A few years ago, I went to a seminar which was apparently designed to help people think like millionaires. I originally went thinking that I would learn how to think like a successful person (whatever that means) when a friend of mine asked me to come along. The first thing I noticed about this seminar was the length of each seminar day and lack of adequate breaks. The 3-day seminar would go from early morning until 11pm at night for the first two days and until around 7 the last day. During this “seminar” several techniques were employed to market very expensive courses to hopeful and vulnerable people. Some of these techniques included emotional manipulation, exhaustion, shaming, hypnotic suggestion, repetition, behavior modification, confusion, and patronizing parental simulations.
Naturally, the type of people who were attracted to this type of seminar were vulnerable to begin with, which made them prime targets for thought control. When they announced that the opportunity had come to sign up for certain classes whose tuitions costed exorbitant amounts of money, flocks of people literally ran to the back of the room to sign up for these classes. I sat in my chair in shock. Why was everyone else running to the back of the room? Why were there so few of us who could see what was really going on? Then again, what was I doing there in the first place?
Here are some of my thoughts about what makes people vulnerable to brainwashing, cults, mental abuse and marketing scams.
PEOPLE LONG FOR CONNECTION:
First of all, we all seek connection with each other. If you are lost, lonely, or unsettled you are like a free floating electron looking to join an atom. You are vulnerable to be sucked into the first unbalanced nuclear situation that comes along. Small children will alter their belief systems about themselves, the world and their caregivers in order to still feel connection to them-in order to survive emotionally. This can sometimes mean they turn their back on themselves, silence their own voice, and project kindness onto the cruelest behavior, just to convince themselves that they are loved. Other children decide that they will try to “earn” their love by becoming thin, rich, or successful. They may seek out love over and over again from similar people as their parents-basically their child self is still looking to find a happy ending from an unhappy early family scenario. Many people stay in religious cults out of simple fear of being excommunicated from all of their family and friends, despite their still small voice that indicates that something is wrong.
Ask yourself what lengths you would go to in order to avoid loneliness or abandonment? There lies your vulnerability. If you can embrace the pain of loneliness and hold to your convictions until you attract healthy people into your life, you can be immune to people who may seek to exploit your desire to belong.
LOOKING FOR EXTERNAL WORTH:
When people come to believe that the way to self-acceptance is through external endeavors (becoming rich, successful, having the right partner, job, even the pursuit of enlightenment) people abandon their true selves for a false self (one that relies on external factors-what eastern philosophy calls the ego), they do not understand how those insecurities can be easily manipulated by others. For example, on television commercials, we are often given the message that in order to be a good or successful (parent, employee, citizen, lover, being) we must buy their (toy, degree, belief, deodorant, dogma) again preying upon the insecurities of the condition-based ego. I also think of a person who is trying to win a lover over using flattery (you are so handsome, successful, beautiful…) or trying to control someone by punishing their ego through criticism (with the threat of degradation, separation, confirming the person’s insecurity that they are unlovable or otherwise lacking).
To put it simply, whatever condition you put on your own self-worth can be exploited by people who wish to get something from you.
At this millionaire seminar, there came time for “confessions” about our money attitude style. We all had to separate into groups and then get on stage and talk about how wrongly we have looked at money in the past. I got up on stage as directed and “confessed” my particular view on money and the main speaker glared at me and began to cut me down in front of the entire group (over 140 people in the audience watching). He was attempting to use public shaming in order to scare people away from objective or critical thinking and in an attempt to break me down. Unfortunately for him, I wasn’t about to go down that easily. I smiled confidently and said something to the effect of “…And? What’s your point?” to which I got the crowd laughing. He was piping hot as I walked off the stage.
I am not saying that I am this great and powerful person. I am saying that whenever someone is using flattery or criticism/shaming in order to get what they want, I know that the person is trying to manipulate my ego or false sense of self. If I can love myself and release myself from these false conditions, I can be the first one to laugh at myself and be free. If someone you care about tries to control you through flattery or criticism, ask yourself this question…
“If he/she truly had my best intentions in mind, why would he/she try to exert control over my ego and thus over my will?” Someone who really cares about you will not seek to control you with shame, guilt and half-truths. A person who is trustworthy will never seek to publicly shame you. A person who loves you for who you are will not use flattery or criticism to control you. When you release your false sense of self, you will be immune to those who seek to control you in this way. You will know that the shame belongs to them for stooping to this level, it does not belong to you. As Lao Tzu said “When you don’t see the self as self, what do you have to fear?”
What do you really desire? Riches, a good reputation, a certain lover, things, easy weight loss, eternal rewards? The people at the seminar were going because they desired riches, financial freedom, success-which in itself isn’t a bad thing. However, when you are led by your desires, you must ask yourself to what extent will you compromise your values in order to achieve what you want. If you allow your desire to override what you deep down know is right, you have opened yourself up to being controlled.
Ask yourself these questions…Is this person promising me something that I really want? Are they saying that they are the only source to my desire? Are they telling me that nothing else matters but getting what I want?
There are many ways to get rich, lose weight, have a connection to a higher power. If a person comes along telling you that they or what they are selling is THE answer and the ONLY answer etc, be very suspicious. Every person that you come across is a human being with perceptions limited by their own experiences. We all have something to offer, and we are all a little bit limited. Anyone saying they have all the answers and know better than you are blind in their arrogance or selling you something.
What are you afraid of? Are you afraid of poverty, death, hell, violence, loneliness, rejection? Are you afraid that you are a bad or unworthy person? Whatever you are afraid of can be used to exploit you. People can come along and promise that what they have to offer you can keep you safe, or make you into a good person. Certainly, in some situations, it is appropriate to protect yourself, and even buy products to this end. However, if someone is telling you that ONLY their product or belief system can protect you from the dangers of the world, the fear of being a bad person, or fear of eternal punishment, they are probably either lying to themselves or lying to you.
Please understand, I am not persecuting religion in general. There have been a lot of great things that have happened through religion. I am saying to be careful when individuals or religious groups are promoting fear-based thinking. Fear and logic don’t intermingle well as when the fight-or-flight mechanism is activated, your blood floods out of your brain and into the parts of your body that help you run or fight. This is why a crowd can be so easily swayed by someone who is using fear-mongering techniques (as in witch burnings, wars, political agendas and large-scale scapegoating like the holocaust).
The more you face your fears and embrace uncertainty instead of running away from it, the less you can be exploited in this fashion.
So here is a brief synopsis of what you can do to avoid falling into someone else’s trap…
1. Choose to love yourself unconditionally.
2. Learn how to enjoy solitude.
3. Know that you can learn something from everyone.
4. Know that you can disagree with everyone.
5. Prioritize your convictions over your desires and fears. Like Jiminy Cricket sang “Always let your conscience be your guide!”
6. Face your fears, when the fears are illogical.
7. Embrace that with life comes uncertainty, and with uncertainty, comes growth.
8. Learn from people who don’t take themselves too seriously.
Once you truly realize these things, you may begin to notice subtle manipulations all around you. This does not mean the world is an evil place, it just means that the people you meet are all at different levels of awareness. I think that most highly manipulative people tend to be the most fearful and the most led by their desires. Not evil, just at their own level of blindness or denial.
Thanks for reading and make it a great day!