Autonomy is not encouraged in abusive spirituality. Autonomy is the state of being self-governed, and carries the connotation of having both freedom and moral independence. Spiritual abuse reduces one to toddler-like dependence on obeying rules and repeating beliefs.
Some leaders have started out with a small group of people and have exercised more and more control, as they made claims of having the truth and by creating endless rules to be followed. They then teach members to monitor and judge each other’s behavior. Soon the members act alike, dress alike, and talk alike, all using the group’s special words. The group has quashed individuality and moral independence.
Many think they will find relief from spiritual abuse by exploring nonreligious forms of spirituality. Yet, people get taken in by psychics whose “insights” and “advice” bilks them of thousands of dollars and leaves them feeling ashamed and insecure. Over time the psychic was able to manipulate the person into increasing dependence on their tarot readings or words of wisdom.
Spiritual freedom requires taking adult responsibility for our own choices, actions, and beliefs. Erik Erickson described the stages of psychosocial development that each person must complete successfully to become a healthy adult. He proposed that the main task of a toddler was to develop autonomy. In other words, to become a healthy person, the toddler needed to gain independence and make choices; children who are allowed choice and movement, grow in a sense of security and confidence. Children who are denied this growth start to feel inadequate and suffer from self-doubt. [i] To be denied autonomy leads to feelings of shame.
For people who have been immersed in a spiritually abusive relationship it is an important step toward healing to begin to exert independence. The person or group may pressure you to return, using all kinds of lies and threats, or by withholding affection. To resist this temptation, you must take steps to end the control.
Exerting independence may involve these actions:
Moral independence is a part of autonomy that spiritual abuse tries to eliminate. Abusive groups frame moral independence in unflattering terms such as pride, independent thinking, or apostasy; they want people to repeat the party line and do group behaviors. They also frame obedience to group expectations as loyalty, integrity, and wisdom. But moral independence is personal integrity. Choosing to leave a spiritually abusive group/relationship and follow your conscience is courageous and authentic.
Developing your core values means thinking through situations, accepting gray areas, refusing black and white thinking. It’s not easy, and it’s an ongoing process of taking in knowledge from many areas and integrating them into your personal world view. It means changing beliefs when new information is presented.
That’s real integrity. That’s autonomy. That’s what will lead you to real love, feelings of safety, and confidence.
[i] https://www.verywell.com/autonomy-versus-shame-and-doubt-2795733 (7/28/16)
"Autonomy means you get to set the rules for your life, and you get to decide how to live it."
My blogs take on all topics related to recovery, including commentary on the intersection of spiritual abuse and current events.
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