Isolation is a key technique use in spiritual abuse. When a person joins a group they need time to discern if the group is healthy or abusive. But, an abusive group will pressure you to join them in a short amount of time. They will not disclose from the beginning that over time you will be encouraged to give up your current relationships or that you will be pressured to only associate with them. Since you do not know from the beginning, what signs of isolation should you watch for?
Isolation begins through the group’s use of language. Labeling outsiders as worldly, gentiles, or infidels is one way to keep insiders from leaving or expressing an opposing opinion. Labeling serves to keep people in their place. The “us/them” world view leaves little room for anything but complying with the group. It creates a fear of outsiders and makes a person identify more with the group and less with others.
Clothing is also an area that can serve to isolate. There is a difference between wearing an article of clothing because you identify with a group and want to wear it, and wearing it because you get harassed if you do not. Clothing should not become the measure of your spiritual life.
Isolation occurs when one’s choices of reading and entertainment are influenced by pressure to either avoid mainstream culture or pressure to only partake of reading and entertainment prepared by the group. An individual in this situation surrenders their own intellect or interests in favor of conforming to group expectations. You should be free to make your own decisions for yourself and your family.
A last way of isolating comes when group members are put in the role of policing one another’s behavior. When the group is about following rules, keeping purity, or avoiding sin, it affects relationships and creates perfectionism. Those who do excel at the rules get further entrenched in to group and further removed from the outside world. Members who do not excel at following the rules become isolated within the group. They may be avoided, judged, and gossiped about, but are not free to associate with non-members either. Those people who are expelled, are released back into a world they have been primed to reject.
Part of healing will involve letting go of the labels. Stop judging others. When you notice yourself judging, tell yourself to stop. Observe how that your judging is a habit. See if you can think a kind thought toward the person. Then think of a kind thought toward yourself. See if you judge yourself less, as you judge other people less. See is you start to fear less and welcome others more.
Stop accepting labels that the group put on you. The group may call people who have sex outside of marriage “whores” or “adulterers.” But you do not have to carry this label. Maybe you are doing what is developmentally appropriate for your age group. Or maybe your marriage was over years ago. The group may call you an apostate, but you in fact followed your integrity and made the hard choice to leave. You are informed. You chose to no longer affiliate with a group that harms people. Some people have pointed out that in Greek, apostate means a runaway slave. Examine the labels that you are still carrying and let go of them.
Healing will also mean working to wear the clothing you want, read the books you want to read, watch the movies you want, and accepting that you can make these choices and still be a good person. Get rid of the clothing you were required to wear, and find clothing that makes you feel comfortable. Remember that going out for a drink does not define who you are. Watching an “R” rated movie may mean nothing more than you like a particular actor. Reading a Harry Potter book does not mean you will start worshipping the devil. You may like them because they highlight universal themes like the moral struggles between good and evil. The more you shed their rules, the more mainstream you become and the less isolated you will feel.
The more you can open yourself to new experiences and new people, the more you free yourself from isolation. Instead of saying, “I shouldn’t be doing this” try giving yourself permission. Try saying “why not?” Let yourself shed the rules that were put there to keep you separated from others. Overtime you will experience the healing and liberation that come from breaking out of isolation.
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