It was the day I, Ella, finally made up my mind to run as far and fast as I could. Todd was the only person I would tell. He holds my secrets and I hold his.
It’s been that way ever since we met in Mr. Evan’s class ten years ago. I would never have made it this far if he hadn’t been there to tell me that “everything always looks better in the morning.” Even when things didn’t, he could make me believe that someday they would.
I gathered up a bunch of stuff that I thought I’d need to get me through the next couple of weeks. Backpack loaded, I slipped out the slider door.
It would turn out to be one of the biggest mistakes that I would ever make. But it would also lead me to some of life’s greatest awakenings.
I headed to a spot where the family had vacationed when we were actually a family. North of Ventura, it had a small town feel, yet was still a place where work could be found and people didn’t ask a lot of questions.
There was a bulletin board in the coffee shop that the locals checked out each day. One post caught my eye. It was an invitation to a “meet and greet.” Just what I needed – friends.
I was met by smiling faces, soothing music, and a home-style meal. Couldn’t wait till the next meet-up.
Cecie was the outgoing one. Such a free spirit, so self-assured, and so much fun to be with. Jeanie was more soft spoken, loved one-on-one conversations, and was as bright as she was beautiful. Geoff led with his intellect and entertained with his wit.
Then there was Peter. He was the proverbial high school star quarterback, prom king, and class valedictorian all rolled into one. He owned any room he walked into along with everything in it. Like everyone else, I was awestruck by his confidence and demeanor.
The fifth meeting was so different from all the others. I had moved in with my newfound friends and was contributing to the household. Meetings had become more formal. Conversations centered on more intellectual, philosophical, and spiritual subjects. More and more it seemed that my roommates were delving into my background, family connections, and friends on the outside.
There was some drug use going on, but mostly only pot. And there were some love interests and interactions, but nothing that you wouldn’t see in your typical college dorm.
At first things didn’t bother me. But as time passed, I started to feel uncomfortable. Not really knowing why, I wrote the discomfort off as just “feelings.”
Little daily pleasantries, like catching up on the news, checking out social media, or texting a friend, especially Todd, started to be sort of frowned upon. Hard to explain, but the pressure to just be with our own little group began to build.
Sleep started to elude me and confusing thoughts plagued me.
“What’s happening to me?” I whispered.
Voice to self: “Ella, am I still here?”
This is Ella’s story. But it is also the story of thousands of others who have been caught in the grip of a destructive cult.
– The young woman was at a vulnerable point in her life, ripe for recruiting.
– Her immediate physical needs were being attended to, supplying her with comfort and security.
– Friendships were cultivated, satisfying one of the most basic human needs for companionship and love.
After being lavished with attention and affection, through a process that cult experts characterize as “love bombing,” Ella was sufficiently conditioned to let her guard down.
This is the point at which some future benefit is “presented.” A cult recruit like Ella is programmed to believe that the dominant trusted friend (cult leader), along with the other trusted members of the group (fellow cult members), know the secret path to enlightenment, power, personal happiness, and other such things related to the nature of the cult in question.
There’s a catch, though. The cult recruit must now agree to conform with cult beliefs, requirements, and protocols in order to gain access to the “wisdom” and “benefits” that the inner members enjoy.
One of the most powerful forms of conditioning that an individual can be subjected to is the inducement of “cognitive dissonance.”
This term was first used by social psychologist Leon Festinger to describe a tension in the human mind that arises because of the presence of two or more beliefs, which are unable to coexist, thereby creating a conflict.
Human beings naturally seek harmony. If there is a disruption of mental consistency, this will place an individual or individuals into a vulnerable state. Destructive cults seek first to induce this state and then to exploit it.
Wildly false messages and directives are communicated repeatedly, which generates mental tension, i.e., cognitive dissonance, and softens up the cult recruit for further mental conditioning. Eventually, the cult recruit is likely to accept big lies as truths.
In fact, if some contrary concrete evidence is actually presented to a conditioned cult member, he or she will many times stubbornly reject the facts and even double-down on a false belief.
This phenomenon is something Festinger calls “belief perseverance.”
It is a sign that a soul has taken another ill-fated step toward total mind control.