It was me.
The anti cult movement teaches that minority religions harm the mental health of their members. Countless psychological practices have been built on the idea that Ex members of these minority religions are suffering from some form of mental damage, and that they need to ‘recover’ from it.
Experiencing a loss of faith and leaving your previous religious or spiritual pursuit, whatever it is, can be a time of upheaval in your life. There’s a phrase for it “Losing My Religion”.
For those who have experienced a loss of faith, adopting the beliefs of the anti-cult movement, however, can be catastrophic. These beliefs can have a profoundly negative effect on how an Ex makes sense of her 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 need to process it to act effectively. Religions and other ideologies 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 sense-making 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 figure things out for themselves after leaving their minority religion. Since the late 1990’s – almost exclusively – they find the ideas of the anti cult movement to make sense of their previous religious or spiritual pursuit.
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, and who they used to be, what they believed and why they believed it. The AntiCult Movement becomes their 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. What you used to think was sensible, you now think is delusional.
And you have a handy rationalization for the things you are struggling to understand about yourself – you were ‘brainwashed!‘.
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 life in a very self-destructive way. And, as it turns out, none of its ideas actually hold up to scrutiny.
The anti cult movement’s ideology is too simplistic to be true.
The Anti Cult Movement Harms Ex-Members in 5 Major Ways
I have been writing about this since it first began to dawn on me how destructive it has been to me. Yet whenever anyone in the thrall of this anti cult movement ideology hears my ideas, they just think I’ve gone back into Scientology. It’s just one example of the stupidity that anti cult movement instills in its adherents.
Here are 5 ways that I have identified over the last 21 years of being out of Scientology which show how the adoption of the anti-cult movement harms ex members.
1. Denies You Your Power of Choice The concept of brainwashing denies your own 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 previous life, and who you used to be while you were a member. Can you see there are other ways of making sense of how you made your decisions, and what you were trying to achieve while in the cult – rather than just “I was brainwashed!”? 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 yourself up into a “true self” and a fake “cult self”. Because I personally bought into this anticult ideology 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 into 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 have been proven to 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, who you were, how you thought, and what you believed. But there is no other possible interpretation for who you were but a brainwashed zombie, 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 personal 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.
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, in my experience, should you do 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 because of leaving it. Don’t walk around thinking you have two selves inside of you, one with 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 for a person who is making their way through any difficult transition in life.
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. Evaluate the word ‘cult’ as a mental construct. What is the reality which this mental construct is describing? Is it really accurate? 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. Practice your own self-acceptance, and keep learning from your experience.
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.