ESCAPING UTOPIA: Growing up in a cult, getting out, and starting over.
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)