Lifton’s Eight Thought Reform Criteria

Robert Jay Lifton (b. 1926) developed these criteria to identify the actions of coercive groups using manipulative techniques in order to gain total control over their members, clouding their minds to rational thought.

lifton's thought reform criteria poster

Milieu Control – limit the communication, limit the knowledge.

Many abusive groups will censor what their members read, watch and listen to, but even whole societies can ignore events; it is well-known that history is written by the victor, so it’s wise to remember to look off the beaten path.

Loading the Language – create a vocabulary, create a pattern of thought.

All groups have their own unique slang, but an abusive group will use its language to separate its people so that you can’t understand them -and so they won’t be able to hear you.

Mystical Manipulation – plan the predictable to happen “spontaneously.”

Not everyone has the ingenuity of the popular charlatan who had the kneeler in front of his throne mildly electrified so that supplicants would “feel” his energy, but effect is the easiest thing for a true showman to create.

Sacred Science – our belief is true, our facts unquestionable.

This holy book is the word of God. How do we know it’s the word of God? Easy, because the man whose sole authority comes from that holy book is telling me it was written by God. Sound familiar?

Demand for Purity – only those good enough can “get it.”

Call it original sin, evil intent, entheta, negative energy, whatever – you’re going to have to get rid of what the group tells you isn’t right for you: only then can you reach your goals.

Confession – we promise we won’t use your past against you… really …

Before you found your group, you had plenty wrong with your life. The group will make sure you – and the rest of your fellow members – knows exactly what it was that was wrong with you before they helped you get better.

Doctrine Over Person – when your facts don’t match our Truth, your facts are wrong.

In case of a discrepancy between what you observe and what the scripture says is correct, the group will insist that you must have observed the incident incorrectly. After all, how could you, a mere mortal, know better than the Word of God? (for groups with a non-religious focus, the authority of the group can take the place of any scripture)

Dispensing of Existence – the Truth is worth more than life, especially an outsider’s life.

You are mortal. And, compared to the Ultimate Truth, the Will of God, the Course of History, the One True Path, or whatever it is your group is claiming as the only worthwhile cause, the life of just one person doesn’t matter much. And as anyone who’s not with them is against them, then if you’re not one of the gang, your life isn’t worth the charge on your cellphone battery.

Although Lifton was the first to give names to these concepts, bits of humanity have been using these methods to cloud the minds of other bits of humanity for centuries. Now that we’ve started to define the problem – and are starting to come up with some solutions – it’s important to get this information out there. These things are the sort of things a person needs to know about, in order, as Steven Hassan says, to be a responsible member of our society. We not only need good leaders, we need to know how to be good followers.

Bit of backstory for this one:

So the cranberry-quaffing one is finalizing his Magnum Opus (with my humble assistance), and one of my tasks is creating some of the “text box” illustrations being used to, well, illustrate key concepts. One of the seminal concepts of the field, of course, is Lifton’s Eight Criteria of Thought Reform, requiring its own text box, of course. Well, in dutifully creating the graphics, instead of doing anything so rash as actually looking the eight criteria up, I just grabbed the eight concepts that we’d highlighted earlier as the “bullet points” for that chapter, as they looked about right at two a.m. (as I have found to my regret, many things that shouldn’t look right, do look about right at two a.m.), stuck them in the graphic, and moved onto the next one.

Jon’s a nice guy. Really, he is – not a saint, as he’ll be the first to tell you, but he’s not the type to hurt a person’s feelings or go out of his way to be mean. He tends to smile a lot, and is honestly courteous to and considerate of those around him. He dotes on his children and grandchild and talks to his cats in the same silly squeaky voice we all use when addressing feline personnel. In short, a nice guy.

However, he does have a certain edge, which often manifests itself in his Sahara-dry humor, and so when I opened up my e-mail the next day, I wasn’t surprised to find a very polite and yet pointed request, telling me that although he had been a little informal with the exact wording of the criteria in the body of the chapter, still, he would appreciate it, if I’d be so kind, that if I was going to label a set of concepts as Lifton’s criteria, that I really should either have them correct, or not listed as Lifton’s, and that I was to choose one or the other, and he’d appreciate the former rather than the latter, but what did he know? Oh, so very polite and British. You can hear the tidily trimmed mustache and button-down collar from an ocean away with this one.

Yet, for all the dry wit, the man was right, and my face was red. I mean, I’ve been hipdeep in this stuff for about a year now, working on this treasure of a tome for many months, and I couldn’t name Lifton’s Thought Reform Criteria off the top of my head?

Good Gracious, what kind of … well, whatever it is I am, am I?

(Anti-Cult Crusader? Thought Manipulation Watchdog? Mind Control Educator? Terrorism Prevention Expert? there’s a certain charm to being in a field so young we don’t really have a name for it yet.)

I’ll probably put it up on Zazzle or Cafe Press as a poster (the size of the doc is 11 x 17, perfect poster size, and 300 dpi, so you can go to 22×34 with this before it gets blurry), but feel free to share and enjoy. This info needs out there. I’m just hoping I made it trippy-looking enough to be interesting.

This entry was posted in Art, Cults, Philosophizing, Spirituality and Religion, Writing and tagged , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , . Bookmark the permalink.

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