Spiritual communities are powerful. They support your healing and encourage practices and habits which can accelerate your growth. And a teacher who has travelled a little further along the path of self-actualization is helpful in navigating the often treacherous internal landscape. And yet, there are humans involved, and where there are humans, there are egos. And when a powerful ego gets the taste for devotees, it can get dangerous.
Having dipped my toes in the waters of a few “communities” and philosophies, I know the allure, power, and the dangers of a cult. Not all are nefarious, but some certainly are. I’ve watched intelligent, powerful people lose themselves to a guru or group.
So I asked Dr. Erin Falconer, who counsels people leaving cults and coercive communities, how to tell if your community is dangerous, especially if you’ve ever thought: Am I in a cult ?
Here are some questions to ask yourself:
- Does your community pity people outside their community? Think of them as “outsiders”? Less awake? Vibrating at a lower frequency? Following false prophets?
- Do you find yourself getting angry and defending your community whenever it is questioned?
- Is your identity tied to the community? If you left, would you lose your identity?
- Do you let your guru/ teacher/ community make major life decisions for you? ie. Who to marry, what to name your children, which profession to take, where to live?
- Does a large amount of your resources (time & money) go into supporting your community or taking its courses?
- Does the teacher/ founder live in luxury?
- Does the teacher/ founder expect people who work for them on a part-time or full-time basis to work for free?
- Does your teacher/ guru have sexual relationships with people within the community?
- Does your teacher/ leader do things they prohibit their followers from doing? Is the teacher/ leader above the law?
- Do people outside your community find your gaze uncomfortable? Do they look away or blink often?
- Have you cut off friends?
- Do you speak to your family less than you did before the community? Did you stop speaking to them completely?
- Have you ended or distanced yourself from longtime friendships and relationships since finding this community?
- Are you encouraged to bring people in or convert non-believers? Do you try to “sell” your community?
- Do you have to lie for your community?
- Does your community discourage, ridicule, or cut-off people who want to leave?
- Did any of these questions make you angry?
If you answered yes to three or more of these questions, don’t worry. There is a way to reclaim your self and sovereignty before making a decision to leave, or stay:
- Get grounded in who you are. What did you like to do before the community?
- Restore (healthy) relationships you ended while in the community
- Explore other modalities
- Leave if it is safe and have a support system in place
- Get therapy or find a cult exit counsellor for guidance.
But don’t let the risk of losing yourself prevent you from never finding yourself. Explore modalities and communities, but do so with awareness and caution.
Here are some events and experiences which offer spiritual guidance to explore with an open mind, heart, and healthy skepticism: