There are Heroes Among Us

xtherapy-alliance.jpg.pagespeed.ic.dzbs0hF3z9“To have already claimed the right to think for yourself, to question, to deviate, to refuse to be controlled, exploited or manipulated, to refuse to be subjected to any more abuse, to be willing to give up all you have known, to give up home (even family) and strike out alone on your quest for selfhood, are the actions of a hero. It matters not that you are afraid or perhaps laden with wounds. Heroes do not take their leave and make their quest for freedom without acquiring wounds and experiencing fears along the way. The beauty of these heroes is that they are not gods – they are not perfect nor invulnerable. Heroes are sensitive, susceptible humans willing to take up the challenges and bear the wounds life places at their feet.

Perhaps you never imagined that the title of this article applies to you. Perhaps for the moment you are a tentative, reluctant hero. Perhaps you still find it challenging to embrace the whole truth of who you are. Perhaps you imagine that heroes should be impervious to wounds. Perhaps, you think that ‘real’ heroes don’t suffer as you are suffering now. That’s understandable. But this book will hopefully disabuse you of those notions. By the time you finish reading it, reflecting on the hidden treasures buried in suffering, reflecting on your core values and your right to a life of your own making, reflecting on new ways of thinking and acting, and learning simple strategies for self-care – you, too, will see the hero that you are.

To leave a high-control group or an abusive relationship of any kind is a truly heroic act. To actively look for ways to understand what you have been through and how you can recover from any wounds inflicted by those who would have preferred that you remain enslaved, is to be a hero. The hero’s path is partly a spiritual one and there are few maps to show us the way. Psychiatrist, Mark Epstein says, “The spiritual path means making a path rather than following one.”

Zen stone path in a Japanese Garden

“To do the best you can, for yourself, for the moment, while simultaneously knowing and feeling pain, without becoming cynical, helpless, or paralyzed by fear of the pain, is the task of the hero.” -Susanna McMahon

 

When I view myself as the heroine of my own story

I no longer complain about the conflicts in my life and in myself.

I am no longer a victim of circumstances.

Instead, I am full of anticipation for my journey into the unknown.

I am a protagonist in a world of unending dilemmas,

Which contain hidden meaning that it is up to me to discover.

Tristine Rainer

 

How to Manage Fear & Anxiety After Leaving a High-Control Group

When we dare consider leaving a high-control group in order to reclaim our life, our fear quotient can shoot off the charts. We have probably been warned about what will happen if we try to leave. We know the repercussions usually meted out by the group. We can anticipate what is in store for us. We will then, perhaps, feel anxious or crippled with fear.

 

To leave, we are told, will mean a literal or symbolic death – a cutting off from the group, from salvation, from heavenly rewards and perhaps from god himself. Some of our fears may be exaggerated due to phobias instilled in us during any thought-reform practiced by the group. However, most of our fears are well-founded. We are not paranoid or crazy. We have seen what happened to others who dared to take back their mind and their life. We understand the challenges we will face in order to rebuild an authentic, self-directed life.

Once out, we soon realize that a lot of the instilled, pervasive fears have a life of their own. Even if we have done all we can to ensure our safety, we may still feel we could be blindsided by the coercive group’s punishments. Perhaps we fear that we will be permanently cut off from god’s love and protection. These and other concerns seem to be deeply embedded in our cells and we would do well to … learn how to manage them while we wait for the healer known as “time” to help them dissipate.

Sometimes anxieties arise in the form of obsessive thoughts that seem to have a life of their own. They arrive unprompted, unwelcome and even contextually irrelevant. But off they spin making us constrict, withdraw, tense, and perhaps move into a fight, flight or freeze response.

Here are ten simple, easy things you can do to help manage fear or anxiety:

 

Stop.  Sit.  Ground.  Breathe.  Rest.  Hydrate.  Inquire.  Remember.  Move.  Imagine.[1]

  1. STOP: When you notice fear thoughts are out of control, stop what you are doing and become the observer of what is taking place in your mind. Do not judge or condemn what you observe – just stop whatever you are doing and pay attention without becoming engaged with the thoughts. Stop any active involvement with the thoughts and just observe them. (Note: Sometimes fear arises for a good reason. If, while observing, you assess that you are in actual danger – take the required steps to protect yourself.)
  2. SIT: If you are not in any actual danger, sit down and bring your attention to what is happening around you in the moment. Sit with present moment awareness. Yes, there are fear thoughts spinning around in your mind AND the sun is shining in the window, and the cat is purring at your feet. Just sit. Simply be present to and connect with life around you while you sit.
  3. GROUND: As you sit, make sure your legs are uncrossed and both feet are planted flat on the ground – better yet, if you are outside – bare and flat on the earth.
  4. BREATHE: As you sit, bring your observing awareness to your breath. At first, just observe your breathing without trying to change it. Then after a few moments, as best you can, take a few slow, deep, cleansing breathes. Check to see if your breathing is stuck mid-chest or if you are able to do deep diaphragmatic breathing. (Seeing your belly move in and out, instead of your upper chest would indicate you are doing diaphragmatic breathing.) Begin to simply concentrate on the exhalation – focus on a long, slow release of air with each breath.
  5. REST: Each of the above steps should have helped you enter a calmer headspace, which in turn should help your muscles begin to relax. Rest now, for a while, in the rhythm of your breath. Remain identified with your non-judgmental, observing awareness. For this moment – there is nowhere to go, nothing to do, no one to be. If you observe that there are still fear thoughts in the mind, just watch them without attaching to them. Imagine any anxiety or stressful thoughts leaving your body with each exhalation and return to resting in the rhythm of your breath.
  6. HYDRATE: After stopping, sitting, grounding, calming and resting in your breath, if you can, drink some water. Hydrate your cells. Being still, grounded, oxygenated and hydrated will support the body/mind to release itself from the grip of the anxious fear thinking.
  7. INQUIRE: Now that you have completed the previous six steps, take a moment to ask yourself a few questions. Hone in on the dominant fear thought that you’ve observed and ask yourself: Is it true? Is it really true? If you believe the thought is true, follow up with the question: How do I feel inside when I believe that fearful thought? Usually the answer is something like, vulnerable, powerless, little, alone, unworthy or unloved. Then ask yourself if you are willing to release the thought and move back to feeling, as best you can, okay, centered, capable and worthy of love. Self-inquiry can help diminish the import and impact of the thought. (You can learn more about self-inquiry by visiting the website called The Work by Byron Katie.) Familiarize yourself with the process of self-inquiry so that it becomes easy for you to use in the midst of stressful situations.
  8. REMEMBER: Take a moment now to remember who you really are. Remember all you have accomplished. Remember how courageous you have been – in spite of very justifiable fears. Remember how many of the things you feared in the past never came to pass. Often when we are experiencing fearful thoughts, if we stop and ask ourselves: How old do I feel inside right now? – we will find that we feel quite young. Fear-filled thinking makes us feel anxious and we can often regress into feeling quite childlike – which makes the fears seem even more intimidating. Take time to remember who you really are now. Remember that you are an adult with all of the skills and options of an adult. Remember all of the resources that you, as an adult, can access. Remember that you are no longer a vulnerable, helpless, controlled child. Remember who you are now and settle into that knowing.
  9. MOVE: Once you have completed the above eight simple steps – if circumstances allow, move your body. Go for a walk or do some light exercise. By walking you are oxygenating your cells, producing feel-good endorphins, and balancing your brain hemispheres with the bilateral movements of your legs and arms. Moving (especially bi-lateral movements of your limbs) will help you think more clearly and stop any tendency for negative thoughts to loop around repetitively in your mind. If you cannot walk outside, try marching in place touching your right knee with your left hand and your left knee with your right hand. (This exercise is called the Cross Crawl and is an effective way to balance the two hemispheres of your brain and recalibrate your thinking.)
  10. IMAGINE: If you have time, find a guided visualization (online) to help you create an imaginary, inner safe place for yourself. Once you have already created a safe place, in moments of distress, anxiety or fear – after doing the above nine steps – you can go immediately to the safe space in your mind and find rest, respite and renewal.

 

(Excerpt from Chapter 13, The Challenge to Heal, 2016, Bonnie Zieman)

[1]  These ten steps are totally within your control. They cost nothing. You do not need anyone else to help you employ them. You don’t have to go anywhere special to use them. All you have to do is recall and use them to manage and minimize fear-based thinking.

Emotions Manifesting As Physical Ailments – After Leaving a High-Control Group

If, now out of your particular manipulative group, you find yourself suffering from persistent, unexplained physical ailments, you may benefit from reading two books by science journalist Donna Jackson Nakazawa:

Childhood Disrupted: How Your Biography Becomes Your Biology, and How You Can Heal (2015) 

The Last Best Cure: My Quest to Awaken the Healing Parts of My Brain and Get Back My Body, My Joy, and My Life (2013)

 

The research presented in these two Jackson Nakazawa books is particularly relevant for survivors of undue influence, coercion and abuse. Recent scientific research demonstrates the undeniable link between chronic, stressful, adverse experiences especially in the formative years of childhood – and physical complaints experienced throughout the lifespan. As Jackson Nakazawa says, “… your biography becomes your biology.”

 

 

Stress, pressure, double-binds, abuse and unrelenting adverse conditions produce measurable changes in the brain and nervous system (according to the research highlighted in these Jackson Nakazawa books), all of which set up anyone’s body/mind for health issues and autoimmune disorders.

 

The good news is that researchers have also demonstrated that many, simple lifestyle interventions, such as: mindfulness, naming and disengaging from catastrophic thoughts, yoga, meditation, guided visualization, EMDR therapy, and acupuncture, etc. can literally rewire the brain and reboot the immune system – effecting significant, measurable changes in health and well-being.

If you are looking for hope, if you need a doable plan for recovery from abuse or control-related malaise and illness, if you have had a challenging cult childhood and are suffering now from chronic illness, do yourself a favor and read the above-mentioned books about ground-breaking research with regard to the possible physical effects of adverse childhood experiences – and how to overcome them.

 

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“…people who are ostracized suffer deeply, including the obvious loss of self-esteem and depression, but also including physiological symptoms such as ulcers, suppression of the immune system, anxiety …” Kipling Williams, Purdue University psychologist – cited in Psychology Today, 04/09/13

 

“Your health is bound to be affected if, day after day, you say the opposite of what you feel, if you grovel before what you dislike and rejoice at what brings you nothing but misfortune. Our nervous system isn’t just a fiction; it’s a part of our physical body, and our soul exists in space, and is inside us like the teeth in our mouth. It can’t be forever violated with impunity.” -Boris Pasternak

 

Disclaimer: The purpose of shining a light on the above-mentioned books is to promote a broad understanding of psychological issues (e.g. psychosomatic illness) that could apply to the lives of current or former high-control group members. This information is not intended to be a substitute for professional medical advice or treatment. The purpose is to offer psycho-educational insight. Seek the advice of your primary care physician before undertaking any suggestions shared here. Never delay seeking medical help, disregard medical advice, or discontinue medical treatment because of information in a book, including this one. Reliance on any information, suggestions or any recommended resources from this book is undertaken solely at your own risk.

(Above article adapted from Chapter 16 in “The Challenge to Heal: A Recovery Guide to help reclaim your life after leaving any high-control group”, and was first published on the Open Minds Foundation Blog.)

The Powerful Need to Belong: Especially After Leaving a High-Control Situation 

 

We become acutely aware of our fundamental need for belonging when we are cut off, banished, shunned, disconnected and/or alienated. If you have exercised your right to reclaim your life from a high-control situation, it is highly likely that you are now being rejected or excluded by those who are still in the group or situation. You may very well have lost any sense of belonging, especially if family members and friends are still a part of the extremist group.

 

 

Belonging is so important that it is one of the core human need categories listed in psychologist Abraham Maslow’s Hierarchy of Needs, depicted in the illustration below. At one time the survival of the individual was inextricably linked to the tribe. To be separated from the tribe meant certain death. Our primitive reptilian brain probably still considers belongingness a survival issue.

 

When we are cut off from, and shunned by family and friends, it can awaken very primal feelings – feelings that can make us feel panicked – prompting us to conclude, on a deep level, that our very survival is at risk. This is why ostracism, disconnection, and shunning are such powerful, punitive and inhumane tools.

 

If you are now disconnected or being ostracized, you must make it a point to attend to your fundamental need to belong. Being with others will help meet the need of your body/mind to be seen, acknowledged, known, connected and included. It will diminish the anxiety that accompanies any punitive shunning behaviors.

Abraham Maslow’s Hierarchy of Human Needs

 

Maslow posited that until the lower level needs in the Hierarchy of Human Needs – such as belonging – are met, it is difficult to move up the hierarchy to satisfy higher level needs. So, for example, if you are finding you are having trouble attending to your “self-esteem needs” after extricating yourself from exploitation and control, it may be you first have to attend to your “belonging needs”. By taking care of your belonging needs you facilitate your movement up Maslow’s hierarchy of needs to meet other needs that properly press for attention and fulfilment.

 

In today’s world, it is an over-exaggeration to imagine you will die if banished from a group. This is a thought you must challenge. You will be hurt by being ostracized, disconnected or shunned, but you will not expire from it. Your survival on the planet is not threatened by being cut off or alienated from a real or symbolic family. You can help the reptilian part of your brain calm down by giving it a sense of belonging by joining in group activities (in the workplace or in the community) that please you – even if they are not with the group of people that you are really longing for right now.

 

It can also be helpful to employ the technique of relating to it, not from it (“it” being whatever feeling is distressing you at the moment). You can apply this simple technique to the feeling of disconnection and lack of belonging. For example, you can say to yourself:

  • A part of me feels like I just cannot survive being disconnected or shunned and losing my sense of belonging in my group, but I choose not to dwell on this irrational fear.
  • The old, brainwashed part of me resists joining groups of ‘worldly’ or ‘infidel’ strangers to engage in pleasant activities, but I’m going to push past that resistance and find a group or activity that pleases me.

You acknowledge (relate to) the feelings that inevitably emerge from disconnection, isolation, shunning, but you refuse to be governed by (react from) those feelings. This takes practice, but with a little effort you can make relating to instead of reacting from your default position when dealing with any challenging feeling.

 

So how does one attend to their need for belonging? By reaching out to associate with others (even if they are relative strangers) you begin to give yourself the gift of fulfilling the need to connect and belong. Even the most basic connections can help calm the reptilian part of your brain and help you feel better during the initial shock of being cut off from a group or community, even if it was your choice to leave the group or situation.

 

Don’t wait to feel profound interest in an activity or group. If you notice any small level of interest, join in. Involvement often precedes interest and awakens interest. Just get involved. Just connect. Find a healthy, inclusive group to join, such as an exercise group, a health club/gym, a walking group, a mindfulness meditation group, a yoga center, a photography club, a support group, a volunteer agency – whatever pleases you or whatever opportunity for connection that presents itself. Healing from trauma is made so much easier when we connect with the community around us.

 

‘Belonging’ does not reach out and find you. You must take steps to find ways to connect and belong. Be proactive. Do it now. If your first efforts at connection are not satisfying, find another group to join. You must be persistent and courageous in attending to your fundamental, human need to connect and belong.

 

“Only connect.”  ~E. M. Forster

 

Recommended Reading on the topic of belonging and connection:

Reaching Out: Interpersonal Effectiveness and Self-Actualization”, 2012, David H. Johnson

True Belonging: Mindful Practices to Help You Overcome Loneliness, Connect with Others, and Cultivate Happiness”, 2011, Jeffrey Brantley, M.D., Wendy Millstine

Leaving Loneliness: A Workbook. Building Relationships with Yourself and Others”, 2014, David S. Narang

Social: Why Our Brains Are Wired to Connect”, 2014, Matthew D. Lieberman

Real: The Power of Authentic Connection”, 2016, Catherine O’Kane, Duane O’Kane

 

(This article originally appeared on the Open Minds Foundation Blog.)

 

 

Dealing With People Who Intimidate, Threaten & Bully

Have you been surprised by someone in your life who is suddenly trying to intimidate, manipulate, control or bully you? Bullies can pop up anywhere and come in all shapes and sizes. Although their negative actions may feel personal, generally they are not. Such aggressive and passive aggressive behaviors reveal much more about the person engaging in them than you.

Those needing to intimidate, control, threaten and bully are acting from their own inner lack of control, and their own inner chaos. They are indeed suffering within, and prefer not to suffer alone. In effect, bullies in whatever form they present, are projecting their inner out-of-control reality on to you – because it affords them some temporary relief and the longed-for illusion of power.

Intimidators cannot, however, manipulate or bully you without your permission. You withhold permission by not engaging with them, by not getting emotionally involved in their latest control story, or their current drama or ‘schoolyard’ game. Just don’t play along. Ignore them and leave the metaphorical ‘schoolyard’.

There is nothing worse for a person who needs to control and manipulate than to have no one available to intimidate and threaten. Reserve your emotional engagement for truly worthwhile endeavors – for what really matters to you. Don’t allow such people to drag you into their latest drama or threaten you if you refuse to do their bidding or side with them to intimidate, bully or badmouth others.

If you feel that despite your efforts to not succumb to their intimidation, you are being deceived, goaded or manipulated into a situation that feels just too negative, it may be that you are dealing someone who is in more than a bad mood or having a bad day.

Reasons for unwarranted confrontational and hostile behavior are many and often complex. Causes may include and are not limited to pathological anger, hyper-aggression, pathological bullyingnarcissistic rage, post-traumatic stress disorder, brain trauma, substance abuse, and life crisis. In some cases it’s just a normal person having a bad day. In others, you may be dealing with a sociopath or psychopath. Regardless of the reason, it’s important to respond proactively and effectively when your rights, interests and safety are at stake.

If, for some reason, you cannot walk away and your boundaries or rights are being violated, communication expert, Ni Preston advises, “When standing up to bullies (in situations where something important is at stake), be sure to place yourself in a position where you can be safe, whether it’s standing tall on your own, having other people present to witness and support, or keeping a paper trail of the bully’s inappropriate behavior. In cases of physical, verbal, or emotional abuse, consult with counseling, legal, law enforcement, or administrative professionals on the matter. It’s very important to stand up to bullies, and you don’t have to do it alone.

Bullies come in every shape and size and can be found in the most surprising places, even in groups where you come together to work toward a common goal. If you are feeling intimidated or bullied by a neighbor, friend, co-worker, boss, group member or in online forums, please follow some of the above suggestions or read more by clicking on the following link:

https://www.psychologytoday.com/blog/communication-success/201409/how-successfully-handle-aggressive-and-controlling-people

 

The Paradox of Ego Development in Growth & Healing

 

“When you perceive a truth, look for the balancing truth.

― John Emerich Edward Dalberg-Acton

While writing books on recovery from the undue influence of high-control groups, I was often aware of the puzzling fact that the opposite of what I was saying was also true. The paradox being, as Niels Bohr says, “…the opposite of a profound truth may well be another profound truth.” For example:

  • while healing from high-control group exploitation requires that we dig up the past and work through the lingering emotions due to all the undue influence, true healing can only take place in the present.
  • while we work to strengthen and heal the self — true freedom, according to the great eastern philosophies, is ultimately found in finally recognizing that there is no separate self.
  • while implicit in the “hero’s journey” is that in the future we will arrive at a better place, in truth there is no future. There is only the present moment – there is always and only what we are experiencing in the now. “Life is a preparation for the future; and the best preparation for the future is to live as if there were none.” ― Albert Einstein
  • while healing from mind-control, exploitation and abuse requires that we apply ourselves to actively learn how to grieve, how to trust, how to reclaim our agency in the world – healing also requires that we learn how to accept what is and how to surrender to life as it unfolds.
  • while, after abuse, we must work to strengthen the ego caged or crushed by the high-control group – once strengthened – the next developmental piece of work is to transcend and dissolve the very ego we have just worked so hard to strengthen.

In order to expand on the last paradox (strengthening the ego, only to turn around and dissolve it) in the above list, let’s take a moment to look at the mental construct called “the ego”. Often when we speak of the ego, it is in a derogatory fashion – suggesting that there is self-centeredness afoot. However, the Freudian template of the mind, highlights the ego as a necessary component of the self, not just a narcissistic one. The ego helps us to define ourselves, defend ourselves and function in the world.

The school of psychology known as psychodynamics posits that babies have yet to develop an ego and that a healthy ego is built throughout childhood within the crèche of a supportive, loving family. As we grow and move out into the world, we use the ego strength developed in the heart of the family to help forge a life for ourselves, define ourselves, protect ourselves, work, and build a home and family.

Of course, some people are not afforded the luxury of growing up in a supportive family and do not build a strong, healthy ego. With that essential component missing in their development, they then spend their energies trying to get the mirroring, attention, recognition and affirmation that was missing from their childhood. People who are always seeking attention are labelled narcissistic and egotists, and while that may be true, they are, in effect, desperately trying to get unmet ego development needs met.

As said, if our ego needs were met as a child, we use that ego strength to build a life. A strong, healthy ego is necessary to claim personal agency in the world, help us withstand the vicissitudes of life and repair any injuries due to the inevitable losses encountered in any life. The paradox is, that once we have built a good life and competently handled life’s unpredictable changes, higher levels of human needs emerge and our challenge is then to transcend (move beyond) the very ego that we built, the very ego that helped us construct and live our life.

If we were raised in a cult, or lured into any manipulative group or relationship, many healthy ego functions may have been stunted or crushed. In fact, many of our attempts to fulfill basic human needs will have been interfered with – interrupted by their undue controls. Perhaps, due to unwanted and undue interference our ability to fulfill our basic human needs has been stalled. Our work then, once out of the restrictive environment, is to re-establish our fundamental needs for safety, belonging and self-esteem, etc.

A closer look at Abraham Maslow’s “Hierarchy of Needs” pyramid might help us understand the further level of growth available to us after we have met the challenge to heal from undue interference and meet our basic human needs.

Abraham Maslow’s Hierarchy of Human Needs

The first four levels of needs at the bottom of Maslow’s pyramid hierarchy (1 through 4) are called “deficit needs” – needs that make humans distinctly uncomfortable if not met (our physiological needs, the need for safety, the need for love and acceptance, and the need for self-esteem and respect). The four levels of needs at the top of the pyramid (5 through 8) Maslow identified as “growth needs”, higher level needs that take a back seat to the previous four needs until those four are met.

The four higher level growth needs are:

  • Level 5) the cognitive need to explore and understand;
  • Level 6) the aesthetic need to enjoy nature, beauty and the arts;
  • Level 7) the self-actualization need to make the most of our abilities;
  • Level 8) the self-transcendence need to move toward a more spiritual self.

Maslow says that once we have achieved or met our basic needs (1 through 4) for Physiological, Safety, Belonging and Esteem needs, the higher level needs (5 through 8) to meet Cognitive, Aesthetic, Self-Actualization and Self-Transcendence needs, kick in.

While working to heal the wounds resulting from undue influence – we are often doing the work required to meet the unmet or partially met needs at the bottom of the hierarchy (1 through 4). We feel satisfied once able to exercise our agency so that we can experience safety, belonging and self-esteem. Sometimes then, therapy or the healing journey stop at that point leaving the top four higher-level growth needs (5 through 8) unattended.

The paradox here is that just when we imagine our heroic healing journey is complete, we discover that we have the option (need?) to embark on another heroic journey – the journey to self-actualization and self-transcendence (ego-transcendence).

Most therapies, and most private initiatives at healing the wounds from cult mind-control and abuse, do not include these higher levels of growth. I mention them here so that once you feel you have recovered from your captivity in, and injuries from, the high-control abuse – you also become aware of the further levels of growth you can embrace to fulfill your life. These further levels of growth are also called transpersonal and transcendent levels of human development.

Transpersonal Psychology posits that there are three stages of human development. (Note: In the transpersonal model of human development the word “personal” is used to represent the “ego”.) The three stages are:

1) the pre-personal – the child – before the development of ego;

2) the personal – the adult – with appropriate ego strength to function in the world;

3) the trans-personal – the stage when the healthy adult transcends ego – where the sense of self extends (transcends) the individual (personal/ego level) to encompass the higher self with its enhanced maturity, awareness, consciousness or spirituality[1].

So to summarize … in taking on the challenge to heal you have been addressing unmet needs due to undue influence and interference in your life. As well, you have been repairing ways in which your ego and self-esteem may have been damaged or stunted. You may have also ventured into meeting some of your cognitive needs with the psycho-educational material provided by websites like this.

However, looking again at the image of Maslow’s hierarchy above, you will see that while you have embarked on the hero’s journey, while you have attended to the wounds and developmental delays due to being in a coercive group – you may not have dealt with, or attained, the higher levels of human needs – yet. Addressing these higher level needs is the next phase of your hero’s journey. It is now up to you to embrace the next challenge of healing and growth by making sure that your cognitive, aesthetic, self-actualization and self-transcendence needs are addressed.

The interesting paradox is that while the first phase of healing consists, to a large degree, in building the ego strength that can help you build a new life outside of the coercive group — there then appears a further phase of healing and growth where life calls upon you to dissolve the very ego you have just worked to strengthen. Self-transcendence is about dismantling the ego – its defenses and its preoccupations – in order to enjoy “being” and “pure consciousness”. In fact, it is the strong, healthy ego that participates in its own demise.

You can certainly enjoy a ‘good-enough’ life without addressing the higher level needs (5 through 8) – but it has been my experience that you will encounter your own inner push toward fulfilling the higher level needs.

The inner push may be felt as a certain level of dissatisfaction or ennui with life once you have done your healing work and attained the first four levels of human needs. Do not mistake such feelings of ennui as an indication that you have yet more work to do on your past, or on old injuries. Feelings of inner ennui usually indicate that you are now ready to embrace the journey to farther reaches of human development or as Maslow says “the farther reaches of human nature”.

The paradox is that once you attain a basic level of healing, the hero’s quest begins anew. The one caution is that one needs to complete the first quest (healing wounds, finding one’s path, strengthening the ego) before one embarks on the second phase of the journey. As said, it is the healthy, strengthened ego that works to dismantle itself. If you have not yet built a healthy ego[2], you are probably not ready for the challenges of the second heroic quest – acceptance, non-resistance, letting go, forgiveness and the experience of pure awareness.

This next phase of the hero’s journey is, therefore, one of moments of solitude, stillness, simplicity, inner spaciousness and surrender. Initiates on this higher-level heroic quest are not found on a steed forging their way through a dark forest. You are more likely to find them sitting quietly on a meditation cushion. ~

You can read more about the transpersonal level of development by reading the following books:

  • Toward a Psychology of Being, 2011, Abraham Maslow
  • The Farther Reaches of Human Nature, 1993, Abraham Maslow
  • Man’s Search for Meaning, 2006, Viktor E. Frankl
  • Going on Being, 2001, Mark Epstein
  • Toward a Psychology of Awakening: Buddhism, Psychotherapy, and the Path of Personal and Spiritual Transformation, 2002, John Welwood
  • Waking Up: A Guide to Spirituality Without Religion, 2014, Sam Harris

 “…moments in our lives where the unconscious crosses consciousness; where the eternal crosses the transitory; where a higher will demands the surrender of our egos.” –Marion Woodman

 

 

 

[1] Some Transpersonal theorists are: Wilber; Battista; Grof; Assagioli; Ferrer.

[2] Transpersonal psychologist, Ken Wilber coined the term “pre/trans fallacy” to explain the phenomenon of people who rush too soon into trying to transcend ego – before they have done the hard work to build a healthy, adult ego. Wilber suggests that while pre-empting the work at the personal (ego) level of development, such people think they are operating at a trans-personal (spiritual) level of development, when they are actually functioning from a prepersonal (child-like, pre-ego), primitive level of development with its attendant magical thinking (which can at moments mimic the trans-personal). We need to do the fundamental ego strengthening work before we move on to transcending that ego. There are, unfortunately, many people operating at a pre-personal level of development (child-like), while claiming they can help you attain higher levels of consciousness. As Ken Wilber, Ph.D. says, they are caught in the “pre/trans fallacy”, operating at a child-like, magical thinking level of ego development rather than truly operating from a level of development that has transcended the pre-personal and personal levels. We see this in cult leaders or gurus who end up abusing their followers in one way or another, in an unconscious attempt to fulfil their own unmet developmental needs. Wilber’s “pre/trans fallacy” behooves us to be very careful who we follow.

 

 


			

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 Amazon.com.

 

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 Amazon.com

 

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.


1st stage:  PHYSICAL AND PSYCHOLOGICAL SAFETY

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.

 

2nd stage:  REMEMBRANCE & 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
    exploitation.
  • 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!