I’m learning a lot about cults through the book “Combating Cult Mind Control” by Steven Hassan. I read about 10 pages a day and am finding that it explains quite a bit about what has happened in my life. It would be nice if I could share with all of you what I am learning and how it applies to cults like AA, but I fear that it would overwhelm my blog. Instead, it would probably be better for me and for you if I continued to study cults and then write a book on this topic.
But before I dissect AA and the other cults that I’ve been in, I do want to address the fact that cults are more common than people think. They can show up in any type of group of people, and can even have great political pull in our society. Some also control business and organizations across the globe.
Hassan argues that the four main types of cults are religion cults, psychotherapy cults, political cults, and commercial cults. Religious cults are just how they sound, and likely AA would fit into this group. Psychotherapy cults are usually the kind that offer quick solutions and cathartic experiences. Political cults are usually seen as extremist and sometimes apply violence as a means to carry out their goals. And, commercial cults are those pyramid-scheme organizations who take people’s money in order to join the cult and promise easy money and quick riches. Really, though, they are making money off of their victims. Human trafficking too is a form of commercial cult.
In addition to these types of cults, families can also be a cult, as can any organization or cluster of people who practice forms of mind control. Even two people in an abusive relationship can technically be a cult if mind control is present.
One might believe that the type of people who are recruited to a cult are ones from unstable backgrounds who are riddled with problems. In actuality, though, cults like to recruit intelligent, educated, and successful people to their organizations. This is because these having these types of people in a cult helps to make it look good, and this type of person is more likely to be able to keep up with the demands of the cult. Anyone is vulnerable when it comes to being drafted into a cult.
When I learned about the many different kinds of cults that exist in our world, I realize that I have been in a few. My family definitely fits the definition of cult, as did the church that I experienced ritual abuse in. And AA definitely could be argued to be a religious cult as well, as it employs mind control and ritual abuse onto it’s members. I also do believe that my abusive relationships were likely cults too, especially because they used AA dogma and religion to control me.
And, when I wonder how I became such a target for AA, I realize that it may not just be because I was vulnerable from a recent sexual assault. Likely a reason why I was so violently pushed into AA is because I have a lot of leadership experience and tend to perform well in whatever endeavor I tend to undertake (and under pressure). I also am (was) a very proficient and inspirational public speaker, and because of this was very influential in my shares in meetings and in speaker meetings. Also, because I have a flare for leadership, I did well in service positions in AA.
Because of these things, I was a perfect recruit to AA. I was vulnerable yet strong. I knew how to influence people. And I loved taking a leadership role. So of course I was highly indoctrinated over a series of years. It took me, though, until about year three before I finally felt comfortable within the cult. By that point, my entire life revolved around it and I had lost contact with most if not all of my friends outside of AA.
I also was the perfect cult member for my family. I have a graduate degree, am helpful to others, am sensitive and caring, and was an active member of AA and recovered from alcoholism, which my family saw as a good and inspirational act. My family very much cares about how they appear to outsiders, and one of the implicit requirements to belong in and get treated well in our family is achievement. Part if this is due to the us versus them mentality and the idea that our family is superior to everyone else. I also feel like this is done to cover up the ritual abuse and trafficking in our family. But, despite all of the abuse in my family, most people in it feel like our family is superior to everyone else. People who tend to join the family as in-laws, too, go through different types of hazing/indoctrination that are usually quite humiliating and abusive; but, this is seen as a normal part of joining the Martin family.
So now that we have a brief exploration into the different types of cults, how do we stay away from cults and how do we get a person out of a cult?
The main way to protect yourself from cults is simply to learn about them and the kind of techniques that they use. This way, if you encounter one, you will be more likely to spot techniques such as mind control and indoctrination attempts. Also, just accepting that cults are more prevalent in our society than people realize is extremely important, as is knowing that anyone can be recruited into a cult, even those who are highly educated and successful. It is important to watch out for organizations that make huge promises and tell you that the organization is what you need to live a good life. Also, watch out for organizations or groups of people that have an us versus them mentality.
In terms of how to get a person (or yourself) out of a cult, you must find a way to appeal to a person’s original or true self. Every cult produces a cult self, however, members will vacillate between that and the person’s actual self. It is important to try to get through to the person’s original self, whether that be by giving them information about the cult that he or she is in that shows how damaging it is, bringing out rational and critical thinking (it is likely that the original self is in charge of this), providing conflicting information to cult dogma, and by touching upon the person’s true interests or hobbies. It will be obvious that the true self is in charge when a person displays a range of emotions and seems relaxed. When a person is in the cult self, they may seem robotic, lack emotions, and may have a glazed over look in their eyes. They also may heavily talk in cult jargon. Thus, it is important to pay attention to the mannerisms and behavior of a person in a cult so that you can begin to identify when they are in the original self, as it is this self that ultimately will bring a person out of a cult.
For me, I really started to begin the process of exiting AA and my family when I began to take up hobbies and join social groups outside of these cults. I began to work out in 2013 in a way that matched my workouts back in college, and I began to play the ukulele. Starting in 2015 I also began to recover memories and skills that I lost over the years, and eventually even tried new things like Yoga and meditation. I also moved away from the area that I had lived in for years during my time in AA. Eventually, my true or original self began to re-appear more often, and I was able to see the problems in AA and in my family and leave these groups.
I remember, though, that by 2015 I really didn’t feel like much of my original self was left due to cult influences. The truth is, though, that it was there, but I was very buried under the cult self by that point. But, my original self must have been helping to direct my thinking, feelings, and behaviors, even if I did not feel it. I still have a hard time connecting with and identifying my true/original self today, but at least I know that she is there and that she is mostly in charge.
Overall, the process for me to leave cults has been a long one. Even though I know that my family is harmful, though, I still wish that I could call my them. But I know that I don’t want any part of what they do. Ethically, I just can’t be part of a group that employs such severe abuse to each other and to the children of the group. The same goes for AA.
Thanks for reading today! I hope that you have learned a little bit about cults and how to protect yourself from them. This is by no means an exhaustive post about cults. In fact, it really only skims the surface. I plan on writing more blog posts based on what I am learning on this subject, but as I said earlier cannot touch on everything. So if this peaks your interest, or you feel that you want to know more, realize that there are many books and information online about cults that will help you to understand them and/or understand any experiences that you may have had with a cult.
Feel free to comment below with any thoughts or feelings on this subject!