The disadvantages of being in a cult

According to mental health counsellor and ex cult member Steven Hassan, there are four components of control employed by cults in order to influence their followers and they are; behaviour control, information control, thought control and emotional control. This is known as the BITE model and it is discussed in detail in Steven Hassan’s book entitled Combatting Cult Mind Control. In this post, I will mention some of the components of the BITE model as it relates to my experience in the Jehovah’s Witness organisation.

Behaviour control

Dictate where, how and with whom members may live or associate with.

As a JW, I was not forced to live in a certain area. However, I was admonished to only associate with fellow witnesses as ”bad associations spoil useful habits.” As a result, I was always careful not to become ”unevenly yoked” with ”wordly” people, or non Jehovah’s Witnesses. This meant that forming deep friendships at school, at work and with family members who were not Jehovah’s Witnesses was out of the question. Needless to say, dating outside was religion was vehemently discouraged! (Keep yourselves in God’s love, chapter 3)

Where, how and with whom members may have sex.

Premarital sex was forbidden and so was masturbation. Marital sex was given the green light however, married couples could not fully explore their sexuality as certain acts such as oral sex were seen as unclean. (Sheperd the flock of God pg.59)

Discourage individualism, encourage group think.

As a Jehovah’s Witness, we were encouraged to be ”no part of the world” and ”to put on the new personality”. This affected the way I dressed, the way I wore my hair, and the information I consumed as well as my worldview. (Keep yourselves in God’s love, chapter 5)

Information control

-Minimise or discourage access to non cult sources of information such as: televison, books, articles, newspapers and any other information that is critical of the group.

I remember reading a Harry Potter book as a teenager and feeling extremely guilty as such books were forbidden by the organisation due to their spiritistic nature. The only literature that was acceptable to read was literature that was published by the organisation. (Keep yourselves in God’s love, chapter 6)

-Discourage contact with former members

I remember shunning a very close friend as he was disfellowshipped due to the fact that he had been critical of the organisation and voiced his negative views. Little did I know back then that I would later find myself at the receiving end of shunning due to my decision to leave the organisation. (Keep yourselves in God’s love, chapter 3)

-keep members so busy that they don’t have time to think and investigate.

Jehovah’s Witnesses are encouraged to keep busy in their organisation (Watchtower study edition 40- Keep busy duirng the last of the last days) In addition to preparing for meetings and attending three meetings per week, I also spent numerous hours in the preaching work. I would estimate that I roughly spent a minimum of 10 hours per week on theocratic activities and even more hours when I volunteered to build kingdom halls and when I occasionally did full time preaching!

Thought control

Require members to internalise the group’s doctrine as truth .

Jehovah’s Witnesses refer to their religion as the truth and they refer to themselves as the only true Christians.

-organise people into us vs them.

We were taught that we were God’s chosen people and eveyone else was worldly and probably destined for destruction at Armaggedon unless they joined us. ( What does the bible really teach, chapter 15)

-Forbid critical questions about the leader, doctrine or policy.

My friend was disfellowshipped because he had expressed that the organisation had made false prophesies in the past.

Emotional control

-Some emotions and needs are deemed as selfish, evil or wrong.

For example, it was selfish of me to seek higher education in order to have financial freedom, instead of dedicating my life to the organisation by becomeing a full time preacher. (The watchtower Study edition 2018, Serve Jehovah, the God of freedom)

-Make the person feel as if problems are always their fault, never the leader’s or group’s fault.

Whenever I felt unhappy in the organisation, public talks and publications told me that I was not spiritual enough and that I needed to do more for God.

Inculcate irrational fears about leaving the group or questioning the leader’s authority, no happiness outside the group.

There is a lot of material depicting those who leave as people who will never find happiness in life. For example, the JW broadcasting of February 2016 (minute 31) showed a man who had left the JWs because he wanted freedom. Upon leaving the religion he started taking drugs and living a debauched lifestyle which caused him to lose everything. Realising how miserable his life was outside the religion, he decided to go back to the religion and lived happily ever after. Towards the end of that scene, he gravely admonished those who were thinking of leaving the religion not to do it, as ”Satan’s world will chew you up and spit you out!”

Such emotive propaganda discourages many Jehovah’s Witnesses from leaving their religion and it fills them with fear.

What was it like for me

I definitely experienced the behaviour control, information control, thought control and emotional control. I felt like a puppet even though they said we had free will. Staying in the religion caused me to feel anxious, depressed, inauthentic and guilty, among other emotions. However, leaving meant I would be labelled as disobedient or even worse, an apostate! Such labels would lead to disfellowshipping, shunning and possibly facing destruction at Armargeddon.

What now?

One of the best things I have done since my departure from the cult has been to educate myself about how cults operate and undue influence. Steven Hassan’s Combatting cult mind control has been extremely helpful in helping me understand exactly what happened to me when I was in the cult and in helping me move forward after leaving the cult. In the next post, I will write about how one can identify a cult.

Published by Mbali M

I am a 30 something year old South African currently living in Sweden. This is a personal blog about my experience of being in a high control religious group, my departure from the group as well and how I have adjusted to life outside the group. I hope this blog inspires you to learn from difficult experiences in life and to use those experiences to propel you forward in order to help you reach your full potential and live your best life.

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