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Born or Raised in a Cult
Posted by: Toni ()
Date: September 23, 2004 03:05PM

Those who were born or raised in a cult have a different experience than those who were recruited. Our childhood had normalized the groupthink. Our parents repeatedly told us that we were special for being so infinitely fortunate to be raised (and usually neglected) with the cult's teachings.

For those raised in such a group.. true 'thought reform' or 'reform of thought' occurs when we leave the group, and must learn to self think for ourselves w/o any guidance for such.

The following was just sent to me by a friend. It seemed appropriate timing to share and begin this needed thread.

About Being raised in the SGI cult (the sender did not send me the article title, I am sorry)

From Utne Magazine, September / October 2004

By Eliza Thomas


I was born to parents whose good intentions change the world. That's why they call me a "fortune baby," a child born into the practice of Nichiren Buddhism. Among fellow Buddhists, fortune babies like me are regarded with awe and affection. By virtue of my discerning taste in parents, my very existence has been fortified by prayer, millions of chanted repetitions of the phrase Nam-myoho-renge-kyo. Nam-myoho-renge-kyo was undoubtedly the sound track at the scene of my birth. It was certainly the white noise of my childhood, and when I went off to college I left the phrase resonating in my wake. As my folks insist, should my sister and I choose to use the power of the practice, there is no end to what we could accomplish. But even without doing all that hard work, our parents' chanting entitles us to a certain amount of karmic nepotism, a virtual goodie bag of cosmic returns.

Asking my parents to define Nam-myoho-renge-kyo (Nah-m MEE-yo-ho
RAIN-gay KEE-yo) can provoke more questions than answers. Devotees understand it to mean "devotion to the mystic law of cause and effect through sound/vibration," and, simply put, my mother and father believe that chanting Nam-myoho-renge-kyo allows them to tap into the "rhythm of the universe." As a child looking for attention, I would do the running man or the robot to the rhythm of the universe, trying to get my parents to crack a smile during evening prayer.

I grew up on New York City's Lower East Side, where nothing is more unfashionable than enthusiasm. And yet, in my family's apartment at least, enthusiasm was inescapable. My parents had discovered the secret to creating "ultimate happiness" in this lifetime and, naturally, they were excited about it. Even worse, they were determined to share the news with the babysitter, the postman, the supermarket checkout attendant, the crazy cat lady in 3C, and every hapless cabbie who gave us a ride. Later, many of these people arrived at our doorstep, tentatively hopeful, drawn by my parents' invitation to stop by for the weekly chance to see their promise of happiness put to the test. It would be hard to imagine a more earnest gathering of strangers, at least in lower Manhattan.

When I was old enough to recognize America's inexhaustible fascination with Eastern religion, I began indulging in the thrill of casually letting it drop among friends that my parents were Buddhist. I enjoyed cultivating the image of my parents doing hip, mystical Buddhist things, like sitting for hours in zazen on a tatami mat or something, perhaps every now and then turning to give me a contemplative smile. Not quite. The awkward reality of my parents' Buddhist practice -- the fund-raisers and phone trees, the fervent affirmations, the bagels and cream cheese and hysterical effervescence shared at district meetings -- was, at the time, so dorky it hurt. I can remember staging rebellions as early as age 6, when I refused to sing along with the now defunct Buddhist jingle "Have a Gohonzon!" A gohonzon is the object of devotion before which Nichiren Buddhists like my parents pray. The tune was borrowed from "Hava Nagila" (apparently my mother was not the only Jew-Bu in the bunch). Despite my strike, the lyrics, perhaps waiting for this very chance at immortality, are burned into my brain: Have a gohonzon / Have a gohonzon / Have a gohonzon / Chant for a while / You'll find that you will be / Full of vitality / Watching your benefits grow in a pile!

That song is a less graceful example of the long-standing tradition of incorporating intercultural elements into Nichiren Buddhist faith. The founder and namesake of the practice, Nichiren Daishonin, was a 13th-century radical Japanese priest who asserted, in a time of clerical corruption, that every living being had a Buddha nature and could therefore attain enlightenment without the help of an ordained intermediary. Nichiren drew his teachings from the Lotus Sutra, one of the final sutras delivered by the Buddha. As the story goes, in order to make the liturgy accessible to everyone in the world, he completed a translation fusing all the known languages of the time. To this day, from New Jersey to Ghana, Nichiren's disciples chant Nam-myoho-renge-kyo, a combination of ancient Chinese and Sanskrit, pronounced with a Japanese accent.

Unlike their Zen counterparts, Nichiren Buddhists embrace their earthly desires as a means to achieve happiness in this lifetime. My parents have an index card next to the gohonzon on their altar, listing an ever-evolving list of their wishes for themselves, their loved ones, and the world. By forming a direct alliance between their life condition and the rhythm of the universe, my parents believe they are augmenting their purest intentions with universal assistance. They call this process "human revolution" and have faith that it will lead them to "become absolutely happy in this lifetime, help others to do the same, and, person by person, create world peace."

As Nichiren Buddhists, my parents are members of a global organization called Soka Gakkai International (SGI). In the spirit of engaged Buddhism, members of SGI, one of the world's most ethnically and socially diverse Buddhist groups, base their faith in action. To this end, SGI works closely with a long list of peace, education, and environmental protection groups like the Boston Research Center, the Pacific Basin Research Center, and the Earth Charter. In addition to their community work, twice a day every day, in their homes and at local "culture centers," all the world's 12 million SGI members sit down and chant in prayer for kosen rufu (the spread of the teachings), understood as the promotion of world peace.

The older I get, the harder it becomes to dismiss the pursuit of world peace as dorky. But kosen rufu is composed of millions of individuals' hopes, desires, and intentions, many of which are much easier to make fun of. Because my parents have resolved to see evidence of their prayers wherever they look, they do. In Buddhist speak, this evidence is called "actual proof" or "benefits," and recognizing benefits is a way to maintain an energetic practice.

My parents and I agree that some benefits -- such as their successful marriage, the impulsive beginnings of which have now become the stuff of family legend -- truly do indicate larger forces at work. My father decided he wanted to get married, so he asked two girls to a Buddhist meeting and proposed to the one who was moved to tears. My mother prudently told him she needed at least a week to decide, dreamed prophetically that my father would be a good match, and now, 30 years later, they are happily married, living in the suburbs, with two kids, two cars, a golden retriever, and many reasons to be thankful. Other declared benefits, like when the guy at the doughnut shop runs out to the parking lot to give my father the eyeglasses he forgot on the counter, are not so clear-cut.

Now that I am reaching the quarter-century mark, though, I have less energy to rebel against my parents' resolute benefit-spotting and blessing-counting. Being obstinate and obnoxious was age-appropriate behavior at 13, but at 24, and struggling to cobble my way in the world, I am not about to turn up my nose at a dose of self-empowering optimism.
Nor am I willing to sacrifice my happiness for the satisfaction of proving my parents wrong. I realize now that there are worse parental vices than enthusiasm. My parents gave me the key to creating positive change in the world, and believe me, when I am driving on a windy, icy mountain road in a snowstorm, I am chanting Nam-myoho-renge-kyo, and I am not smirking.

The first 18 years of my life were framed by my parents' prayers, and since I left home I have felt buoyed by the power of their intention. As idealistic as it may be, I would not deny that there is something encouraging about being included in my parents' wish to "wrap the world in shoten zenjin" (protective forces). And, admittedly, my life, from my conception on that fateful day on Martha's Vineyard (too rainy for the beach), has been good. As a fortune baby, cradled in the arms of my parents' focused intent, I had the luxury to take good fortune for granted. But as my adult path becomes less certain, I find myself drawing confidence from the navigation techniques I've inherited, and I am grateful. Undoubtedly, this is a benefit my mother and father have been chanting for all along.

Eliza Thomas is an editorial intern at Utne.

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Born or Raised in a Cult
Posted by: Toni ()
Date: October 14, 2004 01:23PM

There is not much written about those who were born or raised in cults. All the cult books I've read, when addressing leaving a cult they write about reclaiming your precult persona. Those raised in cults do not have a precult persona!

Some psychologist-authors about cult phenomenon have written theoretically about the experience of children raised in cults. But nothing that I could get my teeth into of any value.

So, to attempt to get this conversation started here, I'll share a bit.

The most succinct depiction I've seen of my own inner experience was a DVD about Amish youth deciding to remain Amish, or leave the group. It won awards in Cannes. "Devil's Playground" I highly recommend it. It's essentially about finding one's own inner direction, loving the community of origin very much, and being unprepared for the outside world. My grown children also were riveted by the film, knowing our family's cult history.

I left my parents' cult 16 yrs ago, at the age of 30.

The last 16 years have been a wonderful growth process. Obtaining 3 college degrees while raising my children (cult born) to be responsible, self determining, educated and contributing young adults.

I have made many mistakes, no doubt! Attempting to uncultify myself at age 30 was tedious. I moved far away from family & my known community to do so. Having reconnected with other extended (noncult) family members were wonderfully supportive throughout the process.

Meanwhile I have watched my parents lives continue to deteriorate. For them to question, at their stage now, how they have conducted the past 40+ years of their life would be far too painful - they are incapable of doing so.

Being now long over the cult mindset/ groupthink, it is wonderful to have my life focus and direction come totally from within myself. If others approve, great!, and if not, that's OK too! And my life is FULL of loving meaningful deep friendships. I feel infintely blessed, and am truly happier than i've ever been in my life. However, I have no group identification label (other than, maybe, eccentric)

Still, I find myself repeatedly again and again coming up against the 'magical thinking" of family/culttraining. I manage to catch myself on that one. It ever surprises me!

Much harder though is that I was never taught to have a 'Bullshit' detector. Repeatedly I find myself deceived and manipulated in a variety of relationships, personal and professional. I'm always shocked when I realize (too late!) what happened! I am way too trusting of the 'inner goodness' of people, and not careful enough about those whose lives are bent upon manipulating others for their own selfish ends.

Anyone else w/ experiences to share, of your adulthood after having been raised in a cult?

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Born or Raised in a Cult
Posted by: escapee329 ()
Date: November 03, 2004 04:58PM

Yes I have very similer experiances with buisness and relationships.

Do to these kind of abuses:
psycological manipulation
mind control
memory supression
memory impresion
emotional abuse
psycological abuse
psycological sexual abuse
reconstructive training
controlled thought reform
sleep control
physical, emotional, phycological, social, sexual and sleep deprivation where faveorates.
Basicaly, one big tourcher sesson.

These are the abuses I came from. I'm just glad I could recognise them, some friends I have from there can't, or for whatever reason will not. Probly cause the abuse came from there parents, and there parents would never do anything like that. I feal bad for them they supress it in a fugue of denial.

I'v also noticed some family's are worse than others. I think mine was one of the worst.

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Born or Raised in a Cult
Posted by: jewels36305 ()
Date: November 05, 2004 03:31AM

I left my cult when I was 19. I have been out for nearly 5 years now. The rest of my family (most of them) left 3 years ago. That has been a great help. It seems like getting together with ex members is the best therapy.

I have problems still with getting close to people.

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Born or Raised in a Cult
Posted by: escapee329 ()
Date: November 05, 2004 01:26PM

@ jewls, your doing better than me, I hope.
I'v never been able to have a relationship last more than a month.
I always somehow seem to sabatauge it every time.
Getting close to people is the hardest thing for me.
I always look for where they might be trying to take me for a ride or screw with me.

Since I rarely see or talk to any of my family, ever, I have deep abandonment issues and also cause I lost my mother when I was 13.
They took full advantage of that without haste, like five minits after she died.

I also left at 19, 11 and 1/2 years ago.
Being maried, I'd hope your not as lonly as I am.

You soud like "plig kid".......... . . .. ..Just a guess.

I'v had many similer expiriances, including moveing 4,500 miles away where I live now.
Also one year after leaving I moved to Mexico for 4 months.
That was fortuitus, there I came to realise whoe I was and that I was indeed from another country.
Where I differ from you is I never finished school I droped out @10th grade.
Then. went to work as a slave.
I don't complain about that cause I learned allot.
I have more knowledge about constructon than almost anyone I'v ever met my age.
And certanly work harder and do a better job cause of it.
This alowed me to work for my self most of my twentys. And make good money, but money dosen't change anything.
At 30 now I out-work most men in there early twentys.
partly cause I never left the good healthy habits behind like eating right I'v never fallen pray to drugs, only tried em 7 years ago the last time, and I don't drink soda, and alchohal lightly..... well most of the time.
One good thing is the healthy training I recived there.
I always look for the positiv. I see ballance, yin and yang, theres as much good as there is bad. I srongly belive this. ballance is important to me.

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Born or Raised in a Cult
Posted by: Toni ()
Date: November 06, 2004 04:23PM

Hi Jewels and Escapee :

Interesting to share similar experiences, from varied groups. Tx for sharing.

Jewels, likewise i remember carrying a sense of 'others' vs me/us for a long time. How wonderful that you could now identify that you still had that sense toward your husband -- identifying that issue is the first step toward working through and releasing it! whew. You're on your way! Great that you have others w/ your same experience to talk with. It must help for sorting out what it is fantasy from what is real.

Escapee, yes it is a lonely go. I'm single now, and likewise hesitant to pursue another relationship. After a cult marriage (I had left the group, he was still in, for a number of years of the marriage) - my next relationship for several years was with someone in a different cult -- guess I'm just a glutton for punishment! Fortunately I have many good friends. My family (other than now grown children) live far away. I can barely talk to my family of origin anymore, as everything is so cult-based. It's hard to avoid an argurment with my parents; they are well intentioned, just totally screwed up! Sorry to hear about all of your abuse. Healthy to acknowledge it, and then to move on and build a life anyway. Like yourself, I learned to work harder than most of my age peers, sort of like beginning from far behind the starting line and then running faster just to catch up and be in the 'middle range of normal'. My old cult buddies are amazed that I'm a so-called 'professional' now. Am not able to converse with old cult friends anymore, just nothing in common any longer. :( and most who left the cult, just went and joined some other group somewhere.

Do you wonder if that loneliness isn't just part of being human? I feel it also. My guess is our parents joined, or were recruited to join, their cults as a way to fill that loneliness.

I agree, money does not solve the inner spiritual longing... even those who spend tons on their enlightenment won't achieve it. BTW, it's not too late to go back to school. You sound like an intelligent and thoughtful person. I began college at age 30, with 3 children, working and going to school. I have student loans up the wazoo -- but the education and self respect, etc was more than worth the debt! You could do it, if you decide to do so.

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Born or Raised in a Cult
Posted by: escapee329 ()
Date: November 07, 2004 07:46AM

toni, I fully understand your running faster to to catchup.
In my way I always called it taking two steps at once. I'm still doing that.
Thanks for your concern of my academic situation it dose help. Maney people tell me I'm very inteligent, or even genious (allot) and yes I'd like to further my education I'v thought seariously about it for a couple of years now.
I seem to have some blocks tward it though I haven't been able to get to the bottom of yet. I read and study allot of informationla matirial. Thats where I get my learning and by listening to peopole.

Your words are encourageing thank you.

P.S. I read much better than I spell.

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Born or Raised in a Cult
Posted by: Toni ()
Date: November 07, 2004 10:45AM

Escapee, you made me laugh... :lol:
in a good way. of compassion and understanding.

Truly, at age 30 I thought I wasn't smart enough to go to college. After leaving the group and moving 2000 miles away, a coworker drove me to the community college and stood in line with me until I'd registered. Lo! I went on to work as hard as you are working now... 3 degrees with honors and an honorable job now. So people actually give some credence to my opinions (imagine that!.... after the years of normalizing the cult negating)

I'm not there to drive you to the local admissions office, you'll have to do it yourself. Yes, you clearly are aware, well read and thoughtful. And we can all be grateful for 'spellcheck' programs! :D

Also, see if you can find the DVD "Devil's Playground" about Amish youth (it's not at blockbuster, but you can buy it on amazon -- really hits the experience on the head)

We'll probably be running 2 steps at a time until we die, but at least we can laugh and be grateful for our freedom!
Keep going buddy! You ARE doing it!

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Born or Raised in a Cult
Posted by: escapee329 ()
Date: November 07, 2004 06:10PM

I'll share some things that helped me.

A few things among many.
I think this is from, [i:3672ee832e]The Book Of Ballance And Harmony[/i:3672ee832e] I know its from the Tao Te Ching. I take this as wisdom and not religous babble.
"Weapons are inauspicious instruments, not the tools of the enlightened. When there is no choise but to use them it is best to be calm and free from greed, and not celebrate victory. Those who celebrate victory are blookthirsty, and the bloodthirsty cannot have their way with the world."

Here I see the wepons as, all the instruments that cults use to subjugate people. when confronted by those things I use it to protect myself from it without want for using it. I win by proving that I'm more aware than they, and when I leave I feel bad I was put in a situation to have to use such destructive means even to protect myself. I know for fact that these people "celabrate" when they finly conqure. they can not rule the world!

I, after acting ignorent, see through there lightly guarded facade proceed to let them know they'r elementary in there methods. This usely gets a responce something like this "well what am I doing wrong, how can I become better at it" when I tell them simply "stop it" I get a shoked look on their faces as I turn and walk away. I love it when people try and convert me it's kind'a fun.

I acompish this by: (also of the Tao Te Ching )
"Plan for what is difficult While it's still easy, do what is great while it's still small. The most difficult things in the world must be done wile they are still easy, the greatest things in the world must be done wile they are still small. For this reason sages never do what is great, and this is why they achieve that greatness."

Nature confers no rights upon man, only life and a world in wich to live it. Nature does not even confer the right to live, as might be deduded by considering what would likley happen if an unarmed man met a hungry tiger face to face in the forest. Scociety's prime gift to man is security.

Offten I think why people stay, or fallow a cult or religon, is for some sence of security. The damage after leveing is offten that of leveing the security or safty of everything they know or knew. essentialy they feel like the unarmed man in the forest of greater scociety. Offten helpless scrounging for tools to use in their new-found "concreat jungel". While it seems others have already whorded those tools to themselfs and, while you where somewhere else, masterd those tools.

Man tends to crystallize science, formulate philosophy, and dogmatize truth because he is mintally lazy in adjusting to the progressive srugles of living, while he is also teribly afraid of the unknown. man is slow to initiate changes in his habits of thinking and in his teachnquies of living.

By mental lazyness man becomes more and more suseptable to the powers of sugestion. By fear of truth, we offten would rather fallow someone else's dogma. It seems less hassle!

I'v escaped the bondage of ritualism and legalism,(their leaglism) a bodage much more real than that of jail, or at least as real. Its a prison without bars its just a city of guards. the subgugation to their law is the slavish demands of their tradition, witch invades the domain of pesonal and scoical life.

I for one, even after all I'v been through, still have to realise the potulate of human servival through theological concept. By this I mean religion has been the worst thing that ever happend to humanity, but symbioticaly also the very best thing that ever hapend to humanity. BALLANCE!

Even after knowing all this I still find myself hurting, and confused about so many things. I still find myself in tears on the floor in the featal position, once in awhile, and wondering what to do. I admit I actualy need allot of help. But don't know who to trust. Its hard. Its hard for me to admit that.

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Born or Raised in a Cult
Posted by: Toni ()
Date: November 08, 2004 02:44AM


Tx for the book suggestion, I'll check it out.

If you decide to attend college, you needn't worry about the age issue. Some of my former professors are now still my best friends; of course I did not relate well to the 18-22 year old classmates. The intellectual stimulation, and spending time with others who value the same was such fun and validating.

BTW, like yourself, I also have an inherent distrust of religion. Although I consider myself to be spiritual.

You have great courage to share so openly. Sounds like you've done a lot of inner soul searching to bring yourself to your independence. Good for you! Yes, sounds like you could use a good cult recovery therapist. Sounds like the pain is much worse than a 'heartbreak', it's acknowleding that your entire life was based upon betrayal (by the cult lifestyle of your family). It was incredibly painful for me to acknowledge that also. It's analogous to a spiritual rape. This was NOT your fault! The deception runs so deep, and learning to trust again is a slow tender process. If you are then manipulated / betrayed by another person, it's all the harder.

There are some cult recovery therapists listed on , also maintains a listing, so does rick ross somewhere - you can phone them also (phone # on their web sites). I'd spoken with a number of them on the phone just for info r.e. another person in a cult. I found a local person to see for myself. It's really helped!

Good Luck!

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