This is a blog post from the Tales From The Crypt Blog which we edited between 2006 and 2012. It focuses on our experiences post BCF and encourages others who have been traumatised by controlling Christian organisations and spiritual abuse.
I would like to air some reflections which have been bouncing around the inside of my brain over the last few weeks. I particularly want to encourage other ex-BCF members to remember the place from whence they have come. More than anything else, we have to remember, and remind ourselves continually, that we have just come out of a cult, and cults are very particular, and peculiar places. They have messed with your head, and your life. That does NOT mean you are crazy, but it does mean that they have inflicted some damage, and that needs to be healed. How is that healed? That is between you and God.
I think its important to recognize the way cults work. Cults employ groupthink in the same way that our lungs employ oxygen. Cult leaders manipulate groupthink to increase fear, confusion, dependency, and loyalty. This is why BCF members for the most part will continue to defend their leaders and their group. They have been taught to believe that the rest of the world is the enemy. If you believe that your only place of safety is being attacked, you will fight to the death to ward off any blow which comes against you or your leaders.
If you are immersed in groupthink, you won’t be using your common sense or the logical side of your brain. Groupthink relies on emotions not objective facts therefore facts, logic, and the experiences of those which disagree with your perception are ditched. You don’t think for yourself, because you have been told year after year after year that reason is the enemy of faith, as Vic Hall himself has written.
Why is reason the enemy? Because if people are thinking for themselves, they are going to argue with you, and disagree with you and then if they disagree with you enough they will leave. If enough people leave, you won’t have a congregation, and your reputation will be so tarnished that you will have a great deal of trouble rescuing it.
Emerging from a cult takes involves a great deal of trauma regardless of how much abuse was actually perpetrated against you. The fact that you have been completely and wholly devoted to a group of people who you trusted without reservation and you thought believed in you and loved you unconditionally, and then you discover that these people have turned out to be deceiving you the whole time, and then turned on you at your darkest moment is probably one of life’s most soul-destroying event. I would go so far as to say that many ex-members of BCF are suffering Post Traumatic Stress Syndrome to some degree. Not all, and the one thing I want to do is avoid making black and white statements. The fact that you have removed yourself from those outside the cult almost guarantees that you will find it difficult to find support and help from others who should have, and in all other instances would have, been close to you.
You have become your own worst enemy. You now must not only heal from these lost years of deception, but you must rebuild your life from scratch. You must re-discover your faith, you must re-learn who God is, you must reclaim your mind, your abilities, your independence, your integrity, your self-respect, your individuality.
It is this last I would like to focus on. Anyone who has spent decades of their life immersed in groupthink needs to become independent like their lungs need oxygen (to re-use a metaphor). You HAVE to find yourself again, and you HAVE to do that with support. SUPPORT, I say, not ADVICE. There is a difference.
Ex-members of a cult need to be told over and over and over again….” you don’t need to be told how to live, you can trust yourself to make the best decision for yourself and your family. You are a grown adult and not a child, you are capable, competent and you will re-discover that in time.” That of course doesn’t mean you don’t need to ask for help and support, that too is the right of every independent adult.
Many ex-members have gone to see psychologists or other mental health professionals just to talk about their experiences and receive some proper professional support. Others have seen medical doctors, or spoken to Christian pastors who have likewise given them what they need. It is my earnest belief that God helps us in our need in ways we are not even conscious of at the time. There may be those who don’t even feel comfortable talking to professionals, and that too is fine.
I know many won’t step foot inside a church, and find doing so is as traumatic as going back to BCF would be. This is PERFECTLY NORMAL. I include a link to an excellent article here on emotional triggers. This article is discussing PTSD, but the phenomenon of triggers occurs in cult victims also, regardless of whether you have been diagnosed with PTSD or not. The information is still valid. It has certainly helped me. (no link)
I would also like to remind readers of this blog that we put up a link to Jeff Van Vonderen’s excellent video series on spiritual abuse some months ago. He also talks about triggers and the symptoms of those who have suffered from being abused by those they trusted implicitly. These videos have also helped a lot of people who have been through what we have been through.
I have to stress that each individual who has been through the BCF group of churches and out the other side needs more than anything to trust themselves again. Trusting your instincts, relying on them in fact, and believing that you know what is best for you, is the best thing.
What that means is that if you decide that you no longer want to go into a church again, that is your choice and doesn’t mean you are no longer a Christian. You can fellowship with other Christians in your own time, and in the manner of your choosing (just a cup of coffee is still ‘fellowship), and you must not feel guilty about that. No-one else has the right to dictate to you the manner of your own healing, and since the manner of healing from a cult should be entirely and intrinsically individual, the choice is yours.
I wish somebody had told me that when I left BCF. I spent an inordinate amount of time just feeling guilty that I wasn’t doing what others wanted me to do. There were other ex-BCF members who got together occasionally, and I just felt I couldn’t be with them for long periods. The triggers were too great, and the stress just left me feeling emotionally exhausted. That’s why the internet was so great for me. I was able to talk to others without leaving my house or absorbing other people’s emotional turmoil. Some people are naturally sensitive and empathetic to others, and these people are even more at risk of becoming stressed around other ex-cult refugees. I say again, each of us must look after ourselves in the way which is best for US, not someone else.
Over time, I found myself doing things like personality tests, and IQ tests and other types of things which are free on the net, mainly for my own amusement, but a part of me needed to rediscover who I was. Nobody, and I mean NOBODY could tell me who I was, I had to find that out for myself. It didn’t really matter what I did because the key here was that I was experimenting.
A therapist I spoke to a couple of years ago told me that my ability to be spontaneous, experimental, and to push against the boundaries had been squashed. I was simply unable to think outside the square. I had to practice, practice, practice. That meant doing all the things which I hadn’t given myself permission to do up til that point.
I must say that I also found myself getting physically exhausted very easily. I found myself also suffering nightmares with alarming regularity, but as I told my 12 year old the other day, nightmares are just the brain’s way of dealing with what you have been thinking about during the day. If you have been traumatized, so has your mind. This is a healthy and normal way of coping with that stress.
I must say here that I am not a psychologist (although I am studying to be one), and that my advice is simply based on my own experiences. Anecdotal evidence (or personal experience) has always been a great help for those seeking for encouragement that they are not alone in their sufferings, or that they are not crazy.
Let me say again, you must find your own healing, your own way, and you will find it. Don’t allow somebody else to categorise you, make you feel guilty or ashamed. You don’t have to do anything if you don’t want to. God isn’t going to take away your salvation if you swear, get angry, get furious, tell somebody exactly what you think without qualification, or refuse to do something. You have the right to be angry, you have the right to whichever emotional state you find yourself at any time. Emotions are not sin. You have to rediscover your own right to make your own decisions. That will take time, and that too is NORMAL.
My favourite quote here is ‘I am reacting normally to an abnormal situation’. It’s true. What we have been through is not normal in Christian circles, or even in secular circles. We have been treated with utter disrespect and abused without conscience. Coming to terms with this will also take time, and everyone is at a different level of healing.
I don’t know what else I can offer other than the words “It happened to me too”. You have done nothing wrong, but you have been with people who have taken advantage of you and the best defense to avoid being a victim is knowledge of how abusers work, and knowledge of yourself.
I heard another quote recently ironically enough from ‘The Art of War’.
“If you know yourself and you know your enemy, you need not fear the result of a hundred battles”.
This is where the quote ‘know yourself’ comes from, and it is a very good piece of advice. If you know yourself, you can make your own decisions and not feel guilty if someone disagrees with you. You can act without shame if someone doesn’t think you should do what you want to do. You can begin to have confidence, and as my husband often says ‘back your own judgement’. We have learned to do this the hard way believe me, but the effects of this on our lives have been revolutionary. We trust our own gut instincts now, and we even hear God speaking to us on occasion. We know its him because when he says something, it comes true. We hear his voice now as a gentle guidance rather than a monkey on our back. God is no longer a tyrant, but a sensitive, careful voice of love and encouragement. THERE IS NOW NO CONDEMNATION.
We live for the day when you are all free of the condemnation that has plagued your consciences for so long.