How To Free Our Minds with Cult Deprogramming Expert Dr. Steven Hassan

May 5, 2022

How would you know if you were in a cult? 

If not a cult, then at least under undue influence?

The truth is: we're all under some form of undue influence. The question is: to what degree and to what extent we’re aware of this influence — which is exacerbated by social media. In an era of likes, followers, and echo chambers, how can we become aware of undue influence and gain sovereignty over our minds?

Our guest this week is Dr. Steven Hassan, an expert on undue influence, brainwashing, and unethical hypnosis. He’s the founder of the Freedom of Mind Resource Center — a coaching, consulting, and training organization dedicated to helping people freely consider how they want to live their lives. Dr. Hassan was himself a member of a cult: the Unification Church (also known as the Moonies), which was developed in Korea in the 1950's. Since leaving the Moonies, Dr. Hassan has helped thousands of individuals and families recover from undue influence.


Steven Hassan, PhD is a mental health professional and expert in undue influence tactics used by authoritarian leaders and destructive cults. He is the author of four books, including Freedom of Mind: Helping Loved Ones Leave Controlling People, Cults, and Beliefs

He is the Founding Director of the Freedom of Mind Resource Center, which provides training, consulting and support to individuals who are struggling to leave or recover from a cult and to families and organizations that are concerned about cult behaviors. Dr. Hassan began helping people affected by undue influence after he was deprogrammed from the Moon cult in 1976 at age 22. His 45 plus years of experience give him a unique perspective on the damaging effects of undue influence and exploitation by destructive cults.

Episode Highlights

Major Takeaways

  • Dr. Hassan believes that influence is on a continuum. Some influence is healthy and promotes our ability to grow. Other influence can instill dependency and indoctrinate us to harm ourselves and others. 
  • Dr. Hassan's BITE model includes 4 components of authoritarian control — the more someone has influence over behavior, information, thought, and emotion, the more they have authoritarian control.
  • There are extraordinary parallels between cults techniques and social media features. For example: "love bombing" and affirmation after people join, ex-communicating outside relationships through physical and digital echo chambers, and the weaponization of FOMO.
  • Dr. Steven Hassan's Strategic Interactive Approach helps people free themselves of undue influence through a 4-step process of reality-testing:
  • ~Detach from the constant reinforcing influences, e.g. take a tech sabbatical
  • ~Learn about the BITE model of authoritarian control — to what extent are your behaviors, information, thoughts, and emotions being influenced?
  • ~Deliberately seek out "formers" — why did they leave the group?
  • ~Think back to why you joined the group. What did you think you were getting into, and does that differ from your experience?
  • In the words of Dr. Hassan, "the cure to blind faith is perspective." In that spirit, he offers 3 questions we can ask ourselves:
  • ~How would I know if I was wrong?
  • ~Do I believe my mind is un-malleable?
  • ~Am I afraid of making a change in my life?
  • Formers are incredibly powerful, because they can be an off-ramp for people under extreme undue influence. Dr. Hassan uses the hashtag #iGotOut to de-stigmatize cult participation and show that there's life after cults. Our Executive Producer Stephanie Lepp produced a podcast called Reckonings that told the stories of formers — and how they underwent transformative change.

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