Are you susceptible to brainwashing?
by Michael Nedelman, CNN Tue February 13, 2018
"Brainwashing" is often used to describe when an individual or group uses coercive tactics to control another person
Scholars are split on what might make some people more susceptible to "mind control" than others
(CNN)Steven Hassan was a college junior in the mid-1970s when he was recruited into the Unification Church, a cult also known as the "Moonies." Hassan said he quickly came to believe that Armageddon and World War III were imminent. The Moonies, he thought, were singularly tasked with saving the world.
"It only took a few weeks to get me convinced that the Messiah was on the Earth, even though I'm Jewish," said Hassan, author of "Combating Cult Mind Control."
It wasn't until he met with ex-Moonies, albeit reluctantly, that he began to leave the cult 2½ years later.
"I was an off-the-charts, fly-a-plane-into-the-World-Trade-Center-if-Father-ordered-you-to Moonie," he said of the group's leader, Sun Myung Moon, whom the members called Father. "I was sure they wouldn't be able to make me betray Father. I wanted to prove to my parents that I was not brainwashed or mind-controlled."
Hassan, now a licensed mental health counselor who specializes in helping former cult members, said that just about anyone's mind can be controlled in similar ways....
"What was the chance Patty Hearst was going to become a bank robber without being violently kidnapped, thrown in the back of a car, put in a closet and mind-controlled for days and days?" asked Hassan, who was coincidentally recruited into the Moonies the week Hearst was kidnapped. He said he felt a certain empathy for her while she was on the run from authorities and later stood trial....
'I didn't know the warning signs'
"I had a secret life that nobody knew about," said social psychologist Alexandra Stein, author of "Terror, Love and Brainwashing: Attachment in Cults and Totalitarian Systems."
Stein was 26 when she joined a political cult in Minneapolis -- the O, it was called -- though she didn't really realize it was a cult at first. The organization controlled her life throughout the 1980s, isolating her from her from friends and keeping her sleep-deprived with multiple jobs, including one as a computer programmer and one at a bakery....
Stein, who had just left a relationship when she joined the cult in Minneapolis, remembers feeling lost and confused, like they could offer answers she didn't have. It broke her down, she said....
But Stein said that "the vulnerabilities are situational, not dispositional." At the wrong time in someone's life, anyone could find themselves vulnerable to manipulation and mind control, as she did.
"Any human being is going to have situational vulnerabilities throughout their lives," Hassan said. "Whether it's the death of a loved one or some illness or moving to a (new) city ... that's going to create a vulnerability that then a cult recruiter can deceptively appeal to."
Cults don't want people who are "disturbed" or unstable, because they can be more difficult to control, Hassan argued. He said groups often target productive, smart people who can work and donate money to the cause....
'It could never happen to me'
"We can be programmed with specific mind control techniques and methods to shut off critical thinking, to have irrational fears or phobias implanted in our minds that take away our choices," Hassan said.
In his clinical work with former cult members, he said, he aims to increase their self-awareness through means such as having them research how other groups work and revisiting the memories of their cult experiences.
When Stein left the cult in Minneapolis, her critical thinking "clicked back" almost immediately. What took longer was coming to terms with the previous 10 years, reinterpreting what had happened to her and getting her life back on track.
"The nature of these groups, of isolating you, means that you have no friends on the outside," no job, no housing, she said. "You certainly don't have an identity that's separate from the group when you leave."
But she also experienced a lot of joy when she came out of the group, she said....
"We all want to believe that we're in control of our minds all the time," Hassan said. "Cults love people who say 'it could never happen to me,' because it because it makes them that much easier to recruit." "I would've said that if it hadn't happened to me." ....