Cults are narcissists. Narcissists are cults. And their operations are more common than you think. Your vindictive mom, that unhealthy Tindr relationship or even a hypocritical YouTube guru: even if they never served you Kool-Aid you might have been a victim of mind-control. Here’s how to bounce back.
Cults have this reputation for something dark and twisted, extreme and secluded, off in a corner contemplating bliss or suicide or both. That weird reality would never happen to you, right? Or wait.
Maybe we’ve all been closer to that reality than we might think. Who hasn’t had those special moments, those ‘this is it’s?’ We’ve all pursued or felt we’d found or were close to that special something that promises happiness. It could have been just loyally loving your biological family, or meeting your life partner. It could have been discovering a new method for pursuing your goals, or scoring that fulfilling job or finding the place to live that just felt ‘right.’
And sometimes our experience was real and safe.
But for some of us, that key to happiness might have meant we were in the ‘love-bombing’ ‘honeymoon phase’ of being seduced, manipulated and brainwashed. And who’s to tell differently in the beginning? Especially if you were born there. A whole ‘nother article on that coming soon.
Point is, we all want to believe. It’s Darwinian. It helps us bond.
That mentality is what non-empathetic predators, the type that run cults and dysfunctional families and abusive relationships, prey on. They are narcissists and they are it at the root of all coercive control systems. Maybe that seemingly special rescuer or guru came along at a time in your life when you were already experiencing something horrible or traumatic or life-changing (that’s when predators prey). Maybe you were born into or raised in some idealistic dream of your parents’ and were left with the broken pieces, including your own identity (like me). Maybe you really just needed an anchor to hold on to. Whatever it was, your ‘best self,’ that you of purest intentions and sweetest emotions, may have been manipulated by a charismatic group or lover that professed to have your best interests in mind while nothing could have been further from the truth.
If this happened to you it feels like living in a dream and waking up to a nightmare. Nothing is scarier or more devastating and I feel for you. I’ve been there. And the worst part? In recovery, you struggle with your connection to yourself. It’s hard not to blame or distrust your own instincts if you go through something like this.
When we experience a traumatic, mind-control experience it’s normal to find ourselves depressed, even devastated after. We may understandably feel like we’ve lost the ability to think for ourselves. We may not even recognize our inner landscapes anymore, as if our own internal voice was replaced with the hypnotic one of our cult leader or former abusive partner or family member(s). We may feel horrified to realize we were, in fact, manipulated and used. Worst, we may feel disillusioned with love, loyalty and belief: those wonderful aspects of the human experience that sociopathic entities employ to their own malicious ends.
But I promise you CAN overcome these feelings and you CAN go on to live out the dreams you once had. Keep them alive. You’re going to be okay. The following 5 reminders are crucial, empowering steps I’ve learned on my own healing journey of recovery.
1. Your spiritual life or love life are far from ‘over.’ You don't have to throw the baby out with the bathwater. Just because something that helped and inspired you in a tough time turns dark and its negative sides are revealed doesn't mean that YOU personally weren't on a necessary and beneficial personal journey. This was just a bump (or a mountain) in the road, and now you can celebrate what you did learn and gain, get back to critical thinking and your own inner voice, and take this challenge as an opportunity for new growth.
2. Educate yourself on narcissism. Learn to spot the signs of these manipulative entities so you can send them far, far away next time they come creeping. Learn from what happened but don't spend all your time dwelling on it or sinking into a negative space of 'it's all bad now, all belief is brainwashing and suspect.’ That’s black and white thinking, the same kind of ‘all or nothing’ mentality used to hook you in the first place and that you’ve probably gotten used to operating within.
3. Put that time you put into the group or partner or might spend now in obsessively educating yourself on the patterns into INSTEAD getting to know and loving YOURSELF better. Self-care and healing from trauma is the only way to freedom (and I’m sorry if that kind of terminology is a trigger since so many cult leaders use this as a hook. There are actual ways that work. Join my FB page: ask me about them!). Remember, chances are, if you found yourself in this situation you are the soul-searching, heart on your sleeve type already so you can totally count on yourself already. See? That’s a silver lining on your self-doubt already as you take this next step upwards in your journey!
4. Don’t forget the shades of grey. Now that you’re away from the narcissistic, cultic entity you’re finally free from ‘all or nothing.’ In your newly revitalized reality, being open to all kinds of views and realities isn’t just okay, it’s healthy. Trust the larger process at play. Find the line between understanding what happened and dwelling in feelings of failure.
5. Remember, the fact you are feeling like this means you are a healthy person having a normal reaction to an abnormal situation. And there are so many more like you. It can help tremendously to find others who deeply understand and make you feel less alone as you go through this.
I'm so sorry you're experiencing one of the hardest things a human being can go through and I totally understand. There are more people than you can imagine out there with similar stories. They understand what you're going through too. Sign up for our Cult Recovery Facebook page, #MeTooCult here and start meeting some of them today.