Wednesday, July 15, 2015

Cults and Intelligent Sociopaths

Adi Da

NOTE: this post is based on a series of comments I made on a thread over at Facebook. The topic had to do with the relationship of brain science and understanding cult behaviors at both the small group level and the societal level.

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I think that attachment theory has a lot to add in understanding cult behaviors. Around 40% of the population (across cultures) is insecurely attached, which makes them perfect targets for cults and other dysfunctional communities. With insecure attachments, the right brain affect regulation system is underdeveloped and/or oversensitive, resulting in poor communication between the limbic system and the frontal cortex (especially the orbitofrontal cortex, which is involved in cognitive processing, decision making, and in integrating external reality with internal reality, among other things). People who are insecurely attached are much more likely to experience PTSD following trauma, exhibit less resilience to stressful experiences, and show highly levels of depression, anxiety, and dissociation.

People who are insecurely attached often have a hard time regulating their affect (dissociation is one way an infant/toddler learns to regulate affect, but this is highly dysfunctional in adults). Consequently, these people often seek external regulation through relationships (an unconscious attempt to repair the attachment failure of infancy). Cults and charismatic leaders somehow sense this need and are experts at manipulation and control, which provides that needed regulation for the insecurely attached person. One of the ways they do this initially is through "love bombing" - a very directed attempt to make the new recruit feel special and important (filling the hole that results from lack of secure attachment). The cult (or charismatic leader/guru) then slowly institutes more and more control over behavior and thoughts, and even what is appropriate to feel. Part of this involves isolating them from friends and family and requiring secrecy about the group or the charismatic leader. Another part of this is countering the love-bombing with shame instillation, convincing the victim that they are worthless, sin-filled, weak, and so forth, and that the cult/charismatic guru is the only person who understands them and can "save" them.

Over time, what develops is a trauma bond - a dedication to the group or leader no matter how abusive they become. By this point the group/leader has broken down their self-esteem to the point that their only sense of self is in connection to the group or leader. Even when horribly abused, it will be because they are not good enough, not because the group/leader is abusive (see Andrew Cohen, Adi Da, and many others).

This is also a very common pattern in child molesters who groom their victims over time. By the time the victims get help, they will legitimately love the perpetrator even while knowing they have been abused.

Same thing in cults. Same thing in intelligent psychopaths/sociopaths.

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Followers tend to be wounded people - leaders are also wounded, but they seek control of others to boost their sense of self (their narcissism comes from an inner sense of worthlessness and neediness). Followers need acceptance and community, quite often.

In general, I don't think the victims are sociopaths, although this can certainly be the case. Sally Kempton is the best example of this in her rabid defense of Swami Muktananda when his sexual abuse of students (some possibly minors) was exposed (see quote below). A couple of decades later, she became associated with the former Rabbi Marc Gafni, a guru well-known for his abuse and sexual exploitation of students over the course of his career as a religious/spiritual guru. Each time Gafni has been exposed, she had adamantly defended him, just as she did with Muktananda.

This passage is from an article called "O Guru, Guru, Guru" from The New Yorker - which exposes Sally Kempton's defense of Swami Muktananda:
"Durgananda called the accusations "laughable" and "ridiculous." Had they been true, she said, Muktananda would not have been able to go on giving shaktipat and the organization would not have continued to be as healthy as it was. Recently, however, I spoke with two longtime SYDA meditation teachers with well established academic and professional careers as psychotherapists, who say that Durgananda sounded a different note with them. They told me that last winter they had investigated some of the allegations, had sadly concluded that they were true, and, in May of this year, confronted Durgananda and another swami, demanding to know why the truth had been kept from them for so many years. The confrontation occurred away from the ashram, and this time, according to the therapists, Durgananda did not say that the allegations were false. Durgananda told the therapists that she knew a number of the women quite well and was convinced that whatever had happened had been beneficial to them, but that the swamis had never talked about it, because they thought it would be more appropriate to be "discreet." The therapists have now left SYDA. When I phoned Durgananda and told her what they had said to me, she said, "My memory is that I did deny it to them," and she added that, whether the allegations were "true or not, it doesn't really change our understanding of Baba."

As disturbing as the sexual allegations were, Michael Dinga, the former SYDA Foundation trustee, and other ex-devotees gave Rodarmor equally disturbing descriptions of strong-arm tactics used to hush up ex-devotees or punish them for disloyalty. Over the years, the ex-devotees said, various "enforcers" confronted and threatened those not in SYDA's favor. Dinga and his wife, Chandra, told Rodarmor that they were subjected to months of harassment."

In this instance, Kempton is both victim and perpetrator.

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To understand how cults and charismatic psychopaths control and manipulate their victims, one would benefit greatly from becoming familiar with Steven Hassan's BITE model of mind control:

Freedom of MInd BITE Model of Cult Expert Steve Hassan
I. Behavior Control
II. Information Control
III. Thought Control
IV. Emotional Control

Behavior Control

1. Regulate individual’s physical reality
2. Dictate where, how, and with whom the member lives and associates or isolates
3. When, how and with whom the member has sex
4. Control types of clothing and hairstyles
5. Regulate diet - food and drink, hunger and/or fasting
6. Manipulation and deprivation of sleep
7. Financial exploitation, manipulation or dependence
8. Restrict leisure, entertainment, vacation time
9. Major time spent with group indoctrination and rituals and/or self indoctrination including the Internet
10. Permission required for major decisions
11. Thoughts, feelings, and activities (of self and others) reported to superiors
12. Rewards and punishments used to modify behaviors, both positive and negative
13. Discourage individualism, encourage group-think
14. Impose rigid rules and regulations
15. Instill dependency and obedience

Information Control

1. Deception:
    a. Deliberately withhold information
    b. Distort information to make it more acceptable
    c. Systematically lie to the cult member

2. Minimize or discourage access to non-cult sources of information, including:
    a. Internet, TV, radio, books, articles, newspapers, magazines, other media
    b. Critical information
    c. Former members

    d. Keep members busy so they don’t have time to think and investigate
    e. Control through cell phone with texting, calls, internet tracking

3. Compartmentalize information into Outsider vs. Insider doctrines
    a. Ensure that information is not freely accessible
    b. Control information at different levels and missions within group
    c. Allow only leadership to decide who needs to know what and when

4. Encourage spying on other members
    a. Impose a buddy system to monitor and control member
    b.Report deviant thoughts, feelings and actions to leadership

    c. Ensure that individual behavior is monitored by group
5. Extensive use of cult-generated information and propaganda, including:
    a. Newsletters, magazines, journals, audiotapes, videotapes, YouTube, movies and other media
    b.Misquoting statements or using them out of context from non-cult sources

6. Unethical use of confession
    a. Information about sins used to disrupt and/or dissolve identity boundaries
    b. Withholding forgiveness or absolution
    c. Manipulation of memory, possible false memories

Thought Control

1. Require members to internalize the group’s doctrine as truth
    a. Adopting the group's ‘map of reality’ as reality
    b. Instill black and white thinking
    c. Decide between good vs. evil
    d. Organize people into us vs. them (insiders vs. outsiders)

2.Change person’s name and identity
3. Use of loaded language and clich├ęs which constrict knowledge, stop critical thoughts and reduce complexities into platitudinous buzz words
4. Encourage only ‘good and proper’ thoughts
5. Hypnotic techniques are used to alter mental states, undermine critical thinking and even to age regress the member
6. Memories are manipulated and false memories are created
7. Teaching thought-stopping techniques which shut down reality testing by stopping negative thoughts and allowing only positive thoughts, including:
    a. Denial, rationalization, justification, wishful thinking
    b. Chanting
    c. Meditating
    d. Praying
    e. Speaking in tongues
    f. Singing or humming

8. Rejection of rational analysis, critical thinking, constructive criticism
9. Forbid critical questions about leader, doctrine, or policy allowed
10. Labeling alternative belief systems as illegitimate, evil, or not useful

Emotional Control

1. Manipulate and narrow the range of feelings – some emotions and/or needs are deemed as evil, wrong or selfish
2. Teach emotion-stopping techniques to block feelings of homesickness, anger, doubt
3. Make the person feel that problems are always their own fault, never the leader’s or the group’s fault
4. Promote feelings of guilt or unworthiness, such as
    a. Identity guilt
    b. You are not living up to your potential
    c. Your family is deficient
    d. Your past is suspect
    e. Your affiliations are unwise
    f. Your thoughts, feelings, actions are irrelevant or selfish
    g. Social guilt
    h. Historical guilt

5. Instill fear, such as fear of:
    a. Thinking independently
    b. The outside world
    c. Enemies
    d. Losing one’s salvation
    e. Leaving or being shunned by the group
    f. Other’s disapproval

6. Extremes of emotional highs and lows – love bombing and praise one moment and then declaring you are horrible sinner
7. Ritualistic and sometimes public confession of sins
8. Phobia indoctrination: inculcating irrational fears about leaving the group or questioning the leader’s authority
    a. No happiness or fulfillment possible outside of the group
    b. Terrible consequences if you leave: hell, demon possession, incurable diseases, accidents, suicide, insanity, 10,000 reincarnations, etc.
    c. Shunning of those who leave; fear of being rejected by friends, peers, and family
    d. Never a legitimate reason to leave; those who leave are weak, undisciplined, unspiritual, worldly, brainwashed by family or counselor, or seduced by money, sex, or rock and roll
    e. Threats of harm to ex-member and family