A Trapped Mind

I have been processing deeply recently, in a personal way and in an intellectual way.  I am perceiving clearly the damage that happens to the mind when becoming fully immersed within a cult existence.

Cult leaders want total control of a person’s mind. They want to create uniform followers that spout off their ideology and rhetoric. They do not want free thinking individuals. The techniques that are used, if a person is vulnerable to them, can be difficult to resist. By creating an internal landscape where the thinking critical part of the brain is ‘off-line’, new thoughts, that are in alignment with the cult’s ideology, can infiltrate.

When a person is exiting a cult and in recovery, fanning the flames of free-thinking and encouraging a person, is absolutely critical. I have recently come to understand the word encourage from a deeper perspective. To have courage is to be able to speak one’s own personal truth in any given moment and we develop bravery each time we do.

To have one’s mind bent out of shape is a horrific experience.  The leaders of any cult do not want a person to own their own mind.  Authenticity is impossible for this very reason.  In my own recovery it has been some of the most joyous experiences to start owning my own mind again and some of the most terrifying. Intervention during this period with skilled professionals can be a literal life-saver.

Many cults, especially those with a spiritual tone, use techniques that attempt to actually stop thinking altogether. Techniques such as meditation, trance- inducing (in the myriad different forms) and chanting, are packaged to give a person enlightenment and mystical experiences.  Some people do experience themselves in a very different way than before because of these techniques; and these experiences can radically change a person’s outlook, hooking them beyond measure. However, there is a nasty flip side. People in a state of mental suspension are extremely vulnerable to the unscrupulous.  Cult leaders exploit as their modus operandi.

Another way to control a person’s mind is to subtly or blatantly ban all discourse outside of the cults given ideology.  Although some cults will allow certain questioning, there are pat answers that can not be swayed from. If a person is found to be too questioning they will be ejected from the cult. One has to follow the party line. Eventually, for many different reasons, a person within this mental environment can come to very much believe in the ideology. Thoughts outside the rhetoric can feel extremely wrong and unnatural.

Controlling a person’s thoughts is a very practical way to control their behaviour.  If a person comes to believe something is ‘right’ and that ‘right’ is a life direction of any sort, then manipulation is easy.

There are many different exit routes out of a cult that will expose the person’s state of mind.  As an example, if a person has walked out themselves then it is likely that they have already started the process of thinking for themselves.  However, it can take some people years to reclaim their own mind.

Cults stifle creativity and movement; a person’s mind becomes frozen.

Personally, I have had to, at times, fight very hard to speak my truth.  I have had to sieve through everything I believed in.  I have had to educate myself and question many different things. At times this journey has been enthralling, and other times, distressing.

Developing the courage to face the tough experiences in life and having grit and determination to keep going is what helps process trauma.  ‘Untrapping’ the mind begins with first owning it as our own again; as scary as this can be without the mental container of the cult’s ideology.  However, it is a necessary step if a person is to become free and I encourage free-thinking as a core tenant during exit and recovery.


4 thoughts on “A Trapped Mind

  1. I sure enjoyed this piece, hope you don’t mind my saying (came to mind, thought – why not?). My impression, this really digs down to find its vital nerve, its courage. Not an absence of fear per se, as if one unwary but a ready, willing ability to face whatever fear, as posed by challenge, circumstances, situation – with every intention of doing so. There’s a process – engaged, of recovery, restoration, remediation, reclamation – of mind, of being itself.

    How interesting too, your reflection – the role of consciousness alteration and visionary states, mystical experience etc – type thing James specialized in (his magnum opus ‘Varieties of Religious Experience’) – considering the current media vogue with mystical experience and psychedelic drugs back in the news again.

    In research of the last decade (Griffiths et al.) – 2/3 subjects cherry-picked by personal aptitude and profile for likelihood of a mystical experience by psilocybin, given under conditions optimized for it, responded accordingly.

    But 1/3 did not – somewhat consistent with older studies on the whole, inconsistent outcomes among subjects, no matter how standardized the conditions of selection (set) and setting. Instead of spiritual experiences they had things including “bad trips” (loosely speaking) i.e. – “no thanks wouldn’t want to try another hit of that again” reactions, apparently nightmarish – as for which psychedelics are not exactly unreputed, even among enthusiasts.

    I wonder if there is any difference between the 1/3 that, on average, isn’t going to have a mystical experience even with a load of psilocybin (Griffiths et al did not spare the dosage) – and the 2/3 ‘mystical experience positive’ subjects – in terms of the vulnerability factor you discuss above, of an individual to the manipulative machinations of covert deceit and ulterior motives as grim as some of these … (shudder) … “well, whatever you wanna call them” (Steven Stills, Side 2, FOUR WAY STREET Crosby Stills Nash and Young 1970).

    I’ve wondered why approx. 1/3 of ‘ideally select’ subjects under stimulus of a dosage eliciting mystical experience in 2/3 – don’t respond similarly in the same setting, generally. But I wonder if there’s any correlation between that 2-to-1 difference in – susceptibility of individuals to mystical experience (if that’s what it is ?) – and vulnerability to the baleful influence of – one of those types – who targets a person (as a predator stalks prey, but real fancy) – at the level of their ‘spiritual responsiveness’ (?). If so maybe the subjects who don’t likely have a mystical experience – “aren’t as spiritual” (?) naturally or whatever – make harder sport than individuals of – more sensitive or perceptively spiritual nature.

    Good reading, thought-provoking (not tooo much I hope) mainly – bravo, well said, beautifully written and – yeah.


  2. Hey Brian, thanks! I think it definitely could be labelled a susceptibility. As always you offer some thought-provoking dialogue. Not all cults attempt to initiate a mystical experience though, but many do. The scary part for me, among other things, is the thought stopping suspension that can occur in these states and the utter vulnerability this can create in a person naive to the pathology that can run through some people. I will ponder your comment some more, although I suspect the reasons could be multi-layered.


  3. I’m glad if I didn’t blow up your blog or exceed critical mass (?) for you? Just thought I’d weigh in – and what a lot of meat and potatoes you got packed into single sentences – like:

    “The scary part for me, among other things, is the thought stopping suspension that can occur in these states and the utter vulnerability this can create in a person naive to the pathology that can run through some people.”

    There sure is cause for concern in such an astute observation as you make – and at such depth of the human situation, seldom illuminated – mostly concealed from view beneath the day-to-day surface of things, and – beyond our present stage of knowledge and understanding, especially as foundations of – wisdom. Beyond the individual level of “a person naive” to what you observe we seem to have (based on looking around, scanning) – an entire society and civilization – the modern world all communication-connected and way sophisticated, so smart and chockfull of such knowledge – that shares in being naive to the pathology of which you speak. Like – either no clue about it, or – no concern, La La La.

    Now I wonder – on the graph with its X and Y axis, what’s the intersection point of conventional adages like ‘ignorance is bliss’ – and modern pop wisdom (as acclaimed and touted) – like ‘follow your bliss’? How do those – interact, connect – if at all?

    If culturally conventionalized cluelessness indeed prevails far and wide in our era – about the ‘dark side’ of the ‘human force’ if one might speak in such idiom (for issues upon which you train your purposeful observation so astutely), I wonder if such a benighted condition of an entire society almost to a man – might shed light upon, or help explain – a certain ‘disturbance’ in ‘the human force’ emergent in our times – the advent and proliferation of these charming cults (or ‘whatevers’) that we’ve sustained, witnessed – spawning in our midst especially on the uprise since the post-psychedelic 1960s – and partially defining the advent of the brave new age 1970s milieu.

    A rockin’ essay, if I may say – a pleasure to read, and I’m glad I didn’t mar your page with my little reply. Above all, on a note of morale – bravo to the struggle of the ‘light side’ of the ‘human force’ for possession of its own humanity, and by right not demand of arbitrary self-entitlement – against depredations and operations of the dark side – or as Thomas Merton memorably referred to it, the Unspeakable. Our old friend of long acquaintance we’ve encountered before in so many guises, sure has “been around for a long long year, stolen many a man’s soul and faith” (the Stones) – Man’s Inhumanity To Man” – our ‘better angels’ good ol’ Evil Twin Within. The cold cruel universe around us, however uncaring and unregarding – oughta be able to inflict such evil and suffering. But it can’t hold a candle to inhumanity’s ‘ways and means’ – with all that motive, grim determination.

    And to view it as you do, looking deeply into that darkness – with the guts of purpose, willing to march into hell on heavenly business – is awesome. Because its enough to chill the blood, and paralyze any moral sensibility not strong enough to withstand the impact of what’s revealed – the frightening perspective of just how vulnerable our human state of being is, can be – and the depravity of inhuman pathology that vainglories itself the secret ‘top predator’ in our fold – dressed in human fleece, sizing us up as prey – with its hunger and sights set upon us, at our deepest levels of being.

    Maybe no wonder, what we see around us. Not just the abrupt rise of little religions that like to break up families and adopt their converts into their new ‘family’ – but also in that very context – all this ‘comforting talk’ we hear, ‘don’t worry be happy’ – follow your bliss, and never mind ‘sadder but – wiser’ (that’s “not even a thing”) – just chase your bliss tail like some dog running itself in a circle, till it gets dizzy and exhausted, and just falls over -no longer able even to do that. Like that’s the ‘secret sauce’ for life and living, the grail we seek – and our best guide when by the pricking of our thumbs – something wicked this way comes.

    More power to cult recovery and self-determination of one’s own mind, one’s own being. And bravo for the eternal struggle of the human spirit, for its own being. The real thing rules, whatever else tries to pass itself off as such – drools. Your courage as you gather it and express it so well – is inspiring.


    1. Hi Brian, your comment is full of insight. There has absolutely been an abrupt arising of ‘little religions’ and the pathological damage they do to a person is insidious. Understanding the mechanics can help with the educational aspect of recovery. The pathology of the cult leader being a fundamental part of the mechanics.


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