Nurturing an open mind is a means to inoculate people against undue influence and exploitation. However, people who have recently exited coercive groups also need to open their minds to new information, to new ways of thinking and being – and to release their minds from constricted worldviews – if they wish to recover.
In exploitative environments, individuals are carefully and persistently manipulated into narrowing their vision – of the world, of people, of good and evil, of life, of themselves. Such narrow perspectives limit vision, understanding and curiosity, and make it easier for the manipulative group to continue to indoctrinate and exploit its recruits.
We leave coercive groups with a mind that has been insidiously closed to new ideas, to other points of view, to learning, etc. The closed, limited, insular experience in the cult-like group can make the recruit feel sheltered and safe.
Emerging from the coercive group after awakening could incite one to ‘close down’ even more, to prevent further intrusions, interference, control, and manipulation. This self-protective impulse, however, will not help with recovery from the after-effects of being used and abused.
The newly-free ex-member of a high-control group needs to make a concerted effort to loosen and discard the constraints on their mind and their thinking. There is a wealth of information that has been denied them and there is much to learn to reclaim the right to freedom of thought and action.
One way to reclaim their mind and allow it to open is to challenge (question, re-examine and reconsider) specific beliefs and patterns of thinking acquired in the group. When automatic beliefs are challenged, it is like opening a curtain and letting in the light. With the fresh perspective that light allows, one may very well decide that they want to keep a certain belief – but will do so knowing that it was after careful consideration of other views. They will have applied their own ‘light’, perspective, critical thinking, judgment, and made their own choice.
Here are some things you may want to re-examine and reconsider in order to open your mind after leaving a high-control group:
- Challenge automatic thoughts that arrive unbidden and originate with the group
- Re-consider erroneous beliefs about yourself, instilled by the group, that cause you to doubt yourself for daring to leave the group
- Challenge fears instilled in the group that insinuate you are now doomed or damned
- Re-examine suggestions that you are incapable of functioning on your own, outside of the closed, seemingly protective group
- Reconsider any closed stance developed about psychology and psychotherapy
- Challenge the suggestions you will never find such a family outside of the group
- Challenge fears that you cannot cope with being disconnected from the group or ostracized by it
- Re-examine the belief that everyone outside of the group is evil, immoral, a bad influence, out to hurt or corrupt you
- Reconsider the cult-sourced distrust of the outside world and its many resources
- Challenge beliefs that you cannot move past feelings of being a victim of the group
- Challenge beliefs that only that group has “the truth” or knows “the way”
- Reconsider any cult-sourced thoughts telling you that you cannot cope with all the learning and changes required to move forward with your life
- Challenge belief you will never be free of the after-effects of this episode of your life
- Challenge any vestiges of fear of reading new materials, doing your own research, entertaining alternative views
- Re-examine patterns learned in the group of excluding and isolating yourself
- Re-consider the thinking that says you have lost too much time and cannot rebuild your life
- Challenge fears that you will never recover from what you experienced in the group
- Re-examine and re-consider long-standing stories you have constructed about your life, your possibilities, your limitations, your past
- Challenge the idea that there must be something ‘wrong’ with a person who joined a high-control group or cult
- Challenge any beliefs that a full, rewarding, happy life is no longer available to you
Each time you challenge, question or re-consider old, cult-sourced thoughts or patterns of thought, you release a notch on the belt of constrictions that were tightened around you in the group. You open your mind from their imposed constraints and discover you can finally breathe and live freely again.
It is important that you not try to reclaim your identity and rebuild your new, free life based on the constrictions and limitations of the close-minded mentality learned in the group. Open your mind enough to keep what is good, release what is false and what limits you, and make room for new information and fresh inspiration.
After practicing opening to new ideas, perspectives and patterns of thought (decided upon by you), you can then move a step further and open yourself to new ways of doing things, new ways of functioning in the world, and even open yourself to inviting new people into your life. Truly exciting possibilities!
To help develop an open mind, consider using silent affirmations, such as:
“Open … an open, discriminating mind is the best guide to reconstructing my life”, or “Open … it is an open, questioning, critical-thinking mind that is my best friend now”, or construct a phrase you like and use it often! It takes diligent practice to re-open a mind closed by thought-reform, deception, coercion and manipulation.
Instead of living in a narrow limited way, as was required in a manipulative group, open yourself to life and its many wonderful possibilities. Invite yourself to fully explore and enjoy all that is available to you on this glorious planet. Allow yourself to entertain new ideas, new options, and new ways of proceeding – while retaining your right to question, research or reject anything that does not feel right, appropriate, or safe…for you.
The goal is to be open to explore and embrace all that life has to offer – not gullible and accepting of every idea or option put before you. You want to be open and discriminating – able to distinguish and tell the difference between what you desire for yourself and what someone else might want to impose upon you. Open to examine, question and then – based on your own rational assessment – choose that which will enhance your personal growth and recovery.
If you would like to know more about this subject, I suggest reading Harvard professor Ellen J. Langer’s “Mindfulness” – “a book about the psychological and physical costs that we pay because of pervasive mindlessness and, more important, about the benefits of greater control, richer options, and transcended limits that mindfulness makes possible”. Nobel prize winner Daniel Kahneman’s book, “Thinking, Fast and Slow” – a New York Times bestseller that helps us to understand rationality, reason, the way we think and choose, etc., is another highly recommended read.
Editor's Note: While we at OMF value all free expression of opinion, the views expressed by our contributing authors are their own and do not necessarily reflect the opinions of OMF, its board members, or trustees.
What do you think about this article? Do you agree? Have you read Bonnie’s book? Do you have a story about recovery that you’d like to share? We’d love to hear from you!