Spiritual abuse exists on a spectrum and can be mild to extreme. The B.I.T.E. model, by Steven Hassan, is used to explain how high control groups exercise undue influence over their members.
Behavior refers to how the group leaders tells members what to do and then back it up with enforcement of the rules. The rules extend into every area of a person's life, covering finances, sexuality, how time is spent, how you dress, who your friends are, etc,
Information refers to how the leaders tell you what to read or view and creates an environment where outside information or opposing views are forbidden.
Thought control refers to how the leaders do not allow questions. There becomes one set of truths to adopt and no variation is allowed. Members become voiceless because they know they will be punished if they share their true thoughts and/or doubts.
Emotional control refers to how members become stunted in how they are allowed to feel. For example, they may like someone outside of the group, but are told that person is wicked, so they have to deny their true feelings to maintain acceptance in the group. If someone dies, the are told not to mourn,
To heal from this kind of undue influence and ex-member must take back each of the BITE areas. It's an act of taking back and recreating your life.
Decide what your own personal Behaviors can be. Set your own standards. This will involve breaking many of the groups rules, and that is fine. In extreme groups they control everything. It's liberating to not follow them all. Deciding your own behavior may sound scary, but people do this every day. It is part of being human. The good part is, you can make adjustments over time.
In the beginning, you may feel like you are out of control, but you are not. An example is the pendulum on a clock. The BITE controls have set the pendulum to the extreme on one side, but when you let go, it may swing to the high point on the other side, for a while. Eventually you will settle into a groove somewhere in the middle that works well for you.
Choose your sources of Information. It is helpful to read both sides of an issue. Then you can decide what makes sense to you. Abusive groups label outside information as “apostate” or “suppressive,” and that is part of the control. Be okay with reading it anyway. You will probably discover how the group lied to you.
Stop censoring your Thoughts. Allow yourself to ask questions. A good way is to say, “I was told this view, but what do others have to say about the issue.” In your relationships, you can begin to disagree, or say no, when you mean no.
Allow yourself to feel every Emotion that you feel. If you are sad, angry, grieving a loss, it’s okay. Make relationships based on how the person makes you feel. Associate with people who make you laugh, with people you have interests in common with, and people who are supportive of you. You may feel out of control emotionally for a while, but you are setting loose a flood of backed up feelings. If processing them feels scary, please consider getting help from a therapist.
There are many supports available as you go through reclaiming your life, such as online support groups, self help books, and YouTube videos. These can help you navigate the process. There are many people who've gone through recovery, and are doing what they can to ease the suffering of those who are newly on the path.
My blogs take on all topics related to recovery, including commentary on the intersection of spiritual abuse and current events.
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