et al. (1990) observe, the percentages may well be higher, as for example four “dropouts” were taken away by parents. Had the parents not interfered, the percentage remaining after one month would have been 13%. But even if only 10% joined—the dramatic impact of thought reform becomes evident when these numbers are compared to the effectiveness of, for example, a Billy Graham crusade: “2% - 5% of the attendees ‘make a decision for Christ’ and only about half of these converts are active a year later. About 15% remain permanently converted.” (Frank, 1974, p.82). The 10% who join a cult become FULL-TIME members who dedicate their life, give up their personal and career goals, and focus on making money for the group and recruiting more full-time members ...who will, in turn, recruit further “dedicated” members. “Most of these recruits had simply been approached on the street, whereas most non-believers at Billy Graham crusades had already substantial contact with evangelists before.” (Singer et al., 1990, p. 105) In other words, without the manipulative thought reform techniques used by cults, people will not suddenly commit their life to a group and cause with which they have never been in contact before.
Here is my personal cult experience:
STATEMENT ABOUT MY EXPERIENCE WITH CARP, STUDENT BRANCH OF SUN MYUNG MOON'S UNIFICATION CHURCH (1997)
How I joined
In Oct. 86, after completing my high school back home in Germany, I decided to travel to the United States for three weeks to evaluate universities and to visit my host family in Auburn, California, where I had been an exchange student for 1 year in 1982. After visiting them, I went to San Francisco to meet with one of my "host sisters", and to then move on to Yosemite, Southern California, Florida, and finally back home. (I had a "Welcome America" ticket which gave me four flights in the U.S.)
Having just arrived in S.F. by Greyhound, I went to Palo/Market to observe the famous turning of the cable cars. As I was standing there looking around, I was approached by two Japanese "students" (though as I found out later they were no students), one of them being a woman in her thirties by the name of Hitomi Kanepa, who, since her husband left the Unification Church, has resumed her maiden name Saito. She is most likely at the present still at the Unification Theological Seminary in Barrytown, New York. She and her companion, Yoshihisa (I believe his last name is Nozawa), smiled at me with a bright and loving smile which rendered me completely unsuspecting, and when they invited me to "a cup of tea" at their "international student club", I, considering myself an international student, accepted their invitation. I was impressed by the luxurious location of this student club in a marble-walled office building, as well as by the people who seemed very energetic, bright, intelligent, and ... international. Steve Greene, a British man in his thirties, said that he had been involved in this student organization for about 7 years doing volunteer work as a staff member. His altruistic ambition impressed me. He gave me a short lecture about the principles of "CARP" - their vision to unite students from all over based on the idea that truth is universal. Then I was invited to dinner at the "Bush Street Center", where all of the participants were shown a slide show about a beautiful workshop sight in Nappa Valley (Camp K, now known as Macaama Hills) with many obviously excited, joyful young people of all nationalities. After dinner, we sat together in small groups of 3 or 4. After joining CARP I learned that these groups were composed of 2 or 3 members and one "newcomer" - for the purpose of pushing the guest to go to the workshop that night.
We were encouraged to join the workshop to meet international people, to exchange ideas and learn about this exciting new vision. Having been to many music, exchange-program, and school-related workshops, I consented to sign up for a 7-day workshop, although it meant altering my travel plans. The high energy at the center, as well as my having been somewhat lonely after traveling by myself for about 10 days, dispelled any doubts regarding this apparently harmless opportunity. AT NO POINT WAS I TOLD THAT THIS WAS PART OF REV. MOON'S UNIFICATION CHURCH, A RELIGIOUS ORGANIZATION, AND THAT THE PURPOSE OF THE WORKSHOP WAS TO RECRUIT ME AS A FULLTIME MEMBER OF CARP, TO SERVE THE REST OF MY LIFE FOR AN AVERAGE OF 18 TO 20 HOURS A DAY TO FURTHER THE CAUSE OF ESTABLISHING A TOTALITARIAN THEOCRACY UNDER THE LEADERSHIP OF THE SELF-DECLARED MESSIAH SUN MYUNG MOON.
I come from a well-protected, stable family background in Germany. My dad is an engineer, my mom a loving house wife. I have never seen an illegal drug with my own eyes. I was rather naive and utterly unprepared for this kind of subtle and "loving" manipulation. Also, I had broken up with a girlfriend in Germany not too long before, which had left my heart shattered and vulnerable, starving for love.
In the camp, I was overwhelmed with the love I was shown by members. Everyone was serving each other, surprising each other with little "love bombs" (tokens of one's affections such as secret notes of affirmation, etc.). I was to believe that is the ideal world family of true love - and I did. I did not notice that I was being isolated from the outside world. The schedule was rigidly regimented, including precise wake-up time, two 2-hour lectures in the morning, specific sports and game times in the afternoon, followed by two to three more lectures, sometimes until 8, 9 or even 10 PM at night. Having had a major in German and English literature in my German high school, and being by nature interested in philosophy and truth, I did not find it odd that we were being bombarded with all this one-sided information. In retrospect, however, this procedure reminds me much of the "thought reform techniques" used on American prisoners in North Korea who were indoctrinated with communism and turned against their own country and its values by the communist regime during the Korean War .
Deprived of information from the outside world as a frame of reference (next to the isolated location of the workshop, there was no TV, no newspapers; telephone calls had to be granted permission and were highly discouraged), I soon found myself fascinated and entangled with the doctrine, feeling compelled to stay by the message that upon continuous repetition I had unconsciously come to accept. I was unable to overcome the fear I had been indoctrinated with, i.e. the fear of betraying God and of being invaded and destroyed by satan if I left this "heavenly fortress" (or "bootcamp") that, I had come to believe, protected me. THE FEAR I HAD BEEN "INJECTED" WITH, AND MY DESIRE TO SERVE GOD, WERE FROM THEN ON OFTEN USED TO MANIPULATE MY DECISIONS, TO ELIMINATE CHOICES WHICH DID NOT SERVE THE GROUP'S PURPOSES - THUS UNDERMINING MY OWN FREEDOM OF CHOICE. My leaders in California, including Mr. Aokie (regional director), Myra Stanaecki, and a woman named Jossenta, upon learning that I was scheduled to begin my civil service (the mandatory substitute for military service) in Germany by Dec. 1st., 1986, had a meeting and, rather than advising me to return home, told me that ... "I should decide." Since I had accepted their teaching, choosing that option would have been equal to betraying God and committing spiritual suicide. As a freshly commited new member I would never opt for this choice - and they knew and relied on it.
All attempts of my father to reach me and to warn me, as well as to pressure the leadership of CARP to send me home to attend to my duty in Germany, were blocked. Most of his messages did not get through to me. My father has kept all the records of phone calls with leaders in California, such as those named above and Tom Frohlich, which were kept secret from me. I was blocked from all negative information, and at the same time I was being programmed against my parents - that satan was using them to pull me out of the movement, to destroy my eternal spiritual life. My group leader at that time (during 40-day actionizing), Myra, one day told me that my dad had called and that I should call him back. But she also prepared me that he might be very negative about the movement, that my mother and brothers might also respond very emotionally and negative against the movement - which is a normal form of persecution, since satan does not want us to do God's Will. I did not believe my parents would not believe me that this is a legitimate group - but to my shock her "prophesy" proved 100 % correct - which of course reinforced my faith in her judgment. I was numbed to the pain of my family and friends regarding my decision to evade the draft (which made me an outlaw in Germany) and to stay with the group in America.
After the 7 day workshop it was expected that I stayed for the "formula course": 21 day workshop, then for the 40-day actionizing, then for 3 1/2 years of MFT (Mobile Fundraising Team - gathering funds for the group by selling products like "laser etchings", pictures engraved on alluminum foil), 3 1/2 years of witnessing ... and then the rest of my life serving the group's purposes in much the same ways. Of course I was "free to go (or run away)" - and betray God and True Parents! -
Apart from making me violate the law in my home country, I was also asked to join the MFT team and to break the American law by selling products without a permit, traveling from state to state, soon to become an illegal alien as my visa expired. I was not the only illegal alien CARP entertained, working without wages for 18 to 22 hours per day, making an average of $ 200 to $ 300 per day. Most of the team members were foreigners (predominantly Japanese and European travelers who had been recruited during their vacation much like me.) All 11 of us slept in a Ford van, traveling at night and fundraising during the day. We heard of a few other teams who had serious accidents with even some people getting killed because "the driver had been invaded by satan". What that meant was that the driver had fallen asleep behind the wheel. I met several members with severe health problems due to such accidents. And the medical care for them - as later for me when I developed backproblems due to carrying my 25 pound backpack day in and day out - was insufficient, if provided at all. How much more effective is it to have slaves working for you that don't need (physical) chains?! Other illegal activities we were led to engage in through our leaders were such things as sleeping with 5 or 10 people in a 1 person bedroom (without paying the extra amount), sneaking into state parks to sleep there, use the showers and leave before they would open so we would not have to pay. All this was justified because according to Rev. Moon's teaching, the end justifies the means - and we were working and living to help America and the World.
Rev. Moon himself once stated upon being asked about "white lies" by a member: "If you tell a lie to make a person better, then that is not a sin. ... Even God tells lies very often."[Master Speaks; Rowlane Farmhouse 1974] This may account for the practice of "heavenly deception" we were taught in order to accomplish the group's goals. So when I later went to recruit new converts, I likewise hid the true identity of the group - "for the better of the newcomer" who would otherwise not join. The end justifies the means.
Another example of "Reverse Psychology": My last leader, Mr. Tetsuo Yoshizumi, in Chicago once came to me after my not having followed one of his directions completely. He stuck a few hundred dollars into my shirt pocket, pushed me and yelled "I don't want you in my center any more! You are satan! Go back to Germany - with satan! NOW! Pack your stuff and GET OUT!"
I was shocked! If I obeyed his command I would commit "spiritual suicide" (since we were taught that upon leaving the church, satan would invade us completely, destroy our family, cause us to become insane or die through some horrible accident. At meetings we would continuousely hear testimonies of leaders about members who would not "unite" with their leaders (called CF's or Central Figures). One story the regional director of Chicago, Rev. Hong, one of Mr. Moon's first disciples, told was that upon disuniting with his directions, a member's child had just been born without ears. Another disobedient member had developed cancer - satan's punishment.). What would you have done in my situation if you had been indoctrinated with all these very real fears? Well, some part of me was rebellious, saying "OK! If all my work is not enough, and you really want me to leave - I'll go!". Yet the other part which was dominated by fear, guilt and low self-esteem which my leader had beaten into me (verbally as well as physically), was stronger, so I lowered my head and said "I repent! I'm sorry! I'll never do it again!" But that was not enough! He wouldn't accept it, telling me with an icy voice that I was insincere and arrogant - until I cried. Only after what seemed like an eternity of agony he showed "mercy" by accepting my repentance "one last time! The next time you know what will happen!" He gave me a fasting condition (I believe it was 3 days waterfasting; some other times it had been 40 hours or even 7 days) to repent and separate from satan. Another time I was just about to do my 2 hours of prayer conditions which would be finished at about 2 AM - when he told me through his assistant that I had to add another 2 hour repentance prayer because of some goal I had not accomplished. He added with emphasis that if I "failed", that is if I fell asleep for even 1 minute, I would have to do it over again until I succeeded. So, feeling almost dead, I finished at 4 AM that night - only to rise as usual at 6:20 AM for the standard morning service, during which we would be expected to pray with a loud voice. He would listen, and if our prayer was not deep or loud enough, he would rebuke us and make us do it over again.
Perhaps due to my exceptionally high fundraising average, I "graduated" early from MFT, and was sent to Chicago the beginning of 89 to witness, that is to recruit new members, at the University of Illinois at Chicago (UIC). After being flown to Germany briefly to get a new visa, I was enrolled in a language school to get a student visa. Although I had been promised that I would be able to study, I was later only allowed to enroll at a junior college to take easy, non-time consuming classes in order to maintain my visa. I was made feel guilty for even spending this time studying "for myself", instead of my "public mission". I was not allowed to pursue a degree and finally had to drop school when my leader felt I was spending too much time there. Each of the foreign CARP members had mailed in 200 applications for the green card lottery, and I had won a green card. Yet, because my German passport had expired and I could not get a new one without returning to Germany, my leader, Mr. Yoshizumi, forbid me to go, saying that I had made some "bad condition" again. (More likely he knew that I would have to deal with our government which was still looking for me since I evaded the draft - which would mean my parents and friends might eventually have gotten a hold of me.)
This happened in the spring of 92. During my stay in Chicago, I had to visit a chiropractor for a while because of the severe back problems I had developed during MFT - and which I am still struggling with today, but again I was made feel guilty for "wasting public time" and "enjoying the massages while brothers and sisters were working so hard for God's Providence". I stopped going. Next to witnessing all day and preparing lectures until 2 AM during the week, I still had to fundraise each weekend, selling pictures from Friday to Saturday, plus selling flowers each Holiday, regardless of the temperatures. On Thanksgiving, Christmas, and New Year's Eve our flowers, the water in which they were standing became frozen solid. It's amazing to me that despite the insufficient clothing we only got stiff faces and extremities instead of frostbite. The wind in Chicago gets VERY cold. Since I was a top fundraiser I was fortunate enough to have my own vehicle in which I hide when the weather got too terrible. New Year's 93 I was "blitzing", selling flowers bar to bar in Chicago with my Central Figure who was driving the van, dropping me off at each location. I could not go back until I had sold out both buckets that were left - which took until 4 AM. I remember the empty and sad feeling walking out of a bar I had just gotten kicked out of when I heard the popping of champagne bottles and joyful congratulations when the clock turned to 12 AM. I walked outside and ... cried. I felt so lonely and homesick, despaired, and crushed. But as so often I caught myself and redetermined to accomplish my goal ... for God and True Parents. After all, I was sacrificing myself for the sake of the world.
How I left
Having been in Chicago for over 3 years, I was still having a very difficult time with my leader, Mr. Yoshizumi, because I often could not understand his broken English and because I still included my own ideas in trying to accomplish his directions. I could not "deny myself completely" and I still had a spark of self-esteem left, which to him was arrogance. One weekend (Easter 93 - April 9-11) I had to sell flowers again on my usual spot in South Chicago Heights. But on Easter Sunday I also had to travel to Quincy, IL, about 6 hours southwest of Chicago, to conduct a meeting for the network marketing mission I was pioneering. I had been planned several weeks ahead, but the night before, my leader told me that I could only go if I sold out all my flowers except for $20 or $30. So I "blitzed" the bars until about 4:30 AM Sunday morning, trying to sell my last few bunches. Knowing that I had to be in Quincy by 1 PM I stopped because I knew that I needed at the very least 2 hours of sleep to be able to drive the 6 hours non-stop. So I distributed the last few bunches to the other team members' buckets, took a nap from about 5 to 7 pm, and left. I conducted the meeting in Quincy, slept for about an hour there, and returned late at night - only to get up at 6:20 again the next morning, Monday. As I was washing up after morning service, Mr. Yoshizumi suddenly was standing in the bathroom. He scolded me for disobeying his orders. "WHY did you disobey my order? I TOLD you you could only leave if you sold all flowers! But you distributed some to the other members!" He hit me and pushed me twice. Each time I fell with my back against a sharp, protruding corner of the bathroom wall. I was devastated, too weak and tired to even think. I was angry inside but I pushed it aside. I blocked it out of my mind. It was simply too much to take. Again I had to fast and repent. A day or two later I could hardly walk or breathe because of intense chest pain. Each step hurt tremendously, even each bump I hit when driving the car. But I had to continue meeting my appointments, fulfilling my mission. As it got worse and I began to feel cold and miserable, I called a Phillipino doctor friend of mine, Dr. Juliet Dumlao, whom I had become acquainted with during fundraising. As I described my symptoms to her over the phone, she was very worried and said I should go to a hospital immediately because I might have had a heart attack. (I did not connect my symptoms at all with being pushed against the wall.) I couldn't do that, I replied (because of my mission work), so she ordered me with a doctor's authority to at least go to bed. I said ok - but knowing my leader I did not do so until 10 PM, after finishing the most important tasks. Nevertheless, when he learned of my early return he ordered me to his office. I said I could not come because I was having cold sweat and I was very weak, but his assistant, Mr. Yone, insisted. So I dragged myself to his room and explained my pain and my conversation with the doctor. He was furious. "How come you are so incredibly selfish? You don't care about our spiritual children you are killing every day (which meant that I couldn't "save" or convert them through my lectures) - but you call a doctor for yourself!" He yelled and screamed at me but I was so sick I could only stand there and receive it. When he finally felt it was enough he graciously permitted me to rest some the next day.
All this was still not enough to make me leave, since my commitment was not to any person, but to God and truth. I could only leave if I believed that the Divine Principle, the teaching of the UC, was not the truth and that Rev. Moon was not the Messiah. Thank God, this lifesaving information was finally supplied by a Christian engineering student at the UIC campus. I met him when I was distributing flyers, and on our first appointment on April 20th and following meetings he pointed out to me that the DP is in clear contradiction to the Bible - which finally made me realize that it could not be the truth, since, as we believed in the Bible as God's revelation, God cannot contradict himself with a later revelation. I left on Mother's Day, May 9th, after selling out the over $ 2,000 of roses as my last commitment to the church. Lesly, whom I had informed about my leaving and asked for a place to stay, was able to oblige, so I stayed with him for a few days. Because I was still coughing, however, we went to the Lawndale Christian Health Center in Chicago, worried that I might have picked up a tuberculosis virus. The test turned out negative, but when the doctor did an x-ray, he noticed that my left lung was collapsed to almost 20 %, which was at the border or being deadly. He said if I was lucky it would reinflate by itself, but if it had been more than 20 %, I could have died. Puzzled about the cause he asked if I had had any trauma to my back recently. I negated at first, but when he illustrated his assumption, I realized that I had indeed received a trauma recently which I had completely blocked out of my mind: the incident in the bathroom where my leader had pushed me! -
Since the incident had already been almost a month ago, it may well have been over 20 % then. He said that I should wait for about 10 days. If it did not reinflate by itself by then, he would need to introduce a hose through the back to suck the air out and reinflate the lung. I was terrified, but fortunately, it DID reinflate. Back in Germany, the prosecution against me was still underway, but thanks to undescribable effort on part of my dad, the government finally dropped the draft and I only had to pay a $ 1,500 fine ... on top of the about $15,00 to $20,000 my dad had spent in lawyer's costs, phone calls, etc.! -
Summary of some of the unethical practices I experienced in CARP/Unification Church:
a) Fraud - The deceptive, manipulative tactics of recruiting (including mind control) used to get and keep me in the group, hiding the true identity and religious nature of the group which cost me the loss of 7 seven of the most important years of my life, during which I could neither get a proper education nor earn money for my future family
b) battery, personal injury, and mental cruelty (the bathroom incident, etc.)
c) health problems as a result of rigorous fundraising requirements: back problems (lower back pain, worsened scoliosis), extreme tension headaches, sleep disturbances; I almost died after my pneumothorax because, like several other members I know of, I was forbidden to see a doctor.
People involved (apart from myself):
(my leader in CARP who pushed me)
Jim McAuley, M.D. (the doctor who examined me)
Lawndale Christian Health Center
3860 W. Ogden Ave.
Chicago, IL 60623
Juliet M. Dumlao, M.D. (the Phillipino doctor)
Oak Park, IL 60301
Note: 1. I still have copies of my x-rays which show the partial lung collapse, and the doctor at the Christian health center as well as Dr. Dumlao should be able to verify my claims. (Dr. Dumlao was the doctor I first called when I could hardly walk due to the pain in my chest - a day after the incident where I was pushed against the wall.)
2. The "Women's Federation for World Peace" is founded and headed by Mrs. Hak Ja Han Moon, Mr. Sun Myung Moon's wife. Although to the public it is declared as being "separate" from the Unification Church, inside the group it is viewed as the same - a tool to recruit new members and gain public respect. According to speeches by Mr. Moon, it is o.k. to lie to the public because "the end justifies the means." (A practice known as "Heavenly Deception.")
If you or a loved one are struggling with leaving an abusive group, reach out to me for a free exploration session at coachingo.net.
Ingo Michehl, M.Ed.
Counseling Psychologist, Cult Expert, Coach