The question I am asked most often is, “But how do people get into these groups and relationships? How can anyone believe something so stupid?”
Well, when looking at why anyone has “let themselves” be fooled into joining an abusive group or dating an abusive person, we must remind ourselves of the old, classic example of the frog in the pot of water: If you put the frog in the pot when the water’s already hot, he will hop out. But if you start with cold water and then raise the heat, you’ll end up with frog soup. We haven’t actually tried this, so cannot assure our readers that it is scientifically true (and we don’t want you to try it at home, either, but, as a metaphor, it is worth considering).
A destructive group – or an abusive or narcissistic romantic partner – won’t start off with the crazy stuff. An abusive relationship, whether it’s with one other person or with a group, usually starts out great – everything is love, light, and peace for all Mankind. Only later do you find out that, “Oh, by the way, you can’t do this, and it’s dangerous to do that, and here’s a list of rules you’ll want to study and be very careful to observe…”
So, why do we stay? We humans keep moving in the same direction, once we’ve chosen which way to go. Once we’ve invested time and energy, inertia often takes over – as shown in Cialdini’s consistency or commitment principle. The more time and energy we spend, the less willing we are to bail when things start getting strange.
If we are warned off by friends and family and told that what we believe doesn’t make sense or even sounds “crazy”, then cognitive dissonance comes into play: no matter what evidence we’re offered to show us it’s crazy, we will use the full weight of our intellectual faculties to explain it – and the more intelligent we are, the more clever the examples we can develop for believing absolute nonsense. Conditioned to the warming water, we stay in the pot, believing that that the increasingly hot flashes are good for our health.