Emotions Anonymous - Useful or Creepy?
January 27, 2012 7:16 PM   Subscribe

Is Emotions Anonymous really as culty as it seems to be?

A little while ago I checked out a meeting of Emotions Anonymous as part of a mission to find ways to deal with depression, anxiety, and its attendant issues. The local group here was nice enough, but I found a significant amount of it creepy and cult-like.

From the get-go they claimed that you could not question any part of their texts, and they didn't seem to consider how larger-scale societal issues (such as being a minority on some level) can really affect your well-being. It reminded me of why Law-of-Attraction-type principles annoy me: it makes everything that happens to you your responsibility, and makes it sound like being (justifiably) angry about injustice or oppression is a moral failing.

Then again, it could just be my initial resistance to change, and it could be a lot better than I'm giving it credit for. It is modelled on the Alcoholics Anonymous program (it's 12-step) and while I've found lots of criticism about AA, I haven't found anything about EA. I also wonder if it's internal ageism at play - I was by far the youngest person there (mid-20s) and the only one who wasn't white, and maybe it's just me being judgemental.

Have you done EA? Was it worth your while? Are there any other avenues that could work minus the culty side effects? (I've heard of Icarus but there isn't a local group here)
posted by divabat to Health & Fitness (16 answers total) 3 users marked this as a favorite
I've not even heard of EA, but I do go to a different 12-step program and know many people in a variety of 12-step programs related to addiction and alcoholism, and this right here:

From the get-go they claimed that you could not question any part of their texts

is a huge, huge red flag. One of the main tenets of AA and its derivatives is "take what you like and leave the rest" - i.e., there are no directives that come down from on high as specific things you must accept in order to benefit from the program.

At the very least, I would seek out a different meeting, if you have that option in your area. Sometimes specific groups can get entrenched in practices that conflict with the organization's overarching guidelines.
posted by something something at 7:33 PM on January 27, 2012 [1 favorite]

From the get-go they claimed that you could not question any part of their texts,

Run. Whenever anyone says this about anything (barring say, safety manuals for handling chemicals or something like that), run.
posted by rtha at 7:34 PM on January 27, 2012 [25 favorites]

Yeah, saying that you can't question any part of their texts is a HUGE red flag. Compound that with being a young person of colour in a room full of older white people - I would not feel comfortable in that type of setting. Looked at your profile and note that you are queer and in Brisbane - does the queer community in Brisbane have any programming to offer? That's where I'd look first.
posted by foxjacket at 8:08 PM on January 27, 2012 [2 favorites]

Yeah, I just now went and read one of their pamphlets. diva, some of that shit is batty. Anyone who claims they can cure your mental illnesses with twelve steps is selling snake oil. Don't buy it.
posted by brina at 8:42 PM on January 27, 2012 [3 favorites]

This is cult behavior. Don't stop thinking critically just because someone else tells you to.
posted by ellF at 9:03 PM on January 27, 2012 [7 favorites]

I'm not familiar with EA, but I'm familiar with AA and OA - and it sounds to me like although EA may be nominally modeled on AA, it's not really a similar program (insofar as they want you to accept everything without question). From your description, I would avoid EA.

As for other resources, therapy is, of course, an excellent option (although perhaps pricey - I'm not familiar with Australia's healthcare system). Another option is looking for community based groups that focus on depression or anxiety. Ideally, they will be led by a therapist, but some talented non-therapists also lead groups. You mention that you're not white; perhaps there is a community center focused on your particular ethnicity that has groups. As foxjacket says, queer centers often have this kind of group available.
posted by Why hello, I am a sock puppet at 9:17 PM on January 27, 2012

From the get-go they claimed that you could not question any part of their texts,

Yeah, no. But then I really dislike a lot of organized stuff like this so...

Therapy or your local queer center.
posted by mleigh at 9:39 PM on January 27, 2012 [1 favorite]

Response by poster: Oh I do take therapy - I was just on the lookout for other options, especially ones that are a bit more social.

There isn't really a strong POC presence here in Brisbane - there are ethnic groups, but not so much for the cultures I come from, and even there I feel like an oddball. There are various queer groups but none that deal with mental health per se, more social stuff.
posted by divabat at 9:55 PM on January 27, 2012

Response by poster: This blog has the complete EA texts if anyone wants to take a look at it. I'm not sure if the edict of not using EA meeting time to question the texts (which admittedly is subtly different than "don't question it EVERRR") is core EA philosophy or something group-specific.
posted by divabat at 9:59 PM on January 27, 2012

About an hour and 15-20 short phone calls to independent therapeutic professionals, even if outside of your area, might give you a more helpful view on EA.
posted by circular at 10:16 PM on January 27, 2012

I would avoid this group if I were you. It does sound culty. There is a lot of controversy about 12 step groups in general and how well they work. They certainly do not work for everyone, no matter what the problem, although many people swear by them and they have helped many break and beat an addiction.

Mental health issues like anxiety and depression are not an addiction and this kind of format to treat them seems a stretch to me. Stick with your therapy and seek other social outlets that focus on what is positive in your life, not on illness.
posted by mermayd at 5:55 AM on January 28, 2012

"Everything is your responsibility" / "don't blame other people or society for your unhappiness" / "our meetings are not the right place to question our methods" are core principles of the Large Group Dynamic self-improvement movements (think Landmark Forum and those like it). Sounds like this is a hybrid of sorts. (It is important to note that not blaming others, society, racism, etc., for your problems is also a pretty core principle for 12 step groups.)

It's probably a stretch to see this as cultlike ... most people who have considered them find the 12 steppers and the LGD movements each to fall short of cult, because they don't make claims to supernatural truth, don't ask for (that much of) your money or time, don't try to cut people off from disbelieving family and friends, etc.

It is a bit odd to see these things being deployed against clinical levels of emotional disturbance, or against addicition, as (traditionally) the LGD groups regard them as outside their scope. Landmark, for example, won't (or at least didn't used to) allow anyone who was or should be in therapy or medication take its programs except as part of a program agreed to by their doctor, and expressly discouraged addicts from enrolling.
posted by MattD at 7:23 AM on January 28, 2012 [1 favorite]

My experience is from other 12 step groups.

I think it's useful to remember that the original group was created for an 'emergency' sort of situation -- like these people need to get off drugs/alcohol ASAP lest they die or suicide. In that situation, it makes sense to advise that one just 'blindly' accepts the tenets until their head clears and they mature a little, at which point they'll (hopefully) have gained some perspective and the ability to 'take what they need and leave the rest'. Considering societal issues is vital to fixing our world -- but it's not the work for a newborn, y'know? The original steps were written with the hope of getting the person out of the fire and back into the pan, so to speak -- and after one gets off the stove entirely, they will have a base from which they can address bigger issues.

I would be curious about the wording they used to convey "do not question the texts" . . .

And at base the point they are trying to to make is that, perhaps this and this and that happens -- but one is not going to view the world from the perspective of the victim anymore, and ultimately your reaction to things is within your control. I believe pain needs to be validated, but it's so easy to get caught up in validating and never get out of that loop -- I suspect they're willing to forgo validation entirely to make sure people move on from the pain.

It may be that the 12 step model is not useful to you, but before you decide, I would be inclined to see if maybe you were at a 'newcomer' meeting, and if there are other types of EA meetings that might be more in line with where you're at in the recovery process.
posted by MeiraV at 8:02 AM on January 28, 2012

One other thing: The whole "everything is your responsibility" thing is useful if you remember that while you may not be able to change the context of your life, you can change your response to it.

But in these kinds of groups, that often gets reflected in a way that just flat-out ignores the reality of some kinds of context (e.g. racism, homophobia) and how it affects the person in the group, and that can be very counter-productive. This may be especially true of groups made up mostly of people who do not see themselves as affected by racism or homophobia, for instance.

I used to go to Al Anon meetings at a queer recovery center; there, at least, I didn't have to explain or justify my sexual orientation and how that affected (or didn't) my relationship with the family member I was struggling with wrt drinking. It definitely lessened the stress of going to the meetings, and I didn't end up feeling like I had to hide that part of me or adjust it to make other people comfortable. Please keep that in mind if you do go to this group - how much of *you* will you feel like you have to keep hidden, or keep defending, and will that interfere with the progress you want to make?
posted by rtha at 9:01 AM on January 28, 2012 [1 favorite]

If I were running such a group, I too would make a rule out of not trying to undermine the core principles of the group during meetings. If someone didn't like what we were doing, I'd rather they left instead of arguing and wasting everyone else's time. Every self-improvement group or class I know of has at least some firm ground rules to safeguard the success of that group against disruptive behavior. Based on your description alone, I wouldn't call the group a cult.
posted by Orchestra at 11:45 AM on January 28, 2012

There is a demand for blind acceptance at all times, and then there is a request that you just play along for a while and see if their program work for you.

Also, being angered is one thing, but embracing anger is generally self-defeating. That observation made, If all you're getting a Sphinx-like platitudes (from the movie "Mystery Men" - "You must control your anger or your anger will control you" ad nausium), that's no substitute for useful advice regarding your emotional well being and dealing with the things that get to you.

The more you feel like you are being told to never question the wisdom of Master Yoda, the more swiftly I'd advise you to walk away.
posted by Kid Charlemagne at 12:27 PM on January 28, 2012

« Older Not sure if it's trust or communication that's the...   |   Dinner on a budget in Temecula, CA? Newer »
This thread is closed to new comments.