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Long Term Recovery
Posted by: Jupiter ()
Date: July 04, 2014 04:49AM

It's been a long time since I was active on these boards. I left my group nearly eight years ago now. I'm doing okay. Disappointed to see a lack of open dialogue on both sides of the cult discussion. Frustrated by the long-term challenges I continue to face.

I feel deeply frustrated by it all at times. I want to do more to educate people about the psychology of destructive groups. I feel frustrated about my own lack of life direction, as part of me is still burnt out after leaving my group and all of the things that have happened to me since.

I find long-term recovery to be hard. I am emotionally stable, I am strong and self-aware, but growing up in a cult reveals the worst aspects of humanity which cannot simply be unseen. I find that I notice destructive group patterns everywhere, and I stay away from any group or organisation which seems remotely wounded or destructive in any way. Actually, this doesn't make it easy to hold down a job, because many companies are somewhat dysfunctional and resistant to change. I am far less tolerant due to my post-cult recovery.

As such, in many ways my life is still being affected by the financial, social and emotional implications of being born and raised in a cult. I am still trying to live my life as if this never happened. I am still facing brick walls when I try to engage in an open dialogue with those closest to me about psychological damage and destructive group dynamics.

I feel that if I engage with people who are in cults right now, then all I find is endless bitterness, accusation and the usual "we're not a cult!" retort (which is, to me, the same as, "we're not racist!" or "we're not sexist!" or anything else someone is being called up on). I understand that people are defensive, but it blocks any dialogue.

On the survivors' side, I am often met with wild hysteria, anger, conspiracy theories, hatred, emotional instability and deep psychological wounds. I understand that pain so much, but conversations get diverted and mired in conspiracy theories, opinion and weird arguments about semantics.

Finally, it is almost impossible for me to engage with mental healthcare practitioners at my level now. With eight years experience in cult dynamics, and having fully overcome all of the depression and self-harm and anxiety and instability that characterized the early years after I left my group, there is no forum for me to simply chat with professionals working in the field of post-cult healthcare, and aside from reading articles on ICSA and attending lectures on occasion, there is no way for me to engage with people intellectually and discuss ideas about social theory, healing, group dynamics, and the things that I really need to talk about and learn about at this stage in my recovery.

It isn't anyone's fault that a full framework for post-cult recovery doesn't really exist right now. But it doesn't exist, and that is so frustrating. I need things that don't exist in the world, and I feel too burnt out at times to try and create them myself.

I'm not sure where this message is going. I stopped posting on these boards several years ago after being mercilessly trolled by ex-members of my old group (who didn't even read or engage fully with my messages anyway), and finding my story bogged down with conspiracy theories and bizarre tangents which didn't match my experiences anyway.

I left my group when I was 22; I had been born into it, it was all I'd ever known. I'm now 30, and I know a lot more about life than just leaving a cult. But still, the cult experience is a unique one, and a particular challenge to overcome long-term.

So. Yeah. Hi. That's all.

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A few resources I have found
Posted by: corboy ()
Date: July 05, 2014 10:26PM

Over many years I have found some items that have added to my understanding.

Persuasions of the Witch's Craft by Tanya Luhrmann.

Luhrmann is an anthropologist
and this book is based on participant observation she did on various
groups - covens and esoteric lodges. She was interested in how members
combined their pre-modern beliefs with the need to live and function in
evidence based society, and the strategies they used to make sense of
their own participation and in defending themselves in relation to outside

Luhrman also noted a process she terms "interpretative drift".


The longer the time one spent in a group, the more one's perspective shifted. No formalindoctrination was needed. One 'goes native"(Corboy's choice of words)

Richard F Burton noted how in the 19th century, Brits who spent a long time in India and Egypt often came to believe indigenous superstions or at least lost their intellectual discipline and and became just a bit more credulous.

One spent time in company with people, shared
the rituals and discussions, and ever so slowly adopted the rationalizing
strategies. Luhrmann noted somewhere that her own dream material became
pervaded with symbols commonly discussed in the groups.

Corboy can vouch that during my days as a Catholic, my dream life was
full of Catholic imagery. When I shifted to Zen Buddhism, my dreams
began to refer to quandries about keeping Buddhist precepts.

If one regards dreams as proof, one will take this all very seriously indeed.

If one suspects dreams are influenced by one's social context, one
will be a bit less inclined to use dreams as proof.

Luhrmann also tells how the practitioners of magic used levels of
reality as a defense.

In the old days people believed in a multi level universe and that one
had to purify oneself to ascend the levels, each level requiring
greater holiness and preparation.

Today, as observed by Luhrman, the modern practitioners use their multi level
(or multiple plane) model of "reality" to protect themselves from
their own doubts and from the doubts they know society has toward their
work. They argue that there are levels of reality "beyond" what is recognized
by modern science, levels of reality "beyond" what most people (the uninitiated, the insensitive) can appreciate. The other levels of reality
are those where normal standards of logic and evidence do not apply and
must be intuitively understood. Subjectivity is given free reign here.

Corboy learned a lot from Luhrmann's book, especially her concept of interpretative drift, and the use of multi level reality for protection.

Another concept Corboy has found useful comes from sociology: "Cultic Milieu"


Cultic milieu was first named and described by sociologist Colin Campbell.
It is not a cult, not in Robert J. Lifton's sense of the word. Cultic
milieu is a social scene, and also in Campbell's description, an oppositional
subculture. Persons are in this to varying degrees. What is current in
the cultic milieu are ideas and notions that are rejected outright by
mainstream society or are "on probation" and not fully accepted by
mainstream society. Campbell notes that ideas are treated as fungible,
that is to say interchangeable and making distinctions and critical thinking
are not welcome at all.

Corboy welcomed discovery of this concept because it may account for why
barmy ideas show up so very often in situations where one is trying to
reform or draw attention to injustice in mainstream society.

Persons in the cultic milieu may be very receptive to recruitment into cults,
especially if they already have the attitude that making distinctions,
doing background research are "wrong".

**Persons trying to make sense of cult involvement are often socially
marginalized and this may increase the risk that those willing to listen
to us are also socially marginal --and at risk of believing marginal
ideas that are not helpful at all -- such as conspiracy theories.

The Narcissistic Family by Pressman and Pressman. Slim and readable, describes in family systems how a family unconsciously seeks to preserve its image of itself at expense of honesty and children's normal development.

The authors made zero reference to cults, but Corboy suspects that some of their
insights may be extrapolated to narcissistic organizations, such as Subud.

The authors also note that when a child is small, biddable and looks sweet
all may be well in a narcissistic family (or cult) because the child or children make the family or cult look good to the public.

But as the child becomes adolescent, forms his or her own opinions, expresses
doubts about the family and the group, the narcissistic family or group goes
cold and the child may have a ghastly feeling of what has gone wrong?

Memoirs of an Addicted Brain by Marc Lewis

(Some excerpts are quoted here on the CEI message board)


(Could Latihan generate endogenous opiates in the human brain? One former
heroin addict tells how one feels all is right with the universe.)

Others who have studied Transcendental Meditation note an increase in
serotonin, the anti depressant/stress buffer neurotransmitter.

And Marc Lewis refers to the neurotransmitter dopamine, writing that
"dopamine gives thrust" -- that sense of focused purpose. Maybe thats
how people when they want to go to Latihan.


Professor Marc Lewis describes his own life as a drugs addicted teenager and young man.

Then he became a neuro scientist and with that, is able to take the reader
on a tour of the human brain and nervous system and describe the neurological
events that occur with each dosage of drug and why people seek again and yet
again to regain that state.

Corboy suspects that non drug methods used in cults to create altered states
of consciousness may be the same as those triggered by addictive drugs and
that may be why many persons cling to organizations and social networks
that seek these states through prescribed ritual, such as the Latihan.

Corboy's theory is that what some experience through Latihan is no different
from what others seek when they purchase illegal substances from the drugs

One thing I learned is that groups that avoid public appearance of eccentricity/barminess, take care to present a respectable appearance in
public, never disturb the neighbors, and have highly selective methods
of recruitment, especially into their upper levels, are likely to be durable.

Because of the facade of respectability, the public will be less willing
to believe warnings that something is amiss. If a group has some few well
chosen members who are upper class, have social connections and money, this
may enable them to form well entrenched and quite useful social connections that
add to long term social stability.

Another matter Corboy has discovered is that persons may be in trance
thrall to a leader or group, yet present a quite normal appearance in
public, and even function with distinction in thier occupations.

It is only behind closed doors and when the leader steps into the designated
position that these persons will go into the group trance.

Finally if life in a group becomes more and yet more demanding, that is to say the 'social commute' between cult life and the outside world become more and more demanding, persons may become buried in the group and gradually shed their outside relationships.


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Re: Long Term Recovery
Posted by: Jupiter ()
Date: July 28, 2014 06:37AM

A lot of useful resources in there, C.

I am interested in the idea of the cultic milieu and the social commute. Both resonate with me a lot.

I see these dynamics all of the time, and not just in cults. A lot of patriarchal workplaces exhibit similar group dynamics. It is not as extreme, because individuals still have an identity, and a social life. But those businesses tend to selectively recruit employees who share their viewpoint, general appearance, and will therefore accept things which other people would find unacceptable.

There seems to be a cost / benefit process to it.

I wonder if there is a cost / benefit approach to cults? When someone waves the idea of perfect enlightenment over your head -- and the ability to never do anything wrong -- then there are few other human rewards that could be greater. The benefit is so high that no cost seems anywhere near enough of a loss to justify the risk of not attaining that kind of spiritual perfection.

It's like someone shines a light just out of reach and from that moment we would do anything to get at it. Anything at all. We go completely blind to the reality around us -- our families, jobs, friends, and everything else -- and focus only on obtaining that elusive light.

"Anything! Anything!" We will agree to anything. We become blind to everything. Attainment of that promised goal is the only thing that matters.

...then, several years later, our entire lives collapse when we figure out it was all a trick and that light never even existed in the first place.

Yeah, I guess there is a drug addiction element to it, actually the biochemistry of heroin addiction is really quite interesting, because the body begins to respond differently to pain. I wonder if certain rituals and processes do genuinely alter the brain, nervous system, etc.

I suppose they would. So perhaps cults can cause physical pain in a way that is more than just the social pain of being in a cult. Perhaps the rituals can wound us too.

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Instill both fear and craving
Posted by: corboy ()
Date: July 30, 2014 02:25AM

Some rituals can have neurological effects. Here are just two examples.

In the 1960s, Robert Irwin participated in the 'imara, a ritual performed at an Algerian sufi community.



Occasionally a faqir would collapse on the ground in a fit.A person who had fallen victim to one of these scary fits was described as melboos. It was generally a sign that something was wrong in the person who was writhing on the ground. It was as if the dance was being policed by a fierce and vigilent spirit. Over the years, I went melboos several times and I found it a terrifying experience. It was as if something vast, alien and dispassionate
was reaching into the heart of me to take over.This was impossible to bear and hence the fits."

This second account was written was written by a man who was a graduate student at the School for South Asian Studies in London. (SOAS). He went to attend a chanting service led by a celebrated sheikh, sometime in the 1980s while the shiekh was touring in the UK.

The SOAS scholar was quite affected by the long chanting. But he distrusted the fawning adulation of the leader.


Once we were all seated again, Sheikh Nazim began leading the Zikr (Remembrance), congregational chanting of God’s names or supplications. He started repeating the words “Allahu, Allah Haqq” (God! God is Truth). Everyone immediately joined in and started gently swaying to the rhythm of the words.

After what seemed like a very long time Sheik Nazim signaled a change in the words and the pace, by repeating

“Allahu, Allah Hayy” (God! God is Living). By the time Sheikh Nazim led another change, the energy level had grown so great that the whole room seemed to be vibrating to the rhythm.

“Allah Hayy, Ya Qayyum.” (God is Living, Oh the Awake!)

Most had their eyes closed and appeared to be in a state of intense concentration as they swayed together.

I couldn’t resist the pounding rhythm and became carried away with rocking back and forth as I repeated “Allah Hayy, Ya Qayyum” over and over again.

The room became hazy and looked like a black and white negative image; everything around me was disappearing. It was an almost psychedelic experience and I was completely lost in the moment, throwing myself backwards and forwards without any inhibition or self consciousness.

(Corboy this may have been trance effect.



Unfortunately it also meant that I was unaware of the abrupt end to the proceedings and to my great embarrassment, I continued chanting and swaying for a second or two after everyone else had stopped.

Neurologist Marc Lewis wrote a biography entitled Memoirs of an Addicted Brain.

He used lots of substances. He describes in each chapter how he would use
a substance (cough syrup, alcohol, marijuana, LSD, opiates) and then, takes the reader aside and gives a tour of the human body and nervous system, describing what the drug does.

The most interesting and humbling description Lewis gives is how he fell madly in love for the first time. Then, after at last winning the girl, he rapidly became bored.

Turns out dopamine and the centers of the human nervous system influenced by dopamine are part of the entire craving/hunting/pursuit/quest process. When at last you get your desired outcome (or person) -- bam, the dopamine is gone.

Explains how one craves some object, buys it, brings it home -- and gets that well known buyers remorse.

There are sneaky ways and very effective ways to instill fear. Es[ecially if one is in a scene where everyone shares belief in 'energy' 'astral influences' belief that alleged saints or gurus or operators have powerful 'auras' -- one gets versions of this in social scenes which utilize magical thinking and mental frameworks derived from Western esoteric traditions, and theosophy, whether from Blavatsky, or derivations from Blavatsky's system, such as Alice Bailey, Rudolf Steiner (anthroposophy/waldorf schools, etc)

A leader can arrange to scare people into complaince through subtle means, such that people come to fear their own doubts.


Fear Installation -- Scaring people into silence


Date: July 28, 2014 10:58AM

Do not buy this.

One person in a discussion wrote that he'd been told that it is
very dangerous to malign a holy person or saint.

A mere mechanical rationale was given.

Some allegedly holy leader claim, or their disciples claim that negative energies directed at a blameless saintly person return automatically to the sender after gaining energy from the aura of the guiltless one.

(Sounds like the deflector shield around USS Starship Enterprise)

This is a classic way to scare people into feeling afraid not only to say anything deemed negative, but to scare people into suppressing doubt of any kind, even distrusting valid emotions of repulsion, doubt, disgust, dismay.

It is common place for oppressive religious leaders to claim that anyone who speaks ill of their abuses will come to a bad end.

A) What 'negative energy?' Can it be measured? Has it been measured? Or must one take someone's say-so?

B) If a leader is indeed abusing trust, abusing power, abusing money, abusing sexuality, teaching followers to act in arrogant bad faith toward the outside world, then that leader is *not* guiltless.

Therefore truthful reporting of an oppressive leader's abuses will not automatically 'curse' or 'energetically' harm one who thinks truthfully and speaks truthfully. One may incur painful legal or social flak from the group, but thats not paranormal.

A true saint would not have lawyers on staff, anyway. A true saint trusts in God and does not instill fear or speak in hints, or maintain a quasi royal court.

A clever leader need not state this explicitly to an entire group.

All the leader needs to do is hint to just one or two persons in a group how very dangerous it can be to disparage a "saint" because that holy persons "aura" will not only deflect ill will but will add additional energetic rebound against the tale bearer.

Those entrusted with this significant hint will feel important. Then they will, over time, pass this claim around the group.

The group, already bound together by this shared belief may well assume that this very wise leader is probably not only in contact with these saints, but may be one of these saints, one who must never be questioned for fear ones own doubts rebound against one.

Keep in mind the power of confirmation bias. We remember that which confirms our belief system.

Two -- bad things happen all the time, to the great and good, as well as to to scoundrels.

Suppose you obey the leader, have no doubts and something bad happens.

You can be told, or the leader will hint that because of your fidelity, you were spared a much worse ordeal. Or..that your ordeal is a purification for your own good.

If the misfortune happened to a skeptic, or one who did leave the group, members will assume their doubts and evil thoughts rebounded against them.

For this to be believable, one has to be in a group that;

* Takes the leader seriously
* Believes in auras
* Believes saints have specially powerful auras which act as deflector shields
* Believe in 'mental energy'

Very likely a group of this kind will have a method of vetting which excludes skeptics, keeping only those who share this belief system/cultic milieu.

Perhaps, very long ago, when there were few food surpluses, crops had to be planted and harvested on time, and communities could not afford to have too many members distracted or disabled by over indulgence in trance, this might have created a control mechanism.

One could not afford for too many members of a subsistence economy to trance out and become incapacitated. Ecstatics would take place at set times of year.

But now that we have monetary surplus and ease of transportation, plus food
surplus, more people can do these rituals repetitively, and risk addiction and long term subservience to those who possess the technology of ecstatic group

Just as we now have more people who get trapped in life long enslavement to products provided by drugs dealers.

Only difference is, the dictators who produce ecstacy and craving through use of social technology go free. Some can even get tax exemption as spiritual non profits and accumulate wealth and freedom from social accountability.

Edited 2 time(s). Last edit at 12/11/2016 11:20PM by corboy.

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Re: Long Term Recovery
Posted by: meh ()
Date: July 30, 2014 07:19AM

Great discussion!

I don't think that anyone still in the thrall of a cult is capable of a discussion about it in those terms. "Cult" is such a highly-charged word that members have a strong response to it. They've been so strongly programmed that anyone who would suggest such a thing is an enemy, not to be trusted or believed and either brought back into the flock or fled from.

It's difficult to maintain relationships once you've left. I was fortunate that the years I spent in a cult were as an adult, and I had no family members or long-time close friends in it. I certainly lost every "friend in faith" once I left; they either abandoned me, verbally attacked me for leaving or started scheming to bring me back in.

I can't begin to imagine how complicated it is for someone who was raised in a cult, whose friendships and family relationships are based in it. It's the only social structure you know, and you probably have very few (if any) people on the outside to fall back on.

Congratulations, Jupiter. I only could hope that I would have had as much courage and presence of mind as it took you to leave.

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Re: Long Term Recovery
Posted by: chlew ()
Date: January 30, 2015 04:46PM

Hi, I am researching cults and how they change the psychology of its members through brainwashing etc. I've anyone would be comfortable answering 10 questions on their own experience or someone you know, please take 2 mins to fill out my survey as it would be so helpful, thank you very much. There is no registration and therefore you can remain totally anonymous.

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Re: Long Term Recovery
Posted by: Jupiter ()
Date: August 08, 2015 12:46PM

It's been close to nine years since I left my group. Since I last posted a year ago I have been more active in cult research. Have written and presented papers on spiritual abuse and what it's like to grow up in a cult. Am considering retraining as a psychologist, because there are too few studies out there.

I have less energy than I used to; at 31 I feel old. Drained, even. It's hard to imagine ever having a normal life. I threw all of my energy into leaping into the freezing river that separated me from the rest of mankind. I managed to escape the cult, of course, but never quite made it to the opposite shore.

Psychologically I ended up marooned somewhere in the middle of the raging torrents of life and emotion, and after developing a neurological disorder ended up losing faith in my ability to fully "heal." I don't think I will ever fully heal.

Inside, I feel a thousand years older than when I first began posting here. And yet 31 is still "young" by many people's standards.

Looking back on my old posts I see an intelligence, strength and passion in my younger self that I am incredibly proud of. I have no respect for those who ganged up to try to mock me or belittle my experiences. I went through hell, and members of my group openly accused me of lying and denied my experiences. In their own arrogance they used their real names half the time.

They taught me a lot about cognitive dissonance.

I am much older and more tired. I write this as a placeholder; I see how useful it is to track my changing psychology over time. I am still here, still battling cults, still trying to escape the psychic wounds which may last a lifetime. It is amazing to have seen public writing written by myself over the past nine years, where I transform from being angry and depressed to being an international researcher in this field.

How do we choose what we devote our lives to? I choose truth, as I consider it to be.

A plague on everyone who ever mocked or belittled my 22 year old self.

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Re: Long Term Recovery
Posted by: Apostle Dog ()
Date: November 26, 2015 03:34PM

I went through a long term recovery. Thirty years, but now I think I have a a handle on it. I realize that part of the reason for my cult being just that, a cult, instead of a pretty good church, was the insistence of the congregation ourselves to have a guru, a super-apostle, a spiritual father over us. That was a sign of the times, the need to have such a relationship was something that generation needed. There was a disdain for our real parents, we wanted a super cool father, so we sought one out, and we found someone that just was itching to fill the bill. We got what we sought after.

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Re: Long Term Recovery
Posted by: Apostle Dog ()
Date: December 03, 2015 06:08PM

I find long-term recovery to be hard. I am emotionally stable, I am strong and self-aware, but growing up in a cult reveals the worst aspects of humanity which cannot simply be unseen. I find that I notice destructive group patterns everywhere, and I stay away from any group or organisation which seems remotely wounded or destructive in any way. Actually, this doesn't make it easy to hold down a job, because many companies are somewhat dysfunctional and resistant to change. I am far less tolerant due to my post-cult recovery.
I see the same thing everywhere I go. I am retired now, but the trade I was in, I went to several different companies. Each company had a flavor of it's own, you could say they all had their own personality, or even they were all of a different "spirit." The long term employees took on the personality of the owners, and the higher ups of each company REALLY took on the personality of the owners. They were all sort of like cults, or actually I call some of them outright cults. The formen were all wanting to be higher up formen, like cult members wanting to be in the inner circle, closer to the owners. It's really the same thing as cults.

I see the same thing in good churches as I do in cults, only on a less toxic level. If the higher ups of those good churches flip out, the whole church pretty much will flip out with them.

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Re: Long Term Recovery
Posted by: NancyB ()
Date: March 08, 2018 11:29AM

I would like to see more open dialog as well. People simply may not be ready to expose themselves.

Keep on talking on how you are healing. If you have missing puzzles pieces in your situation, keep asking.

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