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.


Cindy said...

"The Doctor" sounds like a psychopath! I was married to a psychopath who used "gaslighting" techniques on me. It wasn't until years later, reflecting on our horrible marriage, that I realized the extent of his evil nature.

Please write more!

Kristen Skedgell said...

Thank you for writing and sharing your experience. "Galighting" is also known as the "bait and switch" technique in which the perpetrator leads us to believe one thing, then abruptly and capriciously changes the rules. It enough to drive one mad! I hope you're healing from that terrible experience. It sounds like you are. best, k

Kristen Skedgell said...

oops! I posted my last post twice. Still new at this. sorry for the repetition.

Kristen Skedgell said...

okay, so I figured it out. now there's one post for the day. For more on anger, see Janja Lalich's article on the benefits of anger in leaving cultic and abusive relationships.

David said...

Kris - we know each other from a long time ago in a galaxy which, thankfully, is far far away. We were in Kansas together. I remember you as a very very sweet person - and NOT in the context of that awful place

Your blog treatises are thoughtful, caring and honest to the point of pain. I wish that none of those experiences happened to you - but am very glad to hear that you are on the other side of the road now.

Charlene said...


I, too, know you from long ago and am very thankful you are having your book published and letting your voice be heard here on this blog. My heart breaks over what you endured from "the doctor." Your story will truly help others heal and educate some who have been in the dark, or in denial, about the abuse of "the doctor."

Best wishes,

Christian said...

Hi Kristen,

Congratulations on your book being published! Based on the excellent writing and insight in this blog, I'm sure your book will be a friend who understands and can also provide sound advice and guidance for those who are lost, abandoned and frightened after they leave.

I knew "the doctor" too. Grew up with him and finally left his cult when I was 20. I'll be celebrating my 40th birthday in a year and a half and will also be celebrating more than half of my life out of the cult. Can't wait!

I was fortunate enough to escape the sexual abuse but there were plenty of other forms to go around and I got my share. When I left I fell into depression and suicidal tendencies, but as Rage Against the Machine sings, "anger is a gift." My anger, a good therapist, education, and writing gave me the motivation and ammunition to write my way out of the mess and I've made a good life for myself since then. I'm still a little crazy, but that runs in the family. :-)

Best wishes to you and your book!

Mark Clarke said...

Hi Kristen!

I vaguely remember you from the Rye, NY days. I'm glad you are able to write about your experiences.

By the way, you said "the methods, not the doctrine...were harmful." I think it was both. Part of the doctrine was the idea that because Jesus Christ made us righteous we could do anything we wanted as long as we were "spiritually mature" enough not to condemn ourselves.

Also, one of the most harmful doctrines was the idea that Jesus' words were addressed to Israel and only the epistles were addressed to us. This separates Jesus from his words, which he said are "spirit and life."

There were other wrong doctrines, as well as some right ones. I think the wrong doctrines were in some cases as harmful as the methods, but more subtle.

steven edward streight said...

Your confused story lacks credibility. I was in this "cult" from 1971 to 1983 and you are not describing it correctly. The class was not expensive, it was not called "The Word Over the World", it was called Power For Abundant Living. Your problem is much deeper than what you claim it is. Craig Martindale destroyed the Way International, but I doubt that Dr. Wierwille did what you claim he did.

Billy said...

As Kristen referred to classes (plural) in this blog post from almost 3 years ago, I don't think she was referring to PFAL alone, but to the numerous classes that were promoted, every one of which contained that push for the Word over the World.

Expensive or not is a matter of opinion, though I well remember how the prices, or donations, were raised over the years. In fact, I remember the corps meeting at ROA 1978 when Dr. Wierwille raised the price of PFAL from 100 to 200 dollars.

Speaking of the corps, I was also, like Kristen, in the 8th corps, and I know that things she mentions in some of her blog posts, and more especially her descriptions of events of that time in "Losing the Way" are quite accurate. Of course, someone could question my memory also, though I was a bit known for having a good memory in the corps.

Anonymous said...

I believe Kristen has a courageous and humble heart. I left TWI 20years ago, and rarely find myself looking for current information on it, or old histories. I never went through what she did, but was too aware of it, know a few women who were part of that "leadership can do anything" mentality, and I was was personally affected by other lies and intimidation tactics. I do hold to whatever I did learn or experience there that was good for my life, and I praise God for healing my heart and showing me grace and joy - apart from the reality of the machine. Thanks Kristen for your courage to know, speak it and heal. Just my 2c. :)

Phillip said...

Kris, I remember meeting you numerous times at different events in NY. I began to fellowship with TWI in 1972 when I was on drugs and suicidal/homicidal. After taking PFAL my life stabilized and I prospered, my marriage endured, my children grew up in the Word and all are doing well. I was deeply disturbed on learning of the misconduct of the ministry's leaders but yet I am living a good life. Am I wrong to think that they have purged the old leaven?

Billy said...

If I may put in my 2 cents here (translated: this is my opinion and I am not speaking for Kristen) I don't think Kristen's experience...label that abuse...means that there weren't some good things done and taught in TWI and that there weren't people that were helped by TWI and its teachings. For more on my opinion, for what it's worth, read my response to Kristen's "Trauma and Recovery" post from March 7, 2010. I have also said more than once that I am grateful that Kristen related her own experience as she lived her Way time...not going on a diatribe or lecture on how bad everything in TWI is/was, but telling about what happened to her. I don't think Kristen would ever deny your experience. As I said in that above referred to post, I think "the good was used to justify the abuse", and to that add that it was used to hide it as well. Yes, it was deeply disturbing to me too, and I didn't want to believe it for a long time, DESPITE getting a minor taste of it myself, and a major taste of the attitudes. I notice your tone also is not a denial of what happened to Kristen. It is my opinion that if you have a level of trust in Kristen from way back, it is still good now.