Carol Giambalvo; Joseph Kelly, Patrick Ryan

Dissociation is a disturbance in the normally integrative functions of identity, memory, or consciousness. It is also known as a trance state. It is a very normal defense mechanism. You’ve all probably heard of how a child being abused—or persons in the midst of traumatic experiences—dissociate. Those are natural occurrences to an unnatural event.

What are some of the events in the life of a cult member that may bring on dissociation?

  • Stress of maintaining beliefs.
  • Stress of constant activities.
  • Diet/sleep deprivation.
  • Discordant noises—conflicts.
  • Never knowing what’s next.

There are many, many ways to produce a dissociative or trance state:

  • Drugs.
  • Alcohol.
  • Physical stress (long-distance running).
  • Hyperventilation.
  • Rhythmic voice patterns or noises (drumming).
  • Chanting.
  • Empty-minded meditation.
  • Speaking in tongues.
  • Long prayers.
  • Guided visualizations. “Imagine…”
  • Confrontational sessions (hot seat, auditing, struggle sessions).
  • Decreeing.
  • Hypnotism or “processes.”
  • Hyper arousal—usually into a negative state so the leaders can rescue you (ICC confessions).
  • Ericksonian hypnosis (Milton Erickson) hypnotic trance without a formal trance induction.

Why are we so concerned about trance states?

  • Individuals don’t process information normally in trance states.
  • Critical thinking—the arguing self—is turned off.
  • Also turned off are reflection, independent judgment, and decision-making.
  • In trance you are dealing with the subconscious mind, which has no way to tell the difference between something imagined or reality—it becomes a real experience which is interpreted for you by the group ideology.
  • Once in a trance, people have visions or may “hear” sounds that are later interpreted for you in the context of the cult mindset—the “magic”—while, in reality, they are purposely manufactured physiological reactions to the trance state.
  • While in trance you are more suggestible—not just during trance, but for a period of time up to two hours after.
  • When a person dissociates, it becomes easier and easier to enter into a dissociative state—it can become a habit—and it can become uncontrollable.

You may have heard it said that not everyone can be hypnotized … that you need to be able to trust the hypnotist’s authority. While it’s true that there are degrees of hypnotizability, dissociative states may be induced indirectly. What if instead of telling you that “now we’re going to hypnotize you,” the leaders just say, “Let’s do a fun process—close your eyes and imagine …”? Are you told to trust your leaders? Do they have your best interest at heart? And what if they are using Ericksonian hypnosis, in which there is no formal trance induction?

What is Ericksonian Hypnosis? It’s an interchange between two people in which the hypnotist must:

  • Gain cooperation.
  • Deal with resistant behavior.
  • Receive acknowledgement that something is happening.

Ericksonian hypnosis involves techniques of expectation, pacing and leading, positive transference, indirect suggestion, the use of “yes sets,” deliberate confusion, the embedding of messages, and suggestive metaphor.