How to Heal From a Cult

Gettysburg_SunsetDbleWowI must admit it is fun eviscerating this “school of higher consciousness” (cough). But as cathartic as it is, I want to focus on recovery and try to veer away from snarky and cynical (a little). Specific things have helped me in the healing process; starting with admitting that my five-year tenure was in a cult, not an “esoteric mystery school”. Recently, my brother and I were discussing my “School” days and he said, “Dude, that is so weird.” I replied, “Do you think?”

On a more serious note, though, I couldn’t heal without recognizing “School” as simply another predatory cult, among the many. Everybody knows these groups feed on emotional insecurities; now I know how they take advantage of those seeking meaning, direction, purpose, acceptance, belonging, spiritual connection, community, etc. But when it comes to the search for identity, cults really sink in their teeth.

In the book Quiet Horizon, author Greg Jemsek offers a compassionate understanding of the fragile process of establishing identity and explores the idea of narcissistic wounding –  I will write more about it in a future post; for now, simply put, narcissistic wounding interrupts the establishment of identity, usually at a tender age. Those with faltering senses of identity are more vulnerable to outside influences. Those with stronger senses of identity need less external validation.

On looking back, I realized that “students” with stronger senses of self disappeared from the ranks. Some “students” pushed back on certain unpalatable demands — those who had maintained some ego strength. “School’s” pre-fab response was, “You are in self will (horrors; I’ll write a self-will post in the future, too). “Self will” was a shaming device — the not-so-subtle subtext: you are selfish(again, horrors). Someone with solid identity might respond to that shaming with “so what” or “fuck you”. But those who aren’t so confident in themselves tend to take on the group’s caricaturization.

Cults foster insecurity, paranoia, fear and child-like dependence in the membership – those who obviously “need” guidance from “above” to “become the men/women they wish to be”. Essentially, cults cultivate (sorry, unintentional pun) addictions by flattening members into one-dimensional caricatures of themselves — wounded souls, seeking acceptance, willing to “do whatever it takes” to further the mysterious cause (mo’ students, mo’ money) and “evolve”.

I call this practice Cultic Identity Theft; I consider it psychological violence; it will also get a post in the future. I witnessed and experienced the cult’s soul-sucking techniques. My psyche felt pulled apart and parsed out — but that pain woke me up; I saw fear dictating my choices, abdicating responsibility to “teachers”. I realized I wanted to leave the group; my fear kept me bound to it. “School’s” benefits (cough) had disappeared; I was unemployed, depressed, exhausted and empty; yet, I was afraid of life without it. I remember realizing, “ It’s not like things are so great right now. If I fuck up my life on my own terms, at least it won’t cost $350 a month.”

Thus began my emancipation: a connection to, and trust in, my moral compass replaced the need to seek direction and mentoring; clarity of thought and feeling replaced confusion; self responsibility replaced dependency; self-acceptance replaced a futile need to please the upper echelons. I heard the Wizard of Oz telling Dorothy, the Cowardly Lion, the Tin Man and the Scarecrow, “You never needed me. You had what you needed all along.” I realized that my “classmates” and I didn’t need this group. The cult needed us — lifelong, dedicated, “tuition”-paying members.

BREAKING “SCHOOL RULES” shed light on my path to healing. Soon I’ll write a separate post for each of the following “rules” and expound on the benefits of breaking them:


 

    • Privacy, (cough, aka Secrecy): “Don’t tell anyone about this; it’s private, just for you”:The more I spoke/speak out, the more clarity replaced(s) confusion. The debilitating and exhausting cognitive dissonance plaguing my mind has dissipated. Breaking my silence broke an invisible isolation. I stopped protecting a con job. Refusing to carry this secret to my grave freed my mind and restored my sanity.

 

    • Your Time is “School’s” Time Now: “School” will claim that humans have a skewed relationship to time – Robert said, “If you tell me you don’t have time for this and that, I won’t believe you.”
      Once I left, I started protecting my time and practicing evil and sinful “Self-Love” (horrors): I stopped living as though every moment required a life or death decision; slept eight hours a night; exercised; played my guitar; took solitude and down time; reflected on my experience and wrote about it; gave my marriage, and my friendships, quality time– you know, normal self care (so selfish!).

 

    • NO Internet research! Robert loved to say, “You have all had your own experience of ‘School’. Don’t poison it!”
      Of course I read all the online criticism. It answered the onslaught of questions and addressed the quandaries that had plagued me over my 5-year tenure. I then read academic literature from cult experts: Steven Hassan, Margaret Singer, Robert J Lifton, Greg Jemsek, etc. I learned that the only difference between “School” and Scientology is that it is smaller and less successful — a bit more hidden, but not that hidden. Trust me, all cults are the same.

 

    • Non-fraternization: if you see each other outside the hallowed halls, float past without acknowledgement, forever:Breaking this rule required connecting and corresponding with “disgruntled ex-students” both past and present. Fellow apostates provided the context, connecting the dots that “School” works very hard to separate and keep “private”. Suddenly, I was no longer isolated and alone carrying this bizarre experience inside. The isolation damages you and protects the group. Breaking that isolation sets you free body, mind, heart and spirit.

 

  • If You Order Your Life, Rightly … “School” supersedes all “only life things”:
    A funny thing happened when I stopped keeping “school” secrets and started protecting my time, my energy, my thoughts, my feelings, my relationships, hopes, desires, artistic passions, need for solitude, and beliefs. My life began to work — all areas. Many, many unnecessary struggles fell away.So here’s to breaking ALL “School Rules” and gleaning the benefits of reclaiming your time, energy, thoughts, feelings etc. More on all of this in future posts.