Cults in our midst

Cults in Our Midst: The Hidden Menace in Our Everyday Lives is a nonfiction psychology book on cults, by Margaret Singer and Janja Lalich, Ph.D., with a foreword by Robert Jay Lifton. A second edition of the book without Lalich as co-author was published in paperback form by John Wiley & Sons, in 2003, with a new title [4] shortly before Dr. Singer's death.
Margaret Singer, the author of “Cults in our Midst”, was never in a cult but she demonstrates a remarkable understanding of how cults function and what the members experience. Singer was a clinical psychologist who spent her career studying cults and counseling cult members. Cults in Our Midst is a thorough and eye-opening view into how cults work. Singer estimates that twenty million Americans have been involved with cults at one time or another (p. 5). 
This book answers these common questions:
 – What is a cult?
– How do cults brainwash members?
– Why and how do people join cults?
– What happens to children within a cult?
– How to leave a cult?
In this book I will use the term cult and cultic group to refer to any one of a large number of groups that have sprung up in our society and that are similar in the way that they originate, their power structure, and their governance. Cults range from the relatively benign to those that exercise extraordinary control over members' lives and use thought-reform processes to influence and control members. While the conduct of certain cults causes nonmembers to criticize them, the term cult is not in itself pejorative but simply descriptive. It denotes a group that forms around a person who claims to have a special mission or knowledge, which they will share with those who turn over most of their decision making to that self-appointed leader.[3]
Singer discusses numerous cults, both the well-known and obscure, in illustrating and demonstrating the various traits of cults.
A cultic relationship is one in which a person intentionally induces others to become totally or nearly totally dependent upon him or her for almost all major life decisions, and inculates in these followers a belief that he or she has some special talent, gift or knowledge. (p. 7)
Singer does the world a service by raising awareness about thought reform processes and the plethora of groups that exist, waiting to recruit unsuspecting people for the warped purposes of the cult leader:
People like to think that their opinions, values and ideas are inviolate and totally self-regulated. They may grudgingly admit that they're influenced slightly by advertising. Beyond that, they want to preserve the myth that other people are weak-minded and easily influenced while they are strong-minded. Even though we all know human minds are open to influence-- whether or not that is a comfortable thought-- most of us defensively and haughtily proclaim, "Only crazy, stupid, needy people join cults. No one could ever get me to commit suicide or give my wife over to a cult leader. No one could ever talk me into anything like that."
As I hear people say that, I silently ask, "You want to bet?" (p.16)

Singer introduces six criteria for thought reform (p. 63):
1.    Keep the person unaware of what is going on and the changes taking place.
2.    Control the person's time, and, if possible, the physical environment.
3.    Create a sense of powerlessness, covert fear, and dependency.
4.    Suppress much of the person's old behavior and attitudes.
5.    Instill new behavior and attitudes.
6.    Put forth a closed system of logic; allow no real input or criticism

In discussing the idea of leaving a cult, Singer astutely identifies eight reasons why it is hard to leave a cult (pp. 266ff):

1.    You believe you will accomplish something
2.    People are loyal and don't like to go back on a "commitment"
3.    It is easier to submit and adapt to authority figures than it is to confront or resist them
4.    Peer pressure and lack of information prevent an honest assessment of the group
5.    People are too busy and tired to stop and think about what is going on. They focus on surviving in the short term.
6.    People have become separated from their pre-cult identity
7.    People are afraid of retribution or displeasing others
8.    People are reluctant to "throw away" what time and energy has been invested in the system
Singer also addresses the question of recovery from the cult, focusing on putting one's life and thinking back together after coming to grips with the cult experience. In summary, Cults in Our Midst is a worthy, helpful book that everybody ought to read. This is a topic about which nobody can afford to be ignorant.


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