These conditions create the atmosphere needed to put a thought
reform system into place:
- Keep the person unaware of what is going on and
how she or he is being changed a step at a time.
- Potential new members are led, step by step, through a
behavioral-change program without being aware of the final agenda
or full content of the group.
- Control the person's social and/or physical
environment; especially control the person's time.
- Through various methods, newer members are kept busy and led
to think about the group and its content during as much of their
waking time as possible.
- Systematically create a sense of powerlessness in
- This is accomplished by getting members away from the normal
social support group for a period of time and into an environment
where the majority of people are already group members. The
members serve as models of the attitudes and behaviors of the
group and speak an in-group language.
- Strip members of their main occupation (quit jobs, drop
out of school) or source of income or have them turn over their
income (or the majority of) to the group.
- Once stripped of your usual support network, your
confidence in your own perception erodes. As your sense of
powerlessness increases, your good judgment and understanding of
the world are diminished. (Your ordinary view of reality is
- As group attacks your previous worldview, it causes you
distress and inner confusion; yet you are not allowed to speak
about this confusion or object to it -- leadership suppresses
questions and counters resistance.
- This process is accelerated if you are kept tired.
- Manipulate a system of rewards, punishments and
experiences in such a way as to inhibit behavior that reflects
the person's former social identity.
- Manipulation of experiences can be accomplished through
various methods of trance induction, including leaders using such
techniques as paced speaking patterns, guided imagery, chanting,
long prayer sessions or lectures, and lengthy meditation
sessions. Your old beliefs and patterns of behavior are defined
as irrelevant or evil. Leadership wants these old patterns
eliminated, so the member must suppress them. Members get
positive feedback for conforming to the group's beliefs and
behaviors and negative feedback for old beliefs and
- Manipulate a system of rewards, punishments, and
experiences in order to promote learning the group's ideology or
belief system and group-approved behaviors.
- Good behavior, demonstrating an understanding and acceptance
of the group's beliefs, and compliance are rewarded while
questioning, expressing doubts or criticizing are met with
disapproval, redress and possible rejection. If one expresses a
question, he or she is made to feel that there is something
inherently wrong with them to be questioning. The only feedback
members get is from the group, they become totally dependent
upon the rewards given by those who control the
- Members must learn varying amounts of new information
about the beliefs of the group and the behaviors expected by the
group. The more complicated and filled with contradictions the
new system in and the more difficult it is to learn, the more
effective the conversion process will be. Esteem and affection
from peers is very important to new recruits. Approval comes
from having the new member's behaviors and thought patterns
conform to the models (members). Members' relationship with
peers is threatened whenever they fail to learn or display new
behaviors. Over time, the easy solution to the insecurity
generated by the difficulties of learning the new system is to
inhibit any display of doubts -- new recruits simply acquiesce,
affirm and act as if they do understand and accept the new
- Put forth a closed system of logic and an
authoritarian structure that permits no feedback and refuses to
be modified except by leadership approval or executive order.
- The group has a top-down, pyramid structure. The leaders
must have verbal ways of never losing. Members are not allowed to
question, criticize or complain -- if they do, the leaders allege
that the member is defective -- not the organization or the
beliefs. The individual is always wrong -- the system, its
leaders and its belief are always right. Conversion or remolding
of the individual member happens in a closed system. As members
learn to modify their behavior in order to be accepted in this
closed system, they change -- begin to speak the language --
which serves to further isolate them from their prior beliefs and
©1996-2002 by Margaret T. Singer. All rights reserved.
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