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 finding yourself. Explore modalities and communities, but do so with awareness and caution.