“Now! Now!” cried the Queen. “Faster! Faster!” And they went so fast that at last they seemed to skim through the air, hardly touching the ground with their feet, till suddenly, just as Alice was getting quite exhausted, they stopped, and she found herself sitting on the ground, breathless and giddy. The Queen propped her against a tree, and said kindly, “You may rest a little now.”
Alice looked round her in great surprise. “Why, I do believe we’ve been under this tree all the time! Everything’s just as it was!” “Of course it is,” said the Queen: “what would you have it?” “Well, in our country,” said Alice, still panting a little, “you’d generally get to somewhere else — if you ran very fast for a long time, as we’ve been doing.”
“A slow sort of country!” said the Queen. “Now, here, you see, it takes all the running you can do, to keep in the same place. If you want to get somewhere else, you must run at least twice as fast as that!”
“I’d rather not try, please!” said Alice. “I’m quite content to stay here — only I am so hot and thirsty! ”
“I know what you’d like!” the Queen said good-naturedly, taking a little box out of her pocket, “Have a biscuit?” Alice thought it would not be civil to say “No,” though it wasn’t at all what she wanted. So she took it, and ate it as well as she could: and it was very dry; and she thought she had never been so nearly choked in all her life.
“While you’re refreshing yourself,” said the Queen, “I’ll just take the measurements.” And she took a ribbon out of her pocket, marked in inches, and began measuring out the ground, and sticking little pegs in here and there.
“At the end of two yards,” she said, putting in a peg to mark the distance, “I shall give you your directions — have another biscuit?”
“No, thank you,” said Alice: “one’s quite enough!”
“Thirst quenched, I hope?” said the Queen. (Source)
I remember reading “Alice’s Adventures in Wonderland”, and “Through the Looking Glass” by Lewis Carroll as a child. I didn’t actually enjoy them that much, perhaps it was the ugly surrealism of the Tennyson illustrations, perhaps it was the vaguely emotionally disturbing conversations and characters. Everyone seemed either haughty, irrational, arbitrary, vicious, abusive or just plain stupid. Perhaps this is the way Carroll wanted his readers to feel, I haven’t spent much time reading about the author. They never seemed to be proper children’s books to me. .
I have thought more recently however, that these stories didn’t gel with me as a child, because I actually lived in my own ‘Looking Glass’ world. The Queen of Hearts was like my mother, indomitable, malevolent and ultimately inescapable. When you live with a malignant narcissist, you live like Alice every day of your life, trying hard not to rock the boat or offend anyone, but failing anyway. Alice spent a lot of time trying to understand the characters which inhabited her dreams, or her mirror, and in both stories, she seemed to be quite literally, the pawn, moved around the board at the whim of the other more powerful characters.
Reading this excerpt again, I realized that the topsy-turvy world of the Red Queen was very similar to the world of the cult. It was a natural progression for me to move from the restrictions of an abusive family, to the restrictions of an abusive religious regime. I saw many similarities between the narcissistic household I grew up in, and the environment of the cult. Again, you are at the mercy of those whose authority and position are unquestioned. Running as fast as you can in order to stay in one place, and being given dry biscuits to quench your thirst are only two of the paradoxes which you live with. In the cult, you had to work as hard as you could just to survive, and if anyone wanted to rise in the ranks of the leadership, you had to ‘run at least as twice as fast’ to get anywhere. When you had a need, you were not given anything to fill that need, in fact you were given the opposite. For example, when you went to the elders for comfort and support, more often than not you came away with condemnation, shame, guilt and anxiety. Don’t ask these men for a fish, because they will give you a snake.
“He must first be able to willingly receive and express shame when conviction comes. He must be able to blush as he owns the humiliation” (‘Dealing with Shame’ by Graham Pomery April 29th 1998)
This is just one example of the eternal paradox of living with narcissistic leadership. They don’t want you to just confess your sins to them, they want you to squirm and suffer. They don’t offer you comfort and encouragement, but further condemnation. Again, not an egg, but a scorpion (Luke 11:12). Not something to nourish and fill you, but something to poison and damage you. Never mind that there is therefore now no condemnation for those in Christ Jesus (Romans 8:1). I would suggest that people who are confessing sin are not walking according to the flesh, but according to the Spirit. Therefore, they would be receiving the comfort of Christ, if those ministering to them were not themselves walking in the flesh.
In a cult, there is no understanding that this world is different to the world outside the looking glass. In a cult, reality is defined by the leaders. There is no world outside the cult to speak of, and if you want to not only stay in one place, but to get ahead, you have to do an awful lot of exhausting running around. When you expressed your needs to the leaders, you were not given anything to help or support you, more often than not, what they gave you was like dry biscuits to a thirsty man. Not only was it the opposite of what you needed, but it was more than likely going to make things worse.
This ‘black is white’ type of existence produces fear, anxiety, confusion, striving to achieve the unachieveable. The goal posts were continually being moved, and then you were blamed for not having noticed. The congregation are kept off-balance so that they are continually questioning their own perceptions. They are expected to understand the notes and papers that they are continually bombarded with, with minimal explanations. This produces further confusion. The Theology of BCF is not clear and readily expressed. You wouldn’t find that many members of the congregation who are able to explain their particular beliefs other than in generalities. ‘I must submit to my husband as head of my family, and then to the elders according to the gospel of headship’ etc. What it ends up being is a reiteration of the jargon people hear on Sunday, or read for home group meetings, or hear others speak in conversation.
The difference between cult members and Alice are that Alice is at least aware that she is being pushed around.
“It was much pleasanter at home, when one wasn’t always growing larger and smaller, and being ordered about by mice and rabbits.” (Alice’s Adventures in Wonderland)
These men are as confident as the Red Queen, or the Queen of Hearts, or perhaps more aptly, the Mad Hatter, when it comes to being right, and Alice, the poor simple newcomer, must agree with their own interpretation of reality, or be pronounced stupid.
‘When I use a word,’ Humpty Dumpty said, in a rather scornful tone,’ it means just what I choose it to mean, neither more nor less.”The question is,’ said Alice, ‘whether you can make words mean so many different things.”The question is,’ said Humpty Dumpty, ‘which is to be master – that’s all.’
Alice was too much puzzled to say anything; so after a minute Humpty Dumpty began again. ‘They’ve a temper, some of them – particularly verbs: they’re the proudest – adjectives you can do anything with, but not verbs – however, I can manage the whole lot of them! Impenetrability! That’s what I say!’
‘Would you tell me, please,’ said Alice, ‘what that means?’
‘Now you talk like a reasonable child,’ said Humpty Dumpty, looking very much pleased. ‘I meant by “impenetrability” that we’ve had enough of that subject, and it would be just as well if you’d mention what you mean to do next, as I suppose you don’t mean to stop here all the rest of your life.’
‘That’s a great deal to make one word mean,’ Alice said in a thoughtful tone.
‘When I make a word do a lot of work like that,’ said Humpty Dumpty, ‘I always pay it extra.’
‘Oh!’ said Alice. She was too much puzzled to make any other remark.Source
I used to often feel a vague sense of sickness and nausea that you experience with motion sickness (brought on ironically enough by a disturbance in the equilibrium in your ear which affects your balance). My balance was profoundly affected because it was meant to be.
This sort of behaviour is common amongst narcissists .
She makes you look crazy. If you try to confront her about something she’s done, she’ll tell you that you have “a very vivid imagination” (this is a phrase commonly used by abusers of all sorts to invalidate your experience of their abuse) that you don’t know what you’re talking about, or that she has no idea what you’re talking about. She will claim not to remember even very memorable events, flatly denying they ever happened, nor will she ever acknowledge any possibility that she might have forgotten. This is an extremely aggressive and exceptionally infuriating tactic called “gaslighting,” common to abusers of all kinds. Your perceptions of reality are continually undermined so that you end up without any confidence in your intuition, your memory or your powers of reasoning. This makes you a much better victim for the abuser.
Narcissists gaslight routinely. The narcissist will either insinuate or will tell you outright that you’re unstable, otherwise you wouldn’t believe such ridiculous things or be so uncooperative. You’re oversensitive. You’re imagining things. You’re hysterical. You’re completely unreasonable. You’re over-reacting, like you always do. She’ll talk to you when you’ve calmed down and aren’t so irrational. She may even characterize you as being neurotic or psychotic.
Once she’s constructed these fantasies of your emotional pathologies, she’ll tell others about them, as always, presenting her smears as expressions of concern and declaring her own helpless victimhood. She didn’t do anything. She has no idea why you’re so irrationally angry with her. You’ve hurt her terribly. She thinks you may need psychotherapy. She loves you very much and would do anything to make you happy, but she just doesn’t know what to do. You keep pushing her away when all she wants to do is help you.Source
This quote is regarding narcissistic women, in particular mothers. Having lived with this sort of crazy behaviour, I recognize it in the cult environment. One of the many examples of gaslighting comes when anyone leaves the cult. One particular member, the former wife of one of the elders was forced into a situation where the elders actually tried to prove that she was crazy in court. It failed of course, because she isn’t crazy. But the whole congregation now uses that description freely, because they have been taught to believe it by the leaders. Anyone who is not doing what they want them to do is anything ranging from ‘unsubmitted’, to ‘not of us’, to downright insane. It may work on the congregation.
In their view, antagonists don’t need therapy, they need to come and confess their sins, come back into the fold and be ‘adjusted’ by the leadership. If that sounds disturbingly like men who have lost their tenuous hold on reality think again. They know exactly what they are doing.