By Jose Fernández Aguado
Note: This article is based on a paper presented at ICSA’s Annual Conference in Bordeaux, France in 2017. Vol 9 No 3 2018
In my clinical practice, I often see how dysfunctional families cause pain to their members, and it is my opinion that the cult perspective can help explain certain aspects of what these families go through. (Many families may be dysfunctional in ways that have nothing to do with cultic dynamics. Those are not the focus of this paper.)
I start with a working definition of a dysfunctional family and note some broad areas of relationship between dysfunctional families and cults. Then, using three concepts from family systems theory (Minuchin, 1981; Satir, 1976)—boundaries, rules, and roles—I suggest similarities between how a dysfunctional family weakens its members and the harmful effect of a cultic group on its members.
In this article, I do not intend to deal with the relationship between persons being part of dysfunctional families and the degree of risk of their being recruited by a cult. Dysfunctional families may make their members more vulnerable to cult recruitment, but professionals acknowledge that even people belonging to healthy families can be deceived into cultic involvement; no one is free of the risk of recruitment. Rather, I focus on how families in which there is psychological abuse or inadequate relationships are similar to cults.