An Approach to Handling Depression, Anxiety, Fear & Guilt

Hooded Warbler
Hooded Warbler

(Includes at end: Cognitive Rethinking for Christians Who Have Exited an Armstrong Group)


    • Biochemical Approach
    • Counseling Approach – for feelings of sadness or irritability that won’t go away


    • Loss of interest or pleasure in activities you used to enjoy hobbies
    • A change in weight or appetite
    • Sleep disturbances, such as trouble falling asleep, waking up too early or oversleeping
    • Feelings of guilt, lack of self-worth or helplessness
    • Decreased ability to concentrate
    • Fatigue or loss of energy
    • Restless or slowed activity noticed by other people
    • Thoughts about life not being worthwhile, or about suicide or death


    1. Your moods (depression, anxiousness, fearfulness, feelings of guilt) are created by your “cognition” or thoughts.
    2. When you are feeing depressed, anxious, your thoughts are dominated by a pervasive negativity. And these negative thoughts you have seem more and more to be reality to you.
    3. The negative thoughts, which cause the emotional turmoil, nearly always contain gross distortions; they are twisted, are irrational.


    1. It is a dire necessity to be loved and approved of.
    2. I should be thoroughly competent, adequate and achieving in all possible respects.
    3. Some people are bad, wicked or vile and should (or must be) punished.
    4. If things do not go (or stay) the way I very much want them to, it would be awful, catastrophic or terrible!
    5. Unhappiness is externally caused and I cannot control it (unless I control the other person).
    6. One should remain upset or worried if faced with a dangerous or fearsome reality.
    7. It is easier to avoid responsibility and difficulties than to face them.
    8. I have a right to be dependent and people (or someone) should be strong enough to rely on (or take care of me).
    9. My early childhood experiences must continue to control me and determine my emotions and behavior!
    10. I should become upset over my and other people’s problems or behavior.
    11. There is invariably one right, precise, and perfect solution and it would be terrible or catastrophic if this perfect solution is not found.
    12. The world (and especially other people) should be fair and justice(or mercy) must triumph.


    1. Stimuli: World of experiences affecting all sensory modes
    2. Brain processing: You interpret the events with a series of evaluation (+ – 0) that affect your thoughts (internal dialogue)
    3. Moods: Your feelings are created by our thoughts and not the actual events. Your brain gives a meaning to all experiences before an emotional response is triggered.

THOUGHT REFORM THOUGHTS (Six Major Cognitive Distortions)

  1. ALL OR NOTHING THINKING (Tendency to evaluate your personal qualities or life in extreme, black-or-white categories. It’s seeing life in boxes of absolutes.)
    • “I’ll never be able to find another group of people to care about me like [name the group] did.”
    • “My life is a total mess. I’ve screwed everything up.”
    • No one really loves me. I’ll be left alone forever with no one with which to share a future.”
    • No one understands me or cares how I feel about things.”
    • “I’ll never  be able to fit into this world system. I just don’t belong.”
    • “I’m always making stupid choices in life. I let myself be deceived and exploited. I’m a total failure.”
    • “I’m forever ruined because my parents raised me in a cult.”
  2. OVER GENERALIZATION (Occurs when you expect uniform “bad luck” because of 1 or 2 bad experiences. You assume that once something has happened to you, it will continue to occur over and over again.)
    • “I’ve lost all my close friends that were in the group. I know I’ll never find any close friends like that again”
    • “My dad ‘used’ me; the deceptive leader ‘used’ me. I can’t trust anyone anymore.”
    • John (or Julie) broke up with me. I’ll never be able to have a loving relationship with anyone again. I’m gonna be miserable and lonely the rest of my 1ife.”
    • Mind Reading: (You assume that others or God look down on you without checking the validity of the assumption.)
      • “God must really be ashamed of me for messing up. I know he’ll never be close to me anymore.”
      • “My dad (or mom) probably thinks I’m a total jerk for falling for this group. They’ll never think much of me or my judgment again.”
    • Fortune Teller Error: (You look into the future and only see disaster.)
      • “My future is hopeless. I’ve messed it up royally, how can it get better?”
      • “Without a group to belong to, I’m doomed to live a life that doesn’t fit in anywhere.”
  4. EMOTIONAL REASONING (Your emotions seem to be evidence for the thought.)
    • “I’ve lost all my close friends that were in the group. I know I’ll never find any close friends like that again”
    • “My dad ‘used’ me; the deceptive leader ‘used’ me. I can’t trust anyone anymore.”
    • John (or Julie) broke up with me. I’ll never be able to have a loving relationship with anyone again. I’m gonna be miserable and lonely the rest of my 1ife.”
  5. SHOULD STATEMENTS (It is imposing thinking that makes you feel guilty about something without ever helping you to do something about it.)
    • “I should have meditated longer, then I’d have more peace in my life.”
    • I should have prayed more about this relationship, then it would have worked out better.”
    • “I should have prayed more about this relationship, then it would have worked out better.”
    • “I should lose weight. I’m too fat. I should be more disciplined about this thing. I should work hard at sticking to this diet.”
    • “If I work hard at something, I should get it, or people shouldn’t have treated me that way. I wouldn’t have treated anyone that way.”
  6. MENTAL FILTER (Is when you seize a negative fragment of a situation and dwell on it; it’s like wearing a special lens that filters out everything positive. You soon conclude everything is negative.)
    • The whole cult/cultic experience was a waste. I’ve lost eighteen years of my life for nothing.
    • People are basically cruel and insensitive. My leader was no different than anyone else. Life is a crock.”


    1. Identify automatic, irrational thought.
    2. Name the cognitive distortion.
    3. Challenge the thought, rationally.


    1. Stops cliché thinking/responding.
    2. Retrains cognitive channel vs. subconscious modes of stress reduction.

NOTE: It has been recommended that the reader take a sheet of paper and divide it into the following four columns and then challenge your own irrational thoughts (cognitive distortions) and replace them with rational (cognitive) re-thinking.

JanuaryI feel so guilty.Emotional ReasoningAnyone can be deceived.

If I had all the facts ahead of time I wouldn't have joined.


Would my feeling or acting this way be:

    1. Thinking objectively about the actual facts and considering real probabilities?
    2. Life preserving?
    3. Likely to get me what I want? Long term goal producing?
    4. Likely to let me feel the way I want to feel?
    5. Likely to get me into or keep me out of trouble?

These criteria are rational for you so long as you prefer life to death and happiness to pain.


    1. You recognize what the belief is and that you can change it.
    2. You stop acting or thinking on the basis of the old belief.
    3. You substitute a new, rational, and more personally meaningful belief for the old one.
    4. You act  in light of the new belief.
    5. You continue to behave in the rational new way, even though it feels strange to act this new way. That will cause the new belief to become real and part of your “natural” behavior (if you persist).

~Adapted from an article by Barbara Martin, M.A.


Emerald Swallowtail
Emerald Swallowtail

Cognitive Rethinking for Christians Who Have Exited an Armstrong Group:

The following has proved helpful for Christians who have exited any of the abusive, authoritarian, WCG offshoots that follow Herbert W. Armstrong’s teachings and are having anxiety attacks, or triggers, due to fear programming in regard to the leader’s twisting of the Bible for purposes of control and exploitation. These suggestions are best utilized in conjunction with a knowledgeable, supporting, safe person such as a professional Christian therapist or counselor who utilizes the cognitive approach and also understands the effects of trauma and mind control.

Therefore, if you find any of this difficult, or impossible to implement in your situation, and/or your symptoms are increasing, don’t hesitate to seek qualified professional help from someone who understands trauma.

Fear and Anxiety:

Anxiety is “fear-driven.” Fears are to the depth that we are afraid they will destroy us. It might be tied in with the fear of death, fear of rejection, or fear of abandonment.

In order to lessen anxiety attacks, we can try and get in touch with the fears, or triggers, by asking questions out loud during the attack. For instance, whenever you have a fearful or accusing thought come into your mind, ask yourself, “Am I telling myself that? Or is someone else telling me that?” While it may take awhile to get in touch with what is causing the fear, we address our fears (what we are afraid of) the best with the facts; i.e., the truth.

What am I Afraid of?

Cognitive Distortions:

  • “I am afraid of being in the Great Tribulation,” “I’m afraid I’m going to die,” “I’m afraid I won’t gain eternal life,” “I’m afraid God will punish me,” “I’m afraid God will abandon me,” etc.

Cognitive Rethinking: (i.e., confronting the lie with the truth of the situation)

  • “Christ has promised to be with me always and that He will never leave me.” “He has promised He will help me through any and all circumstances.” He has promised to keep me from the hour of temptation (Great Tribulation).” “Jesus says no one can take me out of His hand.” “Nothing can separate me from His love.” “He took all my punishment on the cross.” “My eternal salvation is not contingent on my works; it’s based on His grace alone.”

By asking yourself what you are afraid of and then confronting the fears with the facts (the truth), you are engaging in what is called cognitive re-thinking, which was talked about in the beginning of this article. Once you ask questions, it starts to make you think, and once you realize that it’s nothing more than an unfounded fear, and that God’s perfect love casts out fear, you can begin to make progress. Even though recovery can be a long process, this is a step in the right direction.

“For God hath not given us a spirit of fear; but of power, and of love, and of a sound mind” (II Timothy 1:7).

Note: If you are having panic attacks, read: How to Walk Yourself Through a Panic Attack. (This also links to how to do diaphragmatic breathing.)

Triggering Situations:

Oftentimes a trigger will set off anxiety. For instance, a certain person, in a particular place or activity, may come across to you as a minister or someone else from your former group, and you suddenly find yourself filled with guilt, fear, anger, or that you have failed Christ because you are not as good as so and so.”

Cognitive Rethinking:

  • “Christ accepts me when I fail.” “I don’t have to perform for God.” “I am complete in Christ; He loves me.” “Why do I need others to affirm me?”

Also read the statements in: Because God Loves Me.

It takes time to get over the impact of certain people’s unthinking comments. (Read: Amazing Words That Have Been Said to Exiters). But it will help to say words such as the above (you can think of others), reminding yourself of the truth of the Word of God and that you are no longer being controlled by the leader or the group. The truth replaces the lies we’ve been fed.

Writing about your thoughts and feelings in a personal journal (and/or emailing them to an accepting, supporting and safe friend) helps to process painful thoughts, as it helps get them out of your head and down on paper where you can begin to make sense of them.

Be sure and read: Where Do the Feelings Go? (includes a section on “How Do I Go About Writing and What Do I Write About?”) You may also want to write poetry or draw pictures (whatever helps you).


Guilt is something that almost all survivors of religious abuse have. You may also have been made to feel guilty when you were young, and then the exploitive group capitalized on that and made you feel even more guilty.

Cognitive Rethinking:

  • “Jesus took all of my guilt and sins upon Himself when He offered Himself as a sacrifice.” “He became a curse for me on Calvary, and I am not under any condemnation anymore. He accepts and loves me completely.”

Also read: An End to Guilt

It’s normal to take things intensely when one has exited an abusive group but with support survivors of Armstrongism can recover from the spiritual abuse they have suffered. If you try to go it alone, it will take much longer to recover. Often it takes the outside intervention of a knowledgeable, caring Christian therapist who understands abusive and controlling churches in order to make these spiritual truths become a part of you, but each year you will be able to look back and see the improvement in yourself. Also read about Cognitive Dissonance in OIU #4, Pt. 2 and how it was used in Herbert W. Armstrong’s Worldwide Church of God and in its authoritarian offshoots.

By D. M. Williams
Exit & Support Network™
March 27, 2012

Related Articles:

What Were the Lies and What Is the Truth? (Replacing HWA’s fear-based statements with the truth from the Word of God.)

How Do I Receive Eternal Life?

Recommended Material:

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

Prayers for Freedom From Spiritual Strongholds

On Our Links:

Trauma and PTSD (resources)

Dialectical Behavior Therapy:
This kind of therapy helps survivors to use tools to control moods that can go out of control very rapidly.

Spiritual Healing (resources)

Note: If you are having panic attacks, read: How to Walk Yourself Through a Panic Attack. (This also links to how to do diaphragmatic breathing.)


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