Establishing and maintaining the Pseudopersonality

by Gary Busselman  (April 18, 2001)

I am impressed by the perception and clarity and detail revealed by writers who write about the effects high control groups can have on certain members. The approach almost always appears to be an objective detached account of the effects and aftereffects of high control group involvement.

The favorite analysis of the high control group member by these writers seems to be a microscopic view of a model that lived a healthy life in middle class Western culture, had no overwhelming life events to run from, is educated beyond the norm, was deceived somehow into joining the high control group, was re-educated with group ideals, then adopted the look as well as the thought pattern of the group leader(s). When they leave their groups they have this struggle returning to the life they once had. A struggle that, in my opinion, occurs mostly in the mind of the writer.

A popular book, Cults in our Midst, By Margaret Thaler Singer (with Janja Lalich), Chapter 12, p. 302: Recovery; Coming out of the Pseudopersonality, contains these two sentences:

". . . I will explore . . . a kind of peeling off of the outer layer of identity that was taken on while in the cult. The process is a matter of recovering one's self and one's value system, and of keeping whatever good was learned during cult days while discarding all the not-so-good."

While this onion peel approach is interesting and I'm sure it applies to some individuals, maybe many individuals, it avoids the masses who were indoctrinated into these groups as children or as adolescents who had no other personality, no other training, and no other world views. The constant repetition of the group's world view became the core beliefs of the individual. Not an "outer layer". Not a pseudo-personality. The groups beliefs and practices made up the core of the predominant operating force of the young member. The human body became the person and beliefs plus experiences became the personality.

To approach the ejected high control group member like they have a disease like a rash that will go away if treated with enough reality or if treated with the doctrines of a counter believing high control group is adding insult to injury. All ejected high control group members are true believers to varying degrees. They are respectable and deserve respect. To approach the ejected true believer as having a veneer personality that when stripped away will reveal this underlying pliable, supple personality, waiting for the counselor or the pastor to mold would be wrong in many cases. For people raised in groups as children, the pseudopersonality is actually formed after leaving the group. The underlying core beliefs implanted so long ago by the group are still there. That is why so many are compelled to return after being away from the group many years. That is why so many former members have problems with religious rituals like Christmas and political opportunities like voting in public elections.

I was raised in a high control group by true believing parents and I was surrounded by true believing relatives and by true believing friends and we all attended 5 or more meetings a week as well as proselytized on the group leader's behalf almost to the exclusion of everything else. For a time, the group was my life. My thoughts were group influenced. My behavior was group influenced. I had no other personality, I had nothing to "recover."

Now I leave the group and some well meaning, never been there, counselor tries to remove my group designed personality? Or some counter believing group's apologist tries to "replace" my errant ideas with her own? If you think I might have a tendency to resist that approach, you're right.

At best, I can only be a product of my education, my experience, plus my perception. For me, there seems to be no coming out of any pseudopersonality. There is a diffusing process, a reconciliation process, an accepting process. I will find some way to come to terms with my perception of my experiences. I will find a modified belief system to live my life by. I will continue to try things and reflect on success as well as error.

First of all, my experience was not all bad. It was like a train trip. A little rough at times. A little boring at times. The seat got a little hard. The sleeping was not always easy but we hade some enjoyable stops. We saw some very pretty and interesting things. We met some nice people. Some of us met out mates there and produced children there. Some of us lost important people along the way.

One of the costs of leaving the train is leaving behind the pleasant as well as the unpleasant aspects of the trip. There were circumstances within or beyond our control that got us on the train. I could have stayed but I chose to go. There was a cost involved in getting off. I thought I could avoid part of that cost but I couldn't.

The education and experience and reflection since leaving the group has established a somewhat different personal operating system, like a new version of Windows, a super-pseudo-personality and in many ways, living has been establishing and maintaining the pseudopersonality.

Gary Busselman

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