Exit and Support Network

How Did I End Up in a
Spiritually Abusive Group?

People don't knowingly join spiritually abusive groups. Deceptive, exploitive leaders offer innocent seekers a trade, but the long term results can turn out to be devastating.

HIDDEN: To put or to keep out of sight; secret; concealed; to keep from being seen by covering up (If the abuse is "hidden," then someone becomes the unknowing target. You cannot take the blame.)
ABUSE: To use wrongly; to mistreat; to deceive. ("Abuse" tells us there's a perpetrator involved.)

Noble things you may have been seeking before you were deceived:

  1. A Purpose
    • A life purpose; a commitment; significance in life; a cause

  2. A family
    • A place to belong; a group of friends; intimate confidants; new brothers and sisters

  3. A Systematized Belief System
    • Need some kind of a philosophical, religious, political ordering of life

  4. Promises (eastern worldview)
    • Higher consciousness*
    • Finding the god within or meeting your "spirit guide"
    • Reincarnation

  5. The Promise of Spirituality or a Relationship With God (a Christian worldview)

    • A true search for meaning
    • A spiritual grounding
    • Knowledge about God and the universe

  6. The Promise of Personal Growth (a humanistic worldview)
    • Success; fulfillment; personal strength; confidence; wisdom; creativity and high productivity

  7. The Promise of Power (a variety of worldviews, including occultic)
    • Power to cover up a painful past
    • Control

You may have thought you went into your group open-eyed, but you ended up finding abuse inside.

*Higher consciousness is also a New Age term.

The long term results (abuses) of trying to find:

  1. A Purpose
    • Lack of purpose (because of assuming the leader's purpose)
    • Don't know who you are anymore or what you're to do
    • Confusion, depression, anger over lost years
    • Limited career growth
    • Broken marriages
    • Impaired health

  2. A family
    • A demagogue that demands more and more of your life.
    • Feeling used
    • Realizing the caring and love in the group was only conditional
    • Boundary violations (can even include deviant sexual behavior)
    • Cultic dysfunctional family
    • Empty, lonely and unable to trust people; hard to make a commitment to others
    • Obsessing with never finding a place to belong again; suicidal; depression
    • Rejection of all authority
    • Problem with independence and dependence
    • Socially immature

  3. A Systematized Belief System
    • Feel you can't trust any system of doctrinal teachings anymore
    • Confused and angry
    • Left with myriads of triggers from religious ceremonies
    • Being dominated by core teachings that you haven't rejected yet (it takes a lot of time and study to challenge the content of the teachings you've been taught)
    • General mental instability

  4. Promises (eastern worldview)
    • Brain processing problems (unable to read and retain)
    • Memory problems
    • Lack of ability to concentrate (slipped into the sub-cortical level of sub-conscious altered states)
    • Addictiveness (to altered states)
    • Inability to focus on job tasks
    • Psychic breakdown
    • Impaired health
    • Dissociative disorder

  5. The Promise of Spirituality or a Relationship With God (a Christian worldview)

    • Finding the leader's interpretation of the "truth" with the leader at the center of it
    • Harmful and/or false experiences (altered states; feverish tongues-speaking; endless spiritual warfare exercises)
    • Spiritual maturity and discernment not attained
    • The experience becomes addictive
    • Feel you have left God when disfellowshipped, or exiting on your own (the relationship between the leader, the teaching and God is very intertwined)
    • Reinforcing addictive relationships to yourself (your goal previously was to bring or evangelize people to "God's Kingdom")
    • Trying to figure out what you believe and who you can trust as a spiritual authority
    • The group preached grace but lived the Law (the leader twists the Scriptures)
    • A real search for who you are and feeling significant again (the group made you feel elite and special)
    • Guilt, depression, anxiety, obsessing over particular passages of Scripture (leading to despair, suicide attempts and nightmares)
    • Inability to make simple decisions without spiritual leaders being consulted (frustration, confusion, frozen behavior)
    • Inoculation against anything spiritual (loss of interest in praying, Bible study; worship of any kind)

  6. The Promise of Personal Growth (a humanistic worldview)
    • Psychotic breakdowns
    • Dissociative problems
    • Breakdown of trust in authority figures
    • Loss of personal boundaries with regard to family secrets (boundaries were violated inside)
    • Realizing you were defined by success or lack of it
    • Empty and self-worth impaired
    • Financial or marital instability
    • History of illegal activities
    • Lack of trust with the therapeutic community

  7. The Promise of Power (a variety of worldviews, including occultic)
    • Violated conscience
    • Ravaged body
    • A mind full of unforgettable scenes
    • Memories and massive triggers
    • More pain
    • Nightmares

In spite of any abuse you may have gone through, the very fact that you are reading this means you are a survivor and that you have the strength within you to make it.

~Excerpted from "Hidden Abuses in Cults" by Barbara Martin and Joe Kelly (CD/audio tape with ESN)

Recommended Article: Cognitive Behavioral Focusing for Exiters (An Approach to Handling Depression, Anxiety, Fear & Guilt)

Related Material:

Victory Over Depression (6 Audio CD Set) [offsite link]

Spiritual Abuse Questionnaire (Questions To Help Identify Specific Areas of Spiritual Abuse, Deception, and Fraud) [offsite article]

Techniques to Gain Control (Very good and detailed letter showing how authoritarian groups cults are able to remove God from our minds and replace it with the authority in the organization; i. e, "the government.")

How Did Herbert W. Armstrong Recruit People? (can apply to any deceptive, exploitive leader)

Spiritual Healing links

Back to Understanding Mind Control & Exploitation