Blog-Buddies, we are lucky that a talented writer has offered a guest post today on the theme of exiting a cult.
RAY shares so beautifully about her process of cult exiting. The factors she identifies as most cult-like are important, I think, for any of us who have chosen to deprogram and exit a cult.
The sweet allure of a cult
For me, joining a cult was the most reasonable thing in the world. Why wouldn’t you want to be a part of an organization that exists to relieve your suffering and that is invested in the greater good?
That world of certainty was much shinier than the rest of my sometimes cruel, painful, and boring existance.
So where is the fulcrum that tips a group with all of the best intentions into coercion and deception?
There are many definitions of cults all over the internet, and as I was exiting the cult that owned my life for 8 years I read them all, but the two most salient points for me were:
- Cults coerce.
- And cults deceive.
I say “coercion,” but it was the mildest possible at first, nothing more than peer pressure.
It’s the members, filled with enthusiasm, who want to know when you are going to the next time-consuming program.
It’s their puzzled looks and disappointment when you hesitate.
It’s the traditions like giving the teacher a “gift” for his teachings on top of the thousands you’ve already paid for the retreat.
Then it’s the “bad karma” of slowing down or having less than utter respect for the guru.
Then there are “eternal karmic consequences” for stepping off the path.
You really don’t want to step off that path.
I was just lucky that my cult stopped at hypothetical threats. I know some groups don’t; some actually go after you.
Where is the tipping point? It’s somewhere between enthusiasm and outright threats, but I now think it’s a lot closer to the enthusiasm than most people probably would have normally without being in a cult.
Cult deceptions and lying
The deceptions are mostly harmless to start too, like the things we don’t tell new people because they’re not ready or wouldn’t understand.
It feels like when my mom would fast-forward through love scenes in movies and mumble about “When you grow up.”
All the things the cult did not talk about were dangled in front of me like those mysterious love scenes. If you want to know the truth, you have to… And then you have to…
After awhile, the main coercion and the main deceptions became my own. I forced myself to continue and lied to myself about how well life was going and how awful real life is.
The outside world grew more and more intimidating as well, as I lost out on the life experiences and thus the life skills I needed for success. (I am still playing catch-up on some of them.)
Identifying a cult
I return to my question: when might a group earn the title “Cult”?
For some, I’m sure they start out like that…a corrupt leader launches a full-blown deception for his own power or pocketbook or because he’s nuts.
For most though, I expect it’s a slower process, filled with the best of intentions as they take more and more money, and more and more time, and they promise more and more greatness, gentleness, and evolution.
(Even as the senior membership is littered with the arrogant, the angry, the unkind, and sometimes even the criminal.)
Another blog commentator is right, there are those people in every organization. The problem is, at least in my cult, they promised differently.
Then they excused these people by saying: you should have seen them 20 years ago.
No, thank you! A turning point for me was realizing I was becoming one of them, bitter and angry and far away from everything they had promised.
Authentic cult exiting
And still it’s so hard to leave. Since leaving, I have not felt anywhere close to the bliss of certainty I felt there.
I have not felt as connected to people. I used to be so close it’s like we were living in the same skin.
I have not lived a day without worry (like I used to, while still a member of that so-lovely-sounding cult.)
I would not trade these newer problems for my old certainty, in that cult.
I would not trade ever.
What is changing for me, after cult exiting?
The bliss has given way to the bittersweet, but much more real life.
Those people who “shared my skin,” none of whom ever spoke to me again, have been replaced by people I don’t agree with, sometimes can’t stand, and sometimes I love so much I can’t breathe.
These are people who would be there for me through anything.
Life is still painful, boring and sometimes cruel. And I savor the freedom to admit that and take a day to wallow instead of dragging myself to a meditation cushion and castigating myself for my “unenlightened eyes.”
Because life is not awesome, always. Life does not really match whichever positive, teachable spin you can put on your experience.
And that was the key for me at the end…
Cult living was positive and teachable and joyful, but it was still just spin.