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.

Thursday, August 16, 2012

Why Stay?

     Recently we moved into a new home.  It is 135 years old and, while we have lots of living space inside our home, our dogs have a relatively small space in the backyard.  We do not  let them into the house because of allergens, and we don't yet have a fence.  We keep them on tie-outs until our fence can be built next month.  Yesterday one of the tie-outs broke, but our dog, Molly, stayed in the yard and only went as far as the unbroken tie-out let her.  It was as if she didn't realize she was free.  Although this was fortunate for us because she didn't run away, I wondered why she didn't.  She was free to roam the neighborhood and cause chaos but she stayed.
      So many people who don't truly understand the nature of cults or spiritual abuse ask why don't the abused just leave.  If only it were that simple.  Like victims of domestic violence, we stay because we're afraid.  We stay because we're told that to leave would be a blasphemy to God and all that we believe in.  It would be turning our back on the true religion and the only path to salvation.  We stay because we've been told we will encounter misfortunes financially and physically.  We stay because we are told we are going to die if we leave. 
      And we stay because we are afraid of what's out there.  I didn't grow up in a cult, but I was in my relationship long enough to fear any other way of life.  I had the hardest time making decisions when I left because I could not ask my leader what to do, what to wear, what to say, where to go, what to was just me.  I was so not used to being reliant on myself that I questioned everything I did.  Then I thought it really didn't matter what I did because I'm sure it was wrong, and I was going to hell anyway for my "betrayal".  We stay because we know no other way and the alternate ways presented to us seem wrong or evil or too difficult.  But we're not weak.  Take everything you believe in right now and turn it upside down.  Change your entire thought process and do it with very little support from people who have may have never experienced what you are going through.  Wipe the slate completely clean and start over.  Daunting, isn't it?
       Daunting but not impossible as evidenced by the fact that there are survivors.  It's a fact that many of us will suffer post-traumatic stress for years and maybe will never feel completely comfortable in a church or even in our own skin....but at least we're free.  Remind us of that because it is easy to slip back into thinking that we've done something wrong by leaving. 
      It's easy to stay where you are like Molly.  In the backyard she has food and water and a nice bed and people who love her and take her for walks.  She doesn't want to leave because she knows no other way.  Fortunately, our love for Molly is real.  But it's just as easy to feel false love and belonging in a group or relationship and feel unable to get out.  But you can.  You can run from the backyard and create all sorts of chaos in the neighborhood and I hope you do.

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