This is a transcript of a bonus episode of the What should I think about..? Podcast. Listen to it here: https://whatshouldithinkabout.podbean.com/e/bonus-short-mental-wellbeing-in-cults/
Cults as organizations, psychological wellbeing. Cults are organizations and in these short presentations, I explore a model or theory from organizational psychology and compare how it applies to what we might describe as normal organizations or non-cultic groups with cults or a high control group. If you'd like to watch the video presentation of this episode of Cults as organizations, it is available exclusively for patrons of what should I think about at the cognitive dissonance level and above.
If you'd like to become a patron, the link to our Patrion page is in today's show notes. Today I'm looking at psychological wellbeing. Psychological wellbeing is obviously a complex subject and each person will have their own specific ideas about what makes them happy. However, occupational and organizational psychologists at Birkbeck college, university of London have identified three important areas that are critical for most people are linked to the article is shown in the show notes.
They call it the ABCs of psychological needs. The A stands for autonomy. Human beings naturally need a degree of freedom and control over what they do. The B stands for belonging. Humans need to feel a sense of community to be connected to other people. The C is for competence, a feeling that we are able to accomplish things is psychologically important to human beings.
Having skills and being recognized and respected for those is important to us. Let's have a look at each of these areas and see how they apply to both the workplace and then to a high control group or cult. The, a stands for autonomy. Over the years, occupational and organizational psychology has worked with businesses to think about people's psychological needs.
Although there's still a long way to go, many businesses now understand that simply telling people exactly what to do without any room for them to think and put their own personality into the task, creates unhappy workers and increase staff turnover. So good employers provide opportunity for the workforce to put forward their own ideas and to have some freedom in the way they schedule their work and how they execute the task.
In many countries, it's also legal requirement to have some formal way for the workforce to feed back to the organization about what is important to them and how they think the working conditions could be improved. This is done either through union representation or an employee forum of some kind.
In a coercive high control group autonomy is often very limited. Service to the group must come first and in some groups is the only legitimate activity. Pressure is put onto the member to dedicate more and more time to cult matters, effectively, squeezing out time for personal activity. Not being in control of one's own time and activity is known to be distressing. It's one of the punitive elements of prism. So why do groups do it? One reason is that by insisting that more and more time is spent in cult activity, it reduces the time spent outside that influence. It becomes the whole existence of the person eating and sleeping the group. It also means less likelihood to spending time with worldly people on the outside of the group who might help the person think about life on the outside.
Additionally, just keeping the members busy means they're less likely to take a breather and start asking questions about what they're doing and why. The leadership imposes rules of not just what to do, but exactly how it should be done. A big part of the work required by cults is often in recruiting
Methods of recruitment may be determined by the leader with members receiving extensive and repeated training in how it must be done. There is little room for creativity or individualism and any hint of this, if noticed, maybe snuffed out.
B is for belonging. A successful team within the business world often creates a sense of belonging of community.
There is also the sense of a group of people pulling together to achieve a common goal. We are social creatures and the desire to feel a part of something is very strong. One of the most powerful reasons why people join and remain in cults is the community and sense of belonging it provides .These sorts of groups, provide opportunity for people to enjoy a sense of security whilst within the group.
Cults, leverage this by emphasizing the safety, security and value of the group, whilst at the same time, painting the outside as risky and dangerous, full of wicked people who will take advantage of you given the chance by continually emphasizing the danger of the world outside and leveraging this need for feelings of safety members are frightened into clinging to the organisation.
In the workplace, a feeling of belonging is tempered with the feeling of autonomy. In other words, a team member may enjoy being part of the team and may even state that they don't want to leave because they'll miss their colleagues, but they know that anytime they can leave. And if they wish stay friends with their former colleagues,
In cults this feeling of belonging is often weaponized so that the love and support of the community is understood to be conditional upon the person's staying within the group and following its rules. The fear of shunning, including close friends and family binds the individual to the group. To leave the beliefs, means to lose the community.
C stands for competence. Healthy workplaces, provide the opportunity for people to enjoy a sense of competence. Good managers are quick to praise performance and provide opportunity to learn and develop. Very few people are good at everything. So part of the goal of recruitment and then management is to match a person's talents, skills, and abilities with tasks that make best use of them.
This might mean a certain amount of job crafting to play to the person's strengths or finding more suitable roles for those whose skills don't match requirements. Of course during recruitment job requirements are matched with the person's skills and traits to get a good fit for the employee who is simply not the right fit for a particular role.
It might be that finding a different role is best for everyone. Whilst this can be very difficult and it can be a knock to one's ego. It doesn't require a dismantling of one's entire beliefs. Perhaps reevaluation of individual skills and abilities, maybe identify some training or taking a new career path might be in order.
Cults and high control groups recruit in a very different way. They're not necessarily interested in finding a good fit, but rather will mold, whoever joins to fit the need of the group. The group will have need for labor and will often show no interest in the skills and experience the person brings with them.
Rather, it seems to be that teaching new recruits, the lesson of humility is what really counts. And sometimes will go out of their way to avoid making an individual feel special or that their needs are somehow valuable. People feeling bad about themselves is a common feature of many coercive groups and of coercive relationships in general, constantly belittling criticizing demeaning and downgrading people maintains the sense that they are hopeless without this relationship and will be unable to survive outside the group.
Religious groups often emphasize the concept of sin and being in need of salvation. This encourages a feeling of helplessness and dependency upon the belief system, through which salvation can be achieved. Unsurprisingly provided exclusively through the group.
Remembering that individual differences will mean a variety of experiences, looking at the ABC's of wellbeing in the workplace, and then at high control groups, we can see that high control groups or cults behave very differently to what we might describe as normal organizations, Cults, suppress feelings of autonomy and competence whilst enhancing a sense of belonging. The sense of belonging is then weaponized to ensure that people find it difficult to leave the group. Bearing these elements in mind, it's useful to consider the very different way the law treats commercial organizations who pay people for their labor and Cults, who generally creates a situation where they get labor for free from their followers.
So let's have a look at the law. Different countries and territories have different laws and rules when it comes to employment. But most have some minimum standards when it comes to the health, safety, and wellbeing of its people. Let's have a look at how businesses are required to do this and the consequences if they don't.
And then we'll look at how cults and high control groups deal with these issues. First let's look at harassment and bullying. Bullying is often associated with intimidating, hostile, degrading, humiliating behavior, creating an offensive working environment . Not only must the employer not engage in this behavior they must also ensure that other members of the workforce do not engage in this behavior. For members of Cults, their whole existence can be one of anxiety brought about through a hostile environment. Weekly or even daily, they receive messages of how sinful, worthless and wicked they are. Threats of God's anger, destruction, Armageddon, and predictions of persecution are par for the course and put the individual in a constant state of fear.
In the UK and many other countries, in addition to the rules on bullying, harassment is a term used to describe unlawful behavior towards people with specific protected characteristics, which include gender and sexuality. Not only is it against the law for a business to bully or harass someone on the basis of their sexuality or gender, but it's also an offense to discriminate on the basis of a protected characteristic.
For instance, if a supervisory role was only open to men in the business, it will be breaking the law and the business fined. For Cults who are, religious these laws normally don't apply. This has several consequences, including that members of the group can be discriminated against for essentially any reason.
Many Cults have strict rules on sexuality, meaning if you are gay, you can be denied fellowship with the group and can be ex-communicated. This may also extend to family members who will be told to shun the individual. Many calls also have rules around gender and who is allowed to take leadership roles in a business.
It will be illegal to create a supervisory role that only a man could carry out. Whereas in religions and religious calls, this is perfectly acceptable. In this sense, commercial organizations who actually pay people for their labor are legislated to behave far more ethically than religious organizations that often don't.
And this is often exploited by cultic organization. In this atmosphere, cults are able to create patriarchal systems where women have little to no power of influence are forbidden to take a leadership role and are commanded to be in submission. This can and does lead to further excesses and an environment where sexual abuse is either part of the way the court operates or is a consequence of a lack of accountability to any authority other than itself.
The above examples demonstrate that while some individuals who power may do well, many within the organization suffer with anxiety low self-esteem and the sense of hopelessness. I argue, therefore that Cults are generally mentally unhealthy places. And that for the vast majority of its members, they fail to provide opportunities for satisfying, basic psychological needs, including the ABCs of autonomy, belonging, and competence.
What makes it worse is that if this group is religious, it is often able to act with impunity. As the rules that apply to other organizations simply do not apply to it. Thank you for listening to Cults as an organization. If you enjoyed this episode, please consider listening to our regular podcast, What should I think about..? There are new episodes every Sunday and Wednesday, which includes discussions about making sense of life after leaving a cult, as well as interviews with ex-members and experts.
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