Cults II: The Cult of Self

NOTE: This entry does not refer to any particular person or group, and the second person personal pronoun “you” is used as a generic universal. The post presents possible speculations about coping with stress one may make based on information from the discipline of psychology.

Do you distort reality and engage in twisted thinking just to hold on to a belief? Would you rather “be right” than “do right”? Is it hard for you to change your beliefs when others say your actions in service of your beliefs are irrational? It’s difficult to face these questions, but if examine objective evidence about your beliefs and discover you’re on shaky ground; if you hear friends you respect telling you often that you’re thinking irrationally; if you find yourself wanting to receive information only from those who agree with your way of thinking; if you’re troubled by emotional outbursts of anger, anxiety, jealousy, and paranoid accusations against those who disagree with you – well, if those descriptions fit you, you might consider that your thinking is cult-like, that you have become excessively dependent on a cult that is telling you what to believe.

You will likely refuse to accept this cult explanation, because – as we saw in last week’s post – cult devotion and obedience are extremely resistant to criticism or change. Why? The cult and your sense of purpose, the cult and your identity, the cult and your values – they have all merged into a single entity: “Self” and “Cult” have blended into one with no border separating them. In this case you are not really a member of some external cult. No, you are a member of the Cult of Self. Asking you to reject your cult values, principles, emotions, and ways of thinking is asking you to reject who you are. That will never work because your Cult of Self is how you hide your unresolved conflicts and maintain a fragile sense of psychological security. You are the cult and the cult is you. Doesn’t sound good, does it? And it gets worse!

Cults generally focus on “us” – the good guys – and “them” – the bad guys. But what if “us” and “them” are both you? What if your discomfort, uncertainty, and frustration about what’s going on around you boils down to your mind at war with itself? You’ve heard, “A house divided against itself cannot stand.” Well, a mind divided against itself cannot cope with reality, and requires scapegoats to survive. A mind divided against itself has no choice but to lash out at others, aggress against them – fight, hate, reject, retaliate, avenge. These negative emotions and actions become your world, a world you see as evil, unreasonable, and against you. That’s what the cult tells you, but in the Cult of Self, those out there are not your enemy; you are the enemy. Looking in the mirror becomes a metaphorical shouting match full of hate, fear, anger, and revulsion, and you don’t even realize it. When you fall under the spell of a cult, you declare war on yourself!

How can you break out of this prison? You must keep telling yourself: A mind that harbors anger toward itself cannot remain stable; a mind that only hears messages that give it comfort, and distorts messages it finds discomforting, cannot escape emotional disruption; a mind that cannot accept its own emotions becomes self-destructive, and slowly sinks into despair and depression. Your emotions become alien – the other, the outsiders – the “them.” A part of your mind becomes your cult leader, and renders you helpless. Is that what you want – to be helpless in the face of challenges? You see yourself as strong, capable, independent, competent, and autonomous. Well, if that’s true, why are you dominated by others who have assumed control of your mind? How did you become so weak?

Cult thinking does not survive on politics, patriotism, finances, or laws. If it did, others could help you reject your cult thinking by threatening arrest, paying you money, or showering you with guilt. Cult thinking is a psychological problem that encourages you to avoid challenges. It must be attacked with methods used by mental health professionals in a counseling context. The sources of your fears and anxieties – hidden deep in the recesses of your mind – must be attacked in ways that help you celebrate your humanity, not your helplessness and self-disgust. This will be the hardest battle you have ever fought. But you can stand on your own two feet. You can choose your values, purposes, and goals, and use them in constructive rather destructive ways. You can discover that the obstacles in your life road are not obstacles – they are the road. Choosing to travel this road will rid you of self-hatred and irrational fears, and bring you empowerment, self-esteem, and a healthy connection to yourself and others.

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