Re: The anger stage
Hi again Abbey,
You may like to read the latest Newsletter from Refocus on Anger.
Featured Article: Coping with Anger
*By Janja Lalich and Madeleine Tobias
Excerpt from Take Back Your Life: Recovering from Cults and Abusive Relationships by Janja Lalich and Madeleine Tobias, Bay Tree Publishers, 2006
The emergence of anger is one of the first signs of recovery. Anger is a normal reaction to the hurts and assaults you experienced. Anger is an appropriate response to abuse and exploitation. It is also the most difficult emotion for many of us to get in touch with and address. If you feel angry, it means you are now ready to acknowledge that you were victimized, which can be incredibly painful. What was done may have been hurtful, harmful, and even heinous—and you are entitled to your rage.
Just as fear is the backbone of cultic control, anger is the fuel of recovery. Anger is an extremely valuable tool in healing. It fortifies your sense of what is right by condemning the wrong that was done to you. It gives you the energy and will to get through the ordeal of getting your life back together. Suppression of anger while in the cult more than likely contributed to depression and a sense of helplessness. Now the reverse is possible.
Anger can be a double-edged sword, however. It can motivate healing or be turned inward, against the self. Some people find it easier to blame themselves than to use their anger in a positive way to make necessary life changes. Self-blame, or anger turned inward, can result in alcohol or drug abuse, physical illness, or emotional disorders, including depression or suicidal thoughts and behaviors. Also, anger can be wrongly directed at innocent others. If anger is expressed inappropriately or unconsciously, it can increase a person’s isolation. To be used effectively, anger must be focused on its source. In most cases, that source will be the cult leader and perhaps his top lieutenants or enforcers.
Many former cult members use poetry as one means of expressing their anger. Rebecca Bruce, a former member of a political cult that is still quite active, wrote the following poem. It speaks for itself.
I can feel the anger rising
I am healing now
So that I can fight
And am strong and whole again
One step at a time
I began to feel alive
Blowing cultic restraints wide open
Breathing newfound freedom
I can see clearly now
Deceived at the highest level
Betrayed by my very own comrades
It was all lies, lies, lies
Promises of being on the vanguard edge
Changing the world like no other
Committed to building a voice for the people
Lies, lies, lies
I gave you my all
You used and abused me
Now I take back my life
I leave you like dust in the wind
I move forward into the light
New opportunities abound all around me
I will fight all the way
I am in control of my destiny
I will fight to free those in your bonds
I will fight to keep others from your grasp
I will fight till you are gone
I will fight you to the end.
Rebecca now works as a clinical social worker in a primary care clinic. She speaks out about cults and works with people affected by cults. Her poem illustrates the kind of raw anger many former members feel. This anger is better expressed in such productive ways as this instead of being bottled up and turned into depression or suicidal tendencies.
Remember, your anger may be a struggle for family, friends, and, sometimes, even therapists to accept. You may be urged to forgive and forget. Former members who were brought up to hide or deny negative feelings may not have the tools or experience to know how to express this potentially healing emotion.
Former cult members “need to realize that what was done to them was wrong,” writes Michael Langone. “[They] must be allowed—encouraged even—to express appropriate moral outrage. The outrage will not magically eliminate the abuse and its effects. Nor will it necessarily bring the victimizer to justice. But it will enable victims to assert their inner worth and their sense of right and wrong by condemning the evil done to them. Moral outrage fortifies good against formidable evil. Even implicitly denying victims’ need to express moral outrage shifts the blame from victimizers to victims. Perhaps that is why so many victims are disturbed by ‘detached’ therapists or ‘objective’ scientific researchers. They interpret the detachment or ‘objectivity’ as implicit blaming [of] themselves.”9
People whose cult involvement was particularly traumatic share experiences and traits with people who were physically and/or sexually abused in childhood. Both have been victimized by those they depended on and trusted. Also, many cults physically, emotionally, and/or sexually abuse their members. Anger at such abuse can be expressed in positive ways and transformed into empowerment. The following activities have proven helpful to others:
* Keep a diary and write about your anger and other strong feelings. Former members have consistently said that writing about their experiences has been one of the most helpful vehicles for working through their feelings.
* Write a letter to the cult leader. Tell him off. It is not necessary to send it, specifically if doing so would put you in danger. You don’t have to mail the letter to feel the positive effects of having written it.
* Talk to someone about your feelings, someone who will understand and empathize.
* Join a gym, take a kickboxing class, or engage in some kind of regular physical activity or sport. Releasing endorphins helps to resolve pent-up emotions.
* Imagine scenarios in which your injured pride is restored. Don’t, however, act out by doing something illegal or dangerous to yourself or anyone else.
* When the time feels right, speak out publicly about your experience. Doing so has been therapeutic for many former cult members.
* Consider getting involved with an organization like the International Cultic Studies Association, where you might find ways to make a positive contribution to ongoing research and education efforts.
* When you feel better and have had some time away from the group, serve as a resource person for people or families seeking information about the group you were in.
* Get the law on your side. If your group is or was involved in illegal or criminal activity, consult a lawyer for your own protection before going to the police or other authorities.
* Consider a civil suit for damages. Again, seek legal advice about this first.
* Take an assertiveness training course.
The following story illustrates one former member’s struggle with anger:
Divorced and alone, Jill B. joined Pastor John T.’s church after the accidental death of her small daughter. At first, she felt comforted by the loving solicitousness of the group and its leader. In addition to full Sunday service, Jill spent three to four evenings a week attending Bible study and prayer meetings. This enabled her to avoid lonely evenings at home missing her daughter. Six months after she joined the church, Pastor John’s counseling turned affectionate toward Jill, then sexual. Though not particularly attracted to him, Jill found it difficult to say no to her pastor, and so passively (and confusedly) submitted to his sexual attentions. He told her he would leave his wife and children, which he never did, and forced Jill to engage in bizarre sexual rituals using religious language and icons. When Jill tried to end these sessions, the pastor invoked God’s name and implored Jill to stay.
As her shame and guilt about the relationship became untenable, Jill withdrew and finally left the church and Pastor John. With time and distance, she felt her anger mount. At odd times during the day, she would become preoccupied with hatred and rage toward her former spiritual leader. She found herself snapping at others. She was impatient and irritable over small mistakes. Through counseling, Jill learned some techniques for dealing with her anger. If she started to become preoccupied and angry while at work, she would take a moment to fantasize about telling off Pastor John and exposing his duplicitous behavior to everyone in the church. By giving herself permission to fantasize about her abusive pastor’s embarrassment and public humiliation, she could smile and get on with her day. It took time for the rage to turn to anger, then to irritation, and then to resentment. Finally, that too was all but gone.
While you were in the cult, or with your abusive partner, it may have been dangerous or forbidden to express anger or rage. You probably learned to turn your anger inward, to deny and suppress it. Now give yourself permission to feel this emotion. There are big differences between thinking, feeling, and acting out. Some former cult members are afraid that their rage is so powerful it will overwhelm them, which is why it is important to channel it constructively. When you do, you will start to feel relief, and you will be able to free yourself from domination.
Reg "If we want to set our lives right and find peace, it is not the tolerant attitude of others that will do it for us. It will come about, rather, by our learning how to show compassion to them..... If we do not seek liberation from our obsessions, then becoming more withdrawn and less social may even make us more blind to them, since it can mask them." - John Cassian (He lived between 360 and 430 A.D. He was a monk in Bethlehem and Egypt.)