Mental or psychological control is easy when people doubt themselves.
Trusting in gurus and persons presented as higher, more knowledgeable, more powerful, or morally superior tends to make one more susceptible to manipulation.
Children, of course, need to rely on their parents and elders for protection, wisdom, and authority. But when children are taught to mistrust themselves, then as adults they are more likely to look to someone else to trust and to save them, especially in a crisis.1
Instilling Self-Doubt In Children
While a child, whenever I asked reasonable questions about church doctrines that didn’t make sense my parents and Sunday school teachers retorted “god works in mysterious ways”. The doctrine of the Holy Trinity was one nonsensical idea I questioned:
How could God be one and three at the same time? and, what was this Holy Spirit thing?
Did being told to trust in a mysterious god instead of in reason lead me to mistrust myself?
As a young adult, against my parents wishes, I was ordained a monk in a Hindu-inspired meditation group, Self-Realization Fellowship (SRF).
The teachings of SRF and their Guru, Paramahansa Yogananda, like many gurus, are fraught with suggestions that followers should doubt themselves and instead unconditionally trust the Guru.
In SRF Lesson 51, Paramahansa Yogananda taught:
“I never found complete satisfaction, comfort, and God-contact until I attuned myself with unconditional loyalty and devotion to the divine consciousness of my guru.”2
Below is a partial list of methods used by gurus and manipulative authorities who impose mental controls by instilling self-doubt. Followed by a partial list of ways that healthy individuals and groups use to boost self-trust.
Methods used by Gurus to instill self-mistrust:
- Patronizes followers (treats with kindness while betraying superiority)
- Assumes superiority (knows what’s best for others)
- Instills fear, guilt, or shame
- Belittles reason and personal experience
- Emphasizes dangers of ego, lower self, self-interest (reason, intellect, personal experience)
- Provides methods (such as meditation) to realize soul or higher self (beyond reason, intellect)
- Emphasizes service to guru or authority (versus taking care of one’s self-interests)
- Masks abusive behavior as “training” or as beyond understanding of lessor humans
Methods used by those who boost self-trust, includes:
- Nurtures self-expression, creativity
- Values first-hand experience over others’ experiences
- Encourages evaluation of outer and inner world
- Values critical thinking, reason, and intellectual development
- Respects feelings, is aware of, and allows processing of personal experiences
The above lists are not exhaustive and are meant to be a sample of the kinds of methods, both subtle and overt, that gurus and controlling authorities use to manipulate followers. Let me know if you have any items to add or to change these lists.
1 p 10 The Guru Papers: Masks of Authoritarian Power, Joel Kramer and Diana Alstad, Frog Books, Berkley, CA. 1993
2 Self-Realization Fellowship Lesson 51: My Guru, Sri Yukteswar