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Phobias: A Tool of Cult Indoctrination

How to handle people with cult-programmed phobias

Key points

  • Phobias are always irrational, sometimes nonsensical, fears whereby people believe they are in great danger.
  • Phobias are powerful tools of authoritarian cult programming to enslave believers psychologically.
  • Phobias can be cleverly implanted, so people do not realize they have any.

Our fears are supposed to protect us from real danger. However, a phobia exists when a person wrongly believes they are in grave danger.

People must use their frontal cortex to think and test their beliefs. By seeking out trustworthy data from trustworthy sources, only then can we analyze facts to avoid being swept up in irrational and nonsensical fears. Humans can be strongly influenced by authority figures as well as their network of people to believe utter nonsense.

Inducing phobias is a universal mind-control tool used by cults to exert undue influence. Phobias can range from fear of riding in elevators to fear of being able to lead a happy and successful life outside the cult—something cult leaders typically convince their followers.

Over the past few years, conspiracy cults like QAnon spread fears through misinformation about Democrats and COVID vaccines. Fortunately, billions of doses of the vaccine have been administered worldwide. However, there is still a lot of disinformation about COVID vaccines, including that the vaccine alters DNA and implants a microchip in your arm. The now utterly debunked Plandemic video is responsible for instilling phobias about COVID into millions of people. People need to think critically about the risks of getting COVID vs. the risk of getting vaccinated. The statistics of severe negative physical reactions to the COVID vaccine show these are rare.

Cult leaders can use phobias to control all aspects of their followers’ lives, from whom they marry to what medical treatment, if any, is permitted. They also often instill a phobia of life outside the cult, painting a picture of eternal damnation of believers who defect. Such phobias can be so deeply implanted that cult members may not know they exist.

Phobias, whether conscious or unconscious, limit one's choices. A person might rationalize a fear of elevators by saying that taking the stairs is a healthier choice. It is healthier, but wouldn’t it be desirable to have a choice to get up the stairs faster and without possible sweating? Phobias rob people of having a real choice.

Unfortunately, we live in a time when people spend many hours a day on their smartphones, consuming unregulated social media where misinformation abounds. Distorting information by misinterpreting data casts doubt on the scientific process. The most important tool to combat information control in this digital age is the ability to seek trustworthy primary sources and fact-check everything. When working with people subjected to undo mind influence, the critical part to remember is to empower them to make informed decisions based on facts and data.

Undoing Phobias

Imagine thinking that mysterious people are out to poison you. Phobias are so integrated into the cult mindset that undoing them is critical when working with a cult member. To regain their freedom, people must overcome their phobias. Fortunately, phobias can be undone relatively quickly.

For those who have a phobia of any COVID vaccine, the goal is to imagine receiving the vaccination with no adverse side effects. I am always interested in whether the person has previously gotten vaccinations. If this is the case, it is even easier than for someone who has never been vaccinated, which is quite rare.

Step 1: Explain phobias and their cure

First, explain what a phobia is and how irrational fears are different from rational fears. Millions of people have phobias: public speaking, snakes, dark places, and heights, for example.

Elevator phobias are quite rare and yet can be life-altering. In most developed countries, elevators are quite safe—dramatically safer than getting into an automobile. But to someone with an elevator phobia, even imagining riding safely and comfortably in an elevator is impossible. They either imagine plummeting to their death or being trapped for eternity.

Facts and data are vital. It is important to explain that modern elevators have emergency brakes that prevent their death. There are call buttons that alert building attendants, not to mention that most people carry cell phones. The worst that will happen is getting stuck for a few hours and being late for a meeting and soiling yourself.

Visualization helps. The person can then be asked to visualize themselves getting into an elevator and riding safely and comfortably until it’s time to exit—all the while doing deep, slow breathing and adding soothing, positive self-talk. The key helping people reprogram their own minds to have appropriate reactions to stimuli.

The fastest way to change beliefs is to change behavior, by way of in vivo exposure. Engage in the feared behavior but in baby steps, until total mastery is achieved. Systemic desensitization takes time and effort, but I have helped people with decades of a phobia in an hour when the person is motivated to change. For others, it may take more time, but practice changes behavior.

Some people first need to observe people getting in and out of the elevator safely. Some people do best when someone they trust assists them in person. Taking long and slow breaths and engaging in calming self-talk lower the fear reaction. Then they can progress to pressing the call button, then stepping into and out of the elevator while keeping the door open. When a person is ready, they can enter an elevator and ride one floor. Then more floors.

Step 2: Explain how other cults deliberately install phobias

it's important to explain how destructive cults deliberately install phobias to control their members. I describe my own experience being shown The Exorcist movie in 1974 while in the Moon cult and how the cult leader told members, “This movie was made by God. This movie is a prophecy of what will happen to you if your leave the Unification Church!”

Other examples. One Bible cult with eight million members indoctrinates their members to fear receiving a blood transfusion, even if it means saving their life. Others program fear of demon possession if a person wishes to exit the group and join a church. If you ask a cult member to tell you what they think of phobias induced by other cults, I find, they always deem it crazy that anyone would believe such nonsense.

Step 3: Discuss the specifics of their cult

Anti-vaxxers, for example, need help connecting the dots between their fear and their positive realization that modern elevators are safe or that vaccines have been used safely by billions. Also, they need help pairing that connection with their new-found knowledge that phobias can be deliberately implanted but can also be removed.

You can respectfully ask anti-vaxxers if they are open to reconsidering whom they relied on for their fearful beliefs and show them risk data about the COVID vaccine. People need to think critically about the actual risks of vaccines vs. the diseases they help prevent. The fact is that unvaccinated people are at a much higher risk of dying from COVID than are vaccinated people. Doctors overwhelmingly agree that getting vaccinated is the safest and best choice. A recent study suggests that one of the long-term negative effects of getting COVID may be dementia.

In my experience, once people see that they need to think and analyze for themselves whether something is a legitimate fear or a phobia, they have a powerful tool for self-efficacy and are often on their way out of the cult. The person can, if willing, be shown videos of anti-vaxxers on their deathbed saying COVID is dangerous and they regret telling people it was a hoax, or that modern medicine is categorically untrustworthy. They may also be open to listening to people who now realize QAnon and the right-wing media led them astray from making healthy choices.

Being educated in a cult’s beliefs and loaded language as well as phobias particular to the group is critical to understanding people trying to exit a cult. An effective therapist helps educate clients to understand that it is their mind, and they should learn how the mind works and how to be in control of their life choices.


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