When a person loses his or her support network, belief system, or family, because of exiting a spiritually abusive situation, it causes trauma. Trauma is a normal response to an abnormal situation. This loss can affect relationships, housing, employment, a person’s status, and can cause hopelessness and depression. For many people who have broken away from their source of spiritual abuse, even if it was voluntary, there can be a period when they make poor choices. In some cases they may act out in self-destructive ways. There may be times of suicidal ideation, substance use, promiscuity, or self-harm. But, it doesn’t have to be that way.
It takes a lot of courage to stay away from a spiritually abusive situation. To avoid falling into self-destructive patterns, one must be intentional about doing acts of self-care and nurturing. Because spiritual abuse commonly causes isolation, it is very important that the person works to find sources of emotional support. A therapist trained in helping people who’ve experienced trauma can be helpful. Many clinics can provide individual counseling on a sliding scale, meaning the person pays according to his or her income.
Self-care is the opposite of self-destructive behavior. It can include things like making sure to take walks in nature every day, daily writing down three things for which you are grateful, eating right, getting enough sleep. It is difficult to feel positive if a person is drinking a lot of alcohol, getting little exercise and eating primarily junk food.
Self-care may involve making effort to be around other people in a safe manner, such as volunteering. Volunteering to help those who are less fortunate can help raise awareness of the good in a person’s life. It can also provide an outlet for making new friends who share similar values to yours.
Many have found a tremendous amount of support through joining groups on social networking sites. Groups of “ex’s” (i.e. other survivors of spiritual abuse) can help the individual see that recovery is possible, that they are not alone, and that many people have left and are now living fulfilling and happy lives. Meeting other ex’s, will provide a group of people who understand your loss and daily struggles. They can offer ideas and tips and help the individual see that the group was the problem not the person who has exited. There is often a shared humor and sense of camaraderie. They can also provide years of research into the group that you were formerly affiliated with, and can help you see what information was withheld. Some people have found it easier to begin by joining a group of ex-members of a group that is similar to the group they were affiliated with because it provides a safer way to explore pertinent issues, without directly exploring the issues from their own group.
There is a distinction between self-destructive behavior and a person’s exploration of previously forbidden activities. Exploration can be safe, fun, and harmless. Exploration can be a way to catch up on some missed developmental stages. But exploration may be self-destructive behavior if a person cannot stop, or if it puts their health and life at risk. It may be self-destructive if the activity is done to avoid feelings, if it causes economic hardships, legal troubles, or harms new relationships.
By focusing on self-care and their own recovery a person can manage their grief and loss. She can enjoy her new found freedom. He can play without going too far. They can create a new life full of joy and meaning.
 See www.journeyfree.org for information on Religious Trauma Syndrome.
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