Edited by Ron Burks and Larry Pile (Wellspring Retreat)
“No one gets up in the morning as says "Gee, I think I am going to ruin my life today. I think I'll join a cult, or maybe get into a relationship where I am in constant fear of my life." We are often asked, "What kind of person joins a cult or gets involved with a psychopath." Our answer? We don't know, we never met anyone who joined a cult or who fell in love with a psychopath." We at Wellspring have helped more than 500 people recover from both of these and never once did any of them say, "I knew exactly what I was getting into."
What people join are people and groups that are more loving, dedicated, and exciting than what they have experienced. They join because we all need love, purpose, and adventure. People are attracted to groups and relationships that later turn out to be abusive because they are tricked into believing that either the person or group is not harmful or whatever problems it may be known to have can be overcome by dedication and commitment. Deception involves getting the prospect to suspend disbelief temporarily and then control how information is communicated until critical thinking skills become less effective.
Exactly how the critical thinking skills of members can be impaired by these environments has been the subject of study and controversy for nearly fifty years. We owe a debt to this research and the work of pioneers such as Robert Lifton and Margaret Singer for their insights.
The following processes have been shown to be present in virtually all high-demand group settings and are strongly associated with the loss of personal critical thinking skills and meaningful "informed consent." The following is adapted from Thought Reform and the Psychology of Totalism,by Robert Lifton..."
Abusive relationships can operate almost identically to manipulative cults. From outside the relationship, we may wonder how anyone could ever allow themselves to be abused. But when we understand universal psychological patterns, it’s clear to see what’s going on. The emotionally abusive person may:
Initially shower you with love, attention, flattery, sex, money, a feeling of fateful “it was meant to be”, and so on.
Gradually but increasingly try to turn you against, and discourage contact with, your friends or relatives.
Use threats, promises, and other forms of emotional blackmail: “If you leave me, I’ll kill you/myself!” Sometimes the threats are implied.
Repeatedly tell you they can’t live without you and you can’t live without them.
Sap your confidence in yourideas and interests.
Play on your guilt: “After all I’ve done for you!”
Brainwash you into feeling that they are the only one for you, perhaps constantly reminding you how good things were at the start, during the ‘honeymoon period’.
“…The similarities between cultic devotion and the traumatic bonding that occurs between battered individuals and their abusers are striking. An abused partner is generally made to submit to the following types of behaviors:
early verbal and/or physical dominance,
fear arousal and maintenance
contingent expressions of "love"
enforced loyalty to the aggressor and self-denunciation
promotion of powerlessness and helplessness
pathological expressions of jealousy
required secrecy (13)
When psychological coercion and manipulative exploitation have been used in a one-on-one cultic relationship, the person leaving such a relationship faces issues similar to those encountered by someone leaving a cultic group…”
“Initially trained more than 30 years ago to be a cult deprogrammer, I have been struck again and again since being trained in family therapy how much the dynamics of the "psychogenic," "schizogenic" or "crazy-making" family resemble those of the hyper-religious and/or mind control cult…I have developed the following:20 Characteristics of Crazy-Making Families
The Duty Victim
Shame & Guilt
Black & White Thinking
Implied Threat & Promise
(To read the definitions of listed characteristics, click article title)
The tactics used to create undue psychological and social influence, often by means involving anxiety and stress, fall into seven main categories.
TACTIC 1: Increase suggestibility and "soften up" the individual through specific hypnotic or other suggestibility-increasing techniques such as:Extended audio, visual, verbal, or tactile fixation drills, Excessive exact repetition of routine activities, Sleep restriction and/or Nutritional restriction.
TACTIC 2: Establish control over the person's social environment, time and sources of social support by a system of often-excessive rewards and punishments. Social isolation is promoted. Contact with family and friends is abridged, as is contact with persons who do not share group-approved attitudes. Economic and other dependence on the group is fostered.
TACTIC 3:Prohibit disconfirming information and non supporting opinions in group communication. Rules exist about permissible topics to discuss with outsiders. Communication is highly controlled. An "in-group" language is usually constructed.
TACTIC 4:Make the person re-evaluate the most central aspects of his or her experience of self and prior conduct in negative ways. Efforts are designed to destabilize and undermine the subject's basic consciousness, reality awareness, world view, emotional control and defense mechanisms. The subject is guided to reinterpret his or her life's history and adopt a new version of causality.
TACTIC 5:Create a sense of powerlessness by subjecting the person to intense and frequent actions and situations which undermine the person's confidence in himself and his judgment.
TACTIC 6: Create strong aversive emotional arousals in the subject by use of nonphysical punishments such as intense humiliation, loss of privilege, social isolation, social status changes, intense guilt, anxiety, manipulation and other techniques.
TACTIC 7: Intimidate the person with the force of group-sanctioned secular psychological threats. For example, it may be suggested or implied that failure to adopt the approved attitude, belief or consequent behavior will lead to severe punishment or dire consequences such as physical or mental illness, the reappearance of a prior physical illness, drug dependence, economic collapse, social failure, divorce, disintegration, failure to find a mate, etc.