I am really interested in studying the process of leaving a spiritually abusive group (i.e. getting a PhD). I think if we had a timeline and could describe the stages of recovery, it would help normalize the experience for those who have newly awakened. I'd like to identify the most important activities to accomplish in each stage.
I am not talking about deprogramming someone, but I am talking about a self-led process of forming a new identity and gaining personal autonomy. This could help people move through the crisis stage, when they are vulnerable to suicide or returning to the group, and also teach professionals understand how to help. I am also interested in helping people not jump from one abusive group to another.
I have my own theories about the recovery process. I have also read Marlene Winell's and Steven Hassan's work, among others, but I would like to add to it. Any ideas about where I could study?
Reframing is a tool of healing. Reframing is defined this way, in the online Psychology Dictionary:
“Developing a new conceptual or emotional outlook relating to situations experienced, and putting it into another frame which follows the facts or evidence equally well, changing its whole definition. Reconstruction of a subject's experiential view to impart a more positive view of it. Method for changing self-defeating thought processes by consciously inserting more positive ones.”[i]
Timothy D. Wilson, PhD says that “personal narratives…can make the difference between living a healthy, productive life—or not.”[ii] He suggests that people can prevent the development of problem behaviors or psychology by doing story editing, “We try to catch people when they are at a narrative fork in the road, so that they can be directed down the healthier path before their problems become severe.”[iii]
Reframing an experience can be powerful and liberating. To help us understand reframing, let’s consider a meme on Facebook that reframes a bad breakup, “Never get jealous when you see your ex with someone else, because our parents taught us to give our used toys to the less fortunate.”[iv] This use of humor reframes the loss and implies a new sense of gratitude for what currently is.
Story editing, according to Timothy D. Wilson, PhD, involves writing down a revision of your story and reinterpreting it. [v] He also has completed research that shows that retelling too soon can increase trauma. Instead, one should go through the feelings that they feel, anger, fear, sadness, etc.[vi] After a period of a few weeks, one has enough distance to reflect on the meaning of events.
Here are some examples of reframing, that can be useful in overcoming spiritual abuse.
When someone has mistreated you and inflicted pain, it is enlarged by feelings of betrayal. If you loved the person, the pain is more intense. You may feel like a victim. A way to reframe the experience is to say, “Thank you for being my very good teacher.” This is not a flippant remark mean to invalidate the intensity of the betrayal, but it is a way to begin changing hurt and anger into gratitude. This person or group taught you things you may not have learned any other way. It may have been the very thing that awakened you and helped you leave the group. It may be the experience that teaches you discernment and brings you to deeper and unconditional relationships.
Many abusive groups label people who leave by using derogatory terms like apostate, murtadd, turncoat, suppressive person, etc. Rather than accept the fear that this label is meant to inflict, we can reframe how we look at it. “We are not apostates; we are whistle blowers.”[vii] We are not weak in faith; we are courageous. We are not suppressive; we followed our conscience (and have integrity).
A difficult area to reframe is the loss of former friends or families, who love us but exclude us. After grieving the loss, we can rewrite the script. We do not want to associate with people who can be that cruel, who gossip about us, and who manipulate us by withholding love. Their shunning protects us from further abuse and control. We can decide to shun them. We are now free to associate with whomever we want. Rather than focusing on what we lost, we can focus on what we gained.
If you are having difficulty reframing your experience, try to identify what you are learning from it; what areas of personal growth are occurring?[viii] It can be very helpful to seek help from a therapist. Often the simplest question can lead to an “aha moment.” You can also ask a person you trust, who is outside of the group, for their take on things. You may be acclimatized to things that people outside the group see as egregious.
Another helpful thought is, “This too shall pass.” What you experience today is only a small part of your entire life story. Rough patches are just that; they are not the totality of every day, or every month, or of your entire life. Abusive groups teach people to look for the negative in life; they teach that if you leave your life will be rotten. You can reframe that by saying, “Five minutes of today was rough, but the rest of the day went well.” Soon you will see that rough patches, are just rough patches, not events worthy of saying, “My life sucks.” You can look for evidence of the ways your life is improving.
[i] Pam MS, NCSP |http://psychologydictionary.org/reframing/ 8/23/2016.
[ii] Revising Your Story. Kirstin Weir, APA Monitor, March 2012, Vol 43, No. 3 http://www.apa.org/monitor/2012/03/revising.aspx 8/23/206.
[iv] Source unknown.
[v] Kirstin Weir. Ibid 2.
[vi] Redirect: The Surprising New Science of Psychological Change. Published December 2011, by Allen Lane; http://aworkcovervictimsdiary.com/2012/08/reframing-traumatic-experience-the-surprising-new-science-of-psychological-change/ 8/23/2016.
[vii] Spike Raynor, date unknown.
[viii] Reflect & Reframe, Linda Sapadin, Ph.D. http://psychcentral.com/blog/archives/2014/10/17/reflect-and-reframe/ 8/23/2016
Reframing involves not only changes in how you tell your story; it involves changing your thinking.
My blogs take on all topics related to recovery, including commentary on the intersection of spiritual abuse and current events.
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