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.