Debunked Pseudoscience & Religion

Self-Deception As A Coping Mechanism Among Victims Of The Sai Baba Cult

In my previous article we discussed how Sai Baba satisfied his sexual appetite by abusing innocent children with complete disregard to consequences to their welfare. Sexual abuse serves another purpose for Sai Baba: Dominating these children and converting them into his lifelong devotees and henchmen. In a sense, the sexual abuse is ritual castration by means of which he is telling them literally, “From now onwards I have you boys by the balls.” In a highly shame-oriented society such as India, victims feel great deal of shame to admit that they are sex abuse victims, and they are fearful of exposing such a powerful and revered person. This is further made difficult because of social pressure from victim’s fearful well-wishers; fear of corrupt police who do not hesitate to torture or murder accusers in cold blood; distrust of incompetent prosecutors, and lack of faith in the judiciary incapable of separating state and religion.

Almost all these children grow up bodily but not mentally, and they become Sai Baba’s lifelong followers who meekly submit to his demands. Their total submission to Sai Baba is rooted in self-deception. Sai Baba reinforces their slavish mentality by means of gifts materialized by magic, rewards, public praise, bribes and intimidation. Sai Baba becomes the central figure in their lives, and they become almost totally incapable of critical thinking when it comes to their relationship with him as exemplified by Dr. Naresh Bhatia in the Caravan article by Mr. Arora. Fear of Sai Baba dominates their lives. Almost all their actions are dictated by what they think Sai Baba would want them to do.darshan12

Victims Indulge In Self-deception

Sexual abuse in invariably associated with surge of intense painful as well as pleasurable emotions in the mind of victims such as fear, hurt, anger, sadness, guilt, shame, disappointment, helplessness, hopelessness, humiliation, frustration, rage, ecstasy, happiness, and host of other painful emotions. Some victims begin to develop doubt about their abuser and ultimately disassociate themselves from the abuser, like the Rahm family in the BBC video did. Other victims indulge in a defense mechanism known as reaction formation. They convert “sexual trauma” into “spiritual healing.” Or, they declare “sex with a fraud” to be “sex with god.” Instead of saying, “My free spirit has been destroyed” they would say, “My spirit has been liberated.” It is impossible to convince these victims that Sai Baba has so thoroughly stripped them of their true identity that now they are nothing more than mindless zombies or straw men.

What Is Self-deception?

Self-deception is a mental defense mechanism by which some people cope with intensely painful emotions. They avoid becoming aware of, or accepting the truth about, a current life circumstance or person simply because it is too painful or scary to do so. Either they block off their painful emotions by indulging in denial, or they neutralize them by means of screwed-up rationalization, or they give exactly opposite meaning to their experience.

Individuals, political parties, communities and even nations indulge in self-deception. America’s self-deception about Viet Nam war is a classic example of a great nation indulging in this practice. Nazi Germany is another example. Self-deception is common in all countries where religion plays a major part in people’s daily life. Self-deception is a way of life for religious people.

Self-deception As A Quid Pro Quo

Then there are pseudo-intellectuals such as Dr. Michael Goldstein and Mr. Isaac Tigrett of Hard Rock Cafe who continue to associate with Sai Baba because they hate to acknowledge that he fooled them and took advantage of them all these years. Sai Baba did not abuse them sexually, but he screwed them financially or used them for propaganda purposes. In other words, he played them for suckers. Having been involved with Sai Baba for so many years, they would simply look stupid to acknowledge now that he is a fraud. Besides, they must make sense of all the bribes he had given them for their wonderful work and financial support, which have been their proud possessions all these years. Their way of coping with this dilemma is to compartmentalize the problem of sex abuse. Their screwed up rationalization is, “Well, so what? He is god. He is doing good work.” Here is the interview in the BBC video:

Tanya Datta: But even if it was proven to you that Sai Baba was a pedophile and a serial sex abuser, you’re saying it wouldn’t change the fact that he is your guru. (Tigrett laughs at this rather wildly)

Isaac Tigrett: Absolutely not. Absolutely not. He could go out and murder someone tomorrow, as I said, it’s not going to change my evolution, it’s not going to change the good things that have come out of my relationship down there.

Tanya Datta: Does that mean that some part of you believes there could be some truth to the rumors?

Isaac Tigrett: Oh, absolutely I believe there is truth to the rumors.

Tanya Datta: You believe there is truth to the rumors?

Isaac Tigrett: Sure, there probably is, probably is.

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In the above conversation with Ms. Datta, Mr. Tigrett asserts that if Sai Baba would murder someone tomorrow, his opinion about Sai Baba won’t change. In other words, Sai Baba is above the law and Mr. Tigrett’s devotion to him is unconditional. Incredible as this might seem, this is the hallmark of Brahmanic brainwashing: The Guru is always right, no matter what. Such unconditional acceptance of Gurus has resulted in accepting their nonsensical and deceitful commentaries on anti-Brahmanic scriptures as true.

Self-deception Could Ruin Lives Of Other People

In the third BBC video, when Marissa and Al Rahm’s teenager son reveals that Sai Baba sexually assaulted him, Al reveals that he too had similar experience with Sai Baba when he was 18 years old. Yet he neither warned his son, nor did he hesitate to deliver him to the cunning predator. If you listen to Marissa and Al Rahm carefully you will realize that before they turned on Sai Baba, they were just “intellectual zombies,” incapable of rational thinking in their relationship with him. Now, years after the alleged abuse, they are full of regret. Their son declares that Sai Baba is an ever-present issue in his life.

Here is an example of dire consequences of self-deception on others:

Case study: A forty-five year old white woman, mother of three girls aged 17, 15 and 13, found herself in a bus station two thousand miles away from her home and she could not explain how she got there. Here is her story: She often woke up at night and did not find her husband beside her in bed. Even though she wondered where her husband could be, she did not bother to investigate for fear of knowing the truth. All her three daughters tried to tell her that they often found their father in their bed at night, but the mother avoided dealing with this bad news by telling her daughters not to “cook up wild stories.”

Detailed past history of this woman revealed that her stepfather had abused her. Admitting that her daughters were being abused would result in resurfacing of buried painful emotions. When finally the children revealed the truth to their school counselor, the father was arrested. Unable to deal with the entire horror the patient went into a fugue-like mental state. She wandered off away from her home, and when she woke up from her daze, she was in a bus station two thousand miles away. Her three daughters became psychiatric cases requiring prolonged treatment.

If this woman was capable of rational thinking, she would have investigated where the hell her husband was if he was not in her bed, and finding him in bed with her own daughters, she would have kicked his ass out of the house, reported him to the police, and filed for divorce. She was too busy deceiving herself to do the right thing. A rational person would have taken extra care not to expose her daughters to the danger she herself had been subjected to as a child.stop-abuse-saibaba

Self-deceiving People Often Develop Stress Disorders

People who cope with highly conflicting emotions in the mind by means of self-deception often end up developing a psychiatric disorders such as depression, anxiety and posttraumatic stress disorder.

Case study: A thirty eight year old white married woman, mother of two children, suddenly developed severe panic attacks immediately after she returned home from a two-week-long highly enjoyable vacation at Gulf Shores, Alabama. When asked if anything went wrong during the vacation, she denied it. When asked if anything was wrong when she returned home, she denied it. When asked if anything at all was wrong in her life, such as anyone being sick, she categorically denied it.

Since the distance between Gulf Shores, Alabama and Cape Girardeau, Missouri was over 650 miles, I asked her where she stayed in between. She said she stayed overnight in Oxford, Mississippi, where her elderly father lived. When asked how her father was doing, she replied blandly, “He said last week his doctor told him he has a golf ball sized cancer tumor in his liver and he had only three months to live.”

When I said empathically, “Oh! So you are about to lose him!” she burst into sobs, saying, “I am sorry! I was determined not to do this!” I encouraged her to grieve over her father’s impending death, accept the reality of his mortality, and move on with her life. Her panic attacks disappeared in the course of next few days.

The shock of losing her dear father was too much for this woman to deal with and so she indulged in self-deception as evidenced by her denying that anything bad happened. The problem with her self-deception was that whereas she could fool her mind, she could not fool her body. Sensory input about the bad news instantly produced panic attack even after she fooled her mind into believing that nothing bad happened. If this woman was a rational person she would have dealt with this situation by reacting normally -accepting the reality that her old and sick father must die like everyone does, grieving over his loss, and moving on with her own life.

The purpose of counseling victims of sexual abuse is to gently break down their self-deception, help them to accept the reality, make them become aware of, and express, their painful emotions, and show the irrationality of their thinking. People, who are very much in touch with the reality and capable of rational thinking, rarely, if ever, develop emotional disorders. This is because they are quite capable of dealing with the truth, and as the cliché  goes, truth has a liberating effect on people.

Dr. Prabhakar Kamath, is a psychiatrist currently practicing in the U.S. He is the author of Servants, Not Masters: A Guide for Consumer Activists in India (1987) and Is Your Balloon About Pop?: Owner’s Manual for the Stressed Mind.

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About the author

Prabhakar Kamath

Dr. Prabhakar Kamath, is a psychiatrist currently practicing in the U.S. He is the author of Servants, Not Masters: A Guide for Consumer Activists in India (1987) and Is Your Balloon About To Pop?: Owner’s Manual for the Stressed Mind.

Links to all articles in Dr. Kamath's earlier series on Heretics, Rebels, Reformers and Revolutionaries can be found here. Dr. Kamath' series on The Truth About The Bhagavad Gita can be found here.


  • I find the article extremely interesting. The concept of self-deception as a coping mechanism reminds me of George Orwell’s concept of “doublethink” in his book, 1984. To believe that something is true and the contrary is true simultaneously.
    Thanks for Sharing,

  • Dr Kamath,
    1) Is there any physiological evidence for ‘self-deception’ (for e.g, brain scans show some physiological impact), or is this a hypotheses substantially backed by various case studies.
    I suspect my question is broad enough to encompass any psyciatric disorder (bipolar disorder, PTSD, depression, etc).

    2) As an aside, I keep hearing so many cases of ‘Oh.. this abuse/event happened in your childhood.. and hence in your adulthood you behave in this bad-fashion’. Especially sexual abuse.
    And there seems no abatement over time. Its happened hundreds/thousands of years ago, and it continues to happen now.
    Does this mean that as a society, we are failing to discuss (and educate people on) some issues, and thereby remedies are never found?

  • Astrokid: 1) Is there any physiological evidence for ’self-deception’ (for e.g, brain scans show some physiological impact), or is this a hypotheses substantially backed by various case studies. I suspect my question is broad enough to encompass any psyciatric disorder (bipolar disorder, PTSD, depression, etc).

    PK: There is another commonly used name for self-deception: denial. To the best of my knowledge no physiological evidence such as PET scan or EEG is available for this phenomenon. This is a psychological phenomenon. However, all psychological phenomena have physiological basis. Medical profession has little incentive in finding this as there is no money to be made by it. 🙁

    All commonly known psychiatric disorders, such as depression, bipolar disorders and post-traumatic disorder are based on two phenomenon: 1. repression of painful emotions, commonly known as ‘burying.’2. self-deception, commonly known as denial. Space does not permit me to go into details here. In my forty years in this field, I have found this to be true in just about every case (about forty thousand patients). I will gladly write an article on this if enough readers are interested, giving case studies.

    Astrokid: 2) As an aside, I keep hearing so many cases of ‘Oh.. this abuse/event happened in your childhood.. and hence in your adulthood you behave in this bad-fashion’. Especially sexual abuse.

    PK: Childhood sexual abuse has devastating effect on people as adults. Vast majority of my seriously ill patients report verifiable sexual abuse as children by an important male or female person in their life such as father, step father, uncle, brother, step brother, baby sitter, aunt, etc.

    The fear and shame of sexual abuse is so great that most victims repress the memories. Their behavior is the clue to us: promiscuity, broken marriages, inability to enjoy sexual intimacy; alcoholism, drug abuse, suicidal behavior, depression, panic disorder, bipolar disorder, and the like are very common in these people. Children refuse to divulge the abuse for fear of family breaking up, abuser going to prison, being attacked by family members, etc. Most victims report that their mothers punished them for revealing the abuse.

    Astrokid: And there seems no abatement over time. Its happened hundreds/thousands of years ago, and it continues to happen now.
    Does this mean that as a society, we are failing to discuss (and educate people on) some issues, and thereby remedies are never found?

    PK: Sexual abuse and incest are far more common than any society is willing to admit or discuss. Most societies deal with these issues by means of self-deception. Two great secrets of every society on earth are sexual abuse of children and physical abuse of women. In my estimation, physical abuse of women is as common in the U. S. and India as in Afghanistan. Thousands of safe houses for women are cropping up all over America to shelter abused women. Being a male-dominated society, there is much self-deception going on here regarding these issues. Only women can and should take up these truly abominable issues since they are the majority of the victims.

    • Dr Kamath,
      Thank you for the details, from your perspective/experiance as a psychiatrist. I was indeed shocked to learn about widespread sexual abuse of children of late.. firstly on PBS (bacha bazi of Afghanistan)
      and subsequently by the scandal in the catholic church. There was such a furore over the latter.. with sections aiming to arrest the pope if he steps into their country.

      I hope the predator Sathyanarayana Raju pays for his crimes. Its such a shame and injustice to all his victims if he isnt punished in his lifetime.

    • Indeed, the problem of empirical evidence for self-deception and denial are extremely difficult areas. These traits are virtually always closely bound up with the psychological study of projection.

      As C.G. Jung discovered: “…it is not the conscious subject but the unconscious which does the projecting. Hence one meets with projections, one does not make them. The effect of projection is to isolate the subject from his environment, since instead of a real relation to it there is not only an illusory one. Projections change the world into the replica of one’s own unknown face. …The more projections are thrust in between the subject and the environment, the harder it is for the ego to see through its illusions.
      …consciously [the creator of the projection] is engaged in bewailing and cursing a faithless world that recedes further and further into the distance. Rather, it is an unconscious factor which spins the illusions that veils his world. And what is being spun is a cocoon, which in the end will completely envelop him.
      Carl Jung, Aion, Researches into the Phenomenology of the Self. (The Portable Jung, edited by Joseph Campbell, p. 146-147)
      Also “Unfortunately there can be no doubt that man is, on the whole, less good than he imagines himself or wants to be. Everyone carries a shadow, and the less it is embodied in the individual’s conscious life, the blacker and denser it is. If an inferiority is conscious, one always has a chance to correct it. Furthermore, it is constantly in contact with other interests, so that it is continually subjected to modifications. But if it is repressed and isolated from consciousness, it never gets corrected.
      “Psychology and Religion” (1938). In CW 11: Psychology and Religion: West and East. P.131

      Here one can see how deeply entwined in the entire and unique neurological network of every individual the projective faculty is… making isolation of these neurological elements of ‘unconscious’ status from conscious and/or more ‘realistic’ or sane evaluations a seemingly hopelessly involved task.
      Much of any population suffers from some degree or extent of distorting projection, such as in investing their hopes and beliefs in bogus solutions to life problems, not least – of course – religious doctrines, stricter political ideologies and all manner of false belief system, conspiracy theory and deranged ideals.
      Unconscious projections lose their power when a person’s experience causes them to mature and develop autonomy and self-awareness (‘individuation’) and this is a kind of evolutionary effect. Perhaps we will never be able to study the living brain and decide what is self-delusory and what is reasonable. Even if it were possible, it is unlikely that any treatment (or law-giving) could make the situation better.
      I have also written an article called ‘Projecting one’s whole autonomy onto Sathya Sai Baba’

  • Your articles are so great. We believed in Sai Baba, never more. I was subjected to spiritual and authority abuse in a Christian Church. Then I didn’t know this about SSB. I lost mostly all faith and grown into a more mature rational woman who questions everything Even the Bible, Even God. I live in a Christian country where nobody question the Bible or God. I hope and pray (I wish) nobody follows this man anymore and that truth will be revealed for everyone to see. I want humanity to be free from self-deception. I want good people to have identity and self-assurance.

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