There are two stories in this book. First is the story of a young man who was manipulated through mind control into joining a cult whose true nature he was not told about for some time; and when, after four years, the bonds of mind control began to fray and loosen, it nevertheless took another six years before he was ready to leave.
Second, it is the story of a person with desperate emotional needs who believed the religious group he had joined could address his needs; but later, when he concluded it could not, he left.
For those who have never experienced being caught up in a cult, these two narratives may seem contradictory. The public would like to believe that there is one single cause for cultism; that either cults draw their members exclusively from especially vulnerable and needy people, or alternatively, that they entrap their members through mind control, while their former psychological and emotional states played no part in the entrapment.
The truth lies somewhere between these two models of cult involvement. Certainly, emotional neediness may open a person up to cult involvement; but it cannot account for the incredible persistence a cult member will show in trying to remain with a cult long after it has stopped relieving his emotional neediness, and indeed has begun exacerbating it. And while mind control may be the "clincher" that gets a person thoroughly enmeshed in a cult, it should not be seen as a static condition that lasts for life. Rather, the bonds of mind control begin to rot and fray after only a few years, though they often leave lasting scars that can persist indefinitely unless treated.
In recent years, cult apologists have tried to assert that mind control has been discredited in the psychological community; but in fact, it is still widely accepted, and is even cited in the DSM-IV, the American Psychiatric Association's diagnostic manual, under 300.15, "Dissociative Disorder NOS", a diagnosis that explicitly refers to cults and brainwashing.1
That said, it is also true that mind control has often been misrepresented, leading the public to believe its victims become robotic and lose all ability to think independently. The reality is much more subtle: mind control merely erects road blocks in the mind, so that certain thoughts (such as the idea of leaving the group or going against its principles) become too frightening to be contemplated for long; however, in other respects, the victim of mind control appears normal. Those mental road blocks can be torn down without having to resort to drastic tactics such as deprogramming; nevertheless, when a cult member is forced to tear them down on his own, his recovery is apt to be slow and fraught with the peril that he may return to the group.
Unlike many other accounts written by cult survivors, this memoir recounts the complete arc of one person's cult involvement--my own--uninterrupted by a deprogramming. It describes in detail the entire process from the initial transfixion to the final letting go. It is my hope that this account will be of assistance to other cult survivors who are still struggling to attain a similar resolution of their own cult experiences.
K. Gordon Neufeld
1 See the article, Are Christians Subject to Psychological Manipulation?, which is drawn from a discussion on the Assemblyboard.