Lifton’s Eight Criteria of Thought Reform and AA.

Does AA use thought control and fit the Lifton’s Eight Criteria of Thought Reform.

On the latest podcast that I have done with Jon Stewart who blogs at https://jonsleeper.wordpress.com we discuss the idea of thought control or thought reform, being part of AA. Many people will be surprised by this but if you look at some of the things that are written about AA on some “Anti – AA” sites you will discover that some critics of AA and the steps feel AA is a religious cult that uses thought control.

I don’t think AA is a cult although there are cultish aspects to it, especially in some big city meetings. Alcoholics Anonymous does not attempt to take all your money and people can leave when they want, although they maybe discouraged from doing so by certain members. Nobody told me to come back when I left, they assumed I would relapse and return on my own, but thankfully this was not the case.

Podcast about Lifton’s Eight Criteria of Thought Reform.

Lifton’s Eight Criteria of Thought Reform.

We decided to look at how AA compares to Lifton’s Eight Criteria of Thought Reform. You read more about this  at http://www.exitsupportnetwork.com/artcls/mindctrl/lifton.htm

Here are the Eight criteria.

  1. Milieu (Environmental) Control – Control over the members’ flow of information and social interaction. In many groups, there is a “no gossip” rule that keeps people from expressing their doubts or misgivings about what is going on. Members are taught to report those that break the rule, a practice that increases dependence on the leadership. They are sometimes told not to believe anything they see or hear reported by the media.

2. Mystical Manipulation – The group attributes supernatural influences where none are present–attributing an accident to a member that left to be “God’s punishment”–or manipulates situations so they appear spontaneous–members believing that their new feelings and behavior has arisen spontaneously because of joining their new group. The effect is enhanced by the milieu control because dissenting or alternative ideas are not present.

3. Demand for Purity – Unreasonable rules and unreachable standards are imposed upon the members. The critical, shaming essence of the cult environment is gradually internalized by the members, which builds lots of guilt and shame, further magnifying their dependence on the group. Individuals easily feel inadequate, but are more willing to submit to this because the milieu control limits critical questioning, and the mystical manipulation validates the group’s rules.

4. Confession – Past and present behavior, undesirable feelings are to be confessed. However, the information gained about you can be used against you to make you feel more guilty, powerless, fearful and ultimately in need of the group and the leader’s goodness. This environment is set up by the unreasonable demand for purity.

5. Sacred Science – The teachings of the group are viewed as the ultimate, unquestionable truth. The leader of the group is likewise above criticism as the spokesperson for God on earth, whose Truth should be applied to all humankind and anyone who disagrees or has alternative ideas is not only irreverent, but also unscientific. Mystical manipulation often lends credence to the group’s doctrine.

6. Loading the Language – The group’s language serves the purpose of constructing their thinking and shutting down critical thinking abilities. “Groupspeak” forces members to censor, edit and slow down spontaneous bursts of criticism or opposite ideas. Soon members find it easier to talk among themselves than with outsiders, who are given derogatory names such as “of Satan,” “unconverted,” etc.

6. Loading the Language – The group’s language serves the purpose of constructing their thinking and shutting down critical thinking abilities. “Groupspeak” forces members to censor, edit and slow down spontaneous bursts of criticism or opposite ideas. Soon members find it easier to talk among themselves than with outsiders, who are given derogatory names such as “of Satan,” “unconverted,” etc.

8. Dispensing of Existence – The group’s totalistic environment emphasizes that the members are part of an elite or special group. Outsiders are considered unworthy or unenlightened. This thinking leads to the thinking that their whole existence centers on being in the group. If you leave, you join nothingness. This is an extension of doctrine over person. Existence comes to depend on creed (I believe, therefore, I am), submission (I obey, therefore, I am) and total merger with the group’s ideology. This is the final step in creating members’ dependence on the group.

AA does fit Lifton’s Eight Criteria.

It is interesting to see how AA fits into the Eight criteria quite well! You also apply them to most religions and many other spiritual groups as well. I do think that this can help people understand how AA works, and what is really going on in the fellowship. Many people accept everything they are told in a group and do not explore much outside it. This is a big problem for people attempting to recover from Alcoholism or Addiction, as they may benefit from a more modern approach, or something completely different to the AA spiritual solution. AA is right when it says you have take recovery seriously, but it is not always the best way to actually achieve this.

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Commenting area

  1. Thank you for an interesting and thought provoking “prod” !

  2. I hadn’t checked these links before we did this podcast. Probably should have done!

    Anyway, there’s lots of debate here about whether or not AA is a “cult”, some of which uses the Lifton criteria we discuss.

    Personally I don’t think it is, but here are some other views:

    http://www.morerevealed.com/aadep/reclaim/oldquestion.html

    http://morerevealed.com/archives/aa–the-unseen-cult–california-sociologist-1984.pdf

    http://www.schaler.net/fifth/cultbusting.html

    JS

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