Resisting “cult” influence

Are others trying to get you to think as they do, indoctrinate you, influence you, make it difficult for you to think for yourself? Sometimes it’s tough to resist, especially if they’re friends. But you can cope effectively and resist by being vigilant and knowing some basic things to watch for. To illustrate, let’s assume you have some acquaintances who want to convert you to their way of thinking. What are some steps they would probably take, things you want to watch for?

First of all, they won’t let you know they’re “working on you.” They will keep things casual and full of distractions. For instance, if they want to convince you not to get the coronavirus vaccination, they will disguise their efforts with a lot of talk about how “Big Brother Government” is always keeping an eye on you and making sure you behave.

They will become familiar with your standard reference group. It might be family, a club, teammates, a particular teacher, etc. Now and then they will mention how those models fall short of expectations, but be subtle, deceptive, amusing, confusing, and engaging when doing so. They will present arguments that contradict your role models, and always “document” their own arguments, even using bogus sources. They will casually encourage you to resist succumbing to your traditional ways of perceiving, interpreting, and evaluating events around you. They will argue that the old attitudes don’t work, and they will present alternatives to those old ways and point out how they make more sense.

They will try to become the predominant presence in your life. They will suggest that others do not have your best interests in mind, and you should “listen to us.” They will work to become a source of comfort and reinforcement for you, and make their interactions with you profitable, enjoyable, and productive. They will be available for you as much as possible, and create an “us vs. them” platform. Fostering tribalism – identification with the “us” – is a fundamental principle of indoctrination. The group will point out frequently how “them” rob you of independence, autonomy, and power. They will slowly impart the idea that “them” are to be feared, and make an effort to instill in you a confrontational model of a world-view that is simplistic: There are good guys and there are bad guys; we are the good guys, the latter are to be feared, rejected, and avoided.

The bottom line to indoctrination is to use deception, misdirection, and false information to trick you. Knowing this fundamental principle of propagandization, let’s consider what you should do when you sense you are the recipient of efforts to change your attitudes. That is, how can you resist? What should be your first line of defense? Simple – critical thinking. Too often, when you hear something new or unusual from someone, your default response is, “Really? I didn’t know that.” If you really want to cope better with information that has the potential to throw you out of balance and increase your stress, delete that default response and substitute it with, “How do you know that? Where did you get that information?” Once you have their sources, you can evaluate them with three simple questions: “Is this source reliable? Do they have an agenda? Is the agenda designed to serve them or me?”

That last question is absolutely essential. More often than not, those who would indoctrinate you are insecure, have an agenda to bolster their self-esteem, and want to use you to justify their efforts. Thus, when you sense you are a target of indoctrination to serve others’ purposes, you must ask if their arguments are supported by information from independent sources – deceptive information will not be. Ask yourself if you are being asked to passively accept someone else’s “facts,” or being required to be personally accountable for your decision – remember, accountability is a cornerstone of effective coping. Finally, ask yourself if you are allowed to appreciate and respect the needs and opinions of others – indoctrination will stress tribalism not cooperation, and it will undermine the cornerstones of effective coping: humility and empathy for the perspective of others.

There’s no secret to being in charge of yourself and rejecting those who would turn your brain into jelly. You have to align yourself with those who are not afraid to let you be yourself, and who encourage you to forge your own path, not theirs. Those who are vulnerable to indoctrination by others are tormented, guilty, and shameful about their past and want someone to pad the corners of their world. They believe it’s all about them; life is unfair and they whine and cry like sniveling children. They agree to lash out against the “others” because those “others” are the cause of their insecurities, low self-esteem, self-hatred, and fear of being left alone.  To resist losing your identity and autonomy, you must fight those vulnerabilities; you must learn to accept, not deny, your reality; you must learn to challenge the false messages of indoctrination and how to correct them before they build momentum and lead to self-destructive patterns in your life.

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