Watch Out For “Self-Growth” Forums

Philosopher Erich Fromm wrote a book called ‘The Fear of Freedom’, an analysis of the psychological atmosphere leading up to Hitler’s Third Reich. In the book he maintains that human beings have an innate fear of being really free and actually want to be led, which goes against all our ideals about freedom.

In the book, Fromm said that Hitler’s horrors were possible through his preying on people’s deepest fears. He demonized the millions of innocent Jews and other groups who were persecuted and sent to the gas chambers, and used people’s fear to his advantage.

Fear is a most powerful tool if manipulated in this form. Fromm’s conclusion was that without everyone’s ‘cooperation’, Hitler could never have done what he did. And people ‘cooperated’ because they wanted to be led, they didn’t want to be free. Frightening but true.

Fear as a motivator

Living in London in 2003, a wonderfully cosmopolitan city, freedom of expression is as good as it gets. London caters to a multitude of tastes, beliefs, ideals, and lifestyles. Why then would anyone happily walk into a seminar and hand over hundreds of pounds only to have all those choices invalidated?

Yes, I have seen it with my own eyes, though I couldn’t really believe my ears when I went to this ‘personal growth’ seminar with a friend last night. He took me along as a guest, as part of his completion of the weekend course he had just done. I don’t really wish to name these people for legal reasons, but let’s just say they are a forum of sorts.

The long and the short of it is that you pay, they promise you breakthroughs in your life, your job, your relationships, etc. What is really going on is classic fear-mongering, to get you to swap your lifestyle for theirs. The whole point of empowerment seminars is to help people find their own power and help them become truly independent. This place wants you to come back over and over for more top-up seminars, advanced courses, etc — hardly empowering!

They use classic mind-control tactics that some of the worst cults have used. These include everything from their insider jargon, really silly sounding catchy names and phrases to describe your life outside the forum to implanting in you the fear that if you don’t ‘stick with the program’, things will fall apart. Very empowering. Not.

What I found most worrying was the fact that some had brought their young children (in yesterday’s case, two were under the age of 10) to ‘help’ them too. Since yesterday, I’ve read on dozens of Internet postings about this particular course that in some of the worst cases:

  • Individuals who completely lost touch with their friends and family and lost their jobs because they kep trying to recruit friends, family and work colleagues to do the course.
  • Many people doing the course underwent complete changes in character and behaviour, none of them positive.
  • A multitude of stories of various lawsuits against these organizers because people were psychologically damaged as a result being completely humiliated or ridiculed at the course, mainly for challenging the ideas being presented, even though authentic expression was almost mandatory on the course.

Money Scams Scheme

The list of really disturbing facts goes on. I find it shocking that these people have not been exposed for the money-making scam that they truly are. They wouldn’t know empowerment if it bit off their money grabbing fingers!

I feel on a mission today, and I say this to anyone who is thinking of signing up for a ‘personal growth’ seminar to be alarmed by any of the following:

  • You are pressured, even in the smallest way, to sign-up for follow-up courses: you came for one course which made promises, if they have not been delivered then, do you really think they ever will?
  • Your opinion is mocked, invalidated, or diminished even in a supposed jokey way: Again, anyone trying to empower you will not do that.
  • You are encouraged to make drastic changes in your life, without consideration to how those might affect you: you are the only person qualified to make those decisions, and should certainly not be making them under pressure, least of all under someone else’s instructions!
  • You are pushed to have conversations with loved ones about topics you don’t feel comfortable discussing: This is unbelievably irresponsible and can cause irreparable damage to those relationships.
  • You are taught to change your way of thinking: if someone is giving you a tool to help you in your life, they would not be wanting to change the way you think under any guise. A mental technique to help you cope is one thing. Telling you to completely change your way of thinking is a different matter and a real cause for concern.
  • You begin to feel that you are expected to use all the terms and catch phrases and anything else is seen as contrary to the teaching: this is brainwashing 101!

Chances are, if you pick up on more than one of the above, you should just walk away, without discussing it with anyone from the course as they will most certainly talk you into staying. If you do raise your concerns with them, they will talk you out of those as well.

As I think back on last night, I feel deeply disturbed by this course and I can’t understand how this is not immediately clear to the people attending. The organizers had many people in the audience who were posing as part of the crowd but were in fact ‘agents’ of sorts, there to make sure that everything was going according to plan, manipulating people into saying things, and mentally noting what was being said.

My friend was really pressured into signing up for further course and came up with the wonderful response: ‘I’m not interested in signing-up, you’ve already empowered me so back off!’. I’m so glad he didn’t fall through the cracks.

Others attending are not so lucky. They’ve bought into the whole lifestyle and have been going for years. What sort of empowerment is that?

Independent thinking

Perhaps this preys on those of us who are afraid of freedom, in Erich Fromm’s terms. So we give our power of independent thought to someone else so that we don’t have to be responsible for our own actions. Here, it’s the worst case scenario: giving away independent thought under the guise of gaining it. How utterly scary!!

This has made me feel a deep revulsion, one which is generally reserved for when I hear stories of oppressors in far-away dictatorships. I know I am making strong statements, but anyone who manipulates you into giving up your freedom of thought has no consideration for your well-being and if they charge you money to do that, then they belong on the scrap-heap of humanity.

One cardinal rule to remember here is that a group of any sort is worthless if it has no consideration for the individual’s real needs and feelings and does not respect his basic human right: that of free thought.

True freedom is a rare and precious commodity. Those of us who have the luxury of being able to experience some aspects of it must cherish it with all our might and not squander it away, let alone pay to do so.

© K.B.

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