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February 18, 2011 / Man in the Mirror

Cult Leaders: Independent Thought

Is it good or bad to be independent? Unhealthy groups consider it bad when you make your own decisions that differ from the advice (which are actually dictates) of the director or disciple. They equate it with “insubordinate” or “uncooperative”. Guilt comes too by linking an independent action to ingratitude or blatant rebellion. For example, to make an independent decision to move to a different house or apartment would be considered a slap in the face to the chief who had been spending extra efforts to help a member make good decisions that had practical value and even “eternal significance.”

This personal decision, even though not intended to snub the leader, is considered to have caused an explosion of horrific magnitude. As a result, the individual will likely consult with the chief next time before making a decision, which makes the group member dependent on the approval and guidance of his master.

Therefore, the label of “independent” takes on a negative tone. You don’t want to be viewed in this way, so this kind of pressure eventually makes you dependent on the group for every decision such as what color of car to buy, how to arrange the furniture in your living room – areas over which they have no rightful jurisdiction. But because the group seems to be so caring and so committed, you come to believe that you are missing God’s will without their guidance. Therefore, “dependent” is viewed as positive but regresses you to a childlike state known as an abnormal dependency disorder. What’s normal is independence – a positive rather than a negative word – the nature of an adult who can take care of himself and doesn’t need everything done for him and every decision made for him. Getting advice and listening to advice is often expedient, but a well- adjusted adult seeks and considers advice without being very dependent upon it.

Abusive groups also use these kinds of labels to deflect attention away from bad leadership onto the one who is calling attention to the wrongs. For instance, someone “fell away” if he rejected the system of the group and left. He is portrayed as having fallen away from God and made to look evil when in fact he may be reacting to and exposing an evil system.

We all want to be accepted by those around us. Acceptance rather than rejection is what newcomers to a group or relationship encounter. Nevertheless, gradually, in an abusive environment, there is a shift, and one must conform to the leader’s programs, activities, ideology, and beliefs (whether legalistic or outright evil) in order to maintain acceptance.


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