IGM is a defensive strategy by which a member who has not (or believes they have not) directly experienced abuse or institutional betrayal within the group deflects stories of abuse within the group by immediately self-referring, saying things like: “I don’t know about other’s experience; I find/found the teacher/teachings to be profoundly helpful in my life.” The statement is usually couched within an unwillingness to act on behalf on victims or mitigate future harm.
In my own two cult experiences, I adopted the defence of IGM to varying degrees, and I remember many others who did as well. In the circle of people I’m thinking of, none of us (that I’m aware of) had prior experience with therapy*. We had all come from family and social cultures in which that just wasn’t part of the wellness toolbox. When we gravitated towards the techniques of meditation and yoga offered by the groups, we found that they could have powerful self-regulatory effects we had never felt before, and we were hooked.
*(Corboy note: It is therapy only when the therapist places your welfare first and foremost, and when the therapist is not protective of or a disciple of the
same Teacher, Baba, Sheikh, Muqaddam, Master, Pir or Murshid of the lodge that is harming you.)
I believe that many of us were under the illusion that the meditative/yogic technique was the key to our new-found capacity for self-regulation. I don’t think we understood that we’d been love-bombed, or acquired a new family / safe haven in one fell blissful swoop. We didn’t understand that our internal changes were as much relational as they were intra-personal. The messaging was always singular and privatized: “You can go within, you can find x, you can choose y, you can be responsible.” One was never encouraged to really examine who was saying this to you, or why, or what they might want.
A paradox formed part of the group’s deception: you were told you were entirely self-responsible, and yet the benefits you experienced were mostly if not entirely coming from the group dynamic. You were emotionally isolated within a group somatic process that made itself invisible.
My own, and I believe others’, prior training in self-responsibility (or lack of experience with therapy) gave us the impression that we were in a place in which we had to resolve all conflicts or grievances internally. In a cult you can’t ask people for help and expect transparency or existential honesty. It’s palpable, whether you cognize it or not, that anyone with standing in the community who you would go to for help will reframe your appeal in relation to some deeper way in which you must surrender to the teaching or the leadership. In other words: any counselling is highly motivated and manipulative. It’s designed to protect the dynamic by making it manageable. Nobody will suggest that you leave, when leaving might be the only healthy thing to do, as hard as it would be.
Hinted adoration and implied threats are more powerful and binding than when uttered out loud.Quote
One of the things that he talked about was the way Charlie got control over everybody by getting people to agree that he was something spectacular, and agree to his other self-serving ideas. He said that agreements are much more powerful than people realize they are, and that implied agreements are more powerful than overt agreements. It was those implied agreements that were making it very difficult for us to break away from him.
The group member whose social and financial status is the product of the group’s hierarchy of harm will resist seeing that just as strongly as any consumer will resist seeing the harm of consumerism. If you point out that their relative comfort or safety in the group is dependent on any kind of “I-Got-Mine-ism“, you’ll face the same blowback that POC activists face when calling out white privilege, or women face when calling out male privilege. At the root here may be some deep strain of fragility that simply cannot turn the guilt of having benefited from the suffering of others into an active justice plan.
Dominance hierarchies exist within high-demand groups just as they do outside of them, so not everyone suffers the same. However, everyone recruited into a high-demand group has been deceived in one way or another. They have had their time, energy, and emotional faculties hijacked for a purpose that is not their own, and which is rarely clear to them.
Those who bear the brunt of the abuse in a high-demand group — women, children the poor, the super-earnest and altruistic — emerge with clear disabilities, up to and including CPTSD. But — absent real sociopathy — even those who enjoyed a certain amount of power within the group will carry with them guilt, moral injury, and the sensation of sunken costs. Criticism or resistance to the group may make these wounds sting and provoke intense defensive responses related to any sense of responsibility for the abuse they may carry.
They are caught in a bind: they are not responsible for having been deceived, and yet they are responsible for the power that deception allowed them to have over others. It is far easier to dismiss critical engagement or vilify whistleblowers than it is to engage in this deep moral complexity.
Everything the person feels about the leader they may feel about their fellow members. However, the web is intricate and the textures are subtle. If they’ve been in the group for years they have spent a long time finding the right niche of safety-that-isn’t-quite-safety. They have friends who are not primarily friends and family members who are not primarily family members: in both cases allegiance to the group trumps all.
As an outsider to that group, you are making an intervention in the voice of someone the group already vilifies. Of course you cannot understand them, of course you are out to destroy their vision. The number of people who have accused me to trying or wanting to destroy their communities is astonishing, until I realized that that defence is proof of the fragile insularity of the group.
The paradox of being in a group like this is that you are isolated within it.
This is brilliant. I would add a further and very unpleasant dimension. That some of the people abusing others in high demand groups had already centred on sex offending in their lives, or on other forms of abuse or sadism which they fed on. These people have sensed the lack of respect and boundaries in high demand groups and purposefully embedded themselves so they could continue to offend, even more easily than before. So whistleblowers are directly threatening to such offenders, who will fight tooth and nail to destroy the whistleblower so as not to be exposed, or lose their hunting ground. This is not restricted to the highest leaders, and these types can even become very threatening and violent. Another reason whistleblowers and survivors are incredibly brave people.