Thought Reform?

Thought reform or mind control seems like something that only happens in a movie or a novel, but it is prevalent in our society today. One only has to look as far as the Catholic Church to find victims of spiritual abuse. While the stories of altar boys molested by priests have made headlines, countless victims are still suffering in silence. Whenever there is a power imbalance in a relationship, there is a danger that the person who holds more authority will abuse his or her power. It can occur on a large scale as with the Unification Church (the Moonies) or in smaller groups such as Heaven's Gate (39 members) or even in one-on-one relationships such as a priest and parishioner or a professor and a student. Victims of mind control are not crazy cult followers. They are people like me and you who have fallen into a trap set by a predatory leader. In my experience, the trap was built with trust and words and compassion which lured me into thinking that I was safe until it snapped down on me. Victims of mind control are robbed of time. Sometimes years or decades are lost while in the group or relationship. Victims of mind control lose family and friends. Most are told to end contact with outsiders. Many who are able to return to their families find the relationships fractured. Victims of mind control lose their identities. It's difficult to know who you are after being told by someone else how to feel, how to dress, how to act. It's one of the darkest and most frightening feelings in the world. There are very few facilities that treat these victims or therapists who are equipped to handle these cases. It makes for a long, lonely journey for these victims. Compassionate understanding and education by society is lacking. This novel is dedicated to raising awareness and giving a face to victims of mind control.

1. Every person should have the right to his or her own thoughts, ideology, and identity.

2. Thought reform does not simply exist in cults that are on the news. It can occur in one-on-one relationships and in small groups in your neighborhood

3. In any situation where there is an imbalance of power (priest/parishioner, therapist/client), there is potential for abuse.

Friday, August 10, 2012

Cults and Bananas

I recently had a friend ask me why I remained in a church after I was abused by an Episcopalian priest.  It's true that I never left the church and always considered myself to be Episcopalian even though I don't attend church regularly and am not active in any church activities.  In fact, I haven't been to an Episcopal church since 2011.  I have been to a Catholic church twice this year., I'm not the dedicated parishioner I once was.  I can't be.  Being in a church and seeing the priest evokes many bad memories that I wish I didn't have to deal with.  But I want to be there.  I really do want to be a faithful servant.  It may seem crazy to some to go right back to the church that abused me.  Am I setting myself up for failure?  What's the draw?  Why is it so important?
      I answered my friend's question in this way.  I chose to stay in the church because it was not the church at large who abused me.  In fact, they swiftly dealt with my abuser and booted him out after taking his collar so quickly that it would make your head spin.  They did the right thing and I am grateful for that.  I also chose to stay in the church because it's not God's fault that this happened.  It took me a long time to come to this conclusion and, to be honest, I've only reached it very recently.  God doesn't create us so that bad things can happen to us and he can laugh at our misery.  Much like we hurt for our own children, so does God.  Yes, bad things happen.  They always will, but it's not God's fault that I came into contact with a sociopath.  I also cognitively know that not every priest is bad.  Priests in general, especially ones that wear collars, freak me out.  I immediately look at them and think that they are sizing me up and seeing how they can use me for thier own gain.  It's a trigger and an automatic emotional response.  But in my head, I know I'm wrong.  To say that every priest is bad simply because I had a bad experience with one would be like throwing out the whole bunch of bananas when only one is going bad.  You'd miss out on a lot of good bananas if you did that.
     I'm lucky that my mother instilled such a deep faith in me.  At least I feel lucky.  To some faith isn't that important or even necessary.  Some cult or abuse survivors never go back to any church and that's okay.  They take thier bad experience with religion and transform it into something new whether it is thier own form of spirituality or just by being a good person.  The survivors of cults and spiritual abuse that I know are some of the kindest and compassionate people I have ever known.  They've been through some stuff and want to help others.  And some do that differently than I do.  They take that bad banana and buy two more and make banana bread.  They experiment with the recipe until they find what taste and texture they like best.  And they survive.
     Isn't that what it's all about?  Survival?  Whether you choose an organized religion or not or shy away from priests or embrace them or have meaningful talks with God or find some other avenue for peace within or eat bananas straight from the peel or bake them into banana bread or mash them into pudding, isn't about finding what is right for you in order to ensure your survival?  Because after the physical and sexual and emotional and spiritual abuse doled out daily, hourly by our former leaders, it is an accomplishment to even live through the day sometimes. 
     But it gets better.  Time doesn't heal every wound, but it does give us an opportunity to learn how to deal with issues and triggers that come our way.  I remind myself that I am lucky.  I got away.  He cannot hurt me anymore....he is powerless.

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