Cult Of Two

I've met cult leaders before. You've probably talked to some yourself, or even had a friend or relative who was a member of a cult. Perhaps even you yourself were a member. They're fairly common. Remember Heaven's Gate group leaving their 'vehicles'? The press gave us our fill on what to look for, warning signs that the person we are following may be a cult leader, or the group a friend or relative has joined, may be a cult.
  • Does the group alienate the person from family and friends?
  • Is permission needed for the simplest things, i.e. telling the person when to go to sleep, where they can and can not go?
  • Does the group enforce a mindset of 'us against them'?
  • Does the group claim to have knowledge beyond others understanding?
  • Does the group promote a sense of free will, though controlling the individual?
Let's take for example two people I've known who were under the influence of cult-like manipulation. Both were told anyone who thought the cult was controlling them was actually someone who just wanted to come between them and the cult. They were told the person just didn't understand, and the relationship between the individual and the cult was something to be protected against such nay-sayers. The idea of free will was presented in the manner of, "You can do what they want you to do, and leave, or you can do what you want, and stay.". What they wanted to do was always what the cult leader wanted them to do, never a decision they had made for themselves. They were told only the cult understood and accepted them, all others just wanted to change, or control them. They were told the cult leader had special powers.
One leader claimed to have psychic abilities and be able to determine 'fate', while the other, a more commom claim, was outstanding in the clever ability to see the intentions of others and win against their tricks and games. Both leaders gave forwarning of the things people would say to spoil the relationship between the follower and the leader.

Both my friends were initiated over time, with the cult leader being very nice at first, helpful even. They were told the cult leader accepted them, understood them, that they and the cult leader were alike, kindred spirits with common ideas and goals. They were encouraged to share with the cult leader, with the leader accepting their faults, encouraging their ideas, forgiving their past and telling them this was their chance to start anew. Rarely does anyone get the complete acceptance cult leaders offer during the confessional period of initiation.
Then, after the leader had gained their trust, small restrictions were put in place. Explaining, by use of the confessions the follower had given, how the leader could 'help' them by giving them suggestions to prevent them from making the same mistakes they had made in their past. At first this took the form of simply second-guessing decisions the follower made on their own, making suggestions in wardrobe, questioning the intentions of those the follower counted as friends. The advice of the leader was either followed, or if ignored, faults were found in the decisions the follower made without the advice of the leader.
Slowly the individuals learned in order to get the love, attention, and approval of the leader, they would be best to heed their suggestions.

Once that initial control was set in place, the restrictions were carried a step further. The follower would only be allowed to see people outside the group when the leader granted permission. Any contact outside of the cult was closely supervised. Usually the cult leaders made sure they themselves went along with the individuals any time they were outside the cult compound. Their phone conversations were monitored. Sometimes the excuse of 'safeguarding' the individual was given as the reason for the strict attention. Other times it was said to be simply a matter of the cult wanting to be with the person, wanting to share their life, and their interests. Any interests not shared with the cult were derided as things coming between the leader and follower which would make the relationship less than it could be.

If the individuals went against the restrictions the leader set, they were punished. At first the punishment was light, perhaps not speaking to the individual - shunning them, while accusing them of trying to spoil the relationship between them and the cult leader. Noting the disappointment of the leader, the individuals would snap back in line, fearing the loss of trust with their leader. But once the two people I knew were brought further into each cult, the punishments grew physically violent.

At this point, both persons had been successfully isolated from anyone who had tried to warn them about their situation, so they remained with the cults. They may have wanted help, but they also wanted the approval of the cult leader. They had grown to love the cult leader, grown accustomed to their guidance, and lost almost all decision making skills in their subordination. When the cult leader explained the physical violence as a one-time occurence, or told them it was because they had pushed the cult leader too far with their purposeful disobedience, and it was for their own good, they believed it.

Sounds like the basic description of cult membership doesn't it? The only difference is both my friends had joined Cults of Two, often refered to as co-dependent relationships. One friend was a female, one male, both drawn into situations sometimes more destructive than most cult environments, and grossly more common. The manipulation tatics are the same. The loss of a sense of self to the 'group mind'. But the group mind is only the mind of their leader, their lover, their significant other.

When the Heaven's Gaters left their vehicles the general public seemed shocked the followers could believe so strongly in one man, 'Do', that they would gladly commit suicide for his belief. Yet everyday, all around us, people we know cut ties with friends and family to commit themselves to relationships which spell out a slow death for them.
The Cult of Two, the relationship cult, can be a more dangerous situation because, while a group following may suffice the leader of a large cult, leaving them lax in watching so closely over their followers, and even, as with the Heaven's Gate cult, allowing members to leave when they wish, the leader in a relationship between two people has only the other partner as their follower. They have to watch closer to make sure their follower doesn't leave. The rules are just as strict as in group cults, but the punishments are most times more severe.

Though the same 'I love you/I don't trust you' methods are used to keep the individual always striving for the approval of the leader, in a Cult of Two the attention is direct. There is no middle man letting the follower know the leader is disappointed in them. The direct contact of the leader and follower makes for a very tight bond. A bond friends and family trying to help, find very difficult to broach, and while belonging to a group with some mission the general public criticizes can give a follower a sense of doubt in their choice, being in a relationship is normal. The leader convinces the follower all relationships are really like theirs. All relationships have bad times and struggles. Their situation is nothing unique.

In cult relationships, the following member is often completely dependent on the leader, or believes they are. Not for spiritual guidance, as religious cults propose, but life guidance. Monetary support, guidance in daily activities - job choices, wardrobe, friends - all the decisions independent people will make with, at most, some advice from a friend or family member, the cult follower is lead to believe they are incapable of handling without the guidance of their leader.
While group cult members are entrenched in the cult environment, members of a Cult of Two walk amongst us every day. Rather than being apart from the outside world, professing to be of a higher mind, or greater cause than the average person, they have to try to be a part of it. This requires their denial of the circumstances they live in. Though they are told their relationship is average, most know the mental and physical abuse is not normal. They carry it with them as their secret, and the duality of mind it presents is often cause for physical and mental breakdown. This is the slow death to which they are subject.

We understand, from the cult experts, that many people are drawn into cults by a desire for something more in their lives, something or someone to believe in, or who claims they believe in them. They want acceptance. Those drawn into controlling relationships are the same, having never accepted themselves, they find comfort with a group or individual who professes to accept them, and wants to help them become better, wiser people. Rather than look inside themselves and discover who they are, it is simpler to relinquish who they are, what they have been, and the sometimes over-powering question of what they will be, and become the definition the controlling person, be it a cult leader or an oppressive lover, sets out for them.

Of the two friends I mentioned earlier, the female got out of the controlling relationship. She isn't sure what was the final straw for her, but she is free from her Cult of Two, and enjoying her life again. Over eight years of her life she was just a shell of a person. She lived in fear when home, and with her secret when she was out. She had almost lost complete contact with her family and friends, but is slowly gaining back confidence in herself, and others.
The male moved on with his leader. He left his hometown to start a new life, away from the prying and destructive ideas of those who suggested the relationship was not healthy. He is an active cult member, though not in the sense we usually view the term.

© J. Simon

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