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Sunday, 14 October 2007

Cults, groups, indoctrination, exiting

Post by Kaytrin

During life we go through periods of being a part of some grouping, in a family, at work, in the neighbourhood. Sometimes it works well, sometimes not! But we gain knowledge about ourselves and others, and have a tendency to seek situations which offer us something meaningful. Perhaps that is a role we can play, or a general feeling of being accepted.

Without that, we can feel alone in the world, and some groups take advantage of that. They may home in on people, offering what they want to hear, that they will be liked or taken care of, that the group provides answers of a philosophical or religious nature. We won’t be just zizzing around without a clue or a base, because there’ll be someone to act as friend or family.

This can work to mutual advantage. I recently ordered a book written by someone who spent 20 years living in different communal settings, and await that with interest. However, books and advisory centres range in their attitude about particular groups, or on the phenomenon of cults as a general principle and how harmful they are likely to be.

I think it’s good to have an enquiring approach, but recently I came across a book in an Oxfam shop where the author had joined some groups or cults that he found strange, amusing, stupid, awful. He seemingly implied that neither he nor anyone else actually got hurt in the process. How can he know that? That is an interesting phenomenon in itself. It would be interesting to undertake research into how groups such as juries come to a consensus opinion - or not.

If we are on our own in the world, to some extent we can make up our own minds and not get swayed into something different by another person, or in a group setting of a natural or contrived kind. Once we are involved with other people, there has to be some give-and-take or negotiation, and there are likely to be subtle changes that can be built on or further altered, becoming quite profound. Some businesses work on this in terms of team-work, company ethos and so on. It always used to be like that up to a point, but I can’t help thinking it has become more deliberate and invasive. One may find oneself not fitting in – and not being able to do much about it!

Bullying in the workplace (and elsewhere besides) has become an issue to the extent that both the Samaritans and Joseph Rowntree Foundation have prepared information on it. Without harping on about ‘the old days’, perhaps we had more respect for each other’s strengths and weaknesses, and the boundaries surrounding another person’s job, and personal or working space. Perhaps the decrease in physical area around someone’s workstation plays a part in how things have changed. In many places there isn’t even a personal desk with a little drawer one can lock or that no-one would think of going through!

A couple of other observations and I will aim to wrap this up. Firstly, if you’re in a supermarket and there are say 20 other shoppers and trolleys, maybe you don’t cross paths too closely too often. Increase the number to 40 and maybe it’s a bit harder. Increase it to 60 and the shopping process doesn’t work so well. Walk around a small town during a weekday and you might not meet many people. You may recognise some faces and even greet a few. Walk around a large town or city when people are heading to work or leaving, or racing around in their lunch break, and people are much less likely to stand back and smile. It becomes a survival situation – they need their job or to catch a train, and pit their survival against anyone else’s.

So we tend to think we’d rather be in a group than on our own, in this maelstrom of humanity, because there’s safety in numbers plus we’d like some personal recognition. Personal recognition can indeed still come with a job situation, but perhaps less than years ago, and less when job security is so decreased. Perhaps this is why workplace bullying increases, but it seems to have spread wider through society and neighbourhoods. It’s not as cosy and supportive as ‘Coronation Street’, although there’s plenty of that around.

I caught a comment by a psychiatrist on a radio show some years ago. He was of the opinion that his work would be reduced by 80 per cent, if people had another person they could confide in. The fact that Samaritans and other organisations have helped so many people through difficult times in their lives seems to bear this out. Sometimes people ‘go it alone’ either because they need to or have to, but at other times they need contact. They may seek it in a close personal relationship or in more of a group setting.

One of the things about groups is that we like to identify with certain things about them, or some of the people in them, at the same time as needing to retain some of our individuality. Unless that can be negotiated there can be difficulties.

In a cult-type setting, people may find their days mapped out and may be told what to believe, how to behave with their partner – even if that is allowed, children may be cared for by others, and contact with the outside world is restricted. If someone tries to buck the system and do their own thing, pressures are brought to bear on them to conform. If they want to leave, some cults will allow this and some don’t. However one of the main problems is that, living in a situation which is isolating in some way, members may not see the invisible walls around them, and that they even could still access the outside world.

This is why it is important, if you can, to maintain some form of contact with someone you know who has joined a group or cult, so that a part of their reality is that there is someone who knows them and will talk to them. And if the person manages to leave, depending on how they have been affected, it can take several years for their thinking to gradually get back onto other tracks. That process may never completely ‘undo’ all the changes, so one does need to be realistic and do what one can.

Sometimes people have attempted to 'rescue' someone from a cult and forcibly change their attitude and beliefs back. This was called deprogramming and it fell into disrepute, sometimes involving legal battles for kidnap. The term now used is exiting a cult with perhaps the facility of some exit counselling. As is often the way of things though, this has also been called into disrepute by those who say it's just a euphemism for the deprogramming of the past that could be quite a violent process.

Find out what form the exit counselling will take and see what options there may be. It is tempting sometimes to want to extract someone from a group which seems harmful, but it may not be possible or advisable.

Something you could perhaps explore is the concept of what is termed intervention, and this approach sometimes gets used with an addiction or other problem. Family or friends arrange to meet in a neutral setting like a hotel room, and invite the individual to join them, along with a professional who takes control of the interaction. The dynamic seems to be that the individual with the problem is faced with an irrevocable choice: to give up their problematic behaviour, or never to see their family and friends again.

It can be highly emotional, but the tug of family and friends and their promise of continuing support can just swing the balance.

Intervention can also be taken more generally to describe anything which breaks, or might break, into a cycle, pattern, or mode of thought or behaviour. It may be a matter of waiting until the person starts to question for themselves.

Certainly battering your own reality up against theirs is unlikely to be productive, and they have rights about leading their lives as they feel they want. The problems are more that we have known the person when they were very different, or we believe what has happened to them is wrong. 'Someone else' has entered the scene and had a devastating effect so the individual does not seem in control - and may in fact not be in control because 'someone else' or some other 'reality of belief' is.

. . . . .

Posts by Kaytrin and others on similar subjects are now all located on 'Unseen Aspects of Behaviour' at http://unseenaspects.blogspot.com to make space for newer articles here.

Norman's article 'Profiling - the company we keep?' (about groups) is here on this Blog.

For more on Cults and groups in general click HERE

Also see 'Doc Matrix' - A fun site with a serious purpose in mind - YOU!

Problems are not all Your Fault! : Outline Questions on Help
Pressures Outside or Within
: P-Y-O Personality Parts
Groups & Cults
: Dissing, Dissonance, Splits & Divides
Doc’s X-Files or WHY?
: Beliefs & Myths We Live By
Con-Tricks, Hustles, Scams, Deception - BookList

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