Guru-Manipulation & Self-Mistrust

pixabay, CC0 Public Domain
pixabay, CC0 Public Domain

Mental or psychological control is easy when people doubt themselves.

Trusting in gurus and persons presented as higher, more knowledgeable, more powerful, or morally superior tends to make one more susceptible to manipulation.

Children, of course, need to rely on their parents and elders for protection, wisdom, and authority. But when children are taught to mistrust themselves, then as adults they are more likely to look to someone else to trust and to save them, especially in a crisis.1

Instilling Self-Doubt In Children

While a child, whenever I asked reasonable questions about church doctrines that didn’t make sense my parents and Sunday school teachers retorted “god works in mysterious ways”. The doctrine of the Holy Trinity was one nonsensical idea I questioned:

How could God be one and three at the same time? and, what was this Holy Spirit thing?
Did being told to trust in a mysterious god instead of in reason lead me to mistrust myself?

As a young adult, against my parents wishes, I was ordained a monk in a Hindu-inspired meditation group, Self-Realization Fellowship (SRF).

The teachings of SRF and their Guru, Paramahansa Yogananda, like many gurus, are fraught with suggestions that followers should doubt themselves and instead unconditionally trust the Guru.

In SRF Lesson 51, Paramahansa Yogananda taught:

“I never found complete satisfaction, comfort, and God-contact until I attuned myself with unconditional loyalty and devotion to the divine consciousness of my guru.”2

Below is a partial list of methods used by gurus and manipulative authorities who impose mental controls by instilling self-doubt. Followed by a partial list of ways that healthy individuals and groups use to boost self-trust.

Methods used by Gurus to instill self-mistrust:

  • Patronizes followers (treats with kindness while betraying superiority)
  • Assumes superiority (knows what’s best for others)
  • Instills fear, guilt, or shame
  • Belittles reason and personal experience
  • Emphasizes dangers of ego, lower self, self-interest (reason, intellect, personal experience)
  • Provides methods (such as meditation) to realize soul or higher self (beyond reason, intellect)
  • Emphasizes service to guru or authority (versus taking care of one’s self-interests)
  • Masks abusive behavior as “training” or as beyond understanding of lessor humans

Methods used by those who boost self-trust, includes:

  • Nurtures self-expression, creativity
  • Values first-hand experience over others’ experiences
  • Encourages evaluation of outer and inner world
  • Values critical thinking, reason, and intellectual development
  • Respects feelings, is aware of, and allows processing of personal experiences

The above lists are not exhaustive and are meant to be a sample of the kinds of methods, both subtle and overt, that gurus and controlling authorities use to manipulate followers. Let me know if you have any items to add or to change these lists.

Notes
1 p 10 The Guru Papers: Masks of Authoritarian Power, Joel Kramer and Diana Alstad, Frog Books, Berkley, CA. 1993
2 Self-Realization Fellowship Lesson 51: My Guru, Sri Yukteswar

9 comments

  1. SkepticMeditations

    @Sabio: I could elaborate on my relations with parents. I’ll read your story and see if I can make a post to describe the story of my situation with my parents when I disassociated from family and escaped into SRF.

    Short answer to your questions are:
    1) Have you since re-established a good relationship with your parents? Yes.
    2) Did I stay in contact while in SRF? Yes.
    3) Did you need to apologize for any of your behavior in the past to them? No. Though, that doesn’t mean there may be things I did that I ought to consider apologizing for.

    I’ll read your post and see if it gives me some new ideas on this topic.
    Thanks!

  2. SkepticMeditations

    @2bidule22: Thanks for your thoughts and suggestions. I’m wondering if the “method” you are describing would fall under–

    Methods used by Gurus to instill self-mistrust:
    * Patronizes followers (treats with kindness while betraying superiority)
    * Assumes superiority (knows what’s best for others)
    [AND/OR under this newly added item below]
    * “Masks abusive behavior as “training” or as beyond understanding of lessor humans”

    Feel free to let me know your thoughts and suggestions to add or improve upon.

  3. SkepticMeditations

    @uwsboi14: Thanks for your suggestion. I’ve added to the post, under

    Methods used by those who boost self-trust, includes:
    “Respects feelings, is aware of, and allows processing of personal experiences”

    Let me know if this is not what you meant

  4. SkepticMeditations

    @Uwsboi14: Glad to hear that this article helped you in your process of leaving the SRF.

    Based on your suggestion, I’ve added a new item to Methods used by Gurus to instill self-mistrust:

    “Masks abusive behavior as “training” or as beyond understanding of lessor humans”

    Let me know if that is close to what you meant. thanks

  5. 2bidule22

    Another method: Inquiring.
    Studying you. Seeking to know what is going on in your mind while never revealing what is going on in his.
    So as to always appear without weaknesses.

    ” ‘Oh! grandmother,’ she said, ‘what big ears you have!’
    ‘ All the better to hear you with, my child,’ was the reply
    ‘ But, grandmother, what big eyes you have!’ she said.
    ‘ All the better to see you with, my dear.’
    ‘ But, grandmother, what large hands you have!
    ‘ All the better to hug you with.’
    (…)

  6. uwsboi14

    I’d like to add to the concept of “critical thinking” something about the awareness of personal feelings. I’m not sure what it would be called, maybe something like “personal feeling awareness”. There must be other people like me who first react to something out of feeling rather than thought. Once I get that initial “I don’t like this” reaction, I then proceed to think through what’s wrong with the situation. Definitely in SRF, personal feelings are verboten because they can lead to critical thinking.

  7. Uwsboi14

    I would add, “Verbally and/or physically abuses the disciple under the guise of training causing the follower to suppress normal healthy instincts”

    I was so glad to see this post today. It speaks to exactly the issues I’m grappling with these days myself. It also makes me think about how I have actually been exploited and used by an authoritarian system. Even though SRF demeans LGBT members, it’s more than happy to use me to further its own agenda.

  8. Sabio Lantz

    Good lists Scott.

    So, if you care to share, here is a question (or make a post out of it):
    You ignored your parents’ wise suggestions to stay out of the SRF abusive cult but finally left SRF (albeit 14 years later). Have you since re-established a good relationship with your parents? Did you stay in contact while in SRF? Did you need to apologize for any of your behavior in the past to them? Here is where I apologized on my blog</https://triangulations.wordpress.com/2009/08/13/forgive-me/ — and I have in person too.

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