Coping with Triggers

Coping with Triggers & PTSD Symptoms

Carol Giambalvo

Rosanne Henry is going to conduct the majority of this workshop. First, I am going to take about a half hour to give you some background on how high-demand groups teach us and encourage a lot of practice in dissociation — or trance states. This is how your group taught you to dissociate.

What is dissociation?

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 dissociates—or persons in the midst of traumatic experiences. 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

Before I describe how Ericksonian hypnosis works, 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, 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 2 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. There are, however, degrees of hypnotizability. What if not you’re told that “now we’re going to hypnotize you?” What if 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 where 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



  • Using information about where we are psychologically—what “buzz word” concepts we would resonate to (“peace”, “happiness”, “make a difference”, “live our lives according to God’s will” etc.)

  • Anyone who presses these buttons expresses concepts that are universally held concepts. The new recruit resonates to the articulation of his “own” ideal goals, which only require his “proper” behavior to be actualized.

Pacing and Leading

  • Moving into sync with the subjects

  • Figure out how they process information (use visual descriptions, auditory descriptions, emotional descriptions) I see that….I say that….I feel that

  • Breathing patterns—pace the voice to the in and out breathing of a listener

  • Repetition and boredom

  • When recruiting—model the recruit’s behavior and interests “into music” “into skiing” —to establish “we are alike” Then move into the group’s reality slowly—don’t give too much information too soon

Positive Transference

  • Establish a positive emotional bond with member

  • Create a situation in which subject will act appropriately to a benevolent “parent” figure — someone who knows more than you do, someone with the secrets to life, someone who has your best interests at heart and wants to share those secrets with you

  • Urge members to have feeling of specialness

  • At first show uncritical acceptance

  • Continue pacing with both verbal and non-verbal suggestions used to further mold the recruit’s attitudes and behavior so they conform to the group’s norm

Indirect Suggestion

  • Erickson found that adults were unable to accept direct suggestions about their behavior because it was too great a threat to their sense of autonomy.

  • Indirect suggestion gives an adult a greater sense of control over his choice and they “feel” as though they’ve made their own decision.

  • In groups new behaviors—all ostensibly to advance the wonderful goals of the group—are in fact chosen by the leaders—more $—more recruits

  • Indirect suggestions are paced in lectures and indoctrination sessions — both verbal and non-verbal messages are given about “proper” behavior

Use members as models of behavior for new recruits

Example: from a newspaper reporter that infiltrated a Unification Church indoctrination camp: He described his 3 a.m. arrival and the separation of men and women into sleeping groups. At 6:30 a.m., the leaders roused the recruits for calisthenics, a reasonable exercise. The group formed a circle with members and recruits alternating. A member in the center led the exercises. First, the whole group was asked to complete twenty jumping jacks—and exercise familiar to all. They were then instructed to do twenty “free-style” jumping jacks. The recruits stood around for a moment quite bewildered. What in the world is a “free-style” jumping jack? The only way for them to proceed was to observe the members and do what they did. Within moments of waking up, the demand to do “free-style” jumping jacks developed a conformity mind set among the recruits.

A group can be absorbed in some activity and a leader will say “this seems to be going so well, let’s skip lunch today and finish it”— members experience that request as “no big thing” but little by little their changed behavior becomes more and more strictly enforced by the group’s total control over validating feedback—pats on the back, smiles, hugs, praise for “good behavior”—withdrawal of affection, silence or bad behavior. As one former member expressed: “Each thing they do to control your behavior is seen as a sacrifice to give you greater power to be a better member.”

The process of pacing and leading is not only part of the initial indoctrination but is also—along with elaborate reinforcement schedules and manipulation of guilt and shame and humiliation—an ongoing feature of membership.

There are several techniques popularly thought to be “hypnotic” that leaders use masterfully during long lectures:

“Yes” Set (“Amen” set) and Confusion Techniques

Yes Set - a series of statements are made and questions asked to which the speaker is certain to gain agreement and affirmation. After a number of these, the subjects have gained a “yes” set. This ensures that subsequent statements and questions are agreed with and affirmed even if such acceptance would not have been gained if they were made at the beginning. Example: (lecture)

God is the origin of us all. (yes) Everything comes from God (yes), and without God there cannot be anything (yes). Nothing can exist without God (yes). This is the most essential understanding of God (yes). Nevertheless, we came to be unable to understand God (yes); therefore, we lost everything. (Here the transition from pacing to leading begins with a non sequitur. There is nothing in the statements previously agreed to which suggests that we lose everything without an understanding of God. All religious speak of the incomprehensibility of God) We became unable to understand anything (This again is a logical non sequitur. “We cannot understand God does not mean that we cannot understand anything. However, placed in the sequence, it seems to make sense.) We came to not understand anything at all because we lost God (This ties the entire passage together with a statement of total ignorance).


We as humans have the need for the world to make sense and have meaning. When one is confused for any length of time, the first sensible, straightforward statement is accepted—Example (continued from prior lecture)

“Everything came from God and we lost God. Therefore, there cannot be anything that has nothing to do with God. Nevertheless, we lost God, therefore we don’t know anything in this universe. We lost the beauty of nature, beauty of creation, beauty of birds, beauty of trees, beauty of the world. Just imagine (an invitation into one’s inner mind). Man was created as the lord over God’s creation.

The lecturer invites the recruit to see himself in a special way: “Just imagine”. He then describes the path to actualizing man’s proper role as lord of the earth. The lecturer, thereby, touches the “special person” needs of the recruits, who are presented as “world savers.” Needless to say, proper cult behavior is the means to this end.

Metaphor and Interspersal


  • The embedding of messages within other messages, which make them hard to resist


  • Stories or parables in which actions are “suggested” by implied comparison rather than directly (lecturers telling “stories” on themselves—how they learned from their mistakes—“killer shares” )

Examples from UC indoctrination camp:

God created this tiny flower in which I am living, in which we are now. Then for what purpose, for what purpose did he create this flower without resting even at nighttime? He worked to make this flower from morning to night without rest. Even though no one could understand how precious and beautiful it was, still Heavenly Father created this flower from morning to night without sleep. For what purpose? For what purpose? To give joy to whom? To man. In order to give this present to me, Heavenly Father worked hard every day, every day, even overnight without sleeping. He created this flower when I didn’t know anything. Have you ever cried to see one tiny flower? You have understood God’s love for you. Is that right?

That many cult members work incredibly long hours is a well-known fact. Suggestions about long, hard, work, even overnight, are established in the equation of God’s work and the work of the cult. The group is actually working for the good of Man, even if members do not understand how, and even if no one else can appreciate how precious and beautiful our work is. The metaphor is then appropriately tied off with an emotional pull and the subject is quickly changed to prevent any critical internal comment. Have you cried over beauty? (yes) Then you understand God’s love for you. Is that right? “Is that right” required the answer yes, which seals the previous metaphor in place.

Excerpts from “The Utilization of Hypnotic Techniques in Religious Cult Conversion” by Jesse S. Miller, Ph. D., Center for Psychological Studies, (Cultic Studies Journal, Vol. 3, No. 2, 1986)