Friday, April 13, 2007

Response to "Request for Help"

Response to Request for Help
Gina Catena, M.S.

Dear Ms. "X":

You lived as a second-hand cult member. Ouch! You survived a confusing and painful period with a loved one.

Please take whatever you find useful from below and discard the rest. You are not alone in the confusing period you lived. Nor are your children. There are many who struggle with similar situations.

You are affected by a psychological phenomenon that is not yet labeled by the American Psychological Association (APA). Some forward thinking therapists are studying this.

I expect there will eventually be a diagnosis category in Psychiatry's Diagnostic and Statistical Manual of Mental Disorders (DSM). Meanwhile, I choose to call this Cult Affected Personality Disorder (CAPD).

Dr. Philip Zimbardo and other leading psychologists and social psychologists have written extensively about cult thought reform. Very few have written about cult members' effects on loved ones.

Unlike other personality disorders, it is possible to recover from what I half-joking call CAPD. And like any other personality disorder, there is a broad spectrum of manifestations.

You are not crazy, even though you may have felt as if you were. You were given confusing mixed messages, and judgements that had nothing to do with objective reality.

With three generations of my family influenced by devout TMers, I likewise have ongoing influence from gradations of what you describe. There is always more to learn, and I am continually humbled by both our brains’ resilience and vulnerability.

TM practitioners have a broad expression spectrum. There are “lifers” on monastic programs who cannot function in the working world, to those barely affected who meditated for a few years but never disclosed their mantra.

You believe your ex-husband's noble intentions and well-rehearsed philosophy. The nobility contrasts greatly with his behavior. His intentions are good! This contrast creates dissonance in you, the outsider.

Some experts claim that cult members behave as those who have Borderline Personality Disorder (BPD). You can find help for living with a Borderline Personality Disorder person in your life through BPD Central.

IMHO, your ex was addicted to the "bliss of meditation" - his meditation endorphin induced high - offers helpful tips for recovering from trance-addiction.

His anger after meditation was likely in response to mental shock when jumping out of his trance state into full-on real functioning.

You asked how he could be so angry after meditating six hours daily for six years? That statement originates from TM's promises that prolonged meditations would magically dissolve inner anger. Not so.

In actuality meditating for six hours daily does not cure anger or frustration, if anything it will be the CAUSE of frustration when he tries to function in the real world (as a "householder" in TM terminology). Everyday life is a continual bombardment that interferes with the "feel the bliss."

Your husband believed that he wanted to "witness" life, to experience total bliss internally and observe the world around him. The Beatles described that state "and the eyes in his head see the world spinning round."

His failure to maintain that state when interacting with you, or anyone else, frustrated him! So, anger lashed out. His anger was his own frustration from being pulled out of trance.

He tries carefully to live "an evolutionary life in support of nature" such that the simplest variation from his narrow view could provoke anxiety, another cause of anger. You were the recipient because you happened to be there. Nothing more.

Of course, you didn't know that, and probably wondered what you did to provoke his anger. Merely asking him where the newspaper is could provoke agitation when he is in that state.

In my experience, any attempt at truly rational conversation with a devoted cult member will result in angry arguments. (read conversations in our "comments" and on TM online groups for ongoing examples).

Again, I acknowledge everyone's experience is unique. However, many have shared similar experiences with me.

There are many many such cases documented by the International Cultic Studies Association.

As to your theory of his frozen emotional development - I would say a resounding "Yes".. for political correctness, I should say "Probably".

Once again, ICSA studies found that cult members are regressed (or in your ex-husband's case frozen) at approximately the age of a fifteen. A devoted cult member will trust first and foremost in the cult leader(s), who are not held accountable to anyone. After all, to whom would a voice of God or spiritual Master be accountable?

A cult member who puts wholehearted trust in the cult leader(s), or methodology (Maharishi, SCI, and the lifestyle) as the answer to life problems is unable to navigate the difficult terrain of moral decisions, gradations of right and wrong and personal prioritization.

Trusting in this divine leadership, the cult member/devotee/thought reformed individual lives according to the group's higher purpose.

In TM this higher purpose manifests as a narcissistic drive to enlightenment and global world peace through large group meditations. The devout TMer believes in the nobility of these goals. S/he does not see the apparently narcissistic drive to maintain their trance-induced high.

Most who join cults are of above average intelligence, somewhat idealistic and were caught at a vulnerable time of life (IQ is not a protective factor for thought reform susceptibility). Many, as we know, continue to function well in the business world or other facets of their life. Many, however, fail abysmally. Just like any addiction manifestation spectrum.

The promised allure, like Pizarro's mythic fountain of youth, "TM is a scientific method for deep rest, increased intelligence, improved test scores, happiness, infinite support of the laws of nature, enlightenment, world peace, perfect health, flying, and invincibility” may entice someone at a vulnerable time of life. (Has MMY promised followers they can walk on water or rise from the dead yet?)

The lure of support from this noble group is slow but sure for those vulnerable to the trance state, or looking a higher meaning or perfect support group.

Arthur Deikman in "Them and Us" describes the lure to remain in
childlike innocence, trusting someone else to lead the way. He compares cult mentality to that of a child sleeping peacefully in the back seat of a car, trusting in the parent to drive safely.

True adulthood is not lived in the back seat of one's own life. True adulthood involves taking the driver's seat - usually without a roadmap. For someone who has been in a cult for decades, that IS frightening!

When leaving TM, the organization or the technique, a "walk away" has not necessarily left the mentality or neuro-programming that occurred during the years (decades?) of TM involvement. The depth of involvement will determine the extent of needed recovery. Many seek other so-called spiritual teachers to provide direction. Many become cult-hoppers after learning of TM’s false promises, only to commit themselves to another leader.

Undoing the brainwash takes concerted effort. Other studies show between 18 months to three years to undo the effects for someone who obtains appropriate exit counseling or self education about thought reform.

For someone who does not invest in cult-recovery, the patterns may continue as a permanent part of their personality. (See
Rick Ross' website for his booklist- unfortunately, Rick is upgrading his website and it may not be currently accessible.)

If your TMer left the Movement and technique, but has not learned what happened to him and how his mind and behavior were controlled for decades, he will continue to function as if still from the TM trance-induced mentality, regardless of what other form of meditation he practices.

Physical neural dendrites (brain cell branches) were formed permanently in his brain. The physical pathways will remain always. Those physical structures will continue to govern his brain functioning until alternative pathways are grown in his brain. I kid you not!

Like learning to ride a bicycle, or perform complicated ice skating stunts, growing new dendritic pathways, takes determination and repetition. Eventually the new patterns will run automatically. There will be an occasional reversion to old patterns when confronted with an unexpected trigger. A person can learn to identify when they are triggered, and compensate accordingly.

With appropriate exit counseling, or motivated retraining, he may become more well-adjusted. However you cannot impose that upon him. It is his choice to become well or not. It is hard work. TM training biased him against therapy or any psychological literature. Many leave TM and continue to function as emotional/psychological cripples for years.

There is some evidence to support "Cognitive Behavioral Therapy” as a helpful specialized therapy for former cultists attempting to retrain their brain.

Continuing with the cult-(non)functional member in your life is difficult. In my humble opinion, you took the only option that you could - you saved yourself and your sanity.

Your children will learn to function between you two. They deserve to love both their parents. They will have their own struggles with the situation.

Again, there are very few studies on children raised in cults, or by cult-affected parents. You may search the ICSA website for the few studies on the effects to children of dissociated parents.

I wish you well in your challenging path. Thank you, "X", for having the courage to voice what others experienced living with devout TMers, or with those who recently left TM after depths of involvement.


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