The first thing to recognize about brainwashing or conversion is that people usually do not know it when they have been affected by such techniques. These techniques are very powerful and are very effective at controlling behavior and the most devious method of their use is when people have no idea when they are being used. People in the business of using forms of hypnosis, if they are respectable, will always disclose what they are doing and how they are doing it. Even when disclosed, however, even the most resistant people can still succumb to its control and influence. Needless to say, people that utilize such techniques unknowingly can be the most dangerous. It is also true that the techniques are utilized in many instances without a conscious awareness of what they are doing. Many people have been conditioned by effective conversion techniques and will go on to duplicate or reinforce those techniques in future circumstances.
Conversion and your mind
Conversion is accomplished through getting deeper into a process of progression of the state of suggestibility that your mind is in. The Russian scientist Ivan Pavlov (famous for the dog salivating experiments) identified the 3 general states of the human mind. The most aware and alert state is full beta consciousness. This is also known as the EQUIVALENT phase. This phase is marked by the brain responding equally to both strong and weak stimuli.
The next phase is the PARADOXICAL phase. In this state the brain responds more actively to weak stimuli than to strong stimuli.
The most suggestible state that the mind can be in is the ULTRA-PARADOXICAL state. This state is when our conditioned responses to stimuli, and patterns in behavior, can be flipped from positive to negative or from negative to positive.
As stated by Dick Sutphen on his website entitled 'The Battle for Your Mind: Brainwashing Techniques Being Used On The Public' he says,
"With the progression through each phase, the degree of conversion becomes more effective and complete. The way[s] to achieve conversion are many and varied, but the usual first step in religious or political brainwashing is to work on the emotions of an individual or group until they reach an abnormal level of anger, fear, excitement, or nervous tension.
The progressive result of this mental condition is to impair judgement and increase suggestibility. The more this condition can be maintained or intensified, the more it compounds. Once catharsis, or the first brain phase [ultra paradoxical], is reached, the complete mental takeover becomes easier. Existing mental programming can be replaced with new patterns of thinking and behavior.
Other often-used physiological conditions that are used to modify normal brain functions are; fasting, radical or high sugar diets, physical discomforts, regulation of breathing, mantra chanting in meditation, the disclosure of awesome mysteries, special lighting and sound effects, programmed response to incense, or intoxicating drugs.
The same results can be obtained in contemporary psychiatric treatment by electric shock treatments and even by purposely lowering a person's blood sugar level with insulin injections."
Environments of conversion
Some characteristics of initial meetings that utilize conversion techniques include things that are designed to get the participant into a trance like state. This may include:
- Music with a beat between 45-72 beats per minute (which most closely mimic a slow resting beat of the heart - Most LDS hymns are played at this rate)
- Lighting and/or effects that are designed to encourage relaxation (think of the lighting in the temple endowment - when you enter the room the lights are turned down to represent a lower kingdom of glory)
- Speaking (or a speaker) that speaks in a monotone, repeating fashion. This is also referred to as a "voice roll" and is a patterned, paced style of speaking that is designed to induce a trance in the listeners. Ideally this speaking style resembles a metronome ticking away at a beat of 45 - 60 words per minute. In addition to hypnotists, this is a technique utilized by many attorneys in the courtroom when addressing jurors as well as preachers at charismatic style or revivalist church meetings. You could also identify this as the kind of voice used by speakers in many LDS church meetings or the voice recording used in the LDS temple endowment session.
Any or all of these things may be utilized to bring the participants to what is known as an alpha state. The alpha state is when the participant is ready to be reprogrammed with new information about themselves, their circumstances or how they perceive their surroundings or even what they think about to eventually affect behavior. When in the alpha state, participants are 25 times as suggestible as compared to a fully beta or "conscious" state.
Other things that will aid in creating an alpha state in the participants includes cutting off the participants from their normal routine or contact with those they would normally communicate or associate with. This could be done in any number of places but, usually, it is done in a group setting where the participants are discouraged from leaving, using the restroom or attending to personal comforts.
The telltale signs that conversion techniques are being used in meetings are:
1. The initial meeting is held in a place that is cutoff from the participants normal surroundings and regular follow up meetings are suggested or encouraged to be attended. At these meetings the participants are asked (or reminded) to follow the rules of the group, encouraged to bring in new members and most participants have some form of trigger or activation button that will remind the participant of their promised loyalty to that group, leader or organization. At some point in the initial meeting participants are reminded of the importance of keeping their "agreements" and are asked to make a vow that they will keep their "agreements". This is what is done in the LDS temple endowment session. Members of the LDS church that have attended the temple are encouraged to return regularly to "renew" the agreements made there.
2. A rigorous schedule is utilized, or encouraged to be followed, to maintain a state of physical and mental fatigue of the participants. Long hours are demanded in order to prevent participants from taking time to relax or reflect on the demands presented by the group. This totally reminds me of all the work that is asked of members of the church. Between regular church services (which are actually long - at 3 hours each Sunday - compared to worship service times of other churches) there is a demand of time and energy placed on members to serve in callings, prepare for that service, attend meetings outside of worship services related to those callings, going on regular visits to members homes for home and visiting teaching assignments, going out and doing work with or for the missionaries, preparing meals for others in the group, participating in seminary or other firesides or instructional meetings, going to the temple regularly and doing genealogy or family history. All this is in addition to all of your regular work around the house, vacation time and job.
However, when you ask devoted members of the church about all this work they do for their religion, they say it is not that much, really, or that sacrifice is what God wants from them. Usually they don't realize how much time they actually spend in these activities which take away so much time from their families or relationships outside of church. I think this may be why many active members of the church don't have that many friends outside of their church circle of friends. This causes me to wonder how much of this is by the design of the LDS church.
3. Techniques are used to increase the tension or anxiety of the participants. I think of the tension created when it is Fast and Testimony meeting Sunday and everyone in the room is wondering if they should get up and speak and bare their testimony to alleviate the awkward silence in the room. Sometimes things that are said are done so in meetings to directly cause a feeling of tension in the participants.
4. Uncertainty. This is similar to number 3 above, but it would be more directly referring to the anxiety or uncertainty related to possibly having to speak in front of the group. A public opinion poll, conducted several years ago, indicated that the number one most-fearful situation an individual could encounter is to speak in front of an audience. It ranked above window washing outside the 85th floor of an office building. There is also the uncertainty that is created when one becomes aware that they may be asked about personal or private practices or behaviors (such as sex or masturbation, for example). Participants in groups where conversion techniques are utilized often feel tempted to reveal their innermost secrets because of the environment created, or are encouraged to be involved in activities that encourage them to "remove their masks". This is par for the course in regular worthiness interviews conducted by leaders in the LDS church.
5. Another tip off that conversion techniques are being used is the use of jargon or terminology that has a special meaning to those in the group or a meaning that is different from traditional understanding. Sometimes this language is vicious in nature. In the LDS church there is most definitely a lingo that insiders are familiar with. This vocabulary includes such terms as atonement, dispensation, "latter-days", Jesus Christ (in the context as framed by LDS, inc.), Plan of salvation, endowment, agency, celestial marriage, etc., etc. Again, when asking members of the church about this jargon, they do not readily admit that these words or phrases (or others like them) mean something different to those inside the church as opposed to those outside, but when asking for definitions of these terms it becomes obvious that this is the case.
6. The final tip off is that no humor is introduced until the participant has been fully indoctrinated. Once members are considered fully active, then expressions of humor and fun are encouraged to demonstrate the joy that the participants have now "found" as part of the group. This reminds me of my mission. Meetings with investigators or non-members were highly subdued until agreements were made to join the church. Then the interaction became much more jovial and upbeat. While I was unaware of this behavior I exhibited while on my mission, the more I think about it the more I realize this was true. Laughter and fun were reserved for when in the company of "believers".
While any of the above techniques may be utilized by organizations that seek to control their members, it is readily apparent that not all of these organizations would automatically be considered bad. Many times members of such organizations accomplish much good under this influence, however, members should be able to understand when and how these techniques may be utilized so they can have a more adequate ability to choose their level of participation or to not participate. Continual involvement may result in behaviors that become detrimental to the participant when they have no idea what has happened to them.
Once the initial conversion of the participant is accomplished, critical thinking or dissent among the ranks cannot be tolerated. In order to prevent cynicism from becoming an issue among the group safeguards are implemented. If these safeguards are not implemented, members become dangerous to the control of the organization. These safeguards are known as the decognition process. This three step system is designed to prevent questioning of the organization.
The first step is ALERTNESS REDUCTION. This essentially means that the participant is kept in a high state of exhaustion, or state of sensory deprivation or confusion, to keep them from being grounded and questioning the intent of the group or looking further into the history of the organization. The other outcome of this state is to cause the participant to be confused between fantasy and reality causing the nervous system to malfunction. More overtly, cults will cause alertness reduction through controlling diet and encouraging the consumption of only fruit or vegetables (or cookies and koolaid) and limiting the consumption of a well balanced diet. Being bombarded with intense or unique experiences can have the same effect. This totally describes the MTC (Missionary Training Center - where missionaries go to prepare for going on their mission) and mission experience. Missionaries are introduced to an entirely new and intense schedule and environment that completely alters their state of alertness to receive the programming of the organization.
The next step is PROGRAMMED CONFUSION. Alertness reduction prepares you for a mental assault on your common sense. Once in this weakened mental state, the participant is bombarded with questions which are designed to confuse the person into not being able to discern between reality and illusion. This is the point when perverted logic is likely to be accepted. This can either be introduced directly or subtly by encouraging the participant to arrive at illogical conclusions on their own. The LDS church, I think, will say that they don't make any fantastical claims directly, but their questions and statements don't leave much alternative when confronted by possible alternative explanations.
The final and most essential step of the decognition process is THOUGHT STOPPING. This is essentially the step that causes the mind to go "flat". These are altered-state-of-consciousness techniques that initially induce calmness by giving the mind something simple to deal with and focusing awareness. The continued use brings on a feeling of elation and eventually hallucination. The result is the reduction of thought and eventually, if used long enough, the cessation of all thought and withdrawal from everyone and everything except that which the controllers direct. The best example of this from LDS teachings is the advice that the spirit will teach the member "all things" that they need. The very phrases repeated by faithful members of the church are designed to enhance this thinking and mindset. Actual knowledge and observations are considered secondary to knowledge supposedly gained from the spirit.
Thought stopping is also programmed into members of the church in regards to reading material that goes against teachings of the leaders of the church or is endorsed by the church. At some point, I believe, members reach that alpha state that promotes suggestibility (probably during each general conference) because they are in a trance like, open eye, state (but essentially asleep on the inside) and it is then that members are "counseled" to not seek out anything that is contrary to church teaching. It is further programmed into members that any such information is likely deceptive, evil or controlling. The irony is that the church is the one that is really controlling its members.
The interesting thing is to observe members when they are confronted with information about the church that comes from the church itself. When something brought to their attention obviously goes against what they have been taught (or created for a belief from what they have been taught), the first reaction is to deny that the information is valid. Once they have been shown the source of the information in the context of the church publication, they immediately move to minimize the impact such information has on them or their testimony. It is amazing to witness the degree to which members will work to defend the church in this effort. Only those that are able to wake up to the conditioning that has been taking place on them (in some cases for a lifetime) through regular church participation can they really see what is going on.
Of course recognizing all of these traits of groups or organizations that utilize conversion techniques does not attempt to answer the philosophical question of whether or not people should be encouraged to participate in such groups. On the one hand, it can be argued that participation leads to doing good things for people, even if it is a result of brainwashing or subtle long term mental conditioning. I'm not sure I can answer that question sufficiently. I just know that for me, participation is unacceptable because of the reluctance of members of the church to acknowledge, or even listen to, my objections with what is being taught and the methods utilized to encourage activity and discourage dissent. I wish that productive discussions could be had about these observations, but unfortunately that just won't happen.
I hope this has helped in recognizing traits of organizations that work diligently to brainwash their members. I also hope that more people wake up to the many ways in which conversion techniques are being utilized on them all the time by many different groups, media or politicians because these techniques are only becoming more common. Be careful out there!
For more websites like these, just use your favorite search engine and type in "brainwashing techniques".