Almost all those obsessed with cults could be defined as patients suffering from a lack of psychological mechanisms in some degree. In the past two decades, one of the major reasons why “Falun Gong”, “Almighty God” or irregular churches between religion and cult attract a great number of believers is that they target the missing part in the psychology of the believers and give the latter emotional sustenance, i.e. cult behaviours.
The real social lives of cult obsessives have five features: introversion, single model of thinking, loose family bond, small social circle and low adversity quotient. The similarity results from the lack of psychological mechanisms and existence of emotional trauma. If their growing experiences are examined carefully, it’s easy to locate the problem.
I. Family trauma model of spoiled obsessives
The family trauma of spoiled obsessives always result from over protection and spoiling by their parents and elders. They have three features. First, the obsessive is always a child or an object that needs care in his or her own world. Second, his or her parents have such a lofty image that it surpasses the reality. Third, the obsessive thinks, wrongly, that he or she has an eternal, unchanging relationship with his or her parents. He or she is always a child. The parent always spoils him or her. No matter how old the obsessive is or what experiences he or she has, such a relationship will not change.
There is a case in which Zhang, a woman at the age of 28, began to be obsessed with “Almighty God” from 2013. She neglected her children and abandoned her family and didn’t even wake up when her parents resorted to the extreme measure of bounding her with an iron chain.
It’s known that Zhang was the most loved child of her parents since she was young. She didn’t study well and was allowed to drop out of school. She didn’t know how to do housework and was taken care of by her mother. She couldn’t live by herself and was given money by her parents. However, as she got older, her parents played a smaller role in her life and didn’t give her the same care as when she was young. Then she learned about “Almighty God” and got an image that could frighten her. She couldn’t live without this fear and even relied on it. So when her fear for “Almighty God” was far bigger than her fear of real things, no matter how her parents tied her or how her husband and children urged her to stay, she would devote herself to “Almighty God”.
It can be seen from this case that the father and mother had a very high and warm image in Zhang’s environment. Once her parents couldn’t live up to her expectation, her emotions fell out of balance and her psychology developed a problem. In her mind, she was the child that needed to be cared for and she was not prepared to be an adult. “Almighty God” was a continuation of her parents’ image rather than an almighty “Creator”. In her world, “Almighty God” could protect her from danger and disaster. As long as she stayed with the cult, “Almighty God” would always care for and protect her.
II. Family trauma model of forced obsessives
A lot of forced trauma sufferers are female. They usually have three features. First, they were under great pressure from their parents since childhood. Second, in their world, their relationship with their parents is not normal, but like relationship between master and servant. Third, in their adulthood, they always hope to prove, through ego inflation, that their relationship with parents can be converted and they can overwhelm their parents in terms of dignity and pressure.
There is a case in which Lei, a 30-year-old woman, who is a doctor in the department of gynaecology and obstetrics at a big hospital in another province, became a cult believer. She quit her study, job and even love, separated herself from her family and turned over 80,000 yuan to the cult. Her father went to persuade her but she refused to see him for three months.
Her father said that he was proud of his daughter, who had studied well since childhood. He couldn’t imagine his independent daughter being exploited by a cult. However, Lei has a totally different version. In her eyes, even without the cult, she would not have too much connection to her parents. Since she was young, her father imposed great pressure on her in terms of study, interests, hobby, character and thinking. She hoped that she could grow up in a caring and understanding environment like other girls. She wished she could get recognition and care from her parents even if her report card was not that good. It’s not her parents’ expectation that drove her to study hard. She studied hard to get away from her parents and get the opportunity of living independently.
In this case, Lei’s family emotion model is that “parents are not loving and understanding but machines that deprive her of her nature.” After possessing certain capability, Lei had the need to find another way to place herself in the world. After joining the cult, the image of a girl that needs to be cared for, understood and tolerated in her sub-consciousness was woken up gradually. She found a haven where her emotional needs could be satisfied. Even if it was morbid, she wouldn’t let this haven go.
III. Family trauma model of cult obsessives with Oedipus complex
Personality disorder with Oedipus complex is a typical morbid state of psychology among male obsessives. Some family trauma sufferers with Oedipus complex we got in touch with in recent years have some common features. First, in their growing experiences, their mother has a higher status than father in their family. Second, they think, wrongly, that their mother represents the emotional experiences of the whole family. Third, when they cannot maintain strong emotional ties with their mother, they lose ability of objective cognition and emotional balance and need a third party to which they can entrust and release their extreme emotions to.
There is a case in which a 34-year old man with the surname of Yuan joined “Falun Gong” in his middle school years thanks to his mother. In 2002, his mother was sentenced to reeducation through labor. After being released, she continued practicing “Falun Gong” and died at home in 2009 as a result of refusing to receive medical treatment for a disease she had contracted. After that, Yuan remained single and insisted on practicing “Falun Gong”. His morbid psychology is obvious. He is a typical sufferer with Oedipus complex. He hates the CPC and government and doesn’t take care of his father who has been in bed for years due to old age and illness. Although his mother has been dead for years, he never separated from her psychologically.
According to psychology, a mother is a mirror to her child at the age of 3 to 6. The character of the mother will affect the future direction of her child. Yuan admits that he spent much more time with his mother than his father. When he was in puberty, his mother began to practice “Falun Gong” and hang out with other practitioners. He felt estranged from his mother. He faced two options. One was to spend more time with his father who “has no ability or role”. The other was to enter his mother’s world again by practicing “Falun Gong”. He chose the second one. When his mother died, he had no other way but to continue practicing “Falun Gong” so as to continue his emotional experience with his mother. When anyone tried to expose “Falun Gong” as a cult to him, he viewed it as simply an attempt to stop him practicing “Falun Gong” in order to destroy his mother’s image in his heart. One of the important reasons why he is obsessed with “Falun Gong” is that once he stops practicing “Falun Gong”, he will have to truly say goodbye to his mother. This is the fundamental reason why he can’t accept that “Falun Gong” is a cult.
IV. Family trauma model with a power system
Contrary to the family trauma model with Oedipus complex, trauma sufferers with a power system get their growing experiences mainly from their father. First, in their childhood, their father is dominant in the family and often scolds their mother. Second, in their psychology, they think that their mother’s tolerance reveals their inability. Third, an absolutely dominating status in a family will make them feel emotional safety and freedom.
There is a case in which a 16-year old girl with the surname of Liu was obsessed with “Almighty God”. Despite opposition from her family, she resorted to dangerous, confrontational behaviors time and again and devoted herself to “Almighty God”.
At the age of 16, Liu doesn’t know what’s good about “Almighty God”, but she said that she couldn’t live without it. She loses control emotionally at the mention of the different opinions between her and her family on her obsession with cult. It’s known that Liu’s father shoulders the family’s burden alone. Her mother is merely an ordinary rural woman without education or income or status in the family. Liu’s father hoped that she would be different from her mother and often accused her mother of “being no use” in the presence of Liu. After Liu entered middle school, she began to disobey her mother. She would support her father if there was conflict between her father and mother. She gradually lost emotional connections with her mother.
It can be seen that there is a power system in Liu’s psychology. In this system, her mother has a very low status and her father is at the top. The reason is that she believed that “mom is of no use and dad is successful” since childhood. After joining “Almighty God”, she saw that “Almighty God” was all-pervasive and that many obsessives supported her. She thought that she had been given the ability to confront her father and family. In the case of disputes, as long as she insisted on believing “Almighty God”, father could do nothing about it but feel disappointed. The inability of her father to break her from the cult affirms her status, which is the reason why the more her father opposed her believing in cult, the firmer she believed.
The above four family trauma models are typical ones we have seen in the past couple of decades. They provide a new way to analyze those cult obsessives and find an empathetic treatment. When facing various cult obsessives, we need to know that the cult obsession is an extreme manifestation of psychological, family or character problems. Cults satisfy their morbid needs, although they cannot cure any of their diseases. To those obsessives, cults help them achieve emotional balance and make up the lost part of their pshycology.
(Editor in chief: Zi Yi)