What effect do the above-described mechanisms of devotion have on the espian? How do they affect their ‘internal human existence’, so that they can ignore, suppress, excuse, or simply fail to notice all those paradoxes within NXIVM? In what way does that process play out within the espian? Are there any internal and/or external signs, contradictions, or conflicts that accompany this process of provoked commitment?
As with the post on ‘The effect of shame and guilt techniques
’, I will try to base my observations mostly on my own experiences under my tormentor and re-formulate where necessary (mission, terminology, etc.); refer to a ‘leader’, as both Raniere and mine were men, but it could just as easy be a woman; and in many cases by extension include their cause, their mission, their teachings, and hence the group dedicated to these as well. Again, much of it may be personal but, with variations in application, degree, and scope, probably quite representative after all. The internal inconsistencies of induced devotion
In many ways, devotional mechanisms are the counterbalance, one of the companion classes to the shame and guilt techniques. Since shame and guilt make one feel weak and mediocre by comparison to the one inciting them (whether unwitting, unperceived, or not), devotion to said person, group, and hence the teachings in many ways seems like the only viable alternative. Isn’t it logical to be filled with devotion to those who have proven themselves so much stronger and ‘wiser’, so much more superior, while at the same time being so generous in allowing you to learn from their knowledge and supposed ‘wisdom’? Such devotion creates a semblance of union to that strength, to that understanding and way of life; in a sense by mere committed association one can partake in that glory, be a part of such magnificence, and maybe one day even join the ranks of those progressive people who are but trying to better the world.
Such a process of induced devotion may start slowly and then accelerate over time, depending on the amount of induction; in NXIVM’s case it is given a kick-start with the ‘Rules and Rituals’ module, but afterwards the same patient accumulation is in effect. A little demand of respect here, a small show of excellence there, the occasional flash of brilliance, and a permanent befuddlement by the teachings and their language causing them to seem oh-so advanced will ensure a sustained increase. At first, the group gets a lot of the credit as well, for to centre all that devotional encouragement on the leader alone right from the start would actually repel most people: It would seem self-centred and manipulative. Hence, you get the ideas of togetherness or group-awareness; a common mission and ‘commitment to our success’; the shared responsibility to and dependence on your fellows and their interests in the movement’s prosperity and triumph; and accountability to ensure this for all of the members’ sake.
This period of acclimatisation however is variably short-lived. Soon the leader becomes ever more the focus of your life; after all, he stands at the centre, is the source of all the teachings, the heart of the group, the mind that drives the movement, the fore-front of change to the better for both you and humanity; that’s what you have been told in effect. By now, even the other members of the group become but an extension of one’s own aspiration to please, to be like, and to be recognised by the leader. If a fellow fails in these efforts, in their commitment, that failure not only reflects on them but on you as well; therefore, you have to correct the person’s mistake, reprimand them, punish, ostracise, or even expel them to fix the obvious short-comings in your personal devotion to the leader. In the end, you are ready to denunciate your ‘friends’, lie to deflect adverse attention, cheat to achieve a higher standing in the eyes of the leader, in the extreme even torture or kill (mentally, emotionally, and/or physically), if that’s what is needed to get the recognition you so desperately desire; for that need, this urge, the entire purpose of your life is what your devotion has finally condensed down to.
Whatever the leader asks or commands is law, has to be done unquestioned or he won’t be pleased; one would fail in one’s duty to aspire to be his likeness and he would surely cease to notice you. And after all, he himself is doing it all for us, for you, isn’t he? I mean, he never uses the word ‘I’ but always ‘We’; hence, it must be for all our sakes. His commands, stipulations, suggestions, even unspoken desires read from within his gentle eyes, all benefit but the mission, the cause, the group at the fore-front of the movement towards a better future for all of mankind. Why should one question the one, who so generously gives us children the chance to partake in his unique, unheard of, and oh-so desperately needed vision; who thus finally allows us to grow to our true potential and be a part of ‘the turning point’ in civilisation’s history? Whatever the leader asks must be good, right-action, forward/toward moving, and paramount to the success of our commitment, the advance of the human team.
And it doesn’t end with the big mission related issues, directives, and suggestions. Personal choices such as life-style, professional decisions, use of language, general associations and intimate relationships, behavioural patterns, maybe even sexuality (if one considers Ayn Rand’s influence), etc. are emulated, assimilated, and brought in line with the teachings, the group, and often the assumed or professed personal ideas, intentions, desires, or considerations of the leader. For example, NXIVM apparently adheres to a certain doctrine of health, including a range of seemingly defined health care products and the sustained application of regular enemas, disregarding any scientific facts about the potential or even certain dangers of these practices; in fact many of them are but designed to cover-up the symptoms of further such customs or the effects of some other teachings. Many of the practices reported are actually detrimental to the practitioner’s health, both physical and eventually mental; to justify them with the old maxim ‘mens sana in corpore sano’ (‘a sound mind in a sound body’), hence declaring them imperative to success, is frankly just a falsehood distracting from the self-serving purpose of the practices. (For the health related report, see PinkUnicorn’s post
and my answer
on the other forum.)
However, by now a soon to be nagging problem is developing, emerging, growing in your deepest core, where true individuality, your rightful personality has been forced to seek refuge; an internal conflict is brewing and on the verge of boiling over, so to speak. It is the war between the incorruptible, human, truthful personal integrity surviving in the subconscious, and the devoted, limiting, alien entity that has taken over the conscious mind. At stake are true self-respect, freedom, sanity, and life itself versus continued devotion, control, focus on mission and leader, and the superficial simplicity of belonging to something clearly defined.
At first, this conflict will remain unperceived within the subconscious. It may be but an occasional itch, so to speak, mostly emotional, sometimes mental, and sporadically physical. Emotionally it might show in bouts of ill temper, inexplicable melancholy, or seemingly unfounded emotionality and sensitivity at the oddest circumstances. Mentally it will emerge with absent-minded vagueness, irrationality, or blind persistence and bitter insistence on minor points of flawed reasoning. The physical effects can include disruptions of the sleep cycle, additionally incomprehensible fatigue, impotence, or a loss of appetite and general levels of energy. Even while the conflict rages unperceived internally, it does take its toll on the entire human existence.
The more one is devoted, the more inconsistencies, both internal and external, will emerge. A feeling of wrongness, of inadequacy, often of failure even in the light of professed or group-confirmed success, of a general imbalance and restlessness, etc. starts to permeate your ‘consistent internal human existence’ at all times. Yet your insecurities have been trained away, haven’t they, and now doubts cannot be about the object of your devotion, but only about your insecurities and the failure at mastering them; all these are your issues, not the group’s and certainly not the leader’s. You’ll try to compensate this unease with more devotion, with adhering ever more fervently to the teachings, with trying to adapt your internal and outward life ever closer to the example given by the leader. But that is where the external paradoxes will finally come to light: For example, many of the considerations, motivations, desires, etc. and their applications in actions as lived by the leader do not seem to apply to you! He may very well met out punishment in a certain way, even on you, but if you dare to emulate his actions, venture to punish others in such a manner, he suddenly is outraged at you, criticises, reprimands, or punishes you for doing exactly as he did.
How can that be? It doesn’t seem to make sense, not any at all! Yet you have to accept it, for to do otherwise would but show your failure in your devotion, your commitment in the group and its cause. All these feelings, these contradictions you start to see between the teachings and their applications, this incongruity within the ‘matrix of consistent reality’ that is supposed to be fixed and of imperative relevance to all our lives, all this will but confuse you. And even now, you do not dare to consider the chance of an internal conflict based on the possibility that something is awry with the teachings or the leader; you still try to put it down to your own weaknesses, to your own failings, to your own ineptitudes, and thus seek to devote yourself even more to the only source of consistency you seem to have left, the only truth you know, the only fountain of learning you can find that would enable you to overcome those disgusting flaws.
Finally, this ever-increasing zealously vehement devotional commitment, to put it bluntly, spiralling out of control, dragging you with it into emotional and mental oblivion, is becoming nought but destructive; it has lost any cause and reason for existence other than the sustained induction by the leader. This kind of devotion is in a battle for life or death with anything that is not solely focussed on maintaining it; is engaged in final, utter and total war against any individuality within. By now, it has become a question of pure survival, for only if one can remain in the leader’s good graces can one continue in the only remaining existence acknowledged as worth living for. For that purpose you suppress whatever does not serve that function, whatever has been pointed out as weaknesses, whether directly, indirectly, or even in your imagination alone. These perceived foreign elements, these disintegrations must be at cause for your failures, for your conflict; they seem out to destroy your all-encompassing relationship with your leader, his teachings and the only way of life you still recognize; yet it is exactly those elements that constitute your actual personality, your truthful individuality, and your final rescue form this destruction, your past and eventual future life.
In this all-consuming conflict, one becomes callous, brutally uncompromising in both rationale and behaviour. There is a total loss of limits, often leading you to the assumption (conscious or not) that you are all powerful in your association with the leader and the group. The effort to uphold a conscience seems pointless, since that would just stand in the way of the mission and frankly beneath it and therefore you. Yet at the same time and in many ways, your power of personal will has vanished. Your being, in essence, is filled with nought but the ultimate urge for survival at all costs; pro-survival suddenly takes a new intensity, a meaning that drives your every action. The tragedy is that this drive has no rationality, no reason, no goal: What makes life worth surviving for is the freedom of the individual and those close to you; yet that is exactly what is being fought, targeted in this conflict!
In order to qualify your commitment, to prove your devotion, to finalise your affection and association, you’re willing to give up everything, you friends, family, all outside relationships, even group-internal ones, your profession, normal environment and habitat, your dreams, desire and personal goals, your mind, heart, soul, body, and even your life if the leader should ask for it. Yet at the same time in order to hide, obscure, and negate that internal conflict, you start lying to, cheating, and manipulating everybody, outsiders, insiders, even the leader himself, just so that none of them finds you weak and a liability that needs to be addressed. You brutalise everyone, mentally, emotionally and maybe even physically – most of all yourself. Anything seems justified to maintain your life, now centred on nought but that devotion to the leader, having no other purpose anymore. The fear of consciously realising what your subconscious already knows, that all the purposed meaning of your life is a sham, keeps you devoted even more fervently for much longer.
Eventually though, nature will prevail, for no outside induced, human created artificial construct can ever match its vast complexity, beautiful unity, and truthful equilibrium, its inherent capacity to overcome, adapt, and eventually heal. The rightful personality, the real individual, the natural ‘consistent internal human existence’, which had so long been targeted in an effort to disintegrate, starts breaking loose, breaking the alien, so-called ‘integrated’ construct, breaking the bonds that kept it prisoner in its own subconscious all this time. It is in fact the toll this conflict and induced insistence on devotion takes that is both cause and reaction, the reason that this ‘breaking free’ needs to happen and the source of power that makes it possible. Nature though takes the amount of time it needs, makes sure it does a thorough job, so to speak, and as a result, at first this shift in dominance over the mind is for a time accompanied by a debilitating impotence, a loss of action, an internal absence of decision.
The conflict now stands revealed, but is not over by a long shot. On the one hand remains the desire, the need, the ultimate purpose in life to be committed to the leader and all he stands for. On the other, the subconscious, now driven by the full force of nature, strives more and more to shake the bonds, to free the true individual, so that the personality can return to its rightful place. And this awareness of the conflict together with the fact that by now you know of no alternative anymore, in a sense will push you to even more devotion, to even more fervour towards the needs, goals, and person of the leader. This stage of the battle hollows you out, for the induced devotion has lost its appeal, become a mere mechanism again, empty of meaning and maintained purely since nothing else remains in your range of possibilities; at least it seems that way for now.
Such an internal void, the desolation of your existence though is fertile ground for a last ditch effort of inducing more devotion, of manipulating you one last time, of a final push towards being even more zealous, fanatic, blind and single-minded. It is done both by the leader and by oneself, out of a shared instinct of survival maybe. For you, the battle is too hard to bear and sustained devotion to the group and its leader, as flawed and imperfect as that feeling now has become, does at least make you feel a little free; no wonder, for it is unburdened by the complexities of your natural individuality with all its masses of supposedly confusing thoughts, emotions, etc. and the uncertainties of a life after your membership in the organisation. For the leader though, your continued commitment and affection is the source of his power, both in the physical world as well as in his internal perception of himself; the loss of it would constitute an unveiling and prove of his own shortcomings. This state of fear-based, listless, irrational, and pointless continuation of something that has lost all meaning can go on for years; as long as it remains the only purpose in one’s life, for only at this utterly exclusive level of attention can it be sustained; and the leader won’t mind your efforts.
In the end, the truth, the true nature with its solid foundations, diversified and organically developed facets, and full as well as truthfully living soul will become too strong for the artificially constructed, hence by default limited, and by comparison simplistic and meaningless devoted existence, the stipulated ‘matrix of consistent reality’, the alien consciousness that has so long occupied and controlled your mind. This event may take a little help from those that actually care about you; or it might be triggered by an action the leader takes in his desperation to continue his hold over you, a hold his paranoid self sees slipping at all times. At this point several things can and often will happen, sometimes simultaneously, sometimes in succession, sometimes only some of them, and at others all together:
- The leader suddenly looses even the last vestiges of his glamour and actual (real) reality finally catches up full with the devotee. You will see the leader for what that person may not even see himself, the manipulative, egotistical, fear-driven monstrosity he is; the group for the leader’s latifundium it has become to you. In a sense, the rapture in his presence raptures and the bliss within the group becomes blistering to you.
- Now, out of an instilled fear of the outside world, the devotee might try to hang on to the ingrained teachings and long-induced devotion. But all safety within those is gone, and forcing oneself to another continuance will tear you apart, break your inner existence, and might actually lead to a breakdown, a final helpless paralysis, in a sense a shutdown of the mind, both conscious and unconscious. This may last a short period, even moments only, but in the extreme can be an almost or indeed permanent state, in effect a mental, emotional, or even systemic shock.
- The mechanisms and many of the effects of induced devotion might and probably still are in action, but you will start to move away slowly, unconsciously or fully aware trying to gain some distance to the leader, the group, their teachings, and their influence. It is a natural survival instinct to gain some ground between a threat and oneself.
- You might remain in the vicinity of the organisation for a long time; or you might break loose completely, instantaneous and painfully, or as a result of this process, and leave the group – if you can! If the ties are too binding (marriage, family, close relationships, etc.) or maybe even financial, existential, legal (in my case), or other social obligations and bonds, the internal conflict will be prolonged and intensified once again, even if devotion is no longer a factor, or rather not that all-encompassing a motive anymore. Yet in a sense, you will now be consciously aware of your loss of freedom, of your thraldom, where before this mental, emotional and maybe even physical enslavement and imprisonment had been glossed over by the constant rapture of devotion, the sustained bliss of your commitment to the group’s success.
- If you truly are able to break the vicious cycle of devotion, you may very well be dropped instantly, pushed away with vehemence by the one you have so long dedicated your life to, by the group that continues to follow his teachings. Now you find yourself in limbo, bereft of your former relationships, your life almost, and now of that which for a long time had replaced those. Your old associations carefully watch you, wary of your sincerity at having finished with the group; and to the leader you are now an outright danger, uncontrollable and potentially filled with infectious ideas that could destroy his group.
What happens now, that you have left the organisation, managed to escape the leader’s clutches, or at least are able to maintain a healthy distance to either? Is this it? Are the enthralling devotion, the binding commitment, and the blinding affection gone for good? Will you now be free of these induced, manipulative forces competing for control over your mind, emotions, and actual being? I’m afraid not! This devotion has been a part of one’s life for so long, it is completely ingrained and, even while consciously abhorred now, it will continue to assert itself for much longer, in some limited form maybe even forever.
As absurd as it sounds and as destructive and self-effacing as any indulgence in the matter would be, sometimes the loss of this focus, this simplicity in life makes one sad. It was so much easier then, at least it seems so. One had only to do as told and look up to that one person, one’s leader; you were surrounded by many ‘friends’ who did likewise; and in this ‘family’, one found a safety that seemed so undemanding. Now there are all these people, these different opinions, desires, motivations, inspirations, all apparently demanding their own sort of devotion and attention. It takes a long time to realise that this is exactly what makes life worth living, what gives it depth, variation, and contrast and through those intensity, excitement, desire, motivation, and most of all meaning. By comparison to the old simplicity and safety though, it is often confusing and intimidating. But life is supposed to be that way, overwhelmingly beautiful, intricately complex, regularly awe-inspiring, often unpredictably surprising, and at times even a little frightening. If it were but a mathematically definable, consistent, singular system or operated by a matrix of such simplistic clarity, we’d all still be amino acids huddling in a primordial soup!
I occasionally catch myself trying to find more forgiveness for my tormentor in me. This is completely irrational in oh-so many ways, I know! Yet in a sense, it might be necessary for me to move on. For a long time after finally gaining my freedom after ten years of his ruling my life, I was filled with hatred, rage, incomprehension, and so many conflicting emotions that essentially I might as well still have been in my thraldom. I felt deceived, betrayed (not only by him), misused, and thoroughly disillusioned; there seemed nothing left to live for, nothing that could still surprise me, touch me, excite me, motivate me; everything and everybody seemed but another threat to my existence – even love.
It took me almost ten more years to shake these binding and limiting emotions, to realise that through them, through my own anger he still held sway over my life, still controlled me in some ways; without any ado or knowledge of this on his part. Only when I found it in myself to forgive him (at least a little) could I move on. I know, it is but a gesture towards the unforgivable, but it freed me of the bonds of hatred, of thinking about revenge, of his deeds still filling my life, of living in an all-encompassing counter-devotion, so to speak, without actually having to suppress the experience. For, albeit those ten years under him were probably the worst I’ll ever live through (I certainly hope so!), there was a lot I learnt during and from them; much which I would not miss, even if some of it hurts at times; much of which now can flow into my posts here.
Even now, when I am adamantly certain never to be devoted to my tormentor again, never to be under his or anybodies control like that anew, I still often wonder: What if we could somehow avoid all the bad stuff, all the manipulations, controlling, psychological terror, hurting, attempted erasing of my personality, etc., if we could circumvent all that, would it not be a good thing to be able to talk to him again? To profit from his wisdom? To have that, which originally prompted my initial devotion to him in my life again, without the binding, abusive, and destructive rest? But then I realise that first, this will never happen, not as it is supposed to; second, his wisdom was actually not that great, sure, smart and in many ways learned, but not of any particular devotion demanding greatness, nothing unheard of really; and third, that my devotion hence was never truly based on anything but his manipulation, his self-propaganda, his own deluded image of self, and that was not precisely honest nor was it in any way ever justified, let alone realistic. He was not and will never be ‘The measure of all things’!
And still that nagging desire to be close to him, to profit of his knowledge, to have the (very questionable) safety and ease he seemed to provide in my life again remains. It is an inconsistency of outrageous proportions, for he manipulated, controlled, and ruled my life in a manner filled with abuse both mentally and emotionally, even physically (beatings possible due to our group-structure) that brought me to the brink of mental and emotional annihilation, the utter destruction of anything that made me who I truly am. All I ever was to him was a tool to his ends, a plaything for his self-glory, to caress his ego; my actual devotion hardly interested him in any other way than as a dictated flattery and he would never have responded with the recognition I desired and hoped for; only the effect it had on me, the susceptibility and malleability it created in me was of any worth to him.
For more than twenty years in total, my personality was first suppressed and damaged to suit those ends, then only slowly recovering; even to this day, I still find myself flinching, shying away from unexpected touch, and in many cases at a loss in some apparently normal human interactions. Healing takes a long time, especially when you have to go the distance alone, but my experiences so far show me that it will come in time. Maybe there are some scars left in the end, some irrational and inexplicable bursts of recurring devotion maybe even, but the handling of these, the lessons learnt, and the strengths gained during this process of healing will make one a more complete person, give us a fuller existence than many others will ever have.
A former victim of induced devotion has to learn how to live with these experiences, learn to laugh of sorts at their antics eventually, at least try to do so, especially when you catch yourself at falling a little under their ancient spell at times. Hating this feeling that has become a part of you and only slowly dissipates, will merely result in hating yourself; and that would make us more susceptible to outside influence again. The important thing is that you learn not to allow it to control your life ever again. For that, we need to do what we originally set out to do, to find true self-awareness, and realise that it cannot be found in a large group, but only in ourselves.
Much of what I’ve described may not be apparent to an espian in the middle of it; in many ways, this realisation can take many years after the events to hit you fully; but the processes might well be in place already, unperceived. As with all that is worth living for, it is our own right and duty to be open-minded, tolerant, and perceptive of not only the outside reality, but our own truthful ‘internal human existence’; only thus are we able to find the strength, intensity, excitement, desire, motivation, and meaning that will allow us to live our lives to the fullest potential of our free selves, to follow our dreams and make a true and lasting positive difference in this world of ours.