Where I’m At: The Grey Area

A lot of things have changed since I started this cult recovery blog in 2015.

Scratch that — I’ve changed a lot of things since starting this blog.

None of these changes were incidental. Cult recovery is 24/7/365 active work, not something that happens passively. So I’ve been making different choices, consistently, for the past year or so. These choices (such as how to make friends and how to define myself) have had overwhelmingly positive results. Most impactful of all has been the choice to remain in the Grey Area in as many ways as possible — ideologically, socially and emotionally. (More on that later.)

As a result of this choice, I now have plenty of insights that may be useful to others. But ironically, the more I learn in the Grey Area, the more comfortable I become with keeping my thoughts to myself. Thus, blogs don’t get written. If I’m being terribly honest, my motives have changed. This blog has primarily served as a personal diary thus far. Which means I’ve been its primary beneficiary. And there’s not necessarily anything wrong with that. When I launched UnMinding, catharsis was what I needed to move forward from past cults and groups… and catharsis is precisely what this blog provided.
But now? I’ve learned how to meet certain recovery-related needs in other, healthier ways: I’ve got friends; I’ve got a therapist; I make cult-critical art; I engage in community-building rather than complaining about the lack of healthy communities in the world. The more I heal, the less I want to dissect myself for an audience, “public confessional” style — a shame-fueled maladaptive behavior, most likely learned from cultic abuse. You simply can’t heal from abuse by replicating the abuse.

As a recovery choice, I’m re-evaluating the aim of this blog. Challenging cultism is still very important to me — if Purpose is a thing, it’s my Purpose. So I’m no longer interested in using this blog as a personal diary or burnbook on groups I’ve had spats with. At times, I’ve used this platform somewhat irresponsibly, ignorantly, and with inadequate foresight. [For instance, with my current (more developed) understanding of cultism, I would no longer call veganism a cult. “Self-sealing ideology” is more accurate, not to mention more conducive to initiating conversations.]
I acknowledge that my approach could use some refining, and I thank my long-time followers for being patient and understanding as I test out different ways to present cult discourse to the public. There is plenty of potential to utilize UnMinding as an educational — and maybe even entertaining — platform. Why waste that?

All of this is to say that UnMinding will likely be taking a new direction hereafter. Still deciding what that will look like. Perhaps I’ll incorporate a video element, interview guest bloggers, do social experiments, etc. (Hint: here’s your chance to make suggestions!)

But before we talk about where UnMinding is going, I’d like to tell you where I’m at.

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As you may know, cults instill a number of cognitive distortions in their victims. Perhaps the most damaging of all is black-and-white thinking. This is the tendency to favor extreme interpretations and perspectives, and resist nuance or ambiguity.

Discussing cognitive distortions is tricky. It can feel uncomfortable to recognize oneself in descriptions of a maladaptive behavior — but hey, don’t worry! Black/white thinking is common, even in non-cultists. It doesn’t mean there’s anything fundamentally wrong with you. Also, to be fair, there is a time and place for black and white thinking (for instance: when you need to think fast!). As a matter of fact, black-and-white thinking often develops in ongoing traumatic situations, as a defense from unpredictable harm. But to exercise it regularly in mundane contexts is usually unhealthy; it can even damage your interpersonal relationships and self-perception, if left unchecked.

Black-and-white thinking was one of many residual issues I grappled with after surviving multiple cults. It was negatively impacting almost every aspect of my life. So as an experiment, I decided to go one step further with my cult recovery: instead of simply avoiding belief systems and ideologues, I was going to actively engage with as many of them as possible.

For example: instead of simply ignoring the existence of radical feminism after I had my “peak radfem” breakthrough, I decided to continue exposing myself to radfem media, in addition to libfem media, and ex-feminist media, and MRA media, and….
Because, see, if I had chosen to cut radical feminism off completely, that would have been a version of black-and-white thinking in and of itself: an admission that I could either completely accept it, or completely reject it, with no in-between.

Living in the Grey Area is an exercise in building trust with myself. Yes, I can entertain ideas without becoming consumed by them. Yes, I can have a fluid worldview, subject to change at any moment. Yes, I can debate multiple sides of an issue without representing those beliefs myself.

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My life these days is marked by a general sense of calmness, and also curiosity. The possibility of being wrong no longer grips me with paralyzing fear or raging embarrassment. I no longer feel the need to spend hours (or days! or weeks!) engaged in online debates to prove anything to anyone. I no longer feel like the world’s problems are my personal responsibility to solve. I get excited about new ideas these days, whereas I used to be afraid. My mind is more flexible now. More free. And that’s just the short-list!
Metaphorically, you might say this is a sort of ideological sobriety. Quitting ideology was like quitting a lifelong addiction, complete with a painful withdrawal period. But now? I don’t even have cravings.

The more I swim around in the grey, the more I recognize black-and-whiteness in the everyday world. I’m not the only one who’s noticed this. Megan Phelps-Roper expresses a similar sentiment in her TED Talk about leaving the Westboro Baptist Church.
People seem to hold a misconception that cults and cultism are fringe issues that only particularly stupid people struggle with. When I describe my journey through cult recovery, they don’t expect to resonate with my words so much. But soon it becomes clear that we may have some things in common. Black-and-white thinking, social compliance, cognitive distortions… these are all things that anyone can struggle with, cultist or not. And in fact, these problems are pretty common in the average person. There is no avoiding the self-reflection aspect of cult discourse.

And therein lies perhaps the most frustrating obstacle in educating people about cults and cultism. Many people seem intrigued and on-board with cult analysis until it hits too close to home. I’ve seen it in my readership over the years. Group A will applaud me for having the courage to analyze Group B through my cult-critical lens; but when I turn that same lens onto Group A, Group A becomes hostile towards the critique. My tone hasn’t changed, nor have my principles or manners. But suddenly, my “courageous analysis” is now an arrogant, unfair, and unwelcome perspective. As my dear friend and fellow questioner Mickey Z puts it, “They weren’t calling me arrogant when I was agreeing with them.

So then they have a choice: they can dive deep into the Grey with me — which would require (uncomfortable) self-examination… or they can get defensive, identify me as the problem, and absolve themselves of discomfort by shutting me out.

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But I’m seeing a growing frustration with the state of public discourse, around politics in particular. We want equality, we want justice, and we want truth to prevail, but we can’t seem to figure out why our debates constantly devolve into personal attacks, excommunication and even doxing. We find ourselves trapped in a feedback loop that takes us to Square 1, to Square 1, to Square 1 again.

But that strong desire for healthier public debate is what gives me hope. I believe humanity is inclined towards feeling better. The trick now is to convince people that the Grey Area does, in fact, feel better than living in black and white.

I’m up to the challenge. The desire to change and grow is clearly there. So many people are ready to do away with the ideological animosity that holds us back collectively. I do not have all the answers — in fact, I may not have any answers — but I do have ideas. Ideas I’ve acquired through a long, painful cult recovery journey, excruciating self-reflection, and intense observation of the external world. And I’m excited to share those ideas, if you’re willing to engage with them.

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With that, thank you again for evolving with me.

I look forward to what we’ll turn UnMinding into. ♥

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