How Did I Learn I Was in a Destructive Cult?
I was trapped underneath this charismatic leader Michael Guen who put me through the emotional wringer. I was so dependent on him for love and approval and I did not even know it. On top of it, the Mini-Michael installed in me was defending the leader and the group. This is why I believe that I was being controlled within a destructive cult. It almost seemed to be a textbook case, the more closely I look at the evidence now. However, even a few months ago, I did not have any awareness of the extent of the control and manipulation with which I was involved. I would have never in a million years dreamed that I would be a member of a destructive cult for ten full years of my life.
Fortunately for me, there were people in my life who cared about me and expressed their concern. It started with family and friends who noticed some drastic changes in me. They would often tell me that they felt judged by me. Whenever we talked about the group, Ruth 2 would kick into full gear and defend her cause like a Crusader. We couldn’t have a normal dialog and I didn’t realize that I was on the verge of burning many bridges. They quickly realized that they could not reason with me and that it would always turn into a fight or a very uncomfortable discussion. They were threatening the very values instilled by the Michael Guen cult and I had been told that the “ones closest to me will resist me changing the most.”
So they just stopped talking with me about it. We didn’t mention the group or my involvement. It became a painfully taboo subject matter for the sake of maintaining our friendship or familial relations. It was as though I lived in two completely different worlds. I was hungry for the knowledge of “the work” and thought that it was really the source of my growth and awareness. My family and friends saw me changing, but it was not necessarily for the best. Later on, a close friend told me that she saw my self-esteem shot to pieces during that time. On the outside, I claimed to be happy with my divorce. On the inside, I was always in turmoil, emotionally and later on physically through getting lots of illnesses. The stress was killing me and I could not even reconcile Ruth 1 and Ruth 2.
My friends and family didn’t know what to do. A few of them had researched cults but most of them did not know how to rescue a loved one. It was only when I met Karl that I suddenly realized that I could not live in two separate worlds anymore. He a very honest and upfront person and he will be completely open with you. He is also one of the most loyal people. And these were the qualities in him that I was incredibly attracted to. He was in some ways the antithesis of Ruth 2 – logical, reasoning and very much connected to what is right and wrong. Karl shook me up with his direct questions. He was suspicious of Michael and the group from the beginning. He wanted honest answers.
When he first met Michael at a wedding of one of the members, he was taken aback by the first contact. Michael, being the psychopath that he was, tried to win Karl over. He asked him blatantly, “Are you spiritual?” He wanted to assess Karl’s reaction. Karl was not falling for it, however. He replied that “it depends on what you mean by spiritual” and everyone around us just laughed. At the time, I thought that Karl was jealous of Michael and how much I was committed to the group. I had confessed that in the past I had feelings for Michael. Now, looking back I realize that I was manipulated into having feelings for him in order to continue my dependency. I also see now that Michael was threatened by Karl and he tried to pull us apart. Karl represented reason. He could burst my bubble.
We fought viciously for months over this issue. Karl was fighting my pseudo personality Ruth 2. It caused so much pain and distress in our relationship. We were both absolutely exhausted and could take it anymore. We were at the verge of breaking up with each other and we did not know how to reach a resolution. I was not proud of the way I treated him during that time, but now looking back, I realize that it was not actually me fighting. It was the split personality in me, the one that had been indoctrinated with “the teaching.” Michael had instilled in me a default program to fight anyone who threatened to criticize the group or his authority. In actuality, Karl was not fighting me; he was fighting Michael directly.
He felt helpless and it must have been excruciating and incredibly painful to see the woman he fell in love with be so ensnared in this dynamic. I wasn’t the person that he loved. It was as though my body had been taken over, along with my emotional self. That is when Karl reached a breaking point. After his four day motorcycle trip with one of his best friends and another intense discussion about the possibility of us breaking up, he began a last ditched effort to save our relationship. We went on online and searched for information on cults. What came out of that search was knowledge that could set me free. All he had to do now was convince me to take a break from the group, to create space to let the information seep through and settle in me.
I did it because I really loved Karl. So in reality, our love won out. It was stronger than any manipulation or grasp that Michael had on me. It says a lot about our foundation as couple and the bond that we had already created. I have to say it again – I was lucky. If I hadn’t met Karl, I probably would still be captured by the cult. My ex-husband had watched me helplessly get sucked in further and deeper. He also felt powerless. I believe that it’s the truth that knowledge is power. It has the ability to break chains, to really empower and to give me what I didn’t have when I was under the spell of Michael Guen – free will and choice. Michael always claimed that he was letting us choose our own path. He would often say that he could only lead the horse to the water but could not make it drink. It was all part of his plan to make us feel as though we were free, but it was far from the truth.
I agreed to not go to classes for three weeks for the sake of our relationship. On an unconscious level, it was also for the sake of my own chance at freedom. I don’t want to be utterly dramatic right now, but that’s exactly what it felt like. Karl got me out of a bad situation. He wasn’t exactly playing the knight in shining armor saving a woman in distress, but he was empowering me to make my own choice, to open up my critical and rational side, to regain my self-confidence and to break free from the chains of the mind control. As he planted the seeds of doubt in my mind and as I had conversations with a man named David who was a post-cult recovery consultant (who had been in a cult himself once), I began to put the pieces together. Everything was falling into place. The memories flooded back to me. I was manipulated and abused for ten years of my life by this man.
It was as though a bubble had burst in me suddenly. I was shaken out of this coma and I could suddenly think for myself. It’s essential when you are working with a member of a cult to ask a very basic question, “What are some things that you don’t like about the group or the leader?” This was a question that I read in the cult literature that we come across. Of course nothing in life is perfect and there is no leader or teaching that does not have flaws or drawbacks. Michael would tell us that he had flaws, but he never claimed them openly and he tended to gloss over his mistakes. When Karl asked me a similar question, I had a stock answer. “Oh, he’s arrogant.” But it made me incredibly uncomfortable to say anything critical beyond that. Once again, I had been programmed to believe in the guru, even though he kept claiming that he wasn’t one. “The age of the guru is over,” he professed. What bullshit.
I went from believing in “the teaching” so adamantly to questioning everything that had been given to me – all in a matter of five days. David, our counselor, said that it was like being a child who doesn’t believe in Santa Claus anymore. The belief just vanishes. That’s what happened to me. As I am writing this, I have been free now for only a few weeks. I feel like myself again, the girl that is vibrant, opinionated, capable and spirited. For so many years, I had been kept down, suppressed and basically messed with. My self-esteem was at an all-time low. I even began to down my writing ability, something that I had always been proud of since I was a child. I feel that for the first time in ten years, I have a sincere hope for the future. And I have Karl to thank for this.
Since then, my family and friends have been relieved. I have reconnected with friends with whom I had kept a distance. Karl and I have been talking about our future. “I could not have a perspective with you before,” he would always say to me. Here I was “waiting for my real life to begin” when this beautiful, authentic life was slipping away before my eyes. I could have been captured for the rest of my waking life. I am incredibly grateful that I have “seen the light” as Karl says. And he is grateful to, to be able to have a true partner for the first time. This is the girl he fell in love with and he is excited to have her back.
– Ruth –
Photo Credit: Susan Sermoneta via Flickr