I just finished the book, Freedom, My Book of Firsts, by Jaycee Dugard. You might recall she was held captive by Phillip and Nancy Garido for close to two decades.
Phillip was particularly religious, and combined religious indoctrination with abuse and rape. He and Nancy are an example of spiritually abusive people. I hardly want to mention them at all.
I am amazed by the resiliency of Jaycee Dugard. I read her book looking for clues as to what helped with her healing process. Here is what I noticed.
Jaycee assembled a good team of supportive people. She rebuilt her relationship with her family. She did therapy, for herself, with her family, with her daughters. She did the hard work. She also built a new circle of friends who became like family to her.
Jaycee found comfort in animals. Throughout her story, you can see that she accepted and valued the unconditional love of animals. She allowed herself to learn from the animals, especially her interactions with the horses.
Jaycee has an ability to laugh at her mistakes. Part of her resiliency has to do with her ability to laugh; despite everything, her humor shines through.
Jaycee used her experience for good. She used her resources to start a foundation to help others. She shares her story to help others. She used her experience to help change the language about survivors (e.g. Stop calling it Stockholm Syndrome; she never loved Phillip and Nancy).
Jaycee sets boundaries around religion. She was invited to participate in helping to rebuild a village destroyed by a hurricane. She asked before she went whether or not she would be subjected to more preaching. She made sure to protect her emotional and safety needs.
Jaycee celebrates what is going on now. Her book is a celebration of firsts. One chapter is called “Where’s the rage, Jaycee?” and in it she talks about a choice she made. “I choose to not be angry and let Phillip and Nancy consume one more minute of my life…I don’t wallow in self-pity and think of all the ‘what ifs of life’. It’s a waste of my time and energy.” (p. 207-208)
Jaycee and her family started new traditions to mark the passage of time and to heal as a family. For example, at New Year’s they create vegetable animals. In the beginning it was to help them connect as a family. Later it came to symbolize how the new year is full of surprises and opportunities.
Jaycee is willing to try new things. She has a willingness to try new foods, to roll with it when the unexpected occurs, and do things which might be uncomfortable. She exercises her courage.
In conclusion, I recommend reading memoirs of survivors of spiritual abuse, and see what techniques they use to get through. Look for the helpers. Who came along and helped them to think and to get through it? What techniques did they use to help them heal? Also, in reading these kinds of memoirs, you will see that you are not alone. You will discover that many people have lost their religion and community and have gone on to thrive.
After reading, Breaking the Silence on Spiritual Abuse, by Lisa Oakley and Kathyrn Kinmond, I am convinced that one of the most important healing activities we can do is work to develop a strong sense of self. Spiritual Abuse is an attack on self because it tears a person down and makes them second guess their own intuition; they are shamed and blamed into believing they are the problem, not the person or context that is abusive. According to the authors Western society places self in the center and creates a belief that we are in charge of our own experiences. When Spiritual Abuse occurs this cultural belief contributes to the damage. The victim blames himself or herself for the abuse (I wasn't obedient enough, If I had more faith, If I had kept quiet).
The healing activities suggested on this website that ask you to compare and contrast, what you were taught with what you now believe, are meant to help you strengthen your identity-outside of the messages you got from the abusive context. The purpose of encouraging you to do research is so that you begin to reformulate your identity, but also so that no one can later sway you. The idea behind pursuing hobbies and developing skills is also related to building self-esteem and an identity beyond a religious affiliation.
Perhaps the most difficult part of healing is rebuilding trust in others. It is important to stop looking at others and instantly judging and categorizing them. Abusive groups isolate you by teaching you to view others with a particular lens, using black and white thinking. With us or against us. Believer or non-believer. Loyal or apostate.
To overcome this, you need to change your lens. Stop looking for instant friends. Friendships are based on more than group affiliation. There should be mutual sharing, done over time, so you can determine if the other person is trustworthy. A true friend will not punish you for having a different opinion. A trustworthy person will not act like their faith is better than yours. They will not try to silence you. They will not try to corrupt you. They will like you for who you are today.
It's easy to quit trusting others entirely. I would suggest you begin to look and count the instances of kindness that you encounter daily. Someone opened the door for you. Someone caught your attention when you dropped something. A coworker brought you lunch when you were sick. Someone helped you find something, gave you directions, and lit up with a smile when they saw you. You have no idea what their religion is or if they have any at all.
Next, make a list of all of the people in your life who have never hurt you. Start a nice person hall of fame and add to it. There should be numerous people throughout your life who have been good to you. (Teachers, neighbors, coworkers, etc) The point is, there are a lot of good people in your part of the world. Are you giving them a chance? Can you further connect (or re-connect) with any of them?
Here are some relationships I think deserve your caution:
Spiritual abuse is not widely studied. You may have to ask around to see who in your town has experience. Or you may have to point your therapist to websites like www.journeyfree.org or freedomofmind.com to help him or her understand the issues involved with religious trauma.
A therapist does not have to be an expert to help you. They have to be someone you feel safe with and who is willing to learn. A good therapist should refer you to another therapist if your situation is beyond their scope of training. Ask your therapist to explain their therapeutic approach and talk to him or her about your expectations. Learning to trust a therapist can be a great way to being trusting others again.
My blogs take on all topics related to recovery, including commentary on the intersection of spiritual abuse and current events.
Suicide Prevention Lifeline 1(800) 273-8255