Cults are many, varied and typically are only spoken of in terms of religion or New Age or Supernatural belief systems. However the group think and cultural forces that play out on obsessive social media forums tend to generate the same set of issues for individuals who get drawn into their web as those who get involved in actual cults.
Every one of us seeks to find meaning and purpose. It is a deep unconscious impulse. We each find meaning and purpose in our own pursuits, hobbies, passions and endeavours or lifestyles.
A person who has low self-esteem or a fragmented or weak self-identity may find meaning, purpose and identity through joining a group aligned to a cause or idea. In that group they may also find fellowship, support, mirroring of their new self through others equally indoctrinated, and a positive rush that confirms they have indeed found their place and position in life.
When that idea behind the group is positive (e.g. Cancer charity or stamp collecting), it is not likely to influence that person toward extreme behaviours or create issues for themselves or others. In many other groups there may be an inherent risk that over-identification with the group, its followers and its ideals, could lead to serious consequences.
A perfectionist based eating or self-image group is surely one that could wreak harm on the very people who are likely candidates to feel affinity and join the group. Perfectionism becomes a self-generating problem in the sense that it is like an ever tightening whirlpool of destructive behaviours that fuel the next step in the problem.
The health effects of such conditions such as Orthorexia go beyond just the physical as it has effects that we see in people with addictions. Any addiction will tend to create over time an outcome where the addict starts to focus just on their object of addiction, and relationships, mental, physical, and emotional health will suffer, distorted thinking will result, self-justification and rationalisation will arise to allow the addiction to continue.
These addiction symptoms are also found in Orthorexia sufferers who will also like addicts then start to create social isolation and feeling guilty when not following their self-inflicted demands around food. Long-term effects can include illness, disease, nutritional deficiencies, and mental and physical breakdowns.
Part of the problem is that perfectionism is a treadmill with no circuit breaker. One becomes caught in a never ending spiral of dressing, eating, adorning, speaking, creating, achieving and becoming perfection. Each attempt and each effort is never enough and creates stress, frustration, anxiety, anger and negative self-talk when the mind finds the 1% of that effort is not at the level of acceptance.
The other 99% of attainment is minimised, overlooked, remains uncelebrated and untrusted, and quickly the person moves on to the next task or meal. There is no room for happiness in such a mindset or way of life.
Some adherents are not obsessive in these groups and with ideas and so adopt the regimes with a healthier balanced approach but it is the overly perfectionistic sub-group who I speak of. In 2003 researchers at Duke University coined the term “effortlessly perfection” to describe the subgroup I speak more about.
This double illusion term (perfection being possible at all, and perfection somehow potentially being effortless to achieve and sustain), is a new level of madness in this hell. The term speaks loudly of narcissistic perfectionism, which is probably a better term as least its context is contained within it being part of a personality disorder (Narcissism).
The mirage of perfection demands the aspirant adopt control as a primary tool of self-discipline and of external perception management.
The modelling industry perpetrates ugly archetypes in female models. The images are often photo shopped into perfection and the illusion is sold to us as reality.
In our society the archetypal unhealthily thin female models are key selling tools. Any women looking on is likely to compare themselves to these photo-shopped illusions, feel bad or less than, and so begin or perpetrate the continuation of a downward self-image spiral.
Social media is simply an extension and a mirror to this craving for perfection. The numbers are huge. A search of the obsessive “clean eating” term on photo-sharing app Instagram will return over 22 million hits.
Diets and food are prominent in the minds of the population.
The clean eating world is full of “coaches”, and self-healed advocates who claim to have had major illnesses and then recovered due to clean eating.
Look at Belle Gibson (a self admitted fraud) who sold the whole healthy eating franchise via books, apps and digital guides to over 2 million followers, based on a selling proposition that healthy eating had cured her at least 3 times from cancers and tumours.
If she can achieve fame with her extreme proposition then you and I could conceivably do so as well.
For the average person online the compelling lure of someone who has a large following in say clean eating or a food fad is that they are legitimate. Unfortunately popularity does not guarantee that the advocate is either right or safe.
Part 1 of this interesting article can be accessed here.
Richard Boyd MBA, BBus, AdvDipCEBPsych, Cert Coaching AICE, AIFM, ExtDISC Certified. He is a Body Mind Psychotherapist, counsellor, author, and the CEO of Energetics Institute who works with individuals, couples and groups to offer a discreet, supportive counselling, coaching and psychotherapy service from Inglewood, Perth, Western Australia. He is also the CEO and founder of Conscious Business Australia