I was raised in a Christian Fundamentalist cult called Jehovah’s Witnesses. For some, this organization may seem harmless and not like a cult at all: that is precisely the image they work so hard to create. That is what compelled me to write this, for my experience – and the experience of other survivors – is far from benign. In reality, the organization uses all-encompassing mind control and personality re-shaping tactics in order to rob members of any natural inclination which doesn’t serve the cult’s purpose. We all recognize the removal of critical thinking skills, but critical feeling is also removed; the removal of both is vital in order to be properly conditioned and enslaved.
Most people join cults because they seek a greater purpose for their lives, and want to belong to a different society with different rules. Cult leaders and recruiters prey on these feelings to expose our vulnerability. Once we settle into cult life, our ideas and thoughts are shifted and conditioned by the cult’s thought reform practices. The believer’s thoughts must conform with the doctrine: otherwise, they must deal with the consequences of being judged, criticized or even expelled. This usually happens gradually for those who join as adults, but for children raised inside the group, the shaping takes place during the formative years, and is all the harder to break, as they know no alternative.
Cutting someone off completely in a matter of hours is expected of believers, and while it may never be easy, it soon comes to seem normal. For folks entering adulthood, subtle changes may happen under the guise of “putting on your new [insert cult here] personality”. This extreme conditioning promotes an unhealthy loyalty to the organization or leader; this loyalty is truly detrimental to any natural tendency: you are taught to deny your feelings of love and yearning, and, through “shunning”, forbidden to see or contact your homosexual, free-thinking, transgender, or simply religiously disinterested child. You are told to deny the inherent desire to love your children, parents or siblings when they display differences in beliefs or lifestyles deemed unacceptable.
How is this loyalty gained? You are taught you will be rewarded tenfold for your ultimate sacrifices, but these sacrifices pale in comparison to letting down your God, your leaders, or, heaven forbid, “stumbling” fellow believers by making them think it’s acceptable to question authority.
Cults like the Jehovah’s Witnesses demand you prove your faith through works. The greater the sacrifice, the more dedication you display. They try to convince you that the greater the personal cost, the more favor you gain with God. So, once you move beyond the grief, you achieve a vital, but ultimately false, sense of accomplishment. They actually shift your thinking from love and compassion to righteous indignation! After all, “they” are WRONG because they reject the truth. From natural inclination to self-denial. Over time it becomes familiar and you do it on a daily basis, possibly many times a day. The film you would love to see, the concert you would love to attend, your child who you would love to call and chat with, the mother or father you never said goodbye to. These are all denied, all sacrificed to “please God.”
This, to me, is the most heartbreaking part of divisive organizations that warp your thinking. Don’t get me wrong: there are many heartbreaking occurrences within these groups. This one, however, at some point or another, affects every single cult member, their friends and their families. Destroying families and relationships is a very serious matter, and does irreversible damage. This is the case even after one leaves a cult. It takes time, loving support, and sometimes therapy to regain your freedom of thought, and to confront the thieves who robbed you of all the natural love you were born to give and receive. In my case, it’s been the toughest challenge of the post-cult years, but an extremely important virtue to inculcate into my life. Loving freely and accepting people as they are is beautiful and rewarding to all involved.
What do you think about this article? Do you agree? Do you have a story about growing up in a high-control group that you’d like to share? We’d love to hear from you!