One reason I remember my early childhood with affection is because I had the feeling that my parents were in complete control of the world. I felt that they could protect me, provide for me, and take responsibility for my life. If there were any problems, I was sure that they would work them all out. If there was anything I didn’t understand, I was sure that they would tell me the answer. I didn’t have to worry about anything. I could go to school, play, and have fun, and they would take care of the rest.
I remember being disappointed when I was little older, perhaps 11 or 12, and began to realise that my parents weren’t as omnipotent and omniscient as I’d thought. One day I asked my father a question about my school homework and I was surprised when he couldn’t help me. I began to realise that my dad was actually a very anxious person who constantly worried about the smallest things. But by that point, I was beginning to feel independent, so I no longer need their protection so much.
For many people, this phase of early childhood represents an ideal which they long to return to (if only subconsciously). How wonderful it would be to worship powerful parental figures, who take responsibility for our own lives, protect us from the world, and provide answers to all our questions.
Cult Leaders and Corrupt Gurus
The urge to return to this ideal state is one of the reasons some people are attracted to charismatic cult leaders and gurus. Although many people seek gurus because of a genuine impulse for spiritual development, others are motivated by a more unhealthy impulse. They are not actually seeking enlightenment, but a return to a childhood state of unconditional devotion and irresponsibility. They want to abdicate responsibility for their own lives, and hand it over to the guru or cult leader. They don’t have to worry about anything, because the guru will guide them in the right direction. They don’t need to think for themselves, because the leader knows all the answers. They don’t need to struggle in their lives; they can just bask in the love and protection of the guru, as they did with their parents when they were young children. I call this impulse the ‘abdication syndrome.’
Read More: The Abdication Syndrome