After leaving “school”, I started reading everything I could on cults, mind control & undue influence. The more I read, the more descriptions of “school” I saw – it was quite the wake-up call. The more the experts cast “school” under the cult light, the more my wracking cognitive dissonance disappeared: cults deceive and justify deception for the “higher cause”; cults deliberately confuse, obfuscate, demand secrecy, exactly like “school”.
My latest anti-cult read is the updated version of Combating Cult Mind Control. Author Steve Hassan’s BITE Model outlines four components of control: behavior, information, thought & emotion. In the next four posts, I will plug my tenure into his model and see if it fits. Today’s installment … BEHAVIOR!
Hassan writes … “Behavior control is the regulation of an individual’s physical reality … control of where they live, what clothes they wear, what they eat, how much sleep they get, what jobs, rituals and other actions they perform …”
On first blush, “school” does not fit this model. I lived at home, with my husband and stepson. My “classmates” also lived with their families. They had normal jobs, friends, interests. “School” was not overtly telling me what to wear, or eat, when to sleep, when to wake. It looked benign, at first, benevolent even.
That is what is tricky & confusing about “school” — this cult has perfected the art of slow-growth indoctrination. It planted seeds in recruitment, when I was sharing my trials with my “new friend”, Lisa. When invited me to “try a … free five-week experiment!” the roots sprouted. They started crawling out with this requirement: “It’s very important that you don’t tell anyone about this … it’s private, just for you!” The roots started extending and coiling with my bi-weekly attendance — every Tuesday and Thursday — in the “casual discussion group”. “Casual” morphed into rigid when specific rules of engagement, or non-engagement, dictating & shaping interactions and behaviors came into play. “School RULES” included …
- Observe ten minutes of meditative silence before “class” – no casual conversation with classmates.
- “No unnecessary talking” – “unnecessary” meaning anything beyond discussion of the “secret” (cough, but not really) “ideas”, or asking for “help” from “teachers” with “only life things.” Over time normal conversations were deemed “gossip.” (horrors)
- “No fraternization outside the hallowed halls” – do not engage with “essence friends” out “in life”. Pretend to be strangers to “protect the invisible world.”
- No Internet Research! You have all had your own experiences of “school”. Don’t poison them!
- Do not discuss “school” with only-life friends & family – again, protect the invisible world!
Note how all policies pointed to don’t speak, don’t think, keep secrets, don’t question, don’t freely converse. Note how all of them restrict interactions between “students”. “School” deemed these requirements “experiments” – indeed “school” “taught” that our lives were “experiments”. BUT all things “school” were beyond the beyond! You could not compare it to, or experience anything like it, anywhere else! Therefore our “essence friendships” needed to be “finer” than our not-so-evolved only-life relationships. They fell under a different and more refined set of rules.
When “students” questioned the secrecy and rigidity, “school” responded by saying, we are “experimenting” and to “…extend a nickels worth of trust, while maintaining a healthy skepticism”. That positioning made the required silence easier to swallow because it gave the illusion of choice and free will; we were “experimenting” in the spirit of “refining our vibrations”. Oh, and by the way, our silence “protected the sanctity of THE WORK against those who would destroy it” — thus inducing the necessary “us vs. them” ideology typical of cults.
The longer my tenure, the more rules popped up. The weeds, lengthened, thickened & tangled. I accepted them and behaved accordingly. The more I followed “school rules”, the more they informed my psychology, vines twisted around, snaking through my belief system like wisteria. By the time I “graduated” from the “free 5-week experiment”, a.k.a. “the youngest class”, into the “older class” –and tuition kicked in at $350/month — I’d accepted the following dictates as “necessary for my evolution”:
- Arrive ten minutes early. Sit in meditative silence until a “teacher” announces “It’s time for tai chi” or “it’s time for body work”
- Practice “tai chi”, or the flalling free-for-all known as “body work”, for 30 minutes.
- Silently march to our seats to silently wait for “teachers” to arrive (“teachers” often delayed grand entrances — thus increasing our anticipation as we observed “meditative silence” & “non-fraternized”).
- “Discuss” “secret ideas” in “teacher”-orchestrated “conversations” — i.e. “students” standing up & silently waiting to be called on, sorta like grade school.
- “Observe 1 hour of silence” after “class” — to “seal yourself off“; “don’t leak!“
Any sharing of last names, occupations, phone numbers, email addresses, normal family stuff constituted “leaking!” — except when shared in the context of “class discussion” with proper “teacher” monitoring. In my cult coma, I didn’t notice how much “school” control had started leaking out of the hallowed halls and into my “only life things”:
The sustainer — invisible meetings and phone calls between “classes” with this assigned “mentor”, allegedly put in place to support the “younger student”. Really “sustainers” are minders, responsible for “retainment”. “Sustainers” must do “whatever it takes” to insure that their mentees don’t notice that they are in a cult and decide to leave. More on this in the information control post.
Assignments — “Teachers” dole out specific assignments, like any other school. The longer your tenure, the more evolutionary readings & tasks to complete. At a certain point, I realized that there was never enough time to complete all the required assignments.
The 5-week aim — “School’s” holy grail! Every 5 weeks, we “stated” “aims”, or goals, and we held each other to them. Over time, the phrase, “your AIM is your God” started echoing down the halls. “Students” who “didn’t make their AIMs” disappointed the group. And God. They endangered humanity! The longer my tenure, the more the “aims” served the higher cause (cough), “school” being the far more critical “soul-manufacturing” process than insignificant marriages, children, jobs, oh, and you can forget about piddly personal passions, dreams, ideas, etc. All must be shoved aside for “school”.
Self sensing — every morning, as “school” cogs drift from sleep to wake, we were required to scan ourselves from head to toe, then sense the bed, the room, home, lawn, neighborhood, town, state, country, continent, etc. etc. etc … all the way up to sensing the planet, as we rose above the earth, in spirit, and looked down from “the starry world”.
Morning prayer — in coordination with self sensing, good doobies repeated this prayer: “Good morning, God – How can I serve you today?” Then we waited for the answer.
The creepiness of this “school” infiltration into my bed didn’t put a dent in my cult coma; I accepted these exercises as necessary for “refining my vibrations”. But, the truth is that I “failed” at “self sensing” & “the morning prayer” almost every morning & eventually I gave up. Both exercises felt contrived and I’ve never done contrived very well. Every morning, while attempting to “self-sense”, I fell back to sleep. God never answered my “morning prayer” — well, that is until the morning I asked God whether I should graduate myself. After leaving, I learned that many “essence friends” lied about their self-sensing/morning prayer efforts. One could curry favor easily by reporting “amazing” self sensing and morning prayer results.
Once you’re in the psychological state of currying favor, the group has taken your psyche hostage, and you are nicely positioned for the next step in behavior control.
Hassan writes that cults always have authoritarian chains of command.
“School” positioned its “teachers” as those who have been “doing the work longer”; they “know better”! Their “help” is “above” the “level of life”. They have refined their vibrations and are floating above the coarse, sleepwalking sea of humanity. I have come to see that humans are wired socially to strive for approval and acceptance. You can see this in children who — for the most part — live to please their parents. That child like need for acceptance works on us as adults, in all kinds of social situations. More on this in the emotional control post. Over time, my wish to please my teachers started to drive and shape my behaviors.
Meanwhile, “school’s” Boston-branch hierarchy lined up: in the bottom tier, “school” coddles its “youngest students” giving them a honeymoon period of roughly two years. On the next level, “younger students” answer to “older students”, who are slightly more “evolved” but answer to “sustainers” & “teachers”; next step up, both “sustainers” & “older students” answer to “teachers”; ultimately, in Boston, “teachers” and everyone else, first and foremost, answer to Robert. The phrase “You need to ask Robert” echoes down the hallowed halls. After leaving I learned that Boston is merely the inferior satellite branch; the real power lies with Sharon at corporate headquarters in NYC. More on this in the information control post.
The longer my tenure, the more “school” coddling was replaced by humiliation and admonishment; “teachers” increasingly employed this brand of “help” through the enlightened secret “ideas” — “you are in a lazy set of I’s“, or “you are in self will”, or “you are in internal considering”, “you need to do what *it* doesn’t want to do” blah, blah, blah. (Note the special loading of language). They were doing us favors, exposing our “chief weaknesses”, holding us to “higher standards” than those who are “sleepwalking” through “only life” without the “help” (cough). Those who weren’t “working on themselves”. Humans — I have learned — will avoid humiliation like this at all costs. It is a very powerful social engineering tool. Humiliation is an effective way to demand obedience. More on this in the emotional control post.
Hassan writes, “Obedience … is the most important lesson to learn” . Once the cult has established dependence obedience follows naturally.
The longer my tenure, the more the requirements stacked up. The vines tightened and wired around my “only-life-things” and shaping my behaviors — “private” phone calls between myself and my “sustainer”, or “teachers”, or other “essence friends” increased with each illustrious task, as well as “invisible” meetings, “help” and demands. My innocuous lies increased exponentially in concert with each new demand, wedging between myself and family and friendships, etc. Secrets devoured and chocked out more and more of my life.
Once sufficiently indoctrinated and deemed “ready” by the powers-that-be, soul manufacturing requirements increasingly included “making new friends” and inviting them to try the “free 5-week experiment”. “School’s” “invisible” agenda started dogging my life. I filtered every interaction through these questions: does the person standing behind me at the CVS, or in the bank, or in my yoga class (etc.) have a “magnetic center”? Is he, or she, a fellow “essence friend” seeking “THE WORK”? Would he or she benefit from “school”? Should I be constantly engaging with lost souls to see if they want to try a “free 5-week experiment”? Should I be inviting all of my “only-life” friends to “refine their vibrations” and manufacture souls?
My behavior followed those dictates, my belief system followed the behavior. Cognitive dissonance rattled my psyche, tearing it apart. A battle started raging inside between, starry-eyed believers and inner rebels who simply didn’t want to recruit newbies, hated the whole process, especially the hidden agenda. More on this in emotional control.
Hassan writes that cults discourage individualism. This is where his initial assessment starts becoming more apparent: the regulation of an individual’s physical reality … control of where they live, what clothes they wear, what they eat, how much sleep they get, what jobs, rituals and other actions they perform …
“School” was patient. It waited until indoctrination had set in before overtly demanding certain things. I was roughly 2 to 3 years into my tenure when teachers started saying that “school” doobies should distinguish themselves as superior creatures, in a variety of behaviors. For example, “school” started instructing us that society had become “too casual and coarse”. As “evolving men and women” we needed to refine our vibrations and dress well. They didn’t provide specifics — only that we should “put some effort into our wardrobes.”
Also, “school’s” started proclaiming that its illustrious schedule should supersede all else. God forbid a “school” doobie should interrupt his/her evolution with a family vacation, or miss a “class” to attend his/her child’s high school graduation. etc. During the holiday season, “school’s” Christmas Party was to trump all things “only life”, including sleep and other only-life things that one might need for good health and optimal functioning.
Predictably “un-schooled” family & friends became concerned, upset & justifiably angry. What is this weird group that you are in and why does it trump our life and relationship? Are you in some kind of a cult? Thus we all turned to “teachers” for “help”. “Teacher’s” doled out prepackaged, predictable and pat behavioral prescriptions, such as …
- Find out what your [NAME RELATIONSHIP HERE] wants and give it to him/her.
- Plan a special event, or dinner, for your unhappy [NAME RELATIONSHIP HERE].
Eventually, “school” brings out this lovely bit of “help”…
- Your [NAME RELATIONSHIP HERE] is jealous that you are doing what you love! Tell him/her that it is none of his/her business!
… because, of course, the un-schooled, only-life, person is unfairly persecuting “school”. (Sounds kinda like a certain Republican presidential candidate, does it not?)
Thus we scrambled around trying to patch up the “school”-inflicted damage by practicing “school”-prescribed remedies; they were, at best, superficial and, at worst, intentionally damaging. The longer my tenure, the more “help” I requested and the more damaging the “help” became. The more I allowed “school” to dictate my behaviors, the faster the cult wheel spun, spewing out its seeds, weeds proliferating exponentially, choking the life out of my lowly “only life”.
Hassan writes, “Each particular group has its own distinctive set of ritual behaviors that help bind it together. These typically include mannerisms of speech, specific posture and facial expressions … Doing these little things helped make us feel we were special and superior. Psychologists call this ‘social proof’.”
Once I left the ranks, I started to recognize the correlation between uttering “school” vocabulary – a.k.a. loaded language — and taking on accompanying inflections, attitudes, tones, postures & facial expressions. I wasn’t familiar with the term social proof, but the extent to which “school rules” had been shaping my behaviors became excruciatingly clear. Trust me, stay in long enough, follow all “the rules”, your “only life friendships” will end and your “only life family” will be baffled and hurt by your “evolutionary” cold, uncaring and contradictory behavior. You will be both sufficiently indoctrinated & isolated from “the others”.
I have spoken with a number of ex-members from various cults; they all practice a version of behavioral control. Most have to grapple with the embarrassment and shame of allowing some nefarious group to dictate behavior that, when in their right minds, they would never condone. But, when you’re in a cult, you are not in your right mind. When you’re in a cult, you are increasingly under the command of some narcissistic sociopath, and you may not even know it. More on this in thought control.
Lastly, Hassan writes, “A cult’s leaders cannot command someone’s inner thoughts, but they know that if they command behavior, hearts and minds will follow.”
In my never-ending pursuit to understand how I allowed “school” to shape my behavior, thus sculpting me into a cult cog, I am pulling “school” weeds out of my psyche. I see how behavioral dictates snaked through my emotional and psychological state — a state that justified “the rules”, a belief system that I was lucky to be a member of an exclusive group of superior humans, who pretended to be humble, but were really “operating on a higher level” than other inferior creatures. I was “evolving”. I was “protecting the invisible world” and its “secret & sacred ideas”. We were “refining our vibrations” and rising above “only life things.” Thus, we needed to behave in a “finer” (gag) manner. All of this was contributing to the betterment of society and humanity!
So … does “school” fit the behavior component of Hassan’s BITE mold? In my opinion, absolutely. But, you have all “had your own experiences of ‘school’ and can draw your own conclusions.”
We’ll explore information control next week.