I’ll preface this post by saying that, in accordance with the clinical research, I do not believe there are strong correlations between prior life experience and the likelihood that a person will join or stay in a cult (or “totalist”, or “high-demand” group.) What follows is a speculation, based on memory and anecdote, on why people who are already inside such a group may be more prone to the kind of enabling and moral harm that Facebook friend Joseph Teskey has described to me as “I Got Mine-ism”.
I Got Mine-ism is a defensive strategy by which a member who has not (or believes they have not) directly experienced abuse or institutional betrayal within the group deflects stories of abuse within the group by immediately self-referring, saying things like:
“I don’t know about other’s experience; I find/found the teacher/teachings to be profoundly helpful in my life.”
The statement is usually couched within an unwillingness to act on behalf of victims, or mitigate future harm.
In my own two cult experiences, I adopted the defence of I Got Mine-ism to varying degrees, and I remember many others who did as well. In the circle of people I’m thinking of, none of us (that I’m aware of) had prior experience with therapy. We had all come from family and social cultures in which that just wasn’t part of the wellness toolbox. When we gravitated towards the techniques of meditation and yoga offered by the groups, we found that they could have powerful self-regulatory effects we had never felt before, and we were hooked.
I believe that many of us were under the illusion that the meditative/yogic technique offered by the leader and validated by group propaganda was the key to our new-found capacity for self-regulation.
We did not understand that we’d been love-bombed, that we had acquired a new family and (false) safe haven in one fell blissful swoop. We didn’t understand that our internal changes were as much relational as they were intra-personal. The messaging was always singular and privatized:
“You can go within, you can find x, you can choose y, you can be responsible.”