How Best to Help Family/Friends Part 1

There are many people who have family and friends still involved in high-control groups, especially those of us who were raised in them ourselves. We know all too well what it is like to try to reason with them on occasion. If we are so unfortunate as to find ourselves discussing their beliefs with them, it can become very tenuous. We find ourselves in a circular discussion where we grow ever more frustrated trying to break through. Then things can devolve to a state of argument and, well, all is lost in terms of any hope to break through.

However, we needn’t feel it is hopeless. There are ways to be very effective in helping our loved ones and those we care about to come back to us. Before continuing I want to be clear that I have no formal training in psychology, so none of what I am writing is coming from me; rather, it is coming from those who do have the training, from the many books that I have read over the years on the subject. I thought I may begin a series of articles that discusses what I’ve learned beginning with the first book that helped, “Influence: The Psychology of Persuasion” by Robert Cialdini.


Influencing a person is very easy, far easier than you or I may prefer it. If you have ever studied Martial Arts, you may have been quickly surprised to learn how easy it is to hurt people. It’s actually rather unsettling to learn, and this same truth is found in the study of influence. Robert Cialdini wrote about what he calls the weapons of influence and the first is reciprocity.

Simply put, the law of reciprocity says that if someone has done something for us we feel obliged to do something for them in return. It is very powerful and it can be very subtle in it’s application. Something as simple as giving your boss their favorite choice of bottled beverage and saying, “The vending machine gave me one too many” goes a long way to influence that person’s opinion of you. If you were to use this tactic just before asking for a raise for instance, you would be far more likely to be granted that raise than you would otherwise have been.

So how does this apply to our family and friends? In this way: it is absolutely imperative that we always be kind, patient, and willing to help even when they are being militant with shunning us (if, that is, you belong to a control group that practices this, as most do). If you are able to find a way to be in the know of when they need help in some way without their knowing then use it, and help them when they need it.

The already mentioned occasion though, must be brought up again; that is, when you are discussing their beliefs you must not allow it to become an argument. The burden is on you to stay calm no matter what they say, and to that end certain approaches to the discussion must be used. I will discuss these in a later article. Kindness, patience, understanding – all of these must be applied by you. Save your frustration for when you leave. Scream into a pillow once you’ve returned home, but do not allow your frustration to show in the moment, it is imperative.

By applying the law of reciprocity to your relationships with those you care about, who are still imprisoned in the control group, you will find that they must battle their very nature to not pay you common courtesy to some extent. But even more potent, is the fact that along with triggering a natural psychological response, you will be setting an example that stands in contrast to those of the group. The group is one of conditional love, one where most of those in it would never go out of their way to help your loved one or friend. Yet here you are, helping them in the face of the worst sort of treatment, despite all they may say about you or even to you. This will make an extremely powerful impact, you can be sure.

Commitment and Consistency

The next weapons of influence Dr. Cialdini wrote about go hand-in-hand. He calls them the, “Hobgoblins of the mind.” It is slightly complicated to explain, mostly due to the fact that it’s been a very long time since I read the book. So an example of it’s application would perhaps be best.

Consider the sales environment. Imagine it is my goal to sell you some product that the company I work for has set some goal for me to reach regarding number of sales. There are many possible approaches to accomplish this, and if you have worked in sales you will be familiar the most often preached one, which is to ask every single customer to buy it. While this may be somewhat successful, you’ll often find you do not always meet your goal and its a very unreliable method of trying to accomplish the goal because it relies on a random variable – customer choice. However, what if you take that choice away? What if, instead of asking you to buy something, I asked you if you would like to save money, or be more efficient with your time, or some other worded question that somehow benefits your life? You would, of course, respond that you would very much like to be able to accomplish this. Now that you have a confession from them that they would like this thing, show them how what you are selling them will accomplish this and they must be consistent with their confession. Get them to commit to the idea that they want something which makes their lives better, show them that it will do just that, and they will be consistent with their own commitment to their wants and “needs.” You could combine this weapon of influence with reciprocity by giving them something before making the sales pitch to their desires. This would indeed be very powerful.

Before continuing, perhaps we should address the vulnerability you may be feeling right now to influence. You no doubt recognize that this very influence is at work every day in your life. This last example seems very dark, does it not? Swindling a person out of their money through use of such tactics is almost like black magic. This is precisely the reason we must always be on guard against influence. As malicious sounding as the sales example is, you know you have experienced it yourself at some point in your life. Imagine it though, such weapons of influence are being used to rob people of their very lives every day. Dr. Cialdini wrote of only a few methods of influence in his book but there are so many more. Think of all the elderly ones you know of who were born into the world in a high-control group, and lived their 60, 70 or more years under the influence of the group. How tragic.

However, returning to our goal of benevolent influence, how can we use commitment and consistency to help our families who are currently imprisoned by these groups? The best way to use commitment is to get them to commit to a meeting. Perhaps for lunch, or even if they offer to come discuss the bible with you. Agree. This commitment is an opportunity to calmly reason and talk to them. However, as a caution, try to avoid meeting them on their own ground. If they are committing to a meeting, then control the environment. Try not to meet at the control groups church, at their home (or yours), make it someplace neutral. This will help a great deal.

Once the meeting is agreed upon, they will feel the psychological pressure to be consistent with their agreement. This is the larger application of such influence, but it will become necessary to use more subtle applications. An example of this would be discussing their holy books. For example, asking why they believe their group is the true group will yield allusions to fulfilled prophecy, perhaps the truth or morality of the holy books, and any number of reasons that can be applied to literally any other such group. You then need to clarify this to get them to commit to it being their reason for belief, “So you believe that <insert group name> is true largely in part because <insert their own professed reason for belief>?” They will now agree that it is because they are agreeing with their own words.

Commitment accomplished.

Now you ask them if they also believe <insert name of another control group> is true because <use the same reason they used for their own>. This will require you to do a little homework because you had better be able to speak to what you are talking about, but it doesn’t take as much as you may imagine. Now, when they say that they don’t believe the control group you’ve used as an example is true, ask them to explain the difference. This can be extremely powerful psychology, and it may spark a very lengthy conversation. Remember all throughout the rule of reciprocity, always be kind, always be patient, and always let them save face. Are you at a restaurant? Buy them a drink, or order an appetizer or snack for the table. Do not say or do anything that may make them feel like you’re making them look foolish. Always be making an honest effort to understand them, so that they don’t feel silly. You may even say, “okay, so that I am sure I understand…” and then repeat back what they have said on occasion before you issue your challenge to it.

Social Proof

This weapon of influence is important for those of us dealing with our own kids or our parents. According to Dr. Cialdini, influence will work better (which is not to say it wont work otherwise) if applied by an equal rather than a superior. For example, do you have members of the family who aren’t in the group like aunts or uncles? Such persons may be more influential on your parents than you (but if you must go it alone you will still be very effective, this will only assist you). If it is your own children you want to help, if your other kids are not in the group then your child may respond better if their siblings are there, rather than only a parent.

If this is going to be something you try, I must stress reading, “Freedom of Mind” by Steven Hassan before making the attempt. Once you are recruiting for this effort you are now making a group, so I would highly recommend applying Hassan’s Strategic Interactive Approach. This will involve reading this book (which isn’t too long) and coordinating your efforts with the person/people you intend to bring with you in your efforts.


Simply put, people are more likely to obey authority figures. Studies have shown that they will even perform objectionable actions if told to perform them by a figure of authority. Now, at first you may think this isn’t going to be altogether useful in your efforts and in most circumstances it very likely will not be. However, there are those of us with family who have such authority figures, often such ones are grandparents or great grandparents. If there are such patriarchs in your family, and if they are not involved in the group, they can be unbelievably helpful in your endeavors. However, you must coordinate with them so that they understand the strategy you are using, because while at one time the person you are trying to help may have jumped when this person said, “jump” so to speak, that time is now gone. The respect they have for this figure, however, is still very much alive – of that you can be sure. However, appeal must now be made to feelings, love and family rather than respect and authority. All the same, having such a well-respected family figurehead present may do wonders in your efforts as well. Such a person exists outside of the Social Proof boundary, as they are no longer seen the same way as others. If no such figure exists in your family, that is okay it isn’t necessary to have them. There are many weapons of influence for this war that you can use.


This may go without saying, but the weapon of influence that Dr. Cialdini dubs, “Liking” states that people respond better to those whom they like. I still bring it up because it is a touchy issue. Steven Hassan advocates bringing together a few ex-members of a group to talk to your loved one or friend. This may be very successful indeed, but I would augment his admonition with a caution of not making this a person they are familiar with who left the group. Remember, I am not a psychologist, so this recommendation can be completely ignored if you like. However, I do base this solidly on the foundation of the principle of Liking.

If your family member or friend is familiar with a particular ex-member, then I suggest care be taken. If they had a very good relationship with them and they did indeed like them, then perhaps it would be alright. However, I would make efforts to try to gauge their current views of this person before inviting them to the meet up. High-control groups use phobia instillation to grow within their rank and file a fear and hate of members who have left. Amongst Jehovah’s Witnesses they are called mentally diseased and painted as though they are angry and being led by Satan himself. Such methodology is almost always used by these groups, and so using someone who they know may be a bad choice as it may directly violate the principle of Liking. Using someone they do not know, could make a difference here. Since the person need not divulge they were ever a part of the group. Recruiting such a person may only be necessary if you, yourself were never a member of the group. If you were, you may choose to skip over recruiting an ex-member since you already have the knowledge and experience with the group that an intervention would require.


These, “Weapons of Influence” can be used to fight for the very soul of our loved ones and friends. Metaphorically, it is as though they are captured by a wicked king or a dragon, imprisoned at their castle in the dungeons or the tallest tower. However, all is not lost. We can break them out, we only need to have the proper tools for the job, a good sword and shield, some solid armor and, of course, skill.

Arm yourself with the sword of influence, the armor of kindness and patience, and practice the art of fencing with a friend who left the group or even one not involved. Learning to use these methods with any subject will help you learn to apply them to this one. It can be done, and it is extremely effective. I wish you well on your quest.


Further Reading:

Influence: The Psychology of Persuasion by Dr. Robert Cialdini

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