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Hardship
 
© Charles Chandler
 
The next major threshold that needs to be crossed involves physical hardship. This can include sleep deprivation, chronic hunger, long hours of manual labor, etc. There are simple reasons why the cult may have to endure physical hardship. With limited interaction with the outside world, they'll have to get by on limited funds. But cult members should expect to be asked to endure more hardship than reality dictates, since this is one of the ways that the leader can gratify his ego. Getting people to endure extra hardship for the "greater good" makes him feel more important.
 
But physical hardship is not just an extension of the previous factors, where the degree has increased — it constitutes a new kind of factor. The human brain has natural mechanisms for dealing with pain, if a person believes that the pain will be temporary, or that it will serve some higher purpose. So instead of directing its attention at removing the source of the painful stimuli, the brain releases endorphins to stifle the pain, and then gets back to pursuing the greater good.
 
This has many implications. First, because of this mechanism, the leader's ego gets another boost. With a sufficient dose of gimmick, the cult members can endure unbelievable hardships, and to the leader, this is a Good Thing.
 
Second, this mechanism, in this context, transforms the mentality of the members. The brain's natural pain killers normally serve the purpose of allowing the individual to get past the rough spots in life, reducing the number of limiting decisions that have to be made. For example, this mechanism gave prehistoric hunters the ability to overcome fatigue and injury in order to complete the hunt. But when the "greater good" is a manipulation, this mechanism facilitates an extended disconnect from reality, and sadly, the members embrace this disconnect. They feel liberated and empowered. Things that they simply could never have endured previously become easy and painless for them now. This increases their confidence in their own abilities, and constitutes "proof" that their belief system is correct. In essence, they start thinking of themselves as super-human. When this factor is taken to the extreme, they believe that they are invincible. They will proudly march across a battlefield, directly into a hail of gunfire, not fearing death, but actually smirking at the triviality of the whole thing. This is pure exhilaration to them, as they prove that they have truly achieved complete mind over matter. They actually do not feel any pain, as their subconscious minds have learned that the signals from the body should be ignored "for the greater good" and to release endorphins to suppress those signals. They smirk at those who fear pain, the way a 10th grader smirks at the spelling errors of a 5th grader. Pain is something that the cult members have learned to overcome.
 
This is perhaps the aspect of cults that is the least understood by those who have not studied them (or been in one), and this directly impacts the effectiveness of attempts to negotiate with cult members.
 
For example, when federal authorities were seeking a resolution to the stand-off with the Branch Davidians, they used military tactics. Electricity and water were cut off, and armored personnel carriers made laps around the compound, in an attempt to intimidate the cult members. While these techniques weaken the resolve of the typical thrill-seeking volunteer soldier, they have the inverse effect on cult members. For those who have achieved mind over matter, these tactics offer an opportunity to experience the exhilaration of not feeling fear in the face of things that would break a lesser person. This reinforces their beliefs. They literally "get high" from the experience, and the well-being that they feel confirms their conviction that they have found truth on Earth.

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