This is the third article of a three-part series. Part One is here.
Part 3. Caught in the wild!
All the theoretical stuff is fine, but most of us look for proof—evidence of a destructive cult changing members’ personalities, even though they are unaware.
We want to see it in action.
What we’d need then, is a way to analyze the differences between a member’s previous personality and their cult-created behavior. At the same time, we’d need some assurance that the personality change happened without the member’s awareness. Of course, it’s nearly impossible for current members of destructive cults to do this. They are unlikely to have the insight/ability to recognize those differences and would be entirely unmotivated to try.
Psychologists often refer to a personality that has been created by a destructive cult as “ego-alien” (or sometimes ego dystonic) behavior. In short, it means that the cult member’s former belief set/behavior/personality still exists but is buried and now subordinate to a personality and behavior that is alien, foreign—or even at odds—with his/her former self.
That’s a more accurate way of understanding the destructive-cult mindset than to simply say a person has “changed.” Actually, their prior personality is still there, intact, aware, but it is no longer the executive personality in charge. The member has adopted a new, ego-alien personality that acts as a filter.
For families and loved ones, that offers a bit of good news because the person they know and love is still there and may be reachable. Sometimes the member begins questioning some of the contradictions in the cult’s teaching or begins to recall the happier times of his or her former life. Whatever the trigger may be, the original personality can begin to fight back and resume control as the personality in charge.
That’s why many cult experts believe that thought reform is most often “situational” and temporary. A cult exit counselor who often posts on Liberating Minds under the name conspeclst26 often says “I truly believe it is not if the loved one returns and leaves the group but when.” (In addition to the other research I’ve conducted, I have learned a great deal about the nature of destructive cults from reading conspeclst26’s posts and a lot of that is reflected in this series.)
But that new “created” personality—the one acting as a filter? What is the nature of that personality? What can we learn about it?
Let’s see what one reseacher discovered.
Yeakely vs. McKean
Several years ago, a religious group opened a window to an outsider in effort to prove it was not a destructive cult. And the outsider discovered an innovative way to reveal an astonishing truth.
Why would a group take such a risk? Simple. Many cults—from the leader on down—don’t have the self-awareness to realize they are destructive. In general, destructive cults sincerely believe they hold the key to truth, the very key to existence. They only wish everyone else could see it.
In his book Releasing the Bonds: Empowering People to Think for Themselves, author Steven Hassan (who might arguably be the current foremost authority on destructive cult mind control) tells the story.
It started in Boston in a congregation known as the Boston Church of Christ. Overall, the Church of Christ is unique among Christian denominations in that it has a decentralized structure. Unlike the strict hierarchy of the Catholic Church, for example, individual Church of Christ congregations have a great deal of latitude in their beliefs and practices. Some of them appear to be affiliated in name only.
Kip McKean led the Boston Church of Christ. The Boston Church believed in a new movement found within some of the affiliated churches. It was known as “discipling” and it was something that was being greeted with a lot of skepticism among mainline church leaders. As the investigator would later write:
The word “discipling” is used in this movement to mean much more than making converts. It is used primarily to describe a system of intense training and close personal supervision of the Christians being discipled. Disciples are regarded as being superior to mere Christians. Disciples are said to be Christians who have received special training. This training includes much more than mere teaching. There is an intense one-on-one relationship between the discipler and the Christian being discipled.
McKean was also heavily recruiting members from the more mainline Church of Christ. The Boston church was growing rapidly, rapidly enough that the mainline Church of Christ grew concerned—especially so due to this mysterious practice of discipling. In response, McKean and other leaders of the Boston church decided to hire an outside investigator to allay those concerns. As the investigator said later, “leaders of the Boston Church of Christ felt that the story of their amazing growth needed to be documented by a qualified church growth researcher. They felt that such a study would be more credible if conducted by someone not identified with the discipling movement.”
That investigator was Dr. Flavil Yeakley. He was a member of the mainline church. (To be precise, Yeakley has a BA in psychology but his PhD is in speech communications. Hassan refers to Yeakley as a psychologist, but I’m not sure if that’s correct.)
Psychologist, or not, what Yeakley did was brilliant. If, he reasoned, the main result of thought reform is personality change, there must be a way—now that there is a cooperative group of test subjects available—to measure that change.
He found his answer in the Meyers-Briggs Type Indicator.
About the Meyers-Briggs test
The Meyers-Briggs Type Indicator was created in 1942, based on the “psychological types” theories of Carl Jung. According to the theory, our cognitive functions can be identified as four distinct Dichotomies. For example, you’re either more likely to be an introvert or an extrovert. A single letter is used as an abbreviation for each dichotomy.
(A full explanation of the four dichotomies can be found in the Wikipedia link above.)
So, according to the Meyers-Briggs model, an insight into your personality can be obtained by determining the answer to each of the above dichotomies, which are then captured in shorthand based on their single-letter abbreviations (e.g., are you an ESTJ? An ISFJ?).
Mathematically, there can be only 16 different variations; therefore, the test reveals 16 distinct personality types.
The Yeakley strategy
Yeakley asked the congregation of the Boston church, McKean included, to take the test. Then he asked them to think about their lives five years ago—who they were and what they thinking—and take the test again answering as they would have back then. Then he asked them to think about where they will be in their “discipling” five years from now. And he had them take the test a third time, answering as their projected future selves might.
The results were amazing.
When Yeakley examined the “five years ago” tests, he found the expected random distribution of personality types. All different types of people were initially drawn to the church. But when he examined the “now” and “five years from now” tests, he found significant changes.
Chillingly, the members were all slowly moving from the random personalities they brought into the church toward a single personality type.
- “A great majority of the members of the Boston Church of Christ changed psychological type scores in the past, present, and future versions of the MBTI. Among the 835 individuals who took all three forms of the MBTI, less than five percent showed no change at all and less than seven percent had the same past and future type. Among the rest, a comparison of past and future types showed that almost 20 percent changed on one MBTI scale, 35 percent changed on two, over 26 percent changed on three, and over 12 percent changed on all four scales, thus experiencing a total reversal of type.”
- “The observed changes in psychological type scores were not random since there was a clear convergence in a single type. Ten of the 16 types show a steady decline in the percentage who came out as that type in the past, present, and future versions of the MBTI. Three transitional types show an increase from past to present and then a sharp decline in the future outcomes. There were three popular types in this study: ESFJ, ESTJ, and ENFJ.”
- “There was a clear pattern of changing from introversion to extraversion, from intuition to sensing, from thinking to feeling, and from perceiving to judging.”
Yeakley also managed to conduct the three-part test with members of the mainline Church of Christ (that were not part of the discipling movement), as well as local congregations in the Baptist, Catholic, Lutheran, Methodist, and Presbyterian churches. In each case, the tests revealed an appropriately random distribution of personality types. At no time did he find any indication of personality changes trending in any observable direction. In other words, for every I member who evolved into an E, he was just as likely to find another congregation member doing the reverse.
So, there was an observable mass convergence of personality types in the Boston Church but none in the mainstream congregations. Fluke?
Now that he had his methodology, Yeakely took it one step further. This time, he somehow managed to conduct his test with another collection of groups—the Church of Scientology, the Hari Krishnas, Maranatha, the Children of God, the Unification Church (“Moonies”), and the Way. All of these groups have been accused at one time or another of being destructive cults.
The result? In these tests—in a way very similar to the Boston Church of Christ, member personalities were unifying into a single personality across the group. They were becoming ESFJs, ESTJs, or ENFJs, depending on the group.
Because no one was aware of or expected this strange convergence of personalities, Yeakley had discovered the holy grail: a difficult-to-refute identifier for groups that change your personality without your prior knowledge or consent.
McKean’s Boston church was soon after disfellowshiped by the mainline Church of Christ. He continued his discipling movement in other churches and today operates the City Of Angels International Christian Church in Los Angeles.
Yeakely wrote about his study of the Boston church in a document he called “The Discipling Dilemma,” which is available on-line here.
And now, bring on the controversy
And so ends my three-part discourse on destructive cults, leaving you with a nifty identification tool, a little history, and some insight on how to catch ‘em in the wild.
And how, exactly, does all this relate to FDR?
For the most part, I’m going to leave that up to you.
Perhaps in the near future, I’ll revisit this series with a specific and close examination of FDR—with all the usual long-winded reason and evidence. But for now, I’ll leave it to you to observe FDR with the above tools and facts in mind. What do you see?
In your view, does FDR provide some insights into whether its members have changed over time? Do they seem to be converging as personality types? For example, does the behavior and language of long-time members, such as Philosopher Kings, tend to emulate that of Molyneux himself—more so than new members? Are they aware of it? Does that matter? Is there a way to determine FDR’s role in this, if it is happening?
The hints of change
I would think the best place to look for evidence is in the defoo, specifically the member attitudes and events that precede it. Now, I’ll grant that there may be some people who fit the FDR narrative: after being shattered by horrific parenting, they found their way to FreeDomain Radio, and (through the support and strength shared by Molyneux and other FDR members) gathered their courage to commit the healthiest act of their lives—a total withdrawal from their toxic families.
But I suspect that in the majority of FDR defoos, that isn’t the case at all.
Why do I believe that? Empirical evidence.
- Why does FDR feel a need for the “But my parents were nice” podcast series?
- Why are there so many “convos” with members in which Molyneux spends 40 minutes or more building a case against the member’s parents?
- Why the need to write On Truth and insist every new member read it?
- Why are you supposed to ambush your parents with the comically bizarre and impenetrable dialogue suggested at the end of Real-Time Relationships to “prove” they don’t care about you as a person?
- Why are the desperate e-mails, calls, and letters from parents cheerfully analyzed and re-interpreted by Molyneux and True Believers—despite having no personal knowledge of those families—as nothing more than cold-hearted attempts at manipulation?
None of this fits the “narrative.” It doesn’t sound like the behavior of a group dedicated to helping victims of toxic families. It matches the behavior of a group trying to convince people that they were.
When you look at the history of defooers’ posts on FDR, does it ever seem to you as if they grow angrier at their parents in the posts leading up to the defoo? Why? Is it because the parents’ behaviors have radically changed, or is it something else?
This single question keeps coming back to me. If the majority of defooers are obviously victims of the worst child abusers imaginable, then why does there need to be so much…persuasion?
Persuasion that your parents aren’t really nice, despite what you think. Persuasion that parents are incapable of anything but selfish motives. Persuasion that everything you do not like about yourself is a direct result of their actions.
To me, there is no more glaringly obvious “smoking gun” at FDR than the relentless, omnipresent, utterly pervasive need to persuade you that your parents were abusive.
In his own words, Molyneux says he and his wife Christina built FDR “to reach the kiddies.” And when the “kiddies” listen to his podcasts again and again, this is what they hear:
Our childhoods—our collective childhoods were prisons. And I know I’m going to get even more emails about this…’Oh, I had a good relationship with my mom and dad.’ ‘Oh, they were fine.’ ‘They were this’ and ‘They were that’…
No. I’m sorry. I gotta tell you, and I hate to say it because I don’t mean to be a bully, but you’re wrong.
When FDR members defend FreeDomain Radio in forums outside of FDR, they consistently claim that Molyneux advocates defooing only in the most severe situations. And to outsiders who do not examine FDR closely, it all sounds reasonable. They do not see that those same FDR members are literally bathed in constant overt and subtle persuasions that virtually every family situation is severe. Every family is a prison.
And the road to the defoo, the first persuasion, often starts with On Truth.
The truth about On Truth
It’s vaguely understood at FDR that On Truth: The Tyranny of Illusion is the first book you are supposed to read. Many new members posting for the first time on FDR have already listened to a number of podcasts and have read On Truth. If they become convinced that On Truth is the truth, then by the time they post on FDR they have already begun to recast their perceptions on their family.
In a conversation on Liberating Minds, someone offered the opinion that the introduction for On Truth proves that FDR is completely up front about its views and there is no “secret knowledge,” as I discussed in Part 2 of this series. Here is the intro to On Truth:
From a short-term, merely practical standpoint, you really do not want to read this book. This book will mess up your life, as you know it. This book will change every single one of your relationships – most importantly, your relationship with yourself. This book will change your life even if you never implement a single one of the proposals it contains. This book will change you even if you disagree with every single idea it puts forward. Even if you put it down right now, this book will have changed your life, because now you know that you are afraid of change.
I like that intro because I think it is clever and well-written marketing. It would entice many people to read the book, me included! But does it really tell you what the book is about?
Compare it to my version—the truth-in-advertising intro. It’s completely factual and it is the truth about On Truth:
From a short-term, merely practical standpoint, you really do not want to read this book. This book will mess up your life, as you know it. It will encourage you to think of your parents as prison guards and your childhood as a prison. If you believe this book, then you will revise your memories so that you no longer believe your parents were doing their best to share their values with you, but were instead using bullying and intimidation tactics to cover up their own corruption. For the next 72 pages, I am going to use every logical argument I can think of to convince you that you were a victim of abuse. If you believe everything in this book, you will be far more likely to consider completely discarding your family and friends—and convince yourself you are doing it without guilt or remorse.
My version sounds ugly. Almost sensationalized. But it is entirely accurate and—if you haven’t read On Truth—it probably came as a surprise to you.
The word “prison” alone appears 20 times in the book.
The question is the key
So, I leave you with a few tools and ideas to get you started on your own examination of FDR. And I offer you my question that may be the key to answering whether or not FDR is ultimately destructive to its most ardent members.
In the end, it’s your decision on whether it is a destructive cult that matters. And, for what it’s worth, that question is where I’d start. The question—if you’re truly honest with yourself—that you’ll begin asking again and again as you read the forums and listen to the convos.
The question that threatens to unravel all of the convincing Molyneux parent/family theories.
The question that points at the dark corners of identify change and thought reform.
The question that keeps poking little holes in Molyneux’s histrionic claims that members’ parents are “obviously monsters.”
The question that circles FDR like a spectre.
If defooing is for the extreme cases…if defooed parents are such satanic monsters…if it is all so obvious…then why does Molyneux need the relentless persuasion?
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