Betraying A Cult
I caught up with *Lisa again recently. She told me some of the ways in which she moved deeper and deeper into the cult’s “spell” and how she felt when her relationship with the cult began to crumble.
“Basically I gave up my identity little by little which is how cults brainwash you. Of course because my core identity wasn’t so strong to begin with I was an easier target. I think cults often attract people with [flawed] self-images. For example [some] celebrities only come “alive” in the presence of others. They feel empty when alone or even with their spouses and kids because unless they are being adored they cannot function right.
“I came alive in [the cult]. I became important and adored and the holder of valuable secrets. I was so special, they changed my name and gave me one that is part of the cult’s culture. That further cut me off from the outside world. Because my parents weren’t so interested in me, at least my mom wasn’t, they stepped in to fill the vacuum.
“They filled my need for a parent, a sibling, a friend, a lover. They made me feel special. Which is why I was totally unaware of the severity of their response when I began to ask questions.”
Lisa found at some point she had become a “pet” of one of the top leaders (family members, all), which roused the jealousy of a couple of other members.
“I noticed that [the leader] actually encouraged our disagreements. She encouraged us to be jealous of each other. I saw with my own eyes how she played me off against two of the other young members who were all vying for her attention.”
What she didn’t count on was Lisa’s keen insight into the divide and conquer model of control. Lisa had endured many years of it under her mother who constantly fueled the discord between Lisa and her siblings.
“I had figured out my mother’s game. Now I saw [the leader] doing this. She had sort of turned herself into a guru for celebrities and my role was to smooth out the wrinkles of dealing with these people. She’d put them on ‘mute’ and roll her eyes and ask me to call her away. I had to invent an emergency to get her off the phone. Or she would have a meeting with them and she’d ask me to come in at a certain time and say I needed her. Everything was deception.”
Unlike many in the cult, the deception didn’t make Lisa feel good and powerful. She disliked lies having grown up with constant lies from her parents and the lies they forced her to tell to protect the family image. She disliked the lies her previous boss at the bookstore had told. She began to resent what she felt was being forced to do the wrong thing.
At one point, this leader began to create a series of ads to lure people into the cult and had Lisa help her with them. She was assigned various tasks. Most of the tasks involved lying to one extent or another. Lisa couldn’t take it anymore and felt herself “dying inside, killed by lies.” She asked the leader for a meeting to discuss something that was bothering her.
The leader refused and demanded Lisa tell her what was bothering her on the spot. They were standing in a room full of people so Lisa hesitated. When the leader got furious and went into a rage, Lisa complied. She said that she felt that some of the work she was being assigned to do wasn’t exactly truthful. Lisa remembers the pain of what happened next.
“She grabbed me literally by the collar. I could feel myself turning red. I was so embarrassed. Everyone in the room watched as she steered me towards her office. Then she slammed the door and said, “Don’t you EVER betray me in front of people again.”
Lisa remembers feeling dizzy and confused and not like herself at all. Suddenly, she felt she had to rethink her commitment to the cult.
*Previous Posts on Lisa’s Story:
& C.R. Zwolinski, R. (2012). Betraying A Cult. Psych Central. Retrieved on April 27, 2015, from http://blogs.psychcentral.com/therapy-soup/2012/01/betraying-a-cult/