Hundreds of psychological practices have been built on the idea that Ex members of these minority religions are suffering from some form of mental illness, and that they need to ‘recover’ from it.
Leaving your previous religious or spiritual pursuit, whatever it is, can certainly be a time of upheaval in your life. There’s even a phrase for it “Losing My Religion”, and a song for it, too.
Adopting the beliefs of the anti-cult movement dramatically changes the views and attitudes of those who experience a loss of faith in their previous religion. And those changes have a profound effect on how Exes make sense of their own past.
So we must ask: How helpful is the ideology of the anti cult movement in making sense of things?
Is it even true?
A Religion or an Ideology As a Sense-Making Instrument
Sensemaking is the process by which humans give meaning to experience.
A lot of data comes at you from the world during the course of a day and you’ve got to process it to act effectively. A religious belief system can help perform this role for you, giving you time-tested beliefs and solutions that tell you what thoughts, attitudes, and behaviors to adopt.
When you are in a group of people who are all applying the same sensemaking instrument to the world then you’ve got a shared culture that gives you stability as a human being. It gives you status and all the other good things that we get out of belonging to a tribe.
Ex Members Are in a More Vulnerable State When They Leave a ‘Cult” Than When They Joined One
It’s a stereotype to say that whenever anyone joined a cult, they did so because they were in a vulnerable state of their lives. Some were, some weren’t.
But to say that an Ex-member who has just left a ‘cult’ is in a vulnerable state, that’s much more accurate, and much less of a stereotype. This is because it does not matter whether it was a minority religion or a majority one, or even if your sensemaking ideology was atheism. Your worldview has let you down. You’ve lost faith in it. And you have no idea what or how to process your experience any more.
Since the late 1990’s, Ex-members in this vulnerable state have gone onto the Internet to try to research and figure things out after leaving their minority religion. Since the late 1990’s – almost exclusively – they find the ideas of the anti cult movement.
A New Sense Making Instrument to Completely Re-Interpret Your Whole Previous Life
As a sense making instrument, the ideology of the Anti-Cult Movement is pretty simple. It’s no BhagaVad Gita. That’s for sure.
It goes like this:
“You were in a CULT and you were BRAINWASHED to believe the way you did. You were made to undergo HYPNOSIS INDUCING TECHNIQUES which made you LOSE YOUR POWER OF CHOICE and to adopt beliefs that created a WHOLE MATRIX OF THOUGHT THAT WAS NOT YOUR OWN“.
That’s basically it. An Ex member adopts this extremely simplistic view to make sense of their past involvement. It becomes his new belief system.
Since you’ve adopted this new instrument of sense-making, you begin to re-define and re-interpret every experience you ever had in the ‘cult’. You will use this anti cult movement ideology to radically change everything you ever knew about yourself and your previous life.
What you used to call ‘religion’ you now call ‘cult’
What used to inspire you with sacred ideas is now so profane it makes you feel sick.
What you used to be proud of, you are now ashamed of.
This would all be great if the anti cult movement ideology was complex enough to correspond to the complexity of real life. But it’s not. This belief system greatly oversimplifies things, and as it turns out, none of its ideas actually hold up to scrutiny.
This anti cult ideology is too simplistic to be true.
The Anti Cult Movement Harms Ex-Members in 5 Major Ways
I have been screaming about this for at least the last 4 years. But whenever anyone in the thrall of this anti cult movement ideology hears my screams, they just think I’ve gone back into Scientology. This is just one example of the stupidity that anti cult movement ideology causes.
Here are 5 ways that I have identified over the last 19 years of being out of Scientology that the adoption of the anti cult movement harms ex members.
1. Denies You Your Power of Choice
The concept of brainwashing denies your power of choice. When you are brainwashed, the choices you make are not your own. So the life you lived was not your own, either.
Look at this idea as sensemaking. This is how you now make sense of your life.
Can see there are other ways of making sense of how you made your decisions while in the cult? Once you begin to investigate those other ways, you’ll find that you were using your own power of choice the whole time.
2. Walls Off and Toxifies Your Previous “Cult” Self
Steven Hassan is one of the primary promulgators of the anti cult movement’s ideology on the Internet. He has a model, based on the great Leon Festinger’s work, which Hassan calls “The BITE Model”. This sensemaking instrument prompts you to split your self up into a “true self” and a fake “cult self”.
Because I personally bought into this when I left Scientology, it’s hard for me to describe the amount of damage this idea caused me, and how much of my life was derailed by it.
I’m just going to scream this: YOU WERE YOU BEFORE THE CULT, DURING THE CULT, AND AFTER THE CULT.
Try using that as a sensemaking instrument instead.
3. Gives You Nightmarish Narratives of Who You Were & What You Did
I know of Ex-Members who are heavy anti cult movement promoters who have said that Scientology’s RPF was “the worst experience that any human being could ever live through”. That is a direct quote.
Obviously this Ex has not put his experience in perspective with the experiences of other human beings who have been through things like Auschwitz, Darfur, or even modern day Syria. But that is the kind of nightmare fantasy that the Anti cult movement’s ideology regularly instills in Exes.
These types of cognitive distortions cause depression and anxiety – and they come straight out of the anti-cult movement’s ideology.
4. Becomes a Huge Source of Guilt & Shame
The biggest evangelists of the anti cult movement regularly say that you were not stupid for giving up your power of choice and becoming a brainwashed zombie. But you believe you were a brainwashed zombie. This is the only conclusion allowed. This is a cartoonish oversimplification of your past and who you were. But there is no other possible interpretation for who you were, as long as you buy into the anti cult movement’s ideology.
5. Prompts You to Nullify & Discard Your Whole Previous Life
If you have ever been to a gathering of Exes who are trapped in the ideas of the anti cult movement, you will see one or two stand up and say that they wasted 30 YEARS of their life while in the cult. Or however long they spent inside.
Yet the person they were when they were in the cult was sometimes the best person they’ve ever been. All of that experience got wasted when they adopted the anti cult movement, disowning their past and walling it off.
Not only is this damaging to an ex-member, but it is so false that it literally wastes the value of your own life experience. That is a colossal waste – directly caused by adopting the anti cult movement’s ideology.
There’s a real liability to allowing your sense-making instrument to fall apart on you. And so I realize the level of discomfort that my ideas here are creating in those who have left a cult and found a new ideology to make sense of it for them.
But I’ve seen the anti cult movement do so much damage to myself and to other very good people that I just can’t shut up about this.
So what should be done instead?
1. Instead of denying your own power of choice – embrace it. Accept that you woke up every day and decided on purpose to be a Scientologist. Find out why. Find out what you were getting out of Scientology (or your previous religion or worldview) and explore how to keep getting that now on the next step in your evolution.
2. Instead of walling off your previous “Cult Self”, recognize that you were you before the cult, during the cult, and after the cult. See if your strengths and weaknesses have changed in leaving it. Don’t walk around thinking you have two selves inside of you, one of which you are at war.
3. Next time you tell yourself a nightmarish exaggeration about who you were & what you did in the cult – STOP. Examine what you are telling yourself. Ask yourself if that nightmarish story is accurate, or if it is distorted or dysfunctional. Take some of the emotion out of it. Gain some reason on it. Then think up what is the non-exaggerated truth. And practice telling yourself that from now on. This an extremely valuable self discipline.
4. Study whether there is any actual science on brainwashing. Ask yourself if you really were “brainwashed” by what you did in your religious or spiritual pursuit. Think about the word ‘cult’ as a mental construct. What is the reality which this mental construct is describing? Again, get some perspective. Stay cool headed about this. Find factual terms that are backed up by science.
5. Don’t wall off your previous self. Your experiences were valid, and the lessons you learned are too. All that treasure is still there. Why harm yourself by throwing it away? Break down the wall between you and your past – integrate and embrace who you used to be. Learn from it.
If you can do these things you can see that getting out of a cult is not something you recover from, but something that makes you stronger.
That is my hope for Exes.