Cults: Don’t feel what you feel

Making people to change how they feel is a cult staple. It is also ubiquitous in other parts of life. We will never be able to resist the lure of a cult if we constantly train ourselves to suppress and replace our own feelings to feelings we are supposed to have.

I was in the first year of film school and looking to find an internship placement. I set about it with great excitement, researched production companies, sent a tailored CV with cover letters to prove that I know their work, and a follow-up letter a month later to find out if they received my application at all. I have sent over 100 CVs and only received one incredulous response: why would I commute to work in Milton Keynes for free? I detailed my school predicament of mandatory internship in the first year and my (true) eagerness to do it, but there was no more correspondence between us. The deadline of the internship was approaching fast and I was about to lose my academic year because I couldn’t secure one.

Luckily, our mentors were aware of the difficulty of securing an unpaid internship so they used their industry connections to place the foreigners like me. They sent me to a gorgeous little advertising company that was responsible for some of my most favorite TV commercials – and they sent a glowing recommendation letter with me.

The day of the interview arrived and I was standing outside their offices in SoHo. A green door of beautiful little house in one of the most enviable locations for an advertising firm. I was staring at the green door with great expectations – and a growing sense of… difficult to tell what.

I can’t remember what happened next. All I know is that I never rang the bell and never walked through the green door. Honestly, to this day I draw a blank when I try to remember what I was thinking. All I can recall is attempts at rationalizing.

Despite the obvious benefits of that internship, despite my very real eagerness, despite the extraordinary efforts I went through to get there – I did not walk through that door. It was difficult to rationalize. I probably thought I should be making money instead because London is expensive and I can’t afford an unpaid internship.

With hindsight I know this: I have never felt I was entitled to work in the creative industry. Deep down I was afraid that someone of my own poor heritage, with no money, no family to support and no connections could not make a living in the world’s most expensive city, let alone break into the most connection-oriented industry.

I did believe that about myself and I made it true. After my inexplicable not turning up at the interview I could not exactly go back to school and explain why I was so unreliable all of a sudden, when my responsibility and hardworking nature were my defining characteristics at school. My tutors were impressed and tipped me to be the greatest success in my class. What happened?

My emotional setup was clearly not ready for becoming what I wanted to become. I didn’t feel that I could ever deserve it – probably because no one in my family thought so. I didn’t allow myself to succeed because no one in my family would want me to succeed. It was really important to them that I should fall on my face and learn how hard life is – and how impossible it is to get ahead. Because they did not get ahead and if I do so, that would make them feel awful. Better to believe it is not possible at all. And trying to do it could ruin that belief.

My instincts and my gut feeling misled me. In the crucial moment, when one must trust the deepest reserves of emotional clarity and intuition, I accessed it and it told me to go back waiting tables.

My internalisation of the need to fail because my family clearly wanted me to fail and to learn how hard it was for them was clearly my deepest, hidden priority. Well, not mine – theirs. But I had to fulfil what they wanted me to – and I did. I proved that it can’t be done so they didn’t have to feel bad in comparison. They didn’t have to face the discomfort that maybe they, too, could have succeeded. They programmed me and I delivered.

My hidden priorities were of course hidden from me. I knew it with my brain. After all, it has been told to me in no uncertain terms that I will fail. And I will learn how bad it is for them by repeating it. That was the priority, not even very well hidden.

It may sound totally upside-down but I am not the only one with hidden priorities that tell us to do the wrong thing at crucial moments in our lives. In fact, it is something of a cliché.

Just think about the woman who can’t figure out why she always attracts (or feels attracted to) bad guys. Or the guy who complains that he always attracts (or feels attracted to) psychos. Well, it is because the signal that there’s a potential mate only lights up in their heads when they see a cold and slightly menacing guy or an unpredictable and capricious woman, respectively. In the crucial moments of their lives they are misled by their guts, their feelings, their instincts.

Her instincts tell the woman that she is unlovable so of course a guy would be cool around her, just like her father was, and she feels it’s a potential mate. His instincts tell the man that all women are irrational and inexplicable so he only feels that there is a potential mate present when a woman acts like that. They both skip any number of suitable mates and the signal just doesn’t go off until they see a bad one that confirms their hidden priorities: that her place is being neglected and punished and his fate is to meet an idiot.

We can’t trust our own feelings if we can’t trust those who planted them in us. This story is old as time.

And yet, when crucial moments come, we need to rely on those gut feelings. We need them to make super quick calculations for us. We need them to deliver intuition and guidance when we are under the most pressure.

So if our most basic and hidden priorities are our enemies, if they want us to fail, if they want us to punish ourselves, if they tell us that a capricious woman is what a woman is – they become our worst enemies. We make our biggest decisions based on these misfiring calculations, invisible even to ourselves (although surprisingly visible to others around us).

Sometimes they are right but sometimes they tell us to bolt when we are standing in front of the green door of our dreams. Don’t we hate when that happens? How can we tell them apart? We can’t just always do the opposite to how we feel. What can we do when our feelings mislead us?

Well, willing ourselves to feel something else is definitely the wrong answer. 

Yet, that is what mind control groups teach. 

A recurring pattern in cult stories is how cult victims are trying to suppress their own instincts to bolt. And they get every help with that from their cults.

But their story didn’t start there. Before they were made to suppress the desire to leave, they have been practicing changing their own feelings on other things.


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