Notes from Dallas 3

Dallas2As I write this at 5.00 am American time while waiting to leave the hotel and travel home, I realise that if I leave writing something till later, it may never get written. I am expecting a two day recovery period from jet lag when I reach the UK and that will not be the best time to be putting things on to the blog. So once again I am going to try and assemble a few scattered thoughts from this conference.

One of the things that I have noticed in random conversations with conference participants is the way that much of the ‘cult’ experience seems to centre round ‘bible-based’ groups. In other words, there seems to be a shift from the old style Hindu-based cults to the new evangelical groups which exist in their thousands here in the US. It is not surprising that not a few of these are cash cows and narcissistic vanity trips for their leaders. When I speak to individuals about their journeys, they often start by using that familiar expression ‘bible church’. Having heard from quite different people disturbingly predictable accounts of these groups, I find that my interest is far more in the recovery process that may have been going on for a year, five years or ten years or more. Just as the tools of enslavement in a cultic group seem to be fairly universal, so the recoveries told speak of the unique properties of every individual. In summary cults create clones but recovery allows the blossoming of individual personality.

The seminar on conversion and de-conversion was not as profitable as I had hoped. It was an attempt by the organisation to see whether it could draw together the expertise of the participants to see if a ‘product’ could be identified which could be offered to government agencies in their fight against terrorist extremism. My only contribution was to point out that there was in the Christian tradition such a thing as healthy conversion. It is important to recognise amid all the aberrations of ‘mind-control’ and extreme influence that there is a healthy model of being taken into a more open loving mode of functioning that does not require a surrender of reason to a powerful personality. One thing that did become clear is how difficult governments are finding it to fight terrorism when the mental processes involved in becoming an extremist are so poorly understood. Both the British and American governments have, over the years, operated an extremely tolerant attitude towards religious ideas and they do not know how to cope when that same religion turns toxic and dangerous. When we heard about the ‘Prevent’ strategy in Britain, I wondered how the dominant model that has existed for decades in the UK which describes all religion in sociological detached terms is able to adapt to a new reality.

The shift that I mentioned above that cults are more commonly to be found in ‘bible-based’ environments allows me to feel that I have a place in this assembly. Speaking personally, I find that the dynamics that operate in these groups is far easier to understand than say, ten years ago. Most people I discussed the question of these dynamics seemed to understand about narcissism being involved in the process and everyone seems to have watched a lecture on Youtube by one Daniel Shaw, a New York psychiatrist, on this topic. He has coined the now fashionable expression (in these circles at least) of ‘traumatising narcissist’. This captures the fact that narcissism is normally involved in leader-led dynamics and that it is simultaneously harmful to those caught up in it. This point is not just true for some Christian leaders but for all cultic leaders. A book that I used in writing Ungodly Fear called the Guru Papers was known by two people who were survivors of Indian cults. This book pointed out the further point that all leaders, however apparently holy and detached, still needed to be needed. In other words, no human being can ever escape the dynamics of human attachment. The claims of being able to avoid such attachment are, in other words, false. In short the spiritual claims of all religious leader need to be scrutinised and the cant and hypocrisy of their claims needs to be grounded on a more solid and honest foundation. The narcissistic literature explores well the inner processes that are going on when people gather together to submit to a leader. That statement would probably apply as well to political gatherings as to religious.

Next year we are meeting in Bordeaux which will be a far easier journey for Europeans that this epic journey to Dallas. Still it has been a really worth-while experience as I have been allowed to connect with a group of people who share with my readers an understanding of how religion can go toxic and harm rather than heal people. While the present preoccupation of church leaders in Britain and elsewhere over sexual abuse of children in churches or cults has received attention, the focus here has been mainly on all the other ways that spiritual abuse happens in a church context. In summary, spiritual abuse damages the soul, the individuality and the creativity of the person. It is that that continues to exercise my concern and the focus of this blog. With the encouragement of my readers I shall continue to reflect and write on these issues. Perhaps in a small way we can shift opinion so that every church becomes a place of safety and healing. Let us pray that this may one day be a reality.

About Stephen Parsons

Stephen is a retired Anglican priest living at present in Northumberland. He has taken a special interest in the issues around health and healing in the Church but also when the Church is a place of harm and abuse. He has published books on both these issues and is at present particularly interested in understanding the psychological aspects of leadership and follower-ship in the Church. He is always interested in making contact with others who are concerned with these issues.

17 thoughts on “Notes from Dallas 3

  1. Thanks for this, Stephen. It sounds like some very interesting conversations can come out of this.

    Just to disagree for one moment, I was somewhat surprised that “One thing that did become clear is how difficult governments are finding it to fight terrorism when the mental processes involved in becoming an extremist are so poorly understood.” Having done research on MK-Ultra and Operation Paperclip there are mechanisms behind becoming an extremist that are very well understood and have been for many years. ( Trauma brainwashing)

    More difficult is the reconstruction of such a shattered person.

  2. Thanks Stephen for this and all your work. I would be interested in how you would relate this to Jesus: “all leaders, however apparently holy and detached, still needed to be needed. In other words, no human being can ever escape the dynamics of human attachment.”

  3. I don’t know what is going on over the moderation. It is certainly not set to moderate anything. Before I came on this morning I wrote these words in response to Christine on ‘brainwashing’.

    You are correct Christine in suggesting that ‘brainwashing’ is having a comeback but only, it seems, in some circles. Politicians have discovered it as well as the press but it is still highly resisted in other disciplines. The social psychologists resist it as do many psychologists. One professor at the conference pointed out, in discussing this issue, that a washed brain is not what we find in the mind of the terrorist; rather what we have is a filled up brain, full of dangerous ideas that are received from a religious/ political leader. There is much more to be said but I am just repeating the thought that however ‘fashionable’ a word becomes, there are always others who resist it from the perspective of another discipline.

  4. …and, of course, it depends on how you define, ‘brain washing’. Frankly, if you wash anything in West Australia it has the neurotoxin fluoride in it. To follow the analogy, it depends what you wash it in. That’s just semantics really. The MK-Ultra process meant traumatising the person so that their personalities ‘shattered’ into several different personalities that can be manipulated. I’m not surprised that psychologists distance themselves from this process (whether or not they have played a part in it.) But yes, however ‘fashionable’ a word becomes, there are always others who resist it from the perspective of another discipline. It happens that I have had experience of seeing people in a hypnotic state brought on by a key word which was uttered by someone who had not participated in the hypnosis. I think Brevik was in an altered state when he massacred people.

    Hey, and welcome back!

    1. Just curious, are you referring to the creation of Dissociative Identity Disorder (DID), formerly known as multiple personalities? I’m not trying to be sensational, though I know DID is a very controversial diagnosis. I was raised in a cult and have since had quite a bit of experience working with those who have, or who are attempting to, leave different high-demand religious groups. I have never heard anything about the idea that this occurred within cults on a regular basis. Is this in connection with SRA maybe?

      1. Yes, Dani. There is a range of conditions surrounding DID. Always, there will be others who find such conditions controversial. I think we have to remember that these labels are simply efforts to explain a set of symptoms that lie on a wide spectrum. I don’t have experience of this happening in cults but my bet is that it does. After all, the symptoms are there as a human protection and can therefore be encountered in a variety of contexts.

        I have no experience of SRA. What do you think ?

        1. Oh wow! I just spent 20 minutes crafting my reply only to have my computer eat it right up! So I guess I will start fresh! ha!

          I have quite a bit of experience with DID, having worked with a number of women with the condition. I refuse to call it a disorder as I see it as a beautiful, complex coping mechanism created by God to allow someone to survive the unthinkable. My only hesitation about the possibility of its creation within the context of a cult group, is that it is a condition that usually begins quite early in life, before the age of 5 or so. Once the ability or the propensity to dissociate and/or create alters to handle overwhelming situations or emotions develops, alters may be created at any time throughout the life of the host personality. I can see, if someone with DID were to become involved in a cult then the leadership could certainly manipulate that fact to spawn the creation of new alters but I don’t know of any cases where it developed originally in a teen or adult. I could be wrong about that but, if I am, I would say it is, most likely, a rare occurrence.

          As far as SRA goes, well that is a sticky area. I know it happens on some level, but I do not in any way believe it is the product of a widespread network that infiltrates every level of government and society as some of the conspiracy theorists would have us believe. Of course, the damage done to individuals caught up in it at any level, especially if they are children, is extensive and heart wrenching. I believe the truth is probably somewhere in the middle of “it doesn’t exit and never happens” and “There are millions caught up in it and they control society, governments, economies and murder thousands of innocent children every month”. It’s a difficult subject to tackle and it’s even harder to find a therapist, at least here in the US, who is willing to even consider speaking out on it or treating someone who claims to be a victim. I don’t know a single colleague willing to risk their reputation and career to do so, though some will admit privately to feeling the same way I do. It is a subject people love to sensationalize and, as such, I believe there are many who create these stories in an attempt to garner the attention and validation they crave. Of course, there are also those who are delusional and firmly believe the false memories of horrific SRA.

          I would be interested to hear your thoughts on both subjects…

          1. I’ve had Comments swallowed up by a computer too. Safest to draft it onto a word processing document and copy and paste onto here.

            I agree with your first paragraph, however, regarding “I refuse to call it a disorder as I see it as a beautiful, complex coping mechanism created by God to allow someone to survive the unthinkable.” Surely it is both? It is a coping mechanism for those who are too young/vulnerable to deal with a trauma. However, if the coping mechanism lasts too long and too inappropriately, it is termed a disorder . An adult who uses archaic coping mechanisms has had their growth and developmental stages thwarted and those archaic mechanisms used in the adult world can look very inappropriate. The point being that only once it is recognised for what it is can it then be treated.

            I have had no clinical experience of SRA. I have had some in the area of ‘recovered memories’ and it is indeed a difficult area to explain and treat. I have seen SRA people recover in the context of certain churches who know how to pray and know how to keep the sensational aspects of it in abeyance.

            1. Yes, I agree with you. I don’t think I articulated my point very well. If left untreated, I would consider DID a disorder, as well a beautiful survival mechanism created by the Lord. That God created some brains with this ability fascinates me.

              I have recently been working with a young woman who was raised in a cult who developed DID as a very young child due to extreme abuse before entering the cult. I have met quite a few alters that carry different traumas from her time there. We recently have uncovered some, I hate to use the word “programming”, but nothing else really fits. I have never dealt with anything like this before and I am scrambling to make connections with others who have successfully treated these sorts of things. When I began doing post-cult recovery work, I never thought I would run up against this sort of thing. I can find no one, that I can confirm as credible, who can advise me on this. As the lies taught her are dispatched with the truth of God, there is an alter that is becoming more and more agitated and I am beginning to be concerned for her safety. I have put every possible precaution in place, but as she shows no outward signs of distress or blatant self-harm intentions, there is little else I can do.
              If you are familiar with anyone doing this type of work, I would really appreciate the reference! At times I feel I am stumbling along in the dark on this one.

              1. Yes, so we are in agreement on the first point.

                Stumbling along in the dark is alright just so long as the Holy Spirit is there with you!

                As for a contact in this field of work, it depends which part of which country you’re in. We can only do so much with theoretical information. I believe in working in teams with people who have a proven track record. Hope this helps. (email me through Stephen if you prefer to maintain confidentiality.)

  5. I have just found the missing posts and have tried to release them! The only comment I have is that the programme may cut off comments over a certain length limit. Perhaps for the sake of the blog we should try to keep comments below 400 words. Anything longer than that could be submitted as a guest post. By the way I am intending to clean out all the comments made to the opening page. People who use small devices like telephones cannot see the rest of the site on the opening page because they have to scroll down 40+ comments to find anything else.

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