“In Kurt Lewin’s Three-Step Process, “Changing” refers to the process of imposing a new personal identity, with a new set of behaviors, thoughts, and emotions, to replace the original personality. Changing takes place after the original personality is broken down during the unfreezing phase. Personality is not broken down in change management by the way; the environmental culture is broken down and changed; affecting norms of behavior.
But in dangerous cults, unfreezing and then changing account for the quick, sudden, and radical shift in an individual’s personality that family members and friends often notice. Indoctrination into the new identity takes place both formally (seminars, rituals, meetings) and informally (socializing with members, reading and listening to cult material). Many of the same techniques used in unfreezing are continued into the changing phase.
According to Steven Hassan: “Repetition, monotony, rhythm: these are the lulling, hypnotic cadences in which the formal indoctrination is generally delivered. Material is repeated over and over. If the lecturers are sophisticated, they vary their talks somewhat in order to hold interest, but the message is the same every time.” During this changing process, the repetition focuses on central themes of the doctrine.
In some groups, individuals going through indoctrination and changing will hear statements such as: “your ‘old’ self I what’s keeping you from fully experiencing the ‘new truth’”, or “Your old concepts are what drag you down.” The new personality’s behavior is shaped gradually at first, then more forcefully. Material that will shape the new identity is fed gradually so the person can assimilate it; analogies are used to rationalize this slow spoon-feeding process, like “before you can run, you have to learn how to crawl, and then walk, right?”
If a person begins to respond in an angry or aggressive way (this kind of spoon-feeding feels like condescension to some individuals), the indoctrinator may back off and turn the person over to another member who will continue the spoon-feeding of the doctrinal central themes, but in a more friendly, less forceful way. Another technique for changing is what Hassan calls an “induced spiritual experience”.
An individual is carefully phished for useful information by “close friends” within the group who act as informants for the leadership. The group then creates an artificial experience when at “just the right moment” this information is “suddenly revealed” to the recruit by someone who “shouldn’t have any knowledge of it”. The recruit is led to believe this “spiritual experience” is proof of “revealed knowledge” imparted to the leader from God, or aliens, or spiritual beings.
Hassan provides some examples of what an induced spiritual experience could look like: a recruit confides that he had a brother who committed suicide, to a friend in one chapter of the group. Several weeks later and following a move to a different city, a leader of the group confronts him with this information. The recruit is then led to believe the leader “read his thoughts” or “is receiving the information from the spirit world; possibly the deceased brother.
A martial artist secretly pays “hoodlums” to violently mug his students, in order to heighten their fear of the “outside world“, get them to ‘train harder“, and consequently, become more dependent on him. Another technique is to tell people to “pray to God to discover His Will for you”, implying that God’s Will is for the individual to join the group. If God’s Will is to leave the group, that will be invalidated as Satan’swhispering lies”.
According to Hassan, the most powerful persuasion comes from other indoctrinated members. “A dedicated cult member does not take no for an answer because he is indoctrinated to believe that if you don’t join, HE is to blame.” Therefore indoctrinated members are under a lot of pressure to succeed in recruitment of others. Indoctrinated members are absolutely convinced that they know what is best for you; they are more convinced of what is best for you than you are, or your mom.
In the changing process you are completely surrounded by indoctrinated members and group psychology becomes a major force within the group dynamic. People are deliberately organized into smaller, more controllable groups. Those who are more compliant are put in one group; those who ask too many questions or are stubborn individualists are put in another. The two groups are kept separate; noncompliant members are “broken down” until either they become compliant or they are asked to leave.
The changing process includes the numerous “sharing” sessions with group members, such as the confessions of “past evils”, success stories are told, and there is a general fostering of community. These group sessions are highly effective in teaching obedience and conformity because the group reinforces behavior through praise and acknowledgement and punishes non-group ideas and behavior with silence, cold aloofness, and other measures of disapproval.
Hassan says “Human beings have an incredible capacity to adapt to new environments. Destructive cults know how to exploit this strength. By controlling a person’s environment, using behavior modification to reward some behaviors and suppress others, and inducing hypnotic states, they may indeed reprogram a person’s identity.” Once this has been achieved, a recruit is ready for the next step, re-freezing.
In Delphi, individuals’ usually joined a faction and were given a new role; or they created their own faction and made do as best they could in terms of learning the local customs. Initially I had my own faction, left for a while and in my absence, was apparently absorbed into another faction. When I returned I was given a new role in that faction; that faction was rejected; I created a second new faction of my own, and then took it and merged with yet another faction. Ironically, all of the factions were noncompliant groups consisting of individualists.
The unfreezing and changing process steps involved the “Delphi History Lessons”, the “war stories” bonding episodes, and long lectures on “The Delphi Game”. Any resistance by an individual was met by clandestine mind games being played around them; much of it psychological, and some of it orchestrated to look frighteningly “supernatural”. Without the right contacts, an individual might not realize they were being manipulated or how it was being done.
Individuals would often find themselves in situation after hostile situation, on the Delphi server, the whole time wondering what was happening to them and why. In the process of trying to figure out what was really going on, and how to react appropriately; they would find themselves being changed, slowly, over time, as more and more information was spoon-fed to them by people who insisted they knew what was best for them and had their best interests at heart.
Individuals still find themselves in hostile situations, but now it’s not just the Delphi server; it’s Facebook, Twitter, YouTube, and many other online communities. Everyone is wondering what is happening here, everyone is trying to figure it out because it’s not just the familiar political, socio-economic, religious factions, it’s also foreign governments getting in on it and creating havoc. Nobody really knows how to react appropriately or what is even appropriate reaction.
We are being changed, slowly, over time, though the speed is increasing now, as more and more blatantly false information is being spoon-fed to us. Credible information and credible sources are being maligned with the deliberate purpose of undermining and sabotaging public trust. We are all surrounded by indoctrinated cultists who are insisting they know more about what is best for us, and what is in our best interests, than we do.
We are being argued up and down by the indoctrinated; they are our family, our friends. Family and friends who seem to have suddenly undergone radical personality changes, espousing beliefs that we might be wondering if they were always there and if so, how did we not notice it sooner? Or we knew those beliefs were always there, but they at least kept those beliefs on the down low because they knew those beliefs were morally and ethically wrong (or they used to be).
They have been getting indoctrinated on the internet by religious groups, political groups, social groups, socioeconomic status groups. Some of them are terrorist groups; some of them are just would-be terrorist groups waiting for the next civil war to happen. Some of them would love to see an end to the Constitution and the Rule of Law. Some of them are also foreign governments that would dearly love to see a permanent, bloody end to the United States of America.
***This is part 18 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.