Book Review – Escaping Utopia and similarities to cohousing

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)

About CJ

I was a Spanish teacher for 5 years in the Public School system in 3 different states. I homeschooled and taught at a democratic free school. I heard about cohousing in 2010 and wanted to move in right away. I met a group building one in 2018 and got to move in the summer of 2019. It only took a year to want out.
This entry was posted in bad behavior and bullies of any age, group think and cults, psychopathy, narcissicism, and personality disorders in cohousing, Uncategorized. Bookmark the permalink.

9 Responses to Book Review – Escaping Utopia and similarities to cohousing

  1. Flower says:

    Janja Lalich was a guest at least one of the podcasts that I listened to about cults. I don’t recollect what the name of the podcast was though. I did notice on her website that she lists several books that I’ve read on her resources page under recommended reading. Under the subheading of Trauma and Recovery she lists two that I would recommend if you haven’t already read them: The Drama of the Gifted Child: The Search for the True Self by Alice Miller (New York: Basic Books, 1981) and For Your Own Good: Hidden Cruelty in Child-rearing and the Roots of Violence by Alice Miller.

    Any time I read an article or the websites about cohousing I think of the word utopia. Cults lure people with that promise as well too. The author was part of a political group called the Democratic Workers Party, which was prominent in San Francisco in the 1970s. She’s said of the group, “Everyone knew we were a cult except us.” That’s so typical.

    People trying to lure you into a cult and sometimes just their “way of thinking” can be very manipulative, duplicitous and sneaky. That’s another reason why I’ve read up so much on manipulative behaviors. A great book that I didn’t see on her list is by Dr. George K. Simon and that is In Sheep’s Clothing: Understanding and Dealing with Manipulative People. Another one is” Emotional Blackmail: When the People in Your Life Use Fear, Obligation, and Guilt to Manipulate You by Susan Forward, Ph.D.

    The book that you’ve reviewed sounds good too.

  2. Flower says:

    “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).”

    This is what would concern me about cohousing–their marketing makes it sound like it’s a utopia for parents. At least you recognize parenting styles that clash and what about people who are not parents? Maybe they like children, but their parenting style would also clash, despite not being a parent. I don’t know how else to say that. How often do you hear about parental conflicts with teachers, etc. I’ve heard about it a lot. Maybe some citizens don’t want to be placed in positions of childminding for other people. Those situations can be difficult enough with relatives, so why would you want to do that for strangers.

  3. Flower says:

    “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.”

    Precisely. What issues would arise when a parent/parents assume that someone else in the neighborhood will gladly keep an eye on their children–without asking? That is a massive, self-serving and inappropriate assumption and also entitled as well as a sign of neglectful parenting. Parents always think their kids are special angels that don’t cause or create problems when that’s far from accurate. With so many articles that focus on the number one benefit as being “free child care” I would think it would attract people who would make those assumptions and the problems that go with it. There are people who make those assumptions in conventional neighborhoods as well as entitled and neglectful parents–it runs the spectrum. Over time difficult behaviors can destroy communities and goodwill.

  4. CJ says:

    Thanks again for book suggestions. I love reading! I love that comment “everyone knew we were a cult except us.” So true!

  5. CJ says:

    Children and parenting conflicts is a huge one in cohousing and it’s not just for the people who possess children at the time. One cohousing in Colorado realized they didn’t want to hear the noise of children so they split and made one section just for Senior Citizens. I saw it first hand the difference in generations and being respected, or not, on guidance of the children’s behaviors. Yes, cohousing attracts people who want the free babysitting and just letting their kids run wild however they should realize it’s a community so the children’s behaviors become everyone’s business (when it’s in the common areas) and that they could benefit from various eyes and opinions to help raise their children. The reality might not go that way. Our worst offender family violated the pet policy we had all discussed and agreed on (no dogs wandering and pick up poop) so it shouldn’t have been a surprise that all the hours of meetings on kid behavior and kind ways to intervene were also ignored. I once heard a cohouser say they didn’t realize they were moving to live in a day care center!

    • Flower says:

      I’m not surprised. Conflicts around children and parenting, especially behaviors and so many other issues can erupt in conventional neighborhoods too such as lawsuits about trees and fences, etc. People deal with bad neighbors everywhere and that’s why I understand the appeal of gated communities, although problems can happen there too. I have to wonder how that would work splitting sections for seniors and children. I mean noise travels. If someone’s attitude is to ignore or dismiss concerns of others then they are basically letting the community know that they don’t care, so it shouldn’t be a surprise if they don’t build relationships and especially so if they are seeking free handouts in the form of labor (childcare).

      I did see an ad for a community home in Colorado that said they lived and raised their kids there for 20 years. If they are such ideal places it makes me wonder why they are leaving. It’s says “on to new adventures,” but I do wonder why they are leaving. If they are trying to sell their property I doubt they would openly disclose issues.

  6. CJ says:

    In my sleuth experience, most of the vocal people in cohouising have all moved out of one community and are trying to form another. I guess that’s the draw – the idea of a utopia – next time!

    • Flower says:

      I’ve noted the same–they start one and then they are on to the next. An abstract observed the activists that comprised cohousing and that they were usually the ones that pushed it–the vocal that you speak of. It referenced idealism as well, although I can’t find the exact quote.

      Here’s a quote from another abstract/study, “People join cohousing groups because they believe that there is something wrong with life in most villages, towns, and cities and they want to develop a better alternative. Sometimes this has been seen to articulate a utopian aspiration to secure a better way of living, of the kind more normally associated with self-consciously intentional communities.”

      That is consistent with the countless articles I’ve read about how basically the suburbs suck, etc. Of course if they outright came out and wrote this world sucks, there’s no community, there’s no support, people are selfish and greedy which is more direct and has a whiny quality to it, then it probably wouldn’t get published with the exception of comments on youtube, etc. I just read some sweeping generalizations on youtube regarding permaculture–the video you linked too. Reading them puts me in a foul mood.

      Maybe we could call them serial utopians–always in search of a more perfect version or vision or the grass is always greener syndrome.

  7. CJ says:

    Interesting that the leaders leave. The followers probably stay more. I’m a mover and shaker and couldn’t deal with the passive, slow, never get things done at my cohouisng. And I wouldn’t blame it on consensus because I’ve been involved with three other institutions with consensus and we heard each others’ voices but still dealt with whatever had to be done!!! Where I lived, the founder wouldn’t even move in – saw how dysfunctional the buyers were (wish they had told me) but also they turned on the founder since it’s easier to complain than pick up a tool and get to work yourself! I loved the idea that cohousing is something we were building every day – we make it what it is – not some magic board that decides things. Others seem to be used to privelege and just doing what they want. Real villages and communities are used to give and take and have a whole culture built around it.

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