Thursday 29th may 2008

By Raffaella Di Marzio


The fourth fragment is an attempt to answer the question I asked at the end of the First Fragment.
I highlight in blue the part where I formulated my question.

I remember passing hours on the phone trying to reassure and to give hope to people convinced they lost forever their relative in a cult. Those meetings, often really painful, reinforced in me the aversion for all those groups and their leaders who hurt so much harmless people.

After a “training” of a couple of years and tens of phone calls ended in this way, I started seriously thinking that the only solution, in front of so many cases of psychological abuse exerted inside cult groups, was to reintroduce the crime of plagiarism abolished by the Constitutional Court in 1981. Such conviction was based on the following axioms.

a) The information given from the person asking for help are always and certainly reliable.

b) The relative kept in a cult is changed and refuses his family and his old friends due to the cult’s control on his behaviour, feelings, information received and way of thinking (my “masters” were Steve Hassan and Margaret Singer).

c) The cults are religious groups (or pretending ones) aiming to seduce unaware and innocent people.

d) Once the person has been lured with deception, he’s slowly mentally conditioned by the leader and the group to leave his reference group and make the cult his new family.

e) In the cult the person looses his freedom of choice and his will to act by reason.

f) Given that there’s no greatest abuse than to deprive the other of freedom and rationality, the solution is to punish strongly such actions by creating an ad hoc crime.

What was wrong with such “theorem”?

Today I’d like to answer this question even if it’s not easy to do in few rows. I apologize since now for those simplifications in excess that maybe I will have to do.

The certainty of the affordability of those asking for help is a fundamental aspect orienting all the actions of the counsellor in a certain direction. As far as regards me, I would have never thought to doubt the statements made among the tears by a mother or a father, a husband or a wife. Those people needed help and assistance and the cult causing them that pain couldn’t be other from that (that is a criminal group abusing of its harmless members), otherwise those tears and that pain would have never existed.

The condition of “victim” made those people infallible, their experience irrefutable, their point of view the only one possible. Still today I’m convinced that their feeling was true and, with that, also their request for help, so as true was my desire to give them the help I was required.

Going back in time and rummaging in the memory, I remember that some families arrived to me with already clear ideas on the fact that their relative was entered in a cult. Those families had already read “Mentally free” by Hassan (a book I personally contributed to translate as consultant) or had found chapters of the books of Margaret Singer in the web.

Some other times, instead, people described the problems created by their relative and gave only few vague indications of the potential cause. At that point it became automatic to me to explain those strange attitudes and the changes intervened as a consequence of the negative influence of the group.

If the changes of habits and behaviour in the person were incomprehensible to the relatives (who, obviously, didn’t share them), it was necessary that the “plagiarized” was helped to return as he was before. The changes were always interpreted as the result of mental manipulation, not as a consequence of a free choice and so, for the sake of the unlucky, they were to be “corrected”.

Everything was already arranged in a context equal for everybody:

§ the symptom: changes of ideas, relations, habits, friendships etc..

§ the cause: the cult

§ the cure: decondition the person

The third point was the critical one as it required catching a goal, the only one important for the families. The failures in the “cure” were several and the successes were limited to few cases caught at the beginning of the “disease” when the symptoms had just appeared and the adept, immediately discouraged and frightened, left the group before the work of proselytism really succeeded.

The delusion I felt when any effort proved useless and the poor adept remained caught in the web in which he was fallen was really burning, but today I ask myself: wasn’t there in me a bit delusion for I “failed” in my duty? Maybe so: in the end we’re all human beings.

Completely dipped in the environment of the group of help and assistance, I couldn’t see the things from another perspective, like one who looks a wide landscape turning his head always and only from the same part. I couldn’t see the case I had in front of me as one of the many cases of conflict happening inside the families and that the cult could be only the spark off element of a process already started since long time or whose premises were already there.

To attribute all the responsibility of the son’s separation to an external cause could be, for the family, consolatory and useful to shift their responsibilities; for me it could be a way to easy the solution of a very complex problem.

Having more experience and flexibility, I could have assumed the need to examine with calm ALL the components of the conflict, also those already present BEFORE the affiliation. Even if during the conversations sometimes appeared problems of the family operating also before the affiliation, I never put them in the right light, I judged them in any case a secondary aspect with respect to the influence of the cult which I considered always fundamental.

If only I had done it (and I got it only later), I would have understood that, in most cases, the cause of the conflicts wasn’t the cult and that only in a limited number of families the existing problems could be attributed ONLY to the affiliation of their relative. These were the REAL cases of abuse and circumvention, due to the unscrupulous action of charismatic leaders interested only in their gain and in the exercise of power on harmless people.

Even if, as I said before, the main goal (separating the relative from the cult) was rarely caught, today I realize how important and consolatory for the families was to have the chance of talking of their pain with someone who didn’t easily get rid of them but tried to understand their drama.

Many people thanked me and still today continue, after several years, only because I listened to them when nobody else showed available to. The witness of these families still keeping in touch with me after years is very precious. Thanks to them, I realized that the action of time and changes happening in the individuals and in the social systems is fundamental and often misunderstood.

Whoever gives assistance acts in a certain moment. Once passed the emergency, you loose contact with people. Instead is very important to verify at a time distance the effects the assistance produced in the family or the individual. In my opinion it’s very bad that those dealing with these issues don’t care of this problem. If this was, we would realize very serious mistakes committed, also with the best intentions, we would collect data to avoid them in the future, we would find the ways to learn from experience and to pass it on to others.

But all this is utopia. The volunteers committed in this field can count on: no resource, the time left from their duties and few or no basic preparation. On the other hand abound: good will, good intentions, a lot of “heart” and desire for “justice”.

I would explain better the relevance of the effects of time and individual/social change on the intra-familiar conflicts with some examples. Parents calling me after years tell me that:

- their sons, after a free and responsible process, left the group they have entered and rebuilt the relationship with them. But leaving the group has not solved the conflicts which, clearly, didn’t come from the affiliation not approved by the parents but from features implicit in the family dynamics;

- in other families the sons remained in the group in which they were entered, but along the years the conflicts reduced and the contacts recovered, in a sort of compromise making the familiar dynamics more peaceful for everybody;

- in other cases the pain for the sentimental loss of the relative remains, being managed in two main ways: resignation or rage, two extremes among which there are several degrees.

This last consideration makes me think about a crucial problem which will be the argument of a future fragment and that I briefly synthesize with two questions:

§ How much influence had on me and on my way of giving assistance the past experiences and the rage I personally felt and shared with others?

§ How much sharing the pain of other helps the assistance action and how much, instead, can hinder it?


“The most important thing is to never stop asking questions”

Albert Einstein


The contents of this article are unprofessional translations of those included in the italian website www.dimarzio.it.

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