In 2016, I started writing a book. Part cult memoir, part research & most importantly, part recovery guide, I’m calling it The Gentle Souls Revolution. I just sent my completed manuscript to the proofreader. Fingers crossed, I will publish it this fall.
While writing I came to my own definition of the word Cult:
a group-perpetrated socio-pathology in which a narcissistic leader fabricates a self-aggrandizing tale, attracts adherents & then directs his/her well-intended believers, as the cast and crew, to act out his or her delusions of grandeur, in a theater of absurdity, produced for an audience of one.
All narcissistic relationships are fictional fiefdoms — narcissists desperately need their delusions of grandeur. So they target, manipulate and assert power over others. Narcissists need others to cater to their needs.
That’s why, if you’re recovering from your “school” misadventure (or any other cult) I recommend the podcast Navigating Narcissism.
In the episode, No Such Thing as a Good Cult, narcissism expert Dr. Ramani Durvursula interviews film maker and NXIVM whistle-blower, Mark Vicente. The parallels between Raniere/NXVIM & Sharon/Robert/ “school” are obvious:
1) The “hope” market: “School” & NXIVM both marketed hope to seekers & idealists. People who were seeking meaningful lives and community and struggled with their own sense of worth the most were more vulnerable.
Vicente was in search of human goodness & he suffered from the all-too familiar “Never good enough syndrome.” His film What the Bleep Do We Know, popular in new age circles, made him a public figure. His spoke of his dream was to “…use media to make the world better” in various interviews. NXIVM recruiters listened. The cult sought him out & groomed him – He told Dr. Ramani, “They studied me very carefully …they told me everything that I wanted to hear.”
2) The love bombing: Like my “school” recruiter (also known as “new friend”) his recruiter got to know him & customized the bait: We really see you! We believe in you! We can help you do the thing, become the person & realize your potential. We applaud your dream. We are aligned with you!
Cults/narcissists leverage hopes. This tactic has a name: future faking. They promise the moon, but never deliver, because they are promising a fiction. The point is to leverage the fiction and use your needs against you. They claim that you’ll get the moon, if you work hard enough. You earn it by (as they said in “school”) “working on yourself.” Over time, it becomes clear that you can never do or be enough. That moon will always be out of reach.
3) The grooming: Vicente calls this process “Data-mining insecurities …” Pathologically selfish people, or social groups, present what you want to see, convince you to trust them and then gather intel on your vulnerabilities. Then they weaponize your vulnerabilities. They all claim that if you quit trying to earn the moon, you let down your (again, in “school” language) yourself, your “essence friends” & teachers.
4) The cultic identity theft: Vicente calls this, Codified gaslighting. Cults & narcissists tell you that normal emotions are only for the lowly, proletariat. You are supposed to float above your feelings, dismiss and disregard them. Emotions are only for the “inferior”. When you deny your emotions, you deny your own healthy internal signals. This gives abusive people license to abuse. When you express healthy angry or hurt, they frame it as proof that you are flawed. You need to “work harder”. You need to “fix your flaw.” If you’re really committed you will “do what it takes.”
“School” called this the fatal flaw and /or the essence flaw. All cults practice codified gaslighting, i.e. identity theft. In School, teachers characterized normal human responses, emotions, thoughts, perceptions as “suspicious sets of I’s,” or “lazy I’s,” or “denying force.”
5) The self-gaslighting: Every former member, or survivor of narcissistic abuse, I’ve spoken with to date, describes self-gaslighting. They internalize the gaslighting. They doubt themselves and question their own sanity. It’s easier to control people who are insecure & scrambling to fix their “flaw(s)”: “how am I seeing the world that’s inaccurate?” They start to deny themselves.
Eventually, the tradeoff becomes group or self–you can’t have both.
Vicente’s recovery also followed a familiar path. It reflected my recovery process.
1) He faced the shock and accepted the traumatic betrayal. He let go of a dream, a belief in the allegedly altruistic mission. This is especially difficult when surrounded by people who are still clinging to that belief. That is why people struggle with staying or leaving.
Vicente said, “I wanted there to be goodness … .” He saw that Raniere and his top lieutenants were hijacking his wish to create goodness and funneling it into Raneire’s self-aggrandizing delusion.
Vicente explained that accepting traumatic betrayal feels threatening to the self. He said, “You’re trying to keep your psyche glued together, when you know, on a very deep level, that something’s not right.”
I remember clinging to “school’s” fiction, until I no longer had the energy. The irony, I discovered, was that it was the letting go and accepting that the leaders betrayed me, intentionally, that saved my sanity.
2) He accepted NXIVM leaders intentionally deceived him, to usurp his talent, passion, money, time, energy and everything else. These a**holes break concepts of love, goodness and trust. It is a loss of innocence and is painful to face. But, once you do, a lot of other things start to come together and make sense.
That’s when you begin trusting yourself over the cult / narcissist–a critical piece in recovery. When I admitted to myself that Robert never cared about me, my mind started reintegrating.
Clarity replace my confusion. Inner conflict fell away. My mind quieted and calmed. I found peace.
Facing that heartbreak, empowered me to put my psyche back together again.
3) When Vicente let go of the dream of creating goodness in the world through NXIVM, he said, “I no longer felt crazy. Because I had felt crazy for 12 years.”
4) He worked through the denial and made space for the heartbreak. Then came healthy rage, “Something had been done to me. I’d been damaged.”
My parallel version came when I declared to myself, No More Secrets. “School’s” secrets protect Sharan and Robert and damaged everyone else.
5) Rage led to the obsessive research and reading into narcissism and cults. The psycho-education was critical. All cults and narcissistic abusers use the same tactics. Once you know this you can protect yourself.
Betrayal trauma is surreal. The pain is emotional and psychological. You must accept that you trusted untrustworthy people. You trusted people who were so endlessly self-serving that they were callous to you. Pathologically narcissistic people aren’t capable of caring about others. They are impervious to other people’s suffering.
If you are a Gentle Soul the concept of such callousness seems impossible. Sadly, not only is it possible, but we’re seeing increasing evidence of the selfish and the stupid inflicting all kinds of societal damage without a care in the world. You will often hear the selfish and the stupid say things like, “Well, it doesn’t effect me.”
The silver lining: once you accept that this evil does exist and you know how to spot the danger signals, you have the tools that you need. You will recognize these parasites sooner and realize that these people deserve, exactly, nothing from you.
The Gentle Souls Revolution is a book written for the Gentle Souls; the empathic people who, like me, (unfortunately) trusted untrustworthy people–it details tools for Self Recovery and Self Preservation. The headline is that the revolution starts with boundaries — just say no.
So, more to come in the near future.