In a world of increasing disinformation, it’s more important than ever to be armed with actual information. And being curious about the meaning, nature, and origins of things is a rewarding journey in and of itself.
Think of these dictionaries as tools for your mind — they can help you make connections between concepts, understand the terminology being used in the media and all around you, and feel less lost in a sea of dizzying complexity and rapid change. A fantastic vocabulary also helps you connect with people near and far — as well as get outside your comfort zone and learn something new.
This section includes dictionaries and definitions of important terms in important realms — and is continually being built out. Stay tuned!
Authoritarianism is a political system where a single leader or a small group holds significant power, often without the consent of the governed. Decisions are made by authorities without public input, and individual freedoms and democratic principles are usually suppressed. The government may control various aspects of life, including media and the economy, without checks and balances. This leads to a concentration of power that can foster corruption and human rights abuses. In an authoritarian regime, obedience to the authorities is often emphasized over personal liberties and democratic participation.
Influence techniques are a set of psychological and social strategies employed to sway people’s opinions, beliefs, and behaviors. While these techniques are commonly used in various aspects of life, such as marketing and politics, they can be particularly potent when wielded by cults and high-demand groups. Existing on the same spectrum as brainwashing, undue influence techniques can be leveraged as powerful tools for controlling individuals, groups, and even entire populations if left unchecked.
Reciprocity: This principle is based on the human tendency to want to give back when something is received. Cults often offer something of perceived value, like a sense of community or spiritual enlightenment, to create an obligation to reciprocate with loyalty or service.
Commitment and Consistency: Once a person makes a small commitment, like attending a meeting, they are more likely to agree to larger requests. Cults often use low-risk, high-reward initial engagements to lure people into more significant commitments.
Social Proof: People are more likely to do something if they see others doing it. Cults often showcase devoted members as testimonials to attract new recruits.
Authority: Leaders often present themselves as figures of authority, either through claimed divine inspiration or specialized knowledge. This makes it easier for members to surrender their judgment.
Liking: Cults often employ “love bombing,” where new recruits are showered with affection and attention, making them more susceptible to influence.
Scarcity: The idea that something is limited in availability often makes it more appealing. Cults may claim to offer exclusive truths or salvation, making their teachings appear more valuable.
Use in Cults
Isolation: One of the first steps a cult takes is to isolate new members from their previous life, including family and friends. This makes the individual more dependent on the cult for social support, thereby increasing the cult’s influence.
Indoctrination: Cults often have their own set of beliefs and values, which are rigorously taught to new members through repetitive teaching, chanting, or even thought-reform techniques. Various methods of indoctrination exist, including phobia indoctrination — which involves keeping members and prospective members in a constant state of fear and anxiety.
Fear and Intimidation: Many cults use fear as a control mechanism. This could be fear of outsiders, fear of losing salvation, or fear of retribution from the cult itself.
Financial Exploitation: Members are often encouraged or required to donate significant amounts of money, or even to hand over their financial assets entirely.
Charismatic Leadership: Cult leaders often possess charismatic qualities that make them naturally persuasive. They use this charisma in conjunction with influence techniques to exert control over members.
Use in High-Demand Groups
High-demand groups, like multi-level marketing schemes or extreme political organizations, also employ similar influence techniques but may not go to the same extremes as cults.
Recruitment: High-demand groups often use targeted recruitment strategies, appealing to individuals’ desires for financial freedom or social change.
Peer Pressure: These groups often use peer pressure to encourage conformity, whether it’s meeting sales targets or participating in group activities.
Identity Reformation: Members are often encouraged to adopt a new set of beliefs or even a new identity aligned with the group’s goals.
Obedience to Authority: Just like in cults, high-demand groups often have a hierarchical structure where questioning authority is discouraged.
Influence techniques are powerful tools that can be used for both good and ill. When wielded by cults and high-demand groups, they can be particularly manipulative and damaging. Awareness of these techniques is the first step in safeguarding oneself against undue influence.
Whether it’s the allure of a charismatic leader or the promise of exclusive knowledge, understanding the psychological mechanisms at play can provide a critical line of defense. In an age when undue influence techniques are being put to use more broadly in society — including inside of mainstream political rhetoric and strategy — we would be wise to pay close attention and apply a dose of healthy skepticism when confronted with any approach that smells like the tactics described above.
Neurolinguistic Programming (NLP) is a psychological approach that originated in the 1970s, primarily developed by Richard Bandler and John Grinder. It posits that there is a connection between neurological processes, language, and behavioral patterns that have been learned through experience. NLP is often used in psychotherapy, personal development, and communication training. It employs techniques like modeling, anchoring, and reframing to help individuals change their thoughts, emotions, and behaviors.
However, it’s important to note that NLP has been met with skepticism within the scientific community. Many critics argue that it lacks empirical evidence to support its efficacy. Despite this, NLP has found a broad range of applications, from sales and leadership training to self-help seminars.
Abuse in Cults
The darker side of NLP emerges when it is misused, particularly in cult-like organizations. Cults often employ psychological manipulation techniques to indoctrinate and control their members, and NLP can be a potent tool in their arsenal. Here are some ways NLP can be abused in such settings:
Mind Control: NLP techniques can be used to subtly manipulate individuals into adopting the cult’s belief system. By using language patterns that bypass critical thinking, leaders can implant suggestions directly into the subconscious mind.
Emotional Anchoring: This involves associating positive emotions with the cult and negative emotions with the outside world. Over time, this can make leaving the cult emotionally distressing, effectively trapping the individual.
Reframing: Cult leaders may use NLP to reframe negative experiences as positive or necessary for personal growth, making it difficult for members to recognize the harm being done to them.
Identity Shaping: Through continuous application of NLP techniques, cults can gradually alter a person’s self-concept, making them more susceptible to the group’s influence.
Isolation: NLP can be used to devalue critical thinking and outside perspectives, encouraging members to isolate themselves from friends and family who might offer a reality check.
Dependency: By using NLP to induce states of relaxation or euphoria, cults can make members dependent on the group for emotional well-being, further entrenching their loyalty.
The abuse of NLP in cults is a serious ethical concern. It exploits the vulnerabilities of individuals, often leading to financial, emotional, and sometimes even physical harm. While NLP itself is a tool that can be used for both good and bad, its potent psychological techniques make it particularly susceptible to misuse — including emotional abuse and an entire pantheon of greater transgressions.
Neurolinguistic Programming is a complex and controversial field that has both proponents and detractors. While it offers various techniques for personal development and communication, its lack of empirical support makes it a subject of ongoing debate. More alarmingly, when these techniques fall into the wrong hands, such as cult leaders, they can be used to manipulate and control individuals in harmful ways. As with any powerful tool, ethical considerations must be at the forefront when employing NLP techniques.
Chances are you’ve had an encounter with an emotional predator — whether you’re aware of it or not. Most everyone is familiar with the physical abuser: typically the man who beats his wife or female partner. But emotional abuse, and psychological abuse, are also integral components of abuse and are often present with, and precursors to, intimate partner physical violence.
Often individuals who abuse others have a personality disorder that increases their chances of becoming an abuser. Many of these personality disorders have narcissism at their roots — a psychological defense mechanism in which an individual harbors grandiose fantasies about themselves and feels selfishly entitled to having all their demands met.
Narcissists require a constant stream of admiration, or “narcissistic supply,” coming their way. They achieve this through charm, emotional and psychological manipulation, and all sorts of shady, unethical, or downright illegal tactics and behaviors. When a narcissist wants something from you, or wants you to do something, he can become a devious emotional predator who takes advantage of your good will for his own ends without thinking twice.
How to identify an emotional predator
One way to protect yourself from emotional predators is to understand how they behave, and become familiar with how to detect manipulative and deceptive behavior as early on as possible. If you see any of the warning signs below in a loved one, coworker, community member, or position of leadership, then use caution in dealings with this individual. Seek external advice and assistance in threat assessment before placing further trust in this person.
Emotional predation can take place at all levels: interpersonal interactions and intimate partnerships, within groups and organizations, as well as at much larger scales on the order of societies, nations, and — increasingly — global networks. If you feel something “off” in an interaction that feels loaded with emotional pressure, stop for a moment and do some critical thinking about whether someone is trying to prey on your emotions, and how to respond.
Emotional predators are often found leading cults (both small and large), so take a look at those who surround them and ask if they seem like mindless followers in thrall to the cult of personality of one individual. Assess whether you and/or others who interact with the psychic vampire experience the following phenomena:
Manipulating your emotions; emotional blackmail— A form of manipulation where someone uses your feelings against you to get what they want. It often involves guilt-tripping, fear, and obligation, making you feel trapped in a cycle of compliance.
Negging; undermining confidence and self-esteem— Negging is a tactic where someone offers backhanded compliments or subtle insults to undermine your self-esteem. The goal is to make you feel vulnerable, so you seek their approval.
Creating unnecessary chaos — Some individuals thrive on creating chaos to divert attention from their actions or to keep others off-balance. It’s a control tactic that leaves you feeling disoriented.
Consistent inconsistency; intermittent reinforcement — This involves unpredictable behavior, where positive reinforcement is given sporadically. It keeps you guessing and hooked, as you never know when the next “reward” will come; as in gambling, e.g.
Grandiosity — An inflated sense of self-importance and superiority over others. It’s often a mask for deep-seated insecurities.
One-way street — In a one-way relationship, one person’s needs and wants are prioritized over the other’s. It’s a dynamic that leaves one feeling drained and unappreciated.
Masters of deceptive and misleading stories — Some individuals are adept at crafting narratives that bend the truth, often to serve their own interests or manipulate others.
Love to play victim and hero — These individuals portray themselves as both the victim and the hero in different narratives, manipulating emotions to gain sympathy or admiration.
Diverting attention — Diversion tactics are used to shift focus away from the individual’s actions, often by blaming others or creating new issues.
Disregarding the law — Some people view laws as mere suggestions, often rationalizing illegal actions for personal gain or out of a sense of entitlement. The so-called Sovereign Citizens movement essentially codified this as an ideology the group believes in, and tries to use as legal argument in court (failing each time).
Denying plain facts; denialism — Denialism involves refusing to accept proven facts, often to protect one’s ego or agenda.
Assert the opposite of reality — This tactic involves making claims that are directly contradicted by observable facts, creating a confusing and disorienting environment.
Magical thinking — Magical thinking is the belief that one’s thoughts or actions can influence unrelated events. It’s often a way to avoid responsibility.
Projection — Assigning their own feelings or imputing their own motives into you. Projection involves attributing one’s own undesirable feelings or motives to another person, often as a defense mechanism.
See the world as with them or against them (splitting) — Splitting is a cognitive distortion where people are categorized as all good or all bad, with no middle ground or nuance.
Nurturing and maintaining enemies (paranoia) — Some individuals maintain a sense of purpose or identity by creating and nurturing perceived enemies, often based on exaggerated or imagined threats.
Moves the goalposts — Changing the criteria for success or approval, making it difficult for others to meet expectations.
Refuses to take responsibility or admit fault — Some folks deflect blame and never admit fault, often rationalizing their actions to avoid accountability.
Gaslighting — causing you to question your own sanity. Gaslighting is a form of manipulation where someone tries to make you doubt your own perceptions and sanity.
Bullying — Bullying involves repeated, intentional harm or intimidation, often to assert control or superiority over someone else.
Frequent liar / compulsive liar — Some individuals lie habitually, either to manipulate others or sometimes without any apparent reason.
Aggressive and easily angered — These individuals have low tolerance for frustration and may resort to aggression or anger to assert control or mask insecurities.
Arm yourself with as much information as you can about emotional predators and the tactics of undue influence they use, as well as the real world history of cults and their consequences — and how to get people out of them via deprogramming techniques. Here’s a cults and mind control book list to get you started:
Phobia indoctrination is one of the principle ways a charismatic leader will lull potential followers into his thrall, by putting them into a state of perpetual fear and anxiety. They know, either instinctively or through training (or both), that people can be induced into a prolonged state of confusion easily, and that many people in states of confusion act quite irrationally. Abusers, cult leaders, and other controllers use demagoguery and other tricks to hide in plain sight and continue to accrue power while passing themselves off as harmless or extremely patriotic.
These chaos agents use emotional manipulation and other tactics of emotional predators as a tool of control. They whip followers up into a fear frenzy frequently enough to instill a set of phobia-like instinctual reactions to chosen stimuli. In addition to stoking fears of the enemies at the gates, they also inculcate irrational fears of the consequences of questioning their authority — invoking authoritarianism. Any doubts expressed about the leadership or its doctrine are subject to terrifying negative results. Cults use this formula to wield undue influence over followers, and prevent them from questioning or leaving the group.
Phobia indoctrination is a tool of cults
As part of a larger overall program of brainwashing or mind control, cults and destructive organizations use imaginary extremes (going to hell, being possessed by demons, failing miserably at life, race war, Leftist apocalypse, etc.) to shock followers into refusing to examine any evidence whatsoever. A form of unethical hypnosis, phobia indoctrination can now be carried out on a mass scale thanks to the internet and our massive media apparatus. Be sure to be on the lookout for any cult warning signs in groups and messaging all around you.
Sociopaths and other types of emotional predators are taking ample advantage of their advantage in time and distance over the slow pace of justice. The wielding of fear as a cudgel in American politics has reached a fever pitch, with anti-Critical Race Theory hysteria, anti-vaxxers, anti-government types, anti-science, Lost Cause-revival zombie MAGA footsoldiers screeching about the “freedom!!!” they wish the government to provide them for persecuting their enemies, and other social horrors are merely the tip of the climate changing iceberg.
Phobia indoctrination tactics
Strategies of phobia indoctrination include Repetition and Conditioning, where fears are built through constant exposure; Misinformation and Propaganda, using false information to paint something as dangerous; Utilizing Existing Fears, exaggerating known fears or anxieties; and Social Pressure and Group Dynamics, leveraging social influences to convince others that irrational fears are common.
Other tactics include Authority and Expert Manipulation, where false credentials are used to lend legitimacy; Emotional Manipulation, appealing directly to emotions; Isolation and Control, where a person’s environment is manipulated; and Media Manipulation, using media to provoke fear.
Phobia indoctrination and cults book list:
Losing Reality: On Cults, Cultism, and the Mindset of Political and Religious Zealotry
Cults, in general, refer to organizations or groups that often manipulate and exploit members, typically by using unorthodox beliefs and practices. Recognizing cult warning signs can be vital in identifying and understanding the risk before getting involved with a group who may not have your best interests in mind.
Us vs. Them Mentality: Cults often draw clear lines between insiders and outsiders, emphasizing that only they possess the truth. This divisive mindset encourages isolation from family, friends, and society, leading to further control over the members.
Coercive Persuasion and Manipulation: High-pressure tactics are common in recruiting and retaining members. This may include controlling information, employing guilt or fear, manipulating emotions to maintain allegiance, and other tactics of emotional predators.
Excessive Financial Demands: Many cults require significant financial contributions, sometimes even requiring members to relinquish personal assets. This financial control reinforces dependence on the group.
Rigidity of Beliefs and Practices: A cult’s ideology is often absolute, with no room for questioning or dissent. Those who challenge the beliefs are typically met with hostility, punishment, or expulsion. This fundamentalist mentality permeates the entire group’s thinking and behavior.
Unrealistic Promises: Cults may lure individuals with promises of spiritual enlightenment, exclusive knowledge, or personal success, often unrealistic or unattainable. These promises can entice individuals seeking meaning or connection in their lives.
Control Over Personal Lives: Intense control over members’ personal lives, including relationships, employment, and living arrangements, can be a clear warning sign. Such control can erode personal autonomy and self-identity.
Emotional Abuse and Fear Tactics: Cults frequently use fear, shame, and guilt to control members, creating an environment where members feel constant anxiety about meeting the group’s standards or displeasing the leader.
A Focus on Recruitment: Many cults prioritize recruitment above all else, viewing every interaction as an opportunity to bring others into the fold. The pressure to recruit can be relentless and is often a central component of the group’s activities.
Impacts on Health and Wellbeing: The demanding nature of cult involvement can lead to negative effects on mental, emotional, and physical health. This can manifest as anxiety, depression, exhaustion, or other health issues, often ignored or downplayed by the group.
Recognizing these warning signs is crucial for individuals, families, and communities to understand the potential dangers and take appropriate steps to protect themselves. The subject of cults is sensitive, often tied to deeply personal and societal fears, and it requires careful consideration and empathy.
Overview: Operated by Rick Alan Ross, an internationally known expert on cults, CEI offers extensive resources, including a database of information on specific groups, techniques for intervention, and guidelines to recognize coercive persuasion.
Target Audience: Anyone looking to educate themselves about cults, from concerned family members to academic researchers.
International Cultic Studies Association (ICSA) – Website
Overview: ICSA is a global network of people concerned about psychological manipulation and abuse in cultic or high-demand groups. They offer conferences, publications, and support networks.
Target Audience: Researchers, professionals, former cult members, and concerned family and friends.
Overview: Created by Steven Hassan, a mental health counselor and former cult member, this site offers resources on combating mind control in various settings, including cults, terrorism, and human trafficking.
Target Audience: General public, mental health professionals, and individuals directly affected by cults.
Overview: This online community allows individuals to discuss personal experiences, share research, and ask questions related to cults. Moderated for respectful dialogue, it offers a more informal but still informative perspective.
Target Audience: Those looking for community interaction, shared experiences, and casual information on the subject.