The manipulation at HH involves many complex factors beyond the typical religious/spiritual abuse experience and the unique trauma syndrome suffered by those after religious abuse. The considerations of traumatic childhood experiences suffered by young women there (before their residence at HH), the effects of trauma on normal growth and development), the level of interpersonal dysfunction fostered at HH (lack/denial of personal boundaries as well as identity), the unique emotional abuse factors, the intensity of the conditions there, and the overt focus on sexuality at HH (a type of covert sexual abuse) create a unique and complex trauma experience. May this summary be a significant step towards addressing all of those factors, pointing many towards much needed healing and restoration.
(HINT: If you are a Survivor of HH, please take special note of the embedded links in the post which were chosen specifically to address the unique challenges that you face and were placed here for your benefit and learning. Learning about manipulation and trauma will help you overcome your experience by taking the power out of it which will allow you to develop mastery over it. Please take away with you the message of hope that you are not isolated, and that, more than anything, your experiences typify trauma. The specifics of what you endured may be unique, but the experience of trauma is not. Many very effective healing resources can help you on your journey of restoration. And more resources become available every day.)
Review of Doctrine Over Person
Introduction and History
When attending to the care of Westerners and soldiers liberated from Chinese POW camps where they were held during the Korean War, Robert Lifton identified certain patterns of behavior, thoughts, and emotions in the survivors. From his study of the prisoners and their experiences, he identified what became the gold standard for understanding all groups that practice ideological totalism. Another researcher who did similar work created an alternate list (Biderman's Chart of Coercion) which has been used specifically to address domestic abuse, and it can also be helpful toward understanding the covert nature of authoritarian-oriented abuse.
The term totalism describes complete and unrestrained power of a system or government, but they gain and maintain that power through a well constructed idealism which presumes to achieve some desirable objective. Such groups use idealism to persuade and convince people to comply with the demands of the system which presume be of benefit to the follower, though the group's means paradoxically work to exploit/misuse the individual group member in predictable ways.
As the Apostle Paul identified in the works of the flesh (common pitfalls of human nature), I understand Lifton's criteria as a list of spiritually abusive patterns describing what the works of the flesh become when they are used to control groups. Anyone with a human nature, Christian or otherwise, can fall into these patterns. (Read more HERE about whether the Bible addresses “spiritual abuse” and which Scriptures discuss it.)
From Lifton's Thought Reform and the Psychology of Totalism (p 420):
These criteria consist of eight psychological themes which are predominant within the social field of the thought reform milieu. Each has a totalistic quality; each depends on an equally absolute philosophical assumption; and each mobilizes certain emotional tendencies, mostly of a polarizing nature. . . .In combination, they create an atmosphere which may temporarily energize or exhilarate, or which at the same time poses the gravest of human threats.Read the entire chapter concerning the eight themes Lifton identified HERE online at the Apologetics Index.
The Tactic of Doctrine Over Person
Steven Martin (a Christian and counselor) describes Lifton's Doctrine Over Person in this way in his book The Heresy of Mind Control: Con Artists, Tyrants and Spiritual Abuse in Leadership:
Doctrine Over Person consists of fitting everything under the leader's dominating control into a pre-conceived mold. This involves:
- Human experience and the interpretation of those experiences
- Human feelings and the interpretation of those feelings
- Disregarding one's feelings or sensitivities
- No appreciation of someone's talents, individuality or creativity; the only goal is to fit everyone and their personalities into the dominating influence of the one in control, opposing diversity and individual differences
- The rigidity of the doctrinal mold resists adaptation even when adaptation may prove to be best
- The rewriting of history to fit the system of the doctrinal mold.Stating it another way, the controller reinterprets the personal feelings and experiences of the group members to fit his own dominating views and influence. He disregards and remolds past events, individual differences and capabilities to fit his own preconceived mold. In essence, the controller rejects everything that does not fit into his preconceived mold and framework (pg 109).
How Doctrine Over Person Works
Because of psychological pressures from an authority or authoritarian group, intense emotional arousal, physical factors, and isolation, normal, rational people reinterpret past events in ways that are contrary to fact in order to cope and maintain a cohesive sense of self. As Robert Cialdini points out, it is a very human trait to seek to please authority figures, to be well liked, and to appear consistent. These pressures are a component of Doctrine Over Person and add to the complex process of thought reform. The Asch Conformity Study points out the power of social pressure, and the Milgram Experiment demonstrates the profound effect of authority, displaced responsibility, and moral disengagement. These powerful forces also help to produce the Doctrine Over Person effect.
Closed systems demand that followers both demonstrate moral purity as defined by the group while ignoring any inconsistencies, and they must also affirm that the teachings and leadership of the group are infallible. This creates a double bind or a no-win situation for the follower who inevitably copes by creating an “alternate version of sincerity” which affirms the group and displaces their own moral responsibility, giving it over to the group and the leaders. The coping strategy allows the individual to balance these incongruent pressures to reduce their tremendous psychological stress.
As a consequence of suppressing their own personalities, perspective, and forbidden internal doubts about the group, members are forced to confabulate events which accomplish all of these imposed demands. Followers “affirm the myth” through the creation of fantasies (“delusions of wholeness”) about the virtue of the system and the leader (the Sacred Science), one of the primary, informal and unspoken demands of any closed system. The follower must also affirm abnormal behavior within the group and the double standard enjoyed by leadership as acceptable and normal as well. The response of denial and fantasy allows the person to avoid the sense of nihilism created by the double bind.
Factors that Enhance Doctrine Over Person
The power of the effectiveness of these tactics that work to cause a person to redact their personal history and perceptions as well as embrace abnormal behavior can be enhanced by other factors which in some way cause a person to enter psychologically vulnerable states that can be completely irresistible depending on those factors. Overt factors like a diet of very limited protein and essential fatty acids necessary for good brain function, starvation, or torture present more obvious examples of induced vulnerabilty; however, subtle factors can be equally effective over time. Fatigue, hunger, tragedy, and personal crises also set a person “off balance” making all people vulnerable to manipulation at some given point.
More subtle tactics involve brainwave entrainment (lighting, sound, felt rhythm), physiologic responses (diaphragmatic breathing, gazing higher than 30 degrees above a comfortable forward gaze), or other factors (confusing information or induction of negative emotion). These triggers slow down brainfunction from an alert state of critical, analytical, rational thought, (Beta waves exhibited on EEG above 12 Htz) into a more dreamlike and relaxed state (Alpha waves on EEG ranging from 8-12 Htz), the ideal state for hypnosis. (Read more HERE.) When an individual has been covertly lulled into an Alpha level of consciousness, they stop evaluating communication and tend to agree with the speaker. Behavioral compliance (a factor that Biderman explains well) also reinforces and enhances this effect (why salesmen want you to touch a product and share your contact information). Read additional material concerning this type of pressure to enhance thought conversion HERE.
Trauma and Doctrine over Person
Trauma alters how a person thinks and responds, whether that trauma is physical, emotional, life-threatening, or perceived, and it should not be discounted in the dynamic of Doctrine Over Person. Personal vulnerability and perception are quite subjective, varying greatly between persons, but this in no way limits the development of a survival response and the profound effect that it can have on an individual. Perceived trauma can be just as devastating as a profound physical trauma, and how the brain processes traumatic events is as much a physical function as it is a psychological one. The brain as a physical organ like any other responds in a complex way to help ensure survival.
When a person's healing is inhibited or their ability to protect themselves fails, the survival response tends to remain active long after the threatening situation has resolved, and it can be triggered later in response to perceived or anticipated threat. Triggered memories that feel as though they are as real, ongoing, intense, and threatening as the initial traumatic event, though it no longer poses any threat are a core experience of a prolonged trauma response, the core experience of Post Traumatic Stress Disorder (PTSD). PTSD ensues when this healthy survival response fails to shut down properly, and it's mechanisms are primarily physical responses in the brain as opposed to some spiritual problem or moral shortcoming.
Dissociation or the feeling of being absent from mind, body, or situation (producing a psychologically protective amnesia if necessary) surfaces as a coping mechanism to help a person survive a trauma and keep on living thereafter. It creates distance between a person's full awareness and a threatening situation. (People who exit high demand religious groups and manipulative relationships manifest high levels of dissociation.) The response is a healthy one if it resolves soon after the trauma but can become a chronic problem healing is inhibited in some way. A Doctrine Over Person response can be one way a person copes with a suffered trauma by reshaping past events or perceptions to meet the demands of an intolerant authority. Dissociation helps to induce and reinforce this response. (Unfortunately, some types of coping help us survive but are not effective after the threat resolves, or they are not as effective as other alternative of ideal ways of coping. Healing involves finding those more effective ways of dealing with threat and loss.)
Harsh conditions, both physical and psychological, help enhance and reinforce Doctrine Over Person. Dr. Margaret Singer (an associate and contemporary of Lifton and Biderman) expanded upon early theory explaining thought reform, detailing additional pressures designed to produce thought and memory conversion as the merge with the group:
- Deception in the recruitment process and throughout membership
- Debilitiation because of the hours, degree of commitment, the psychological pressures, and the inner constriction and strife
- Dependency as a result of being cut off from the outside world
- Dread because of beliefs instilled by the cult; a person who leaves will find no real life on the outside
- Desensitization so that things that once would have troubled them no longer do (for example, learning that money collected from fund raising is supporting the leader's lavish lifestyle rather than the cause for which it was given, or seeing children badly abused or even killed)
Examples of the Doctrine Over Person Effect
Several members of the Ingram Family fell into patterns of Doctrine Over Person when another one of Lifton's eight identified techniques called mystical manipulation started a cascade of events that profoundly and adversely affected the whole family. In their circumstance, they generated a very negative fantasy to meet the expectations and pressures imposed by an evangelist and police interrogators. Similarly, Robert Lifton discussed how prisoners lost the ability to distinguish real from imagined events as well as the attempts of their captors to persuade them to accept and affirm Communism, deny religious beliefs, renounce their governments, and admit to acts of subversive terrorism. Within abusive religious groups, participants are required to deny their own perceptions (and even deny their health problems), reinterpreting them as illusions in order to defer to the opinions of the group or leader.
At Hephzibah House, girls were forced to think of themselves as undeserving creatures who were something less than human to avoid pain and punishment, but the habituation and the effects of the abuse at HH created lasting beliefs that they must work to overcome after exiting the environment. They were also required to accept certain abusive practices as normal and deserved. If they would not agree with the practices through mental assent, then they were certainly habituated to accept them through forced debilitation and desensitization.
Read one additional upcoming post
concerning former HH resident, Lucinda Pennington
as an example of Doctrine Over Person.