Family: The Prototypical Cult

[Written around 2005.]

Cults are manifestations of the worst of the family system. They adhere to the same underlying dynamics of families but replace familial depression with an alluring, grandiose face, which is why so many underdeveloped souls seeking love swim in and get ensnared in their tentacles. And uncomfortable as it is to get swallowed by the beast, it’s an old and familiar tale – an adult recreation of the child’s dilemma of needing to fit into his family at all costs in order to survive.

In the family, parents are the cult leaders. To the child their word is law, their perceptions reality, and their definition of truth, however twisted, absolute. Parents have a power relatively greater than any the child will ever come to meet in the rest of his life. Their behavior sketches his basic template of God, and he bows before it with the passion of the devoted. And if he doesn’t bow, he gets forced to bow, and learns to accept his bondage as normal. To satisfy his needs he must bend the zeal of his personality to their limitations – that or face their rejection, which causes him a fear so basic and crippling and annihilating he cannot dare risk it. He is at their mercy, and ultimately the mercy of their maturity. If they are relatively mature he is fortunate; if not he is in serious trouble. Either way, beyond the borders of their maturity he is trapped, and they, like Jim Jones, can put whatever they want in his Kool-Aid.

He is theirs to manipulate, and they must to the degree that their unconscious needs demand. He is born lacking a respect for their buried trauma and their desperation to heal it, and every time his honest expression of life force unknowingly triggers it he threatens them terribly. In protection of their false selves they make it their mission to break his spirit of its desire to roam free. They train him on where he is forbidden to go and they use methods employing a degree of force tailored to the extent of their denial and the extent of his passion for remaining true to his instincts. The most emotionally damaged parents manipulate and traumatize him the most, often completely brainwashing him into an emotional numbness that paves the way for extreme future exploitation.

Unlike organized cults that have to instill some degree of psychological dependence in their followers through cruel and clever tactics, parents have it far easier, because their children are born psychologically dependent. They’re more malleable than the most needy and troubled of adults. Jim Jones, whose charisma and savvy won him heavy support from major California politicians – quite a feat! – at least had to be brilliant, persuasive, and creative to lead his followers astray. Any old fool can become a parent and manipulate his kid to kingdom come. The kid may rebel later on, but for a few good years he’s hooked through the gills.

As the saying goes, power corrupts. Everyone not fully enlightened (myself included) is bound to act out some degree of cult leader dynamics with those over whom he wields power. This becomes especially dangerous in relationships where a greater dependency is inherent. This goes for many therapists, who cull bevies of blind devotees who progressively lose their autonomy, as well as for teachers, religious leaders, partners, bosses, 12-step sponsors, writers, and even friends. The not-fully-reflective simply cannot resist the temptation to act out when offered the chance.

But the reflective have no choice but to resist. As their inner light leads them out of the maze of their traumas they access a long-buried spiritual kernel for a new interactive blueprint, one in which manipulating others disgusts their ethical sense. That kernel holds the essence of their honest self, a complete genetic code for a new species and new world. As they make headway toward autonomy they find themselves increasingly vaccinated against falling prey to cult leaders, because the only leader they need is the one living in their own breast. Emotional autonomy is the basic consequence of individuation from the family. Once that cult is rejected, all others are sure to follow.

2 thoughts on “Family: The Prototypical Cult

  1. Interesting idea.

    When I talk publicly about my parents drawbacks, and not in comdemning or overtly angry ways, my brother gets angry. He cannot bear too much, well any, reality about the situation to surface and risk being aired.

    So thanks for this.

    On the other hand I have been reading a manual for group work today that says every group goes through the dependency, rebellion, inter dependency stages and that group leaders are inevitably thought of as God like, then bitched about and then, if the leader has enough humility, every one grows, including the leader. It is nearly always a painful but growth full experience for everyone. Good leaders eventually make themselves irrelevant, just as good parents do as group members/children, become confident enough to no longer need the leader/parents.

  2. Daniel,
    In response to this essay, let me please ask you
    What is your opinion on Gnosticism, if any?
    Many thanks & good wishes,

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