I would like to share some excerpts from an article I read in the ICSA Today journal (ICSA Today, vol. 5, No. 1, 2014). This article was written by Doni Whitsett, and was helpful to me for understanding how the cult could so deeply affect me.
“Forty years ago, for example, battered women were often said to have an unconscious, masochistic motivation to be punished. Today, however, it is widely recognized that social-psychological factors in the current environment can better explain such puzzling toleration of pain” (Whitsett, p. 2). This speaks to the shame that we ex-members sometimes feel after we leave. I looked back at what I had endured, and wondered how I could have stood it for so long. I felt ashamed that I had not “woken up” sooner, not realizing that there were forces at play that were beyond my ability to see or to change.
“…neurobiological speculation is worthwhile because it reinforces the growing tendency among mental-health professionals to look toward biological explanations of the maladaptive behaviors associated with trauma, thereby reducing the tendency to blame traumatized clients…” (Whitsett, p. 2). While in the cult I was taught that all my problems were because of my sin, thereby blocking any tendency to look at environment or group behaviors. The truth is, there was good reason to be upset with our life. Reasons that had their basis in how badly we treated each other, and in the unreasonable physical demands that we constantly lived under. One example is the lack of sleep that I was constantly affected by, making it difficult to think clearly.
“High-demand, cultic groups insist on linkages but prohibit differentiation” (Whitsett, p. 3). We were linked in our practices, disciplines, and projects that we worked on together. Our goal was to be “one in the Spirit”, but in our group that went beyond a harmonious unity, and there was no room for being an individual.
“Cult practices change the brain” (Whitsett, p. 3) There is a lot of science now behind this statement, including PET scans that show how the brain either activates or shuts down depending on environment and stimuli. These practices can change adult brains, and are particularly dangerous on the development of children’s brains.
“…from dissociation to remembering (lack of integration to integration)… (Whitsett, p. 5). I’ve learned a valuable lesson recently about remembering. I can find words to speak of what I remember happening while I lived in the cult. This is different than re-living the experiences. If I get triggered back into the vividness of the experience, that part of me is overwhelmed and cannot find the words to describe the incredible suffering I experienced. If I can stay grounded in the present, in my whole self who is living my new life, I can integrate that past part of me, stay in control if you will, and it becomes a memory that I can describe, without being overwhelmed. This is the wonderful job of and benefit of therapy that has helped me to integrate my past into my present.
“The third phase of Herman’s recovery model is from stigmatized isolation to social connection” (Whitsett p. 5). This is a process I am still working on. So much better than when I first left, a work in process, but an important work. I have found that isolation breeds depression, so I am making efforts to get out and do things. The default is to stay safe and to stay home, so it does take a bit of effort, but that effort pays off in making me feel connected and happy.