Most people who find themselves in spiritually abusive situations rarely get there by accident. They're covertly manipulated.
Though most opportunists find ways of making themselves indispensable during someone’s hour of need, most people get involved in groups or relationships because of unresolved issues of the past. I believe that God created the mind with an amazing desire and ability to heal itself, directing a person to a situation wherein the person can heal by recreating a familiar, unresolved scene with new characters later in life. People do this naturally, however without much work and knowledge of the dynamics of manipulation, people will be helpless to their natural inclinations and will likely behave just as they did within the original circumstances.
I’ve added [my own notations] to Robert Lifton’s thoughts on how and why this occurs:
Ideological totalism itself may offer man an intense peak experience, a sense of transcending the ordinary prosaic, of freeing himself from the encumbrances of human ambivalence, of entering a sphere of truth, reality, trust and sincerity beyond any he has known or imagined…. [Manipulative systems offer] false promise of eliminating those imperfections and ambivalences which help define the human condition…
[Behind all ideological manipulation is an] ever present human quest for the omnipotent guide – the supernatural force, political party, philosophical idea, great leader or precise science that will bring ultimate solidarity to all men and eliminate terror and death and nothingness…
Early sense of confusion or dislocation, or an early experience of unusually intense family milieu control can produce later a complete intolerance for confusion or dislocation, and a longing for installment of milieu control…
Fundamentally [a desire for totalistic ideology is] a product of childhood itself… of a prolonged period of helplessness and dependency…. [producing a] new adult embeddedness [carryover of security seeking from our youth], adult ideals and aspirations.
Likewise, in their book “Captive Hearts, Captive Minds: Freedom and Recovery from Cults and Abusive Relationships,” the authors Tobias and Lalich identify the one-on-one cultic relationship. They state that “cults can be large or small,” and small cults generally have a “guru” that controls individuals or small groups of individuals in what can be called a “family cult.” Identified as the authors as “probably the least acknowledged” type of cult, this type of one-on-one manipulative relationship between two individuals manifests all the same dynamics of a large group. Sadly, this can also occur when one leaves a spiritually abusive setting. When attempting to find support after leaving an abusive setting or circumstance, a person is very likely to encounter others who bear the negative effects of abuse themselves. One must be knowledgeable about the dynamics of manipulation to avoid getting caught in a new cultic relationship with other survivors, counselors or other well-meaning people who do not have expertise in recovery from manipulation and abuse.
From Robert J. Lifton in “Thought Reform and the Psychology of Totalism,” pg 485 in the chapter entitled “Ideological Totalism”
They expound upon this concept in Chapter One of their book:
The one-on-one cult is a deliberately manipulative and exploitative intimate relationship between two persons, often involving physical abuse of the subordinate partner. In the one-on-one cult, which we call a cultic relationship, there is a significant power imbalance between the two participants. The stronger uses his (or her) influence to control, manipulate, abuse, and exploit the other. In essence the cultic relationship is a one-on-one version of the larger group. It may even be more intense than participation in a group cult since all the attention and abuse is focused on one person, often with more damaging consequences.
Many marriages or domestic partnerships where there is spousal abuse may be characterized and explained in this way. Other one-on-one cults may be found in boss/employee situations, in pastor/worshipper milieus, in therapist/client relationships, in jailor/prisoner or interrogator/suspect situations, and in teacher/student environments (including academic, artistic, and spiritual situations - for example, a school professor, a yoga master, a martial arts instructor, or an art mentor). It is our hope that those who have suffered such individualized abuse will find much in this book to identify with and use in healing their pain.
Since the upsurge of both public and professional interest in the issue of domestic
violence, there has been some recognition to the link between mind control and battering. Men or women who batter their partners sometimes use manipulative
techniques similar to those found in cults. The most common include "isolation and the provocation of fear; alternating kindness and threat to produce disequilibrium; the induction of guilt, self-blame, dependency, and learned helplessness." The degree to which these features are present in a relationship affects the intensity of control and allows the relationship to be labeled cultic.
The similarities between cultic devotion and the traumatic bonding that occurs between battered individuals and their abusers are striking. An abused partner is generally made to submit to the following types of behaviors:
When psychological coercion and manipulative exploitation have been used in a one-on-one cultic relationship, the person leaving such a relationship faces issues similar to those encountered by someone leaving a cultic group.
- early verbal and/or physical dominance
- fear arousal and maintenance
- guilt induction
- contingent expressions of "love"
- enforced loyalty to the aggressor and self-denunciation
- promotion of powerlessness and helplessness
- pathological expressions of jealousy
- hope-instilling behaviors
- required secrecy
Cindy,Thank you for this very informative article.If you had to recommend one good book on spiritual abuse, which one? One is about all I can afford right now. :-)January 3, 2008 6:43 AM
Hi Meloff,My personal favorite is Johnson and Vanvonderan's "Subtle Power of Spiritual Abuse" but others like Blue's "Healing Spiritual Abuse" book better because it isn't as intense. I still prefer the "Subtle Power" book.The next one that I think is most helpful for realizing dynamics and for very practical help with the problems that everyone has is not a Christian book. I quoted from "Captive Hearts, Captive Minds" here because I know exactly where to find that info in that book, but it was essentially updated and republished as "Take Back Your Life." Either one of these is essential for dealing with the practical stuff. One may be more affordable than the other from an online bookseller.
The best "third tier" books to read are either Wendy Duncan's "I Can't Hear God Anymore" and/or "Combating Cult Mind Control" by Hassan. They are more of the sagas of the authors, but they bring in the information about cults right along with the narrative. If you are a Christian, I think that reading Hassan is very revealing because I believe that you'll realize that there's little difference between a Moonie and a Biblical Christian in a Bible-based group.Feel free to contact me if you get stuck. I know what it's like.January 3, 2008 7:08 AM
Thank you so much for the help!