Undue Influence

Taking over a person’s beliefs, interests, thoughts, feelings, legal or medical rights...

Undue Influence occurs when a predatory/authoritarian individual or group takes control over a person’s beliefs, interests, thoughts, feelings, legal or medical rights, possessions, finances or behavior without that person’s full knowledge and explicit consent, usually under false pretenses.

When people are under the spell of undue influence their beliefs and experience of reality will be controlled by an authoritarian leader, teacher, partner, parent or group and their distorted version of reality. While the person may be intelligent, they will think and act in accord with the manipulator’s reality.

Undue influence is a legal term that has been used in courts for centuries, defining the state of control which exists when a person or group wields too much control over someone, purposely eroding their sense of self and decision-making skills, thereby canceling out that person’s free will and autonomy.

Other names for undue influence are coercive control, psychological or predatory manipulation, exploitative or unethical persuasion, grooming, brainwashing, mind control, confidence trickery, scamming, bamboozling and mind-hacking.undue influence

How does undue influence work? Undue influence uses the same social “laws” of human interaction, which keep our culture functioning: normal social cues and feelings such as empathy, altruism, and need for community, which are so valuable in inspiring us to work together. Unfortunately, those social cues are subverted by predators or authoritarian groups not willing to function within the rules of “social ‘laws’ of human interaction”. In fact, predatory individuals and groups can become very good at manipulating trust, using charm and flattery to harm people.

What is institutionalized undue influence? It is influence that has been incorporated and formalized into a highly-structured organization that conditions its members not to think or to act independently in their own best interest. Often members are required to devote a large percentage of their time or money to the organization.

Why is the brain susceptible to undue influence? It is partly because we have blind spots. The brain fills in material – we make up some of what we believe we see, as easily demonstrated with lack of color in peripheral vision. Psychological studies show how easily rational thinking can be bypassed. Our human perceptions are limited, and we interpret the meaning of those perceptions automatically. We “fill in” reasons for events that are difficult to understand. We focus on what we expect to see, or what we are prepared to see. This opens the door to con artists, as well as the hocus-pocus of demagogues, whether political or religious in their claims.

How much of a problem is undue influence in today’s world? Millions of people—especially those who experience a significant emotional event—are affected by undue influence; most are oblivious to its effects. Undue influence ranges from being bullied into submission in a personal relationship or the workplace, to failure to report child molestation to the proper authorities to shield an organization or individual; from recruitment into hate groups, such as gangs and terrorist groups, to being cajoled into a high-control religious, political, therapy or commercial group; from uncritically accepting false information, to tragedies in medical care through faith-based medical neglect.

Why are young people more susceptible to undue influence, making it important for them to recognize when they’re being influenced unduly? To learn and become socially adept, children must be influenced by adults. But this makes them more susceptible to undue influence. This is especially true for adolescents as they naturally rebel against adult influence. Without education, young people can be easily seduced into gangs, hate groups, cults and abusive relationships. Without proper psychological education, they are particularly vulnerable to manipulation from predators and coercive groups. In part, this is because they are undergoing significant brain development, which hinders their judgment. When they are older, these former adolescents may deeply regret and feel ashamed about decisions they were manipulated into making which damaged their relationships, their mental and physical health, and their future prospects. 

What can we do about undue influence? We can recognize that it exists. Report bullying and abuse. Name predators and high-control authoritarian groups and hold them accountable. Educate young people about how they can achieve personal autonomy and offer more programs and resources in this regard. Teach them about logical fallacies, cognitive dissonance, intelligent disobedience, etc.

Teach people when to be curious – to question, to assert their opinions and when to turn tail and run! We can learn to protect ourselves, our kids and our friends by teaching – and using – healthy skepticism, intelligent disobedience and critical thinking skills. It is also vital to learn to spot predators and totalist behavior, and learn to recognize the common methods of social manipulation, as well as fostering a culture that values autonomy and independence.

Educate young people, their parents and their teachers how to recognize the predatory tactics of undue influence and the value of developing critical thinking skills, as well as social intelligence to achieve independence in decision making and emotional autonomy by sensibly interpreting their personal experiences.

Exploitative techniques control behavior without consent. Human predators coerce others into fulfilling their desires with these techniques, which include alienation, and the tricks of brainwashing, coercive control, manipulation, mind control, thought reform or undue influence. Propaganda and indoctrination replace honest and open communication. Hypnosis and the induction of fervor are used to create radicalization and religious extremism in a totalitarian environment, where discussion and dissent are forbidden.


Cyberbulllying is the online form of bullying. On the Internet, it is easy for predatory people to hide their identity and harass and distress their targets. These days, it is possible to create a vicious rumor about anyone; from a neighbor to a complete stranger at the other side of the world. Negative, and often exaggerated or false, information can be repeated, amplified and broadcast endlessly.

Cyberbullying takes many forms – from rude comments on social media, to obscene or threatening personal messages and emails; from smearing a former partner’s reputation in a chat forum, to urging a video blogger to commit suicide. Anonymity allows people to act without compassion. Even people who are normally considerate may unleash their fury on a complete stranger, because they cannot see the damage they are doing.

Predatory groups use cyberbullying to wear down the resistance of their targets, discredit critics, ruin the lives of former members, and create rifts in survivor networks: a few well-placed slanders can tear apart even the most supportive online community.

The most important thing to remember about online bullying, particularly from those we have never met, is that it’s not really about you. Even when a bully has targeted you due to your race, religion, gender orientation, opinion, appearance or anything else that makes you “different,” they are reacting, not to you, but to their own pre-conceptions and prejudices. Refusing to be shamed and cajoled into uniformity goes a long way to neutralizing a predator, and can teach those who are really expressing their pain, fear, or ignorance, a better way to communicate in our global village.

If you are the target of cyber-bullying, report it to the host of the platform; talk to your friends to relieve the hurt; block the bully, after making it known as widely as possible that they are a bully. It is usually best not to respond to aggressive comments. And remember: it isn’t you who has a problem, it is the bully.

Bullies are human predators. Find out about their characteristics here.

Hard Selling

Insistent and bullying sales tactics have been developed and refined over the last century, producing a vast literature showing how to by-pass critical thinking and close a sale. A hard-seller simply will not take “no” for an answer. Originally, the technique was just one of persistence – to wear down the customer – but there are now many books and seminars that explain psychological techniques to overcome resistance and create sales.

In ethical sales – or “soft-selling” – the salesperson identifies the real needs of a customer and offers relevant information about a product. The salesperson will be open to questions and will not use psychological tactics to gain an advantage.

Hard selling uses the same approaches as cult recruitment and seduction. The first step is to establish a relationship: hard-sellers will act as if they are the target’s friend and find points of agreement; they will butter you up with compliments.

Often there will be an appeal to fear – if you don’t buy this product now, you’ll lose out. Telemarketers for Internet scams threaten that your computer will be irreparably damaged if you don’t buy their fix – which will install ransom-ware on your computer, so you will be plagued with troubles that only the scammers can fix.

Psychologist Anthony Pratkanis has identified over a hundred techniques of social influence which include:

Foot in the Door – where a small request precedes a larger request: Once you’ve agreed to buy the cushions, you’ll be sold the sofa.

Door-in-the Face – where a large request that will be turned down is followed by a small request: the seller suggests you buy the Cadillac, and then sells you the Ford.

That’s not All – where an offer is made then followed with a lower price or additional “free” products. This technique is often used in commercials, where “gifts” are added to the original product.

Low-balling – here the hard-seller pretends to have offered too low a price once a commitment has been made to buy. The purchaser will often go along with the new, higher price.

Scarcity or “Buy Now” – where the seller pretends that the item will only be available for a limited time or that stocks are low.

The essence of hard sell is to overwhelm a potential customer until they give in to pressure. The answer is to refuse to buy anything without taking time to think it over, take time away from the salesperson, compare prices, and talk it over with someone knowledgeable.

Hard-sellers use the techniques of recruitment and seduction.

Abusive Relationships

In an abusive relationship, one partner dominates the other. Freedom of choice is taken away, and one person becomes the other’s servant, or even their slave.

Abusive relationships rely upon coercive control. The psychological prison created by a dominant partner can also lead to sexual abuse and physical violence. Self-esteem is undermined through gaslighting. Even strong-willed and independent people can be reduced to compliance and subservience in a toxic relationship. Through manipulation, a partner can be reduced to complete compliance. They will defend the predator against others and return to the relationship, if they are not offered the proper help to overcome their dependence.

People often blame the victims of domestic abuse and suggest that they should simply leave the abusive partner, but our psychology is more complicated than that. Predatory people usually create a relationship before they begin to abuse their victims – unless the victims are already conditioned to accept abuse. Before physical abuse begins a framework of coercive control is created. The target’s resistance will have been undermined.

An abusive relationship is a state of mind: a two-person destructive cult where the abuser uses a web of fear, guilt, obligation, and confusion to maintain absolute control. Most often, the abused partner is manipulated into believing that the abuse is less severe than it really is, by trivializing and minimizing. They may be convinced that the situation is temporary and will work itself out, if only they work harder, or even – worst of all – that they deserve the maltreatment, because of some past failing. Although most people suffering from domestic abuse don’t start out with low self-esteem, it is the inevitable result, so many abused partners come to see themselves as unworthy of love, and are convinced that if they leave the abuser no one else will ever love them.

Victims of coercive control in domestic relationships can find themselves confined to the house, forbidden from contact with friends and relatives, and forced to perform endless menial tasks based upon capricious rules. Their human rights are severely curtailed under the control of a human predator. They will often have been seduced into the relationship with a deliberate pattern of recruitment.

Societal expectations also play a major role in an abused partner’s unwillingness to leave – until recently, divorce was taboo; even now, many people in abusive relationships are urged to “work it out” rather than “throw away” the marriage or relationship, with a heavy burden of guilt placed on the partner who couldn’t make it work. Another significant factor is a very real fear of violent reprisals to those who leave – a substantial percentage of spousal murders occur just after the abused partner has fled the relationship. Those who leave often face not only the disapproval of society but financial hardship, as the abuser often creates financial dependence as part of the controlling relationship.

If the abusive relationship occurs within a high-control group, the chances of leaving decrease even further, as the group controls all relationships, so that the group is often spoken of as the “third person in the marriage bed.” Groups that follow strict patriarchy or “male headship” often do not recognize abuse as a “proper” reason for divorce; many former abused women tell of being directed by church elders to pray more and be a more “loving”, submissive wife.

In the majority of cases – perhaps 80% – the victims of this form of coercive control are female, but domestic abuse is not limited to women: men abused by their wives unfortunately face scorn and ridicule, especially if they are physically larger than their tormentors, and often do not speak out for fear of being viewed as “less of a man” for being abused. The very existence of abused husbands proves that domestic abuse is not about physical strength, but emotional and psychological dominance. However, a society largely ignorant of the realities of coercive control has difficulty recognizing that men are also vulnerable to manipulation in a romantic relationship, and male victims of domestic abuse are still largely under-represented and ignored. Domestic abuse also happens in same-sex relationships; although we are still in the early days of societal acceptance, it is clear that those in same-sex relationships can and do experience the same patterns of behavior as heterosexuals.

Victims often develop complex post-traumatic stress disorder. In the 1970s, psychologists Margaret Singer and Camella Serum noted the similarities between returning prisoners of war and victims of domestic abuse. Psychologist Steven Morgan called spousal abuse “conjugal terrorism”, noting the similarities between the behavior and attitudes of violent husbands and political terrorists.

Professor Evan Stark’s Coercive Control shows that undue influence is the basis for domestic violence, and that to prevent this violence, we must understand coercive control. It is up to each of us to halt the cycle of violence – and recognize the patterns of coercion that keep the abused partner captive.

In the UK in 2015, coercive control was made a criminal act, leading to the prosecution of spousal abusers. We need to alert society to the characteristics of human predators and their techniques of seduction and recruitment.

Read about Family and One-on-One Cults here.


Domestic Abuse Resources


The Mission of E-Care is to

ASSESSMENTS and suggesting
RESOURCES with the goal of
EMPOWERING motivated adults—who were emotionally traumatized as children due to institutionalized undue influence or as adults in coercive-controlled relationships—to begin to take the necessary steps to become autonomous and capable of making independent decisions.