Captive Hearts, Captive Minds
Freedom and Recovery from Cults and Abusive Relationships
By Madeleine L. Tobias and Janja Lalich
Chapter one excerpts – The Cultic Relationship.
Cults may be large or small. What defines them is not their size but their behavior. In addition to the larger, more publicized cults, there are small cults of less than a dozen members who follow a particular “guru”; “family cults,” where the head of the family uses deceptive and excessive persuasion and control techniques; and probably the least acknowledged, the one-on-one cult.
The one-on-one cult is a deliberately manipulative and exploitative intimate relationship between two persons, often involving physical abuse of the subordinate partner. In the one-on-one cult, which we call a cultic relationship, there is a significant power imbalance between the two participants. The stronger uses his (or her) influence to control, manipulate, abuse, and exploit the other. In essence the cultic relationship is a one-on-one version of the larger group. It may even be more intense than participation in a group cult since all the attention and abuse is focused on one person, often with more damaging consequences.
Many marriages or domestic partnerships where there is spousal abuse may be characterized and explained in this way. Other one-on-one cults may be found in boss/employee situations, in pastor/worshipper milieus, in therapist/client relationships, in jailor/prisoner or interrogator/suspect situations, and in teacher/student environments (including academic, artistic, and spiritual situations – for example, a school professor, a yoga master, a martial arts instructor, or an art mentor). It is our hope that those who have suffered such individualized abuse will find much in this book to identify with and use in healing their pain.
Since the upsurge of both public and professional interest in the issue of domestic violence, there has been some recognition to the link between mind control and battering. Men or women who batter their partners sometimes use manipulative techniques similar to those found in cults. The most common include “isolation and the provocation of fear; alternating kindness and threat to produce disequilibrium; the induction of guilt, self-blame, dependency, and learned helplessness.” The degree to which these features are present in a relationship affects the intensity of control and allows the relationship to be labeled cultic.
The similarities between cultic devotion and the traumatic bonding that occurs between battered individuals and their abusers are striking. An abused partner is generally made to submit to the following types of behaviors:
- early verbal and/or physical dominance,
- fear arousal and maintenance
- guilt induction
- contingent expressions of “love”
- enforced loyalty to the aggressor and self-denunciation
- promotion of powerlessness and helplessness
- pathological expressions of jealousy
- hope-instilling behaviors
- required secrecy (13)
When psychological coercion and manipulative exploitation have been used in a one-on-one cultic relationship, the person leaving such a relationship faces issues similar to those encountered by someone leaving a cultic group.