Even before I turned twenty, I became a member of a spiritual cult group. There was an incredible amount of deep spiritual companionship present, belonging, love, beauty, and loads of spiritual experiences, expansions. And, at the same time, there was lack of transparency, lack of honesty, manipulation, strong hierarchy, abuse of power, sex and money, primarily by the spiritual leader himself… So, I eventually left, with a torn heart.
Only to dive straight into the next spiritual cult group, where the story continued with very similar patterns, with another spiritual leader, even more charismatics. This time I got out a bit faster, yet still with a sad heart, as I had learned and experienced so much in that group.
Afterwards I was working as a psychotherapist for 12 years and somehow became very popular amongst survivors of various cult groups, gurus, abusive therapists… Working with them all gave me an incredible insight into the phenomenon.
And still nowadays, when collaborating with various trainers and facilitators around the globe, I keep noticing behaviors that could be labeled as abusive, at least slightly. Not treating students as equals, using charisma to charm younger female students, hiding and twisting the truth…
After all these decades of observations and experiences it seems to me that I found one of the key denominators, if not the very main one; loneliness.
Yes, deep loneliness of the abusive trainer, teacher, guru.
It seems to me that the abusive, self-absorbed trainers all feel pretty lonely deep down in their hearts. Surrounded by admiring students and devotees, but not having genuine friends. Friends, who would give them a honest, authentic feedback. Friends, who would not take any games and spiritual nonsense, but would grab them by their ears when necessary. Because they love them enough, they care for them and they have an intimate relationship with them that is based on trust and equality. And empathy.
A few years back I worked, in a couple of large projects, with a fellow trainer who brought NVC to her country and did, in ten years or so, a heroic job of spreading it across many levels of society… And she, through our conversation, suddenly went silent in shock, realizing that she has not had an experience of being received with empathy for many, many years. She was teaching it, she was receiving others with empathy, but not experiencing it herself..
How can you ever heal yourself from your own wounds and scars and traumas, if you don’t receive empathy as well as honesty. If you don’t engage with people on the level of sheer nakedness, companionship, real meeting. I can, yet again, quote Rollo May, who said that every healing starts with empathy, and every growth with honesty.
I wish for all trainers, teachers, gurus to find their own intimate communities of empathy, to have their friends who will occasionally smack them, lovingly, or pull them by their ears… So that they will not be using their work and their positions in order to meet their needs for acknowledgement, appreciation, acceptance, but will instead find other ways for their own deep healing and transformation, while doing their work primarily in order to contribute.
I will forever remember words of wisdom I heard from one of my many mentors, quite at the beginning of my work as a trainer. She said to me: “For me it is very suspicious to learn, after a workshop that I gave, that people are talking about me. What a great trainer I am, what a great teacher… If this happens then I know I failed, as I had been drawing their attention to me, using the workshop as a stage for my own little self-appreciative show. What I wish after a workshop is for people to forget my name, but really have their focus on themselves and their lives, their experiences of existence. The more they forget about me, the more I celebrate my work.”
Yes, truly, the only purpose my work as a trainer seems to have is to support participants in deeply self-connecting. And if I notice that I have been using my trainings and workshops primarily for my own needs for appreciation, acknowledgement, well, then it is perhaps time for me to pause and look into my own existential loneliness.