Emotional control is the third component of mind control and the intention is manipulate a narrow range of a person’s feelings using primarily the emotions guilt and fear. “Guilt and fear are necessary tools to keep people under control” says Steven Hassan. “Guilt is probably the single most important emotional lever for producing conformity and compliance.” Hassan describes four types of guilt: historical, identity, guilt over past actions, and social guilt.
Guilt over the U.S. institution of slavery or the Japanese internment camps during World War II are examples of historical guilt. Guilt over not living up to the expectations of family, or living up to one’s fullest potential, are examples of identity guilt. Guilt over a spousal affair or causing serious bodily harm or death because of drunk driving, are examples of guilt over past actions. Guilt over childhood poverty or the homelessness of veterans, are examples of social guilt.
All of these forms of guilt are exploitable by a cult leader and most people cannot see that guilt and fear are being used to control them. People are conditioned by the social environment we live in, especially in religious environments, to always blame ourselves for faults, failures, and flaws. When a leader points out a fault, a failure, or flaw, we often respond by being grateful for it, the idea being that with awareness we can improve, and we can, but we never take the credit.
Fear is used to manipulate and control members of a cult in two ways; first, is to create an “outside enemy” who is “persecuting” the group. Depending on the group, this “outside enemy” might be law enforcement or FBI, rivals from another group, psychiatrists or “deprogrammers”, Satan or supernatural evil spirits. In this way fear is used to bind group members together; they self-reinforce thoughts and behaviors that are “protective” of the group, doctrine, and leader.
The second way is through establishing fear of dire consequences for failure in commitment to the group, and discovery of failures by the leader and group. Dire consequences can be instilled in members during hypnotic trance states induced during the indoctrination process; these are called induced phobia; this can be social disgrace, loss of status or rank, or as Hassan points out, the unlikely idea of nuclear holocaust if members fail be committed enough to the group.
Phobia indoctrination is one of the most powerful methods of control. Horror stories are often told, in lectures and in informal gossip, of “what will happen” if one ever leaves. Examples were: “becoming lost and defenseless in the face of dark horrors“, “going insane“, “being killed“, “becoming drug addicts“, or “committing suicide.” The result of these lectures and gossip is panic reactions; sweating, rapid heartbeat, and anxiety over the thought of leaving the group.
In order to keep control of a group through their emotions, feelings have to be redefined; by redefining feelings they can used as tools for control and exploitation. For instance, “happiness” becomes the state defined as following orders or serving the leader; “suffering in order to become closer to God”, recruiting new members, earning more money for the group, or it can also be defined as status and the sense of community provided by the group.
In a cult, the most highly desired emotions are loyalty and devotion to the leader, the doctrine, and the group. Members are taught to never think or feel for themselves or their own needs; instead they must always think of the group and never complain. Members are not allowed to feel or express negative emotions toward the group or leader; they can only feel or express negativity toward outsiders. Criticism of the leader is forbidden, only self-criticism is tolerated.
Interpersonal relationships are controlled by the leader; “Leaders can and do tell people to avoid certain members or spend time with others.” The misuse of behavior modification techniques (“reward and punishment”), foster dependency on the leader and group, and a feeling of helplessness in the individual. Members are kept off-balance, never sure where they stand with the group leader; one minute they may be praised, the next severely criticized.
Members are also encouraged to make confessions of any past sins or wrongful thinking; the confession becomes a powerful tool for emotional control any time a member deviates from the proscribed behaviors or thinking. Disobey the group or leader and the sin is hauled out and used against the member to manipulate them into obeying; leave the cult and it becomes blackmail. Anything confessed while in a cult can and will be used against the individual later.
Cults will claim that members have free will and can leave any time they want but induced phobias of the outside world, introduced during indoctrination, ensure there is a psychological barrier to prevent members from leaving. Once a person’s emotions are successfully brought under control, thoughts and behaviors will follow.
In Delphi, emotion control was the easiest component of mind control to manipulate in an online environment. Chat room environments are made for conversation; that is their whole purpose. People go to chat rooms to talk; often they vent about problems, discuss situations in hopes of getting some useful insight or advice from others. Much of time people who go to chat rooms are looking for approval and validation they don’t feel they get in their offline environments.
Thus, it does not usually take long for people in an online chatroom to discuss situational origins of guilt. In Delphi, all four of the guilt forms were common; with guilt over past actions, identity and social guilt being the types most likely to be revisited for purposes of manipulation and control; these were the types most often manipulated through the posted “Demands for Accounting”, and once confession was made, it was constantly revisited as punishment.
Basically, individuals self-reported in chats during discussions with others they assumed were friendly and helpful. Later, if they did something to get themselves summoned to the forum of the self-appointed forum protectors”, they would find their worst offenses (from confessions) featured in a written statement regarding their character along with accusations regarding offenses. This was usually met with confusion and explanation; creating an official confession.
Arguments would go on until usually, the person either gave up and apologized to end the argument or was counseled by friendly helpful people to just apologize and get the fight over with. Once they apologized, the thread was treated like a matter of official public record and any further stepping out of line or “wrong-doing” would result in new accusations referring back to that original accusation and confession as testament to personal character.
Identity guilt was often used to humiliate members, especially if a personal detail of offline life was considered suspect. As an example, a member who told conflicting stories about their offline job would be harassed and humiliated until a satisfactory explanation was given. A member who pretended to be drunk in chats five nights a week would be accused of being an alcoholic. Much of the time such accusations were phishing attempts to get better information for manipulation.
Social guilt was used in one of two ways; first was guilt by association and involved faction affiliation. If the group had a questionable history, it was often used to make the faction look dishonest or stupid to the new member in an effort to get the new member to leave. If the faction had been honest about their past or the past of their notable members and the new member chose to stay; then social guilt was applied because the new member “must be just as bad”.
Sometimes social guilt is tried against an individual to “drive a wedge” between them and others and it fails; when this happens, the target is accused of being brainwashed by the leader of their faction group. This is usually what happened when the “Delphi Protectors” wanted to try to push someone to quit a faction, without totally alienating them. Such a claim might make a person suspicious of the faction leader and ready to believe the worst at an opportune moment.
Fear was used in Delphi in all kinds of ways, not the least of which was induced phobia during the Delphi indoctrination process, “The Delphi Game”, especially during the “Delphi History Lessons”. Every member had their own stories about self-appointed “Protectors of Delphi”, their “demands for accounting”, threats about running people out of forums and off the server entirely, but also, everyone had their stories about being kicked out of the “community”. Factions also talked up the loss of faction protection, loss of “status” and loss of “respect”.
Being kicked out of the “community” may or may not entail being kicked out of a “faction”; but the loss of faction protection, meant loss of status and loss of respect; the way most members talked, if that happened you may as well quit Delphi altogether. Even if you left for a while, people would be “keeping records” on you and why you left. The “Protectors of Delphi” made it clear that without their acknowledgement, a member was a “nobody”. But they were anyway.
A member was only ever a “somebody” in the forum of the “Protectors of Delphi” if they were useful to that group. To be useful, you had to be a good follower and agree to whatever they said or told you to do. Once you were no longer useful, it was back to being a “nobody” again. “Happiness” was “being in good standing” with your faction and with the “Protectors of Delphi” or at least in good standing with a forum host. “Happiness” was often a chat moderator hammer.
The idea was to get people to believe that one group had the ability to grant “status” and “take it away” at their discretion. It was remarkably successful for a while; most of their rivals were convinced this was the case. But there was more truth in the perception that if one’s profile name was known at least by reputation, there was a certain amount of status that could neither be granted nor taken away. Some members became fairly notorious on the server on their own.
Multi-forum flame wars last for months were waged on Delphi because criticism became “talking shit”; friendships were won and lost on the perception of loyalty and devotion, or the lack of it. One person says something negative about someone else in a private conversation and someone else witnesses and reports it. Suddenly the speaker is a “traitor” and “backstabber”; the ones doing the reporting are the “shit-stirrers” if the warring parties work it out.
Some leaders did exercise control over interpersonal relationships on the Delphi server – or at least tried. Factions dictate who members can be friendly with, and if they are friendly with someone who is unapproved, members are threatened with being kicked out. “You don’t know that person like we do” was a common statement. I was warned about one member by his rival; “he is a psychic vampire”, ironically by people who claimed to be “psychic vampires”.
Have you ever had someone get upset because you are friends with someone they don’t get along with? Have you ever had a family member get upset and forbid you from associating with someone they don’t approve of? It is a manipulation that originates in insecurity and a need to control others. People who do this don’t care about how you feel, or how you are affected by their need to separate you from others to control you, it is all about them and their needs.
In Delphi, I was once cautioned against apologizing to others on the server; it was explained that in Delphi, apologies were admissions of guilt and signs of weakness. I was raised that it was okay to admit to making mistakes and apologizing was a polite way to make amends. Everyone makes mistakes; only the insecure pretend otherwise and refuse to apologize because they are afraid to look weak to others. This was one area I had to learn the hard way.
On Delphi, an apology with or without admission of having offended someone was grounds for grudges, vendettas, and feuds. Whatever offense committed, deliberate or accidental, it did not matter; you were only “forgiven” temporarily. The minute you crossed anyone at all, every offense you ever committed would be paraded across the screen in posts all over again, for years and years. Sometimes offenses were so old that members had to provide proof for accuracy.
Confessions were also extorted through “Demands for Accounting”; the self-appointed “protectors of Delphi” were notorious for summoning other people to their forum to explain themselves on a list of accusations usually involving “community rules” (not the same as server TOS violations). If a member appeared and explained themselves, they may or may not be “forgiven” or treated as though they were “lying”. Threats are made for refusal to respond.
The only thing worse than apologizing in Delphi; or “accounting” for your “wrong-doing” where it would be held against you permanently, was confessing or apologizing for something you didn’t actually do just to shut accusers up. Eventually, I not only stopped responding to summons and accusations, I started unapologetically laying claim to every accusation made against me; my whole faction adopted this strategy; it showed the accusers had no real authority or power.
In Delphi phobia indoctrination did not tend to be as extreme as examples provided by Steven Hassan, though elsewhere on the internet, depending on the context, they are likely to be accurate or even worse. In Delphi it amounted to “Delphi History Lessons” involving stories of individuals being kicked from factions, leaders being removed from leadership, forum bans, and “exiles”. But everyone also learned to dread being called to task in a hostile chat room.
It was common for individuals to get the beating heart, rapid pulse and sweating usually associated with high levels of anxiety when called to a chat room with a rival or someone they had offended in some way. Sometimes certain individuals would describe rivals as being particularly scary chat room bullies; this would serve to control members, they would not seek “the other side of the story” if they were afraid of the person whose story it was to tell.
Getting the other side of the story was generally unacceptable with one exception; the loaded language phrase “dialing direct” made it acceptable to cut through typical factional divisions to compare notes from time to time. This was useful when one had become indoctrinated enough to “The Delphi Game” that one could sense a “friend” running a con game that put your group on the outs with two other groups, one of which was neutral and the other a rival.
“Dialing direct” in that instance prevented a big ruckus and caused much amusement when a rival turned out to be more terrified of a chat with me than I was of a chat with her. There was also the induced phobia indoctrination of being called a “coward”, “skeered”, or “weak” if you refused to answer a forum summons, either to a hostile forum or chat, or if you left the forum before its members were done with you. Of course you were “free to go, no gun held to your head”, but if you left, you were “too weak to handle the forum/faction”.
If you refuse to go to a rival faction’s forum, it’s because you are “hiding from them” or “hiding from being forced to account for your wrong-doings against the community”. Not because you got sick and tired of watching grown adults act like school yard bullies, tearing each other down, then try to tear your down too because you objected to the abuse. It wasn’t because the abusiveness heaped on people caused you to despise the abusers for their insecurity.
Likewise, if you deleted your forum, deleted your profile and left Delphi, it was because you were “too weak to handle this server”. There was an implication of status for staying and putting up with the abuse, especially if you paid a membership and a forum fee. There was even more status implied for members who could manipulate other members into deleting their forums and profiles and leaving. It was considered a “win” against a rival in “The Delphi Game”.
In the “Dark Forums of Delphi” some members believed that being cruel to others was a sign of strength. That being decent and tolerant was a sign of weakness. They did not see this kind of behavior as the lack of discipline and character weakness that it is; or that it was the mark of a personality that is truly powerless in the real world. They had to create a false reality and exert a control of others they could never get away with in the offline world.
This meant they had to create a system and operate from a foundation built on paranoia, suspicion, and fear. They had to “unify” everyone else against “enemies” they were creating themselves. This is not unique to Delphi; it is not unique to an online format; this is true both online and offline. The only thing that disrupted it in the end was for the “enemies” to realize they were being manipulated into playing an assigned role; to seize the role and examine it.
Then examine the whole structure of the cult indoctrination and mind control process, the nature of the environment and its “rules”. Everything about Delphi was balanced on emotional control. Who you care about can be used against you, and to influence you, to get you to do what others want you to do. In Delphi this affected the way people were thinking and it affected the way they were behaving.
And this is happening everywhere; all over the internet and off of it. It is occurring in families, in churches and mosques, in political groups, in Facebook, Twitter, LinkedIn, YouTube, all over news media comment sections from the left to the right. Who you care about can be used against you, and to influence you, to get you to do what others want you to do. Many people have no problem recognizing this about the Government, because they are being conditioned against it.
But the Government is not a political party; it is not a religion, it is not an ideology. Who are your “authority figures”? Who is it speaking to you from the internet, the TV, or the talk radio? Who do they work for? Who do they really work for? Who is really signing their paychecks? How do the ones signing media and internet spokespeople’s paychecks make their money exactly? Who is plundering us all? Who is taking your money to “fight the Government”? Or the “Liberals”, or the “Conservatives”? Why?
Political parties? Religious groups? Politicians? Lobbyists? Wall Street bankers? Foreign Governments?
Next up, a closer look at Information Control. Thanks for reading.
***This is part 14 of a series of posts on cults and cult indoctrination online. It will focus on the book that played such an integral role in ending the indoctrination process on the Delphi Forums server; Combatting Cult Mind Control by Steven Hassan. This series will be heavily revised and updated; the purpose is to show that Delphi is not unique.
The same process occurs elsewhere on the internet; Al-Qaeda and Islamic State did not invent it; they did not even innovate it. Facebook, Twitter, YouTube, none of these sites were first to find themselves the vehicles of fake news, propaganda, or truth decay. There are much bigger cults out in the world; awareness is key to stopping the cycles.