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The Family Connection: When a cult may not be your worst enemy

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 When A Cult May Not Be Your Worst Enemy

by Randall Watters

Any study of the cult phenomena should have a chapter on understanding human nature, especially with regards to the family unit. If one can understand the dynamics of power and control in the family, one is much better equipped to help dissolve a family member's allegiance to a destructive cult. This is particularly the case where one's husband or wife is involved in a cult.

It is commonly accepted in all cultures that the family is the basic unit, the fundamental building block of human society. Within this miniature universe we call a family, there is one designated as the leader (typically the father). In reality, however, "leadership" is exercised in various forms by all of the family members from time to time. (Even young children can be quite adept at directing an evening's activities!)

Each member of the family finds a niche that he/she can comfortably operate in, and receive a measure of acceptance/approval from other members of the family. Each is allowed to exercise a certain amount of control over the other, though probably not in equal proportion. If members of the family are made to feel helpless, or they sense a lack of control ordinarily deemed necessary to remain sane and psychologically healthy, they may discover new ways to gain control as a form of protection.

Sounds complex, but it's not. Note the following example, based on a true story: The husband is a lawyer, the wife a homemaker. As the husband's career prospered, he found it necessary to spend more time working than formerly, creating a sense of abandonment in his wife, who finds she must raise two children virtually by herself. The husband was raised a Catholic, and although attempting to raise the family Catholic, the wife found a better source of friendship when the Witnesses came to her door. (A person that is lonely and insecure will sometimes overlook a good many critical questions when it comes to accepting new friends.)

Joan opened her arms to the friendly Witnesses at a time in her life when she was becoming increasingly unsure of her marriage, and felt a growing concern for the everlasting fate of herself and her children. She took the bait offered by the Watchtower and began studying with them, progressing rapidly. Though she was careful to keep her studying with the Witnesses hid from her husband, Joan began to feel a new sense of power and control in her life that she had not previously experienced. She now had hope for the future in a paradise earth, with or without her husband. If she raised up her children in the "mental regulating of Jehovah," they would be safe come Armageddon. Even if she fell short in the end, at least her children would be saved. This new hope, refreshed regularly by her association with the Witnesses at the Kingdom Hall and in her home study, became like a drug that enabled her to live a new life, and unlike chemical drugs, it came from within her, taking the form of spirituality.

Eventually her husband found out that she had been studying with the Witnesses and was indeed going to get baptized! He hired an exit-counselor immediately to get her out of the Witnesses.

One thing must be understood at this point, which is typically overlooked. If a loved one has "finally" found a way to cope with life (chemical drugs, alcohol, and even religion), and this new direction has the characteristics of a drug-like euphoria or greatly-increased sense of personal power (i.e., more confidence, stability, security), then

(1) one cannot just take it away from the person without a fight. Their newfound faith and world view have become their predominate motivation in life; everything else is subservient to it. All kinds of things can potentially be "swept under the rug" in order to maintain this euphoric sense of empowerment.

(2) more often than not, the frantic mate (or parent) is partly responsible for their loved one's embracing of a new control mechanism. Perhaps they were not trusted with any decisions, were verbally abused or ignored, or restricted by unkind or even unspoken rules. This gave them a sense of inadequacy. Or perhaps their mate is suspected of cheating on them, or no longer loves them, etc. Their new idealism brings a sense of meaning to life that appears to be the only thing that will enable them to keep their sanity under the circumstances.. And then, the one person who "caused" the unpleasant state of mind in the first place now wants to "violently take away" the only hope they have ever had? Not on your life, mister! A martyr is born.