Sunday, November 25, 2007

Cults and Trauma: how to open the lockbox

Cults and Trauma: how to open the lockbox

how to open the lockbox

So how does one open the lockbox? Where does one find the courage to speak in the face of fear and shame, the double-edged sword of oppression?
First, one must make the choice to heal. Healing is always a choice, not an accident. Often propelled on by suffering, the individual decides whether to passively “accept one’s fate” or actively pursue a way to freedom. It is a mystery as to why some people actually choose to heal and others do not. Individuals vary. For some, the choice may be obvious and swift. For others, it may take a long time to come to that essential decision.
Once the decision to heal is made, one must begin the process of opening up by sharing one’s true feelings. Just as Pinocchio became a “real boy” when he told the truth, so the magic of genuine self-disclosure allows one to become who he is. But this must be done in a safe place. Safety is essential to building trust. Continual assaults in the past at the heart of one’s being make it hard to trust anyone. Safety allows one to make tentative stabs at reality without fear of punishment.
Experience teaches abused people not to trust anyone as a way of survival. But one must make small steps in the direction of trust in order to heal. There are individuals in society who are trustworthy. Shamans and priests were once the hearers and witnesses of truth. In today’s society, credentialed psychotherapists, counselors and teachers who are bound by a code of ethics can help one learn to trust again. They bear witness to the individual’s truth.
Initially, people may become depressed, if not suicidal when they come out of an abusive cult and take steps towards healing. The realization of their loss – the loss of time, the loss of identity, loss of one’s self can be intolerable. But depression keeps us stagnant. It slows us down; it keeps us down, locked in the cycle of oppression.
For many, opening the lockbox is a byproduct of anger. Anger is the vehicle that drives the truth into the open. The victim must not only feeling her feelings; she must see the cult leader for what he was – an abusive sociopath; not a loving presence. It is not enough that the abuse caused suffering. Suffering accompanied by resolve becomes the catalyst for change. One needs the spark of indignation that recognizes the unfairness and imbalance of power in one’s situation. Then one begins to puncture the membrane of silence that leaves one isolated from the world.
The code of silence is penetrated through one’s initial decision to heal and one’s courage to begin to tell the truth about oneself in a safe place. This, accompanied by education about physical, sexual, psychological and spiritual abuse allows the individual to start on the journey towards wholeness. True expression of one’s feelings, especially anger, makes healing possible.

Saturday, November 17, 2007

Opening the Lockbox: On Breaking The Code of Silence

In order to speak, one must have a voice. Now this might seem obvious to most people but to people who have been abused in a cult, it’s not always the case. The voice has been overtaken by another stronger voice, the voice of the leader. Through mind control, the cult leader imposes his will and views on the follower so the follower loses her own will and views. When mind control is accompanied by physical or sexual abuse, the task of speaking up becomes even more complicated and difficult.
In my case, I was in a Bible-based fundamentalist cult which charged high fees for long classes on The Word Over The World. The methods, not the doctrine, employed to accomplish the goals of world domination by group were very harmful. The leader wielded his control through intensive psychological indoctrination and sexual contact.
I remember one incident vividly in which I questioned “the Doctor,” the leader of the group, about the ethicalness of his behavior. He quoted Scripture and explained that I needed to be “spiritually mature” in order to understand. The “Doctor” taught that if one’s mind was pure enough, one could do anything with one’s body. God did not care about the flesh. The sexual needs of the leaders were to be satisfied by females who were submitting to “ the will of God.”.
He commanded me to keep our sexual encounters in the “lockbox of my soul” – never to be spoken of or revealed to anyone else. “What if someone finds out?” I asked naively. “Why, I’d lie, “ he said.
Sexual predators and batterers know the power of silence. They abuse their victims, then swear them to secrecy. This ensures that not only is the abuse hidden from society but it becomes hidden from the victim, as well. The tacit agreement between cult leader and follower is “if you remain silent, I will take care of you” or a variation of that – “if you tell, I will reject you and you need me to survive.” To the victim, truth-telling jeopardizes their very existence when, in fact, it is the way to wholeness.
Trauma experts have long advocated the necessity of “bearing witness’ to one’s abuse. Why? Because truth is acknowledged and affirmed in the context of community. Personal truth becomes understood when it is spoken. Lies keep one isolated and separate. Speaking the truth of one’s own reality allows one to belong to the world. One is no longer alone. But it doesn’t stop there. One must question destructive assumptions and become educated about individual rights.
For many years after leaving the cult, I was suicidal. Years of abuse and oppression had made me believe that I deserved to be punished for leaving the group. I was brainwashed into thinking that living without my leader would destroy me. Earlier trauma and abuse reinforced the idea that I was no good and deserved to die. But now I realize that that is not true. Through counseling and education, I have learned that I deserve to live. Now I know I have a right to open the lockbox and speak my truth.