By Eric Merrill Budd (sent in by Jeff Reid)
What happens to individuals who have been psychologically
abused and morally betrayed by fundamentalist cultic religious
groups? how can they recover from the damage done? Physically
leaving such a group is relatively easy, but the emotional and
psychological departure can take months or even years. This is
why many people do not understand how any person can stay
within a situation of religious abuse - much the same way that
people fail to see how battered women stay with their abusers.
Such dysfunctional and destructive groups often use
manipulation, fear, and deception to maintain a hold on
members. They also shower their prey with unbelievable amounts
of affection and approval for staying in the group and meeting
their expectations ("love-bombing"). Groups also control and
distort information from the outside. Thus it becomes a sin to
read any "worldly" publications or "spiritual pornography."
The group makes an extremely sharp distinction between right
and wrong, good and evil; everything in the group is positive
(godly), everything outside is negative (satanic). Ambiguity,
doubts, and serious questions are not tolerated. The authority
of the group's leadership is virtually absolute. All problems
are oversimplified and deflected either away from the group or
back towards the individual (this is a methodology that
I have come to call conflict isolation).
It is no wonder, therefore, that the religiously abused
frequently suffer from emotional and psychological problems. I
believe that it is high time that our society recognizes and
deals with religious abuse as a social-psychological disorder
Generally, a person who breaks involvement with a
dysfunctional group will encounter the following problems:
* Depression - the product of group-induced self-doubt and
* Isolation and loneliness - the shock of crossing the barrier
from one social environment to another.
* Impairment of decision-making and other intellectual skills.
* Floating - occasional lapses into the group's imposed
mindset, often triggered by certain stimuli (music,
symbols,key words or phrases, etc.).
* Difficulty in talking about group involvement - often
related to strong feelings of guilt, fear, and bitterness.
* Interpersonal difficulties - communication, expression,
making new friends, organized activities, dating, emotional
and physical intimacy, etc. Recent walk aways are frequently
mistrustful and suspicious of other people and groups.
So, how does one recover? How does a person heal the wounds of
religious abuse? Hopefully, within a caring and understanding
new social setting. This can be a family, a support or therapy
group, or an organized community such as a humanist society.
It should also be done with patience and the consideration
that recovery will take time and effort. The following are
some ideas for persons who have walked away from religious
abuse and who are on the road to reclaiming their lives.
* Work towards trusting yourself and relying on your own
* Put your experience down in writing. This will help you to
evaluate, understand, and cope with your past involvement in
the abusive group.
* Get in touch with other people who have gone through similar
experiences, either one-on-one or in a support group.
* Find a hobby or pastime to reinforce a positive sense of
* When floating occurs, firmly remind yourself that the
episode was triggered by some stimulus. Remember also that it
will pass. Identify the trigger, learn to make a new
association, and repeat the new association until it overrides
the old one. Talking it over with someone who understands can
really help, too.
* Handle decisions, tasks, and relearning of interpersonal
skills one step at a time. Don't rush yourself, talk and think
things over, and don't be afraid if you make mistakes - we all
* Be more willing to help people as you go along. This builds
up self-esteems and exercises your problem-solving skills.
* Take a breather from organized religion for three to nine
months, at least. Deal with your questions about religion,
ethics, and philosophy in an honest and challenging manner.
Remember, you are no longer a victim but a survivor. **