Memoir Writing for Cult Members

I watched this interesting Netflix movie called Faults, recently. It’s about a guy that’s a cult deprogrammer. I’m particularly interested in the subject of cults, as I’ve ghostwritten a couple of memoirs for people who were in cults or cult-like situations.

A lot of what comes up in conversations about cults is the question: where is the line drawn between “mind control” and a society that simply shapes how you think? We all live in cultures and subcultures. We all have belief systems and religions. We all build our own new families when we leave our primary families.

So, what makes one of these societies a cult and another just a subculture? I’m neither a psychologist nor a cult expert, so I can’t answer that question with any degree of expertise, but I do enjoy asking it. Each client has a different answer.

In ghostwriting memoirs, I’ve become keenly aware that some families have strange beliefs indeed, but does that make them cults? Or do they only become cults when they recruit members who are not blood relations?

Some people believe that when a group of people believes something that the general population believes to be patently untrue–like that aliens walk the Earth, or that certain people have psychic powers, or that strange practices will bring enlightenment–then that group is a cult. But I can think of quite a few world religions that believe things I find equally absurd.

These are issues not just ghostwriters but many memoirists think about a lot, because when we really spend time examining our belief systems, and how difficult it can be to change from one belief system to another, we realize that most of us do live in little cults.

I’m not saying cults don’t exist. They do. What I consider a cult is … well, who was it that said stupidity is when people do the same thing over and over and expect different results? Actually I don’t think that’s stupidity, I think it’s the result of brainwashing. When I see behavior that doesn’t bring the desired results, yet the actor continues to do it, disregarding all logical arguments against it, that is what seems cultlike to me, and dangerous.

As a ghostwriter, I’ve even had clients whom I suspected were in a cult, even as we wrote their memoir. They didn’t murder people or anything, they just had outlandish beliefs that were based on no empirical evidence and were blind to all evidence against these beliefs. But so what?

Everybody’s life experience is valid. That’s kind of the whole point of what I do: to simply say that everyone has a right and a need to tell the story of his or her life, no matter how outlandish it may be. I maintain that a well-written memoir shows the logic at the base of every lifestyle choice.

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