Tuesday, December 15, 2015

Overcoming Perfectionism

Be the very best you can be for Jesus.

That is just one of many TFI teachings that sound kind of sweet and innocent, but it sows the seed for a mind-trapping perfectionism.

That's the thing with so many doctrines of the cult. They seep into our minds sounding so "good," so "right," so "holy," that we readily accept them - but their actual practice takes a whole new form. "Make disciples of all nations" translates to "travel around the world annoying people by trying to foist your questionable religious beliefs on them." "Live by faith" to "beg on the streets and from door-to-door." And the quintessential, "God's only law is love" to "indiscriminate sex with multiple partners - as long as it is motivated by 'God's pure' love."

Back to "being your best." That morphs into never ever being satisfied with anything you do. So there is the never-ending, yet pointless, quest for perfectionism, that is further confused by the constant knowledge that we can never be good enough. (Only Jesus is good, right?)

This makes decision-making an endless nightmare of self-doubt. "What should I do? What is best?" Even simple things take on time-wasting dimensions, "What should I get for so-and-so for Christmas? What is the 'perfect' gift?"

This is something I've conquered in some areas, but I am still plagued by indecision about important things. I can settle for getting someone a gift that is "nice" or "good enough," but oh, how the big decisions plague me. "Where to spend my future? How to survive with no retirement funds? What to do?" 

Cult members answer that one easily, with a blithe "Jesus will take care of me." I can no longer do that, and I long for the clarity that a clear future plan will bring me.

Sunday, December 6, 2015

"It's Only Jesus"

Only Jesus is good. If there's anything good you ever do, it's only Jesus. Don't accept when people praise you, say "It's only Jesus. Thank Jesus."

That sounds innocent enough.

But let's think.

You're a child born into the cult where you may even have been lucky enough to have heard praise for your accomplishments, but you were taught to dismiss those words and instead "give all the credit to Jesus." Nothing you can do is good enough, because only Jesus is good. We are "altogether born in sins" (John 9:34). Any encouraging words wash right off because you know in your heart that you are bad and unworthy.

All your life you are taught that you are bad, a sinner. Replay that thought over and over and the loop becomes a habit, and the habit becomes a snowball growing in strength and intensity into full-blown self-loathing.

Now, coat this with a smile. "Jesus chose me." "We are the happiest people on earth."

A bandaid over the psychological damage.

Our brains already have a negativity bias. This has evolutionary roots. If our ancestors had a happy experience, it did not have much effect upon their survival. Daily threats of predators were what they needed to attend to, remember, and learn from.

But the "use it or lose it" quality of brain cells can come to the rescue. As we all know, our brains are plastic, and according to Dr. Norman Doidge, they are competitively plastic. "There is an endless war of nerves going on inside each of our brains. If we stop exercising our mental skills, we do not just forget them: the brain map space for those skills is turned over to the skills we practice instead." (The Brain that Changes Itself)

Albeit "unlearning" is more challenging than learning. The analogy of brain pathways provides an easy picture. We have been walking down the self-hate pathway for years. We've nearly paved it, we've worn it so smooth from daily passage. Now we want to make a new path. We beat our way through the forest the first time. Then as we repeat that thought, fashioning a new pathway - a new habit - day by day, the old pathway gradually gets grown over and fades.

It's not easy, but knowing that it is possible is already the first step down that more healthy path.

Thursday, November 26, 2015

Cults and Maslow

Image from:  http://spiritofpurpose.com/
Imagine yourself feeling isolated, unimportant, and unneeded. Unexpectedly you find yourself surrounded by sincere, happy people who hug you, say they love you, accept you, need your help, and make you feel part of their - rather, part of God's - family. When that happened to me, I was overwhelmed. Surely I had found where I "belonged." 

It's like falling into a well once such a decision is made, as in come the biases, protecting self-image, reinforcing the rightness of that decision. (See Commitment and Consistency)

Love and belonging: done.

Above that come the needs for esteem and purpose. We humans need to feel that we are making a difference - that our work has meaning. How much more valuable is a life of meaning?

In the cult, we were continually reminded in publication after publication that ours was the most important work in the world. Because that was nonsense, this artificial sense of importance was necessarily repeated ad nauseam. (Repetition feeds belief.) We were working directly for God himself - the only work with eternal rewards. We were always kept busy; we were so important, and there was so little time, so much to do, so few "called out ones" to do it, that we needed to "burn the candle at both ends," and "burn out fast and bright for Jesus."

"We few, we happy few, we band of brothers,"* or so cult members, with their elevated sense of self-importance, blissfully believe.

*Henry V, Shakespeare.

Friday, November 6, 2015

Future Flippancy

"Living by faith" has severe drawbacks. Most obviously, future planning becomes a "lack of faith." ("Take no thought for the morrow," you know.)

Therefore, one wonders about how TFI members will live their later years? How will they survive when they are not able to actively fundraise? With no provision whatsoever made for retirement, cult members have come up with some fanciful ideas. 

Plan A: Their children. Most older TFI members have had many children, the large majority of whom have left the group, fought against the difficult circumstances of being raised in the delusional bubble of cult life, and with little education, no diplomas, no credit history nor networks of support have now managed to establish themselves in their home countries or elsewhere. Kudos to them!

What a brilliant idea to live off of them! These falsely entitled parents will simply ask their children to be sure to have an extra room for them in their houses. Then, the parents can travel around (on whose money, one wonders - oh, of course - their kids') and stay for two months with each of their adult children, fit-as-a-fiddle until the suddenly drop dead. It's a good thing they aren't planning on succumbing to any debilitating diseases.

"Oh, really? But isn't that plan just a bit presumptuous?" Yet this is what I have heard from many first generation TFI members.

Wouldn't they be foolish, though, to not to have a plan B? This one hearkens back to the days of COG training for how to survive during the antichrist's reign: "live off the grid." Buy some land (again, with what money?), dig a well (simple), install solar panels, plant some vegetables, and enjoy the easy life of retirement. I think we can all see possible difficulties with this scenario.

To quote the "prophet," Berg:

So let me dream on if I'm dreaming!
I'd rather be glad though insane!

Wednesday, October 7, 2015

A Mind of its Own

We can't help it. We are pre-programmed to make inferences and draw conclusions from what we see.

Studies on babies that were videoed and later reviewed showed that even little ones make inferences. In one experiment, these young ones were shown videos of what appeared to be a pole moving back and forth with a board across the middle, hiding the center section. It could have been one pole, or it could have been two separate pieces of wood moving synchronously.

Most adults would assume that the video was of one pole moving with its center hidden. The babies did the same.  

The babies were shown the video of the moving poles with the center obscured over and over until they demonstrated clear signs of boredom. Then the video was shown again, but this time with the board removed. Some babies were shown a video of one pole moving back and forth. Others were shown a video where there was a gap behind where the board had been, and that there were actually two poles moving back and forth at the same time.

The lack of surprise in the babies who were shown the video of one pole, contrasted with the obvious surprise shown in the faces of the babies who saw the two poles, led the researchers to conclude that the babies did, indeed, infer what was behind the obscuring board. They clearly expected to see just one pole. (Pure Reasoning in 12-Month-Old Infants as Probabilistic Inference, Erno Téglás, 2011)

Other experiments have been done that illustrate babies' inherent expectations of connections and their surprise when those connections were shown to be false. We start forming relationships and inferences about our surroundings very early in life.

Is it any wonder that we sometimes draw incorrect conclusions?

Tuesday, September 15, 2015

Stanford Prison Study

In 1971, Dr. Philip Zimbardo wanted to study the psychological effects of prison life. He advertised for volunteers and, with the help of consultants (one of whom was a former prisoner who had spent 16 years behind bars), prepared the basement of the Stanford Psychology building to be as much like a prison as possible. In order to be as true to reality as they could, he arranged for the randomly chosen Prisoners to be "arrested" by actual city policemen. 

After a surprise visit by uniformed policemen, they were handcuffed, taken to the police station, fingerprinted, booked, blindfolded, and placed in a holding cell. Soon they were transferred to the "Stanford Prison" where they were further dehumanized by being stripped, doused with anti-lice powder, and given a gown bearing their prison number, a stocking hat (made from ladies' nylons), rubber sandals, and finally were fitted with a locked chain around their right ankles. Their prison number was now the only thing they were to be known by; no more using names.

The humiliated Prisoners were placed 3 to a small cell. A tiny closet was prepared for "solitary confinement."

Meanwhile, the other half of the volunteers had been randomly given the job of Guards. They also were dressed the part, with uniforms, mirror sunglasses (so as to not show their eyes, making them more intimidating), and billy clubs.

The Guards were to keep law and order and to command the respect of the prisoners. Other than that, no specific instructions were given. 


The Prisoners were awakened throughout the night for arbitrary number checks. At first, the Prisoners did not take the Guards seriously, and the Guards retaliated by becoming more authoritative. As rebellious behavior escalated, so did the retaliations. The Guards made disobedient prisoners do push-ups (even stepping on their backs while they did them), demanded that all the Prisoners be naked, and put one particularly rebellious Prisoner in the 2X2 foot "solitary confinement" dark closet for hours at a time.

Prisoners were denied access to toilets on the whim of the Guards - just given a bucket to use which they were not always allowed to empty. Other times, the Prisoners were marched to the toilet down the hall, bags covering heads, chains on ankles, arms on the shoulders of the ones in front. At night, the Guards relieved their boredom by even more sadistic - and pornographic - treatment of the Prisoners.


Meanwhile, some of the powerless and frustrated Prisoners were variously rebelling, having breakdowns, screaming, crying, and refusing to eat, although most learned quickly to quietly comply. 

Even Dr. Zimbardo began to lose sight of his experiment and became embroiled in the drama of running the Prison. When faced with a rumor of an upcoming escape attempt, he tried to enlist the help of the police to "contain his prisoners," and when they refused, he covered the Prisoners' heads in bags and moved them all to a different floor of the building to thwart their plans.

He wrote, "It wasn't until much later that I realized how far into my prison role I was at that point -- that I was thinking like a prison superintendent rather than a research psychologist."


The planned two-week experiment was ended after only six days, largely as the result of a comment from one of Dr. Zimbardo's colleagues. When she witnessed the Prisoners marching chained and bagged to the toilet, she made no secret of her outrage, "It's terrible what you are doing to these boys!" Its morality seriously called into question and the obvious psychological distress of the participants marked the end of the "Stanford Prison." "We had created an overwhelmingly powerful situation -- a situation in which prisoners were withdrawing and behaving in pathological ways, and in which some of the guards were behaving sadistically. Even the 'good' guards felt helpless to intervene, and none of the guards quit while the study was in progress," later wrote the doctor.

The participants' sense of reality had shifted. The "prison" became their reality. When interviewed two months after the experiment, the Guards were dismayed at what they had done. At the time, they felt no guilt or shame, but afterwards, back in the real world, they were alarmed to see what they had been capable of doing.

This is the fundamental danger of the false reality of cult life. Its own skewed morality becomes the accepted and practiced norm, and in such a situation, anything can happen.

Wednesday, September 2, 2015

Extracting a Cultist

One might naturally think that to change someone's valued belief all that is necessary would be to show them another side. It's not so easy.

If you've read my other blog posts, you can see that there are very compelling reasons why people cling to a belief. Beliefs can easily become part of our very identities. The higher the personal cost in adopting the belief, the more we value it, and the tighter we cling. The years we hold that belief add up into sunk cost, and we figure we need to keep on - we've already put so much into it. Loss aversion comes into play, and we just don't want to give it up.

Briefly, most decisions, beliefs included, are made as a result of emotional pull. We later tell ourselves all sorts of good-sounding, rational reasons why we made that decision, but the fact is that our brains are hard-wired to naturally move by emotion. Smart people can come up with many more reasons than others to support their beliefs.

Once a decision is made, you have the need for consistency - no one likes disconfirming evidence and the uncomfortable dissonance that causes in the mind - as well as the confirmation bias, that makes us see only things that confirm our belief and literally not see what would disconfirm it.

"It is extremely rare for someone to simply abandon a valued belief when confronted with disconfirming information. In fact, recent psychological research shows that when this happens, people tend to hold the erroneous belief even more strongly." - Daniel Kahneman

So, what to do? How to help someone stuck in an obviously false and dangerous belief?


I think the only way to do it is to get them to step away completely - change their environment and surroundings - and then new views can work their magic. It was hard for me, because I had invested so many years into the group - all that sunk cost, and the false valuation I placed on my life in the cult. Moving away from big communes was the first step. Then my months of living away from the cult gave me a taste of freedom and helped me not want to live with other Family members ever again. The next important step was spending less and less time reading the publications. Finally, my mind was clear enough to see the truth in the British court statement, and I could call it quits.

Saturday, August 29, 2015

Time is Short

The world will end soon. Some catastrophe is around the corner. We must rush to get out the message. We must "press-in" to save lost souls so we won't have their blood on our hands when we face the Lord. 

Hurry, hurry, and whatever you do, don't stop to think. And if you do think, think about purifying your heart and purging yourself from sin and doubt. What do you need to confess? What hidden sins do you have that you need prayer for, before the little seed of sin grows into a tree of rebellion?

And always - the Home needs funds, and the distribution quotas must be met. We, "God's chosen End-time children," have the awesome responsibility of reaching the world "for Jesus." We don't want to fail the Lord.

Whatever the tack, the theme was the same: time is short. 

With time so scarce, there was always that lingering feeling of guilt: "I should have done that already. I'm such a failure. It's almost useless to try to do something now, as I'm so late in getting started - I'd better hurry."

There was no building for tomorrow. No looking to the future. Just rushing and living for the moment, in spite of all the holy-sounding talk of "doing things in the Lord's time," there was always that feeling of failure, that whatever we do is too little, too late. It was only mitigated by the delusion, "We are the happiest people on earth, because we are God's Chosen."

Even now, many years out, when I think of something I should do or get an idea about something, my intuitive reaction is that of subtle guilt - Why didn't I do that already? Yet another bad habit that was hard-wired into my psyche during those 30 years of nonsense.

Tuesday, August 25, 2015

Yielding My Will

Being "yielded" was the ideal characteristic for TFI members. Dictionary.com defines this as "inclined to give in; submissive; compliant." It took me years of being told to "surrender my will to the Lord" to attain to this goal, but I finally made it.

I think the turning point for me was when I returned (to the enormous School Home where I lived) with my fifth baby after giving birth at a little clinic. It was my birthday, and I was filled with joy to have a beautiful new baby. That joy had already been tempered when someone told me at the clinic that the District Shepherd had written to me. Although trying to push it out of mind so I could enjoy the day, I was worried.

For good reason. As soon as I was settled on my bed, new babe in arms, looking forward to introducing my children to their new baby brother, I was handed a 16-page computer printout of correction from that Shepherd. This is the Shepherd who had already put the onus on me for any marriage problems we were having by telling me I was, "not just self-righteous, but really, really, really self-righteous." That 16-page list of my sins and failings, I now see, was the straw that broke the camel's back.

If I had lacked in decisiveness and confidence before, it was nothing to how I was after that letter.

Of course, mandatory public "confession" and united prayer followed, after giving me a week or so to dwell on "what the Lord was trying to teach me." (Shades of Mao and the public confessions required during the Cultural Revolution.) Naturally, I was to do even more intensive studies of the Mo Letters and the Bible as remedy (or was it penance?) for my sins. Oh, not to forget the OHRs (Open Heart Reports), where we wrote our secret sins and daily struggles and victories for our Shepherds to muse over and decide on future dealings. These were ramped-up during times of confession, when "the Lord had his spotlight" on me.

The whole idea was to break our wills and psychologically beat us into submissive, unquestioning, even unthinking, followers. Even more so for women, who were to be obsequious, fawning "helpmeets."

Tuesday, August 18, 2015

Self-righteousness

From nearly day one in the cult, I was told I was self-righteous. No one wants to be self-righteous. That's what Jesus called the scribes and Pharisees.  

This idea was pounded into my head year after year. One might think that being labelled as “self-righteous” was just another annoyance, but it actually had insidious psychological effects. Once that concept was hammered into me though repetition by various leaders, it kept me questioning my own thoughts and ideas. “How can I trust myself or my decisions if I am self-righteous? I am basically flawed and untrustworthy. I need to look to my wiser Shepherds.”

My other label in the group, "favoring my own children," went against the group's foundational principle of "one wife." This stated that we were to be the collective "bride of Christ" and therefore treat everyone in the group equally, children included. That philosophy paved the way for the "Law of Love" where Berg wrote, "Whatever is done in love is lawful in God's eyes," the 10 Commandments being fulfilled and finished with Jesus' death. As I already wrote, abuse and licentiousness followed.

With these two cardinal sins being held over my head, following me from Home to Home via the reports of Shepherds, there was not much room for self-confidence. I was filled with self-doubt, and I was constantly trying to go against the natural instincts of a mother in order to show my group loyalty. I hate the person I became.

The cult atmosphere and mindset is hard to break. It takes a person actually leaving its confines and stepping back, getting new input, to finally lift the scales of delusion that had become second-nature.

Today, we are faced with many insidious cults, and religious ones always seem to have the strongest grip with their false hopes for afterlife glory and punishment for desertion. ISIS is without doubt, the most hideous because of their immoral framework; North Korea is a close second. Just removing the leader will not cure the deceived followers; new leaders will sprout up like the seven-headed hydra. It is not an easy task to change ingrained mindsets. 

For me, the first step to freedom was the initial moving away from communal lifestyle with its constant reinforcement of beliefs and social pressure to conform. Then, gradually, the allure of the publications faded, weakening my misplaced faith, so that when I was shown Lord Justice Ward's statement, I had the strength to overcome loss aversion and leave behind that which I had devoted 30 years of my life to. 

Friday, August 7, 2015

Inside Information

A technique used by Berg and (other cult leaders) to make their writings hold more weight was to make them exclusive. Feeling that the information we are privy to is limited and only for us, "the called-out ones," made it very powerful. The general public were allowed certain milder, or in the jargon of the cult, "milky" Letters, but for us "elite," well, we could handle the "strong meat of the word."

In line with the principle of scarcity, information is more persuasive if we think we can't get it elsewhere. Thus, the cult was set up to give its members the idea that they had exclusive information on what was really going on behind the scenes (cue conspiracy theories) and that our "prophet" had a direct link to Almighty God who deemed to tell him, and him alone, this private information.


Even weak and stupid arguments gain perceived value if they are deemed inside information.

Add to that the fact that outside information was generally unavailable, and this created a natural "hunger" for something new to read. We were not permitted to watch TV, read books, magazines, or newspapers, and the fledgeling Internet was, of course, off limits. Our only source of any information was the cult. To keep us informed about world events (or rather, the cult spin on world events) weeks-old news stories were chosen, edited, and compiled to conform with cult doctrines and sent to us in the form of "The World News Digest."


The regular "mailings" were eagerly received, and everyone wanted to be the first to read each of the assortment of publications they contained. Of course, there were never enough copies for everyone in the Home to read for themselves, so we had united readings of those the "Shepherds" felt were most important, and had to take turns reading all the others. Scarcity, again.

There were also reams of older publications to read, many rehashed into more sensible topical readings, some made into books of daily devotionals (styled after The Daily Light books, and called in copycat fashion The Daily Might), as well as bound volumes of Mo Letters (the writings of David Berg). We were really never at a loss for inside information to read, but the same old thing could get boring, and that made the arrival of new publications a looked-forward-to event for us information-starved plebeians.

Wednesday, July 29, 2015

More on the Standford Prison Study

The cult has gotten into a lot of well-deserved, but still incommensurate, trouble for its numerous cases of sexual and physical abuse. As abhorrent as that was, a deeper horror was the underlying framework that the group provided for such abuse to be considered "normal" and even, as grotesque as it sounds, "pleasing to God."

Pulling the "God card" out gave license to all manner of licentiousness and harm. (See Moral Licensing, where I wrote about another aspect of this "righteousness.") Girls were pressured into having sex because "God" wanted them to "share" and "fulfill the needs" of their spiritual brothers. They were taught that it was their God-given duty never to refuse a man. That was just one of many serious flaws in the social fabric of the cult (if I may be forgiven for stating the obvious).

We lived in an atmosphere where we were continually reminded that we were "God's called-out elite army." We were special. We deserved for people to provide physically for us, as ours was a "spiritual" work. Our children were, according to COG doctrine, going to run the world during the Millennium with Jesus and his saints. Our treasure was to be in heaven where we were to be rewarded according to our works, so we were to give and give every ounce of strength and every penny we could to the cause.

That whole delusional bubble of unreality, was, in itself, the problem.

The abusive behavior that the COG/TFI cultivated within its ranks was, in most cases, the result of people acting like they thought they were expected to act. We had our own set of mores that were supposedly superior to those of mainstream society, and our own insulated culture where such behavior was "normal."

One lesson that we can draw from the Stanford Prison Study is that people generally conform to what they think they are expected to do, and much more so when that expectation comes from an authority figure. The COG, with its "God card" employed the highest and most absolute authority of all, God.

"The lesson of Stanford isn’t that any random human being is capable of descending into sadism and tyranny. It’s that certain institutions and environments demand those behaviors..."*

*The New Yorker, "The Real Lesson of the Stanford Prison Experiment," by Maria Konnikova, June 12, 2015

Saturday, July 25, 2015

Reciprocity

The unspoken human rule of reciprocity worked both to keep members in TFI and keep the donations coming in.

Reciprocation can be defined as the overpowering feeling of social obligation to return favors. In society, it helps promote cooperation and harmony. In the cult, it was a great recruiting method and also worked wonders in the soliciting of donations.

Many people will donate their time to a good cause because they are "good people," and well, that was the backbone of TFI membership: giving of yourself to work hard "for the lord" 24/7 for no pay - just "treasure in heaven." Once that premise was adopted, with deep desire for consistency and aversion to embarrassment or stigma, we remained loyal.

Even more germane is the role reciprocity played as a supremely effective fundraising tool. In addition to being a way to avoid possible taxation issues from overtly "selling" TFI products, like posters, magazines, CDs, etc., we gave them out and asked for a donation to "help cover costs," or the classically vague, "to help with our missionary work." Even if people didn't want what we offered, the likelihood of getting a donation was high because of this ingrained feeling of polite obligation. The stated reason for giving the donation proved not to be as salient as the fact that a reason was given, as was demonstrated in experiments by Harvard social psychologist Ellen Langer. People simply like being given a reason to comply.

A form of reciprocation applies to another TFI witnessing/fundraising technique practiced by the most successful - concession. The routine went like this: First offer one of the most expensive items, such as a set of videos (back in the day). When that was refused, offer something smaller, like a set of CDs. No? "Then how about a magazine?" No? "Would you like a poster?" No? "How about just giving a donation of any amount you like?" After all that, it was the rare person indeed who didn't give something, and usually something substantial.

Most people consider themselves to be kind. Self-image plays a role in all of our behavior, including the reflex reaction of reciprocity. We tend to behave in a way that is consistent with our internal narrative. "I'm a good person," so of course I want to help with good causes, volunteer, donate blood, recycle, give to help the needy, and of course, return favors.

Saturday, July 11, 2015

Age of (Mis-)Information

Stepping aside from cult commentary, I feel compelled to address the availability cascade that assaults and influences us in our daily lives.

As Stephen Pinker so clearly elucidates in his 2011 book, The Better Angels of our Nature, the world today is much less violent than it has ever been before.  

As well, our moral evolution has made things repugnant today that were accepted as normal in the not so distant past: slavery, public torture and executions, and the subjugation of women, to name just a few of the most obvious.

Nevertheless, in my opinion, there is an encroaching psychological danger in this age that much of humanity is embracing with joy, and that is the ever-increasing availability of information. There are mind-boggling numbers of television channels available, connectivity to the internet is fast becoming ubiquitous, radio shows and podcasts proliferate, and even clothing and bags are emblazoned with brand names, all feeding us with information.

Having the wealth of man's knowledge at our fingertips is a marvelous thing, and I personally am grateful for the internet for the crucial role it has played in my leaving the cult and providing me with access to the multitude of audio courses, books, and scientific studies that have helped me to learn.  

The downside is that news outlets, both spurious and legitimate, have a tremendous, and perhaps, unwitting, influence on us via an availability cascade of stories and memes that give us a very distorted sense of reality, danger, and truth. It follows that the most effective memes and the most attention-getting, share-worthy, stories are those that arouse emotion. This compels writers, both amateur and professional, to write articles and headlines using more and more emotion-laden terms. The more emotion they can arouse in their readers, the more widely their piece is apt to be read and shared.

This feeds the ever-present internet outrage that so many on both sides of the political spectrum seem to revel in, not to mention the pervasive and very questionable health and diet related articles and websites (more often than not written by someone who just so happens to sell health-related supplements, etc.).

One of the daily challenges of the modern world is to be aware of the power of availability to influence us. We naturally deem things that are easily called to mind as being of more weight and importance, especially those that are emotion-laden, but being readily called to mind does not guarantee their value. Take it from one who spent years memorizing inane cult materials that still readily come to mind.

"A reliable way to make people believe in falsehoods is frequent repetition, because familiarity is not easily distinguished from truth." Thinking, Fast and Slow, Daniel Kahneman

Sunday, July 5, 2015

Bellwethers

With social proof in play, who, then, starts the snowball rolling?

Dr. Cialdini, in his book Influence, used the Jonestown tragedy as an example. First, Jim Jones moved his "flock" to the jungles of Guyana, removing them from familiar surroundings and forcing the cult members into a situation where the only people they were able to look to for guidance in uncertainty were others like themselves.

With unrelenting propagandizing of how the outside world was their enemy, he further isolated his followers and instilled in them irrational paranoia.

This culminated in his final order to "commit revolutionary suicide" by drinking the poison-laced drink. Who went first? Sadly, a mother and her baby did. She was the bellwether that started the ball rolling. That first person to obey was crucial.

“Since 95 percent of the people are imitators and only 5 percent initiators, people are persuaded more by the actions of others than by any proof we can offer.” Cavett Robert

Berg, also, seemed to have a knack for enlisting that 5% of people who were inclined to be initiators, and he used them to promulgate his wishes. On the Home level, these people were actually called bellwethers, and, like their counterparts in the sheep world, they were to lead the flocks of believers by their actions.

As well, Berg had people in his Home write publications that illustrated correct behavior. "Life with Grandpa" was a comic series that showed daily life in Berg's household so even TFI children could see firsthand how we should behave. "The Story of Techi" was written by the caretaker for Techi, Zerby's daughter by a TFI leader, showing how she cared for little baby Techi.


Without a doubt, though, the pièce de résistance had to be "The Story of Davidito." This was hailed as the supreme guidebook on how to raise children. It used Berg's step-son, Prince Davidito, as prime example, TFI, after all, being "the best place in the world to raise children." The sad reality was that it was a horrendous book that outlined abusive behavior, written by Berg's step-son's childcare worker. The oft-quoted Biblical premise, "Train up a child in the way he shall go, and when he is old he will not depart from it," proved to be bitterly and poignantly ludicrous in the aftermath of "Davidito's" murder of one of his former childcare worker/abusers and his subsequent suicide in 2005 at the age of 29.

Friday, July 3, 2015

Social Proof

One more interesting psychological principle that worked wonderfully for TFI is called social proof. It's a handy mental tool that we use to assess what is the correct behavior for situations. We casually look around to see what other people are doing and adjust our behavior accordingly.

This is great when we want to know which fork to use first at the formal dinner. But in the context of cult life, it was just another manipulative tool. 


This tool works most effectively when we look to the behavior of people that are similar to ourselves. The "them and us" mentality of the cult was the perfect place for it. To make the effect even more powerful, isolation was key, as when isolated, the only people you can observe to see what is the correct behavior are people who are, indeed, very similar to yourself.

When do we use this tool? When we feel uncertain about what to do, of course. We figure that the calm, composed-looking people around us must know more than we do about what's going on, and so we conform to what they're doing.

We don't realize, though, that it is just as likely that the people we are looking to are also in doubt. Perhaps they, too, are trying to appear calm and secretly checking out what others are doing. This situation of everyone looking to see what everyone else is doing can lead to what has been called "pluralistic ignorance."

This phenomenon helps to explain why people in crowded places don't stop to help others in need. They naturally conclude, "No one else is showing concern or stopping, so there must be nothing wrong. I don't need to do anything."

In his classic book on persuasion, Dr. Robert Cialdini illustrates the power that social proof can have on a group by describing how certain Indian tribes used to hunt buffalo. He wrote, "There are two features of buffalo that make them especially susceptible to erroneous social evidence. First, their eyes are set in their heads so that it is easier for them to see to the side than to the front. Second, when they run, as in a stampede, it is with their heads down low so they cannot see above the herd. As a result, the Indians realized, it was possible to kill tremendous numbers of buffalo by starting a herd running toward a cliff. The animals, responding to the thundering social proof around them—and never looking up to see what lay ahead—did the rest."

To me, that says a lot about the herd mentality of cults which I mentioned in one of my first blog posts, The Bandwagon.

Tuesday, June 30, 2015

Commitment and Consistency

Commitment works hand-in-hand with the need for a consistent mental image of ourselves. We unconsciously react in ways that are consistent to our beliefs and initial decisions. If you think about it, you can probably spot that knee-jerk reaction in yourself. It's another mental shortcut that saves us from the work of having to rethink about small (and big) commitments. Like other heuristics, although usually helpful, it can cause us problems.

Inconsistency is seen as a negative personality trait, whereas consistency and "keeping one's word" are seen as signs of trustworthiness, stability, and honesty. We don't even realize we are doing it, but once we make a commitment, we're hooked.

Herein lies one of the traps for TFI members. Taking the stand to join the group, with its resultant requirements of burning bridges and giving away all one's goods, is not only commitment, but costly commitment. This puts psychological as well as in-group societal pressure on a member to be consistent. I've already written how doubts and questioning were considered sinful. Along with this, and perhaps more importantly, we had already made up our minds on the issue of "serving the Lord" with its unquestionable merit, and once that was done there was absolutely no need to waste mental effort by thinking about that decision anymore.

The more effort that is required of a commitment, (and in my case, like other TFI members, it was complete commitment - no looking back) the stronger the influence the decision has on the attitude of the person who made it. Then, as the years went by there was the growing sunk cost (which I mentioned previously), as well as the very strong need to be "a woman of my word."

"Because it is a preprogrammed and mindless method of responding, automatic consistency can supply a safe hiding place from those troubling realizations [that the cursedly clear and unwelcome set of answers provided by straight thinking would reveal]. Sealed within the fortress walls of rigid consistency, we can be impervious to the sieges of reason."*

"A foolish consistency is the hobgoblin of little minds." Ralph Waldo Emerson


* Influence, The Psychology of Persuasion, by Robert B. Cialdini, PhD

Monday, June 29, 2015

Making Memories

When I was a child, I remember my mother telling me that when people are old, all they have is their memories. She explained that the elderly may lose their short-term memories, but recollections of their younger days remain. As with most advice I heard from my mother, I brushed this off. After all, old age was so far in the future I could not imagine it. As I now know, like most people, I was completely disconnected from my future self.

At one of my kids' graduation ceremonies in Japan, the speaker advised the students on how to make important choices in life. He said, "Choose the thing that you will least regret." I had never really looked at decisions in the light of how I would feel about them afterwards looking back.

The importance of memories is a common theme of Japanese speeches, with declarations at the start of events like "Let's make good memories today!" being customary. (Could this emphasis on making memories be one reason why Japanese are world-famous for their penchant for photo-taking?)

My mother died in middle-age and thus her life was too short for her to experience being elderly and the fulfillment of her words of advice, but now that I am old, I can see their wisdom. It is all-too-easy for me to relive with deep remorse the horrors of those wasted years and especially the harsh corporal punishment that was meted out on my children which I did not scream against, all because I wanted to believe my own fairy-dust dreams of a happy family life. We cannot undo the past.

Now, I feel obliged to echo my mother's words to young people - be careful of the memories you are making each day. People move on, places change, but your memories (and their confabulations) remain with you.

Friday, June 12, 2015

More on Optimism

In once again going over the sordid story of my life in the cult, I am baffled as to why "past me" remained in a group that "present me" deems so absurd. Obviously, the purpose of this blog is to address such questions, but today I found it helpful to readdress the topic of optimism.

A healthy dose of optimism has many benefits, as we all know. It encourages persistence in the face of obstacles, provides a sense of well-being, and is an antidote to worry. Optimism played a fundamental role in the formation of my personal narrative. It was the rosy glasses that I was seeing the world through in those days, filtering out the bad and only allowing in what conformed to being a happy, dedicated missionary for Jesus.

It seemed to be particularly pertinent to my relationship, as well. I hung onto that initial view of my husband as a wonderful, sacrificial, and dedicated disciple and husband. To my surprise, I came upon some research that fit my behavior to a T. Therapist Melissa Schneider summarized it as follows,

"Positive illusions are those useful cognitive biases that let you think your boyfriend or girlfriend is the greatest person in the world. Positive illusions refer to the way you see your partner and how you understand his or her actions. Since our perception of reality is never objective, we always have to fill in part of the story. When we love someone, we fill in a nicer story than when we don’t."*

Without the interference of dangerous, delusional dogmas, an optimistic outlook on a relationship can be a wonderful boon. Within the cult, and I might add, in any abusive relationships, maintaining a "positive illusion" can be very unhealthy to all parties concerned, children included.

Just as people have a disconnect from their future selves, I now have a disconnect from my past self. It has become very difficult for me to understand my irrational persistence and loyalty to a group that was clearly horrible on every level.


* http://www.scienceofrelationships.com/home/2013/5/17/top-three-predictors-of-successful-relationships-picl.html

Friday, May 29, 2015

Presentism

One of the precepts of TFI was the concept of "The Eternal Now." We were to strive to live in the present and cautioned that it was sinful to dwell on the past or worry about the future. Doing so revealed a "lack of faith" in God to "take care of everything."

What a coincidence that our frontal lobes, the last to develop and the first to decline, are what enable us as humans to plan for the future and envision consequences - forbidden behavior to the loyal TFI member. Reminiscent of the patients who endured Walter Freeman's ice-pick "surgery" during the heyday of lobotomies in the 20th century, we were to do our best to not use that portion of our brain for which it was designed. It was as if we willingly underwent spiritual lobotomies.

This concept of "living in the present" may have entered the COG by way of the counterculture of the late 1960s. At that time, a Harvard professor who had worked with Timothy Leary and experimented with LSD, was ousted from his job, went to India, met a guru, and returned to the US with the mission of sharing his new-found knowledge with the unenlightened. This came in book form, Be Here Now, which became the #3 best seller in the US at the time. 

The book espoused the virtue of not thinking about the future and had a big influence on the young people of the day. The atmosphere at that time was one of rebelling against the "system," protesting the Vietnam War, and seeking a life of "peace and love." Berg was at the right place at the right time.

I can't help but wonder that the effortful turning-off of rational thought required by cult members caused those areas of their brains to weaken, as expressed by the old adage "use it or lose it." I suspect it did for me.

Sunday, May 24, 2015

Hope

I recently came upon some information that was quite encouraging. A psychologist named Dean Simonton discovered that what had been thought as age-related cognitive decline was not actually a function of age, but rather a function of disciplinary age, in other words, how long a person has been in a specific vocation or area of study. People who change careers or foci are able to rejuvenate their brains. 

Another psychologist, Marian Diamond, confirmed this. Further, in her research on aged rodents, she found that a rich environment made for more synapses, stronger connections, and even more neural growth.


Interestingly, this finding also ties into research on addiction. Rats given two water bottles, one with just water, one with water laced with heroin or cocaine, would generally choose and continue returning to the drugged water. Researcher Bruce Alexander found, though, that addicted rats that were moved to new cages containing toys and tunnels and friends seemed to become "happy" and voluntarily left the drugs, choosing to drink only from the water bottle. Meanwhile, the "unhappy" rats, alone and unstimulated, continued on with their drug use.


In short, he found that lonely, isolated rats turned to drugs; happy, social rats had little interest in them. This overturned the conventional wisdom on addiction.* 

Exercise is also a factor in brain plasticity and growth. According to Carl W. Cotman and Nicole C. Berchtold, "Voluntary exercise can increase levels of brain-derived neurotrophic factor and other growth factors, stimulate neurogenesis, increase resistance to brain insult and improve learning and mental performance... Thus, exercise could provide a simple means to maintain brain function and promote brain plasticity."**


Of course, I regret all the wasted years in the cult, but I am heartened that all is not lost. My brain has not deteriorated beyond help. By devoting myself to new areas of study, exercising daily in a variety of ways from walking and climbing to swimming and weight training, and opening my mind up to a vast variety of input, I can still make progress and not necessarily become a doddering old fool.


* Addiction:  The View from Rat Park, Bruce K. Alexander, 2010
** Exercise:  a behavioral intervention to enhance brain health and plasticity, Carl W. Cotman and Nicole C. Berchtold, 2002

Wednesday, May 20, 2015

Daydreaming and other Thought Sins

Along the lines of the TFI motto, "A good revolutionary [for Jesus] doesn't ask questions," we were taught that we must be "vigilant" about our thoughts. Unquestionably the worst sin was "doubt," a doubt being any question or contrary opinion. Certainly, we were never to utter any.

Voicing a doubt would cause discord, and "sowing discord among the brethren" was one of the seven abominations to God. (Proverbs 6:19) Clearly, a horrible sin.


There were societal norms at play, as I wrote before in The Bandwagon; no one said anything contrary to what was published in the Mo Letters, or if they did, they were to expect some sort of correction or punishment. This could be in the form of being required to wear headphones all day and listen to recordings of the Bible or the publications, usually accompanied by some sort of work designed to "teach humility." Need I say there was pressure for conformity?

There were other thought crimes as well. Thinking about the past and the future were sins, as was daydreaming, which was likened to permitting unruly behavior in a little child. We were taught that our minds were a battlefield, and we were not to permit any thought other than "godly" thoughts in our minds. 


"Casting down imaginations... and bringing into captivity every thought to the obedience of Christ." (2 Corinthians 10:5) This was interpreted quite literally, and was just another tool used to keep cult members subordinate. 

In some sad cases, young people who were pronounced guilty of "voicing doubts" by virtue of their natural tendency to question, or, god forbid, were opinionated or even overly gregarious, actually had their mouths taped and/or wore a sign that read "Silence Restriction" as a warning to others not to talk to them (and not to fall prey to their fate).


But what of the young person's parents? Didn't they intervene to prevent this abuse? In far too many cases, the parents did not live with their teenage children. Deemed old enough to live without parents (after all, the children in the group were considered all "our children") they were sent off to large Homes where they lived and were "shepherded" (corralled) in groups by generally pretty harsh taskmasters. They spent their days working: caring for children, cleaning, proselytizing, cooking, etc., with no time for education; the required Mo Letter reading was education enough, or so we were taught.


If their parents did happen to be in the same home, and if they were bold enough to speak up in defense of their child, there was no way their words would be heeded. In fact, their words would be used against them. Labelled as "favoring their children," yet another sin against the principles of the cult, they were watched more carefully from then on for other signs of this "favoring." (Can you guess how I know this?)

I am happy to see that my children today enjoy daydreaming. Not surprisingly, researchers have found that letting the mind wander increases creativity, improves working memory, consolidates memories, and allows the subconscious to bring forth solutions to problems upon which it had been ruminating.

For an interesting article about daydreaming, see "Dreams of Glory."

Tuesday, May 12, 2015

Future Blindness

Not that this problem is unique to TFI members, but I feel its ramifications were intensified, as it was elemental to our belief system that we were to "take no thought for the morrow." (Matthew 6:34)

As I wrote before, we, by nature, are not in touch with our future selves. Likewise, I feel that many parents are not cognizant of the fact that their children will, one day soon, become adults. They cannot "see" their future children.

Parents who are harsh, abusive, and who place upon their children unrealistic standards of behavior and personality - perhaps to make themselves look better in the eyes of others - must surely be lacking future vision. The ideas of parenting were heavily covered in TFI publications, and strict standards of behavior were foisted upon the children - especially in the regimented large "school Homes." From these came the worst cases of abuse.

Further exemplifying the present-centric thinking was the naming of babies (some clearly ridiculous - but a name can be changed), and the more serious concept of "Jesus Babies." This was TFI nomenclature for children conceived with outside members in the course of FFing (Flirty Fishing) them. This was extended to children born from the "sharing" (TFI euphemism for having sex) between unmarried adults within the group - often a married person and an unmarried person.

I wonder how these so-called Jesus Babies feel about family photos now that they are adults? Picture the blonde, blue-eyed parents with children from various biological fathers. How will that one brown boy in the family of white people deal with the natural surprise that would arise when people see a picture of his parents? "Were you adopted?" What is the psychological effect of looking so very different because your mother had sex with a stranger to "share God's love"? I sincerely wonder.

As I mentioned before in Loneliness Legacy, many children whose parents were not native English speakers were raised in the all-English environment of TFI Homes. All too often, they were taught in broken English by their parents and teachers, and, why? "Because English is the language of 'the Word'." (Meaning, TFI publications.) Even in my deluded cult mentality I knew that was crazy, and I changed it where I could.

Nevertheless, many many children were raised with subpar educations, many Orientals were raised without knowledge of the intricacies of their language and Chinese characters, and now that they are adults, how are they faring?

Friday, May 8, 2015

Intermittent Reinforcement & Clinging to Hope

Although originally thought to be mainly involved as a function of reward, research by Wolfram Schultz has shown that dopamine more prevalently figures in the anticipation of reward, and further, that it works in forming the impetus behind our determination to do the work we believe will help us to get at our goal.

Curiously, the biggest spike in dopamine comes when the possibility of reward is 50/50. Uncertainty is very alluring to us and redoubles our determination to persist. 

This finding hearkens back to B.F. Skinner and his pigeons, which I wrote about before.

In another of his experiments, he conditioned birds to get their food when they pecked a certain number of times. When they were accustomed to this, he changed his system to dispense the food randomly, not at all what they had been used to. While his control-group of unconditioned pigeons would quit after roughly 300 futile pecks, these expectant birds persevered longer - some would peck over 10,000 times in hopes of reward! It took them a very long time to give up.

This hopeful, pigeon-like behavior is easily seen in gamblers. If they were to receive a consistent rate of return on every bet placed, the excitement would be gone. The chance that maybe their next bet would result in the big win is what is seducing.

I cannot help but see the glaring application to my marriage. During the first 2 months of hormonal rampage we were like love-birds. After that, it was the perseverance of the pigeon hoping for reward - in my case, affection in any form.

It was the rare occasions of reward that kept me hanging on and trying. Never mind that I was completely blinded to the fact that affection towards me was utterly unnatural for him. Filled with anticipation and hope, I kept doing my best to please him in what must have surely been nothing but nauseatingly obsequious behavior. Until finally, like an exhausted pigeon, I gave up after my ten-thousands of times.

Sunday, May 3, 2015

Motivational Influences on Perception

Further research into a slightly different aspect of the confirmation bias was carried out by Emily Balcetis and David Dunning of Cornell University.* 

They did numerous experiments to test the hypothesis that people see what they are motivated to see. One such experiment was as follows: Subjects were presented with 2 beverages, one tasty, one disgusting-looking. They were told that the one they would drink depended on whatever image flashed on the computer screen before them for only a fraction of a second. This image was ambiguous, it could be interpreted as either a horse or a seal (or in another experiment, a B or a 13). The subjects were not told what the object they would see would be, but rather were told in general terms that it would be either a farm animal or a sea animal. Different groups were assigned differently, but the results were consistent in this and all their experiments.

The participants' motivations to avoid the disgusting drink and get the desired juice biased their perceptions. In cases where the farm animal meant they would have the juice, the vast majority saw a horse. If the farm animal meant they were to have the disgusting beverage, the vast majority saw a seal.  

This is quite an eye-opening finding for those of us who have been duped by cults, namely, that we saw what we were motivated to see. I surely spent many years giving way to the bias of wishful thinking, which Dunning describes as, "the motivation to think of one’s self and one’s prospects in a favorable way, to believe that one will achieve positive outcomes while being able to avoid aversive ones, and to enhance self-worth and esteem." The implications are wide, and can be thought of in terms of so-called answered prayers, and the concept of faith and the afterlife in general. "God will take care of everything!" we blithely believed.

Not only that, but we, as humans, also tend to be less questioning of messages that we feel are favorable for us. This has obvious implications regarding cult literature. Dunning goes on to say, "Other work in motivated reasoning has shown that information consistent with a favored conclusion is held to a lower standard of scrutiny than information consistent with an unwanted one." In my case, cult literature definitely received very little scrutiny before acceptance. If I had questioned, well, that would be considered the sin of "doubt." I was motivated to believe.

This tendency not only affects information we receive at the time, but it also influences our evaluation of ourselves and our futures, and helps us to make sense of our pasts, providing an internal impetus for the self-serving confabulation and rationalization of our memories.

*See What You Want to See: Motivational Influences on Visual Perception

Saturday, May 2, 2015

Scarcity

In TFI we were required to report our statistics at the end of each month. This meant filling in a 2 page report form that included places for total number of pieces of literature distributed, "souls saved" (meaning the number of people who prayed with us to receive Jesus, no matter how shallow or insincere this was), and in the heyday of Flirty Fishing, girls had to fill out the number of men they had sex with and the number of times. 

Simple psychology dictates that such reporting would breed a sense of competition and a tendency to want to inflate the numbers reported to "look good." Of course, that was commonplace.  

This reporting also added a sense of pressure to life, knowing that we would have to report how we did that month. Add to that the financial pressure - we also had to report our total income, our tithe amount, and the breakdown of where our additional financial gifts were to go each month.

All the while, we were not to take "System" jobs, but to remain "God's dropped out children," put simply, beggars and prostitutes.

The constant struggle for survival, especially in the Third World countries in which we were instructed to live, created a sense of scarcity.

Insight into the psychological effects of this struggle can be found in Cara Feinberg's summary of recent research on scarcity, the depletion of willpower, and the practical use of nudges in creating desirable behavior. When life is made up of a scramble for survival, mental processes are affected. "Scarcity steals mental capacity wherever it occurs—from the hungry, to the lonely, to the time-strapped, to the poor."

So much "mental bandwidth" is used battling for survival - raising funds, meeting all sorts of proselytizing quotas, sticking to the daily schedule - that the mind is compromised. To quote from the article linked above, 

"If the mind is focused on one thing, other abilities and skills—attention, self-control, and long-term planning—often suffer. Like a computer running multiple programs, Mullainathan and Shafir explain, our mental processors begin to slow down. We don’t lose any inherent capacities, just the ability to access the full complement ordinarily available for use."


As I wrote before (Neural Atrophy), people who live in a state of chronic subordination experience a decrease in new brain cell growth. It is as if our minds were attacked from all sides: the struggle for survival, constant subordination to capricious leaders, and the ever-present readings of the Mo Letters. 

I am beginning to see why the idea of leaving the group took so long to appear.

Friday, May 1, 2015

Financial Fleecing

Another aspect to finances in the COG/TFI was that each home was supposed to be completely self-supporting in addition to their required tithing. This wasn't so hard in the early days, when we were relatively unknown and people seemed more trusting of random strangers asking for donations on street corners.

As the years passed, however, TFI had to get more creative. "Flirty Fishing" opened up a new and bigger method of raising funds. We women were instructed to, in effect, give men sex, proselytize them, and receive in return a "donation for our work." This process, religious persuasion aside, can be called nothing if not prostitution - and it paid well.

Naturally, some women found this harder than others. I enjoyed the chance to go out and meet people, have a nice meal, dance, socialize. As for sex, I was completely inexperienced and self-conscious. Perhaps in a subconscious rejection of any mental association with prostitution or the dehumanization of the men I met, I could never refer to them as "fish" or "kings" as they were called in the publications and therefore by group members.

As awkward as this behavior was, the hardest part was dealing with my leaders in the Homes regarding the money brought in. During my early days of Flirty Fishing, I was publicly shamed by the leader for being the one in the Home that brought in the least money for a certain month. I was deeply mortified. 

A few years later, I felt so much pressure from another particularly avaricious leader that just the thought of coming back from a trip abroad where I had gone to meet one of my "friends" without a substantial amount of money filled me with such fear that I actually wrote the man a note after we had parted and left it at the hotel front desk for him. This, after his kindness and generosity to me, as well as his tolerance of my "witnessing." He had even given me money for shopping which I used to buy the items on the list given me by my leaders. (Far be it from me to buy anything for myself.) Gentleman that he was, he found me and gave me more money. That was the last time I ever heard from him.

My fear of facing the leader with whom I lived was greater than the fear of offending my friend. The leader won, and I lost a friend.

For about 8 years I had a another dear friend who was a lawyer. He was very generous in his care for me and his gifts to the group. Among other kindnesses, he would take me grocery shopping for our big Home each week. If, perchance, we bumped into that greedy leader in the store, my friend would offer to pay for his shopping, too. Whereby Mr. Greedy would pick up all kinds of expensive items he normally wouldn't buy as we made our way to the cashier. Yes, that annoyed me, but I was in no position to correct my "elder in the Lord."

Misplaced loyalty, indeed.

Friday, April 24, 2015

Diet and Polar Bears

When I first met the COG at the tender age of 16, I had been anorexic for about 9 months. I don't really know how I looked, due to the skewed nature of the self-perception of the anorexic, but I would guess I was somewhat skeletal.

Joining the cult gave me a sense of purpose for my life, and a distraction from whatever brought on that eating disorder. My extreme dedication led me to spend any spare moment reading the bible and the various publications of the group - as new members ("babes in Christ") were supposed to do. "As newborn babes, desire the sincere milk of the word, that ye may grow thereby." (1 Peter 2:2)

As well, since "bodily exercise profiteth little, but godliness is profitable unto all men" (I Timothy 4:8), I felt compelled to stop exercising and instead spend my time studying.

You can imagine the physical consequences of those decisions.

Anorexia had robbed my body of its natural appetite and natural control. I had lost the sense of proper eating. I ended up, obviously, eating too much for the minute amount of physical activity I was doing, and I gained weight - ending up weighing more than when I decided to stop eating at the beginning of my anorexia.

At age 18, when I moved into the COG colony (as the communal home was called), the problem only worsened with the diet of cheap food and limited, old, poor quality fruit and vegetables. I gained even more, until I was about 10 kilos overweight, which was very upsetting for this former anorexic.

Try as I might, I could not get that weight off. As the years passed, the more I thought about cutting back on eating, the more I didn't cut back on eating. Focusing on dieting always backfired.

It was when I became pregnant at age 23 that the breakthrough came. I finally stopped thinking about losing weight, and changed my focus to obtaining the optimal nutrition for my unborn child. I counted protein grams, and was very mindful of my intake of vitamins and minerals, and I went for daily walks. All this, for the purpose of growing a healthy baby.

The result? When I brought my 4.5kg, 2 day old baby home from the hospital I weighed less than when I had conceived. Changing focus was all that was needed.

Recently I learned of the research done by psychologist Daniel Wegner on "ironic processes." Inspired by Dostoevsky's words, "Try to pose for yourself this task: not to think of a polar bear, and you will see that the cursed thing will come to mind every minute," Wegner observed that experimental subjects told not to think of polar bears for 5 minutes, true to Dostoevsky's idea, thought of them, on average, more than once per minute.

So it went with my dieting attempts. Trying to think of not eating, made me think of eating, and it followed that trying not to eat, made me eat.

One of Wegner's suggestions for overcoming this tendency was exactly what I had stumbled on - to focus on something else. If our minds are busy with something else, there is no room for the thought we are trying to avoid to enter.

Sunday, April 19, 2015

"Tithing"

Many religious groups practice tithing, the rule of giving 10 percent of one's income to the group. The COG also required tithing as a requisite for full-time membership - the "highest calling" for God's chosen people which I aspired to. 

But the COG went way further than requiring 10 percent. There were always extra percentages added on, for the maintenance of leadership, printing of publications, and the like. Additionally, if we wanted to give above and beyond that, we were encouraged to do so.

We also read appeals from people around the world who were doing more humanitarian type work in the COG, and these pulled at our heart-strings, succeeding in getting us to send them money. As well, I had a friend who was doing, I felt, noble work with helping orphans, so I gave an extra 5% to her - of course, via the group. This brought our tithe to around 20%, which I would say was the average that we gave over the years that we actually had income in the group.

Most of our time in the group was spent with only the pittances that we got from begging, oh, I mean, "witnessing" (proselytizing). Naturally, all of that went to the group. We received daily meals and a roof over our heads, which was considered sufficient. "We were the blessed and chosen people of God," after all, so who would complain? "Our treasures were being laid up in heaven." Matthew 6:20 

Clothing was usually in the form of donations - often used clothing. Indeed, we were often clothed in ill-fitting, ill-matched, and unflattering clothes. 

The obvious trouble with this short-sighted financial policy is that now, as we grow older, we have no retirement funds. The fanciful feeling in the group was that we would "serve the Lord" until we died, and the group would continue to grow and provide a safe haven for us. Reality is that the young people left in droves, many older people left as well, and the COG is in no way a viable place for the care of the elderly. 

Those that left the group were left high and dry: no savings, no social network, nothing. We were forced to start from $0 and support our (generally) large families, and save for retirement or else come up with a way to support ourselves when we grow old and frail.

Of course, the money given to that nonsense was a very unfortunate waste. If it had instead been placed in a retirement fund, surely we would feel more secure about our futures.

On the positive side, living in poverty for so many years has certainly taught me, and my older children who experienced it more than the younger ones, how to live very frugally; so frugal that saving money and spending as little as possible is second nature to me. Sadly, though, it seems to be the case of too-little, too-late.

Saturday, April 11, 2015

Future Prospects

MRIs have shown that the area of the brain that is activated when subjects think of their future selves is the same area that is activated when they think of strangers. Without conscious effort, we each have a physiological disconnect from the older "us."

Further, we tend to think of our future selves as more favorable versions of our present selves. We idealize our futures - how self-disciplined we will be, how healthy we will be, how secure our positions will be - without envisioning the unknowns (How can we?) that pop up in daily life that derail even our most well-made plans. 

This idea is promulgated by the media in the popularity of stories about, for example, very fit elderly people, as if this were some sort of state that all of us could partake of, if we would just (fill in the blank with whatever is being promoted): exercise more, eat raw foods, abstain from vices, etc. This results in an availability cascade of information that feeds an unrealistic image.

We could even fall prey to this bias by sabotaging our goals, whatever they may be, by telling ourselves we'll do better the next day. "Tomorrow I will..." and make up for today's lapse. But tomorrow we will still be ourselves and subject to the same randomness that we had to deal with today.

This inherent tendency to be disconnected from our future selves may account for, among many other things, why people have dusty workout equipment in their houses. Bought with the best of intentions of regular use, reality came into play and the dust gathered, illustrating that our future selves are more likely to be like our present, procrastinating, disorganized selves, than what we might prefer to imagine.

(Perhaps some businesses use this tendency to their advantage, such as those who sell gym memberships to all those New Year's resolution makers with their unrealistic ideas of their year ahead.)

In my case, for years, virtually afraid to say "no," I overloaded myself continually. Due to my optimistic appraisal of what I would be able to accomplish in the future (even the next hour or day), I allowed leaders to give me work, yea, I volunteered for more work than would be physically possible for me to do. Enter stress and all its accompanying physical and mental ramifications, and final nervous breakdowns.

I wonder what things that I should do today that I prefer to push off onto that nebulous future me? Or conversely, what undesirable things will I give myself permission to do today that I think my future self will not do, or perhaps be so virtuous as to make up for?