Undue Influence: Advice for Individuals and those who are supporting them

Undue influence is subtle and gradual, yet it has the ability to fundamentally change people and their beliefs. Unfortunately, its continued application can render a victim unwilling or unable to leave an abusive person or group. However, even the most fervent believer can be rescued or they can rescue themselves. Here are just some of the things you need to consider:

One of the key reasons that undue influence is possible is that our brains are hardwired to take the path of least resistance, making us more susceptible to being influenced. It is one of the reasons why advertising works, why we can believe magic tricks and illusions and unfortunately, why some individuals and groups will be able to influence us. 

There is no sure-fire way to prevent yourself from being unduly influenced, and because of this, there is a huge need to alter this unfortunate reality at a global level (read our letter of intent to see how we plan to do it). That said, there are some approaches that you can take to limit the likelihood of undue influence. These include:

Challenge yourself

Question what you are told, do your own research, and try to think about what you believe from more than one point of view. Studying material that offers rational and evidence-based approaches to life, ethics and history can be helpful; it's important to read and think about conflicting arguments before making up your own mind. Don't simply believe everything you read or are told; make sure to regularly challenge your own opinions. 

Learn about undue influence

Learn about the techniques and mechanisms used to unduly influence an individual, and use this knowledge as a means of prevention. Understanding how you can be unduly influenced and why, can help to reduce the likelihood that you will be affected.

Trust your instincts

Even if you haven't consciously spotted the signs, it is possible that your subconscious will have picked up on something! If something seems too good to be true, or you have a bad feeling about something, then trust your gut instinct. 

Stay true to your values

You need to make your own decisions about right and wrong, good and evil, harm versus help, and the greater good versus the benefit of the few. Everything should be judged on overall benefit, not only to ourselves, but to those around us. 

Some people who are in destructive influence situations will have been manipulated to join, while others will have been 'born into' unethical influence situations. Whilst both are being unduly influenced, these are very different experiences and require different solutions. 'Born-ins' will have no other frame of reference prior to the influence, and therefore may not even be aware of the alternatives. Whereas those who were drawn in as teens or adults may have a stronger assertion that the influence was their 'choice'.

A secondary consideration when encouraging people to leave the influence situation is how long they have been influenced. For people who have spent years being influenced, they may choose to physically leave a specific situation, whilst retaining much of the mindset that their manipulator created. This makes them susceptible to further undue influence and will often mean a return to their 'comfort zone', i.e., the original sphere of influence. This is often compounded by the guilt and phobias that they unknowingly acquired while being unduly influenced, which does not automatically go away.

If this is not bad enough, many people who are trapped will be unable to escape. The fear of shunning, emotional blackmail, being unable to take care of themselves outside the sphere of influence, or even threats of bodily harm to themselves and/or their children, may be prevalent and therefore many will choose to remain or return.

Any influenced individual will need ongoing help and support - away from the sphere of influence - if they are return to living a more normal life. 

People are often unable to rid themselves of the manipulator's mentality, therefore there is a huge need for well-trained therapists who understand the process of undue influence. In fact, many undue influence victims will never fully recover unless they get help from a competent therapist.

If someone visits a therapist, they must be careful to ask specific questions at their first session. At www.hopevalleycounselling.com, Gillie Jenkinson gives good advice when she says, “…you do not have to continue with the first therapist you see. Don’t be afraid to interview the therapist to make sure he or she will be the one most likely to meet your needs.”

So how can a person be sure that the therapist understands undue influence and the effects of cults and high-control groups? Semi-retired psychotherapist, author and former cult member—Bonnie Zieman—offers a two-page, digital document which can help therapists understand the dynamics of undue influence and the pernicious effects it has on an individual. This document can be accessed at https://bonniezieman.com/ where it can be printed and offered to the therapist.

Despite being useful, there are potential risks to therapy: that it will not be suitable, or that it will not be sufficient. What's more, people can become dependent on therapy as a replacement crutch. For many people, complete recovery may come from informal therapy with other ex-victims who have also fully recovered; the most significant therapeutic effects can occur after a lively discussion about the principles of a common situation. 

Information is available to help people understand how undue influence works - including its use of loaded language, isolation from others, a demand for purity, hypnotic techniques and social reinforcement - and to help victims of undue influence overcome key aspects of their experiences. This information can help them transform their lives from the group’s identity to their authentic identity.

Highly recommended books to read are:

  •  Jon Atack’s Opening Minds: the secret world of manipulation, undue influence and brainwashing
  • Janja Lalich’s and Madeline Tobias’s Take Back Your Life: Recovering from Cults and Abusive Relationships
  • Steven Hassan’s 2015 revised Combating Cult Mind Control: Combating Cult Mind Control: The #1 Best-selling Guide to Protection, Rescue, and Recovery from Destructive Cults

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