Friday, September 09, 2005

Spiritual Abuse -- The internet connection

Someone has described an addiction as something one continues to do long after reality or experience has shown one that the behavior is destructive or problematic. If we leave aside the issue of whether the Internet is addictive in the classic sense (that is, does discontinuing Internet activity lead to symptoms of physical withdrawal), and if we put aside the issue of trying to distinguish between a habit and an addiction, one might say that there are potentially addictive dimensions related to interacting with the Internet.

If a person has a deep yearning for essential, meaningful contact with others, a person tends to go in search of that which may be satisfy this yearning. Like most addictions, being attracted to something because one believes it may be a solution to one's problems in life, plays a role in the formation of addictive behavior.

A Sufi master might say that the seeds of addiction are sown when an individual, mistakenly, believes that some given substance, liquid, drug, object, or relationship is a doorway to some dimension of Divinity -- a dimension of Divinity which will take away pain, or fear, or anxiety, or memory, or unhappiness, or loneliness, or low self-esteem, or a sense of in competence with respect to life in general. Some people see the Internet in this fashion -- as something which, on the surface, appears to have the capacity to administer to whatever problems may have led one to investigate or be attracted to the idea of the Internet in the first place.

False spiritual guides, like all abusive predators, seem to have a fundamental grasp about some of the ways in which people who are emotionally, psychologically, socially, interpersonally, and/or spiritually vulnerable tend to behave. Such predators are very sensitized to the signs and indications shown by others that indicate yearning, need, problems, loneliness, and so on.

Like a bottle of alcohol, a packet of heroin, a line of cocaine, a cap of Ecstasy, or a potential new round of sexual partners, the slippery slope of addiction begins with an encounter with something which seems to be able to administer to the deep need we have to be healed and healthy. In the beginning, whatever the choice of addiction may be, it seems to provide a sense of well-being, an emotional/physical high, a sense of meaning, purpose, identity and methodology for being able to continue on in such a new altered state of awareness about one self and life.

Maybe, the substance, or whatever, helps us to forget ourselves, or, maybe, it helps us to think about ourselves in a more genteel light, or, maybe, it helps us to diminish the importance of certain kinds of problems and issues, or, maybe, it provides us with a sense of control over our lives, or, maybe, it is a way to express our disdain for the world, or, maybe, it induces us to believe that we have found God, or, maybe, it helps cast life in rosier glow, or, maybe, it removes a sense of meaningless that has been eating away at our hearts and sense of identity. Whatever the curative properties seems to be, the seeds of addiction tend to become established when we go on what learning theorists refer to as: an intermittent, variable, reinforcement schedule.

Essentially, this means that a person finds some experience sufficiently pleasurable, meaningful, powerful, enhancing, or attractive that the experience of this reward begins to serve as a carrot which motivates one to seek out a repeat of the original experience that one found so powerful or pleasurable or meaningful. However, because the sought after reward does not come every time (intermittent) or comes in ways which are variable (the precise 'high', if you will is never quite the same as originally or initially experienced) and because we tend to become somewhat habituated to even pleasurable experiences, our seeking behavior becomes more intense and, as a result, we tend to become more committed to certain forms of behavior which we believe, on the basis of past experience, will lead, eventually, once again, to what we seek, but, alas in reality, do not always lead to the desired mode of satisfaction (reinforcement).

When our seeking behavior begins to undermine our own well-being, or interferes with our capacity to make good judgments, or begins to destroy the fabric of our lives (socially, emotionally, psychologically, spiritually, and physically) because we are unable to withdraw from the behaviors which we insist -- evidence to the contrary -- will lead us to the promised land of whatever form of satisfaction or fulfillment or problem solving we were seeking, originally, through such behavior, then, at that point, a person may be controlled by an intermittent, variable reinforcement schedule of learning which is shaping, coloring, and organizing everything one feels, thinks, and does. At that point, a person is exhibiting addictive or addictive-like behavior.

Using the foregoing as a backdrop for discussion, then, one could say that under certain circumstances, one's interaction with the Internet could be considered to have addictive-like qualities or properties. If, for example, one continues to go to chat rooms or interact with certain persons through the Internet even though, somewhere within one, there is a recognition that the interaction is poisonous, problematic, hurtful, destructive, or inviting us to behave in ways which we might not do otherwise, then, the person who continues to do this is exhibiting addictive-like behavior.

Whether one wishes to call such a pattern of behavior an addiction may only be a matter of semantics and definitions. The real issue of importance is that an individual is engaged in a sequence of behavior over which they have lost, to some degree, control and that such behavior is leading to problems in one's life.

False teachers will use techniques such as love-bombing (which is a combination of flattery, positive affirmations, encouragement, seemingly unconditional expressions of love, and so on) to exploit an individual's vulnerabilities and induce 'highs' in that individual which will become the fulcrum around which the leverage of bringing about more and more compliance and commitment of an individual because a person doesn't want to lose the 'high' which was associated with the love bombing.

Love bombing is something which can be done easily over the Internet. In fact, the structure of anonymity, together with the way that the Internet camouflages the great physical distances that often separate people, means someone can say almost anything over the Internet in the way of a promise or commitment and never have to back it up with any real-world, substantive acts.

In addition, there is another aspect of the Internet which helps a fraudulent teacher to forge cohesive bonds with unsuspecting, vulnerable individuals whom the former wish to exploit in one way or another. Like radio, the Internet, often engages our imaginations, because the people with whom we are interacting are faceless, voiceless mysteries, and, therefore, we tend to create our own images of what people are like based on the clues which we given by the other participant(s).

Sham teachers use this dimension of the Internet to feed people only the kinds of information the false teacher wishes in order to induce the unsuspecting person to create a certain kind of image of the false teacher -- an image which well be in the false teacher's best interests. This image is constructed from so-called 'biographical facts' which are total inventions -- such as: place of residence, past experiences, personality, temperament, interests, and so on.

By parasitically latching onto the imaginal faculty of another human being, the false teacher induces the unsuspecting person to, little by little, construct precisely the kind of image the false teacher wishes the individual to have of the false teacher. Oftentimes, what happens is that a person is induced by a false teacher to develop a dependent relationship with a fictitious, phantom individual who has been constructed by the imagination of one person with the help of the false teacher's various campaigns of manipulation, disinformation, lying, deceit and so on. In this sense one is lured into having an addictive-like relationship with someone who, in truth, resides only in one's imagination -- which makes withdrawing from such behavior doubly difficult because one carries around within one the very image from which one needs separation.


Sophia said...

This sounds like something that has once happened to me.

Anonymous said...

I don't agree!!!

Anonymous said...

I don't believe in having a teacher. I read blogs in order to be encouraged in some way and encourage others in return. Teachers are spiritual bullies manipulating people into playing the wisdom and holiness game. It's a shameful thing! We have enough of them.
All the numerous teachers and charlatans we have in the world today are nothing compared to the few world teachers we have. They are just following the stupid example of the big ones.
I follow my own insights, good or bad. And I am not afraid to go to hell if I am wrong.

Anab said...

With respect to the individual who said that he or she did not agree with the posting concerning the Internet connection and spiritual abuse, it might be helpful for visitors to know exactly what it is with which you disagree in the aforementioned posting. I do not mind people disagreeing with what I have to say, but ambiguity does not provide much of a basis for either discussion, learning, or understanding.

Anab said...

Stacey, I don't know how comfortable you might be with providing more information concerning your possible close encounter of a problematic kind, but if there is more you wish to say on this matter, then, please do. If you chose to do this, you shouldn't name names or give any details which are of an identifying character -- either with respect to yourself or anyone else who might be involved -- but we all might benefit by whatever you have to share ... if you choose to do this.

Shaik Abdul Khafid said...

Masha'Allah. Fantastic blog. Can I link you to my blog?

Anab said...

Shaik Abdul Kafid -- please feel free to link to this blog. I have already taken the liberty of listing your blog among the Blog links which are included in the index portion of my Blog site. Thanks for your comment.

kevin said...

Asallam alaykum,

recently I've become aware of the physical brain's tendancy to become addicted to almost any of its states.

This idea didn't really sink in properly when we once had a discussion with our shaykh on the nature of sex and he pointed out that the source of these feelings are primarily in the brain. While it is somewhat of a dubious cheesy pop movie, "What the bleep do I know" - it wasn't till I saw that that I really realised to what extent our emotions and thoughts have a chemical componant.

Now I can see how much of our many activities are aimed at primarily facilitating certain negative states, forever seeking to prolong them, irregardless of the medium of delivery (drugs, music, spirituality, ect, ad nasuem.)

The ramifications are huge, IMO. Outward dependance on drugs, ect is one thing. Hanging on to mental states is quite another altogether...

you are too kind, linking to my blog and all that, thank you.

Anonymous said...

There is only one sure way to solve this problem: Ban all religions! Then we wouldn't have to worry about arrogant, vain, respectable, hypocritical teachers, and false prophets.
Piety, religiousity, and repectability have no significance and value. It's for vain people.

Bilquees said...

Anab and I saw What the Bleeplast year, and I must say I was a bit disappointed overall with the movie. I couldn't believe it was such a hit. It's kind of sad in a way that the movie theaters were so packed with people looking for answers they will never probably find in a movie like that.

The part about the water crystal photographs and how emotions affect them was astounding. But there was a lack of what I call spiritual personalities of the deepest kind. Heck, some of the spiritual characters I've met are more interesting than most of the folks interviewed in the movie. Then again, my associations have spoiled me. (Thanks to you, Anab!!!!)

Maybe we could do our own what the bleep film only we could call it What the Bleep do THEY know??!! What do you say, Kevin and Anab? Let's gather our friends and start the film rolling. But, then again, perhaps some things are better left unsaid. ?????

To our anonymous friends I would say this: If you don't believe in religion or spiritual teachers, why visit spiritual blogs? When responses are forcefully pessimistic about such matters, I wonder how far away a case of spiritual abuse is. Anyway, peace and blessings to everyone, the identified and unidentified ones.