One of the talents of any good leader or visionary is their ability to create new and better realities which we want to strive to achieve. A lot of good work is done trying to re-mold the world into a better place based on the ideas of very smart or innovative personalities.
In order for someone to be taken in by and stay with any destructive cult, whether that is Scientology or ISIS or something else entirely, requires that they buy into a new world view. Where this goes wrong, and one of the main reasons we call destructive cults destructive is because cult leaders alter the ways their members perceive the world. They create whole new artificial constructs and convince their followers that this new vision is the world they are living in now. In other words, they re-define what is normal and real.
Scientology has been compared to living in The Matrix and the analogy is fitting, especially for those second and third generation Scientologists who were born and raised in it. These poor souls often have it much harder than regular first-time members who made a conscious, even if uninformed, decision to be part of the group. Children are hardly ever given such a choice and never know any other reality than the one created by the cult environment.
An artifical construct or world view is created using some real world facts and information, enough to give it an air of legitimacy, but then tossing in elements of pure fantasy as well as drawing inferences and connecting dots that should not be connected. This is extremely similar to how international conspiracy theories are formulated, where people come to believe that all the problems and conflicts of the world and even global genocide are being plotted by a small cloister of international bankers so they can have absolute power over this planet. It’s an idea that quickly breaks down under even the lightest of critical thinking, but to those who believe in these global conspiracies, they are convinced they live in a world of dark shadows and hidden influences and they are never, ever really safe.
While this sounds nefarious and weird, the truth is that any destructive cult you find does exactly the same thing as the global conspiracy theorists. In Scientology, L. Ron Hubbard did not just create a methodology of personal counselling and write some books about how to live a better or easier life. No, he went far beyond that. His discussions of past lives soon turned into tales of intergalactic civilizations we all used to be part of and are still influenced by today. His ideas of people being not so well off soon morphed into all of us having been implanted with false and evil purposes millions and trillions of years ago by what he called “invader forces” who hopped from galaxy to galaxy, taking over areas and subjugating their populations. According to Hubbard, these evil purposes now drive our every action, making it totally uncertain whether our desire for a house, a job, a spouse or even children are really our own.
Hubbard even dived deep into the global conspiracy pool to explain the dark forces arrayed against Scientology at an international level, telling his followers that it wasn’t just the FBI or CIA or IRS who were after him, but in fact there was a consortium of 12 international bankers who ran all finances and politics on Earth and who used psychiatry as an enforcement arm to have their way with the world.
Eventually, all of this nonsense led to the idea most people have heard from South Park and other Scientology parodies of all of us being possessed by unconscious spiritual entities which require special Scientology training costing tens of thousands of dollars and years of work to exorcise, all because of Hubbard’s delusion about Xenu, an intergalactic dictator, who committed universal genocide to solve overpopulation problems. In fact, Hubbard died alone and insane in 1986, desperately clinging to this idea and devastated that he had not figured out how to get rid of all the souls which possess us.
Over the years that Hubbard ruled Scientology, he used this and a lot of other mythology and imaginative nonsense to weave a gradiose alternate view of reality. Scientologists believe in this to such an extent, they tell themselves that they KNOW with absolute certainty that they will live again, that the cares and needs and urgencies of this life are not really that important and the only things that really matter are getting through the confidential upper levels of Scientology and the continued survival of the Church of Scientology itself.
All of that is quite a bit to carry around and really skews one’s view of reality.
And so we come to the difficulties people can face when leaving destructive cults. These mental constructs are so powerful and so pervasive that just because someone leaves the group behind, they aren’t necessarily able to just shed all their old beliefs. Our minds don’t really work that way, especially when it comes to letting go of deeply held or cherished beliefs. Not only can it be difficult to acclimate to one’s new surroundings outside of the cult group, but it is also very difficult to even recognize some of the false ideas and constructs for what they are.
I’ve talked before about education being one of the most powerful tools to help in cult recovery. Documenting and debunking the lies that cult leaders tell about themselves and what they are up to is all well and good – and very necessary to shed the awe and mystique they create in their followers. However, if this is where a person stops, they are probably denying themselves some very powerful and important information that could further aid their recovery. Here I’m referring to learning about critical thinking skills as well as the mechanics of indoctrination, undue influence and the manipulative techniques destructive cults use to ensnare and entangle their members.
For example, learning about black and white thinking, also known as “all or nothing thinking” or “splitting” helps a person to realize that rational and logical thought processes occur when people can think in shades of gray, not absolutes or extremes. One of the hallmarks of a destructive cult is that it specializes in making its members think in terms of black or white – you’re either with us or you’re against us – it’s our way or the highway. Members cannot be allowed to sit on the fence or try to have it both ways, not when they have to unquestioningly comply with their leader’s orders or directions, or demonstrate unwavering loyalty to the cause. In the real world, there is no one who is always right, there is no group or cause that is all good or all bad. There are milder forms of this kind of black and white thinking all around us every day and when a person can recognize it and see it for what it is, it makes understanding what is going on a lot easier, even in subjects like politics or religion.
There are many such mechanisms at play in cult manipulation. Another example is cognitive distortion – exaggerated or irrational thought patterns which can cause individuals to perceive reality inaccurately, and can reinforce negative thoughts or emotions to keep a person in an easily controlled state of mind. There are hundreds, maybe thousands, of examples of these in Scientology, from the obsessive notion that L. Ron Hubbard could never be wrong about anything he said or wrote, to an almost pathological belief that psychiatry is the root of all evil in the universe, to the idea that each individual is personally responsible for every single thing that ever happens to them or anything that occurs in their life.
Learning about these does not cause them to all just go away, but it does allow a person the opportunity to personally reflect on and deconstruct these mechanisms in themselves. Some of these irrational ideas are so deeply implanted that it often takes time to become aware of many of them but that’s okay. It’s not an all-or-nothing situation. It’s a process one goes through gradually.
Personally, I don’t think that recovering from involvment in a destructive cult is a matter of acknowleding how stupid or dumb you were or how you should have known better. These are just ways that we nulify ourselves and feed into the self-doubt and fears that the cult used to take advantage of us in the first place. It’s always going to be true that we will look back on what we did, with the benefit of what we know now, and think we acted like fools. But I’d like to point out that we had to live through what we lived through to arrive where we are today. Regret can be helpful in learning not to repeat our mistakes, but I don’t think we should be too hard on ourselves.
Recovery is a process of building yourself back up and getting situated in the real world, not the artificial constructs and illusions created by cult leaders. Professional counselling can be of great assistance in this, but for me, education has been the thing that has helped more than any other single factor. I thought this might be helpful for people who are in the same shoes I’m in or have walked a similar path to the one I did.
Thank you for watching.