Elizabeth R. Burchard, LSW
Service providers working with the domestic violence (DV) population may be familiar with images of physical and sexual assault in an intimate or familial setting. However, despite the presence of sometimes bizarre, antisocial behaviors and doctrines, high demand, destructive groups (cults) share more commonalities than differences with DV. From this perspective, intimate partner violence may be viewed as a cult with one member, and a cult as “DV in a fabricated family.” Misconceptions about cult systems drive a judgment that participants have free will and choose not to leave. This myth perpetuates a “blame-the-victim mentality.” In truth, no one makes a conscious decision to enter a destructive relationship. Intimate abusers mask their true natures during a “honeymoon” period, and controlling groups deceptively recruit new members, often with sophisticated techniques of social and psychological manipulation. Coercive control is utilized to maintain a framework of power, oppression, and exploitation, and the innate, powerful drive to form attachments reinforces trauma bonds, which are sometimes perceived as “love.” Recognizing the aggregate forces at play allows us to enter the victim’s inner world and to empathize with an entrapment in a web of unhealthy boundaries, fear, obligation, guilt, and cognitive distortions. From the viewpoint of the seven domains of wellness, this workshop will address six stages of cultic relationships: Innocence, Mind Control, Fear, Realization, Emergence, and Enlightenment (acronym – “I’M FREE”). Case studies will highlight the effects of undue influence and the obstacles to asserting human rights and regaining personal power. In relationship to the CBT triangle, cult expert Steven Hassan’s “BITE Model” of mind control will be analyzed as will social forces operating in destructive groups. The concept of “traumatic narcissism” will be introduced in the context of the psychopathology of abusers, including DSM-5 antisocial and narcissistic personality disorders and the delusional disorder of megalomania often manifested by cult gurus. Finally, the processes of exiting and healing will be explored highlighting psychodynamic and environmental challenges and trauma-informed, evidence-based therapy for survivors. Attendees’ handouts will include client-friendly tools.
5 DVS Credits: Mental Health