Anxiety and Decision-Making
began this workshop by identifying why they weren’t anxious while in
their cult. They recalled
the honeymoon or love bombing phase when everyone loved them and they
felt that they finally found a place where they belonged.
It felt so secure having such an important mission or purpose in
life. The cult provided enough expectations (at least in the beginning).
So long as the leader liked them or approved of their behavior, they
felt tremendous ease. When the leader disapproved of them, there were
usually ways to make amends or do penance for the wrongdoing.
The dynamics of the
group and the charisma of the leader often created emotional highs that
had never been achieved before. Accepting the leader’s world view
often allowed special protection from the evils of the world. In this
contrived cult world it is no wonder there was little room for anxiety.
It was systematically designed to be anxiety-free.
The next part of the
workshop focused on how and why anxiety crept into their cult world.
What started out as a
predictable and secure environment gradually evolved into confusion and
chaos. The rules they thought they could count on started changing. Soon
they entered the crazy place of not knowing the rules, which brought on
waves of anxiety.
change in their cult environment involved the persistent push for a
greater commitment. It always had to be more, and soon the members felt
overwhelmed and wondered if they could ever make it. Could they ever be
pure enough? Could they ever reach enlightenment? Their leaders were the
only proof that these standards were achievable.
Cult leaders used
various techniques to tighten their hold on the group. One of the more
effective was scapegoating. One member would be publicly humiliated in
front of the group. This created dread among the cultists because they
never knew when it would be their turn and never wanted to be used as a
members may see their leaders do unethical, illegal, or immoral things
and doubts creep in. They may take the risk of questioning rules,
actions, or beliefs. Taking this risk allows the possibility of losing
their purpose in life, losing their spiritual path, or losing their god.
Those cultists who
are not ready to assume such a great loss often snap into a state of
cognitive dissonance. The leader may require certain behavior that
violates the member’s conscience. The cult’s actions and the
member’s thoughts are not consistent. What will the member do?
Resolving this dilemma is usually predictable in cult environments. The
anxiety of living in this dissonant state is so great that members will
change their thoughts. They try to avoid the split between thoughts and
behavior and choose consistency. Members cannot change the cult’s
required behavior, but they can change their thoughts about it.
The last discussion
on this topic summarized how ex-members were reducing their anxiety and
improving their decision making abilities in order to recover. Some
techniques mentioned were: making lists, journaling, gathering
information, and frequent reality-checking. Tolerance and patience were
very important to rebuild self-esteem and eventually trust in oneself.
They gave themselves adequate time to make decisions and allowed
mistakes. Encouragement from loved ones and themselves was also
Former members agreed
that they had learned the skill of discernment from their cult
experience. They were more cautious and discriminating in many areas of
their lives. Using discernment helps reduce anxiety and contributes to
better decisions in their daily lives, but they all agreed that cult
membership was an overwhelming price to pay for these benefits.