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.
My blogs take on all topics related to recovery, including commentary on the intersection of spiritual abuse and current events.
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