Undue influence is any act of persuasion that overcomes the free will and judgment of another person. People are unduly influenced by urgent warnings, flattery, trickery, coercion and deception. In a court of law, it is a legal term that involves one person taking advantage of their position of power over another person.
In a Maslow-like hierarchy of serious threats to a free society and happy families, undue influence goes under the radar for most people. That reality is a sad shame, because in the manipulative hands of charismatic cult leaders, highly controlling religious groups like Jehovah’s Witnesses, human traffickers, multi-level marketers and some political action groups, undue influence is a significant problem in today’s world.
When “undue influence” is used to cheat people out of their inheritance or property, deceive them into thinking that extreme shunning of close family members is a loving act, encourage them to break the law, threaten them with shunning if they report child molestation or domestic violence to the police, become involved in shady deals or coerce them into letting their children die because it is God’s will, these kinds of influence destroy lives, break up families and threaten basic human rights – especially for women and children. Even worse, it contributes billions of dollars to people and groups who create no value for society.
“Undue Influence” defined and described for legal and medical applications…
When undue influence is initially imposed on the minds of unsuspecting recruits by cults or religious groups, it usually starts with “love bombing” and a promise of life in an idealistic fantasy world where they will “never have to die” and could “live forever”, achieving some élite status in a better society to come, etc. After recruits buy into all the initial promises and hype, they are introduced to a systematic method of control, one small step at a time.
This methodical system of control disrupts the person’s authentic identity and reconstructs a new identity in the image of the group or leader. In the process, the ability to think rationally and act independently is compromised, even for people considered “rational” before undue influence begins. But how can this happen?
Mental health expert Steven Hassan explains how it works in cults and religious groups in his book, Freedom of Mind. He and other well-respected social scientists also use the BITE Model* to describe methods of undue influence used by some groups to suppress the uniqueness and creativity of its members. BITE is an acronym for control of members’ Behavior, access to Information, Thoughts and Emotions.
Undue influence occurs when the overall effect of the methods to control behavior, information, thoughts and emotions promotes dependency and obedience to some cause, leader or group. Members of religious groups and cults subjected to undue influence can live in their own homes, have 9-to-5 jobs, be married with children, and still be unable to think for themselves and act independently.
Four of the methods cited in the BITE Model used by religious groups and cults to control Behavior are:
- Require members to spend significant time in group indoctrination meetings.
- Discourage individualism and encourage “group-think.”
- Require members to proselytize and canvass for new believers.
- Dictate where, how, and with whom the member will live and associate with – and/or isolate a member from family and friends.
Four of the methods cited in the BITE Model to control Information are:
- Deliberately withhold information from members.
- Promote the unethical use of “confession” at internal judicial hearings that members must attend to admit to sins and to receive judgment or punishment.
- Encourage spying on other members to make sure that individual behavior is monitored by the group.
- Discourage access to non-cult/group sources of information, including Internet, TV, radio, books, articles, newspapers, magazines and other media.
Four of the methods cited in the BITE Model to control Thoughts are:
- Require members to internalize the group’s doctrines and dictates as “the truth” or being unassailable.
- Members must study literature the group/cult produces and publishes. Questions are often inserted in the text to lead readers to the “right” conclusion.
- Forbid members from asking critical questions about the group’s leaders, doctrines, or policies. If someone persists, tell them they don’t really love the group’s god or leader – or accuse them of being “insincere.”
- Use thought-stopping techniques on members to shut down reality testing by stopping “negative” thoughts about the group. Allow only “positive” thoughts that involve denial, rationalization, justification and wishful thinking.
Four of the methods cited in the BITE Model to control Emotions are:
- Teach emotionally numbing and emotion-stopping techniques to block any feelings of homesickness, anger, or doubt. Restrict even the love of family members – especially those who must be “shunned” if they are non-believers (or ex-believers) of the group’s dogma.
- Impose phobia indoctrination that fosters irrational fear of ever leaving the group or questioning the authority of the group’s leader. Make it seem that no happiness or fulfillment is possible outside of the group.
- Instill fear, including fear of non-believers and ex-believers labeled as “evil apostates.”
- Promote feelings of guilt or unworthiness, such as, “You don’t love God if you can’t believe all of the group’s religious dogma.”
For a better understanding of “undue influence,” including the dangers it imposes on a free and democratic society, visit FreedomofMind.com. Within that website you will be able to explore appropriate responses to deal with undue influence in your own life and learn more about the BITE Model.
*Steven Hassan created the BITE model to help people better understand the methods of control when undue influence is being used. He based the BITE model on Dr. Robert Jay Lifton’s eight criteria of Thought Reform (“Thought Reform and the Psychology of Totalism,” Norton, 1961), Dr. Margaret Singer’s six conditions from “Cults in Our Midst” (Jossey-Bass, 2003), and Leon Festinger’s “Theory of Cognitive Dissonance” (Stanford University press, 1962 and 1957).