This is a very insightful statement from C.J. Mahaney.
How to help a family member or friend leave a high-controlling church group or cult: spiritual abuse, trapped, thought reform, mind control, freedom
“Mind control is the process by which individual or collective freedom of choice and action is compromised by agents or agencies that modify or distort perception, motivation, affect, cognition and/or behavioral outcomes. It is neither magical nor mystical, but a process that involves a set of basic social psychological principles. Conformity, compliance, persuasion, dissonance, reactance, guilt and fear arousal, modeling and identification are some of the staple social influence ingredients well studied in psychological experiments and field studies. In some combinations, they create a powerful crucible of extreme mental and behavioral manipulation when synthesized with several other real-world factors, such as charismatic, authoritarian leaders, dominant ideologies, social isolation, physical debilitation, induced phobias, and extreme threats or promised rewards that are typically deceptively orchestrated, over an extended time period in settings where they are applied intensively.”
― Steven Hassan,
I’ve heard it said that losing a child to death can be a parent’s worst nightmare. Now imagine having lost your adult child and their family, not to death, but to a high-controlling church or cult. Imagine not being able to celebrate birthdays or major holidays together. Imagine having only limited contact with your adult child and their family. How could your loved one entirely dismiss you, act like you are a stranger or enemy when you did nothing to them? Continue reading
Update from Julie Anne
Well, I didn’t intend to be away for so long or I would have posted something. Truth be told, every day I planned on posting something “tomorrow,” but as I followed my gut, that “tomorrow” didn’t happen, so obviously it wasn’t meant to be. I guess I needed the down time. I’ve been going to school even in the summer for two years now and didn’t realize how exhausted I was, physically, emotionally, academically.
Two years ago, I was only a high school graduate with a busy family and busy blog. Today, I now have my Associates degree (2 more years to go for my Bachelors), with a busy family and a blog that still has a bunch of readers who keep coming back for more, even though I haven’t published anything for the longest time in the blog’s 4-yr history. Thank you for your patience and support. You all are so gracious.
Here is how I’ve spent some of my time unwinding:
If you have sent me an e-mail in the last month or so and I have not responded, please try again. I’ve been trying to dig through the pile. I’ve been working on a few ongoing situations that have updates, and also have had some deep thoughts on a new topic that hasn’t been discussed. So, hopefully, you’ll see more regular posts for the next few months while I”m on summer break.
Special thanks to Kathi for keeping the Sunday gatherings going each week!
Sexual addictions, pornography, pedophiles, family and friends of sexual addicts, S-Anon
Praise be to the God and Father of our Lord Jesus Christ, the Father of compassion and the God of all comfort, who comforts us in all our troubles, so that we can comfort those in any trouble with the comfort we ourselves receive from God. For just as we share abundantly in the sufferings of Christ, so also our comfort abounds through Christ. 2 Corinthians 1:3-5
Thanks for bearing with me as I’m getting hit with year-end activities for my children and me at school. I’m in the middle of cramming, finals, and looking forward to having a Summer break this year!
While the blog articles have tapered during my busy school schedule, the activity behind the scenes continues and I’m grateful for all I have learned in walking with people who are going through challenging and very difficult times. Last night was one such example which I’d like to share.
Last night, I attended an S-Anon meeting. It was my first time going to a 12-step meeting of any kind. I attended at the request of a new friend who, understandably, didn’t want to go to this meeting by herself.
What is S-Anon and for whom is it geared?
S-Anon a 12-step group that meets weekly for family members or friends of people addicted to sex (pornography, relationships, etc).
With any addiction, family and friends become a part of the addict’s system. Family and friends are impacted by their loved one’s addiction. It can affect them personally and in relationships, present and future. Additionally, how they respond to their addicted love one can have ramifications. Is the sex addiction talked about openly? Or is it the elephant in the middle of the room that people know exists, but refuse to talk about.
Would S-Anon be a good fit for me? The sexual addict I know is not in my immediate family.
At first, I was thinking that I really didn’t qualify to be at this meeting since there’s no sex addict in my immediate family and I don’t have close friends addicted to sex (to my knowledge, anyway). But then I realized that my in-law certainly has affected my immediate family. He is a pedophile, and our family has had to make very clear boundaries on visitation rules; for example, he is not allowed in our home, period. We allow time for meals, etc, but my kids are always reminded about safe touching, not being alone with him, etc. So, yes, I would benefit from these meetings, as would my adult children. There is a teen version of S-Anon, so that would be an additional option for my younger kids.
While the sex addict in my family is not in our immediate family, the situation has presented challenging issues for our family. We have had to broach the subject of sex and sex abuse at a very young age and in very clear terms with our children. We have had to grieve the loss of a normal grandparent-grandchild relationship.
I remember the day it struck me that my dreams of leaving our kids with the grandparents for a special weekend or a few days was completely out of the question. My children have had to find other “adopted” grandparents to fill some of those roles; but it will never be the same as most families where grandparents are an integral part of their lives. That’s just one of a number of losses we have faced due to sexual addiction. This is definitely something I could bring up at a future meeting that has affected me. Do I have anger about it? You bet! I wanted my children to have the best childhood possible and that was robbed from them (and me) due to the pedophile.
Another area that I’ve seen an increased amount of discussion is the issue of a husband’s use of porn (including child pornography) and it’s effect on marriages and families. This is a very real and ongoing problem many Christian families face. The sense of betrayal, lack of trust, self-blame, body shaming issues really come to surface for wives of porn addicts. With porn, the marriage bedroom becomes very crowded and complicated. This takes its toll on wives, and the ripple effect on the children can become very apparent. If the sexual addiction interferes with a job and the addict gets fired, obviously this will have severe consequences on the family.
Because sexual addictions are such a secretive sin, children might sense that something is wrong, but not know quite what it is. They might not understand why mom is so depressed. It would be good to explore this topic more and I hope to be able to share personal stories because I know it is a growing issue that is rarely addressed from the pulpit. I wonder how many wives of sex addicts are sitting in the pews each Sunday at church wondering how their church can help them. It’s typically not a topic that pastors address. Where will these wives turn for help?
Over 3 years ago, I posted the first article on wives of pedophiles, Being Married to a Pedophile: A Wife Speaks Out and Offers Hope to Other Wives of Pedophiles. This was written by a SSB reader, Anon3, who shared her experience and offered words of hope to another wife of a pedophile. I wish I had kept track of how many women have found that blog post and responded. Looking back, I would say that on average, one person per week has either comment or sent an e-mail asking for help. Those are just people who land at the blog by doing using search engines. Wives of pedophiles would certainly be welcome at A-Anon meetings.
What are the meetings like?
The meeting we attended was quite small, but it varies at every location. The meeting is structured and begins with reading excerpts from their S-Anon book which establishes the rules, objectives of the meeting, and a focus topic area. There is a time where people are allowed to share and a closing. It is confidential and what is said there, needs to remain there.
What I did find is that it is a safe place to gather, share personal stories, get encouragement and support. So many times when we are dealing with something by ourselves, we take it personally, blame ourselves. When we open up with others and exchange stories, we will see familiar behavioral patterns. This is similar to the familiarity many of us have had with spiritual abuse. We have a common denominator with similar, but not exactly the same experiences. (More questions about meetings.)
I think in time, an S-Anon member can get clarity and understanding why they have responded the way they have: why they may have trust issues, why they may have anger, etc.
Knowing and identifying these patterns will be helpful when learning to make healthier decisions and setting appropriate boundaries with the sexually addicted loved one. This is not an easy process. It takes work, but I have spoken with several people who have said the program has given them great tools.
I sensed that those who were at the meeting last night found confidence, understanding, and a tremendous amount of weight lifted from them as have traveled this journey. Rather than trying to survive, they seemed to be thriving AND have enough energy left to help others along in their journey. That was very encouraging for me to see.
For those who have just found this article via a search engine and who are dealing with a sexual addict, welcome. You are in a difficult place, but you are certainly not alone. You are always welcome to comment here on the blog. I also have a private forum you may ask to join. (Email me at email@example.com). But I also encourage you to seek out a local S-Anon for ongoing support. You definitely do not need to walk this road by yourself. Many have done it before you and would like to offer support.
Here are a few questions from a longer set of questions at the S-Anon website:
- Have you felt hurt or embarrassed by someone’s sexual conduct?
- Have you secretly searched for clues about someone’s sexual behavior?
- Have you lied about or covered up another person’s sexual conduct?
- Have you had money problems because of someone’s sexual behavior?
- Have you felt betrayed or abandoned by someone you loved and trusted?
- Are you afraid to upset the sexaholic for fear that he or she will leave you?
You can see if there is a local S-Anon group in your area here.
Note: Although I used men as addicts in the examples above, women are not exempt from having sexual addictions.
So, yesterday I read a tweet that left me reeling. It made it difficult to concentrate on my school work, and got me thinking and emoting quite a bit. I’ve tried numerous times to put up a blog post today and yesterday and realize that I just need to let my emotions simmer a bit.
I guess this is a reality check for me (and my readers) about the effects of spiritual abuse. Most of the time it comes and goes and I can function normally. Sometimes, however, it hits hard, and I know I need to face it head on. I had several good cries yesterday and thought I’d be fine today, but apparently, I need to chill a bit more (except for one college test due by midnight).
I’ve learned the hard way that if I bury my emotions, they will resurface with a vengeance, so now, even though it’s inconvenient, I try to deal with myself honestly and ask the tough questions: why does this have so much significance for me? Why does it make me cry? What do the tears represent? This is the grieving part – coming to the truth of what happened and its effects on me.
Once I’m done with that part of the process, I can finally move on to acceptance. I accept that I am where God wants me to be, even if it was not what I expected, and that it’s okay to move forward now.
I’ll be fine. I hope to be able to type out what happened and why it affected me so much. I think there are many who will relate.
Thanks for your patience with me as I go through this bump in the road for these couple of days. I’ll be blogging this coming week.
I’ve also wanted to say thanks for your patience as blog posts aren’t as timely as they used to be now that I’m a full-time student. About 3 years ago, a friend and I were talking about college. He said, “Four years is going to come whether you like it or not, and you’ll have a degree or you won’t. Which do you want?” It took one year to get the courage to register for school. Those words have come back to me many times in this process. After Spring term, and after 2 years of school, I will have my Associates degree (half-way there). I’m truly thankful for all the support you’ve given me.
A guest post by brad/futuristguy.
Today marks the four-year anniversary of what turned into a five-plus-month lawsuit by Charles O’Neal and Beaverton Grace Bible Church (BGBC) against Julie Anne Smith and four other defendants.
Children Harmed by Spiritual Abuse
*** Continue reading
Sex abuse survivors need to be believed and supported
Seeing Clearly Again after Spiritual Abuse
Tools to Help Protect Children from Pedophiles and Sex Abuse
High-pressure church leaders, mandatory church attendance and guilt
Mental Health, prayer, Bible, professional counseling, harmful advice
A friend found this quote and was very disturbed by it. When I saw it, I was equally disturbed…no, make that horrified, because it brought me back to a very difficult time in my life when it was said to me by well-meaning Christians:
The reason I was horrified is that I was told this when I was in the midst of a mental health crisis. Let me tell you my personal story.
In 1990, I had a 4-month old infant and a 3-1/2-yr old daughter. I was away from my husband and living with my parents because he was in the military and was sent to Persian Gulf working in Operation Desert Shield (right before Operation Desert Storm). You see, within a 6-wk period of time, the following events occurred:
- We were stationed in the Philippines and there was a major earthquake nearby (reports vary on the magnitude, 7.7 to 7.9).
- My daughter, Hannah, fell off a 25-ft cliff, landing on concrete at the beach at Wallace Air Station, a remote base we were visiting, attempting to recuperate after the trauma of experiencing a major earthquake (we experienced a 6.0 aftershock while we were there). Daughter was miraculously fine.
Here are a couple of pictures I took on our way to Wallace Air Station to stay at the Voice of America R&R facility. We passed through Dagupan, close to the epicenter which saw extensive destruction. Some buildings sank into the ground by one meter.
Aside from the earthquake event, there were also these stressors:
- On base, local Filipinos tried to break into my home when I was alone with our children. I saw their eyes peering into my bedroom as I was nursing my baby in the middle of the night (thankfully, they were apprehended).
- There were bomb threats on base. We were often forced to take detours. Sometimes I just wanted to get a gallon of milk or cash a check and these detours were annoying. And yes, sometimes they found bombs.
- We lived in a constant level of threat conditions due to New People’s Army Communist Rebels (we did get hazard duty pay, however). Based on the threat condition, either we were confined to base, had curfews, and/or had strict traveling restrictions.
Yea, it was a little stressful.
The ground continued to move for months after the earthquake. Aftershocks were sometimes 6.0 or above…..yes, aftershocks. When your world is shaking around you, you have a sense of being out of control. That describes my response and the response of many who were living under these conditions at that time. So, I left the Philippines with my two children for a temporary break, to get on solid ground that wasn’t moving.
What is wrong with me?
I went “home” to my parents’ and told my close Christian friends about my emotional state. People told me to pray . . . to read my Bible more . . that perfect love casts out fear. There was a lot of spiritual advice given by those who meant to help, but actually made things worse. When I prayed and read my Bible more, nothing changed. I continued to feel the ground moving and have flashbacks even though I was now on sturdy ground with my parents in Oregon.
I sought help from Biblical counselors who talked to me about my sin. I searched my heart for any unconfessed sin and repented. The earthquakes continued. What was WRONG with me?
I did everything they told me, but the symptoms would not go away. Why was God not hearing my prayers? Did He not care for me? If He loved me, why wasn’t He protecting me from the nonstop tormenting that was in my mind?
I stayed very busy. I jammed praise music loudly all day. I focused on my children and prayer and recited verses to myself to keep my focus heavenward.
As I drove to every church meeting I could attend, I had to cross bridges. Many of the approaches to the bridges were wiped out during the earthquake in the Philippines, so now it was now very difficult to cross any bridge. I kept seeing the Philippine bridges in my mind. I pushed the accelerator to get across the bridge faster as my heart raced.
I also had to go through a tunnel to get to my familiar church. It was very difficult to go through the tunnel without panicking and thinking that the mountain might cave on me – just like I had seen the mountain and buildings destroyed in my favorite R&R in the Philippines, Baguio/Camp John Hay. (Click on this link to see the destruction. After the earthquake, I was glued to the local Philippine TV as they covered stories, deaths, rescues. Why was I alive when so many died? Survivors guilt!)
If I went to any store or building (now in the States), I scouted out all of the emergency exits first thing. I was going to be the one prepared and would get out alive by having this information.
Where was God in all of this?
My life was in survival mode and I expended much energy surviving imaginary earthquakes. As hard as I tried, I was unable to stop the direction of my thinking patterns. I truly believe that the only thing that kept me alive was recounting Hannah’s story of falling off the 25-ft cliff. I was there when she fell and knew that she was either going to be completely paralyzed or with major injuries, or she would be dead. There was no other option in my mind, knowing that she had landed on concrete and it was a straight drop. When all other advice failed, Hannah’s story was the hope I clung to – – that if God could save her, He could save me.
One night at dinner with my parents, I felt an earthquake and asked my Mom if she felt it. She didn’t. I told her to look at the chandelier moving. She said it wasn’t moving. That’s when she said that I needed to get help – professional help.
You see, I was going on a downward spiral. I was very sleep deprived having a child who was missing her daddy and wetting her bed each night. She cried herself to sleep and wet the bed every night. I had to take care of her, plus be awakened the four times my infant was nursing each night. My parents both worked, so no one could help me get extra sleep that I desperately needed. I was physically, emotionally, spiritually exhausted.
I found a Christian psychologist to go to and went reluctantly because I thought that I should have been able to get my problems solved by prayer and Bible reading. Wasn’t my God big enough?
When I first went, I started sharing my earthquake experience. But David started asking me questions about my childhood. I got angry at him for asking those questions. What did my childhood have to do with the earthquake? Eventually, he realized that this redhead had a story to tell about the earthquake and since I was paying for his services, he ought to listen to me.
He listened. And listened. And when I could speak no more about the earthquake, he asked again, “so what about the earthquake was like your childhood.” Very reluctantly, I spent time discussing my childhood.
I was in a situation in which I could not control.
Eventually, it hit me . . . and hit me hard. When I was in the earthquake, I was in a situation in which I could not control. When I was a child, from the time I was 3 until I was 19, I also lived in a home where I had no control.
In my childhood, I was living with a rage-aholic – a man who raged in anger with little-to-no provocation. Just a simple look on my face, or a chore not done could send him off into a rage. Through the years, I’ve met other professional counselors and all of them have told me that his behavior was just like that of an alcoholic, but minus the alcohol.
What the earthquake did was mimic that out-of-control feeling I had. When the ground was shaking back and forth, it mimicked my dad grabbing me by my shoulders and banging me against the wall, sometimes with my head hitting the cupboard handles and ending up with knots on my head. That shaking . . oh, that shaking . . .it was horrifying. Being smacked and kicked, tossed and shaken about as a child is something I could not stop – just like I could not stop the ground from moving in the Philippines after the earthquake.
You see, this psychologist showed me how to connect with the feelings of abandonment, the anger and pain of knowing a parent had violated my body and my personhood that I had long buried. I had forgiven my dad, I had moved on, but there was obviously, I had unfinished business.
This man heard my cries, the cries that so many adults had dismissed and ignored when I shared my story with them as a child. When my dad beat me, I refused to let him see me cry. Only when he was done would I go into the corner of my room, curl myself into a ball and cry . . . by myself. No one heard my cries. But David did . . now, some 10-20 years later.
He validated the abuse and called it by name, telling me I was not crazy. He walked in the trenches with me as I relived that horrible abuse. I fought going back to those memories, but facing it was what I needed to do to recover. It was very difficult work and left me physically and emotionally exhausted.
The counseling that I received occurred nearly 25 years ago. I was in counseling for probably 2 years or so. During that time, I thought that scoping out exit signs, speeding across bridges, feeling the ground moving would be my new normal for the rest of my life. When the earthquake anniversary date came around for 2 years, I had setbacks. On the 3rd anniversary, I missed it entirely. I didn’t even think about the earthquake. I finally knew I was no longer held captive by the war within my brain. I was free and still am free, even when I hear of major earthquakes now. This is amazing, considering what I had gone through.
Pat answers don’t always work
But the quote about prayer being the answer to mental illness is not always true. Of course prayer helps, but it is not always the quick cure, and to portray it as such could be deadly for those who are in a crisis. This quote could be a death sentence for some who fear that even God has abandoned them since they can’t see/feel His healing. The logical progression is: life is not worth living if even God has abandoned me and hasn’t helped me.
We must be careful with our words about mental illness and giving pat answers. Lives are at stake. I thank God for mental health professionals who have the skills and tools to bring truth and hope into a hurting individual’s life. I am probably alive because of David, my therapist. Thank you, God, for using David in my life when I was at the end of my rope and about to let go.