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The Healing Effects of Purpose

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The Healing Effects of Purpose:

People living in communal societies develop dependencies on each other. Functioning as a smaller unit in a large world, each person in the community relies upon one another while minimizing dependencies on those outside their small group. This is true in the obvious examples, such as remote and disconnected villages or rural towns, but is also evident in less disconnected examples such as nursing homes or retirement communities. Though contact with the outside world is not completely severed, those in a constant state of community life form similar bonds to that of a family unit. Destructive cults are no different. As a group of people religiously, emotionally, and sometimes physically distancing themselves from those outside their sect, cult members come to rely upon each other. For cult members, this dependency is debilitating; individual purpose in life is replaced with the central figure's agenda. It is critical for those who escape cult environments to connect with their individual identity to find purpose.

Drs. Patricia A. Boyle, PhD; Aron S. Buchman, MD; and Lisa L. Barnes, PhD found small to moderate correlations between lack of purpose in life and depressive symptoms, neuroticism, and disability in the elderly of communal environments. Yet those who found purpose could overcome those symptoms. According to their research, even slight behavioral modifications could translate into an increased sense of intentionality, usefulness, and relevance. Those who participated in more effortful activities, such as physical activity or volunteerism, found increased overall health. The doctors concluded that the finding of purpose could be far reaching, possibly helping to reduce the rapidly increasing burden of cognitive impairment in old age. For former members of religious cults, the postive effects of purpose in life can be life-changing.

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