Book Synopsis

Cults – Who is Vulnerable?

Audrey Chaytor

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Synopsis of the first fourteen sections of the book “Cults – Who is Vulnerable?” by Audrey Chaytor, Trustee of The Family Survival Trust

Audrey Chaytor, who from October 2007 until January 2011 was Chief Executive of The Family Survival Trust, has over thirty years’ experience of listening to, supporting, advising and helping victims of cults, their families, friends and associates. She remains a Trustee to this day. The late John Bazlinton, who was until his death in 2008 also a Trustee, often asked Audrey to write something down to preserve her years of experience. She had been at work on the project since 2009, and in 2011 finished the draft of her work, which she called “Cults – Who is Vulnerable?”. This is a synopsis of the first third of the book, section by section, in order to give a detailed idea of what it covers.

What is a cult? This distinguishes between (a) harmless, open groups which are united by the idea of worship or veneration of an idea, person, place or object and (b) abusive, totalitarian groups which psychologically (and sometimes physically) abuse their members. Members join harmless groups, which are open from the start about their aims. In contrast, abusive groups recruit members by deceiving them – only later does the malign nature of a totalitarian cult become apparent.

The Beginning – 1979. The date refers to the start of Audrey’s own experience of abusive cults, and the year she joined FAIR. This voluntary association had already been in existence since 1976, having been established by concerned parents whose children were recruited into cults. Audrey was now one of these parents. The stress is that The Family Survival Trust, as with FAIR before it, offers help and support, and does not claim to be expert. The mechanisms of control used by abusive cults need to be understood by those who lose loved ones to them. It is stressed that families and friends of the victim, whilst they will feel justifiable anger, should control their emotions and at all costs avoid being consumed by hatred. Those around them who have not joined the cult are badly affected by such negative emotions, and it is unfair to neglect them. The recommendation is to nurture these strong, positive relationships. The two aims of the book are (a) to help cult victims and their families survive and (b) to try to stay one step ahead of the manipulative techniques of the cults.

Strength through Information and Knowledge. The stress is that people should read about abusive cults and try to understand them. Totalitarian cults like to mine for information and, in the early stages of cult membership, the member may be encouraged to obtain information on their former friends and family. The member has become the agent of the cult, and reports back to it. People should be aware of this when dealing with new members. Academics who like to leave abusive cults as they are, to be “specimens” for study, are contrasted with more genuine academics who study groups in an attempt to better understand their techniques. The former “cult apologists” are deplored, and the latter are to be celebrated. Cultic recruits are disingenuously “love-bombed” by abusive cults. The process of recruitment is likened to falling in love with the wrong person. Families and friends, struggling to talk to the member, are encouraged not to give up hope or feel alone. There is support to be found, and some cult members do leave and return to their loved ones.

The Learning Process. This charts Audrey’s own story, when she joined FAIR, and who her associates there were. FAIR operated a regional network of concerned parents. She records how losing her daughters to a cult adversely affected her health. Many others also suffered the same problem. She met her first ex-members, who explained to her the experience of cult involvement. The members of FAIR and Audrey’s family gave her strength and love. Her loathing of cults also helped to drive her onwards and not give up. It was still an exhausting process, not helped by the ignorance of many in the public who spoke of the right of cult members to choose their own life, however weird it may have been. They failed to understand the manipulation employed by abusive cults. Worse was the lack of understanding or support from government. Finally, the abuse carried out in the name of “faith” and its protection by freedom of religion are both criticised.

Kidnapping and Deprogramming. These were both employed by some desperate parents to get their children back. Both are condemned as inhumane. They also presented cults with an opportunity to present despairing families as criminal.

Thirty Years of Listening. This notes that, in this time, Audrey has observed the diverse nature of totalitarian cults, which may be abusive one-to-one relationships, common in domestic violence, to the large political and military regimes responsible for ethnic cleansing and genocide, or even terrorist cells. There are now too many cults to quantify. Cults do not always pose as religious in nature.

A Dangerous lack of Journalistic, Legal and Political Knowledge. This notes that just because a group claims to be religious does not mean it should receive the benefit of the doubt. It does not necessarily mean that a member joined freely. In addition, a journalist following a story involving abusive cults does not mean that a serious report, followed by action, will follow. Generally, there is a lack of understanding that the willing members of cults are acutally its slaves. There are exceptions, and some countries around the world, such as France, Belgium, Russia and Australia appear to be doing more than the United Kingdom is. Family lawyers who see the cult problem as an easy matter are criticised. Some politicians and journalists are praised for their understanding and sympathy, especially concerning the plight of children within totalitarian cults. Generally, the established church in the United Kingdom and elsewhere (though not in Russia and some other countries) has done little. The confusion between legitimate churches and abusive cults claiming the label “church” is discussed, as is the fact that religion was acknowledged to be a good “dodge” by some cult gurus. Finally, the lack of benefit of joining a cult is raised – those members who claim they obtained talents or skills in cults were actually skilled or talented before they joined, and remained so despite being in a cult, not because of it.

Should Ex-members of Cults take Action? Given the lack of coordinated actioned by ex-members to obtain recompense, despite the writings and research pointing to the harm and abuse inflicted, cults appear to have had an easy time of it. Cults have intimidated even those who campaign against them to be overly timid. The recommendation is that ex-members should band together to overcome their fear and pool resources, and act in a concerted manner to prevent abusive cults from being so unaccountable.

Dialogue and Discussion. Here are dealt with: avoiding anger, developing patience and listening, standing up and not being intimidated, asking (gentle and sensitively put) questions, and finding supportive friends.

Reaching Out – Lines of Communication. Families and friends should try to avoid discussing with the cult member the cult, the cult’s leader and their own feelings, unless they are able to do so very carefully and sensitively, without anger or upset. A diary and/or detailed notes should be kept. They should be aware that logic can be replaced with “cult thinking” by the member, but anger or frustration at this will not help. They must remember that the cult has indoctrinated its member and remain patient. There must be a decision at the very beginning not to give up; to study and learn about mind control techniques used by the cult; to refuse invitations by the cult itself, however friendly they may be; to refuse visits from previously unknown individuals who may be connected; resist any form of intimidation. Tenacity is vital. The cult member should be calmly told that the family is strong. During the early stages of recruitment, a family must act fast. The mind-control techniques can be very fast – sometimes one can be completely indoctrinated in as little as two days. If some time has elapsed, however, there should be no panic, and effort should be made to start a dialogue and arrange a meeting. Family news should be discussed as normal, before anything to do with the cult is spoken about. The problem, no matter how difficult or protracted, should be dealt with. Resolve that, no matter what, the family must survive. Avoid people claiming to be “cult experts” and any promises they make to have a cult member out within a particular amount of time. The family, vulnerable because of losing one of its members, might be subjected to techniques of “thought stopping” by the member. The family must take whatever insults or abuse come in its stride.

Health care. This stresses that the family must come first – even before the family member who has been recruited into a cult. One should take care to eat and sleep properly, and think about things other than cults. Those siblings of the cult member must be given due attention: it is not their fault that their brother or sister joined the cult, and they should not be neglected because of it. When talking to a cult member, remember that their first loyalty is to the cult, not to their parents, siblings, children or friends. Do not say anything which you do not want the cult to hear. It may receive a full report of the meeting.

The Tip of an Iceberg – Vital Education. Audrey’s experience leads her to believe that what we know about totalitarian cults and the damage they cause is not the whole picture. The latest knowledge and warnings should be taught at schools, to give potential victims more of a chance to avoid being deceived.

Altered States of Consciousness. Here is tackled the apparently stupid decisions made by cult members – the reason for these being made is that an altered state of consciousness has been induced, brought on by psychological coercion and indoctrination. Some of the abuse given to family and friends after joining belongs to the diet of lies, paranoia and monomania which members have been fed on.

Cult Education. This covers the importance of society generally acknowledging and reading about the techniques of cults, so that people are able to watch for them. An example of a piece of “esoteric knowledge”, or cult reverse logic, being given abusively by one sister to another is given: the callous disregard of the elder sibling at the distress of the younger, who could not understand the “esoteric knowledge” or the vehemence with which her sister announced it as the truth to the contrary of real logic. People should be taught that this is the real face of a cult, not the friendly face of the recruiter. Some people still consider themselves invulnerable. Nobody is.

There are twenty-seven further chapters which discuss further the problem of abusive cults in a combination of advice and experience. Specific examples and general trends are touched upon. The book will be available shortly.