Over the past week, I have been reading the book “Combating Cult Mind Control” by Steven Hassan. What I am beginning to understand through reading this is that cult members rarely have a choice as to whether or not to join or leave a cult. This is because cults use mind-control methods in order to gain members to their groups, and they also use mind control and phrases in order to keep members in the group by stating that devastating things will happen if one were to leave the cult. Due to this influence of mind-control, people who join cults are not making fully informed and an actual choice to join them. No one freely chooses to join a cult.
One thing that happens in AA that is characteristic of a cult is that people are told things like “If you drink you will die” and that if a person doesn’t accept AA’s program or brand of spirituality that they are sure to die as well. Then, they are told through multiple sources, including AA literature, sponsors, and in AA meetings themselves, that AA is the only way to get sober. Sometimes this is said directly, and sometimes it is said indirectly, especially in the Big Book.
Anyone who is trying to get sober is going to be fearful, and AA capitalizes on this fear. People come to AA and hear all kinds of horror stories about what will happen if they continue drinking, and hear that alcoholism is a progressive disease. On top of that as I said above it is made clear that following the AA program is the only way to stay sober.
When a person first joins AA, he or she is usually suggestible and vulnerable. When you factor this in with the ideas of doom that they are hearing regarding what happens if you don’t embrace the AA program or leave it, one begins to wonder if a person truly has free choice when it comes to joining AA. This is because much of this type of information that he or she is hearing are forms of mind control, and a person experiencing mind control never has a truly independent choice when it comes to whether or not to join the group or organization that is using it.
Cult also use fear tactics to keep a person from leaving the cult. Most cults tell the person through methods of mind control and manipulation that if they leave the cult, terrible things might happen to them like death, illness, drug addiction, persecution, financial loss, etc. Now, if you listen in AA meetings you will hear stories of all of these things happening or suggestions that they will happen to a person who leaves AA. Also, many phrases promote the idea that one’s life is dependent on AA membership, such as “to drink is to die” and that if you leave AA you will face “death, jail, and institutions”. The truth is, though, that all of this is unfounded and is not based off of any evidence, however, in AA it is believed to be true and is perpetuated by members who come back after relapse.
Due to the power of suggestion and implicit learning, an AA member will internalize these messages not just on the explicit but also on the implicit level. This means that he or she is not fully aware of how much these suggestions in AA are really driving their thoughts, feelings, and behavior. Thus a person could attempt to argue that they can leave AA any time they want to and that they are not fearful to do so, yet due to unconscious or implicit processes, memories and biases, they really feel that they have little control over whether or not they leave the group due to these fear based messages. Yet they suppress this fear or use thought-stopping techniques in order not to face the fact that they really do not feel like they have a choice when it comes to staying in or leaving the group, as this would result in emotions and thoughts such as feeling a loss of control. These thought and feelings would then lead to cognitive dissonance surrounding the cult and their role in it, and since many feel that their survival depends on AA and other cults, this is not something that they allow themselves to deal with.
Because of the many fear based and thought-stopping statements and stories that are told in AA, it’s likely that most people in the program do not have as much choice over their membership as they would like to believe. Furthermore, thought-stopping, which is encouraged in AA in many ways, according to Hassan, can actually form a kind of addiction because the person does not have to deal with uncomfortable thoughts and actually feels quite good. However, this is a cult induced feeling. Hassan argues that because of this a person might even go through a detox upon leaving a cult because they have become addicted to thought-stopping. And who really wants to do that?
However, many argue that despite all of these problems that are inherit within AA, that because it helps millions of people to stay sober, that it is a positive force in our society. But at what cost? Is AA really a positive force in our world if it is using cult-like techniques to draw people into the program and keep them sober? And what about all of the other recovery programs that do not rely on these types of techniques? Do the means really justify the ends?
The truth is that members of most cults do feel that anything and everything that helps them reach their goal is justified, no matter how harmful or unethical it is. I’m guessing, then, that most AA members who read this will feel that everything I am describing is a means to and end, and possibly will even see the negative practices of AA as positive. Still, though, even if a member believes that these are positive, they cause harm to every member of the organization in numerous ways.
So when you think about what is really going on in AA, you begin to worry about what impact this will have on our world. Millions of people in our world today are part of an organization where free choice is limited and people are urged to become totally dependent on the group. They are urged not to think critically, and are presented with many phrases and platitudes that discourage free and critical thought. They are also told that using your intelligence is a threat to sobriety and are discouraged from feeling and expressing their emotions. Because of this, a significant portion of the world population is not living up to their potential due to their dependence on AA.
But what would happen if these millions of people were not under the influence of a cult and could actually think for themselves? What would that look like for our world? If these people were to leave AA and find other ways to stay sober that do not employ mind control (and there are many that are as successful and even more successful than AA), the world would be a much better place. As it stands now, though, AA is one of the biggest threats to the advancement of our world today.
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