Are you being controlled?

BITE Model of Authoritarian Control

Being influenced by others is part of being human and, in many ways, a necessary aspect of socialisation, belonging to community, and finding safety. For children, the dominant caregiver plays an essential role in modeling how to go through the world, fit in, and get what they need. For teenagers, mentors and being on sports teams or part of clubs, going to church, etc. are often highly influential and important physical, emotional, and mental life skills are developed. And adults - even though socialisation mostly happens earlier in life - still need to have people who they aspire to be like and groups where they feel belonging and safety. 

Not all influence is positive and there are times where influence is not merely looking up to someone who has traits that you would like to develop in yourself. Even when it seems at the beginning that a group is benign - such as a gym program, new and hip church, or the latest MLM scheme - individuals, groups, and organizations sometimes seek to take more from the members than is right and then violate our innate right to autonomy. It can be challenging at times to identify which sources of influence are beneficial and which cross the line and are toxic, controlling, or manipulative. 

Steven Hassan - a leading expert on authoritarian control, cult dynamics, and undue influence - says that the characteristics of toxic sources of influence are actually quite possible to track and identify. Through his research, he has come up with the BITE Model of Authoritarian Control. 

BITE stands for: 

Behaviour Control

Information Control

Thought Control

Emotional Control  

The BITE model aims to shed light on techniques used by individuals, groups, and organizations to control the members and gain ultimate authority. When someone is aware of these techniques it becomes much easier to spot them when they are happening and then take the needed steps to get out. 

What do you need to be looking for if you are concerned that someone of influence is using it to control? 

Behaviour Control:

Does this person, group, or organization . . . 

- Control where you live and who you associate with?

- Control what you do with your body, such as who you have sex with? 

- Dictate what you wear, how you cut your hair, etc.?

- Tell you how to eat, drink, whether to fast, when to eat, etc.?- control your finances and/or create financial dependence?

- Dictate your leisure, entertainment, or vacation time? 

- Require their permission to make major or minor decisions? 

- Discourage individualism and encourage group cohesion? 

impose rigid rules?

Information Control:

Does this person, group, or organization . . . 

- Deliberately with-hold or distort information? 

- Discourage access to sources (internet, books, magazines, media) that are outside of their 'approved' list? 

- Rank all sources as inside versus outside sources, creating an 'us versus them' mentality? 

- Encourage spying and reporting on one another? 

 Thought Control: 

Does this person, group, or organization . . .

- Expect you to take on their 'map of reality'? Eg. Black and white thinking, us vs. them, good vs. evil, ect.

- Encourage only 'good and proper' thoughts?

- Use language that discredits your own experiences? 

- Use techniques to alter your mental state and undermine critical thinking? 

- Teach thought-stopping techniques (chanting, denial, rationalisation, praying, etc.)?

- Reject rational thought, critical analysis, or constructive criticism? 

- Label other belief systems as wrong, evil, or illigitimate?

Emotional Control: 

Does this person, group, or organization . . .

- View certain emotions are wrong, evil, or shameful?

- Teach emotion-stopping techniques?

- Always blame the person and not the organisation/group?

- Promote feelings of guilt or unworthiness? 

- Instill fears around feeling emotions, falling out of favour with them or the deity, thinking independently, etc.? 

- Rely on emotional highs and lows

- Expect ritualist (and sometimes public) confession of sins?

- Indoctrinate extreme fears, such as what will happen if you leave, of hell or damnation, etc.? 

Many of these techniques are challenging to pinpoint, as they often feel vague and somehow fit into the culture of the group or organization. Hassan's model offers great language to describe these influences and then be able to see what is actually happening. You can find out more about the BITE Model of Authoritarian Control here, as well as Steven Hassan's other work around cult dynamics and undue influence. 

Are you in the process of working through the long-lasting affects of a high-control individual, group or organization? Many people find working with a counsellor or therapist to be helpful within this process. This is my area of specialty and I have helped many people leave harmful groups, understand the dynamics at play, and then make a life that is autonomous, independent of undue influence, and according to their values.

Want to learn more about who I am and how I work? Click here. 

Want to book a free 20-minute video consultation to determine whether we might be a good fit? Click here.

Posted December 16, 2021

By Kelsey Hoff


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