Posts Tagged ‘human development’

Corboy on the RickRoss forum quotes Daniel Shaw, LCSW on how cults exploit universal human dependency needs:  http://forum.rickross.com/read.php?7,50813

“The lengthy period of dependency in human development, the power that parents have, as God-like figures, to literally give life and sustain the lives of their children, leaves each human being with the memory, however distant or unconscious, of total dependency.

Cult leaders tap into and re-activate this piece of the human psyche. Followers are encouraged to become regressed and infantilized, to believe that their life depends on pleasing the cult leader. Cult leaders depend on their ability to attract people, often at critically vulnerable points in their lives, who are confused, hungry, dissatisfied, searching. With such people, cult leaders typically find numerous ways to undermine their followers’ independence and their capacity to think critically.”


This role of the human memory of dependency in susceptibility to cults and controlling relationships is interesting to me.  This suggests that our memories of dependency, although not conscious, are extremely powerful.  It also suggests that people who are stuck on earlier developmental milestones (as according to developmental psychological theories such as Erickson’s), are particularly vulnerable.  If people have trauma or psychological conflicts around issues of love, safety, and dependency from early childhood, they are particularly vulnerable to groups which foster dependency and regression.  This is because there is a psychological urge to replay the dynamics and seek a resolution. The human psyche tends to stay stuck at a developmental level until the primary issue of that level is resolved.  This is one explanation for why people who were abused as children tend to become involved with abusers later in life and is subtly different from the “you are formatted for abuse” explanation.  It suggests that there is an innate drive within all people for healing.  We recreate our early experiences not to retraumatize ourselves (although this can happen too) but to resolve the trauma differently — to try create a different outcome and to meet our needs.

So perhaps people who get involved with cults are trying to heal something, to meet an early dependency need that was neglected.  In the final analysis, getting involved with a cult makes it worse, but the drive that leads people into cults is not bad in an of itself, it is the human urge to heal.

Once upon a time (in my late teens and early twenties), before my involvement with a couple of questionable groups, I had a number of controlling relationships.  They were consentual and thus not exactly abusive, but my involvement with them was questionable.  What was I doing?  Trying to resolve some early issues with dependency.  What I found was that the more I grew up, slowly over time, and embraced my role as an adult, the less interested I became in dependency and the more I sought out partnerships in which I was empowered.

Shaw says that our fundamental human conditioning makes us vulnerable to control — this is universal because we have all been formatted with a memory of total dependency.  For this reason, the type of psychology that a religious group (as well as a relationship) fosters must be considered when evaluating the danger of involvement.  Does the group/relationship cultivate aspects of maturity such as free-thinking, independence, personal responsibility, and self-actualization or does the group/relationship foster psychological regression toward dependency, concrete or black-and-white thinking, and an immature moral perspective (e.g. do good so you won’t be punished).  Is the group psychological regressive or progressive.

I understand the argument that dependence/independence is culturally-entrenched.  Some cultures encourage dependency or interdependency.  I get that.  However, I believe that developmental psychology presents some universal truths about the human condition.  All babies start out completely dependent upon their caregivers for survival.  As children grow, they become more and more able to make independent choices and to meet their needs independently.  A culture and individuals can encourage or discourage this, but regardless, the potential for self-care and self-actualization are there.  In an abstract sense we may still be completely dependent on God, the Earth, and one-another for meeting our needs, however, a sense of self-agency must be balanced with the recognition of our vulnerability.  I am vulnerable yet I can ask things of God, my family, my neighbors, and my environment.  I can create tools, I can work, I can help others, and make choices that increase my odds of finding happiness.  Growing up is a wonderful thing.

So, knowing we have the memory of total dependency and are capable of both growth and regression, we should ask ourselves whether our spiritual path and our relationships are helping us grow or keeping us stuck.   Is this a mature spirituality?


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