This time of year, almost a year since I left the cult, has me reflecting on the meaning of family and unity.
In the cult, as in many high-demand groups, we were encouraged to think of the cult as our new family, or ‘spiritual family.’ Superior to our ‘birth family’.
One of the defining features of a family is love.
When I distanced myself from my family to spend more time with my ‘spiritual family’, they did not stop loving me.
Even when I was told to lie to them and keep secrets (lesson learnt - there is no ‘spiritual justification’ for lying or for forced silence, it’s just wrong). Even when I judged and looked down on them, even when I chose devotion to the new ideology over spending time with them, they still loved, cared for and accepted me. Their love only become more unconditional.
They were worried, concerned, suspected I was in a cult, as they told me when I got out. But at the time, they supported me and my choices, took an interest in my beliefs and showed me unchanged love.
Conversely, when I left my ‘spiritual family’, I was gone to them. Their love for me stopped. No one in the group cared, few people remained in touch or asked how I was. If they did it was only to question me or encourage me to return to the fold.
As soon as I left, not only did the the cult member’s love for me stop, I immediately became a figure of suspicion, pity and mistrust.
Once I started speaking out, some were actively hostile and many judged me very deeply.
Some belief systems lead us to have a warped view of what love looks like, cults included.
Many people in the cult I was in would say that real love is harsh when needed, that it will ‘break your ego’ (a great disguise and excuse for almost any kind of abuse) it will tell you if you’re on the ‘wrong path’ and that it will call you out if you’re not ‘aligned with god’s will.’
In many cults, when people leave they are labelled demonic, apostates, spiritual failures etc.
This dehumanises them, means followers continue to believe there’s no ‘legitimate reason’ for leaving, so current followers are less likely to be ‘lead astray’ by maintaining contact with ex-followers.
They, like many people of faith, consider that a belief system unites them. That they are brothers and sisters in the same community and spiritual path.
But, if a belief system or a practice is the only thing that unites you, what happens when you change?
We are complex beings and our belief system or spiritual path doesn’t define who we are, or whether we are worthy of love.
I learn so much from my family, including unconditional love and acceptance. I’m so blessed to have them, even when things are challenging.
The holidays can be a challenging time for families; grief, loss, childhood wounds, financial and other stresses, expectations and norms, spending time together in a more intense way than usual.
Some spiritual people avoid their families totally in a 'good vibes only' kind of way. Of course, if your family is or was abusive this is neccesary, or may be neccesary for a period. And everybody has a unique journey so I would never tell someone else what to do.
What I have observed though is that there is a tendency towards justifying selfish and self-seeking behaviour through spiritual ideas, and spiritually bypassing personal responsibility and the importance of other people's needs 'my spiritual journey and my peace is more important than going to see my parents'.
In a lot of spiritual communities and cults people criticise or look down on their ‘birth family’.
Yet what design could be more deliberately, imperfectly perfect than a bunch of people you were apparently thrown together with for a lifetime, who really trigger you, who know you with a depth and length and breadth, who you share dna/collective karma with.
Who love, respect, look after and accept you regardless of what you believe in.
To me That, is real unity. That, is real family. That, is real love.