Monday, May 23, 2016

Learned Helplessness

I wonder if the “learning submission to the will of God” that was extolled in The Family was akin to the learned helplessness of Martin Seligman's hopeless, shocked dogs? 

In 1965, back in the days when scientific experiments on animals were not considered as morally reprehensible as they are today, Dr. Seligman conditioned dogs by putting them in a cage, ringing a bell, and then sending an electric current through the floor. Randomly. Again and again.

When a dog got used to that, he put it in a cage with a little fence dividing the two halves. He rang the bell and then shocked the half of the floor where the dog sat; it just sat there, sad eyed, tragic. It didn't even try to jump to the other side where, unbeknownst to the dog, there was no possibility of a shock. 

Had it learned “to submit”?

In the cult, we were taught, repetition ad nauseam, to yield our wills to God, to submit to the will of God in our lives and to our leaders, to not trust in ourselves. "Don't lean to your own understanding." 

Our only hope was to give up control.  

What happens when a person finally gives up control to God? They learn that they are not "the master of their fate, the captain of their soul," but merely a tool in God's hands, "a grain of dust floating on God's air," to quote Berg.

In a word: helpless. 

Engendering submission is one more of the barrage of tactics used to make mindless followers out of ordinary people.

After years of this, it takes concerted effort and time to take control, to feel that we are not "sinful" for doing something for ourselves, to realize that we indeed can be, and must be, the captain of our souls. 

Monday, May 16, 2016

The Ragman Fallacy

Throwing things away has been hard for me for years. I felt I almost had a moral imperative to keep things that were still in a usable condition, whether I needed them or not. I was not a hoarder - I didn't have that much stuff - but the consumer mentality was very far from my mind.

"Waste not, want not." "Be a good 'Ragman,'" Berg admonished in his Letter of that name. In it, he went so far as to say, "God will hold you accountable not only for every word and deed wasted, but everything you wasted and threw away which you could have saved or given to somebody else who needed it!"

Is that where this idea came from? More dregs of cult teachings rising to the surface?

Only this past month have I realized how ingrained that attitude of scarcity was. I was downsizing, and I needed to get rid of years of accumulated things.  

First, I wanted to sell or give things away. That worked for a while. Then, when I had no more takers, I started to think... I live in a wealthy country where if someone needs something, they usually just go to the store and buy it. Not so much me. I rummage about and make do with what I have: a daughter's left behind clothes, a son's old track suit, 20-year-old kitchen utensils, etc.  

Finally, the light dawned. If I don't need it, if I'm not going to use it, throw it away. I made numerous trips to the dump, where I witnessed other people throwing things away as if it was completely normal. Something no longer needed? No need to keep it.

Such a basic concept. But not a basic concept for one coming out of years of cult-imposed poverty and scarcity.

This is not to cast aside all frugality. In the cult, we had very few personal belongings. I lived out of a suitcase, and I learned to improvise. Economizing, saving, and avoiding unnecessary waste are still worthy qualities. But no more unwittingly clinging to over-the-top parsimony and being weighed down with unneeded stuff.

Sunday, May 8, 2016

Why Education?

Why does someone who leaves a cult or high-demand religious group need education?  

1) To make up for lost time.

For me, it was 30 years of starving my brain for input, only feeding it cult publications and the King James Bible - my poor neglected brain! There is so much in this world to learn, and I learned nothing of much use for those 30 years. 

2) To stimulate brain growth and restructuring.

The need to constantly submit to the will of "God" and your leaders, the arbitrary corrections and public humiliations, the ever-present financial struggle, the virtually non-stop work because of "the shortness of time," the utter lack of space to call your own, and the countless other stresses of cult life all compounded to rob the brain of its ability to produce new cells.  

To undo this damage, the brain needs stimulation and exercise. And not just any stimulation, but serious concentration and study. New pathways need to be forged, and that requires focused mental effort.

3) To "unlearn" cult intuitions and reactions.

Living in a delusional bubble develops intuitive thoughts and natural reactions that are simply wrong. These need to be "erased" and replaced by more common-sense reactions.

What cult intuitions? For example:
  • I brushed off conflicts with a "Let's pray," telling myself that "God will work it out," instead of learning to negotiate and deal with disagreements and disputes. 
  • I dismissed any encouragement, "If anything good comes of me, it's only Jesus. I am bad." The brain already has a negativity bias, so this one slides by easily without question and can develop into self-loathing.
  • I was besieged by guilt if I were to do anything outside of the prescribed behavior of a cultist; that proclivity towards guilt needed to be shed.
Being aware of the multitudinous unnatural, knee-jerk reactions developed during cult years is the first step to laying them aside.

To actually "unlearn" these intuitions, a complete rewiring of the brain is needed. Because neural-plasticity is competitive, we need to put forth effort to learn in order for new connections to be built. In so doing, the old pathways will gradually fade and the space they had taken in the brain will be rechanneled by the new, fresh brain maps. That conscious focus on learning stimulates new cell growth in the particular area of study, as well as vitalizes the entire brain.

4) To understand.

"The unexamined life is not worth living." (Socrates)

I made bad decisions in my life. It is deeply painful to realize yet must be faced. How did this happen? Why did this happen? What can I learn from this experience?

To deny the reality of years wasted is to continue to live in a bubble of delusion.

Monday, May 2, 2016

Know Thyself

When I first broke ties with TFI, it was as if my head was filled with mist. Of course, I didn't realize it at the time. As I wrote in Adjustment, my mind was dominated by the slow realization that I had wasted years of my life, and worse, given my children a godawful childhood. The overwhelming guilt of these actions was growing by the day. On top of that, mental confusion.

As I look back now, I shake my head at my naivety and foolish efforts. I realize though, that we only know what we know at the time. We cannot know what we don't know. And I surely didn't.

What do people need, then, after they leave a high-demand cult (or "New Religious Movement" as TFI likes to call itself)? Education. Concerted efforts at concentration and learning. The strength to face up to the reality of the bad decisions made. 

Recently, I've spoken with a few still-loyal cult members. How do they view their pasts and the abusive history of the group? "It was in the past!" alluding to the verse, "Forgetting those things that are behind..." (Philippians 3:13)

Even many ex-First Generation Members (called in cult lingo, FGA's) use that same tactic of denial, which is simply the refusal to face reality. I can see why ex- and current cultists would not want to stop and examine their lives. The horror of a life wasted is too much for the psyche. Their self-narrative of being a "good person," a "sacrificial missionary," won't hold up. So we tend to hear excuses from the ex-FGA's, such as this all-too-common justification, "My heart was in the right place. God looks at the heart." As if intention is all that matters.

But it isn't.