Warning Signs – ALEXANDRA STEIN Ph.D. Understanding Cults and Extremist Groups
8 Criteria for Totalism
From Robert Jay Lifton’s (1961) Thought Reform and the Psychology of Totalism
1. Milieu control. Control of environment, communication and information, isolating the person from outside world and from his or her own inner dialog. May include sleep, diet, schedule, living situation, etc.
2. Mystical Manipulation. Deception is justified for the ‘higher purpose’ of the group. Certain experiences appear spontaneous to awe the recruit or cult member.
3. Demand For Purity. The world is viewed as black and white (us vs. them) and group members are constantly pushed to strive for perfection. Guilt and shame become powerful control devices.
4. The Cult Of Confession. Real or imagined ‘sins’ are to be confessed to the group. Boundaries of personal privacy are confused.
5. The Sacred Science. The group’s doctrine (total ideology) is seen as the ‘Ultimate Truth’. No questions of this ‘Truth’ (and therefore, the group and leader) are allowed. Inhibits individual thought, imagination, creativity.
6. Loading The Language. Use of jargon internal to – and only understandable by – the group. Constricting the language constricts people’s capacity for independent thinking.
7. Doctrine Over Person. One’s personal experience is subordinated to the ‘Truth’ of the group. Contrary experiences are shoe-horned to fit the needs of the doctrine. The person’s sense of integrity is lost.
8. Dispensing Of Existence. The group determines who has the right to exist and who doesn’t. Us vs. Them. Non-believers are considered ‘evil’ or non-people.