On Cults and cultish relationships


In this article I draw a parallel between cults and relationships, using cults as a metaphor for relationships where one partner has gained a hold over the other. It isn’t easy reading.

A classic cult behaviour is when the cult leader projects their own cruel intention onto others.

It’s rarely done with subtlety and it’s always done with the intention of maintaining power over others.

Sadly the cult leader resorts to threats because they often don’t have the courage to pursue peace.Of course, cult members add fuel to the fire by fanning the flames through tacit and explicit approval of the cult leader’s behaviour.

The cult leader’s obsession to hurt another is a kind of drug. It ultimately shows the cult leader to be unstable and ridiculous.

My friend Georgina’s view (and she has looked into this a lot) is that the cult is, essentially “ill”, labelling the sane as insane, it begins to attack the “white cells”, and, increasingly, its attempts to do so become less subtle and less eloquent. Speeches become “rants”. Thankfully many right wing groups fall into this trap, losing credibility amongst the wider population.

Once again, there’s nothing better in the world than freedom, respect and the love of others’ freedom.

The cult leader often isn’t really to blame; he/she is nurtured (and, ultimately harmed) by the cult members. They fuel the fire.

The only real way a cult leader could be redeemed or “rescued” is by the authentic action of the membership, partcularly those closest.

Often, when this happens, the cult member will resort to slander (e.g this has happened more than once in scientology) either within our outside the cult. See Peter McWilliam’s “Life 102:What to do if your guru sues you” for an example of the behaviour of cult leaders when they are subjected to critique. (various critics of this particular cult have experienced character assassination, stalking and intimidation since questioning the “work” of John-Roger Hinkins). McWilliam’s himself, sadly died of AIDS-related illnesses and, even to this day, his battle with illness was ridiculed publicly by some defenders of the cult. Fortunately the ridicule is often ranty and, therefore, coarse and unwitty enough to reach beyond its own self-adoring circle.

Here’s another strategy. The cult leader will try to persuade cult members that the cult member critiquing him/her OR the external critc are “not what they seem”.

The cult may have been attacked from several places but the cult leader will attempt to persuade members (and may even cook up “fake” attacks) that there is only ONE critic who is really some kind of “obsessor” against the cult.

There are of course many people critiquing the cult but it becomes more “convenient” to focus attention on one.

The target for this chosen by the cult leader will, of course, be the most well-motived, “normal”, but also most effective critic. The cult leader attempts to maintain cult togetherness but focusing a lot of attention on damaging the credibility of the critic, but usually betrays their own failure to do so through slipping into “ranting”, attacking friends and family of the critic, issuing threats, and attempting to demonise the critic. Cult members who are lost in the cult readily join in this cruel behaviour as a “moral crusade” or simply stand by and watch, mopping the brow of the cult leader.
Often the cult-leader’s “rants” are written and, more and more these days, online. This, in my view is a huge relief, as the internet “web site” is a marvellous place for the cult leader’s often poor (but wonderfully “angsty”) writing to find a tiny home, away from the real world.There are only two measures of health in such situations (often trumpeted by politicians in the U.S, a land of cults): respect for others, and a love of freedom.
In case anyone missed it, here’s the original postMany years ago, I investigated some cults, and also did some research into cults in general.

At the same time I was writing about relationships and was fascinated about the parallels between people “trapped” in “love” relationships and membership of dangerous cults.

The parallels can be scarey. I’ll let you see them for yourself.

Some features of cults include:

– the use of emotional pressure by the cult on the member to remain a member. The cult may refer to its sense of “betrayal” at the person leaving it. It also refers to the “pain” it feels as the member tries to break free.

The cult leader will often refer to his/her own personal pain at the behaviour of the leaving member. “You are hurting me by leaving”. The cult member is full of fear and guilt at leaving

– the paranoia of the cult. The cult tries to make the member feel there is a conspiracy around them. People outside it, even family and friends, are not to be trusted etc. Some cults have even created false attacks on it to heighten the sense of fear among members and increase their loyalty to it. Only the cult itself is to be seen as a source of safety.

– the use selective of language and keywords to bind the cult member. As in relationships where he calls her “lovebug” and she calls him “sweetlips” the cult creates words that members identify with and feel a loss of identity and belonging when they think of leaving. These names take over the real names after a while and are even shared in public

– the publishing of the member’s commitment (really their being tied in) to family and friends. A person who normally says “I keep my private life private” now responds in the public domain making statements of love and commitment to the cult and/or cult leader, It shocks me how many people who claim to be private people readly surrender their principle and start to go “public” with their commitment to cults and also to cult-like partners in relationships. It’s one of the worst signs of all.

– the relentlessness of the cult and cult leader. The cult communicates with the member at its whim, at any time of day or night, reinforcing membership, often dressed up as a statement of care and commitment from the cult leader, but really a form of repetitive brainwashing. “We love you, we love you, we LOVE you.”
– the cult makes false promises (that even the cult itself may believe). It promises to be the only real agency for the cult member to meet his or her life, personal and career goals. “Stick close to us and you’ll get what you most want”.

– the cult tries to create a sense that there is nothing wrong with its obsessive, controlling and paranoid behaviour. It may even make a kind of false admission of its own weaknesses in order to subtley tie the member in further. “We need you to help us heal, or get better” says the cult. After a while, a whole range of behaviours that the cult member would never tolerate in friends or famiily, the member tolerates, even defends, in the cult.

– the cult member finds themself defending the controlling, manipulative behaviour of the cult. The cult member develops selective memory, either forgetting the past misdeeds of the cult and its leadership, or by recasting the past to paint it in a better light.

– finally, and perhaps most scary of all, the cult member cannot see a way out of the cult. At its worst, any attempts by friends or family outside, to tell the member of how dangerous the cult is, are seen by the member as proof of why they should stay in the cult. Common sense has been abandoned and the cult member, trapped in the relationship, sees all outside influence as “the temptation of the Devil.”

How to break free? That’s the subject of another article!



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