Steven Hassan’s book, Freedom of Mind is about “helping loved ones leave controlling people, cults and beliefs.” The thirteen chapters guide the readers in understanding how controlling groups operate, and how it affects the person under their influence, and offers a method of reaching the person to help get them out. The book offers helpful strategies for families and friends, and suggests an intervention model that utilizes a unified team approach.
To help the team understand what their loved one is experiencing, several theories of social control are introduced, along with Hassan’s BITE Model. BITE indicates control of Behavior, control of Information, control of Thoughts, control of Emotions. Control over these elements leads to “control over a person’s identity” and “promotes dependency and obedience to some leader or cause.” (Pages 23-33 explains this in detail.) Hassan suggests that this control results in the person having their authentic identity suppressed and their cult identity strengthened. The job of helpers is to connect with the person’s pre-cult or authentic identity.
Team members must be well informed so they do not accidentally strengthen the cult identity. Team members are chosen carefully and have specific tasks to do. For example, they should accept invitations to attend events with the loved one; it gains the trust of others in the group, and helps disarm the loved one. If the helper were to attack the group, the person would retreat further into the group. The other main job of a helper is to get the loved one to recall life outside of the group. This breaks through the distorted view the cult has given of life outside of the group, and helps the individual reconnect with their authentic self. The helper should help the loved one to recall happy times, accomplishments, and relationships. This breaks through the all or nothing, black or white thinking the group promotes. The third task of a helper is to plant seeds of doubt by asking a well-planned question, here and there. This must be done without reinforcing cult doctrine.
The advantage of a team approach is helpers have moral support. They can utilize a former member of the group as consultant to help them understand what the loved one is learning and they can anticipate common missteps. This team approach is Hassan’s “Strategic Interactive Approach.” The goal is to get the individual to eventually agree to meet with someone outside of the group who is an ex member of the group or a similar group.
Hassan recommends that family members do their own self-improvement work before approaching their loved one. If they are not working through their mistakes, addictions, or bad habits, the loved one can remain judgmental and entrenched. If the family is working with a therapist, they can ask the loved one to attend a session and express their hurts and needs. If the family is working to improve itself, the individual has one less barrier to returning.
This book provides a good baseline understanding of undue influence and how cults and controlling people operate. I recommend it as a must-read book for anyone who wants to help a loved one who is caught up in a controlling group. Having a loved one lost inside of the group can be debilitating and feels hopeless. This book offers specific, research-based steps to take, to help your loved one leave the group on their own volition.
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