Working With Suicidal Clients

It’s always a challenge for any therapist to realize that the client sitting across from them is suicidal. How do you walk the fine line between acknowledging the depth of their despair and the need to keep them alive so that they can work through the despair, or at least survive until the conditions at the root of the despair attenuate or pass?

In the following excerpt from my new book, The Challenge to Heal, I outline one technique I used while working with suicidal clients. As mentioned in the excerpt, it is a strategy one can also use for oneself if suicidal ideation is a problem.

“When I have clients that present as suicidal, I explain to them that it is pointless to do the hard work of therapy if they are only going to turn around and kill themselves. Why put themselves through the angst? I tell the client, “If, we are going to invest ourselves in the hard work of therapy, I will only do so if we agree to a ‘time-limited contract’ that you will make no attempt to terminate your life during the work.”

The client then decides on the duration of the ‘contract’, with the majority of them agreeing to make no attempts for anywhere from a month to six months. Clients surprisingly step up to the challenge of a time-limited no suicide contract. (This always pleases me, for I invariably expect the client to reluctantly say they will only agree for a week or two. But they co-operate with the suggestion for a no-suicide contract – which has me convinced that there is always a part of the self that wants to hold on to life.) We agree that at the end of the contract we will see where things stand and, if necessary, renegotiate another no suicide contract. By the end of the first contract, clients have gained a fresh point of view, new coping skills, and frequently during the postponement, their personal circumstances change, enough to make suicide irrelevant and unthinkable.

You could challenge yourself with this same time-limited, no-suicide contract. Consider making a contract with yourself to postpone ending your life for two or three months (whatever time period you choose) and see if you still feel the same then. You are still entirely in control and retain all your options. But, for now, you stay alive by contracting with yourself to delay your demise.

Why not contract with yourself that you will delay acting on the impulse to suicide until you have completed reading this book (The Challenge to Heal) and used some of the techniques offered to help you manage difficult emotional states? With the time gained, seek professional help and/or engage in serious self-care and self-help work on your own.” (The Challenge to Heal, page 84)

If you would like to read more tips on how cope with suicidal thoughts and how to manage difficult feelings such as grief, anger, fear, guilt, shame, etc., check out my book, “The Challenge to Healhere on


Challenge Thoughts of Suicide

Here’s a new way to think of suicidal thoughts. The following paragraphs are excerpted from the first page of Chapter 14 in my new book “The Challenge to Heal“.

Chapter 14  –  Challenge Thoughts of Suicide

The after-effects of having been in a deceptive and manipulative group, and then choosing to leave, are many and powerful. Feelings such as the ones examined in the last chapter can seem overwhelming – to such an extent that one may feel driven to thinking of suicide to find relief.

If you find yourself dwelling on an impulse to end your life – and actually formulating a plan to do so – you need to seek professional help. Don’t let shame, pride or fear prevent you from seeking the help you need. There are professionals who understand your situation, who are trained in ways to support you, who know how to help you to deal with the despair and hopelessness until the dark clouds part and the sun breaks through again.

Suicidal thoughts are, in fact, like a hungry parasite inside your head demanding that you submit to its insatiable yearning to feed on negativity. Don’t be seduced into believing the twisted reasoning, nor the masochistic impulses of these demanding, parasitic thoughts. They are not you and they have a voracious need to control you and feed off of you.

This rogue, parasitic, suicidal thinking pattern does not speak the whole truth about you or your circumstances and you must not identify with it, or even accept its thoughts and impulses as true. Think of it as a foreign ‘entity’ (like a controlling, parasitic cult) trying to co-opt your life and have you do its bidding. Do not let it take over and radicalize your mind. Do not let this extreme, negative thinking pattern indoctrinate you with its macabre appetite for death. Just as when you were seduced and conditioned by an extremist group, you can begin to believe that the implanted, ‘alien’ thoughts are your own and that you should act on them.

These destructive thoughts seem to have a life of their own and are not unlike an extremist group trying to recruit you for a suicide mission – but in this case it wants you to be both the terrorist and the victim.


The Challenge to Heal” is available at


The Challenge to Heal

It’s been two years since my first book “Exiting the JW Cult: A Healing Handbook” was released. So much positive feedback about this book has been received since its publication. Nothing is more satisfying than hearing how much this book has helped people recover from the consequences of being deceived, controlled and then once they dare to leave that particular cult, shunned.

The response has made all the work involved in writing and publishing the book so worthwhile! Some individuals appreciated the book so much that they came back and purchased 5 and 10 books at a time, with one person even purchasing 25 copies of the book! Now that’s positive feedback! Thank you everyone for your support and invariably positive feedback.

I’m excited to announce a revised and expanded version of “Exiting the JW Cult”. The new book is entitled, “The Challenge to Heal – A Recovery Guide to help reclaim your life after leaving any high-control group.”

This new book does not negate the value of “Exiting the JW Cult”, and if you have that original book you have a great recovery guide and do not need to purchase this new book, unless upon viewing the new Table of Contents, you decide there is new and valuable information you wish to access.

Here are three paragraphs from the Preface to the new book which describe its evolution and application: “This book is a revised and expanded version of one of my previous books entitled, “Exiting the JW Cult: A Healing Handbook”. While that book has been well-received by its niche market of current and former members of the Jehovah’s Witnesses pseudo-religious sect, feedback was received from a highly-respected anti-undue-influence activist expressing disappointment that the book had been designed for victims of only one high-control group instead of offering the vital recovery information to the entire spectrum of victims of coercive groups around the globe.

The rationale for the original book had been to write for victims of the cult with which I was most familiar – the one in which I had spent thirty long years – before leaving, attending university and becoming a psychotherapist. The feedback about adapting the original book for all who have suffered at the hands of high-control groups had merit – thus this revised and expanded version entitled, “The Challenge to Heal”.

“The Challenge to Heal” is, for all intents and purposes, a new book. It has eight new chapters and most chapters still included from the other book have been edited and/or expanded. “The Challenge to Heal” addresses several topics in greater depth, including: fear, anger, loneliness, trust, grief, suicide, forgiveness, learned helplessness, the hero’s journey and psychotherapy – which are not included in any significant measure in the other book. There are also many new tips in Chapter 20 of this book on how to manage the difficult situations and emotional states that arise after being deceived, coerced, exploited, controlled and even ostracized.

The Challenge to Heal is designed as a psychoeducational resource for people who have endured and escaped traumatic, challenging situations in: radical extremist groups, terrorist cells, counterculture communes, Eastern religion cults, multi-marketing schemes, polygamist sects, fundamentalist religious factions, radical political movements, sex-trafficking rings, racial supremacist groups, extremist human potential movements, rehab/therapy cults, new age cults, cults of personality, human trafficking organizations, criminal gangs, high-control abusive relationships, etc.

The above pictured, revised, and expanded book contains 280 pages packed full of helpful information for recovery from coercive controls of any kind. “The Challenge to Heal – A Recovery Guide to help reclaim your life after leaving any high-control group” is now available on in both Kindle and print versions.

The companion volume to the above book (pictured to the right) is now available and entitled: “The Challenge to Heal Workbook & Journal“.  It is an 8.5″ x 11”, lined workbook based on “The Challenge to Heal“.   Check it out here.

Undue Influence in the Summer of 2016


An Intersecting World of Celebrities, Selfies, Cynicism & Saviors

by Bonnie Zieman, M.Ed., August 9, 2016

(First published on the Open Minds Foundation website)

Throughout history, after twisting and turning on a particular path, unique cultural phenomena can intersect for a moment in time and create a dynamic larger than the sum of the parts. This could be the case in this Summer of 2016.

One phenomenon now intersecting with others is a populace preoccupied with celebrity and holding aspirations of becoming famous themselves. It is no secret that we live in a “culture of celebrity”. Celebrities are admired and revered by the population and many admit to wanting to attain celebrity themselves.

Reality television now invites ‘regular folks’ to appear on programs with competitive themes, exposing the best and worst of themselves – while harboring the secret hope that producers and directors might notice them and spin them off into even higher levels of acclaim. While at first reality television programs were interesting as examples of charged, contrived group dynamics, these programs soon spiraled down into the worst common denominator on almost every level.

Even narcissistic, high-profile notables have put themselves and their families on display in reality programming, becoming even more of a household name than they were before.  Platforms such as Facebook encourage and allow anyone to self-promote. We live in a pervasive atmosphere of self-promotion, glorification of celebrity, and personal aspirations for celebrity.

A second phenomenon present in this Summer of ’16 (though not new) is the recent, widespread use of cell-phones with imbedded digital cameras and the explosion of social media networks that publish the photographs, resulting in the phenomenon of “selfies” – self-portrait photographs. Selfies are a way that one can insert oneself in any photograph and add the important aspects of inclusion and convenience to photo-taking.

The popularity of selfies has exploded as people use them to indulge needs to be noticed, to gratify needs for self-expression, to make instant social connections, with the ever-present secret desire that these selfies will push them into public prominence. Selfies have become ubiquitous in the midst of a culture inordinately preoccupied with celebrity. Perhaps we could better designate the use of selfies to try to attain celebrity, by marrying the two words into one: “celfies”!

Now, celebrities who claim to be jealous of their privacy, post selfies for their followers on public internet platforms such as Myspace, Snapchat and Facebook. Beyond celebrities, anyone can now aspire to more than a mere fifteen minutes of fame.

When preoccupied with their own self-promotion and fame, would any member of the general population be suspicious of a powerful celebrity’s preoccupation with, and promotion of self?

A third, significant phenomenon occurring during this same time period, is that certain forms and functions of government, social stability and even democracy are being tested to their limits. Governments now have to prepare for whistleblowers, cyber-attacks, infrastructure attacks, internet-recruited terrorists, war declared on ideologies more than on borders, combative gridlock in governmental systems, and much more.

The world has gone topsy-turvy with planes purposely crashing into corporate towers, buildings imploding in city centers, suicide bombers everywhere, anyone and everyone having access to assault weapons, migrants flooding across borders fleeing from extinction into countries ill-prepared to contain, let alone welcome them. Airplanes have been bombed out of the sky. Airports, stadiums, nightclubs, hotels, restaurants, boardwalks and even schools have proven vulnerable to attack.
Horrific images of terrorist atrocities have spread through the ether of the internet like a viral contagion. In the midst of such horrors, selfies (and celfies) are momentarily abandoned for digital-verité films of the terrorism, instantaneously uploaded for all to see – with the resulting sense that it is impossible to feel safe in a world ever-threatened by attack. With everything now being captured in an image or on film and immediately uploaded to internet platforms, fear has gone viral and infected every corner of the psyche and the globe.

And … as any riveting tale of a particular point in time would have it, a savior appears at the intersection of the unique phenomena of the day.

In our Summer of ’16 a few of the components intersecting are the above-described celebrity, cynicism about government, fear of terrorism, and preoccupation with self-promotion. This intersection of cultural phenomena could be the perfect storm inviting an unlikely champion to emerge offering a unique alternative that fits this ‘all-me-all-the-time’ and ‘all-fear-all-the-time’ zeitgeist.

A savior at this intersection of events could be appreciated and welcomed only if they had already achieved the revered, obligatory status of celebrity and have a veneer of strength and the audacity to give the middle finger to traditional ways of interacting, helping, competing and governing.  The self-appointed savior would have to be a master manipulator of social media platforms, news media outlets, self-promotion and, of course, their own self-serving propaganda. Without celebrity how could such a savior command the respect of the celfie-centered voter?

At this crucial intersection of time, space, self, celebrity, fear, terrorism, and instantaneous digital access, everything it seems, is primed for the materialization of a self-promoting savior – for the emergence of a digitally-driven cult of personality or perhaps more accurately, a cult of celebrity.

Unfortunately, those most vulnerable to the persuasions and influence of a celebrity seeking power, and a person desirous of his or her own cult following, may find they have invested their hopes and votes in someone who:

  1. is an opportunist – with experience exploiting situations and people, and who can see the opportunity to influence and exploit a convergence of global circumstances to elevate his or her position, consolidate his power, and promote her brand
  2. is at the very least a narcissist – ready to exploit his or her existing celebrity and ever-trumpeting his innate superiority, list of accomplishments and unique ability to lead the population through the dangers that surround them
  3. though famous and successful, is immature, unethical, lacking impulse control and therefore unpredictable and unmanageable
  4. is uninterested in studying anything new or in learning the lessons of history – is ignorant about anything outside of his or her own domain of operation and yet completely unaware of his or her ignorance
  5. is pretentious – believing that only he or she has the answers and the power to effect solutions
  6. while claiming to be a populist who has come to fight for the common folk, is in reality lacking in empathy and is uninterested in anyone beneath his or her own elevated status
  7. conveys a false, contrived sense of concern and interest, whereas in truth is concerned about no one but him or her self
  8. in a charming, ‘every person’ sort of way, presents oneself as an ‘ultimate rescuer’ for the fear-driven populace – the only one who can lead the endangered population to ‘perfect safety’ and fantasy utopian peace and prosperity
  9. is a charismatic, skilled salesperson (confidence artist) who claims to have all the ‘street smarts’ and connections to be able to provide the populace with whatever they need (product, person, situation, government, social change, safety, etc., etc.)
  10. makes people feel a part of, and involved with, a self-promoting ‘movement’ by engaging with them on social media platforms and probably posing with them for the ever-ubiquitous selfies
  11. secretly relishes, seeds and stokes the fear and anger of the public hoping to channel them into helping with his or her self-deification, creation of a cult following, and expansion of power
  12. knows how to manipulate the emotions of the population, appeal to popular desires and cultural prejudices, while at the same time diminishing the need for any critical thinking on the their part, which if activated, might keep followers from marching in lock-step behind
  13. knows how to influence and encourage the anti-establishment and anti-tradition leanings of the populace
  14. knows how to instill fears with a view to creating a dependent population unable to think for themselves
  15. knows how to manipulate the media into disseminating propaganda by purposely saying things that pique curiosity, boost media ratings, and ensure public appeal and more media attention
  16. has no qualms about degrading, dehumanizing, or humiliating opponents, nay-sayers or competitors
  17. cannot tolerate any form of attack and usually counterattacks to exact revenge on anyone who contradicts, corrects or humiliates him or her
  18. is incapable of imagining how his or her actions may affect others. This lack of normal empathy may foster cruelty. While this celebrity cannot bear public humiliation, he or she enjoys inflicting it on others – probably placing this savior wannabe at the extreme of the narcissistic spectrum as either a sociopath or psychopath
  19. easily uses the tactic of “divide and conquer”, encouraging attitudes of “us vs. them”, portraying anyone ‘different’ as a potential threat or enemy
  20. is isolationist and exclusive, rather than open and inclusive
  21. projects (throws onto others) the very qualities he or she is unaware of (e.g. liar, cruel, amoral, intolerant, criminal, homophobic, misogynist, bigoted, racist, etc.) onto those who offer any opposition – while at the same time mirroring unsavory qualities back to the population that we are, as yet, unable to acknowledge as part of our own grievous profile
  22. is likely to be a pathological liar who believes his or her own lies and feels no shame in publicly proclaiming them. Once said, views it as truth and becomes indignant when others don’t
  23. as a narcissist, feels exceptional, superior, incapable of being wrong, incapable of making mistakes and, therefore, feels no need to attend to the feelings of those around him, apologize for anything, or ask for forgiveness
  24. has learned how to use manipulative techniques in order to embed the beliefs and fears he or she wants to instill in the minds of potential followers. Once the fears or beliefs are imbedded, the population becomes more susceptible to this kind of influence and exploitation. (One of these methods is using “loaded language”, and trumpeting the same phrase over and over again in the same sentence, e.g. adversely labelling opponents and repeating the label until it sticks.)
  25. is really a dangerous demagogue manipulating the emotions, passions, fear
    s, ignorance and prejudices of the people to lead them into unquestioning allegiance

In the convergence of these above-named, societal phenomena of:

  • political cynicism
  • terrorism
  • fear
  • ability to photograph and film at will
  • 24/7 internet access for everyone
  • public media platforms
  • obsession with self-promotion
  • obsession with celebrity

large segments of the population are vulnerable to the possibility of being manipulated, unduly influenced and conscripted by such an unscrupulous, self-trumpeting, celebrity con artist who can mesmerize and prevaricate but is incapable of human empathy, understanding complexity, or governing responsibly.

At this unique intersection of time, place and circumstance it would not be surprising if a self-obsessed, developmentally-challenged, power-hungry celebrity emerges claiming to be the only one who can restore safety, prosperity and peace – and is welcomed with open arms by a frightened, dissatisfied, celebrity-obsessed populace.

With manipulative, cult-like strategies and the ever-available public platforms, a self-proclaimed, modern-day messiah could con and conscript fearful citizens as “true believers” for the supreme cause – a cult of self – a cult of personality – a cult of celebrity. The followers’ current culturally-driven conviction that only wealth, power, brute strength, and cultural prominence can save them, could be embodied by this one egomaniacal, possibly sociopathic, self-appointed savior. As history tells us, this is an
intersection and prescription for disaster.

If this should happen, we will have no choice but to intersect with the convergence of these unique phenomena in this Summer of 2016 by taking a stand, speaking up, casting a vote in our own way, to prevent a self-christened, ‘savior’ from imposing his or her impoverished, power-driven, culture-of-celebrity values on society. It is up to each one of us to do our part to prevent dangerous demagogues, surfacing from this unique intersection of cultural phenomena, from creating a cult of personality reminiscent of ones from decades past, but now with the possibility of catastrophically propelling the globe into a doomsday scenario.

© Bonnie Zieman


You Just Left a High-Control Group – What Now?

If you are thinking about leaving a high-control group, or have just left one, you have embarked on an amazing journey toward freedom, authenticity and autonomy. Although you have left and closed the door behind you, the road ahead may not yet be clear. Perhaps that is why you searched for help on the internet, hoping to find help to point to the immediate steps ahead.

First of all, let’s state the obvious: Leaving a controlling movement, group or situation is not easy. You may not even be sure yet that you have made the right decision. Perhaps you are full of doubts, feeling confused, feeling afraid and even experiencing perhaps, some self-recriminations.

You may feel relieved to know that those are feelings experienced by all of us who have left an all-consuming organization and a manipulated lifestyle. It is normal to feel disoriented and unsure after leaving something you felt strongly about, friends you lived and/or worked with, and never-disputed leaders who claimed to be able to protect and guide you through the vicissitudes of life.

Realize it or not, being a member of a controlling, high-demand, identity-crushing group can qualify as psychological, emotional, spiritual, and occasionally physical abuse. Whether you want to consider yourself traumatically wounded, or not, sooner or later you will have to admit that you have been wounded or traumatized by some of the typical high-demand group treatment such as: deceit, identity-obliteration, manipulation, exploitation, coercion, isolation, threats, false promises, undue controls on your access to information, freedom of movement, ability to question, etc. etc.

You may now feel overwhelmed by grief realizing how you were misled, how much of your life has been stolen from you, and how you may now have to begin from scratch to reclaim your authentic identity, build a new life and create a new social network.

So, one of the main things on your mind must be: “I know I have a long road ahead, but what can I do to help myself right now?”

Psychiatrist, Judith Lewis Herman wrote the classic book entitled “Trauma and Recovery”. Herman says there are three stages of healing after traumatic experiences and identifies them as: Safety, Remembrance & Mourning, and Reconnection.

Safety   :::   Remembrance & Mourning   :::   Reconnection

Herman puts these three stages in the above order, however, as with most things, the stages will not always be orderly and neat. One stage may run into and be overlapped by the next. That is to be expected. Allow your process to unfold as it will – just make sure you attend to each of the suggested stages.

While you are right, you do have a long road of recovery to travel, it begins with ensuring your own physical and psychological safety. Now – just out of the controlling group – you must not skip over Herman’s first stage of attending to safety by wanting to rush immediately into healing your wounds and rebuilding your life. It’s normal to want to speed ahead in that way, however, you must first attend to your physical and psychological safety. They lay the foundation for the recovery work ahead.


Some ways to attend to physical safety after exiting a high-control system:

  • First you must attend to your literal safety. If you are concerned that the group you left may stalk, harass, retaliate and/or harm you, you must find ways to protect yourself. That might include moving away, laying low for a while, not letting anyone in the coercive group know where they can find you, changing your telephone number, assuming another identity, keeping all your identity information and co-ordinates carefully guarded, putting extra locks on your doors, even seeking police protection, or if you are in a foreign country seeking asylum at your country’s consulate.
  • If you have no money and/or no one to turn to, you may have to turn to social services in the area for temporary respite. Hopefully, shelters will direct you to resources that can help you find food and shelter and then a way to earn money and help to find a place to live.
  • To ensure your immediate safety and well-being you may have to live in places you would never normally consider, take employment below your skill set, and/or live a lifestyle below your normal standards. For now, comfort, self-esteem and normalcy might have to take a back seat to safety. Remember, it’s just temporary. Things will stabilize – it just takes time.
  • Once you have ensured that you are not in danger or at physical risk, you can begin to take more personal, health-related measures to ensure your internal sense of physical safety. If you are not functionning at a healthy level, you will not feel ‘safe’. To function optimally during the transition from leaving a high-control group, you have to make sure that you are getting adequate rest, adequate nutrition, adequate hydration, adequate exercise and adequate fresh air and sunshine. These things are so basic that we can have a tendency to take them for-granted and even dismiss them, wanting to move immediately onto the process of healing from our wounds. However, it is by taking good physical care of yourself that you support yourself and set the foundation for being able to do the work of Herman’s second stage of Remembrance and Mourning. How can you do the challenging work of remembering and mourning all the losses and indignities of being deceived, conned and controlled if you have not had adequate rest, nourishment, hydration and strength?
  • Enjoying physical well-being, physical health and physical strength is the foundation for all the other recovery work you will undertake.


Some ways to attend to psychological safety after exiting a high-control system:

  • It is by taking steps to feel safe psychologically that you minimize your levels of stress and the toll such stress can take on your body/mind. If you have already attended to taking care of your physical safety and physiological needs, then you have already minimized one main source of psychological stress.
  • To continue dealing with people who are still members of the group may be a big sources of psychological stress. If you have family still in the group, you may feel obliged to continue communication with them. If you have no family in the group, consider cutting off all communication with members of the group. They may guilt, shame or pressure you. They may issue warnings of all the terrible things that will befall you for leaving the group. The loaded, triggering, old group terminology may make you feel diminished or threatened – creating a lack of psychological safety. Minimizing, as you can, any contact with the controlling group members will help you feel more psychologically safe.
  • One of the main ways we create a lack of psychological safety is with our own thinking. Are you making mental lists of all the terrible things that might happen to you as a result of leaving the group? Are you ruminating on what you should have done, or could have done? Are you dramatizing the possible dangers of having left the organization? Are you only able to imagine a future for yourself in the most negative and discouraging terms? If so – it must not feel very safe to be in your head! You have to learn how to manage your thinking. You must take control of your own thoughts, so as not to let your thinking run riot with all kinds of terrible imaginary scenarios. Your body/mind cannot tell the difference between a real experience and a well-imagined one. What are more ‘well-imagined’ than our worry thoughts? Interrupt, challenge or stop such thinking and it will begin to feel much more safe inside your head! You will experience less anxiety.
  • One way to not get caught in a lot of psychological stress (which adds to a feeling of a lack of safety) of your own making is to make a concerted effort to live in present moment awareness.
  • Do some Google searches to learn more about present moment awareness and the amazing technique called Mindfulness.
  • Begin to take basic measures and small beginning steps to find your own living space, get any identity papers you need, set up any training or permits you need to be able to work, plan a realistic budget and be frugal so that money is not a major stress-causing factor in your life. If perchance you have a source of income which means food, clothing and housing are not a source of stress for you, then bring your attention to finding a therapist to talk to during the next phase of your recovery. Small steps that begin to put the pieces of your life back together will help you feel some relief from all the pressure.
  • Putting basic structures that support life in place will help you feel safe enough to be able to move on to the next phase of your recovery – remembrance and mourning.



  • If you can afford it, try to find a good therapist who understands what it is like living subjected to manipulation and control. The therapist will accompa
    ny you as you review, remember and mourn your losses due to control, coercion, abuse and
  • If you cannot afford to work with a therapist right now, then a good way to help yourself remember and grieve is to write about the coercive experiences in a journal.
  • Set aside time to write, and time to feel and grieve as you write. This kind of work can be taxing, which underscores the above encouragement to make sure you are taking care of your physical well-being so that you have the strength to do this emotional work.
  • If you can set things up this way, try to schedule time to take a brisk walk in the fresh air and sunshine after a session of writing, remembering and feeling. The walking has many benefits – one of which is that the bilateral strides help to rebalance the brain hemispheres and release some feel-good endorphins. The last thing you want to do after a session of writing and intense feeling is to self-medicate with alcohol or drugs. Choose walking over self-medicating!
  • Of course, there is much more involved in this stage of remembrance and mourning than documenting your experience and feelings in a journal. You can find a lot of good suggestions about how to manage this stage of your recovery from manipulation and exploitation in the about-to-be-published book, “The Challenge to Heal – A Recovery Guide”


3rd stage:  RECONNECTION

  • Having probably been required to limit your social circle and interactions to members of the same high-control group, and perhaps now being shunned by those friends still in the group, you can expect to find yourself alone and even lonely.
  • It is very difficult for humans to heal in isolation. We all have a basic need for human connection. It may feel daunting to think about re-entering the world of social interactions, especially if you were made to feel that the outside world was bad, dangerous or immoral.
  • Since people are not aware of your background or current needs, they will not be lining up at your door asking to become your friend. The work of reconnection is really up to you. You must look for ways to reach out, initiate a conversation with a stranger or invite a colleague out for a cup of coffee.
  • Be patient with yourself. Not every effort to connect will be successful. Just don’t allow yourself to become discouraged. If you are turned down, rebuffed, unsuccessful – just keep on trying. There are all kinds of wonderful people out there who are looking for connections with other human beings too.
  • Connections with others are wonderful ways to commiserate, laugh, enjoy pleasurable activities, and get support.
  • Once you do find someone whose company you enjoy, be judicious about how much you share or disclose at one time. You do not want to overwhelm new friends with all the details of your difficult past. Disclose – but disclose appropriately and with some appropriate restraint.
  • Friendships are solidified when both people feel that the other is interested in them. Ask questions of your new friend. Be curious about their views and their Listen. Don’t use their answers as vehicles to move into talking about yourself. When someone feels heard and feels appreciated they will feel more connected to you and then be desirous of further get-togethers with you.
  • As you rebuild your life outside of the high-control group, think about making connections along the way. Make connections with colleagues, fellow students, neighbors, etc. Be the first to say a warm hello. Many people are just as shy as you might feel and will be relieved and happy that someone else makes the first friendly gesture.
  • Life will start to feel more worthwhile as you reconnect and engage with it. As you create safety, grieve your wounds and losses, and develop new connections you will begin to feel more energized, upbeat and hopeful. You will have things to look forward to. You will see that there is life outside of the group and beyond the memories of what you were required to do by the group, or what the group did to you. You will feel less defined by your experiences of coercion and exploitation. When you reconnect with life (in all its forms) you truly broaden your horizons, and that feels good. You deserve to finally feel good about yourself and life!


Self-Acceptance: Foundation for Healing

“There is apparently some connection between dissatisfaction with oneself and a proneness to credulity. The urge to escape our real self is also an urge to escape the rational and the obvious. The refusal to see ourselves as we are develops a distaste for facts and cold logic. There is no hope for the frustrated in the actual and the possible. Salvation can come to them only from the miraculous, which seeps through a crack in the iron wall of inexorable reality. They ask to be deceived. What Stresemann said of the Germans is true of the frustrated in general: “They pray not only for their daily bread, but also for their daily illusion.” The rule seems to be that those who find no difficulty deceiving themselves are easily deceived by others. They are easily persuaded and led.” – Eric Hoffer

Sometimes as we find ourselves needing to heal from unwanted external influence and interference, we need to take a moment to reflect upon what may have made us easy prey for such undue influence and manipulation. Lay sociologist, Eric Hoffer, rightly suggests that a refusal to accept ourselves or our lives as they are, can make us vulnerable to being seduced by the deceptions of others.

This means that the foundation of healing from deception and manipulation begins with working on acceptance of self. This is not always easy, especially if we are angry at ourselves about being seduced, deceived, controlled and manipulated.

Try this simple technique derived from Gary Craig’s Emotional Freedom Technique, also known as EFT:

Probe gently around on the upper left quadrant of your chest. Note where you find a tender spot (we all have one), then rub that “sore spot” (gently and in a clockwise direction) while saying the following: With all my problems and limitations, I love, accept and forgive myself. Do this for a minute or two and repeat often – every day.

By doing this technique, it is claimed, you are undoing any blockages in the energy meridian that governs self-acceptance. You are not aiming at removing the tenderness from the spot. It will remain tender.

If you notice yourself thinking negatively about what you did or didn’t do in your life, take a moment to do this gentle technique to acquire more self-acceptance and self-love. Everything else you undertake in your healing journey needs this self-acceptance to underpin it.

“. . . this revolutionary act of treating ourselves tenderly can begin to undo the aversive messages of a lifetime.” 
― Tara BrachRadical Acceptance: Embracing Your Life With the Heart of a Buddha

Learning How To Broaden Perspective

This book by Ellen J. Langer is not about the Buddhist take on mindfulness, but rather about a more secular perspective of getting off automatic pilot and taking the time to discover our many options and reconfigure our life using fresh perspectives.

Before Langer explains how to cultivate mindful attention, she describes the many ways that humans exhibit “mindlessness“. I am struck by how her depictions of mindlessness paint the perfect image of how cults render their rank and file into robotic, controlled clones.

Below I’ve listed some of the ways which Langer describes mindlessness and you will see how “mindlessness” definitely applies to how cult members are groomed to perceive and think.

Here are some ways that Ellen Langer describes mindless people. She says they:

1. Accept or create categories and become trapped by them
2. Are caught in automatic behaviours
 3. Act from a single perspective, thus compartmentalizing their lives
4. Allow others to create context and are blinded by power of that single context
 5. Believe in or act with limited resources
6. Educate themselves for the outcome their single context requires
7. Accede control to experts or higher authorities
8. Display learned helplessness
9. Co-operate with stunting of their own potential and live from a limited self
10. Are suspicious of new information
11. Are committed to one predetermined use of incoming information
12. Are caught in predetermined mindsets
13. Not used to listening to own intuition and treat it as suspect
14. Limited ability to discern or understand nuance, metaphors or analogies
15. Think in only “right/wrong” or “either/or” categories
16. Are easily primed by constant cues in their closed, controlled environment
17. Do not exercise critical thinking skills and eventually lose touch with them
18. Accept the stereotypes fed to them
19. Easily dismiss information that runs counter to their assumptions and beliefs
20. Become comfortable not moving beyond already determined categories
21. Allow their ability to think creatively to atrophy due to lack of use
22. Assume the limits of past experience should determine present experience
23. Dismiss variables that contradict what they already believe
24. Don’t think to ask questions that would shake up context or categories
25. Rarely consider being innovative with beliefs, choices or behaviours
26. Do not know how to approach life or decision-making playfully
27. Follow unproductive routines and unquestioningly follow senseless orders
28. Never question the personal or group cost of their mindlessness
29. Live in a shared, limited reality they do not question
30. As children made premature cognitive commitments to beliefs and practices

With the constant input of a single-minded perspective (in a tightly-controlled context) from a cult environment, many of Langer’s above depictions of mindlessness actually reveal how cult leaders create powerful controls over so many normally intelligent people. Again, I encourage you to read Ellen J. Langer’s book “Mindfulness” to reinforce ways that you can truly and finally break free from any lingering effects of undue influence and mind control and become mindful instead of mindless.