Sunday, November 30, 2014

Dysfunction

After my husband moved away, I missed him, and I missed our rare times of intimacy. How pathetic this was did not occur to me at the time. To miss having being with a man for whom touching me was revolting, well, that's just sad.

So why did I feel like that? Did I think so little of myself that the best I could do in life was to be with someone who used me for social acceptance while finding any physical contact with me repugnant?

Looking back, perhaps it wasn't that deep. With my inbuilt status quo bias, I preferred my existing arrangement just because it was what I was used to. It was the only marriage I knew. I "owned" it. Crappy as it was, it was mine, and it provided me with a (albeit fanciful) sense of security.

As well, I projected on him what I expected him to be and become. I saw the rosy image that I imagined and wanted him to be, rather than the person he really was. (I am sure that my expectations only compounded the stress and pressure he felt in trying to fulfill the role he believed was his duty to play.)

This whole situation must have been confusing for our children, who didn't see things through quite the same lens as I did and were the main ones who felt the brunt of his frustrations.

Monday, November 24, 2014

Loss and Guilt

I'm sure it's common among ex-cult members (as our brains gradually un-fog after leaving the group) to experience a feeling of loss at the lost years. The years of life, learning, and joy that could have been, but that were instead given to a cause of nonsense where we were merely used and abused with nothing to show for it. No savings for retirement. No education. Nothing.

Add to that negative the collateral damage heaped upon my children and the other children in the group. It's almost too horrible to face.

How important the decisions made in youth are, and how they set the trend for one's later years! Now, my later years are filled with the knowledge that my misguided decision to join the COG has not only robbed me of years of joy I could have had, but has marred the lives of my children - something I cannot undo. 

Yes, things could always have been worse, but that is little comfort in easing the guilt of my own bad decisions and the effect they have had on those I love.

So, I have learned to live with guilt, and in a way to make it my ally by taking comfort in the fact that my guilt at least shows that I am a kind-hearted person who cares for my children. I am not choosing to live in denial. And I am not psychopathic.

I've become aware of the need to be careful of the narrative I build for myself of my own image - am I really what I think I am?  As well, I want to take care about the images I form of other people. Is that person what I think they are - what I want them to be - or is it only a facade that they are presenting, or perhaps my projected idea is what I am seeing?  

My life's tendency has been to take a first impression of someone (and for me, this would generally be positive), or just as poignantly, a group, and then create my image of what that entity is like from my initial impression. Too often I have found out too late that I was incorrect. The person, or group, in question was not at all as I had conceived.

Sunday, November 23, 2014

Adjustment

Now that we had left TFI, what next? Here we were, in a foreign land, without contact with any family to return home to, my parents long deceased, 6 of our 8 children still living at home, virtually no savings (having given a hefty 20% of our income to the cult each month), no retirement investments, and the challenge of building a new future.

My mind was a fog. I found it hard to concentrate. I wanted to do what would be best for our family. I was overwhelmed with regret and guilt.

I had already gotten one daughter settled in college in the US, although that was not without trauma and difficulty. I desperately wanted to make the path to college easier for my next children.

I heard about a scholarship program for those who graduated with good grades from high schools in a certain southern US state. I corresponded with the principal of the school, who assured me my daughter would be able to attend when we moved over from Japan. I doubt he realized how important that was to me, and that the purpose of our move was so that she could attend that high school and be able to take part in the scholarship program.

Sadly, when we went to the school after arrival, she was turned down. This was the beginning of a horrible 10 month stay in the US, where I was unable to find work and despondently watched our savings dwindle. At the end of that period, I returned to the foreign country that had become my home. Reuniting with the children I had left behind was a wonderful relief. Facing my failure to make it in the US, although humiliating, clarified that as long as money was to be made, in this foreign land I would have to stay.

Then, things went from bad to worse, before eventually getting better. But that is a different story.

Thanks to the advice of my eldest son, I began listening to audio courses and books, which has now become an integral part of my life, restoring to me my former delight in learning. I sought answers to the many "whys" I had about my life and decisions, as well as how I could pull out of the guilt that had paralyzed me in so many ways. It's also helping to clear the mental fog I had lived in for years, reinvigorating my sluggish brain.

Hopefully I will continue to build new, strong synaptic connections, and forget the old, useless brain circuitry I reinforced for too many years.

There is so much to learn.

Friday, November 21, 2014

Finally

As the years passed living on our own, the cult publications began to lose some of their appeal. With the death of Berg, his mistress, Karen Zerby, took over the leadership of TFI, and the pubs became even stranger - if that could be possible.

Now we were encouraged to "make love to Jesus," pray to an ever-increasing number of "spirit helpers" and "spirit guides" (one for every flavor of prayer), and not least of all, pray using the power of the "keys of the Kingdom." This idea came from the verse, Matthew 16:19, "And I will give unto thee the keys of the kingdom of heaven: and whatsoever thou shalt bind on earth shall be bound in heaven: and whatsoever thou shalt loose on earth shall be loosed in heaven." And of course, who else for this promised super-power to be given to than to us, the chosen followers of "God's Endtime Prophet," now, "Prophetess."


Gradually, as Internet access became more widespread, Zerby's days of being able to live in complete secrecy were coming to an end. After photos of her came out on the web, coincidentally, "the Lord told her that it was his time for her" to appear in person on videos addressing her "children in the Lord."

As this was a big event in TFI, and the showings were only held in certain places, my husband and I drove several hours for the privilege of viewing these unprecedented videos at another cult home. To say these were disillusioning would be putting it mildly. The woman even looked crazy. Reality strongly clashed with my narrative of what I thought she was like.

Not long after this, my eldest son left the group and began living on his own, working in the capital city. He urged me to leave the cult, assuring me that we were indeed following a crazy woman. He sent me some links, one of which was particularly helpful, "The Judgement of Lord Justice Ward," which was the lengthy conclusion of a very thorough investigation of The Family International done as part of the trial of a child custody case in England.

Reading the results of that investigation was very eye-opening for me, validating the various doubts and misgivings I'd had over the years. I made the decision to leave immediately.

Thursday, November 20, 2014

Keeping On

Living on our own removed the beneficial dilution provided when living in a cult commune with many other families. Our dysfunctional family's problems became magnified. Things did not get better. Nevertheless, I, continuing with eyes blinded to how truly bad our situation was, kept on doing my best to smooth over conflicts and keep the peace between father and children, and between husband and wife.

"Women who remain with abusive partners appear to employ cognitive strategies that help them perceive their relationship in a positive light."* This was obviously the case with me.

I was committed to my marriage, and I wouldn't give up. I clung to the narrative that my husband was what I imagined (or perhaps, wanted) him to be, rationalizing away and denying what was reality. I chose to disregard anything that didn't fit with my belief about him. I continued to hope for the best. I ignored the emotional abuse and neglect. I rationalized away his angry, petty outbursts and harshness towards our children. I preferred to tip-toe around him, ever-hopeful that I could receive some much-desired affection from him.

As Dr. Craig Malkin of Harvard Medical School wrote in a 2013 article, the "desperate, often palpable hope" of those in abusive relationships, both physical, psychological, and emotional, "is that the abuse will go away. And they tend to block out all evidence to the contrary. In point of fact, they stay for love. Many abuse survivors cling to the positive traits in their partners... In one study, more than half of the abuse survivors saw their partners as 'highly dependable.'"

Complicating the issue with me, was that I, like many others in abusive relationships, "are often cut off from friends and financial supports." Another pertinent point Dr. Malkin brings out is that "one of the most formidable and dangerous obstacles abuse victims face is their own searing guilt and shame; they're incredibly adept at blaming themselves for the abuse." I had years of hearing from TFI leadership that I was to blame for the problems in our marriage. I figured it was a given.


Succinctly summarizing my situation, he wrote of a female client of his, "She was a prisoner of her own hope."

*"Coping with an Abusive Relationship: I. How and Why Do Women Stay?" Tracy Bennett Herbert, Roxane Cohen Silver, and John H. Ellard.

Tuesday, November 18, 2014

First Step towards Eventual Freedom

As time went on, one aspect of our ludicrous situation began to be too much to bear. 

Like typical TFI members, while doing our required "witnessing," (i.e. selling the cult's publications and products) we had been saying that we were "missionaries" to the country where we were living, yet we did no activities that could be considered "missionary." In TFI, the word "missionary" had a very loose definition. 

Homeschooling the children of the group was my brand of "missionary work," while other members spent their evenings singing in bars where they collected donations to support our little commune. Others spent their days on the phone to or visiting businesses that gave us food and household items - generally things that they would be unable to sell - to supplement our meager income. As close to "volunteer work" that I ever came in TFI was when we occasionally put on little performances at senior citizens' homes. 

Calling ourselves "missionaries" made my husband and I feel like frauds and liars. Most embarrassing, we could not communicate in the local language at all.

Coincidentally, around this time we were having difficulty getting along with another member of the group home where we lived. We took the opportunity to move out on our own to a little city remote from any other TFI members. Our hope was that we might learn the language and culture of the country of our residence, and actually become "missionaries" in a more traditional Christian sense of the word.

Although this step was a first step towards our eventual departure, it was a very difficult move for our children who left the only option for socialization that they had ever had. Now they were homeschooled with only me as their teacher. How much more isolated could a child be than being taught at home, in English, in a city where no one spoke English, with no one to play with but their siblings? 

Eventually, we put our children into the local schools where it was sink or swim with learning the language and customs, but this came too late for our older children who continued to study at home, and who, like me, were always outsiders to society at large.

Sunday, November 16, 2014

Breakdowns

Although the term "nervous breakdown" has perhaps gone into disfavor, I can find no better words to describe a couple of specific periods during my time in the cult.

After leaving the first "leadership" couple to which I was emotionally attached, after having cared for their children for over 4 years, and even having had a child with the husband of the couple, I found myself in a new situation, one that I had dreaded, and in a state of mental shock and inability to function. 

I had left the comfort of the situation I shared with that small family to whom I felt I was needed and a part, and was thrust into an overcrowded group home where I shared a room with many children and a newly "married" couple. Their bed can be referred to as nothing if not the "centerpiece" of the room, with the children's and my beds arranged around the sides. This couple thought nothing of having sex daily during our mandatory "quiet time" (2 hours of rest after lunch), and I wanted nothing more than to escape the cringe-worthy awkwardness of the situation.

I would take my baby for walks around the neighborhood to get away from that place as much as I could manage, although unfortunately, not during those rest periods.

With that new situation came a new leadership couple, whose children I would be taking care of. Before getting involved with them full-time, my new leader asked me to do a simple sewing project for her children. I knew how to sew, but the project seemed overwhelming to me at the time, and I literally was incapable of doing it. In fact, I was in a daze for several weeks after that upsetting change.

The second time was after the birth of my 3rd child, while I was living in a relatively small apartment with 12 children packed in each of the bedrooms - two children in each bed of the narrow triple-bunk beds. I was given lengthy to-do lists each day, and I found myself unable to do anything. I would fall asleep on the floor in one of these busy rooms, and be effectively dead to the world. I could do nothing more than care for my baby.

Clearly, the stress of disrupted relationships, overcrowded conditions, strict standards of thought and behavior were exceedingly unhealthy. Were we "Family" members really "the happiest people on earth"?  

The delusion continued.

Thursday, November 13, 2014

The (supposed) Strength of Weakness

This may seem like a strange phenomena to occur in my life, but indeed, I realize now that life in the COG caused me to behave more like an old person. 

This realization came to me when I was climbing a mountain a few years ago that I had climbed about 15 years previously, while still a faithful cult member. As we neared the summit, the terrain became rocky and somewhat dangerous. We needed to jump from boulder to boulder, use a rope to scale a steep rock face, etc. It was then that I remember having done climbed it before. (For some reason, I had blocked that memory until then.) 

When I had climbed it before as a cultist, I can remember being overly cautious at every turn. I insisted on being helped by my husband, holding his hand or arm while gingerly and ever-so-slowly navigating those rocky challenges. What a sharp contrast to my behavior that last time, where I jumped from rock to rock like any sane person would.

Why was this? What would have caused me to act in such an overly-cautious manner?

I have found a credible explanation in the concept of priming.

As I've mentioned, we were fed a constant mental diet of the writings of our elderly "prophet," who was our role model and "father in the Lord." His lifestyle was held up as the model for our ideal behavior, his food preferences were published, and of course his daily exercise regimen - a stroll before dinner. (Not exactly what a formerly very active competitive swimmer would want to do.) 

Any publications that touched on exercise or fitness levels espoused a very low standard. A great emphasis was placed on "the strength of weakness" and how when we are weak in body, we are closer to the Lord. "When I am weak, then am I strong," (2 Corinthians 12:10) was a fairly common theme. A daily 2 hour rest time after lunch was a universal part of home-life in the cult. This was, of course, for reading publications as well as for naps for those who were "weaker" or pregnant.

I now believe that this daily mental priming unconsciously affected me to behave in a more weak and elderly way. Psychologists have studied this, most notably John A. Bargh, Mark Chen, and Lara Burrows of New York University. In a simple experiment, they provided their study participants with a series of words relating to the elderly, such as bingo, Florida, wrinkles, etc., and then found that as their participants left the study room, they walked more slowly than they had upon arrival. People primed by polite words behaved more politely, etc. Of course, these reactions were done totally unconsciously. 

The psychological experiments that demonstrated these effects were rather brief. The priming I experienced was daily and for decades.

So, not only was I deceived, living under several false narratives, and led a crazy man, but I was acting old before my time. Could it get any worse?

Monday, November 10, 2014

The Dunning-Kruger Effect

For an explanation of this effect, I'll quote Professor Dunning from an article he wrote for the Pacific Standard, October 27, 2014.

"In 1999, in the Journal of Personality and Social Psychology, my then graduate student Justin Kruger and I published a paper that documented how, in many areas of life, incompetent people do not recognize—scratch that, cannot recognize—just how incompetent they are, a phenomenon that has come to be known as the Dunning-Kruger effect. Logic itself almost demands this lack of self-insight: For poor performers to recognize their ineptitude would require them to possess the very expertise they lack. To know how skilled or unskilled you are at using the rules of grammar, for instance, you must have a good working knowledge of those rules, an impossibility among the incompetent. Poor performers—and we are all poor performers at some things—fail to see the flaws in their thinking or the answers they lack.

"What’s curious is that, in many cases, incompetence does not leave people disoriented, perplexed, or cautious. Instead, the incompetent are often blessed with an inappropriate confidence, buoyed by something that feels to them like knowledge."


Clearly, this was (and is) a problem among cult members. How could I know what I didn't know? This, of course, was exacerbated by the confirmation bias, as I accepted information that confirmed my beliefs, interpreted ambiguous information as confirming my beliefs, and rationalized away any information that might threaten my beliefs. This accumulation of false and misinterpreted information only served to strengthen my confidence in my faith.

Considering all this, it's a wonder anyone can leave such a group. Thankfully, I did, but that story is yet to come.

Sunday, November 9, 2014

Follow the Leader - the Halo Effect

The Halo Effect is a mental bias where people assume that since a person has one outstanding good quality, then the rest of his character must also be good. Being "chosen of God" was certainly a special and good quality, therefore the natural mental inclination is to think that everything about that man must be good. This effect is extremely common in regard to cult leaders.

Because Berg was "God's Endtime Prophet," then whatever he said or did was worth emulating. This was carried to ridiculous degrees within the group, going so far as the creation of illustrated comic books for the children of members called "Life with Grandpa." ("Grandpa" being Berg.)

These comics supposedly depicted life in the utopian household of Berg. They chronicled little events in the lives of the children being raised there, each story generally ending with some sort of behavioral or moral lesson. The idea of these comics was to instill in the plebeian group members the ideal values and lifestyle of "Grandpa's house."

One leader gleaned all the "tips" that Grandpa or other minor authority figures at his house were quoted as saying in those books into a list of "rules" that she typed up and freely distributed so we could all have the laws governing "Grandpa's" household. Even for one so blinded as myself, that was too much.

The reality was that "Grandpa's house" was full of sexual, physical, and psychological abuse, all hidden under the guise of "God's love" and was justified because it was "done in God's loving ways." Who can argue with the authority of God?

After all, there's "no better place to raise children than in the Family*" and it only follows that there's no more ideal place for kids than in "the Prophet's" own loving household.

The travesty of delusion.

*The Family is one of the many names of what was formerly known as The Children of God, then The Family of Love, and finally, The Family International.

Friday, November 7, 2014

But How Could I?

Married to a gay man? How could you have not known?  How could you have been so clueless?

Of course, these are questions I asked myself. I think it doesn't necessarily come down to a lack of intelligence, although I am certain that I suffered from neural atrophy as a result of the obsequious nature that I developed in the cult, not to mention the lack of any mental stimulation.

I am in no position to defend myself, nor should I. But in the interest of understanding how such a bizarre situation could occur and continue, I will present the following.

As I mentioned before, just as the eyes are subject to visual illusions, so the rest of the brain can be easily deceived. A very strong mental illusion is the concept that we see what we are looking for ("seek and ye shall find"), and its reverse, we don't see what we are not looking for.

The former, seeing something we are looking for, is clearly portrayed by this story that occurred "in December 1978 when a red panda escaped from the zoo in Rotterdam, Holland. Red pandas are not indigenous to Holland. Besides being rare, they are distinctive in appearance and cannot be readily mistaken for any other sort of animal. To alert people in the area and aid in the panda’s return, the escape was reported by the zoo to the press. At the same time the newspapers came out with the missing red panda story, the panda was found dead near the zoo. Even though the panda was already dead, over 100 red-panda sightings were reported to the zoo from all over the Netherlands."*

What did the people see? They saw what they were looking for.

To illustrate the reverse, not seeing something right before our eyes, I will borrow an example from the book The Invisible Gorilla: How Our Intuitions Deceive Us. The authors relate the story that occurred on January 25, 1995 in Boston. Police were called to pursue a car full of suspects in a shooting. The suspects stopped their car in a cul-de-sac, got out, and each of them ran in different directions.

One officer on the scene, Michael Cox, a black, plain-clothes policeman in the antigang unit, chased a suspect who was climbing over a chain-link fence. As he was climbing, the officer's jacket got caught on the wire, and then he was hit on the head from behind by a blunt object, maybe a baton or a flashlight. He was then pulled from the fence and beaten; meanwhile the suspect escaped on the other side of the fence.

When the police who were beating Cox realized he was a cop, they stopped and ran away, leaving him unconscious and seriously injured. 

The case of the suspect was solved, but the issue of the beating remained open for years. No one admitted to beating the plain-clothes cop, and none of the 60 policemen who were on the scene even admitted to seeing the beating take place. When officers who passed by the scene in pursuit of the suspect were questioned about the beating, the best they could come up with was to say, "I think I would have seen that." The truth was that they were so focused on chasing the suspect that they genuinely didn't even notice. 

This case inspired the now-famous experiment that illustrates the illusion of attention, the invisible gorilla. The authors made a short film of 2 teams of players, one wearing white, one wearing black, who passed a basketball back and forth. Volunteers were to watch the film and count the number of times one of the teams passed the ball. Their answers were actually beside the point. In the middle of the film, a woman dressed in a gorilla suit walked to the center of the picture, beat her chest at the camera, and then walked off, staying in the film for a 9 seconds. The number of people who noticed her was less than half! Even more significant was the surprise shown by the participants when they were shown the gorilla on the film. How could they have missed it?

They only saw what they were looking for, and they had no idea that they could have overlooked something so blatantly obvious.

So it was with my marriage. I saw what I was looking for, and I was blind to what I was not looking for. And so it was in my life in the cult, as well. There were plenty of obvious things that I was not seeing.

*http://www.nsta.org/publications/news/story.aspx?id=53418

Thursday, November 6, 2014

Optimism bias

Of all the biases, this one I consider as virtually a personality characteristic of mine. I was the image of optimism and wishful thinking. In the cult, this could be mistaken for "faith."

For example, when we would hear of abuse of power, even child abuse, by other members of the COG (which by now had changed its name to The Family of Love, soon to be The Family International, by which name its remnants are known today), I would rationalize that the perpetrators were just bad people and not representative of any of the people I had ever met in the group. Bad things may be happening, but they weren't happening around me. People who were not true to the foundation of God's word were doing those things. The foundation was incontrovertibly good. (Oh, how loud the denial!)

I guess I was conveniently forgetting the verse, "Wherefore by their fruits ye shall know them."

Besides, as I had framed in my internal narrative, I was smart enough to be sure that abuse wouldn't happen to my kids. I would stay true to God's word and will. By staying true, I would magically protect my children by being blessed by God. After all, it is a just world, and we only reap what we sow. 

Similarly, although my marriage was obviously flawed from day one, I wishfully thought that our situation would improve. My husband would come to love me. He would return to the romantic and kind man that I saw him (or imagined him) to be for the first few weeks we were together. I would make excuses for his angry behavior and harshness to the children. For years I did this, but eventually, even my constant giving the benefit of the doubt gave up. 

It took me ages to finally realize the truth about my marriage and the fantasy narrative that I had constructed for it and so desperately wanted to believe.  

How sad for my children.

Tuesday, November 4, 2014

Extending the Damage - Marriage

As James Neill wrote in his exhaustive study of what he coined, "the heterosexual myth," "Another class of victims of the heterosexual myth dominating modern society is the large number of spouses and their families of men or women with a significant homosexual component who marry in order to appear normal, for moral reasons, or because of family or social pressure." When this occurs, not only is the relationship "psychologically and emotionally difficult for both partners," but of course, "the parents' ability to provide the emotional nurturing and support that children require is seriously impaired." In short, everyone suffers. (The Origins and Role of Same-Sex Relations in Human Societies, pages 434-435)

Sad to say, this was the case in my life. My husband married me just for those very reasons: social pressure - most importantly as "Sodomy" was considered an "abomination to God," fear of his family and others finding out his true nature and its perceived resultant embarrassment, and to provide a handy cover, emotional protection, and the appearance of "normalcy."

My husband and I coped with this aberrant relationship through denial and by descending into passive/aggressive behaviors when conflicts arose. My insecurity led me to believe our problems were my fault, which attitude was promoted and encouraged by our leaders, whose opinions I held in highest regard. I also developed the unhealthy practice of walking on eggshells when around him, intending to forestall his quick temper and angry flareups, as well as to hopefully gain his approval and thus the ever-sought-after affection. It didn't work, but ever the wishful-thinker, that didn't stop me from trying.

Imagine the effects of such an unhealthy relationship on children. I hang my head in shame.

Sunday, November 2, 2014

Simplicity

Humans desire simplicity. The simpler things are the more control we feel we have over them. So we tend to oversimplify, stereotype, and pigeonhole things, which for the most part is not a bad thing. It saves us time and is a quick reflex of our System 1 brain.

This was used to the extreme with the "you are either for me or against me" philosophy of the COG. The world became more black and white, good and bad, COG member and "Systemite." (A "systemite" was a member of the established social order, from which we had "dropped out." In effect, any cult outsider.)

When we feel we are not in control, our penchant for finding patterns and imagined causations is stronger. We have to bring back that feeling of "peace" to our minds, i.e. alleviate the cognitive dissonance. Finding perceived patterns of cause and effect, either spiritual or physical, gives us a way to make sense of things that happen and is comforting. We naturally conclude that things happened for a reason.

As the brilliant Nassim Taleb wrote in The Black Swan, "The human mind suffers from three ailments as it comes into contact with history, what I call the triplet of opacity. They are:

a. the illusion of understanding, or how everyone thinks he knows what is going on in a world that is more complicated (or random) than they realize;

b. the retrospective distortion, or how we can assess matters only after the fact, as if they were in a rearview mirror (history seems clearer and more organized in history books than in empirical reality); and

c. the overvaluation of factual information and the handicap of authoritative and learned people, particularly when they create categories - when they 'Platonify.'"

The first 2 points are most applicable to life in TFI. I doubt anyone had the presence of mind to "Platonify" anything, especially considering the dearth of factual information available within cult literature.

The illusion of understanding was strong, enhanced by the fundamental belief that "everything happens for a reason." We also had the “inside information” of the Mo Letters, since Berg had a hot-line to God. We felt we were the ones that were “in the know.”

Retrospective distortion was ever-present. We looked back at events and saw the supposed cause and effect that fit with our narrative of life and "God's plan" that we so presumed to be in on. That rearview mirror was also helpful in seeing the supposed fulfillment of prophecies. We even used it with Nostradamus's quatrains: “Oh, so THAT's what he was referring to.” Fulfillments of prophecy are easy to see in retrospect. They just don't work so well the other way around.  

This also was supported by the availability heuristic, as we remembered the prayers that we considered answered more readily than those that got God's supposed "no," and we remembered the supposed "fulfilled" prophecies and conveniently forgot those that were unfulfilled - leaving us with the happy notion that God was in control.