RADICAL DEPARTURES: Desperate Detours to Growing Up by

RADICAL DEPARTURES: Desperate Detours to Growing Up

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Why they leave home, and why most of them (90 percent or so) come back: clear, convincing, generous profiles of cult-joiners by a Canadian psychoanalyst. Levine's nine case-histories, nicely interwoven in his unassuming, popular narrative, deal with adolescents (16 to 26 years old) who bolted from their apparently normal, affluent families to a broad spectrum of authoritarian communities: Moonies, Divine Light Mission, Hare Krishna, the Children of God, an Orthodox yeshiva in Jerusalem, even a Red Brigades-style cadre in Italy, among others, Levine argues that this sort of sudden break is a ""rehearsal for separation, a 'let's pretend' practice for the real-life task of growing up."" Troubled young people--typically suffering from low self-esteem and uncommitted to any firm system of values--use the groups they join, or stumble into, as a ""model family"" in which they can build their fragile selfhood into a stronger separate identity. While this abrupt shift in allegiance may bring agony to startled parents, the new convert feels little conflict, at first, precisely because he's only pretending. Later on, when doubts about the group arise, when the ex-zealot feels the ""thrust to adulthood"" in earnest, and when he or she finally comes home, the experience can be very painful. Speaking to parents, Levine counsels patience, understanding, continual low-key communication: the only unmitigated disaster among his clients occurs when an outraged father has his Hare Krishna son kidnapped and temporarily deprogrammed--the son never forgets or forgives. Levine's observations (e.g., that ""Joiners smile, sometimes radiantly, but they don't laugh,"" or that they wield their dogmatic convictions as weapons to criticize or wound their parents) may not be boldly original, but he's always acute and commonsensical. Good journalism, good therapy.

Pub Date: Sept. 1st, 1984
Publisher: Harcourt Brace Jovanovich