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How Cults Work - A New Look


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How Cults Work - A New Look

I have written many posts online about cults and taken on many separate aspects of cults in the past few years. This post is going to be different. It won't just list one or two ideas. It will bring together several different ideas for me to try to present together as an integrated model.

There are subjects I have explored in the past to understand cults like cognitive dissonance theory, thought reform, narcissism, neuroscience, rhetoric, hypnosis, propaganda analysis and logic and critical thinking.

Many concepts from these subjects have been useful to me in trying to both understand cults and personally recover from my own twenty five years in Scientology.

Several of the most helpful and cohesive references I have found in my efforts have had one quality in common. They have been efforts to combine ideas and form a synthesis or combination with parts from different hypotheses, even different subjects - to bridge the gap and improve understanding.

There are many examples - the eight criteria for thought reform by Robert Jay Lifton, Margaret Singer's work, Leonard Mlodinow's book Subliminal, Leon Festinger's cognitive dissonance theory and many more. Of course I started with the work of Jon Atack in his excellent Scientology Mythbusting series at The Underground Bunker blog and his article Never Believe A Hypnotist.
There are a few dozen books I could recommend that offer several different helpful ideas on cults and human psychology. But I knew that despite all this study and about three hundred posts written by myself that there was still something missing.

I discovered in looking at cults that many subjects or experts are strong in some areas but weak or frankly wrong in others. One example is many experts on critical thinking do not understand how influence works and just assume people stupidly have faith and do not understand ideas like rhetoric, influence, subconscious processes, and the effects of awe and fervor on thought and belief.

I recently found the book Terror, Love and Brainwashing - Attachment In Cults And Totalitarian Systems by Alexandra Stein. Alexandra Stein is a social psychologist and cult expert with a PhD who was in the political cult the O years ago and has written and taught about cults for many years.

Her book has some of the ideas and stories I have seen from Margaret Singer, Robert Jay Lifton, Steve Hassan and others but it also has a couple of very different things. It has extensive research on neuroscience in ways linking it to understanding trauma and influence. It links evidence regarding brain structure and function to information regarding trauma and attachment. She covers attachment in relationships and forms a compelling and to me original hypothesis on how cults function.

She incorporates information from Hannah Arendt on totalitarian regimes and combines everything to in my opinion form a cohesive whole. So, together we get information from classic thought reform folks like Robert Jay Lifton and Margaret Singer that I have covered in the past and new to me attachment theory, trauma and ideas from neuroscience and psychology to explain the physiological processes and response to a cultic relationship.

I plan to in fine detail go over her book and give my opinion on ideas and experiences I have had that compliment her ideas. I want people who have read some or all of my three hundred posts to understand this is going to have a lot of new material.

And if you have not read my stuff I can tell you I hope to make a lot of the gaps in our knowledge about cults hopefully smaller and possibly even fill in a few of them.
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How Cults Work - First Things First

This is the second post in a series dedicated to the book Terror, Love and Brainwashing by Alexandra Stein.

In her book she starts out by describing cults as groups with certain kinds of relationships and not necessarily ones with particular ideology or doctrine. They do not have to be religious and religious groups may not be cultic.

She did her PhD on the political cult the Newman tendency. Seinfeld fans should rejoice. Fred Newman was the founder and leader of the Newman Tendency.

She quoted a former member who said "Yeah, somebody taught him how to abuse people...He's charming too, he's charming. Even though...I liked him ! I would have a problem disliking him now even after I already know about him. If he sat down right there next to me, I'd say, "Hey Fred, how you doing ? Are you still corrupting people ? Are you still screwing 18 women at the same time ?" or trying to. But you know, he was a likeable guy ! "
Page 16

Stein goes on to describe how a cult starts with a leader and their relationship with a first follower is relationship zero and is moved on to other people, like a virus or disease.

"The leader's primary goal is to create a set of guaranteed attachments to others. This drive for relational control is an outcome of the leader's own disorganized attachment. Nothing a totalist leader likes less than to be left. Purging followers is another matter (and sometimes needed in order to get did of troublesome members) - but the control of the relationship must rest with the leader. Secondary benefits accrue from the primary goal of control: the ability to control others opens up the possibility of sexual, financial and political exploitation. However it is my belief that these are indeed secondary, rather than the core personality elements that drive the leader. As in relationships of controlling domestic violence this combination of charisma and authoritarianism, of love and fear, is a potent one. These two elements of the leader's personality are reflected in the structure, ideology, process and outcomes of the group. (In subsequent generations of larger groups a leadership body may evolve after the demise of the individual leader, but this too will display the two elements of charisma and authoritarianism.)" Page 16

Now this is a lot to take on. We have attachment, and disorganized attachment right off the bat.
I have never addressed attachment theory before and should momentarily focus on this. It is essential to understanding the ideas of Alexandra Stein.

This is a part of psychology that is well worth considering in attempting to understand human beings and certainly has direct bearing on the matter of cults, abusive relationships and totalitarian regimes. I cannot say it is absolutely proven or accurate. But I can say it is to the degree I have seen it worth serious consideration.

I look on concepts on the mind and human behavior and influence that do not reference observable structures or empirical - that is measurable - evidence as metaphors of the mind. For example describing a predator as a wolf in sheep's clothing that is inwardly a ravening wolf as a metaphor. It is not literally true in the most strict terms but the story increases understanding of the issue without being based on strict scientific methods. This information does not have no value in my opinion.

Much of the information on narcissists and other predators and hypnosis and rhetoric is strictly speaking not empirical and to me metaphors. I have read in these terms and written in them and consider that they are not lies but something that you should understand is not the same as scientifically validated facts.

I am taking this great care in explaining this because I want the information I present to be taken with the requirement that you know all of it has to be evaluated so you form your own conclusion and realize much of this is based on metaphors of the mind. And I can always simply be wrong about anything. That is critically important too.

I can get something wrong or pass on something with the best of intentions and just be factually incorrect. Now that I have given this disclaimer I can present a bit on attachment theory so we can understand Alexandra Stein and her ideas.

Here are some excerpts from an article on the website PsychAlive

By PsychAlive

What is attachment and why is it important?

Attachment refers the particular way in which you relate to other people. Your style of attachment was formed at the very beginning of your life, during your first two years. Once established, it is a style that stays with you and plays out today in how you relate in intimate relationships and in how you parent your children. Understanding your style of attachment is helpful because it offers you insight into how you felt and developed in your childhood. It also clarifies ways that you are emotionally limited as an adult and what you need to change to improve your close relationships and your relationship with your own children.

Early Attachment Patterns

Young children need to develop a relationship with at least one primary caregiver in order for their social and emotional development to occur normally. Without this attachment, they will suffer serious psychological and social impairment. During the first two years, how the parents or caregivers respond to their infants, particularly during times of distress, establishes the types of patterns of attachment their children form. These patterns will go on to guide the child’s feelings, thoughts and expectations as an adult in future relationships.

Secure Attachment:
Ideally, from the time infants are six months to two years of age, they form an emotional attachment to an adult who is attuned to them, that is, who is sensitive and responsive in their interactions with them. It is vital that this attachment figure remain a consistent caregiver throughout this period in a child’s life. During the second year, children begin to use the adult as a secure base from which to explore the world and become more independent. A child in this type of relationship is securely attached. Dr. Dan Siegel emphasizes that in order for a child to feel securely attached to their parents or care-givers, the child must feel safe, seen and soothed.

Avoidant Attachment:
There are adults who are emotionally unavailable and, as a result, they are insensitive to and unaware of the needs of their children. They have little or no response when a child is hurting or distressed. These parents discourage crying and encourage independence. Often their children quickly develop into “little adults” who take care of themselves. These children pull away from needing anything from anyone else and are self-contained. They have formed an avoidant attachment with a misattuned parent.

Ambivalent/Anxious Attachment:
Some adults are inconsistently attuned to their children. At times their responses are appropriate and nurturing but at other times they are intrusive and insensitive. Children with this kind of parenting are confused and insecure, not knowing what type of treatment to expect. They often feel suspicious and distrustful of their parent but at the same time they act clingy and desperate. These children have an ambivalent/anxious attachment with their unpredictable parent.

Disorganized Attachment:
When a parent or caregiver is abusive to a child, the child experiences the physical and emotional cruelty and frightening behavior as being life-threatening. This child is caught in a terrible dilemma: her survival instincts are telling her to flee to safety but safety is the very person who is terrifying her. The attachment figure is the source of the child’s distress. In these situations, children typically disassociate from their selves. They detach from what is happening to them and what they are experiencing is blocked from their consciousness. Children in this conflicted state have disorganized attachments with their fearsome parental figures.

Developing an “Earned Secure Attachment”
The good news is, it’s never too late to develop a secure attachment! Although your patterns of attachment were formed in infancy and can follow you throughout your life, it is possible to develop an “Earned Secure Attachment”at any age.

One essential way to do this is by making sense of your story. According to Dr. Dan Siegel, attachment research demonstrates that “the best predictor of a child’s security of attachment is not what happened to his parents as children, but rather how his parents made sense of those childhood experiences.” The key to “making sense” of your life experiences is to write a coherent narrative, which helps you understand how your childhood experiences are still affecting you in your life today. In PsychAlive’s online course with Drs. Dan Siegel and Lisa Firestone, they will walk you through the process of creating a coherent narrative to help you to build healthier, more secure attachments and strengthen your own personal sense of emotional resilience.When you create a coherent narrative, you actually rewire your brain to cultivate more security within yourself and your relationships.

Because our attachment ability is broken in a relationship, it is often best to be fixed in a relationship. According to Dr. Lisa Firestone, “One of the proven ways to change our attachment style is by forming an attachment with someone who had a more secure attachment style than what we’ve experienced. We can also talk to a therapist, as the therapeutic relationship can help create a more secure attachment. We can continue to get to know ourselves through understanding our past experiences, allowing ourselves to make sense and feel the full pain of our stories, then moving forward as separate, differentiated adults. In doing this, we move through the world with an internal sense of security that helps us better withstand the natural hurts that life can bring.”

To learn more about how to write a coherent narrative and develop an earned secure attachment, join Dr. Lisa Firestone and Dr. Daniel Siegel for the online course “Making Sense of Your Life: Understanding Your Past to Liberate Your Present and Empower Your Future.” End quote

Now I am not recommending any therapy or therapist or the services offered in this article. I am also not recommending against any thing offered here. I simply do not know the subject well enough to have strong confidence one way or another.
Let's focus on one thing here. Disorganized attachment.

Disorganized Attachment:
When a parent or caregiver is abusive to a child, the child experiences the physical and emotional cruelty and frightening behavior as being life-threatening. This child is caught in a terrible dilemma: her survival instincts are telling her to flee to safety but safety is the very person who is terrifying her. The attachment figure is the source of the child’s distress. In these situations, children typically disassociate from their selves. They detach from what is happening to them and what they are experiencing is blocked from their consciousness. Children in this conflicted state have disorganized attachments with their fearsome parental figures. End quote

Disorganized attachment features dissociation. Another key idea to look at.
The Encyclopedia of Mental Disorders has the following description and definition:

The dissociative disorders are a group of mental disorders that affect consciousness and are defined as causing significant interference with the patient's general functioning, including social relationships and employment.

Dissociation is a mechanism that allows the mind to separate or compartmentalize certain memories or thoughts from normal consciousness. These split-off mental contents are not erased. They may resurface spontaneously or be triggered by objects or events in the person's environment.

Dissociation is a process that occurs along a spectrum of severity. If someone experiences dissociation, it does not necessarily mean that that person has a dissociative disorder or other mental illness. A mild degree of dissociation occurs with some physical stressors; people who have gone without sleep for a long period of time, have had "laughing gas" for dental surgery, or have been in a minor accident often have brief dissociative experiences. Another commonplace example of dissociation is a person becoming involved in a book or movie so completely that the surroundings or the passage of time are not noticed. Another example might be driving on the highway and taking several exits without noticing or remembering. Dissociation is related to hypnosis in that hypnotic trance also involves a temporarily altered state of consciousness. Most patients with dissociative disorders are highly hypnotizable.

People in other cultures sometimes have dissociative experiences in the course of religious (in certain trance states) or other group activities. These occurrences should not be judged in terms of what is considered "normal" in the United States.

Moderate or severe forms of dissociation are caused by such traumatic experiences as childhood abuse , combat, criminal attacks, brainwashing in hostage situations, or involvement in a natural or transportation disaster. Patients with acute stress disorder , post-traumatic stress disorder (PTSD), conversion disorder, or somatization disorder may develop dissociative symptoms. Recent studies of trauma indicate that the human brain stores traumatic memories in a different way than normal memories. Traumatic memories are not processed or integrated into a person's ongoing life in the same fashion as normal memories. Instead they are dissociated, or "split off," and may erupt into consciousness from time to time without warning. The affected person cannot control or "edit" these memories. Over a period of time, these two sets of memories, the normal and the traumatic, may coexist as parallel sets without being combined or blended. In extreme cases, different sets of dissociated memories may cause people to develop separate personalities for these memories— a disorder known as dissociative identity disorder (formerly called multiple personality disorder).

Read more: http://www.minddisorders.com/Del-Fi/Dissociation-and-dissociative-disorders.html#ixzz5WylDQLEB

Now let us see what we have so far. Stein asserted the cult leader has disorganized attachment with others that they enforce. He wants power over people but not vulnerability to them in the case of Fred Newman. And he doesn't trust people.

So he enforces his authority. This treatment is traumatic to people. It results in memories that are not stored like normal memories and not processed like normal memories.

They are not integrated. That means they are not taken in and out into context. They may be emotions that lack critical analysis which doesn't occur or they may have thoughts that include information or calculation that lacks emotional content or appropriate emotions.

Alexandra Stein later explains the idea that different parts of the brain process emotions better and other parts process information better and that by working together when you we think or talk or write about our memories we fully integrate the different parts of the brain to use our independent and critical thinking abilities. She believes it is even helped by our sleep. I certainly believe the brain does something with content while we sleep.

She sees dissociation as taking memories and leaving these traumatic memories outside the normal mental processes. This is vital to understand because if a cult leader enforces disorganized attachment then through abuse they create trauma and this features dissociation of the trauma and leaves cult members impaired regarding accessing and fully processing their memories. They may have limited access to memories or memories that feature emotions but lack critical thinking or memories that have logic but no emotions or limited emotions or inappropriate emotions for the situation.

And sometimes the condition in the memory endures because it is not being edited - that is experienced and analyzed in the present - like a normal memory. So if it featured impaired critical thinking or blocked emotions it may inspire this when recalled regarding the content of the memory. It may be resistant to self reflection and reconciliation.
Next we will look at the totalist group structure.


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How Cults Work - Totalist Group Structure

This is the third post in a series dedicated to the book Terror, Love and Brainwashing by Alexandra Stein.

This post picks up at the topic of the totalist group structure.

Alexandra Stein described the totalist group in these words:
"The totalist group grows by replicating the dynamics of relationship zero as recruits are drawn in. The pattern of relating to the leader set in this initial relationship remains, modeled by the existing members and so transmitted to new recruits. Structurally, the totalist group is dominated by the leader in all regards. In order for the leader to maintain control of followers, the structure must facilitates several functions: it must maintain the single point of dominance of the leader, isolate group members and, in most cases, provide controlled access to and from the outside world.

The group structure must serve the process of coercive persuasion, which requires an isolating environment. " Page 16

This is so matter of fact and clinical it makes cult members sound like Borg from Star Trek, spreading like a disease of the mind from victim to victim, a memetic virus.

Stein goes on:
"The emotional and physical energies of the group members must be fully engaged to keep them from external relationships and influences.
The structure must be one in which the alternation of love and threat can take place, while severely limiting the group member's access to "escape hatch" relationships with persons outside of the group or its sphere of influence. " Page 17

"The structure must also allow the transmission downwards of the leader's orders and ideological pronouncements while simultaneously funneling resources followers back upwards to the leader. Levels of hierarchy may exist for this purpose." Page 17

"A rule-bound bureaucracy is not well-suited to the domination by one individual of a group and so a flexible, non-bureaucratic structure is needed that can easily adjust to the leader's whims, changes of plans and changes, even, of beliefs or ideologies. So although the group is closed and steeply hierarchical, usually this hierarchy is fluid and fluctuating. There is generally a lieutenant layer in such groups, but as the leader must prevent alternative power bases developing he or she ensures that life as a lieutenant is insecure with frequent promotions and demotions In these ranks." Page 17

Now I should point out the obvious fact that in my twenty five years in Scientology I encountered everything described here. Whether on staff or especially in the Sea Org Scientology cult members are strongly encouraged to be doing Scientology activities every waking moment and if possible commit to a hundred plus hour per week schedule. Even public Scientologists are often encouraged to spend every second not at work or sleeping in a Scientology activity, whether it be auditing, or on course or volunteering to help the local org.
The alternation of being screamed at and encouraged is difficult to explain. It starts out gradually and if you join staff or the Sea Org often escalates. Even public get boundaries violated as part of indoctrination in the guise of training.

Scientology has always had a totalitarian structure with orders and policy only coming from above and money getting sent up. Many layers of hierarchy exist. There are levels of accomplishment in training and auditing and authority in local orgs then higher orgs run by the Sea Org at numerous levels including continental and international and above with numerous management orgs.

Ron Hubbard ran Scientology as a dictatorship with rules set in stone then cancelled them then brought them back as if they were never cancelled and even some publicly cancelled but privately kept remaining in force and with thousands and thousands of policies that contradicted each other.

Hubbard changed fundamental ideas and procedures capricously. He in my opinion plagiarized whatever struck his fancy and gave it a try. It didn't matter if he said the opposite yesterday, he would try this out today and forget it tomorrow. It was all a con anyway.

He picked up and dropped people routinely. He never wanted any rivals for admiration, so he expelled people frequently and labeled them suppressive persons. By 1965 with the advent of the Keeping Scientology Working policy Hubbard claimed himself the sole source of Dianetics and Scientology, despite having plagiarized hundreds of ideas from others often including his own students and employees.

Next Stein took on the totalist ideology.
"Whether an ideology or belief system is totalist is not determined by its content as such but by its structure and function. The structure of such a belief system is total: closed and exclusive, allowing no other beliefs, no other truths, no other affiliations and no interpretations, proposing to be true for all time and under all conditions." Page 18

In a footnote Stein stated: "Although, as Arendt also pointed out, the ideology changes at the leader's whim, and sometimes the group must go through extraordinary contortions to keep up with these changes." Referring to Hannah Arendt author of Origins of Totalitarianism
I found this to have been true in Scientology. Hubbard and now his replacement in David Miscavige have consistently been inconsistent, both change important ideas and procedures in Scientology in direct contradiction of longstanding and clear basic principles. And pointing this out frequently leads to expulsion or if in the Sea Org assignment to their reeducation camp and prison the RPF.

She went on:
"The key element of the totalist ideology its focus on a single truth. This single truth, the sacred word, is the word of the leader, or sometimes, that of a deity to whom the leader is the only one to have a direct line. All knowledge comes from the leader. While the leader may change their mind as new "insights" appear , followers may never do so, although they must ever be on the alert to jump to the leader's sudden ideological shifts.
The functions of the totalist belief system are to shore up the totalist structure, ensuring the leader's absolute control; to justify loyalty to the group; to establish a rigid boundary between the group and the outside world; and to prevent the formation of alternate escape hatch relationships. Not least amongst these functions is that of maintaining the dissociation of the followers created by the traumatic relationship, preventing them from being able to adequately reflect on the reality of the situation in which they find themselves. " Page 19

"This encouragement to sacrifice the distinction between truth and lies allows the leader to foist upon the isolated and traumatized follower his own opportunistic interpretation of the follower's experience. Thus day is actually night, and black is clearly white. Boxer, the super-exploited horse in Orwell's classic Animal Farm, demonstrated this internalizing of the leader's view as he bravely repeated, in response to his exhaustion and misery: "Napoleon is always right" and " I will work harder. " This, however, is a powerful vulnerability of totalism: that is, the frequently extreme contradiction between its heavenly or freedom-touting pronouncements and the grimly oppressive reality of life within the system. " Page 19

In Scientology your truth you know is thoroughly destabilized and invalidated in a hundred ways. Your doubts and memories are disputed and your understanding of what you read, see, hear and know can be disputed.

It certainly has a realm where most staff and Sea Org members are living like overworked servants or even slaves or prisoners, especially in the Sea Org, but fed propaganda that they are so lucky to be there and allowed the honor and privilege of being in Scientology.


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How Cults Work - The Brainwashing Process and Outcomes
This is the fourth post in a series dedicated to the book Terror, Love and Brainwashing by Alexandra Stein.

In this we now take on the brainwashing process and its outcome.

Stein wrote "Brainwashing refers to the overall process set in motion by the leader, operating within the closed structure supported by the total ideology. There are several alternative terms scholars have used to name this process: coercive persuasion (Schein), thought reform (Lifton), resocialization (Berger and Luckmann), total conversion (Lofland), mind control (Singer, Hassan), or, most recently by Lalich, bounded choice. All these thinkers describe variants of the same essential process: the alternation of love and fear within an isolating environment resulting in a dissociated, loyal and deployable follower who can now be instructed to act in the interests of the leader rather than in his or her own survival instincts.
Replacing followers' prior trusted relationships with the rigid relationships within the group, combined with the extremely strong compound of terror plus "love", entraps the follower within the group. Three important behaviors result from this. First the follower is glued in anxious dependency to the group. Being in a state of constant fear arousal means they constantly seek proximity to the group in a failed attempt to attain comfort." Page 19

"Second, this seeking of contact with the source of threat causes a cognitive collapse, or dissociation, in the mind of the follower. There is no way out, no useful way to think through the trap that has been set - the mind ceases to function adequately in regard to that relationship." Page 20

"This sense of chaos and loss is the prelude to the next step." Page 20

"Many other accounts have vividly described similar moments of collapse: in the face of extreme pressures the recruit gives up the attempt to maintain rational thought about the group and submits to the demand for commitment and obedience." Page 20

"In the third step, the leadership can now take advantage of this cognitive collapse and introject their own agenda into the cognitive vacuum thus induced. The total ideology is further introduced as both the explanation for the recruit's cognitive collapse, as well as the explanation of all other phenomena. These three elements function together to create what has been termed a "deployable agent" : that is a follower who is hypercredulous and hyperobedient. The process causes a change in beliefs, attitudes and behaviors in the follower that are not congruent with the follower's preexisting traits, nor - should the follower get out of the group - with their beliefs, attitudes and behaviors, after leaving. " Page 21

Now some of my earlier blog posts have ideas that are similar or describe the exact kind of process and experience Stein described here. Her understanding is better developed and has ideas described in a more cohesive and coherent model.

She developed her model over decades and many of my blog posts have far less formal education and were written frankly while I was trying to overcome and understand my experience.

I won't repeat everything here because this material is a lot to take on by itself but I will list some blog posts that are relevant to exactly what Stein is describing here.

The post Why Scientologists Are So Close Minded and Certain has a detailed description of how I went through the process of indoctrination and the cognitive collapse Stein described. It has step by step details of the Scientology method.

Additionally these posts address this process:
Why Hubbard Never Claimed OT Feats And The Rock Bottom Basis Of Scientology

Humbling Simplicity
Regarding mind control in Scientology:
Insidious Enslavement: Study Technology
Basic Introduction To Hypnosis In Scientology

The book Traumatic Narcissism: Relational Systems of Subjugation by Doctor Daniel Shaw takes on this subject and I have written a few blog posts regarding his book as well. I strongly recommend his book to compliment the work of Alexandra Stein. In my mind they are highly complimentary and compatible. These authors and books do not restate the same ideas over and over. They have some overlap but far more of each helping to fill in and add to what the other says.

I think that the persuasion model or relational model that Alexandra Stein puts forth as brainwashing is plausible, and further beneficial for framing the totalist system, whether in a cult or totalitarian regime or one on one abusive relationship. The term brainwashing has had some issues but Stein takes this on in depth later in her book and to me adequately addresses them.

I think up to this point it is crucial to get the model Stein has of brainwashing as "Replacing followers' prior trusted relationships with the rigid relationships within the group, combined with the extremely strong compound of terror plus "love", entraps the follower within the group." And the result of being entrapped in fear and seeking to be close to the leader or cult to escape or reduce the fear and second this threat without relief setting up dissociation or cognitive collapse, and "the mind ceases to function adequately in regard to that relationship." THIS is a hallmark of cultic relationships - the cult member has severely impaired or obliterated or annihilated critical and independent thinking SOLELY REGARDING the cult leader, their ideas, practices and doctrine and the group.

They can function without impairment regarding anything outside the box of these subjects. But - and it is a crucial but - the cult may include thousands of ideas under the umbrella of items I described earlier. Cult ideology often includes all critical ideas regarding the cult to preemptively squash dissent and disobedience.

"This sense of chaos and loss is the prelude to the next step."
In the third step the cult member is anxious, overwhelmed, confused, and desperate for guidance and stable direction. The leader gives answers to fill this need and by giving a dogma that seeks to take up all issues and answer all important questions for the past, present and future regarding everything. This is intended to leave the member completely enthralled or mentally enslaved by the cult and as Stein described deployable agent. These ideas are the bare minimum you should get regarding brainwashing to understand Stein's model so far.
Have no fears if there are still questions on this because Stein takes it up again later and adds more science to help flesh it out.

Moving onto the outcomes of brainwashing now Stein wrote: " Coercive persuasion within the closed domain controlled by the charismatic and authoritarian leader leads to a triple isolation for the follower. Contrary to public perception, the key experience of membership in a totalist group is one of isolation, not community or comradeship. The follower is isolated from the outside world; he or she is isolated from an authentic relationship to others within the group - allowed only to communicate within the narrow confines of the group-speak and rigid rules of behavior; and, due to the dissociation that is created, the follower is also isolated from his or her self, from his or her own ability to think clearly about the situation.
The result of this system is a leader with extreme control over hypercredulous and hyperobedient followers; they'll believe anything and do anything. Followers can now be exploited and deployed. " Page 21 - 22

I found this to be completely accurate regarding my understanding of cults and my own experience in Scientology. I kept feeling a sense that nothing was good enough to be in solid relationships in the cult. People kept dangling the promise of friendship and love if I just have a but more to Scientology.

First I was encouraged to check it out, then to join staff then to get through the staff training and then to join the Sea Org and to do courses and on and on. It was strange. I could never get stable relationships in Scientology but it seemed to be easy to be in Scientology because you just have to agree with and obey Hubbard all the time. But it is never quite good enough.
I after two months on Scientology staff was thoroughly indoctrinated by Scientology and it took seeing the work of Jon Atack at the Underground Bunker in the Scientology Mythbusting series and his articles particularly Never Believe A Hypnotist to realize I had a key experience in indoctrination (described in my posts Escaping Scientology - Overcoming Crushing Certainty, The Lies That Bind and Two Roads) that made me a hypercredulous and hyperobedient follower. I was a deployable agent.


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How Cults Work - Attachment Theory

This is the fifth post in a series dedicated to the book Terror, Love and Brainwashing by Alexandra Stein.

In this post we zero in on attachment theory and look at it in depth regarding cultic relationships.

Stein wrote: "In 1958, John Bowlby, the originator of attachment theory, wrote this to his wife: Most people think of fear as running away from something. But there is another side to it. We run TO someone, usually a person....It's screamingly obvious, but I believe it to be a new idea, and quite revolutionary. (End quote by John Bowlby)"

"Bowlby's revolutionary idea helps to explain the relationship that exists both at the heart of these systems - between follower and leader - and in the heart and brain of each individual who is successfully coerced or brainwashed. The leader positions themselves (or the group as an extension of the leader) as the benevolent safe haven to which each follower will turn when afraid. The principal means of achieving this involves two subsequent elements: isolate the follower from any other possible safe havens and then arouse fear in the follower. The result ? Frightened, stressed followers who "run TO someone":to the leader of the group.
But this "running TO" is not adaptive , healthy seeking of protection when frightened - something all of us do as both children and adults, seeking the comfort of our close relationships in times of stress. In the case of the totalist organization, it's a particular and problematic form of this hardwired behavior, a form termed disorganized attachment. In this chapter I outline the basic principles of attachment theory to explain this type of relationship. "Page 26 - 27

This idea is a lot to take on and after reading dozens of books on cults I can tell you it is one many people do not discuss in literature on cults. Some may believe it but feel it too complex for lay people and so they leave it out of descriptions and books but it is extremely important for seeing how cults work and with further information from neuroscience it can offer a partially physical explanation for cultic influence and phenomena. And physical explanations include the ability to observe and consistently repeat something. I feel that can help to forward our understanding and give us things to look at and look for to see if our ideas are supported or contradicted by evidence.

Fortunately Stein elaborated on this so we can know what is going on.
She described a bit on the brainwashing process itself. A former cult member named Masoud is introduced. He was a member of the Iranian Mojahedin aka the MEK. They claimed to oppose imperialism and at one time the Khomeini regime in Iran.

Masoud was encouraged to "forget your idealism and face reality. You must accept things, including the Mojahedin, as they are, not as you wish they were or think they should be." Page 27

Stein wrote: "Masoud states that this was his "moment" - these words: were like a hammer banging on my head - but instead of awakening me, they knocked me unconscious...Instead of forcing me to think, I shut my mind to all doubts and questions. " Page 27

"This was just one moment - but importantly, this was the first of years of such moments - moments where clear and systematic thinking became so difficult, so dangerous, that giving up the effort seemed to make the most sense of all. This is the process that is central to brainwashing - the pushing aside of doubts and questions and beginning to passively accept the dogma on offer. " Page 28

"In Masoud's case this submission did not happen overnight (though in some cases - most famously the Unification Church, known as the Moonies - it can happen much more quickly). In most instances getting a person to this point is an iterative process. That is, it may involve many cycles of the basic dynamic that includes a progressively more isolating environment, establishing the group as the main (and eventually only) reference point for the individual, and generating levels of fear or stress arousal that cause the person to keep turning towards the group for support. It is this, often cyclical, process that causes the dissociation that is induced in the brainwashed follower." Page 28

Now I should comment that my own cult indoctrination exactly fit this description. I was in Scientology about two months and had to memorize over twenty departments and their corresponding awareness characteristics in order verbatim to pass a drill and just gave up on my system I had for "trying" Scientology. I had been learning dozens of Scientology ideas and hundreds of Scientology terms and abbreviations and additionally hundreds of definitions for English words in Scientology indoctrination.

You study many, many pages and listen to many tapes in Scientology indoctrination and better be able to rattle off definitions for any word on your course instantly or you will need to go back to where any flunked word first appears in your materials and restudy from that point forward. Sometimes it is a page or two but sometimes it is at the beginning of a course you were about to finish, maybe a hundred or more pages back. So you get an extreme anxiety about never passing any word you cannot immediately define perfectly.

In addition I kept ideas grouped into several categories that I tried to make distinct. These included my own beliefs, the ideas Hubbard introduced in his doctrine including his definitions for words and the English definitions I learned in indoctrination.

Imagine a juggler as a person keeping ideas in their mind. They have lots of ideas that they treat normally and treat like balls of the same size and weight. Okay. They have occasional contact with other objects they add that are different. Maybe different size balls or different objects that they juggle. This is like having your own ideas and occasionally getting an idea that you do not necessarily agree with or believe to remember. To handle it you have to know it is not yours but it is easy enough as you can see it is different from your usual ideas or ones you believe.

Now imagine the game is changed intentionally in Scientology. You are a juggler who keeps hundreds of balls going at once. You are quite good. But in a surprise twist you get asked to add two new groups of balls to the ones you already juggle. The two new groups are ideas from Hubbard including his doctrine and definitions of terms and definitions for English words you also learn in Scientology indoctrination.

There are so many ideas to keep track of and such a rapid pace at which they come in that you stop seeing them as different. It is like having to juggle red balls blue balls and white balls and remember which are which and someone pills a truck of making them all become white ! They are all the same now and you are struggling to just keep them going ! Then the cult has won.
The red balls were Hubbard's ideas and definitions and the blue were English definitions you learned and the white were your own beliefs. But in the frantic dash to retain all of it perfectly and constantly while pushing through your courses you lost yourself and your own beliefs and all became one.

But as the words piled up into the thousands and thousands and the strain of keeping straight which ideas were my own and which were from Hubbard and his - he defined them - and all the English definitions I learned it just became totally overwhelming and too much. My mind shut down. I just tried to retain and recall everything without evaluation. And that is how I sunk under a fog of confusion and did not emerge for over two decades. I covered that in my blog post Two Roads


Stein wrote: "Attachment theory is a key to understanding this dissociative mechanism that lies at the heart of a totalist system. It can help make sense of why the five elements of leadership, structure, ideology, process and outcomes are seen together, and what holds them together - they do not appear randomly, and they do not act randomly. Totalist systems are made up of a predictable pattern of behaviors and, with help of attachment theory, we can go some way to explaining why they appear in concert and the function each serves in maintaining the system.
When I talk about attachment theory in this context, people are often prone to jump to the conclusion that I mean the follower has some type of attachment disorder that led them to seeking out a cultic or extremist group. "Aha," says the listener, "As I suspected, such followers are needy seekers, looking for some authority figure to tell them what to do." Let me make clear, at the outset, that this is not at all the direction of this explanation. In fact, it is my belief that followers start out with a similar variety of attachment-related dispositions as we find in the general population: some are well adjusted (securely attached) while others may be more or less so, and some, perhaps perhaps not well adjusted at all. My contention is that the system itself acts upon followers and, regardless of their original attachment status, attempts to change that status, to what is known as disorganized attachment. Further, the system aims to remove the follower's prior attachment figures and replace them with the leader or group as the new - and disorganized - attachment relationship. The people you love are pushed out and replaced by the leader or group as the new and sole focus of your emotional commitment. " Page 28

This has some key points to really get down. They are the foundation of Stein's model. She sees five key ingredients which she calls elements in leadership, structure, ideology, process and outcomes as essential to cults and further that they are held together and display predictable behaviors and we can use attachment theory to understand them.

That is a tall order because people have been trying to understand abusive relationships, cults and totalist systems for a long time, often with mixed results. Stein further offers to explain why this cultic components appear together, something else that is useful.

She emphasized that people of all types of backgrounds can end up in cults, regarding their attachment styles but that cults end up taking away both the old attachment style and people who one was attached to and replace them with a disorganized attachment to the cult leader or group.

That is a huge change for a person certainly but plausible and can explain the tremendous changes we find in people from their pre cult behavior to their cult behavior and even post cult behavior. To me it is worthwhile to consider.

I should add this is an accurate description to me of my experience in Scientology. Everyone and everything besides L Ron Hubbard and Scientology is treated as at best worthless and worst genuinely evil in Scientology. People only have value to the degree they benefit Hubbard or Scientology in Scientology but you have to accept this very gradually and once you do your entire worldview is different. It is like becoming a different person.

Stein went on "It is, in fact, the primary task of the totalist system to effect this change: to gain control of followers it must, in fact, rewire attachment behavior and utterly reconfigure followers' attachments. If we understand this, then the features of totalism begin to make sense and to be predictable. We can then make sense of why the system is deceptive, why it isolates people from their loved ones and controls close relationships, and why its ideology is often impenetrable, contradictory, fictitious (As Hannah Arendt puts it) and, in most cases, fairly insane. But first we need to learn a bit about attachment theory, and in particular how our attachment status affects both our emotional and our thinking lives. " Page 29

This is extremely important for understanding cultic relationships and behavior. I cannot emphasize that strongly enough. Lots of books and models I can reference will tell you that cults repeatedly follow certain patterns and are built with certain features but they often do not say why these patterns and features are there over and over.

The ideology of groups alone is not sufficient to determine which groups are cults or not and also are not enough to predict which groups will behave like cults. Religious or strange beliefs do not predict this and reasonable sounding beliefs also do not show whether a group is cultic.
So, it is worth zeroing in on what does make a group a cult. And how the consistent features of cults are all tied together.

I am giving a very abbreviated version of the ideas Stein presents. Obviously actually reading her book is ideal for examining her ideas and she even gives clues about where to look to study these concepts more fully. If you like her ideas But want more explanation of them I absolutely recommend reading her book. Her use of attachment theory is something I have found nowhere else and I have read dozens of books on cults by many experts.

She commented on the origins of attachment theory in the work of John Bowlby " The core idea of attachment theory is that human attachment behavior has evolved as a survival mechanism. Attachment to others serves as a source of protection and seeking attachments in order to gain such protection - a safe haven, in attachment theory terms - is as much an imperative for humans as seeking food, shelter or sex. Babies who stayed in close proximity to their caregivers survived to have their own children - and so attachment behaviors evolved with this function of maintaining proximity. Equally, Bowlby argued, successful caregivers evolved a reciprocal caregiving system with this function of protecting their young. He elaborated attachment theory from these roots, and created a field of research that continues frightfully to this day. For the past thirty years, attachment theory has been the basis for research, not only of child development, but also of a wide-ranging set of topics spanning the life course and ranging from interpersonal violence to religious affiliation, and from altruism to prejudice and authoritarianism. " Page 29

This concept is not an entirely original idea, but saying attachment is as important as seeking food, shelter or sex is noteworthy. We will die without food, shelter and as a species without reproduction. They are literally life and death for humanity. So adding attachment to this list as an equal priority, an equal need and drive is a strong assertion.

Bowlby took this on and through his work and the work of others on attachment theory has created a framework to consult to analyze relationships. Stein took this and much more to form her hypothesis on how cults work.

I believe that it starts with a plausible explanation for the age old question - Why do we stay with people who are harmful or the dangerous to us ? If we in our past few hundred thousand years evolved and benefited from staying with our parents even if they occasionally were harsh or cruel but still gave us food and protection then our chances of survival went way up. Lone young children on their own have had a far, far lower chance of survival to pass on their own genetic material than children that have been stayed with their parents.

Imagine being a six or nine or twelve year old trying to survive on your own five thousand years ago or twenty or thirty or a hundred. Your odds of surviving to mate and raise your children even with the support of your family and clan would have been poor. Life was harsh and the environment unforgiving.

To me the deeply instilled need for attachment is a concept that makes sense. Bowlby and now Stein believe different kinds of attachment exist and further Stein has stated the changing of attachment and who a person is attached to is a fundamental part of how cults work. And that is what we will look at next.


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How Cults Work - Forms Of Attachment

This is the sixth post in a series dedicated to the book Terror, Love and Brainwashing by Alexandra Stein.

In this post we can examine how attachment works in attachment theory.

Stein wrote "How does this attachment system operate ? Like the fuzzy gosling, children turn to a familiar figure - usually their mothers (or other caregivers) - when they are stressed, frightened, hungry, tired or in pain. When all works well, and the parent is open, flexible and responsive to the child, secure attachment results. When the child experiences threat or stress their attachment system is activated and through an array of attachment behaviors (such as crying, smiling, reaching out to be held) they seek out their attachment figure, who, ideally, will provide appropriate comfort and protection. The child's need for protection and their attachment behaviors trigger the parent's caregiving system. (Most of us have experiences of how this caregiving system operates - think of how difficult it is to ignore the persistent cry of a baby.)
When the threat passes, and the child has been comforted and attains a state of "felt security," their attachment system is deactivated and the child is free to explore and move away from the attachment figure - but close enough to return in case of further threat. And the secure parent allows this exploration, letting the child return when needed. Imagine a young child running off to play, but turning from time to time to check that their parent is still there - with this reassurance they can relax and continue to play. The child now uses the parent or attachment figure as a secure base from which to explore their world. The link between parent and child is like an elastic band, contracting and expanding in response to the child's needs and to conditions in the environment. " "About 58 percent of low-risk populations are securely attached. Secure attachment is predictive of protective factors in life such as resilience, protectiveness of others, altruism, and empathy.
Bowlby saw this as a homeostatic control system with proximity-seeking behaviors. Attachment behaviors, according to Bowlby, need to be "terminated" effectively, through adequate and reliable comfort in order for for the exploratory phase to take place. In other words, the child (or adult) must achieve a sufficient level of comfort to calm his or her fearful response (yet not so much comfort as to become smothering or oppressive). But once the threat has passed and the fear response has been calmed, the need for the caregiver as safe haven also passes and the child is ready to explore his or her environment again. At this point the child's attachment behavior has been terminated effectively through the provision of adequate comfort, and his or her exploratory behavior resumes. " Page 30

Now I want to really zero in on attachment theory for a few reasons. First off it is essential to understanding the hypothesis Stein has regarding cultic relationships. It is right at the heart and foundation of her entire way of looking at cults.

Second, it is important to her ideas regarding how people in cults are controlled and impaired in their thinking and behavior regarding cults. This leads to it being vital for understanding her explanation for how and why some people make progress and are able to effectively recover from cultic relationships and in particular people who were in cults both deeply and for long periods of time. Often people in cults and in particular in Scientology deeply and for long periods or who were raised in Scientology have enormous obstacles to overcome to recover. Some people are far more successful at recovery than others and Stein offers a compelling explanation why that is and how the more successful ex cult members recover while some recover very poorly or not at all.

And finally I want to really nail the ideas from attachment theory because they and the whole attachment model are a new look at the whole subject for me. With lots of other ideas regarding cults I have already written in depth posts on hypnosis, malignant narcissism and traumatic narcissism and thought reform as described by Robert Jay Lifton and Steven Hassan and Margaret Singer and I wrote entire series on cognitive dissonance theory and specific books like Subliminal and Age of Propaganda. Lots of ideas are already covered in earlier posts at length, so anyone interested could look back at them and get background material to consider.

So bear with me as I really tackle attachment theory here. It is well worth serious study and consideration.

We can look at the hypothesis of secure attachment. It involves the child both exploring the world and seeking reassurance the caregiver is ready and able to give attention if needed. Reassurance that they are close and paying attention and willing to come quickly if called is a better situation than the alternatives for a child. The child is much safer if someone can help in case of danger and a caregiver is much more likely to both perceive and handle danger than a child. So behavior that encourages the caregiver to provide secure attachment is very beneficial to the child's survival.

This seems understandable. And the child goes from a state of panic or discomfort when seeking the caregiver to being calmed by the appropriate attention from the caregiver. They are showing their readiness to give comfort and aid which may be life saving for the child and often is. I recall a comedian once saying if ever want to be constantly saving someone's life have a child. I have two children myself and can tell you especially when they are little, say under six years old, saving them from falls, and drowning and cars once they walk is nearly a full time job. In earlier times I am sure predators and starvation and the elements were ever present dangers for small children. So it makes perfect sense why a child goes from panicking and terrified to relieved and relaxed. It literally saves their life routinely to have attentive caregivers.
Stein went on "But caregivers may not always respond adequately, or situations may prevent a child (or adult) getting the care they need, and when such attachment is lacking or impaired Bowlby and his colleagues uncovered predictable consequences on later development. Along with the secure attachment status, Bowlby then described two insecure forms of attachment: preoccupied and dismissing attachment" Page 30-31

"For those who have unreliable, inconsistent attachment figures, where a safe haven is only intermittently available, attachment behavior is not effectively terminated through reliable comfort. As the child is never fully comforted they remain attempting to gain closeness with the attachment figure. The result is clinginess, separation anxiety, and a failure to effectively use the attachment figure as a secure base from which to explore. This is termed preoccupied attachment and is characterized by a hyperactivation of the attachment system, ongoing attachment behaviors and impairments in being able to use the parent as a secure base - in other words, the child's exploratory behaviors are limited. Unsure of the parent's responsiveness, the preoccupied child remains on alert, demanding attention through attachment behaviors and, from time to time, succeeding in getting that attention. The child takes on a disproportionate share of the task of maintaining connection with their caregiver. This type of attachment has been correlated with, for example, later anxiety and hypervigilance, and being victimized by bullying. About 19 percent of non-clinical populations have a preoccupied attachment status. " Page 31-32

"The other from of insecure attachment occurs when the parent or attachment figure consistently rejects or neglects the child, and the child deactivates their attachment behaviors - resulting in dismissing attachment. Having not experienced positive, caring responses to early attempts to seek attachment, the child eventually gives up and avoids seeking it. This doesn't mean the child can regulate their fear responses on their own, but they do not go to the caregiver to try to get comfort or protection, and they avoid attachments and suppress attachment behaviors even while they experiencing threat or fear internally. Those with dismissing attachment stay detached and unable to depend on others. They do experience physiological arousal when stressed but they are not able seek comfort to attenuate the stressful feelings. This attachment status has been correlated with anger and aggressive behaviors such as bullying. It is estimated that 23 percent of non-clinical populations have dismissing attachment. " Page 32

"Although the preoccupied and dismissing attachment strategies may not be ideal in terms of securing attachment, they are useful responses, or adaptations, to particular attachment situations - the preoccupied may increase the chances of attachment through vigilance and availability, and the dismissing may prevent harm to the self by avoiding rejecting and possibly harmful behaviors on the part of the caregiver. Along with secure attachment these make up the three organized attachments that work as a homeostatic control system, ebbing and flowing within the limits of an environment of adaptedness. That is, these strategies work well enough within situations that, while not all are optimal, are at least predictable, and allow the child to develop a coherent - organized - way of responding to their environment.

So far, so good. But how does this relate to brainwashing and to Masoud's submission to his leader ? The fourth form of attachment is the one that interests us. The effect of disorganized attachment on both emotions and thinking is dramatic and helps explain how someone as intelligent, curious and thoughtful as Masoud (or, for that matter, Marina, myself, of any of the many people described in this book) could shut his mind "to doubts and questions" about the group he had joined. "Page 32

Okay, this has been a hell of a lot to take on. We have secure attachment as the most desirable form with alternating between exploratory behaviors and comfort seeking then preoccupied attachment with overly seeking comfort and dismissing attachment with actually avoiding comfort to avoid rejection and abuse.

And finally we have the final attachment we may consider - disorganized. That is worth taking on next.


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How Cults Work - Disorganized Attachment and Dissociation

This is the seventh post in a series dedicated to the book Terror, Love and Brainwashing by Alexandra Stein.

In this post we take on two crucial ideas regarding the model Alexandra Stein has proposed in her book namely disorganized attachment and dissociation.

Stein wrote "The classification of disorganized attachment was developed by Mary Main and Judith Solomon when they noticed behaviors in a set of children who had been unpredictably frightened by their caregivers - whether directly as a result of frightening behavior by the caregivers, or indirectly resulting from the caregivers themselves being frightened. These children sometimes showed the typical secure and insecure (preoccupied, dismissing) strategies described above, but they also displayed brief but disorganized and disoriented behaviors including signs of confusion, fear, freezing and strange movements. This resulted in the addition of a new classification, disorganized." Page 32 - 33

I found the description Stein gives to be completely spot on regarding how I felt while in Scientology for twenty five years. This is to me the essence of the trap of an abusive relationship or cult or totalist system. It really is a fresh look at it and explains aspects of being in a cult, Scientology in my case, that no other model or subject I have seen addresses and adds a scientific basis with elements that are empirical in a way nothing else has.

Stein wrote "These responses occur when a child has been in a situation of fright without solution. Their caregiver is at once the safe haven and also the source of threat or alarm. So, when the child feels threatened by the caregiver, he or she is caught in an impossible situation: both comfort and threat are represented by the same person - the caregiver. The child experiences the unresolvable paradox of seeking to simultaneously flee from and approach the caregiver. This happens at a biological level, not thought out or conscious, but as evolved behavior to fear. The child attempts to run TO and flee FROM the caregiver at one and the same time.

In the face of this impossible situation the child's attachment strategies collapse, hence the term disorganized. He or she makes movements to approach the frightening or frightened parent at the same time as trying to avoid the fearful stimuli coming from the parent. Freezing, confusion and a variety of other behaviors are the result. These may be very brief episodes, and are usually combined with one or (often) more of the other types of attachment behaviors discussed above, sometimes, for example, rapidly switching between preoccupied approach and dismissing withdrawal. However, in most cases the need for proximity - for physical closeness - tends to override attempts to avoid the fear-arousing caregiver. So usually the child stays close to the frightening parent while internally both their withdrawal and approach systems are simultaneously activated, and in conflict. "Page 33

This feeling of having to both approach AND escape is exactly how I felt in Scientology. I for years felt that I needed to submit to Scientology and apply Scientology practices and ideas to my life but also knew it would destroy my life if I did. It was terror without solution.

Stein wrote "Similarly, the environment of fright without solution is no longer one that allows a coherent response: withdrawal to safety becomes paradoxically an approach to threat and results in dissociation and confusion. " Page 33

"This explanation has started with children, but the need for attachments and attachment behaviors persists into adulthood, becoming the basis for close relationships with spouses, partners and very close friends, and for caregiving behavior towards children and other loved ones. As adults we seek comfort, help or reassurance from our close others when we are stressed or fearful, but otherwise we may operate more independently, checking in once in a while. Similarly, disorganized attachment does not only occur with children and their caregivers. It can also happen later in life in abusive, frightening or dangerous relationships, such as in situations of controlling domestic violence." Page 34

"Disorganized attachment results in dissociation and it is this that makes it a powerful and dangerous control mechanism. We can say that dissociation in a situation of trauma with no means of escape means we can no longer think about what we are feeling regarding the frightening relationship. What happens in dissociation is that cognitive processing in the more recently evolved areas of the brain, including the frontal cortex and language areas, ceases to function while at the same time the older areas of the brain - the brain stem and central nervous system - continue to record the sensory information of that situation. The sensory, emotional system becomes dissociated from the cognitive system. Or, to put it another way, the right, emotional, feeling side of the brain, cannot communicate effectively with the left, thinking, speaking side of the brain. In a dissociated state, thought and feeling become disconnected. But this does not happen globally - rather it is dissociation in regards to the traumatic, disorganized relationship. " Page 34 - 35

Okay, this is a lot to take in. This is a really new look at both psychology and cultic relationships for me to examine. I have read a few books on neuroscience and neuroendocrinology but Stein has integrated ideas on brain function and trauma in a way I have never seen before. It is not inconsistent with the ideas I have seen but develops connections far more than earlier works.
I am going to include a bit of my own two cents on references to examine the science behind her ideas and references she has in her own bibliography as well for anyone looking to dig deep into the evidence and theory behind this. I have a feeling as fMRI scan studies continue the conversation will develop further on this important issue. The idea that someday people who are under undue influence may sit in a scanner and be asked questions and a technician may realize that certain brain areas ONLY fail to function when certain topics are brought up is intriguing. The implications for this in therapy, interventions and law enforcement are exciting.

Stein wrote "There is a two-fold effect that results from this. On one hand, the person cannot think clearly about the frightening relationship. The thinking part of the brain is not operating well. It is not able to think: "This is a dangerous situation, get out of here!" There is no escape, so no solution, no "get out" is available. On the other hand, the person - feeling frightened - tends to stay in close proximity to their remaining attachment, even when it is that attachment causing the threat. Panic is followed by giving up: giving up both independent thinking and emotional independence. The combination of isolation and fear is therefore, in many cases, able to create a dissociated follower with an anxiously dependent attachment bond to the group.

Why is all this important ? Because totalist groups rely on disorganizing followers as the fundamental means of control. Given the dramatic effect on interpersonal relationships that we see in cults and totalitarian systems it is perhaps surprising that attachment theory is only now beginning to be applied to understanding the dynamics of these extreme social systems.
The concept of what we can call coerced disorganized attachment can help us to explain why Masoud left the family he loved so much. It why parents in the Children of God cult allowed the sexual abuse of their children. It can help to untangle the emotional and cognitive processes that led Marina to a state where she became ready to "take a bullet" for Fred Newman. And it can help us understand how so many ordinary young people can be turned into executioners at the service of terrorist organizations. The answer to these seemingly incomprehensible behaviors lies in understanding this powerful combination of terror and love. Remember, though, that followers do not have to start with disorganized attachment, but that this is created through different elements of the totalist system "Page 35

I have to say that this fits my experience in Scientology. I was stuck in a state of panic and no escape. I felt like I absolutely had to reach towards Scientology to be safe and also had to get away from Scientology at the same exact time and could not resolve this for decades. I was in a state where I couldn't articulate my feelings and often felt like I was" certain " I needed to fully commit to Scientology intellectually but emotionally felt devastated and crushed and that my life was ruined whether I joined Scientology or left but couldn't articulate the idea. I couldn't think straight regarding Scientology and the negative effects it had and would have on my life. It was beyond my comprehension but should have been obvious.

I knew that my wife and children were far more stable, loving and true than Scientology but somehow could not see the threat Scientology posed to them, our family or me. It should have been obvious almost immediately and especially after a few months in Scientology but I was in a state where I couldn't think straight regarding so many obvious things. I was confused and anxious and overwhelmed by it and of course Scientology has alleged reasons for this that all involve staying in Scientology, never leaving, and doing more Scientology indoctrination, always more and deeper.

I sometimes felt like I was drawn to Scientology by an almost superhuman force and seeking fulfillment through Scientology but that nothing was ever good enough for the group or to be a sustained and stable condition. It is like a constant fight to not be overwhelmingly burdened with negative emotions and I wanted to be both myself and independent but also who Scientology required and that was a totally different person and one that is completely submissive and dependent.

Stein's model of the traumatic relationship with alternating terror and love resulting in dissociation and the inability to integrate the two parts or functions of the brain as emotional and thinking in concepts is consistent with the experience I had. I am not saying I understood some process of brain impairment while I experienced it - I am saying my experience matches her description in terms of the result.

If you have never been in a cult or highly abusive relationship it may seem difficult to comprehend. The feeling of not quite getting the ideas in Scientology and then not understanding your own feelings is crippling. I didn't know if staying in Scientology or running away was right and felt hopelessly conflicted.

Stein went on to introduce another important idea "Patterns set in childhood are important, they provide a kind of template for future attachment relationships -Bowlby called this template the " internal working model. " But Bowlby and other researchers noted that attachment statuses are not set in stone and can change in life. For example, someone with a dismissing attachment status from a rejecting childhood background can become secure later in life as a result of a secure relationship. And generally people tend to become more secure as they get older. Even those with early disorganized attachment, with the help of a later secure attachment -perhaps in a close relationship, or with a reliable and skilled therapist - can become what is termed "earned secure." Through understanding their prior disorganized or insecure relationships, and developing new, secure relationships, security of attachment can be "earned" along with a new secure internal working model of attachment relationships. Thus, a childhood attachment status is not a life sentence. " Page 35 -36

Stein described how attachment status can also be negatively changed as well and crucially focused on how this happens in cults "A person of any preexisting attachment status - from secure to good-enough attachment, or even to disorganized - runs into a charismatic and authoritarian figure, or a group led by such a figure. The totalist leader sets in place an isolating structure, a fictitious and deceptive ideology, and processes of coercive persuasion. They can then isolate followers from any prior attachments, control attachments that exist within the group, set up the group as the new - and only - "safe haven," and generate stress, threat or fear in some from to create the disorganized attachment bond. " Page 36

Stein described how Masoud went through the experience of being isolated, criticized and made to feel terror without a solution. It is extremely similar in results to my own experience in Scientology.

Stein calls this "fright without solution."

She described it "In this situation the follower is stressed by the group yet has no access to resources outside the control of the group. A state of chronic trauma in relation to the group is created. The first response to this is likely to be a state of hyperarousal or "frantic distress." However , as a general rule, the soon-to-be follower does not attribute this distress to the group, but instead may attribute it to any number of other causes, causes that will be handily suggested by the group. In fact, as is typical of totalist groups, in Masoud's case his distress was attributed to his own faults. The group, if he would just accept it, would show him the way forward. " Page 37

"In the first phase of a person's reaction to threat, their alarm response is activated, with increased heart rate, blood pressure and other signs of distress. We can perhaps imagine Masoud's feelings of fear and panic at being threatened in that meeting - was he going to be expelled ? imprisoned ? executed ? (The MEK already had a history of violence; many had been killed in the so-called struggle for democracy.) But if there is no useful action that can be taken using the physiological arousal that is now in play - if the struggle to escape the fear is unsuccessful - then eventually the body shuts down in order to conserve resources. Thus, if neither fight nor flight is effective, the only option is to freeze. Masoud's shutting down of thoughts and doubts was a result of this process.

The second phase of a trauma response is dissociation: "detachment from an unbearable situation." As previously described, in this state, both physiological states of hyperarousal and dissociation are activated: internal energy-consuming resources are simultaneously on full alert at the same time as the person is dissociating to try to shut down and conserve these resources. Imagine the toll on the body that this two-fold unresolvable process must take. Eventually, dissociation - freezing and giving up the failed effort to escape - comes to dominate. Along with giving up the struggle to fight against the group and the fear it has generated, the dissociated follower comes to accept the group as the safe haven and thus forms a trauma bond. This moment of submission, of giving up the struggle, can be experienced as a moment of great relief, and even happiness, or a spiritual awakening. " Page 38

I had the phenomenon that Stein has described here exactly happen in my own experience in Scientology. I gave in and thought I had achieved profound enlightenment. The relief of no longer holding Scientology ideas as separate from my own was awe inspiring. It created a euphoric trance that erased all my doubts, concerns, questions and worries. I have written about this moment of submission to Scientology in the past but never knew others have understood the experience so intimately and profoundly before. You could call it the sweet surrender.

Stein wrote " At this moment of giving up it appears that not only is the ability to think diminished, but also the effort to escape the source of the fear - the traumatic relationship - ceases. Like the disorganized child, the adult then also tends to seek proximity with the only remaining attachment that is, the fear-inducing relationship - rather than continue to make efforts to avoid it. Recall that this disorganized attachment results with a double effect. In the emotional realm, the person ceases to struggle and the movement TO the source of fear dominates, creating a trauma bond. And in the cognitive realm the dissociated freezing impairs higher brain activity preventing normal complex processing of both the social world in which the dissociation is occurring as well as the cognitive processing of the person's internal world." Page 38 - 39

"Giving in - dissociating and ceasing to think - is experienced as relief. In my own experience I remember well this sensation: overwhelmed with confusion and exhaustion, the thoughts that were trying to enter the cognitive part of my brain just could not make it there and they fell back out of my consciousness. Simultaneously I stopped struggling and decided to commit myself more fully to the group even though I disagreed with it. That too felt like relief - I didn't have to fight anymore. In fact, as we shall see later in more detail, key regions of the brain that connect emotional (largely right brain) and cognitive processing (largely left brain) are shut down in the disorganized and dissociated state. " Page 39

Now I want to to emphasize some categories of information. I am well qualified to describe my opinion on the experience of being in Scientology and becoming a devoted and zealous and even fanatical cult member in terms of what it felt like. That is something I am comfortable speaking on with certainty. I can tell you Stein definitely gets that part very clearly correct.
I am not an expert on brain science and must look for the evidence and education I lack to put her ideas on that aspect into proper perspective and even form an educated opinion on the hard science of her hypothesis. I have read a few books on neuroscience and neuroendocrinology but not given it the longer and more rigorous study I have given psychology and hypnosis and other subjects. I looked at lots of studies in psychology and then later studies to see if ideas are well supported or not. I just have not given the very specific claims Stein makes such scrutiny - yet.

I can say her hypothesis is plausible, not inconsistent with the ideas I do understand from neuroscience and compatible with my experience of being in Scientology regarding the phenomena she describes. That is compelling in my opinion. I believe hearing out her hypothesis in full and taking a long and deep look at the information that is relevant to her claims is called for.

Stein summed up the chapter "Totalist leaders - either directly or through their organizations - create a relationship of disorganized attachment by isolating people from their prior sources of support and replacing those with a new, and frightening, "safe haven." We know from attachment research that disorganized attachment, which involves seeking proximity with the frightening attachment figure when there is no other attachment figure or escape available, causes a dissociative response. Dissociation separates thinking from feeling. It dis-integrates the left, logical, verbal, thinking side of brain from right, emotional, non-verbal side of the brain. The dissociated person's ability to think clearly about the relationship is impaired and so they are now in a position to accept the group's views its ideology. This ideology is in place to further bolster the elements of isolation, terror and "love" and to explain away the feelings of fear induced in the follower. Emotionally the dissociated person tends to draw closer to the group as it is now their only remaining "safe haven." " Page 40

Okay, I quoted a lot from Stein because I felt that it was vital to get THIS material conveyed. Obviously I left out far more than I quoted and absolutely recommend her book for everyone to really get everything she has available and for consideration including her extensive bibliography that really backs up much of what she says.

Here I will give some of the references she used along with some works for a general introduction to neuroscience.

Regarding disorganized attachment - The Developing Mind: Toward a Neurobiology of Interpersonal Experience by Daniel J. Siegel

Regarding cults using dissociation and trauma and disorganized attachment to control people - Trauma and Recovery by Judith Herman

Attachment Theory: Eighteen Points with Suggestions for Future Studies in Handbook of Attachment: Theory, Research and Clinical Applications 2001 pages 845-887

Protea: Democratic Health and the Lessons of Authoritarianism - masters, liberal studies University of Minneapolis, Minneapolis; Stein, Alexandra 2007

Attachment, Networks and Discourse in Extremist Political Organizations: A Comparitive Case Study - Doctoral Dissertation, Sociology, University of Minneapolis, Minneapolis; Zablocki, Benjamin D 2001

Toward a Demystified and Disinterested Scientific Concept of Brainwashing in Misunderstanding Cults: Searching for Objectivity in a Controversial Field pages 159-214
Regarding brain function and attachment - Dysregulation of the Right Brain: A Fundamental Mechanism of Traumatic Attachment and the Psychopathogenesis of Post Traumatic Stress Disorder in Australian and New Zealand Journal of Psychiatry 36:9-30 by Shore, Allan N 2002
Attachment Trauma and the Developing Right Brain: Origins of Pathological Dissociation in Dissociation and the Dissociative Disorders: DSM-V and Beyond pages 107-41

Wow, that is a lot for the serious student who wants to really dig into the theory and evidence. I would at least read a few books on neuroscience to supplement this if you never have before. A very easy one is The Brain by David Eagleman. A step up is Subliminal by Leonard Mlodinow. Finally a huge step up is Behave by Robert Sapolsky. All three also have several YouTube videos available. David Eagleman did an excellent T.V. series on PBS and Robert Sapolsky has many short videos on Big Think and a long series of his lectures available that dod deep into his work.
This covers the first two chapters in Terror, Love and Brainwashing and I really focused on getting as much as possible in this series of blog posts because they need to cover so much vital information.


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Jesus Mock, that's quite a brain dump!

TL;DR is apt when you post such a huge block of text. It looks good, but I can't even get through it in a single sitting.

I will say that it looks like attachment theory helps explain the cultiness I experienced. Will have to come back later and read more (I onlt made it to post 3)

Thanks for taking the time to write this.


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This is the eighth post in a series dedicated to the book Terror, Love and Brainwashing by Alexandra Stein.

In the third chapter of Terror, Love and Brainwashing - entitled Recruitment - Stein wrote "If totalist groups are to attract recruits and set up the conditions for a later rearrangement of the recruit's close relationships they must first get the person within their sphere of influence. Then the organization can begin the isolation project, and start to position itself as the primary emotional and cognitive resource for the recruit - becoming the new, and eventually the only, safe haven. There is a three-fold process in setting the stage for the creation of a disorganized attachment bond to the group: the initial contact and gaining access to the recruit, positioning the group as a new perceived safe haven, and beginning to detach the recruit from prior attachments. Propaganda is the ideological tool wielded to accomplish this." Page 43

This may seem like a lot to take in but it really is simple if you look at each part in its own turn. If you were in Scientology or another cult yourself you can almost certainty think of how this was done with yourself by your group. A thing about cults is they almost universally have doctrine and practices that somehow emphasize the importance of the group over others or change from the beginning to require deeper commitment once you are in for a time or once your ties to the old life you had have been weakened or severed.

Stein wrote at length how many cults recruit and use contacts, personal relationships and front groups to gain members. Scientology certainty uses many of these techniques. Online recruitment and deception are frequently used today.

She described the isolation and engulfment process in detail for several groups and the common themes of getting people away from prior attachments and surrounded by and controlled by the cult. Often in cults a member progresses from outer layers of groups to inner layers. They are strongly encouraged to leave behind anyone who doesn't move into the same levels and this comes under different explanations but always puts the group and leader ahead of everything else.

She gave the example of therapy cults that often have an inner core that is fully devoted to the leader and many others in different stages of progression. They start as patients and get more devoted them often work for the group as therapists or in other roles and can work their way up to bring around the leader constantly, in service of course.

In Scientology we obviously had the public level and then staff at an org and finally membership in the Sea Org. Having experienced at least a taste of all levels in my twenty five years in Scientology I can say two things for sure - it fits the model Stein described regarding progression and I would not recommend doing any of Scientology to anyone.

Stein described a key aspect "Secrecy is a powerful control mechanism in many areas of group life, but in the recruitment phase it functions particularly well to establish isolation early on.
These various isolating tactics mean that the only people with whom the new recruit can reflect upon their (often upsetting) experience are those already in the group or undergoing the same training. They are, in effect, forbidden from sharing and reflecting their experience with persons outside the system. Thus they lose the benefits of checking in with their preexisting support figures, who are likely to reflect and remind them of their prior beliefs and values. How handy, then, that the totalist group is ready to supply its very own claque - the new safe haven - to reflect and validate it. " Page 53

This was definitely true in Scientology. I was discouraged from trying to explain Scientology to outsiders and inside Scientology discussions are discouraged as being verbal tech and disagreement is seen as stemming from misunderstood words possessed by the cult member as a student and the cult doctrine by Scientology founder Ron Hubbard is always assumed to be absolutely infallible, doubts are seen as a lower ethics condition of the cult member as the leader and his ideas are placed above doubts and questions as both perfect knowledge attained through advanced science and divine wisdom above criticism as the sacred science described by Robert Jay Lifton in his eight criteria for thought reform. That ends sharing and reflecting upon Scientology with other cult members. It just is accepted as always correct.

And preexisting support figures are cut off because they cannot possibly understand the thousands of new terms from Scientology without long and dedicated study. Hubbard made it especially confusing because he gave definitions that used his new terms in the definitions of each term, resulting in chasing after a word in a definition that leads to another word of his and a word or ten in that definition and on and on and he gave many definitions for terms and often they were contradictory, so the poor student has to try to resolve this without admitting and contradictions or flaws in Scientology. Finally Hubbard used Orwellian reversals often - calling something the exact opposite of what it truly is to further confuse things.

So Scientologists do not understand Scientology. Good luck to outsiders.

Stein described how propaganda functions to disable critical thought "The belief system, or ideology of the group, supports the isolating relational shifts. The totalizing ideology of the cult establishes and encourages the division between Us and Them, and gives the theological, political or other ideological rationale for breaking ties with family, friends and other preexisting attachment figures. This is often already evident in recruiting propaganda, which is how the recruit first encounters the group's ideology." Page 53

Many groups begin separating the world into black and white views of good and evil right in the beginning. In Scientology Hubbard separates the world into sane and good people and contrasts this against insane and evil people who he says have no shades of grey in much of his doctrine.

Stein described propaganda at length " Propaganda is the smooth advertising that belies the oppression of life within the group. It is the bunch of flowers presented by the future batterer with which he woos his new romantic partner. Put simply, it is the set of lies put forward by a group to present itself as acceptable or even attractive. Few would willingly join an organization that ends up controlling every element of life, but many might be interested in charitable works, or developing themselves spiritually, politically or socially. Few women would deliberately enter a relationship in which they are to be beaten. They are wooed into it. Propaganda serves this initial wooing function. " Page 54

"Apart from the important cases of those press-ganged or kidnapped, propaganda plays an important role in what we might call "voluntary" recruitment. (It is important, however, to remember that people do not join totalist organizations, they join causes they believe in or think will do them or others some kind of good.)

Propaganda consists of the ideas, messages, images and narratives that are used specifically to communicate with the outside world. It is often delivered through the front groups that form the outer shell and entry point for many totalist groups. Front groups serve as transmission belts between the internal world of the cult and the external world, and propaganda is the message carried along these transmission belts.

Propaganda is not indoctrination, though it may be the first step towards entering a process of indoctrination. Indoctrination is what happens during the subsequent process of brainwashing within an isolated context. Importantly, those to whom propaganda is directed are not yet isolated or are only partially so. They still have some points of reference in the outside world. They may still have friends or family or colleagues with whom they can check out their impressions. The much more intense process of indoctrination to extreme beliefs occurs when the new recruit has been successfully separated from their external contacts. Then they can begin to be broken down, to lose their own sense of reality, their own common sense, and they can eventually be pressured to take on new and often dangerous or damaging ideas and behaviors. This part of the process can sometimes take years. Propaganda can be seen as the softening up process that gets the recruit to the point where indoctrination processes can start to be implemented.

Propaganda must be believable enough, must have some kind of hook into the real world so that potential recruits will follow the thread and not simply be repulsed immediately. Certainly they are not to be scared off with promises of suicide missions, 20-hour work days, forced marriages, divorces, pregnancies or abortions, or other threats to their close, loving relationships. " Page 54
This take on the difference between propaganda and indoctrination is entirely relevant and even crucial to understanding cults, totalist groups and Scientology. Hannah Arendt certainty pioneered this work and her ideas are similar to many Stein displays.

In Scientology Hubbard separated his doctrine into that which is meant for many different kinds of audiences which he called publics. He wanted each audience to only get messages appropriate for them. He had messages for people outside of Scientology and for people new to Scientology and for people who have been deeply involved in Scientology. He even had a part of the Scientology organizations set aside for dissemination to new people, another for new people in the public divisions with their own courses and course room separate from the main course area for more advanced members called the academy.

He also has references for staff members and specific positions and others for Sea Org members and these again get broken up by positions, advancement in rank and in training.

Scientology is like circles within circles within circles.

Propaganda is certainly used through human rights front groups, anti psychiatry front groups, literacy and education front groups, drug rehab front groups and on and on. Scientology has dozens of them.

Propaganda is also used to get new people to try Dianetics and Scientology techniques and courses.

Stein was correct in pointing out that effective propaganda must serve several functions. It must have some appeal to draw people in, it must find a way to begin isolating recruits so they do not get to see what outsiders think of it, it must discourage reflection and open discussions by new recruits regarding the doctrine within the group.

Stein summed it up "Thus totalist groups have one brand of discourse - propaganda - that is outer-directed and recognizable to the outside world, and another - indoctrination - which is a different language and set of ideas directed solely to members within the group. Persons, outside the inner group are rarely privy to the language and ideas of indoctrination. " Page 55

I have realized that Scientology with its many layers of outer groups and inner groups has different information and doctrine for different purposes. Dianetics is mainly a recruitment tool, though it overlaps with many parts of Scientology. The policy letters on the first two staff courses (staff status I and II) are very different ideas and from the heart of much of what staff follow. All Scientologists are required to follow the policies regarding ethics (which emphasizes total obedience to the group) and study technology (which requires treating all confusion or awareness of contradictions or disagreement with Scientology doctrine as indicating unhandled barriers within the student and never actual errors or flaws within Scientology)and Keeping Scientology Working (which has many requirements as the core values of Scientology).

Though they are introduced early in Scientology indoctrination these key policies are strictly enforced once one joins the group in earnest. Many more extreme ideas and behaviors are introduced as one progresses in Scientology, often but by bit until one has their life totally controlled by Scientology.

Stein elaborated "In the recruitment stage, one of the tasks of the group is to begin to disable the target's critical thinking. Social psychologists Petty and Cacciopo describe two ways in which people process information and become persuaded: the central and peripheral routes of persuasion. A key purpose of propaganda is to begin to edge new recruits away from the central, critical route into a primarily peripheral mode of processing information about the group.

Central route - or systematic - processing involves careful evaluation of information and requires quality information, sufficient time and the ability with which to think about a problem or question. In deciding to join a specific group a potential member engaging in central route processing would take time to gather information from a variety of sources and make careful comparisons and an evaluation of the pros and cons of this commitment before reaching a decision. They might do background research on the history of the group, talk to current and former members, and seek out both critical and positive information.

Peripheral route - or automatic - processing, on the other hand, involves being persuaded by cues and rules of thumb that are logically unrelated to the actual content of a persuasion message - they are "peripheral" cues, focusing on surface attributes of the message or messenger. A person deciding whether to join a particular group using only peripheral route processing might feel rushed by a sense of urgency: "One time offer! Sign up now!" They might find the recruiter attractive, be inundated with testimonials, or have participated in a highly emotional group "peak experience," among many other types of peripheral persuasion cues. Peripheral route processing results from rapid decision-making under time constraints, a quantity of weak arguments, rapid presentation and distractions, such as strong emotional arousal. In this way decisions are made based on peripheral, rather than central, characteristics of the question.

Groups that wish to persuade potential recruits of their benign intent, and need to hide their internal practices and beliefs, rely on recruiting people by making use of the peripheral route of persuasion to begin to derail critical thinking. " Page 56 -57

Stein is touching on a key area in psychology and cultic studies. The central route and peripheral route are covered in the great book on neuroscience Subliminal by Leonard Mlodinow, it is a superb and very easy read that covers a lot on our behavior. The definitive guide to this topic is probably Thinking Fast and Thinking Slow by Daniel Kahneman. He dug deep into this and won a Nobel prize for his work on the central and peripheral routes. Perhaps the best work significantly dealing with this regarding cults and indoctrination in particular is Cults In Our Midst by Margaret Singer, one of the top cult experts ever who interviewed over four thousand ex cult members.

Stein summed this up "The group's propaganda most serve to prevent the recruit from examining too closely its actual practices and history and instead must sway them through overwhelming their critical thinking with superficial and emotionally arousing information and experiences. Through deception it engages recruits by presenting the group in a non-threatening light. It begins to introduce the language of indoctrination in preparation for consolidating the recruit as a group member. And, finally, it begins to justify the isolating strategies of the group in order to remove the recruits' prior attachment relationships. " Page 57

I could probably write a few books covering how Scientology is designed entirely to do this. Scientology uses many methods to knock out central route processing and encourage peripheral route processing. I have already written dozens of posts here on that very topic. Whenever I have written on Scientology impairing or turning down or turning off critical and independent thinking THIS is exactly what I am talking about.

Blog posts here address this, such as:

Insidious Enslavement : Study Technology
Basic Introduction to Hypnosis in Scientology
The Critical Factor
The Secret Of Scientology Part 1 Control Via Contradiction

Burning Down Hell - How Commands Are Hidden , Varied And Repeated In Scientology To Control You As Hypnotic Implants

Together these posts cover the methods Hubbard used to try to knock out the central route and control the peripheral route to indoctrinate people successfully.

I strongly recommend anyone interested in how cults work explore the topic further.

EZ Linus

Cleared Tomato
Why don't you publish your findings with references to the parts you've gleaned from expert texts and how they've effected you personally? It can be a sort of mixture of an abstract and a survivor's story. It seems like it would be an excellent tool/addition/gift to everyting else we have available.

The book I've written is along these lines, but not at all written in this style. It doesn't have a forensic, or even anywhere this detailed approach to what I felt happened to me, or how I used each piece of psychological study to slowly bring myself out of it--not that I ever did completely. I cite everything I talk about, and I have since had additional theories about what happened to be since I printed the book.

If I thought it could all be fixed by reading Cults in Our Midst, the Crowd, and dipping my feet into some social psychology, that would have been a great. But as you know, being a Scientologist for a couple of decades, that isn't good enough for us. We need to know why. Exactly why, and how it happened to us, and what the antidote is. Not that simple. If science knew everything about the brain by now, wouldn't that be something. They don't. Everything is not knowable. But a lot is. Maybe even enough is.

I was able to read through much of what you wrote, but then I had to pee and took a break. When I came back, I got antsy and started typing this. I understand a great deal of the things you stated because all of it crossed my path in the 17 years I dedicated my life studying cults after I left Scientology. Even the experts don't agree fully on what hypnotism is, or where the line crosses on what "counts" as a dangerous cult. Are 12-steppers in a cult? The Catholic church? The US Army? Amway?

From everything I have studied, yes, all of them are, but not the US Army. I have no interest in the Army by the way, but they do not lie to you about what you are getting yourself into, or otherwise trick you into an alternate reality, take your money, nor do they punish you, or shun you for leaving.

It is true that some people are more susceptible to being a victim of a narcissist or a cult because of early trauma. It becomes biological, in fact, especially if its super early during attachment. Those fucked up messages can what you might say, "engrave" pathways in the brain that will cause the person to not have the same healthy self-preservation abilities most others have, like resilience, self-worth, and knowing who or what to trust (understanding what is safe). Like how some parts of the brain are used to recognize facial features--it's almost like the person may not recognize what is detrimental as much as someone who was nurtured as an infant.

This doesn't mean someone with a perfectly wonderful upbringing can't fall prey to Scientology or something else. People get brainwashed by their own psychologists all the time. Brilliant people. Brain Wilson is an example off the top of my head. There's this thing I've mentioned before about Illusion of Control by Proxy where people assume another person with an authority title: "Doctor," "expert," etc. know more than they do and will willingly hand over their control. This, in a sense, is a form of hypnosis.

Out of breath for now.
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How Cults Work - Undue Influence In Recruitment

This is the ninth post in a series dedicated to the book Terror, Love and Brainwashing by Alexandra Stein.

Stein described "undue influence mechanisms in recruitment" :
"A variety of other social influence techniques are employed in the recruitment stage. They include: obedience to authority, as demonstrated in Milgram's famous electric shock experiments; Festinger's theory of cognitive dissonance; the majority effect shown in Asch's" lines" experiments; and ingratiation techniques such as flattery, similarity and making use of the principle of reciprocity. These and other scholars have defined a variety of ways in which we, as humans conform, comply and obey - all features necessary to group living, but behaviors that can also be subject to manipulation. " Page 57

"These social psychological processes are used to great advantage by totalist groups. They are very important to understand, but they are not the focus of this book. Writers such as Cialdini, Lalich, Singer, Hassan and Zimbardo have described these well and studying their work results in a tremendous pay off in terms of protecting one from making poor decisions based on rather universal human vulnerabilities." Page 58

I have read quite a bit regarding this topic and can personally recommend Influence by Robert Cialdini as fundamental to understand psychology, Take Back Your Life by Janja Lalich regarding cults and abusive relationships and their similarities, Cults In Our Midst by Margaret Singer as one of the absolute best books on cults ever with simple language and clearly communicated ideas, Freedom of Mind by Steven Hassan with his model of cultic influence and a very easy to understand delivery that encompasses much of basic principles in cultic studies, and I also recommend Cults Inside Out by Rick Alan Ross which has a comprehensive analysis of cults and cultic references and could be used for an entire curriculum on cults with the references described in great detail, an absolute must for serious cultic students. Additionally A Theory Of Cognitive Dissonance by Leon Festinger is essential to understand psychology and cults, reading this book is crucial to understanding the subject.

To address Scientology in particular my highest possible recommendation goes to the work of Jon Atack. His Scientology Mythbusting articles at The Underground Bunker blog and articles such as Never Believe A Hypnotist, The Total Freedom Trap, Hubbard and the Occult and many more dismantle much of the undue influence in Scientology and his book Piece Of Blue Sky is probably the most accurate and detailed history of Scientology available.

As I have said before I have written numerous blog posts at Mockingbird's Nest on the undue influence used in Scientology and feel the work of Alexandra Stein fills a hole that was left in earlier models. It in my opinion compliments the ideas Daniel Shaw provided in his book Traumatic Narcissism and together they explain key issues regarding how cults work as relationships and on a social or group basis rather than just examining individual cult members or just the leaders of cults and no one else.

I know further on Stein gives more answers regarding the relationships that tie cults together and how they work. We already have her crucial new, to me, ideas of trauma alternated with love to create dissociation and impaired critical thinking as the way to control cult members.
Stein adds a few ideas regarding who is vulnerable to cult recruitment to close the chapter.

"The search to find "who is vulnerable" to totalist recruitment is destined to continued failure. Cult recruitment is primarily the result of situational vulnerabilities not personality vulnerabilities (or what social psychologists call situational as opposed to dispositional factors.) What are these situational vulnerabilities ? Singer, who counseled thousands of former cult members, described a key vulnerability as being in a normal life "blip." That is, some recent, yet developmentally normal, change in life situation such as a recent move to attend university, a divorce or other relationship breakup, perhaps a death in the family, or a change of job or housing. WAr, natural disasters or social upheavals - such as the breakup of the former Soviet Union, or the current collapsed states of Syria or Somalia - can contribute to weakening family and community ties leading to increased social fragmentation and isolation. Simply living in the contemporary developed world, with fewer neighborhood ties and more dispersed families, means most of us live in increasingly vulnerable social networks. " Page 59

So, Stein has shown how what situation one is in is the source of vulnerability to cult recruitment, not anything regarding a particular person like their psychology. She contrasted a political group and a political cult and found people in very similar circumstances joined one of the other. So, if you end up in a cult or more benign group is mainly a matter of luck.

A key difference is that the political cult, The Newman Tendency, had members severe all or nearly all affiliations with non group members while the Green Party, the more benign group, had people usually keep all their old friends and associates from before when they joined. Normal groups do not need to isolate you because they do not rely on you having no escape. Normal groups do not need to severe your connections to the outside world because they are not relying on isolation and alternating terror and love to control you.

Stein described it "The totalist group thus further isolates a person from prior relationships, while the non-totalist one is likely to have no effect at all on the person's previous relationships.
For over half a century, then, scholars of totalism from Arendt to Zimbardo have found that there is no personality profile of a potential recruit to a totalist or extremist group. The latest UK government report has come out, confirming yet again that "researchers concluded there was no 'vulnerability profile' to help identify those at risk of becoming radicalized without creating an 'unimaginable number of false positives.'

As these studies show, it is unhelpful to continue looking for a profile of a "typical" terrorist or cult recruit - most of us could become vulnerable given the right conditions, the right group and the right time. A far more fruitful approach is to understand the profile, methods and operating (perhaps we should say "hunting") grounds of the organizations to which people are recruited, and to be able to distinguish effectively between open and relatively benign organizations from dangerous, totalist organizations that are capable of exerting extreme levels of control over their members. Developing a profile of such organizations would enable societies to begin to educate and protect the public from such recruitment and indoctrination attempts." Page 60

I cannot stress strongly enough how much I agree on the last point - we need to understand that cult recruits are not especially stupid, crazy, evil, sadistic or masochistic. They are just people in situations that are vulnerable as everyone is. The groups themselves have common traits, like requiring members to sever ties to outsiders,that need to be identified and for the public to be educated regarding. That is probably the best general defense against cults.

Stein closed the chapter with "By the end of the recruitment phase the recruit (whether voluntary or involuntary) has been pulled away from prior attachments. They are being taught that these attachments are holding them back (or they have simply been removed from their attachment figures as in the case of child soldiers). The leader and the group have been established as the sole available source of comfort and knowledge, the new safe haven. Recruits are becoming busy and engaged with their groups, and they are increasingly exposed to the groups'totalist propaganda. Cognitively the person's independent thinking has been disrupted by a variety of social psychological persuasion pressures, as well as by the loss of their prior social sources of reality verification. The recruit's prior emotional and cognitive structures that have been part of their means of survival and adaptation to life are now effectively removed or neutralized. " Page 60

In the next chapter Stein takes on how the disorganized attachment bond forms in the indoctrination.


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Why don't you publish your findings with references to the parts you've gleaned from expert texts and how they've effected you personally? It can be a sort of mixture of an abstract and a survivor's story. It seems like it would be an excellent tool/addition/gift to everyting else we have available.

The book I've written is along these lines, but not at all written in this style. It doesn't have a forensic, or even anywhere this detailed approach to what I felt happened to me, or how I used each piece of psychological study to slowly bring myself out of it--not that I ever did completely. I cite everything I talk about, and I have since had additional theories about what happened to be since I printed the book.

If I thought it could all be fixed by reading Cults in Our Midst, the Crowd, and dipping my feet into some social psychology, that would have been a great. But as you know, being a Scientologist for a couple of decades, that isn't good enough for us. We need to know why. Exactly why, and how it happened to us, and what the antidote is. Not that simple. If science knew everything about the brain by now, wouldn't that be something. They don't. Everything is not knowable. But a lot is. Maybe even enough is.

I was able to read through much of what you wrote, but then I had to pee and took a break. When I came back, I got antsy and started typing this. I understand a great deal of the things you stated because all of it crossed my path in the 17 years I dedicated my life studying cults after I left Scientology. Even the experts don't agree fully on what hypnotism is, or where the line crosses on what "counts" as a dangerous cult. Are 12-steppers in a cult? The Catholic church? The US Army? Amway?

From everything I have studied, yes, all of them are, but not the US Army. I have no interest in the Army by the way, but they do not lie to you about what you are getting yourself into, or otherwise trick you into an alternate reality, take your money, nor do they punish you, or shun you for leaving.

It is true that some people are more susceptible to being a victim of a narcissist or a cult because of early trauma. It becomes biological, in fact, especially if its super early during attachment. Those fucked up messages can what you might say, "engrave" pathways in the brain that will cause the person to not have the same healthy self-preservation abilities most others have, like resilience, self-worth, and knowing who or what to trust (understanding what is safe). Like how some parts of the brain are used to recognize facial features--it's almost like the person may not recognize what is detrimental as much as someone who was nurtured as an infant.

This doesn't mean someone with a perfectly wonderful upbringing can't fall prey to Scientology or something else. People get brainwashed by their own psychologists all the time. Brilliant people. Brain Wilson is an example off the top of my head. There's this thing I've mentioned before about Illusion of Control by Proxy where people assume another person with an authority title: "Doctor," "expert," etc. know more than they do and will willingly hand over their control. This, in a sense, is a form of hypnosis.

Out of breath for now.
Well, I have put out over three hundred blog posts and tried to work things out as best I can. Some include ideas on my experience but most content is about Scientology and cults in general.

We obviously will never have a perfect understanding of the mind, relationships and groups but if you take ideas from a hundred or so relevant sources you will probably be far better off than you would be if you stuck with Scientology or did nothing to recover.

regarding what is it isn't a cult I think Margaret Singer got it right. A cult is a group that tries to control all of nearly all your decision making. Robert Jay Lifton have us the eight criteria for thought reform to identify a cult and I think Alexandra Stein has done a great job in describing the relationships in a cult. Many people have good descriptions to consult like Janja Lalich, Rick Alan Ross and Daniel Shaw.

I think only a tiny fraction of ex Scientologists five deep into cultic studies and read dozens of books on psychology, neuroscience, hypnosis, totalitarianism, critical thinking, rhetoric and on and on to understand cults, relationships and people as well as as they can.

If these studies lead to recovery that is great. It in my opinion involved principles Stein describes regarding integrating experiences or content that involved trauma and dissociation. She described getting the emotional half of the brain and the logical half working together to integrate experiences as essential. This is similar to other ideas regarding getting ideas expressed to more fully form and understand them going back to Jon Atack and John Stuart Mill in On Liberty.

EZ Linus

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Well, I have put out over three hundred blog posts and tried to work things out as best I can. Some include ideas on my experience but most content is about Scientology and cults in general.

We obviously will never have a perfect understanding of the mind, relationships and groups but if you take ideas from a hundred or so relevant sources you will probably be far better off than you would be if you stuck with Scientology or did nothing to recover.

regarding what is it isn't a cult I think Margaret Singer got it right. A cult is a group that tries to control all of nearly all your decision making. Robert Jay Lifton have us the eight criteria for thought reform to identify a cult and I think Alexandra Stein has done a great job in describing the relationships in a cult. Many people have good descriptions to consult like Janja Lalich, Rick Alan Ross and Daniel Shaw.

I think only a tiny fraction of ex Scientologists five deep into cultic studies and read dozens of books on psychology, neuroscience, hypnosis, totalitarianism, critical thinking, rhetoric and on and on to understand cults, relationships and people as well as as they can.

If these studies lead to recovery that is great. It in my opinion involved principles Stein describes regarding integrating experiences or content that involved trauma and dissociation. She described getting the emotional half of the brain and the logical half working together to integrate experiences as essential. This is similar to other ideas regarding getting ideas expressed to more fully form and understand them going back to Jon Atack and John Stuart Mill in On Liberty.
I couldn't agree more. I just think you have something to offer: your insights, having been a Scientologists for 25 years, your studies, and the combination of which texts, and perhaps which parts of those texts, are the best to resources to get one on the right path--immediately. As you know, disassociation is probably the worst symptom or after-effect when coming out. I would've done anything to have that knowledge shot up in my arm like a drug the moment I knew I'd been duped. On the other hand, it maybe possible, like in the stages of grieving a death, we have to go through the process of disbelief and anger, etc. I'm no expert. I'm well read in the same texts as you are, have my own opinions and experiences from the 20 years I was in and prior trauma before I went into it, but I'm self-educated. Not an experienced researcher.

I hear you though. My own book isn't about what a person coming out of a cult should do either, it's just a memoir. And it's not 100% about my experience in Scientology. However, I do go over the steps I took to find my sanity and which books were essential to me. I think sharing that is helpful. Anything you published widely would be helpful, but maybe you can't get wider than the Internet.

I am not sure if I agree with what you said about being better off sticking with Scientology than if you did nothing to educate yourself once getting out. Unless you were use hyperbole and being sarcastic? I was confused about that.

And yes, starting with books like Jon Atacks' and a few others written around the time as Piece of Blue Sky are important to get things rolling, and are especially relatable. I also suggest Margery Wakefield's Testomony. I think I'd read everything that was out by every ex-member at that point (in 2000) right before finding her book online. It was her account of OT III that woke me up! I was only a measly "Clear" and hadn't paid for my OT levels yet.

Captive Hearts Captive Minds (speaking of Janja Lalich) is also unbelievably educational and covers comparisons, like how even a "cult of one" is no different than the hold Scientology has over a person's mind. Battered women (and men) in controlling relationships deal with this kind of thing all over the world.

You mentioned political cults. I thought of the Manchurian Candidate just now, and how war can be the worst result of politics. But when you first brought it up, I think it most likely sparks an idea of young Muslims being lead astray into joining Al-Qaeda, or any idealistic person being lured into a passionate group with potentially fatal outcomes. Or the Alt-Right, or any political ideology gone out of control and creating extreme separatism. There's people I've known who were recovering from being stuck in the Lyndon LaRouche group. They suffered the exact same symptoms any ex-cult member does. They too are cult survivors. I have learned that doctrine never matters. The group's purpose can be all about unicorns. It makes absolutely no difference.

I think Rick Ross is an excellent resource. For a long time, in the beginning, he didn't have the greatest reputation in my eyes, so it did take me some time to warm up to him, but once he aligned himself with all the right literature, experts, doctors and activists, it was pretty easy to recommend his website as a resource. Now it's one of the biggest, most important resources out there, and even my "go-to" place to find out if a group I may be suspect of has been on his radar. I trust him now.

Anyway, it's been nice having this dialogue even though we come at this from two different places. I am not the most articulate, but I have my own style, I guess you can say. I like to call it "style." It's better than calling myself a fumbling klutz. I think that might have its own charm too?

Hmmm. Wishful thinking.


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Regarding sticking with Scientology, that is not what I have done and I do not recommend it. I think many, many, many other approaches are better than Scientology. My point was that almost any other method is better than Scientology.


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We obviously will never have a perfect understanding of the mind, relationships and groups but if you take ideas from a hundred or so relevant sources you will probably be far better off than you would be if you stuck with Scientology or did nothing to recover.

That is saying recovery using a hundred or so sources is better than Scientology or doing nothing, meaning both Scientology and doing nothing are not beneficial to recovery.


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How Cults Work - Totalist Indoctrination

This is the tenth post in a series dedicated to the book Terror, Love and Brainwashing by Alexandra Stein.

This post is on chapter four - Totalist Indoctrination.

Stein starts with a Quote from Hannah Arendt:
"It has frequently been said, and it is perfectly true, that the most horrible aspect of [totalitarian] terror is that it has the power to bind together completely isolated individuals and that by doing so it isolates these individuals even more.

Only isolated individuals can be dominated totally." Hannah Arendt, Essays in Understanding

In Scientology I always felt like I never quite knew where I stood in the group and always felt like things were chaotic and insecure. I kept thinking that stability was around the corner or required a change that never seemed to arrive. Now I understand we were isolated from deep and meaningful relationships but packed together with no time or room to explore anything else and certainly no time to consider what we were doing or even use reflection to integrate our thoughts.

Stein wrote "The two elements of isolation of the follower and positioning of the group as the new safe haven as discussed in the previous chapter, have prepared the follower for indoctrination in the totalist system. There is continued, and now nearly complete, isolation from prior friends and family (unless they are in, useful to or confirming to the group). The follower's life becomes almost totally swallowed up by the group. And finally, with the follower isolated from prior sources of support, the group arouses threat, fear or stress in some form. This sequence is not necessarily a linear process, and can take many forms - all, however, can result in a relationship of disorganized attachment and chronic dissociation that is at its heart. Whatever form they take, these three elements - isolation, engulfment and fear arousal - are fundamental to the brainwashing process.

This process takes place within a totalistic organization, and so, to understand it, the organization as an entity, an organism itself, - its structure, the processes that keep it going, its birth and death - must be understood. And at the same time the experience of the follower who is subjected to brainwashing, their journey into and through the organization, must also be understood. There are, then, these two interrelated processes to grasp. It is at the nexus of these two entities that the core mechanism of brainwashing takes place: the action of the organization upon the follower to induce a relationship of disorganized attachment whereby the leader can gain and maintain control of followers.

When the process of brainwashing or totalist indoctrination by the group is successful there is a threefold outcome. The followers' feelings are disrupted and an attachment to the group and/or leader is formed. Their thinking, and in particular their ability to think about their feelings and attachments, is in turn disrupted. Finally, followers can then become deployable - that is, able to be directed to engage in actions regardless of their own survival interests. Deployable followers lose their autonomy of thought and action. " Page 63 - 64

Okay, that was a ton to quote but I felt it is vital for portraying the model Stein used and some of its most important points.

To me this is the difference between a cult and other type of group. The cult does these things in these ways to operate in this manner.

in Scientology I experienced all of this. I was encouraged to leave all outside attachments, subtly and slightly at first but it steadily grew over months. There was arousal of distrust of outsiders, so I would not ask anyone outside Scientology any important questions. The schedule rapidly became all day every day, even if I was promised a day off, somehow something important would come up so I had to be at the org.

Always having to be there and never getting paid while being pushed to finish courses and programs faster and faster and needing to never fall behind on my training produced extreme anxiety. And in Scientology you are subjected to spot checks and checkouts in which, often with no notice, you are asked for the correct in context definition of words from your course materials.

If you fail to give the exact correct definition for the context without hesitation or doubt you get flunked and have to go back in your materials to where the word appeared, use Scientology word clearing on the word THEN restudy your materials from that point forward. It may be a page back or hundreds of pages back. That produced terror in students.

I also experienced everything described regarding feeling attachment to the group and leader, my ability to think was disrupted by the Scientology indoctrination system, I had awareness of contradictions in Scientology and flaws with the doctrine reframed by Scientology doctrine and practices as misunderstood words, meaning it you find contradictions or flaws in Scientology doctrine you are always treated as if you have words you do not understand and your anxiety is called nervous hysteria, your sense of reelingness or confusion is attributed to a skipped step in understanding, your hesitation, a not there feeling or dead feeling is attributed to a lack of seeing the subject or misunderstood words.

Many phenomena associated with cognitive dissonance from contradictions are relabeled as being from misunderstood words in Scientology. A blank feeling, a not there feeling, hesitation and much more.

Doubts are seen as proof of your own hidden evil acts as is wanting to leave. So you learn to push aside those criticism filled thoughts and subsequently censor your own critical thinking.

When you have accepted the language of Scientology it is jam packed with loaded terms. These terms have concepts in the definitions that include accepting cause and effect relationships between words and phenomena, criticism of Scientology and hidden acts, wanting to leave Scientology and hidden crimes and words that assumes these relationships are genuine and beyond rational doubt. So, as you truly accept these terms and constantly think them thousands and thousands of times reaffirming their infallible certainty you become deployable. After all, you become absolutely sure everything Hubbard wrote is true and know your survival depends on this knowledge for eternity as Hubbard told you so.

cleared cannibal

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I haven't read all these but will attempt to do so in the coming days.

What you say about the language is what I decided long ago. To be hurt by Scn one has to think in Scn. I have come to believe that ALL who leave cults experience PTSD and one never knows what will bring it on. You can distance yourself from it and isolate it but you can never free yourself from it. I saw this article in a blog I follow some and I think it very applicable to EX Scn.



I am not alone.
he’s here now.
sometimes I think he’s
then he
flies back
in the morning or at
noon or in the
a bird no one wants.
he’s mine.
my bird of pain.
he doesn’t sing.
that bird
swaying on the
—Charles Bukowski

There are books and programs on how to cope with it, but the only real and good start how to cope with it is to “push on and on” until that ugly bird goes away… not completely, but far and high enough so you can live something like a normal life.
My second piece of advice is: have someone close, someone that you can talk to about what you are going through, someone who will listen to you.
You need a friend.
That bird can not be killed, but it can go away for long periods, or very high above you if you ask for help.


For many here that friend is those of us on ESMB


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Second part to last post.

Stein went on to describe isolation and engulfment:

"To take the first two elements of the brainwashing process: as the group consolidates the isolation from friends and family that began in the recruitment stage (if there was one) they simultaneously engulf the follower in group activities, surrounding the recruit with other group members"

"In order to more completely isolate the follower and ensure they become focused on the group, the group controls the follower's time, their communication with others and the communication they receive. " Page 64

"But fundamentally the combination of isolation and engulfment results in a situation that the philosopher Hannah Arendt describes as people being "pressed together" so tightly that there is no space between them, "so the very space of free action - and this is the reality of freedom - disappears. The space between people, she says, is what makes up the "world." It is in the space between people that conversation, speaking to one another, occurs by which "everything that individuals carry with them innately becomes visible and audible." In other words our differences and individuality, our different experiences and different views only become real, in a sense, when we are in conversation with others across this space that separates us, that allows us this difference. Arendt sees this conversation as the essence of real friendship.
But in a totalist system, no differences are allowed - all are pressed together and compelled to have a single set of beliefs, goals and behaviors. With only a single view, a single, absolute "truth" allowed , then no conversation is needed - after all, in such a case we already agree on everything, we already (apparently) experience everything in the same way. What then, is there to talk about ? In fact, what is key in totalitarian groups is a constant monitoring to ensure nothing "worldly" (this is the very word used in many, bible-based cults) is talked about. And certainly nothing "anti-organizational" - as it was called in my group - may ever be discussed. Indeed, in our case, being accused of anti-organizational talk, thinking or behavior was considered the greatest crime. " Page 68

"Contrary to the stereotype of cult life, followers are isolated not only from the outside world, but in this airless pressing together they are also isolated from each other within the group. They cannot share doubts, complaints about the group or any attempt to attribute their distress to the actions of the group. At the same time as this isolation from other people - either within or outside the group - is occurring, there is also a deep loneliness and isolation from the self.The time pressures, sleep deprivation and the erasure of the individual mean there is never any opportunity for solitude - that creative and restful state where where contemplation, thinking and the space in which changes of mind might occur can take place. As there is no space between people, neither is there any internal space allowed within each person, for their own autonomous thought and feeling. Thus there is a triple isolation: from the outside world, from others in the group and from one's own self. " Page 68

Okay. This describes exactly what my experience in Scientology was. We were packed together with how we communicated controlled. We drilled looking into each other's eyes for hours, so we did it the same way. We drilled how to begin communication, how to continue communication how to end communication. We followed a formula on how to communicate. It has how to communicate down to exact steps, with little room for variations.

in Scientology the communication you receive as a member is rigidly controlled with no interruptions allowed during indoctrination on course or while in auditing. Often Sea Org members and staff have their day scheduled to the minute.

Many forms of communication are monitored or banned in Scientology. There is no joking and degrading allowed, you are not supposed to joke around at all about Scientology. You are never supposed to acknowledge failures of Scientology technology.

Saying or writing anything critical of Scientology organizations or leadership is treated as a crime or betrayal in Scientology. In Scientology conformity to group norms and obedience to authority intersect as the group norms and obedience are one. No dissent is permitted by either.

We were discouraged so strongly from expressing any individuality that often entire conversations and relationships were just people looking at each other as required in drills, communicating as required in drills and saying the terms and phrases from Scientology doctrine to each other over and over like robots. Scientology even has drills to address the fact that Scientologists act like robots when they talk to each other and outsiders. We practiced by saying things as if they were our own original thoughts. This was to hide the fact that we were regurgitating the same phrases and doctrine from Scientology over and over.

Scientology also uses drills to get people used to setting aside their personal boundaries. You get used to being sworn at, yelled at, touched and directed and controlled by other people and you get used to controlling other people too. You get used to violating their boundaries and setting your own aside. So there is no safety or security in this relationship.

your conversation and personal expression are so rigidly controlled in Scientology that you might be around other Scientologists for years but never be friends. Between the schedule, lack of closeness between cult members and the monitoring of your own thoughts and behaviors no contemplation of negative aspects of Scientology occurs.

In fact I one day realized something in my life was wrong and couldn't figure it out. I had begun to look at the parts of my opinion life and began listing them out. I immediately ruled out Scientology as the source of anything negative and realized something - I ruled it out with no actual consideration, as if it cannot be even looked at and should be automatically assumed to be so infallible.

I realized I had automatically been seeing Scientology as blameless and not being objective or even really consciously looking at it as possibly flawed for decades. That was deeply disturbing.

It is one thing to use independent and critical thinking to carefully compile evidence and arguments for and against something and to weigh them against each other, but I was skipping that and as a habit on a subconscious level automatically acting like the decision was made.
I was separated from my own capacity to judge some things, particularly things that Hubbard didn't want Scientologists judging. The three fold isolation Stein described is exactly what Scientology provides.