Robert Jay Lifton’s – 8 Criteria of Thought Reform

Final YouTube Lifton

In this video, Spike Robinson delivers an exceptional presentation about Robert Jay Lifton’s Eight Criteria of Thought Reform.

Beginning in 1953, Lifton interviewed American servicemen who had been prisoners of war (POWs) during the Korean War as well as priests and students or teachers who had been held in prison in China after 1951. In addition to interviews with 25 Americans and Europeans, Lifton interviewed 15 Chinese who had fled after having been subjected to indoctrination in Chinese universities.

Lifton’s 1961 book Thought Reform and the Psychology of Totalism: A Study of “Brainwashing” in China, based on this research, was a study of coercive techniques used in the People’s Republic of China that he labelled “thought reform” or “brainwashing”, though he preferred the former term. The term “thought-terminating cliché” was popularized in this book. Lifton found that when the POWs returned to the United States their thinking soon returned to normal, contrary to the popular image of “brainwashing.” A 1989 reprint edition was published by University of North Carolina Press.

Date of Broadcast: 03/18/17 (Length 23:29)

Speakers: Lady Cee, JT, Spike Robinson (assistant editor of the Open Minds Foundation)

Relevant Information:


Robert Jay Lifton is a psychiatrist who interviewed and gave therapy to American, European, and Chinese POWs held in thought reform camps in China during the Korean War.

  • His work is groundbreaking on the topics of mind control and brainwashing
  • Many soldiers signed outlandish false confessions during their internment
  • Lifton helped them to recover and forgive themselves for being manipulated and controlled. Their thinking returned to normal once they were away from the reform camps.

He wrote a book called, Thought Reform and the Psychology of Totalism in 1960 based on his research. Chapter 22 is an in-depth section on thought reform and brainwashing.

  • Lifton detailed eight criteria for thought control.
  • Not all of the criteria are held in the same balance.
  • These criteria are used in any high control situation (cults, abusive relationship, ideological reform, etc.)


Robert Jay Lifton’s Eight Criteria of Thought Reform

  1. Milieu Control: we control what you experience and how you experience it
  2. Loading the Language: using strong wording beyond literal the meaning to provoke an emotional response, segregate insiders and outsiders through jargon, soften the connotations of unpleasant topics
  3. Mystical Manipulation: Exploiting natural, common phenomenon to provoke mystical, transcendent experiences that unsuspecting targets attribute to the thought reformers
  4. Sacred Science: thought reformers teaching their own truths and discounting any evidence that goes against their teachings
  5. Demand for Purity: Demanding a never-ending series of actions and prohibitions to qualify as worthy or pure
  6. Confession: Telling a thought reformer how you fell short of perfection and purity; while giving them very personal, intimate information which can later be used to punish and manipulate
  7. Doctrine Over Person: ([gaslighting/ facts don’t match the truth] being convinced that actual reality (as defined by the thought reformers) doesn’t actually match up with the reality you are experiencing
  8. Dispensing of Existence: the teaching that the unbeliever is not worth as much as the believer; the “truth” is more than life




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How Jehovah’s Witnesses View Higher Education – Amanda’s Story, Part 2

Jehovah Witness Education 2

This is a conversation that is definitely worth listening to because it is one that Jehovah’s Witnesses have never been allowed to discuss. Imagine if all of the congregations in the world could speak as freely as Amanda and JT in this discussion. It really makes you think about the things you are taught about your life and the things that the Watchtower, Bible & Tract Society tries to control your behavior.


Jehovah’s Witnesses & Families – What They Teach Their Children About Higher Education – Amanda’s Story, Part 1

Jehovah Witness Education

Amanda was a gifted and talented student, her dad was an educator and he discouraged her from going to a four year college while mentoring and supporting his students to pursue higher education. Why? Because he was influenced by the teachings of the Watchtower, Bible & Tract Society.

Jehovah’s Witnesses – Who has the Final Say, Jehovah, Jesus or the Watchtower Society?

Jehovahs Witness God

Throughout the history of Jehovah’s Witnesses, they have always been in the habit of looking to the Watchtower, Bible & Tract Society to provide guidance on how they are to conduct themselves in the most mundane tasks such as the type of toys they can buy, the type of movies they can watch, where they can work, dress and grooming, the type of medical procedures they can accept and the list goes on.

In time, the Watchtower, Bible & Tract Society realized that having their members quote them or have the appearance that they are looking to them for guidance, can give the impression that Jehovah’s Witnesses are some how under the dictate of some higher power within the organization. Rather, they want others to think that the Witnesses came up with these ideas on their own. In an effort to avoid giving the appearance that they are influencing its members, the Society’s journalists wrote an article in the March 15, 1998 Watchtower using a third person approach by stating that some Jehovah’s Witnesses prefer to use such expressions as“the Bible says” or, “I understand the Bible to teach.”

JT uses critical thinking to show how the Watchtower’s talking points at times are completely flawed because there are some Watchtower teachings that cannot be found in the Bible.

March 15, 1998 Watchtower, Pages 18-19
Living Up to Christian Dedication in Freedom

3 Someone may argue that the way the Witnesses speak about the Watch Tower Society—or more often just “the Society”—indicates that they view it as more than a legal instrument. Do they not consider it to be the final authority on matters of worship? The book Jehovah’s Witnesses—Proclaimers of God’s Kingdom clarifies this point by explaining: “When The Watchtower [June 1, 1938] referred to ‘The Society,’ this meant, not a mere legal instrumentality, but the body of anointed Christians that had formed that legal entity and used it.” The expression therefore stood for “the faithful and discreet slave.” (Matthew 24:45) It is in this sense that the Witnesses generally used the term “the Society.” Of course, the legal corporation and “the faithful and discreet slave” are not interchangeable terms. Directors of the Watch Tower Society are elected, whereas Witnesses who make up ‘the faithful slave’ are anointed by Jehovah’s holy spirit.

4 In order to avoid misunderstandings, Jehovah’s Witnesses try to be careful about how they express themselves. Instead of saying, “the Society teaches,” many Witnesses prefer to use such expressions as, “the Bible says” or, “I understand the Bible to teach.” In this way they emphasize the personal decision that each Witness has made in accepting Bible teachings and also avoid giving the false impression that Witnesses are somehow bound to the dictates of some religious sect. Of course, suggestions as regards terminology should never become a subject of controversy. After all, terminology is of importance only to the extent that it prevents misunderstandings. Christian balance is required. The Bible admonishes us “not to fight about words.” (2 Timothy 2:14, 15) The Scriptures also state this principle: “Unless you through the tongue utter speech easily understood, how will it be known what is being spoken?”—1 Corinthians 14:9.

Jehovah’s Witness – Can you find true friends at the Kingdom Hall?

Jehovah Witness Friends

This podcast provides some eye opening thoughts on the Jehovah’s Witness faith and how their members have a very limited social network.

A circuit overseer gave a talk at the Kingdom Hall, Widen Out in your Love. His talk outlines the need to reach out and show love to the brothers and sisters at the Kingdom Hall. During the talk, the circuit overseer discusses how the individual slowly drops all of their friends and family to become part of the Jehovah’s Witness faith. He asks a very interesting question, “how do we treat these individuals after they get here”?

That is very interesting. There are many Jehovah’s Witnesses that feel left out of the clique and have no outlet. It is a shame that many people give up everything in life and have very little to look forward to in terms of friendships when they become one of Jehovah’s Witnesses. They do not feel the love that the brothers and sisters are supposed to show as they tout themselves as the only true religion.