Military recruiters and police academies all over the world know intuitively that the way to create loyalty is to traumatize the recruits. Humiliate them, spit on them, call them names, scream in their faces, scare them, traumatize them, and in return you will get loyalty. Unfortunately you won’t get good positive interactions between these trainees and the public. What you will get from these traumatized trainees is authoritarian challenges, groupthink, and in general, running roughshod over the public’s civil rights. If you don’t believe me, try exercising your federally protected civil right not to testify against yourself, next time your vehicle is stopped by an officer. You will regret it.
The public was baffled in the 1970s when a newspaper and magazine CEO’s daughter named Patty Hearst, was kidnapped by a gang of revolutionaries, the Symbionese Liberation Army. She was later caught on a bank’s security video carrying a machine gun into the bank, helping to rob the bank. The American public decided she had been brainwashed. She had been brainwashed, but first she was traumatized.
Stockholm Syndrome is named after the 1973 hostage taking of bank employees for six days, who later defended their kidnappers and adopted the kidnappers’ values. But this has always been true. Freed slaves wanted to own slaves. People freed from concentration camps were harsh on their children. The prisoner realizes, at a subconscious level, that in order to survive she has to take on the viewpoint of the kidnapper: Identification with the Aggressor.
Who is fascinated by casinos? Probably those whose parents made big promises and then didn’t keep the promises. Gambling casinos match that original parent-child interaction, and the adult who bonded with a parent who never kept his promises is fascinated by a similar mirage in adulthood. Instead of running as far away from unfulfilled promises, we run towards whatever reminds us of the dysfunction and trauma of our childhoods.
But why would anyone be sucked in by an abusive church? That one is easy: Because abusive churches fascinate those of us who grew up in abuse.
Jesus said if we are not willing to forsake our mothers and fathers then we are not worthy to be his followers. Almost every interaction Jesus had with his family was difficult, negative and rejecting. He had to oppose his family from the beginning in order to accomplish his work. Jesus’ family represented themselves as followers of God, and they were upset and baffled when he ignored and contradicted them, walking away from his family.
Fairbairn, an early theoretician of Object Relations Theory and Attachment Theory, taught that children, in order to form their own identities, first bond with their parent/s. If they see negative in their parents, they are compelled to ignore it or justify it in order to maintain the kind of bonding they need to form their identities. So if their parents are neglectful, harmful or rejecting, they must justify that behavior by pronouncing themselves bad. A four year old girl told Fairbairn: “My Mommy broke my arm because I was a bad girl.” This is necessary, posits Fairbairn, because if she admits her mother is bad, she loses all hope of forming a positive identity in adulthood. She might as well jump into the abyss as to admit that her mother is not worthy of her adoration and imitation. You can see this attitude clearly in first grade boys who each insist that his father is the best father in the world.
Erikson, who floated 7 stages of psychosocial development in a person’s life, said that we could get stuck at any stage along the path, failing to accomplish an essential psychological task, and we would move forward without the equipment that stage was to provide us with. All a parent needs to do to prevent a child from declaring independence in the teen years is to traumatize the child earlier. The result of post trauma in teen years, according to James Marcia, are three choices: identity moratorium, identity diffusion and foreclosed identity. What we see most often in the sect I grew up in is foreclosed identity: taking on the identity and values of one’s parents wholesale, without critical examination. Moving forward into Identity Achievement would require courage, strength and resources that the traumatized person does not have. You can see this on Facebook with friends or relatives who repeat news stories on Facebook that support the beliefs they were raised with, without any effort to check these stories to see if they are urban myths.
Traumatized people stay blindly loyal to their church, unwilling to break free from the dysfunctional organization that reminds them so much of their dysfunctional parents they have not been able to differentiate from.