I got angry and embarrassed this week while reading about the recruitment process for a high control group (cult) or cult-like group.[i] I am embarrassed because I served as a recruiter. I did the love bombing; I showed the keen interest in the visitor. I am angry because when I escaped from one controlling group, I fell under the sway of another group, who also love bombed me and recruited me.
Love bombing refers to the high amount of attention that is shown to a potential recruit, and the limited information given the recruit, that is designed to pressure them to cross the line from curiosity to group membership. Love bombing is literally being overly friendly, feigning friendship, for the sole purpose of recruitment. Love bombing is conditional love and conditional interest. If the potential recruit expresses doubt or disinterest, they will be pressured with more information or abandoned as a threat.
I love bombed people. We were told how to respond to people who visited. We would talk with our friends and tell them, I am bringing someone new. Then when I did, my friends lavished special interest. We were taught to warn newbies that outsiders would tell lies about us, and that this was proof we were god’s people. The potential recruit was warned that their family would not be happy to hear they were studying with us. It was also designed to hide less desirable facts, and to be emotionally attractive while overriding the thinking part of a person.
After I left my childhood faith, I was vulnerable due to recently losing my family and friends. I was recruited my first day on campus. I was called. People spent time with me. One hundred people told me they were praying for me. At the time, I felt very flattered. The people told me that what I left was a cult, and that what they offered was a “relationship” not a religion. At times, I felt like I was an animal at a zoo, that my cult past was exotic, and that was why people were curious. Looking back, there was a lot of effort put into getting me to attend my first bible study and then mid-week service. The purpose was to get me to say the sinner's prayer, If I had not done it, I am positive the attention would have faded.
In both cases, the love bombing was the first step in the recruitment process. At University, I had to be separated from others before I could become entrenched in the group. Once I made that commitment, the group started indoctrination. They started applying pressure to conform. It was an erasure of my individuality. My self-esteem obliterated through teaching and bible verses. I was trained to use the language of the group, use only the bible verses the group focused on, and mold myself into conformity. It was as if the group’s tentacles started wrapping around me, squeezing, until less and less of me showed.
I curbed my own thoughts. Stopped asking questions. Used the language of the group, and hid the areas where I disagreed. I listened to them, followed their call on my life. I moved hundreds of miles to serve where need was greater. Left my home to go to seminary. I dressed like they did, talked about God, spent money and time on group activities. I pretended everything the group said and did was reasonable, but it was not.
Secretly, I kept asking questions and I started awakening. After leaving seminary, I had to start from square one. Who was I without the cult of my childhood? Who was I without evangelical Christianity? What did I believe? I lost two groups of friends over the course of a decade. It was gut wrenching and all consuming. I had to work with therapists for quite a while for my authentic self to emerge. It took a long time to make new friends.
Reading about the indoctrination and recruitment process reminds me that I was victimized by people with ulterior motives. Most of them abandoned me as l worked to reclaim my life.
Some areas of healing I have worked through are:
Determining what I value
Build up my self-esteem; love myself.
Setting my own life goals
Picking a career that is meaningful to me
Using my time as I want to; filling up time after the regimented schedule required by the group
Learning to deal with fears and anxiety; learning to self sooth, developing coping skills
Learning how to create relationships based on trust and mutual respect
Learning to voice my opinion and not be subservient
If you have made your break from a controlling, cult-like group, it helps to spend time being curious and getting to know yourself. Remind yourself that your rights were violated and taking time to heal is necessary. Read about how cults influence people; you can avoid further recruitment, but also understand how you were manipulated. You can learn to spot the techniques and teachings that harmed you. Understanding the manipulation makes it easier to let go of toxic beliefs. It took a while to be indoctrinated and captive; it will take a while to heal. Be patient. It does get better. Invest as much in your healing, as the group made you invest in them. It’s your life and you are worth it.
[i] A group of us are reading Bonnie Zieman’s book, Cracking the Cult Code for Therapists: What every cult victim wants their therapist to know. In Chapters 1-7 we explored the recruitment process and how people get indoctrinated. It opened my eyes in a new way as to recruitment and indoctrination. Ms. Zieman also has books on how to heal from cults and other controlling groups.
My blogs take on all topics related to recovery, including commentary on the intersection of spiritual abuse and current events.
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