Monday, December 29, 2008

Post-Cult After Effects: Overreactions, Denial of Fault, and Abuse

Reading Ronald Enroth's book Recovering from Churches that Abuse, I found out some post-cult (or post-abusive church) after effects which are not mentioned in a kind of classic books on cult mind control - Combatting Cult Mind Control and Releasing the Bonds by Steven Hassan and Cults in Our Midst by Margaret Singer and Janja Lalich. These after efects are overreactions, denial of fault, and abuse.

Actually, Enroth is not a psychologist. He is a sociologist. He writes that he does not consider his book as a scientific research. However, he interviewed many ex-members of abusive churches. Instead of theories, he describes many cases.

In chapter 2, he describes one of the cases:

Cecily Talbot grew up in a fundamentalist church in a small town not far from Philadelphia. The little church could best be described as very legalistic and controlling. Among the taboos were jewelry, makeup, and school dances. Of all the members of her family, Cecily suffered the most from spiritual and emotional abuse, especially during her high school years. Cecily is now married and trying to put her past to rest.

"One of the biggest effects on my marriage is that I tend to overreact in my relationships with my husband. We are having an argument and he says something my fault, it strikes a nerve in me, whether or not it is true. My church blamed me for things over which I had no control. I was outspoken and often challenged the leaders and their teachings. No one in the church was supposed to challenge anything, and questioning those in authority was especially frowned upon. We were all clones who followed 'the man of God' no matter what. I refused to do that because I wanted answers to my questions. Yet years of being in an environment of blame and accusation have taken a toll. So today, when my husband says that something is my fault or that I should have done something differently, it affects me and our marriage seriously."

Victims are always on the receiving end of blame.

Because abusive church leaders typically blame members for anything that goes wrong, those who break free of the abuse either find it difficult to accept blame for anything or find themselves wallowing in self-blame.

In the case of Cecily, overreactions and denial of fault go together. When her husband blamed her for something, it reminded her how the leaders of the abusive church blamed and accused her. She did not accept her blame and overreacted.

In principle, overreactions and denial of fault are different things and may be separate. Overreactions as a post-cult after effect are caused by something that reminds about negative experience in cult or abusive church. This negative experience can be caused by the leaders. When somebody acts in some way that reminds an ex-member about the group leaders, he/she may overreact.

It is quite often mentioned in the literature that ex-members often feel excessive guilt. However, they may go to the other extreme and deny any fault at all whatever they do. Then, they eventually may think that they can do whatever they want.

One more Cecily's problem was abuse:

Cecily had found herself in a cycle of abuse. Like other forms of abusive behavior, emotional and spiritual abuse is sometimes perpetuated by being directed at other innocent people. "I was verbally abused by the pastor and his wife as well as by my parents. Because of that experience, I too have become an abuser, to myself and my husband."

People who were abused by others may learn this behavior and become abusers themselves. It also can be a problem for ex-members.

Regarding this problem, I can give one example. Stalin grew up in dysfunctional family. His father was an alcoholic and treated him in a very harsh way. His father was also very authoritarian toward his family. Then, he studied in a seminary where there was very harsh discipline, mutual spying, and other negative things.

Researchers agree that Stalin was greatly influenced by his father's behavior and by the seminary and copied these behavior patterns in the way he ruled over the Soviet Union. He pursued unlimited authority and control and distrusted people. His experiences related to his father and seminary led him to ruin lives of millions people. All these people had nothing to do with either his father or his seminary.

This is an example of a person who was abused and then became an abuser.

It is quite easy for people to find many other post-cult after effects such as excessive feeling of guilt, dissociation, depression, PTSD, and so on because these effects cause sufferings to them. However, overreactions, denial of fault, and abuse affect interpersonal relationship. They may be less obvious for the people who have them. However, they may be even more dangerous.