One of the other factors in creating a cult is for the group to become isolated. The isolation contributes to the cult members losing their grip on reality. There really is no such thing as “normal” in society – at best there is only what is average, or commonly experienced by most people. If someone strays too far from the mean, their interactions with others will tend to correct them. The lack of that correction is what causes the isolation that many of the mentally ill experience to make them sicker. When a group gets isolated, that’s how a charismatic but delusional leader can bend the minds of otherwise healthy people.
I was moved to write my first web page about my illness shortly after the Heaven’s Gate mass suicide. When I heard about it I just freaked out and spent a couple of weeks in a seriously troubled state of mind. It was the worst off I’d been in a long time.
It wasn’t simply that the incident vividly reminded me of the times I had been suicidal. It was that it made me question the very foundations of my reality. The people who “shed their vehicles” with the aid of barbiturates to go join the extraterrestrial visitors were not depressed, in fact the videotapes they left behind showed them to be apparently happy and healthy people, and intelligent ones too: the cult operated a successful web design firm! What upset me was the realization that despite my best efforts to maintain a firm grounding in reality, I knew that even perfectly sane people could be fooled into killing themselves quite enthusiastically. I knew that I could be fooled too, if I wasn’t careful.
This can happen to entire nations. If international and economic conditions lay the right foundation, a single delusional and charismatic leader can incite a whole country to become a murderous cult. In For Your Own Good: Hidden Cruelty in Child-Rearing and the Roots of Violence Alice Miller discussed the violent abuse Adolf Hitler’s father subjected him to as a child and how that led to his adulthood as the pathologically violent leader of Nazi Germany.
Such pathology, while too horrible for most people to contemplate, is an expected consequence of the reaction of normal human nature to extreme circumstances. Lest you think it’s not worth your concern, I want you to consider for a moment the following: If it can happen to Heaven’s Gate, if it can happen in Jonestown, if it can happen in Waco, if it can happen to Cambodia, if it can happen even to a large, populous, powerful, modern and industrialized nation like Germany, then it can happen here.
Why Am I Saying All This?
There was a long time that I tried to keep my illness a secret, but I eventually decided to acknowledge it publicly. It was a difficult decision, but ultimately I have decided it is a better way to live. I can be open and honest, without feeling that I need to lie to protect myself. If there are negative consequences to speaking openly about my illness, I take a great deal of comfort in the inspiration that my writing has been to others who suffer.
I was moved to write this particular article today after I saw the movie A Beautiful Mind last night.
It is the story of John Forbes Nash, a brilliant mathematician who was struck down early in his career by severe schizophrenia. He suffered in obscurity for decades (tormented by hallucinations and paranoia) before he recovered in the early 1990s. Dr. Nash was awarded the 1994 Nobel Prize in Economics for the pioneering work he did on Game Theory as his Ph.D thesis in the early 1950′s.
Throughout my life I have always felt it important to speak out about the things that I believed in. That’s why I posted John J. Chapman’s Make a Bonfire of Your Reputations on my website after I first read it in The Cluetrain Manifesto.
However, I have not always been such an eloquent speaker. It took me a long time to learn to write well, and when I was young I was unable to speak convincingly at all. It has happened quite a few times that speaking out caused me trouble, and it was especially difficult to get anyone to listen during the times my illness made it difficult to organize my thoughts.
It is likely that you’ve heard or read the ramblings of a mentally ill person and written them off as inspired by delusions. But there is often truth behind even the most paranoid manifestos, sometimes a terrible truth, if only you were able to decipher their real meaning.
I have found that getting people to listen to me doesn’t require that I avoid embarrassing or forbidden topics, only that I discuss them eloquently enough that I gain my readers respect by the way I express my ideas. I’d like to suggest that you learn to write and speak well too, if you have something to say that you think others won’t want to hear.
One of the reasons I used to work so hard to keep my illness a secret is that while in the grip of my symptoms I did a lot of things that I regret. Most people regarded me as a pretty weird guy in general, and having such a reputation to live down does not help when trying to establish a career in a competitive industry or in trying to find the affection of a loving woman. It might well happen that some who knew me when I was the most ill might post embarrassing comments in response to this article. It might also happen that potential consulting clients – or my current ones – read this and wonder about my competence.
It is a risk that I accept in order to live true to myself. While at times I am in the grip of insanity, I take full responsibility for everything I have ever done. The best defense that I have is to let my words speak on my behalf.
As Maggie Kuhn, the founder of the Gray Panthers said:
Stand before the people you fear and speak your mind – even if your voice shakes.
Crawford, M. (2009). Living with Schizoaffective Disorder, Part 3. Psych Central. Retrieved on May 22, 2013, from http://psychcentral.com/lib/2009/living-with-schizoaffective-disorder-part-3/
Last reviewed: By John M. Grohol, Psy.D. on 30 Jan 2013
Published on PsychCentral.com. All rights reserved.