Exit and Support Network

How to Resist Mind Control

Resisting persuasion

Resisting systems

Challenging the system


Resisting persuasion:

Going passively along "on automatic" is often our worst enemy. When we habitually take simple assumptions for granted in a setting, we fail to check out the reality. The following are suggestions for awareness and resistance:

  • Actively monitor social interactions. Practice thinking ahead, anticipating what will come next, checking discrepancies and noting how you feel about them.

  • Be willing to disobey simply situational rules when you feel you should, to sound false alarms occasionally or cause a scene. Never do anything you don't believe just to appear normal or get someone off your back.

  • At the very least, try to get more information so you can carefully consider the consequences of saying "no" to something that could turn out essentially "good" (could you return in a week or a year and say "yes?"), or of saying "yes" to something that could turn out essentially "bad" (could you lose your money, pride, or life?).

  • Practice "seeing through" programmed responses to authority. Pay attention to the social roles you and others play, including such subtle indicators as clothing --the business suit, etc.

  • Be aware of who is controlling whom in social situations, to what end and at what cost.

  • To the extent that it seems possible, refuse to accept the initial premise that someone else is more powerful, more competent, more in control than you are.

  • State your arguments with conviction if the other person does so.

  • Learn to retain a sense of self-worth in the face of intimidating circumstances--anything that makes you feel exhilarated and alive, that you will not reveal to others, but will retain as an inner core that cannot be violated.

The best persuaders always appear to be just like us. Attitude change is most effective when it goes unnoticed. Among some defenses, one should check for signs of ingratiation, for overemphasis on mutual interests, and for requests for just one small commitment now, with an open-ended contract for later.

Mind control typically involves coming to accept a new reality. We are often dissuaded from probing beyond surface illusions of meaningfulness by letting symbols substitute for reality, abstract maps for concrete territories.

  • Never accept vague generalities and inadequate explanations in response to your pleas, questions, or challenges.

  • Learn to recognize when a message is actually confused or ambiguous, perhaps intentionally so, especially if someone suggest "you're just too stupid to understand" or "women get too emotional to think logically."

  • Paraphrase other people's thoughts both aloud and to yourself to see if you're understanding clearly.

  • Practice generating creative arguments and counterarguments as you listen to persuasive messages to avoid slipping into "automatic" processing.

  • Always seek outside information and criticism before joining a group or making a commitment to invest time, energy, or money in some endeavor.

  • Train yourself and your children to notice the "tricks" in deceptive packaging such as those used in TV commercials.

Susceptibility to mind control becomes greater when individuals are forced to focus attention on themselves, making them feel deviant or silly. To combat this:

  • Be sensitive to--and avoid--situations and people that put you on the spot, making you feel different, awkward, or inadequate.

  • Try to focus on what you are doing, rather than on thoughts about yourself. Don't generate negative internal dialogs about yourself, and never accept a chronically negative view from someone else.

  • Maintain some nonsocial interests that satisfy you while alone--painting, carpentry, working on cars, reading or writing, for example.

  • Be willing to look foolish now and then, to accept being "different" as being "special," rather than inferior.

If you can develop a concrete sense of self-worth, a sense of who you are, what you are interested in, and where your competencies lie, quite apart from the values, interests, and judgments of others, you may feel better about yourself in their presence, as well as in their absence.

Many of the most powerfully persuasive appeals are based on making people afraid or anxious. The following are suggestions for reducing this influence:

  • No matter what the relationship, avoid getting sucked into unwanted confessions that may later be used against you. Many cults and mind-control systems use public confessions, self-exposure, "games," and the like to catalog the weaknesses of their followers for later exploitation.

  • Avoid making decisions when under stress, particularly in the presence of the person who has triggered the emotional reaction. Tell them you'll decide mañana [tomorrow].

  • As you feel yourself becoming uncomfortably aroused, begin taking slower, deeper breaths to help your body relax.

Gnawing feelings of guilt can also provide a powerful impetus for personal change. To counteract such tactics, learn to confront your frustrations and fears. Don't let people make you feel indebted to them.

Once aware that their prey is bagged, the slickest operators then emphasize the victim's freedom of choice, after tactfully constraining the alternatives. The new persuaded person chooses "freely" while the influencer bolsters his or her decision.

Alternatively, the persuader may deliberately provoke your reaction in the desired direction. Some helpful hints:

  • Be wary of people who overemphasize how free you are to choose among the options they have prescribed.

  • Test the limits of your options by selecting "none of the above" or by proposing unexpected alternatives, at least tentatively, especially when you create them yourself and think they are better.

Resisting systems:

Large-scale systems of social persuasion depend on controls which impart a sense of belonging to a broad movement. Tightly structured situations are dangerous when we lose sight of who we are, when we forget that we have feelings and histories other than those programmed by the immediate social setting and the roles we are led to play in it. Some suggestions:

  • Test for the presence of stated or unstated rules that unnecessarily restrict freedom of speech, action, and association. By subtly violating some of the rules and roles, you may discover how much latitude is allowed for eccentric or creative self-expression.

  • Resist the lure of uniforms [or similar dress] and other disguises that makes you look like one of the bunch.

  • Develop a sense of humor about yourself to retain a creative view of your situation and deal with any apparent personal weakness without undue anxiety.

  • Listen to criticism of your most cherished beliefs and institutions. Know them, but don't accept them uncritically.

  • Retain your sense of individual integrity in the system by calling others by name and referring to yourself by name. If people are typically referred to by title, try adding their first or last name to the conventional address, abbreviating it casually, or somehow reformulating the typical approach.

  • Disclose personal observations about your surroundings and about experiences you've had elsewhere to those you feel might share your views. Elicit feelings and ideas from them so that, together, you can disengage the "scripts" that specify the basic, unquestioned rules of the present setting.

  • Remember that ignoring social rules is not easy and is sometimes met with censure.

When groups become preoccupied with seeking and maintaining unanimity of thought, they tend to isolate themselves from outside sources of information, and their decision-making processes deteriorate.

Persuaders bring us to their place of power, separate the good or aware "us" from the evil, ignorant "them," and then proceed to limit our access to ideas that they find heretical, traitorous, or not in their best interests.

When we are isolated from outside information, it is impossible to make unbiased decisions.

When we come to believe so thoroughly in our favorite concepts that we begin to hate those who don't share our views, to develop rehearsed, programmatic responses to discrediting arguments, and to acknowledge only ideas stated within our terminology, it may be time to make our belief systems a little more permeable. Some suggested tactics:

  • Try to establish whether you can actually have an impact upon decision-making processes or whether you are simply part of the clean-up crew for decisions that have already been made.

  • Refuse to accept a we-they dichotomy that cuts you off from outsiders and suggests you should think of them in terms of dehumanizing labels [i. e., "evil," "demon-possessed," "Laodiceans," etc.]

  • Suspect appeals that encourage you to detach your feelings from the rest of your being; assert the harmony of mind and body, intellect and emotion, past and present.

  • Try to encourage independent thinking among group members.

  • Remember that the minority may at times have the only accurate view of the issues. Any worthwhile group should tolerate dissent or be abandoned.

  • Question commitments if they are no longer appropriate for you. Consistency in the face of contrary evidence is usually not a virtue, but a sign of rigidity, delusion, or prejudice.

  • Maintain outside interests and sources of social support. Reject the appeal that devotion to the cause requires severing these ties.

  • Family and friends should leave the path back home open. Your unconditional accessibility to those who have strayed, no matter what they've done or said, may be their only hope.

Disowning children, friends, or relatives when you disapprove of their decisions is much less effective in the long run than a gentle hand and some warm words. "Love-bombing" is the favorite tactic of most cults because it works best among the love-deprived--those to whom we have not given love.

Challenging the system:

The tighter a system is, the more likely that minor challenges will be met with retaliation. In religious or political cults, and so on, people have virtually total control over the existence of others. Threats to that power are intolerable. Even systems that appear less authoritarian may wield comparable punishments onto dissidents. For this reason, it's often more practical to challenge systems from outside, especially by forming other systems. Some final suggestions:

  • Don't let your silence pass for agreement with the system. While talking with others, subtly imply your discontent in areas where you think they might agree.

  • Once you establish a group of allies and decide that you cannot escape the system or that you are committed to change it, band together in opposition. A consistent minority, firm in its conviction, can often undo a majority.

  • Begin by assessing the power of those who hold the reins. By determining what contributions you make to the system that are important to its functioning, you can collect a significant repository of such resources to withhold from the system when bargaining time arrives.

  • Exit those situations in which disobedience is likely to be futile and punishable, if you can. Escape plans must be carefully thought through in concrete terms, not wished about vaguely. Above all, try to take others with you, rather than going alone.

It takes a firm sense of social commitment to escape a system of mind control and to then persist in challenging it from without. However, it is because we can exercise our ability to critically evaluate ideas, institutions, and our own behavior that we can perceive options beyond those provided by convenient dogma and ostensibly inescapable circumstances. In this way, we are "free" to make meaningful choices and to not be controlled.

~Excerpted from Resisting Mind Control by S. M. Andersen and P. G. Zimbardo, USA Today reprint, November 1980.

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