Cult deprogramming might sound extreme so first a wise word I wish I had taken on board some time ago:
Bear in mind the difference between an actual cult and a cult following.
There’s a big difference between Bernie Sanders, Donald Trump, and Jim Jones, and Charlie Manson, and David Koresh, Shoko Asahara.
It was not a wise choice of words when I described many of Acharya S’s followers as “cult-like” in their thinking. My words were construed to mean that I was saying they themselves constituted a cult despite my efforts to explain otherwise. But in reality that was only one of my many sins in their view and I am not sure following the points below would have made any difference at all to the animosity they continue to have towards me. Still, not following the points below is an absolute guarantee that one’s efforts to “deprogram” a person with “cultish” type thinking will fail.
The points and the quotations are all taken from David Feguson‘s article, Cult Deprogrammer: Here’s How to Stage an Intervention for Your Trump-Supporting Friend on Alternet. The article addresses Trump followers but I’ve added a tilt towards HRC in my own title. That was my attempt to make the following points more general. They apply the best of times to any communication attempting to persuade someone to think differently.
How does one approach someone who comes across as “stubbornly resistant to facts” and blind to an “idol’s” hypocrisy?
- Approach the person with respect
It is important to frame your intervention as an act of caring and support. Otherwise, the person will feel that they have been ambushed, and they will go on the defensive.
There is no place for smugness or condescension. Get rid of any false stereotypes about “brainwashing” or “stupidity”.
“The idea that just stupid people fall for this is just simply not true. I’ve deprogrammed five medical doctors. It can happen to anyone,” said [Rick Alan] Ross [of the nonprofit Cult Education Institute].
Learn and understand the person’s feelings and concerns. How well do they understand the impact of their views upon their loved ones?
- Sharing information is what it’s about
Don’t act the therapist; don’t act the counselor. Prepare to share new information. Ask the person
what they know about the group and its leader. Does the leader have a criminal history? Has the leader been sued by former members for things like personal injury? Does the leader have assets like real estate holdings or investments derived from the group that you’re not aware of? Are there former members with similar grievances that you’re not aware of?”
- Introduce divergent views
Cult members are typically accustomed to only receiving information that has been vetted and approved by a field of like-minded believers. As much as you can, try to introduce them to information from outside their ideological bubble.
Be savvy about what sources you suggest, however. The person of concern probably has firm convictions about the bias of other sources.
- Avoid loaded language
Slogans and mantras shut down critical thinking.
Cult followers habituate themselves to stop listening to any arguments opposed to their views. Neutral language is essential.
- Appeal to authority
Point to the alternative views of other persons the “cult follower” respects.
- Untangle myths
It’s helpful to show, in the leader’s own words, how they’ve been misleading or said things that are disingenuous or even lies. That begins to shake the faith of a true believer.
That could well mean having to do some real homework to be sure you have the facts and evidence you need. A lazy denunciation with only vague references to supposed “facts” is pointless and can backfire.
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