I heard the phrase again – toxic positivity. So interesting. I saw this – let’s just all pretend everything is perfect and never look at complicated situations – that was my cohousing community when I lived there.
I am planning a trip to Florida and I wanted to see the Holy land Amusement park. Instead I found an article in the Christian magazine about how it shut down last year. Seems appropriate – a plague brought it down. That led to this article.
It’s about Missionary’s kids and abuse but the same themes work at cohousing and Intentional Communities. Fear of letting outsiders know there are problems since it’ll look badly on the whole movement. Where to turn when your whole social structure is right there?
I read another cohousing article recently where one woman mentioned she had a friend who lived in a retirement community. She pointed out how much this friend hated it there and felt like they returned to high school with the cliques and exclusion at the place, being around people you had nothing in common with, and having to suffer three meals a day with these people.
My reaction is that they assume that won’t happen in cohousing. I’m pretty sure the article was about a forming community since an established one may know better.
After about six months of moving into my new cohousing (most moved in that same year), I wondered why I was feeling like I wasn’t in the” in” crowd. I even wondered why we had an in crowd which seemed to hold all the power and run things at the place (maybe because they moved in first?) I had spent four happy years at a Quaker college. I was used to consensus and community. I don’t remember cliques there or feeling out of it. It wasn’t perfect, there were conflicts. I was part of the group of students who ran the radio station. One time we had to come to a consensus on what to do about a theft. And, when one student who shaved his head became the station manager, my friend couldn’t stand him so much that he put his name and face on his racquetball and took out his anger on it each time he played. So, I was jarred by the opposite feeling at cohousing. I thought I’d flourish again and enjoy creating things again like in college (one group of us started our own theater program there).
Then, when everything hit the fan for me, I had just had a milestone birthday. So, when a neighbor told me of the rumors another main character in the conflict was spreading, I joked, “I wanted to be young again, but not middle school!”
I couldn’t believe how others were listening to the false narrative and not even talking to me, at all. The mediator encouraged us to reach out to others even if we may not agree, since that is what community is. The fact that it wasn’t happening made me realize that it was not a community.
There was also pressure for everyone to agree to one side of the story. The consensus was I had made a horrible mistake and would never be forgiven. Even with the mediator there, the discussion was “Shame on you.”
It reminded me of middle school when a bunch of girls decided they wouldn’t be my friend unless I admit that I like Larry. I was confused. I didn’t like Larry, not like that. I think he may have liked me. Yet, I saw the writing on the wall and wanted to stay in this popular crowd so I lied and said I liked Larry. All was smooth sailing until summer break and then I never remember speaking to any of them again (Larry even switched schools).
Being in cohousing in that conflict was the same pressure. Admit that you feel how we think you feel. I always apologized and did feel terrible that others were hurt and misunderstood my motives. I thought once I shared my story, everyone would see my motives were to help in a horrible situation and come together as a community to make it better. But, some got so mixed up they thought the situation was normal and we couldn’t even agree what is is.
I even said to the mediator that it was feeling cult-like. They brushed me off. They love intentional communities so much that they are blind to the groupthink too.
So, keep dreaming of cohousing you subjects of articles. Some are doing amazing. But some are worse than high school – they are middle school!
This week two movies about cults (or cult like) were released. I was so happy to see the mysterious “Don’t Worry Darling”. I could tell it was creepy and the town was holding a secret from the promotions. It started with that tension and mystery but kept going and going. Reading the review below repeats what I felt.
I love movies like this – Get Out, Stepford Wives, etc. Definitely more like the latter. But they all seem to start out the same – people crave a safe place and sense of community but somehow not everyone enters these places of their own will or knowledge of what is truly going on. Which is exactly how a cult works. You join wanting to change the world, better yourself, and be part of this amazing community that has love bombed you. Only later your realize that your celibate guru was sleeping with everyone (not always by the other’s consent), only wanted your money, and or was doing something completely crazy like branding women or poisoning the local’s salad bar.
That’s what I experienced. Everything seemed fine – a nice, cohousing community. Soon I got a sense of deep secrets. Before you know it, many agreed to something completely ridiculous. They even said they didn’t want outsiders but the outsiders I did speak to said, and I quote, “That’s fucking crazy.” So note to self : be ware of groups that don’t want you to confer with outsiders and stick with your gut of what is wrong or right, though cults quickly make you dependent on them and break that part of you that listens to yourself.
The other cult movie this week surprised me. It popped up on my Netflix feed. I had never heard of this sex cult which sold an orgasim as a religion. Brilliant marketing idea and they made billions. The story was the same as every other cult documentary – it was amazing at first. They lived and breathed each other and grew personally. Then some doubts, but worse, looking back they see how the charismatic leader had broken them down. This cult, One Taste, pressured their members to sell and unfortunately, used sex to sell and some didn’t want to do these favors. That got the attention of the FBI and they are under investigation. The movie, Orgasm Inc, will be a hit I”m sure since it has graphic scenes (blurred out but still) and the intincing story of wondering how did people ever agree to this? I hope it is starting to be clear – cults are wonderful – at first! Very smart people join them and it takes some big event to yank them out, unfortunately.
I think, it’s from Australia. It’s funny how they have to criticize those who want to live in a “box.” But it is accurate – if you are living in cohousing, you have to be open to many decisions being made as a group. Small decisions like what color to paint the steps, to big ones, like fixing the sinking floor under the Common House fridge – it could take a long time and many emails and meetings. I was surprised at my old cohousing that the fact that one woman asked for people not to walk in her backyard area after dark was questioned by a man. Really? That is a group decision also? Patience is key to community living.
But, if you want community and fun, there are other options. My sister just got a beach place and they have a fun committee that plans pickleball clinics and other activities. All the fun and none of the long, boring meetings!
I was at a Halloween party this weekend and they had B movies in the background. Then, they switched it to Candyman. I noticed right away that the dialogue and the visual shots were all about housing – affordability, projects, and social justice. I only watched up until one slashing and then moved outside to the bonfire.
It caught my attention so I watched the whole movie yesterday. I usually don’t watch scary movies (they cause insomnia) but I was fascinated and it didn’t look too scary (it has a few jump scares but you can close your eyes for the gross stuff). I was right – it is about housing and social justice. It literally has shots where you see large buildings in the background and abandoned projects in the foreground. Even one killing pans out to show the regentrified building where the victim lives.
So, horror films aren’t for everyone but it is Halloween time. Like other Jordan Peele films, it isn’t just about horror. I will admit that when the cat bumped the door last night I did think it was Candyman.
Looking for an image I found this interesting article. Apparently, the original Candyman movie was also about housing. This article discusses the reality in Chicago (where the new film is set).
I found this blog post on someone’s experience in cohousing. Perfect timing. We are having huge health issues in our household and I wonder what it would’ve been like at cohousing. Now I have more verification that leaving was the best thing for us.-
I just binge watched Netflix’s The Watcher. I was hooked the minute I saw the trailer – and it has Olivia Newton John’s song in it! Very creepy trailer. I posted the true story article a few weeks ago. I think the show did a great job at pulling at all the strings that were mentioned in the article.
The creators of the show made American Horror Story which, from what I remember, also had a haunted house. A lot of shows focus on a house making people scared and spooked. Even this show mentions how American it is to buy a house that you can not afford. The main characters were so excited about getting this big, beautiful dream home that was way out of their league. Of course that part was added for more drama – higher stakes for when everything goes terribly wrong. It reminds me of hearing stories of people spending too much to buy into cohousing. I know one family had to refinance right away. We do put a lot into our home purchases – money, hopes, dreams. Like this TV show’s true story, sometimes your dream home turns into a nightmare. In this case, and mine, it was caused by the neighbors!
The family in the Watcher receive threatening letters with specific details on how the person was watching their house. They knew their names and details. So, naturally, they suspected all their neighbors – checking out who has a view of what and who can hear them in the yard. The show elaborates on each neighbor and what makes them suspect. It has a top cast and I found it very entertaining. The show also ends exactly like the true story (which I won’t spoil) as far as who the culprit turns out to be.
Cohousing tries to be the opposite. A place where you can trust and rely on your neighbors. The trouble is that real people and problems can happen and it’s hard to deal with that as a group. For example, many people move in to age in place, but what happens when those needs become too much for the neighbors? Many families move in for the free babysitting. What happens if the free babysitter doesn’t believe in supervising kids or their older child inappropriately touches younger children – do you want that type of babysitter? SIngle moms move in so their kids can play with the other children and have a network of neighbors. What if they become the target of the community’s bully and yelled at for their child climbing trees or playing loud music (even if it wasn’t their child)? The problem isn’t the specifics of what happen but how the cohousing deals with it. Some communities don’t want to ruffle feathers so continue to let bullies bully and children hurt each other. So people leave cohouisng and you never hear from them again and the reasons. Even here in my blog where I try to be honest, I have “haters” who want me to stop talking.
I don’t want to give too much away from the show, but the family was so excited to move in and put all their investments and money on the line to buy this “safe” house in the suburbs, far from New York City. The anonymous letters scared them and soon the house seems more of a burden than an escape. There is a montage where the father commutes out of NYC and seems so beaten down arriving to their home after working so hard to keep it. We all know the rule that you are not supposed to spend more than 30% of your income on your household but that is rare these days; to stay within those means. It’d be nice and easy to just move whenever a neighbor (or house’s repairs) give you too much trouble, but financially that is not always possible. A house and a neighborhood is a commitment so we all have to decide what time, energy, and money makes it worth it or not. For the real family in the Watcher, they never even moved in. The show gives a horror twist to what could have happened if they did.
The book is based on cult/toxic group research and contains many Interviews of cult survivors who were brought into the cult as children (or born in).
The first chapter is called We Weren’t There by Choice. That’s how I started to feel about cohousing. The parents choose to be there, not the children. And, like me, they thought it was perfect for children – running from house to house, common areas and playgrounds, always having a playmate, having mentors of all ages, having non-relative grandparent-like figures. However, I didn’t consider the dark side. Parenting styles that clash and kids being negatively influenced by each other. Kid culture being too violent and scary and not kind and not enough parents trying to guide them. More Lord of the Flies. Kids that ran around and made all ages angry so most did not become loving grandparent figures (and the whole community overjoys when the problem kids and parents finally leave). Lastly, many intentional communities, like cults, end up with some sort of sexual abuse accusation, incident, or outright years of abuse.
Cults are not obvious all the time. Sometimes they creep up on communities dedicated to things like yoga or meditation. They said in the book that meditation can be overused and can cause negative consequences. In the book they say that many studies say that lengthy meditation sessions can erupt underlying conditions and can cause depression, grandiosity,
anxiety, dissociation, paranoia and hallucinations. So, a cohousing group could slip into cult like tendencies since they start off with common, innocent goals also.
One thing I see in common is that cult members become dedicated to the cult and other adults so children can be dropped off with others frequently. In a group, you trust one another so you assume they will take care of your children, but predators abuse that trust. Also, cult members will leave breast feeding babies or young children with others for long periods of time – even months as the adults are sent elsewhere. In Leah Reminin’s show, she points out over and over again that everyone must be dedicated to the cult, not their parents nor family. Children must behave appropriately for the cult. Cohousing, hopefully, wouldn’t be like this, but I did see the tendency of some adults feeling more interested in socializing with other adults and didn’t seem to notice what their children did, where they were, or assumed someone else in the neighborhood would keep an eye on them – without asking. I admit this was one of my concerns about moving in because I know myself. As a parent of young children I craved for adult conversation and connections, so when I’d go to events, sometimes I’d loose track of my own children. I wondered how I would balance that in a cohousing where I’d be around adults all the time. It wasn’t terrible or dangerous for our family, but sometimes I was uncomfortable about the youngest kids running around and some were caught crossing the street or playing with snakes, among other things, as the parents were busy elsewhere.
The book shows that those who leave the cult are bad mouthed. One girl knew her dad wasn’t all the things they were calling them. They even called those who left child molesters. Cohousing can be similar. Bad mouthing those who don’t agree with the main idea instead of hearing out all ideas. Making up lies about others. Making up a story of those who left that keep any accountability to those who stay.
They discuss Enron and I think I’ve read other books and articles that mention them in respect to cults. Enron promoted itself as truth and a way of life in business. Silenced others in the company even when unorthodox methods were endangering their business and overall energy marketing. Transcendent belief system of Certainty and Righteousness can take over a group and erase critical abilities of everyone inside it. Healthy groups’ rightness can be shared in easy going ways. But cultic groups have push for purity and questioning others beliefs will not be tolerated; they don’t want ideas that challenge their beliefs. People will suppress or erase their individuality. Individuals start to control their own behavior (so they won’t be kicked out). Every one must show complete devotion to the group’s ideas and beliefs.
The book has 4 dimensions of Cult like groups (bounded choice model)
1 Transcendent belief
2. Charismatic authority
3. Systems of control
4. Systems of influence
The first one brings adults with their kids to these cults. And cohousing attracts followers. To socialize and not be lonely. To be part of a community in a world where we all bowl alone. To improve the environment by using less chemicals on lawns, sharing tools, and installing solar panels.
In a cult/toxic group: Always striving. But goal posts keep changing. Keep working so hard. Dire consequences if they question the leader or the group’s beliefs. Enforced silence, shunning, demotion, exiled to different locations, physical punishment. Then guilt, shame, and fear (I felt that). Parents do not have time to care for children and neglect happens a lot. Kids grow up without parent contact or get healthy parental bonds.
The book has many lists and checklists to see if you are part of a cult. It ends with your bill of rights – to not have any one person or group control you and/or your feelings. Even if you are not interested in checking your life for toxicity, this is a fascinating book on the children’s experiences and growth and survival as adults. I have read it twice and will read it again (okay, it’s an audio book for me, so I will listen again)
Another article of a cohousing group losing money developing the project (which is fully disclosed) and unable to build. I knew I was lucky to just buy a house built by a developer (since I didn’t have the money to risk in developing cohousing from the ground up). That’s why I was so bitter – those who are in cohousing are lucky and to find out, they can let it all go up in smoke with letting conflicts blow out of control (a false promise that they will do better than the rest of society on dealing with such conflicts)