Here is Steven Hassan’s B.I.T.E. model, a checklist for the characteristics of a cult. As well as religious organization’s this behaviour can be present in many groups situations, families, working life and friendships.
The Evolution of the BITE Model – Steven Hassan
There are three components to Festinger’s theory – control of behaviour, thoughts, and emotions. Each can be affected by the other two. By manipulating three elements cults gain control over a person’s identity. Through working with former cult members, a fourth important component is identified – control of information. When that is controlled as the amount a person can receive limit capacity for independent thought. These four factors are easily remembered as BITE Behaviour, Information, Thoughts, Emotions.
The Bite Model
Regulation of individuals physical reality
Where, how and with who the member lives and associates.
What clothes, colours, hairstyles the person wears.
What food the person eats, drinks, adopts and rejects.
How much sleep the person is able to have.
Little or no time spent on leisure, entertainment, and vacations.
Major time commitment required for indoctrination sessions and group rituals.
Ask permission for major decisions.
Need to report thoughts, feelings, and activities to superiors.
Rewards and punishments (behaviour modification techniques, positive and negative)
Individualism discouraged ‘group think’ prevails.
Rigid rules and regulations.
Use of deception.
Deliberately holding back information.
Distorting information to make it more acceptable.
Access to non-cult sources of information minimized or discouraged.
Books, articles, magazines, TV, radio.
Keep members so busy they do not have time to think and check things out.
Compartmentalization of information – outsider vs insider doctrines.
Information is not freely accessible.
Information varies at different levels and missions within pyramid.
Spying on other members is encouraged.
Pairing up with ‘buddy’ system to monitor and control.
Reporting deviant thoughts, feelings, and actions to leadership.
Individual behaviour monitored by whole group.
Leadership decides who needs to know what and when.
Extensive use of cult generated information and propaganda.
Newsletters, magazines, journals, audio tapes, video tapes and other media.
Misquotations, statements taken out of context from non-cult sources.
Unethical use of confession.
Information about ‘sins’ used to abolish identity boundaries.
Past sins used to manipulate and control, no forgiveness or absolution.
Need for obedience and dependency.
Need to internalize the groups doctrine as ‘truth’,
Adopting the groups ‘map of reality’ as Reality.
Black and white thinking.
Good vs Evil.
Us vs Them.
Use of loaded language (thought terminating cliches) words are the tools we use to think with. Those special words constrict rather than expand understanding and can even stop thoughts altogether. They function to reduce complexities of experience into trite, platitudinous ‘buzz words’.
Only good and proper thoughts are encouraged.
Use of hypnotic techniques to induce altered mental states.
Manipulation of memories and implantation of false memories.
Use of thought stopping techniques which shut down ‘reality testing’ by stopping negative thoughts and allowing only good thoughts.
Rejection of rational analysis, critical thinking, constructive criticism. No critical questions about leaders, doctrine or policies seen as legitimate.
No alternative belief system viewed as legitimate, good or useful.
Manipulate and narrow the range of a persons feelings.
Make the person feel that if there are any problems its always their fault, never the leaders or groups.
Excessive use of guilt.
Who you are (not living up to potential)
Your thoughts, feelings, actions
Excessive use of fear
Fear of thinking independently
Fear of the outside world
Fear of enemies
Fear of losing ones salvation
Fear of leaving the group or being shunned
Fear of disapproval
Extremes of emotional highs and lows
Ritual and often public confessions of sins
Phobia indoctrination inculcating irrational fears about ever leaving the group or questioning leaders authority. The person under mind control cannot visualize a positive fulfilled future without being in the group.
No happiness or fulfilment outside of the group.
Terrible consequences will take place if you leave, hell, demon possession, incurable diseases, accidents, suicide, insanity, 10,000 reincarnations etc.
Shunning of leave takers, fear of being rejected by peers, friends and family.
Never a legitimate reason to leave. From the groups perspective people who leave are weak, undisciplined, unspiritual, worldly, brainwashed by family or a counsellor, or seduced by money, sex or ‘rock and roll’.
It is important to understand that the Destructive Mind Control can be determined when the overall effect of the four components promote dependency and obedience to some leader or cause. It is not necessary for every single item on the list to be present. Mind control cult members can live in their own apartments, have nine to five jobs, married with children, and still be unable to think for themselves and act independently.
Whether you are already in one, or considering joining any kind of group be it a religious group, place of work, performance group etc. the following article will enlighten you on what signs to look out for.
By Rick Ross – Expert Consultant and Intervention Therapist.
Ten warning signs of a potentially unsafe group/leader.
Absolute authoritarianism without meaningful accountability.
No tolerance for questions or critical inquiry.
No meaningful financial disclosure regarding budget, expenses such as an independently audited financial statement.
Unreasonable fear about the outside world, such as impending catastrophe, evil conspiracies and persecutions.
There is no legitimate reason to leave, former followers are always wrong in leaving, negative or even evil.
Former members often relate the same stories of abuse and reflect a similar pattern of grievances.
There are records, books, news articles, or television programs that document the abuses of the group/leader.
Followers feel they can never be “good enough”.
The group/leader is always right.
The group/leader is the exclusive means of knowing “truth” or receiving validation, no other process of discovery is really acceptable or credible.
Ten warning signs regarding people involved in/with a potentially unsafe group/leader.
Extreme obsessiveness regarding the group/leader resulting in the exclusion of almost every practical consideration.
Individual identity, the group, the leader and/or God as distinct and separate categories of existence become increasingly blurred. Instead, in the follower’s mind these identities become substantially and increasingly fused–as that person’s involvement with the group/leader continues and deepens.
Whenever the group/leader is criticized or questioned it is characterized as “persecution”.
Uncharacteristically stilted and seemingly programmed conversation and mannerisms, cloning of the group/leader in personal behavior.
Dependency upon the group/leader for problem solving, solutions, and definitions without meaningful reflective thought. A seeming inability to think independently or analyze situations without group/leader involvement.
Hyperactivity centered on the group/leader agenda, which seems to supercede any personal goals or individual interests.
A dramatic loss of spontaneity and sense of humor.
Increasing isolation from family and old friends unless they demonstrate an interest in the group/leader.
Anything the group/leader does can be justified no matter how harsh or harmful.
Former followers are at best-considered negative or worse evil and under bad influences. They can not be trusted and personal contact is avoided.
Ten signs of a safe group/leader.
A safe group/leader will answer your questions without becoming judgmental and punitive.
A safe group/leader will disclose information such as finances and often offer an independently audited financial statement regarding budget and expenses. Safe groups and leaders will tell you more than you want to know.
A safe group/leader is often democratic, sharing decision making and encouraging accountability and oversight.
A safe group/leader may have disgruntled former followers, but will not vilify, excommunicate and forbid others from associating with them.
A safe group/leader will not have a paper trail of overwhelmingly negative records, books, articles and statements about them.
A safe group/leader will encourage family communication, community interaction and existing friendships and not feel threatened.
A safe group/leader will recognize reasonable boundaries and limitations when dealing with others.
A safe group/leader will encourage critical thinking, individual autonomy and feelings of self-esteem.
A safe group/leader will admit failings and mistakes and accept constructive criticism and advice.
A safe group/leader will not be the only source of knowledge and learning excluding everyone else, but value dialogue and the free exchange of ideas.
Don’t be naïve, develop a good BS Detector.
You can protect yourself from unsafe groups and leaders by developing a good BS detector. Check things out, know the facts and examine the evidence. A safe group will be patient with your decision making process. If a group or leader grows angry and anxious just because you want to make an informed and careful decision before joining; beware.
Note: The following document contains very harrowing accounts of the suffering that has been caused by ‘the cultic separation of loved ones.’ There are 91 accounts here, all from ex-cult members who all deserve a big thank you for contributing and for sharing their feelings and pain. Thanks to all!
Sometimes, facts about an atrocity need to be dissected and spelt out bold and clear for all to see. Only then, when it is seen for what it actually is, will society rise up shouting, “Enough is Enough!”
Enough Is Enough highlights one of the most appalling acts of humanity; ‘Cultic Separation’ of families. This is where man-made religious laws, are used by groups, in the name of their leader or god, to coerce and overpower people’s minds. It results in parents shunning and have nothing more to do with their children, husbands from wives, wives from husbands, siblings form siblings, children from grandparents etc etc.
For example, a survey conducted with 240 ex Exclusive Brethren members in 2012, revealed that 76% of this group, had family (Children, Father, Mother, Siblings or Grandparents) still in the group and thus were separated from them. If Uncles, Aunts or Cousins were included this number would rise. (Mytton, 2012)
There are over 1000 cults in the UK alone.
The compilation list on this page is from 3 questions asked of ex-cult members:
1: What family members are still separated from you?
2: How do you feel about the effects of the family separation?
3: The group were you part of?
Do you have family members separated from you by a religious group? Can you answer the 3 questions above? If so, please email me on email@example.com and I shall add your facts to the list. (Use Anonymous/Initials or full name if you want).
Your contribution will help create awareness which can lead to people getting set free from the clutches of man’s control!
Thank you for your support
1: Separated from 4 grandparents, 2 Uncles, 2 Aunts and 10 Cousins since 1970. My Dad, Mum and brother separated from me since 1988. (32 years)
2: The effects: My family unit destroyed, missing out on decades of love and support.
3: Group I was in – Exclusive Brethren.
John Spinks (Liverpool UK)
1. When we left in 1960 I was separated from my brother and all my extended family apart from one aunt and one set of grandparents.
2. The impact on my mother of losing her son was profound. For over 30 years she did not see him and could not understand why not as she was a christian. She saw him before she died but it was not a real reconnection and she died desolate. Her distress impacted on us all. We all missed out on years of love and support from our aunts, uncles, cousins and one set of grandparents.
3. The group was the Exclusive Brethren.
1: Separated by being shunned from my daughter and two grandsons (her sons)
2: Missed out on the joy and love of family life with them. Also her siblings have missed out on their relationship with their sister and nephews. We are now old and in ill health and need her support more than ever.
3: The cult is Jehovahs Witnesses
1. Separated from parents, brothers, sisters-in-law, nephews, nieces, uncles, aunts, cousins since 1977.
2. My kids have missed out on so much love and support and as a young mother, I could have so used my mother’s advice and help.
3. The group was the Exclusive Brethren.
1. Separated from just about everyone, 1st was the 60 split, then the 70 split when most left, all are in different cults as far as I understand, also appear to have Separation, and never seen since…..
2. I left in early 1973…. Parent + all 6 uncles and aunts have died, some years ago I understand, All 22 nephews and nieces [maybe more ?] + Sister have got married some years ago Understand all of there kids are married with kids. 47 – 60 years Separated is a long time, the odd times I hear a nephews or niece has died……….. This is a so say a religious system ?
3. The group was the Exclusive Brethren.
Philip from Cirencester
1. My mother, my father, my brother, his wife, my nieces and nephews and my grand nieces and newphews, my grandmother, all of my aunts, uncles and cousins.
2. I never saw my father again (from 1990 – 2000 when he died) as they refused to let us see him – even when he was dying. They didn’t even tell us that he had died until they had already buried him. I did see my mother a couple of times – one of the times she talked to my brother and I through the screen door. The second time was when the PB were going through their little exercise of trying to get people to return to their fold around 2003. The one brother that stayed in the brethren hasn’t made contact with his siblings (3 of us) since we went to our mother’s graveside in 2004. It’s a pain that never goes away. One minute you are part of a big loving family and then you are dead to them as if you never existed.
3. Exclusive Brethren.
1: Separated from twin brother and eldest brother and their extended families.
2: Missing out on family celebrations , closeness , not being involved in their lives.
3: Part of the U.K. LDS
1: I have lost 6 children and their children – my grandchildren: 12 I believe 18 direct descendants in total. And numerous cousins.
2: The effects are really too many to list as 18 years later problems related to my upbringing still arise. The biggies are unimaginable grief. PTSD, loneliness, and difficulty living with other people.
3: Exclusive Brethren
1: What actual family members have been separated from you? My mother and my father (20 years) and a sister that turned her back three years ago.
2: I was on my own at the age of 18, became pregnant shortly after. I had to figure out how to be an adult and take care of a child on my own. I had no college education and barely any life experience. So I made some really stupid choices along the way. My two kids and my husband have no idea what my parents are like. Let alone met them. My parents drove 5 hours to tell me they were moving. I called up my mother in law and said this is your chance, come meet my parents. So we pretended that she needed to borrow a dish. Lol. They stayed for twenty minutes. I lost my sister for 17 years. I missed her kids growing up. And she dealt with some serious domestic abuse that was just swept under the rug.
3: What group were you part of? Jehovah Witness Boulder CO Hall
1: My dear mum and dad, and brother, wife, and children. Multitudes of cousins of who I was very close too.
2: Great sadness by my husband and hurt for me. Children very scathing of my family and the eb’s and not entertain churches and religion of any kind, as if that’s what religion is tearing up families they didn’t want a bar of it. Myself a life of constant heart ache, a shadow I can never erase.
3: I grew up in the Exclusive Brethren, Plymouth Brethren.
1: Separated from father, sister, wife and two children.
1: Lost contact with many relatives when the separation edict came in; uncles, aunts cousins etc. Both my parents had siblings who never joined. I lost all my neighbourhood friends too at this time. I think I was about 8. My 3 girls have never met 4 of their aunts, their fathers sisters although they oldest two are in their 40s. Two out of three never met their grandfather who lived in the same city. When their GF died on a Tuesday, he was buried on the Wednesday and we only found out the following Friday when someone told their GF’s brother who had never been in the EBs.
2: As an only child my friends and cousins had been an important part of my upbringing. I was so lonely as no EB kids lived close by. I remember hanging over the fence watching my friends play and also looking through a hole in the fence as well.
I remember sitting outside in the car when my dad visited one of his brothers briefly, so I was unable to talk or play with cousins who I had previously spent a lot of time with, who we shared Christmases and birthday parties with.
I remember coming to the conclusion that I certainly didn’t want to have children in that restrictive environment. I was fortunate to attend school to Grade 12, did well at school and got entrance to Uni and a scholarship to attend as well. I still planned to leave and go but loved my parents dearly. Unfortunately, my father died 6 weeks before my matriculation exams. I felt I could not leave my mother in the midst of her grief. My worldly friends from school all went off to Uni and again I lost good friends. I stayed solely for my mother for the next two years. Meanwhile I met a guy an EB who was later kicked out. Half his family were in, half out. His parents had broken up because of EBs when his Dad was told to kick his older brother out of the house at age 16. The mother left then too, leaving her other 8 children who had no contact with her even though she had been granted access by a judge. This screwed up the whole family I believe as I would class this as early childhood trauma.
I ran away from home to another state of Australia at age 20 but was cut off from my mother from 1972 until her death in 2006.
I married the ex EB guy and we were together 40 years and had 3 beautiful children. This impacted even their lives. They had one grandparent out of 4 and she had her own issues from leaving her children behind. I used to try to keep contact with my mother by writing letters and always visited when in the old home town but if the EBs knew I was coming she was shipped out of town. Visiting was always a quick five minutes at the front door where she was obviously fearful someone would see her talking to me.
Our kids never formed a bond with her. Eventually she lived with other EBs (she had no relatives in) and I totally lost where she was for about 5 years. I remember visiting the last time with my children in 1999 and my then husband I having to sit outside on a garden wall while the 3 girls got to talk to her in the front hall. I couldn’t even see her through the sun shining on the screen door. One of my daughters said she had tears running down her cheek and just kept looking at me.
A couple of years ago I heard she had tried to leave but was prevented. I have no proof of this but have no reason to doubt the story. I never got to visit her unchaperoned again.
They did tell me when she passed away and I did go to the graveside not the EB funeral. If she hadn’t died on a Friday afternoon so the funeral couldn’t happen before Monday morning first thing I would have been unable to make it up there.
Both my ex husband and I tried to connect with our “out” relatives after we left but it was difficult and I believe some even blamed us for how we or our “in” relatives had cut them off. I think for me it is easier since my mother passed away but the ongoing rejection and even grieving her alone has certainly contributed to a lot of heartache and anguish. I used to feel as if the first 20 years of my life had never existed. I never doubted my mother loved me as I was a very wanted only child after she suffered numerous miscarriages. I lived with the guilt of hurting her. I found her rejection of my children’s separate issue. Getting married and having children is something you normally share with your family. I felt we didn’t have that extended family to share with. I believe the traumas both my ex-husband and I suffered contributed to our marriage breakdown for two wounded people after 40 years together. I believe too, although our children were born out of the cult it has affected them to a lesser degree as well. There is so much family they have been cheated out of getting to know and they have grown up with two parents who experienced trauma at the hands of a cult which has certainly affected our attachment with them.
3: Exclusive Brethren
1: Mum and Dad, 3 brothers and 1 sister and all their many children, Grandmother, Aunts and Uncles, many, many cousins and now great nephews and nieces.
2: My children have had no grandparents, cousins, uncles, aunts, and no reference to the older generation of relatives and their younger relatives. Personally I lost my entire culture, friends, family and reference to life and living.
3: Exclusive Brethren / PBCC
1 I was separated from my extended family, father, step siblings, 2 grandparents, and cousins from around 1960. I was separated from my siblings and my mother in 1976. 2. Severe isolation when I first left. I had no friends, no support group. It was like moving to a foreign country without going anywhere. 3 Jehovah’s Witnesses
1. My dad, my five brothers and sisters, my eight kids since 2013. There is been absolutely no contact except occasionally from my older brother.
2. For me, I spent a total of four months in a mental rehabilitation hospital because of nervous breakdowns and 2 attempted suicides.
1: As of Oct 2017 my only daughter. Since then my 2 sons have returned to me & my youngest son who left the organization with me.
2: My youngest willing to take his life knowing he would lose his family.
Teresa Garcia Espinoza
1: Mother, Father, two brothers, aunties and uncles.
2: When parents died, no word of this to me – times changed and was allowed to see my younger brother just before he passed .. my children have grown up not knowing their grandparents, uncles and aunties, and their cousins. Had to make a new life with new friends, always held hope parents would see the light and leave, but no …..
3: Of course – Exclusive Brethren.
1: My two children, ages 3 and 4.
2: The effect was tearing my heart out and the effect on then was they did not have a mother and we are still estranged 35 years later.
3: I was Mormon.
1. Separated from my father, some of my aunts, uncles, and cousins in 1982.
2. The JW ex refused to work and entertained the brothers while I worked in a sewing factory, a true sweat shop. The ex punched me in the face, then the brothers told me it was my duty to go back to the marriage . The brothers monetarily supported custody battles while the kids and I lived in public housing. 10 years of fighting the ex and the JW team. My father is widowed, in his 90s and lives alone. His claims the congregation in Central PA is tending to his needs. He’s rail thin, can hardly walk, and they hold the meetings at his house. He plows the snow for their ease of passage to his front door using his old tractor. I’m not sure how he climbs onto the thing. My only living sibling and I don’t speak, and my other sibling died from alcohol and drugs. I found my victory through education and my 3 children, all have college degrees, 2 with their Master’s. My life is beautiful!
1. My Parents (including three mothers), two mothers in law, 20 siblings, 12 siblings in law (is that a thing?), around 50 blood related nieces, 50 blood related nephews, and around 10,000 friends and community members.
2. The effect was that I felt alone, betrayed, and abandoned. My husband and I faced the “wicked” Outside World and had to try to figure out things other people know already.
3. I was FLDS. Mormon fundamentalist polygamy.
1: I knew what I would be facing, before I left. Lost my three children and two grandchildren.
2: It was my choice…therefore I live with it. I miss them dearly, however, because I was raised in a dissociated life no attatchements to anyone, this made it a little easier on me.
1. Told to keep distancing from none JW relatives until no relationship exists. And then shunned and lost my mother, 2 sisters, 1 grandmother. The only family I had left.
2. Family unit distroyed, causing severe mental health problems on both my JW family side and my side. My grandmother’s health deteriorating from stress. She will not make it to the summer. And I can’t even be with her. Even if shunning were to stop. There is alot of damage. No one will ever view each other the same.
3. The group I was in was Jehovah’s witnesses
1: Both parents,sister,niece,cousins,cousins children.
2: Family broken up, my 2 brothers xjws with me, rest against us, shunned and treated like dirt even when family tragedy happened. Depression,feelings of never being good enough, stress loneliness.
3: Jehovah’s Witness
1: Both parents, 2 sisters, 2 brothers in law, numerous nieces and nephews, and cousins.
2: 30 years of not being in each others’ lives – missing weddings, graduations, births, and other life events as well as basic family support.
3 – Jehovah’s Witnesses
1. My husband and I have lost a daughter, son in law, granddaughter and grandson. I was never really close to most Jws, so nothing lost there.
2. It’s been one of the most painful events in my life. Like 4 people died all at once. I rationalize that since we’re family maybe they will see us some. Was I wrong, it’s going into the 4th year.
There is much variability in the thousands of groups associated with the term cult, although in general the role of the leader becomes central in the cult family. The leader takes on the role of father and/or mother, deciding how children will be raised. Parents function somewhat as middle managers in the rearing of their children.
A cult is a group or movement exhibiting a great or excessive devotion or dedication to some person, idea, or thing, and employing unethically manipulative techniques of persuasion and control designed to advance the goals of the group’s leader, to the actual or possible detriment of members, their families, or the community.
These groups tend to dictate, sometimes in great detail, how members should think, act, and feel, claim a special exalted status for themselves and/or their leader(s), and intensify their opposition to and alienation from society at large.
Because the capacity to exploit human beings is universal, any group could become a cult. However, most mainstream, established groups have accountability mechanisms that restrain the development of cultic subgroups.
How Many Cults Exist and How Many Members Do They Have?
Cult-education organizations have received inquiries about more than 3,000 groups. Although the majority of groups are small, some have tens of thousands of members. Experts estimate that five to ten million people have been involved with cultic groups at one time or another.
What is Mind Control?
Mind control (also known as “brainwashing,” “coercive persuasion,” and “thought reform“) refers to a process in which a group or individual systematically uses unethically manipulative methods to persuade others to conform to the wishes of the manipulator(s). Such methods include the following:
extensivecontrol of information in order to limit alternatives fromwhich members may make “choices”
intense indoctrination into a belief system that denigrates independent critical thinking and considers the world outside the group to be threatening, evil, or gravely in error an insistence that members’ distress-much of which may consist of anxiety and guilt subtly induced by the group-can be relieved only by conforming to the group
physical and/or psychological debilitation through inadequate diet or fatigue the induction of dissociative (trance-like) states via the misuse of meditation, chanting, speaking in tongues, and other exercises in which attention is narrowed, suggestibility heightened, and independent critical thinking weakened
alternation of harshness/threats and leniency/love in order to effect compliance with the leadership’s wishes isolation from social supports pressured public confessions
Who Joins Cults and Why?
Contrary to a popular misconception that cult members are “crazy,” research and clinical evidence strongly suggests that most cult members are relatively normal. They include the young, the middle-aged, elderly, the wealthy, the poor, the educated, and the uneducated from every ethnic and religious background. There is no easily identifiable type of person who joins cults.
How Do People Who Join Cults Change?
After converts commit themselves to a group, the cult’s way of thinking, feeling, and acting becomes second nature, while important aspects of their pre-cult personalities are suppressed or, in a sense, decay through disuse. New converts at first frequently appear to be shell-shocked; they may appear “spaced out,” rigid and stereotyped in their responses, limited in their use of language, impaired in their ability to think critically, and oddly distant in their relationships with others. Intense cultic manipulations can trigger altered states of consciousness in some people.
Why Do People Leave Cults?
People leave for a variety of reasons. After becoming aware of hypocrisy and/or corruption within the cult, converts who have maintained an element of independence and some connection with their old values may simply walk out. Others may leave because they are weary of a routine of proselytizing and fund-raising. Sometimes even the most dedicated members may feel so inadequate in the face of the cult’s demands that they walk away because they feel like abject failures. Others may renounce the cult after reconnecting to old values, goals, interests, or relationships, resulting from visits with parents, talks with ex-members, or exit counseling.
Is Leaving a Cult Easy?
People who consider leaving a cult are usually pressured to stay. Some ex-members say they spent months, even years, trying to garner the strength to walk out. Some felt so intimidated they departed secretly.
Although many cult members eventually walk out on their own, many, if not most, who leave cults on their own are psychologically harmed, often in ways they do not understand. Some cult members never leave, and some of these are severely harmed. There is no way to predict who will leave, who won’t leave, or who will be harmed. ?
Adapted from: Cults Questions and Answers, by Micahel D. Langone, Ph.D.Copyright AFF, 1988
Leah Remini’s interview about the inner workings of Scientology
The following documentary was released in November 2018 by Leah Remini who was reasearching Scientology and Jehovahs Witnesses and the effect it has upon their former members