Rigid beliefs entrap us just like a cult traps its members. Here’s how plus ten ways to set yourself free.
Right now we are in the process of tremendous transformation on just about every level.
Change affects each of us differently.
Some people thrive in chaos, others in predictable structure and routine. Most of us surf the middle, catching a ride on chaos for a while until we decide to seek the serene waters of routine.
What I keep seeing happen over and over again, especially since the rise of social media post-2010, is people clutching to their beliefs and white-knuckling them until the universe wiggles them free against their will.
Beliefs are used to create our reality. What we believe we create. It’s that simple. Beliefs are imprinted into our subconscious as we develop, primarily from the ages of 0 to 14.
However we grew up, whatever our experiences were, this informs how we perceive the world and ourselves in it. Our experiences build the architecture of our reality.
What seems to be happening in this time of great change, is an interesting phenomenon—a lot of the beliefs we thought to be “true” or “right” are proving to be otherwise. On the flip side, what was once deemed “false” and “evil” is now showing us another perspective. We don’t know what is right anymore and what is wrong. The lines are blurred.
When things change, we must adapt or die. Adaptation forces us to challenge our existing beliefs. It pushes us outside our comfort zone and demands that we become something new.
Unbeknownst to some of us, we are here to learn and evolve—that’s the natural process of life. Evolution is change, it is adaptation and it is also innovation. Why something so natural is so hard for us I will never understand. Yet another paradox!
But what I see happening out there in the wild world, is rather than allowing for this change to take place, people are clutching to their old beliefs in fear, not wanting to let go. Clutching provides some semblance of safety.
Guess what? Time’s up and you need to release your grip!
Are You In a Cult And Don’t Know It?
Don’t laugh, when you say the word cult, most people jump to Charles Manson, David Koresh or other infamous religious leaders. But if you explore what the word cult really means, you might be surprised.
According to Merriam-Webster, a cult can be defined as:
1: a religion regarded as unorthodox or spurious (such as the voodoo cult, a satanic cult)
2a: great devotion to a person, idea, object, movement, or work (such as a film or book) especially: such devotion is regarded as a literary or intellectual fad. b: the object of such devotion c: a usually small group of people characterized by such devotion (the singer’s cult of fans. The film has a cult following).
3: a system of religious beliefs and ritual (also: its body of adherents, the cult of Apollo)
4: formal religious veneration: WORSHIP
5: a system for the cure of disease based on dogma set forth by its promulgator health cults
Often, we stereotype the word “cult” to mean extreme or assign it to only refer to those in religious groups. But, if we explore the parameters of a cult even deeper, we will find that many parts of society can be considered or defined as being a cult.
Could we classify mainstream “groups” as cults? Or rather, could we classify members of these groups as extreme? Examples of mainstream cults or extremist beliefs could include: vegans, celebrities, corporate culture, medicine (pro-vax, anti-vax), women’s rights (pro-rights, pro-life), religion, health (yoga, pilates, Crossfit), sexual orientation, politics and even parenting styles.
Could any group that possesses a rigid perspective or belief be considered cultish?
According to a paper titled Cult Formation by psychiatrist Robert Jay Lifton, who once taught at Harvard Medical School, he delineated three primary characteristics, which are the most common features shared by destructive cults.
1. A charismatic leader, who increasingly becomes an object of worship as the general principles that may have originally sustained the group lose power. That is a living leader, who has no meaningful accountability and becomes the single most defining element of the group and its source of power and authority. Examples could include Donald Trump and Steve Jobs and certainly Adam Neumann of WeWork.
2. A process [of indoctrination or education is in use that can be seen as] coercive persuasion or thought reform [commonly called “brainwashing”]. The culmination of this process can be seen by members of the group often doing things that are not in their own best interest, but consistently in the best interest of the group and its leader. Fraternities use this process to “haze” new recruits.
3. Economic, sexual, and other exploitation of group members by the leader and the ruling coterie. Harvey Weinstein and the film industry.
While these are the ingredients for a destructive cult, the question still unanswered is, how do we have a group of people with similar beliefs and DON’T turn it into a cult? I often find myself joining groups and after a short while, finding the members too rigid and closed off to other ideas.
Some groups may not fit the definition of a cult but may pose potential risks for participants.
Here are 10 warning signs of a potentially unsafe group or leader.
- Absolute authoritarianism without meaningful accountability.
- No tolerance for questions or critical inquiry (meaning no other ideas are possible).
- No meaningful financial disclosure regarding budget or expenses, such as an independently audited financial statement.
- Unreasonable fear about the outside world, such as impending catastrophe, evil conspiracies and persecutions.
- There is no legitimate reason to leave, former followers are always wrong in leaving, negative or even evil.
- Former members often relate the same stories of abuse and reflect a similar pattern of grievances.
- There are records, books, news articles, or broadcast reports that document the abuses of the group/leader.
- Followers feel they can never be “good enough”.
- The group/leader is always right.
- The group/leader is the exclusive means of knowing “truth” or receiving validation, no other process of discovery is really acceptable or credible.
Are You an Accidental Cult Member?
I have unknowingly been a member of several cults throughout my life. I first noticed this while I was in school. I had a few teachers during my younger years that you could define as dangerous cult leaders based on the dogma they clung to (be quiet, sit still, memorize this, subjects pre-determined, etc).
I also found that working in corporate America was on par with being in a cult. I never understood why my job required me to also worship the company like it was some sort of god and the Board of Directors, its disciples. I was just there for a paycheck.
The health and wellness industry seems to be the strangest paradigm right now. I signed up for a course a few months ago and discovered that I had accidentally joined a cult. The teacher ticked all the cult leader boxes and the students seemed to be brainwashed into believing this was the only way to heal. If the students became practitioners of this particular modality, they were under the total control of the teacher.
This experience was eye-opening. I realized that if you are in a vulnerable state due to abuse, trauma or another psychological issue—or just alone—you are very susceptible to these cult-like groups who claim to be “healing.”
These types of healing groups, in particular, tend to feed on people who are looking to belong, who are seeking to find a place where they can be accepted. Cults are often propagated by people who are scared and seeking safety. And unfortunately, during times of great change, people go running to find safety (see Nazism after Germany’s economic fall-out post WWI).
Defining yourself based on the principles of the group allows you to bypass healing your trauma, discovering your values and understanding your authentic self—it gives you an automatic persona. It’s the easiest way to avoid self-development but is so often used as a way to promote self-development. If you don’t have the courage to forge your own path and figure out who you are, you could end up in a cult. Yes, you!
Is Your Inner Voice a Cult Leader?
What I found is that often these unsuspecting cult members have extremely strong inner critical voices—a result of a childhood that lacked true love and support. They are replacing their inner parent with the cult leader or the cult principles and living in accordance.
I’ve also found that many of these spiritual leaders or “gurus” claim to be uplifting people, but are they really? I don’t know for sure, but I think it’s important to always understand the intention behind someone’s motivation. Don’t listen to what they say, but rather look for patterns in their behavior. Words are deceptive, but actions never lie.
If you’re rigid and unbending, then most likely you’re running a negative inner script that isn’t you at all—let’s just call it what it is—a dangerous cult leader.
So what’s the next step? Kicking the cult out of your mind.
Cultivation is the Way Forward
If you find yourself a member of a group that doesn’t allow for freedom, autonomy, individualism and creativity, my advice is to get out now. Or if you’re living your life restricted and cut off from possibilities and potential, it’s time to re-write your inner script.
Join and belong to groups that accept you as you are and respect your ideas, beliefs and values. You should be able to be an individual within a group without bowing down to the demands. And most importantly, accept yourself.
Don’t get me wrong, I love structure and discipline, but power over is not that. Power over is all about control.
Cultivation by definition in Merriam-Webster means:
1: to prepare or prepare and use for the raising of crops also: to loosen or break up the soil about (growing plants)
2a: to foster the growth of b: CULTURE sense c: to improve by labor, care, or study: REFINE cultivate the mind
3: FURTHER, ENCOURAGE cultivate the arts
4: to seek the society of make friends with, looking for influential people to cultivate as friends
Cultivation is a loosening of the soil in order to plant new seeds. It is the loosening of ideas to open up to new beliefs, experiences, perspectives and people. Cultivation is growth, improvement and openness.
If your mind is open and growth-focused, this will serve your evolution. It will also serve the evolution of your business, family and other groups.
Yes, we are living in interesting times of massive change and disruption. But rather than cling to rigid beliefs that don’t serve you anymore, let go and surf the wave of chaos. Search for calmer waters by discovering your values, getting rid of negative inner voices and beliefs that prevent you from being your authentic self and accepting the transformation of not just yourself but the entire world.
10 Ways to Loosen the Grips of Your Inner Cult
- Be open to opposing ideas.
- Be led by empathy and compassion but maintain strong boundaries.
- Define and follow your personal values.
- Consume media and information from a variety of unbiased sources.
- Seek out diversity in all things.
- Surround yourself with people from different backgrounds, races, cultures and age groups.
- Stay curious and always ask why.
- Push yourself to experience things that scare you.
- Learn how to debate without getting emotional.
The best piece of advice I can give you is this: you’re probably wrong and you’ll realize it sooner than later. With age and wisdom comes the understanding that what you thought yesterday no longer applies today and that’s ok. The best way to live is to be flexible and change with the tide and accept that evolution is inevitable and cultivation is the goal.
If you want to change your life and remove your inner cult leader, book in for a Belief Hacking™ session to clear the blocks preventing you from experiencing the life you desire. Cultivate your mind, sew new seeds and become flexible and adaptable to thrive in these challenging times.