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Open Minds On Air 7 – Communication or Miscommunication?

This month, Christian Szurko of the Dialog Centre returns, joining Jon and Pearse in this informative, witty, and often hilarious discussion. They start with the idea of how communication is used – or, rather, misused – as a means of control in recruitment and indoctrination, and the impact this has in the recovery of those leaving authoritarian relationships. They move on to explore how the misuse of communication plays out in groups such as cults and gangs, as well as in everyday relationships. They also take a hard look at how our education system can act as the foundation for this type of control, and discuss how redefining words and phrases has long been used by authoritarian groups to exert control.

If you wish to download as an Mp3, use this link.

What do you think about this interview? Do you agree? Do you have a story about a misuse of communication that you’d like to share? We’d love to hear from you! 

Finding Value in Isolation and Solitude When Shunned

For today’s post, we present an excerpt from SHUNNED: A Survival Guide by Bonnie Zieman, M.Ed.

 When being shunned it is only normal to wonder how you can survive being cut off, alone, and lonely – and how you can bring an end to this enforced aloneness. While your goal during the distress of being shunned is to heal from the abuse and make new connections, in your pain you may forget that periods of being alone and having nothing to do can have tremendous value.

Being alone is an opportunity to deepen your connection to self and to learn to feel at home in your own company. From this perspective, periods of solitude offer an opportunity to develop, grow, and create a more truthful, meaningful life for oneself.

Imposed solitude feels very different than periods of chosen solitude. While you may be experiencing a time of imposed solitude due to being shunned, you can change your relationship to this solitude by deciding to embrace the solitude and turn it to your advantage. Making this slight adjustment in how you view the solitude will change how being alone affects you. Recognize that the solitude is temporary and that you can choose to use it to deepen your connection with the most important relationship you will ever have – the relationship with yourself. Sometimes we just need to stop, be still, be alone, and do nothing, to allow the next part of our life to emerge.

Charles Eisenstein suggests that periods of solitude, periods when we have left the known and stand on the cusp of the unknown, allow us to develop a level of comfort in “the art of doing nothing”:

Doing nothing … is specific to the time when a story is ending and we enter the space between stories… It means freedom from reflexive doing: acting when it is time to act, not acting when it is not time to act. Action is thus aligned with the natural movement of things in service to that which wants to be born.”

Another term for this sacred, solitary, “in-between” state is “liminal space”. The word “liminal” comes from the Latin word “limin” which means “threshold”. When you are in liminal space, you are on the threshold of leaving “what was” and simultaneously on the verge of a new beginning which you have yet to enter – like standing on the threshold of a door – leaving one space and about to enter another. Because liminal space is neither here nor there – because it is on the threshold or on the cusp – it is full of possibility – and some call it sacred space.

If you were cast out of a community and have not yet stepped into your new life – you are standing in sacred liminal space. Liminal space is where you will transition from the old way of life to the new – from the old story that defined you to the new story you are about to create. You are on the threshold of really getting to know your authentic self and creating a life of your choosing. Don’t discount the importance of this.

Psychoanalytic political theorist at Medaille College, Matthew Bowker[1] says we often use our membership in groups to “define ourselves … and use others to fill out our identities”. He says that periods of selected solitude offer the opportunity and space to allow who we are, what we value, and how we want to live our life, to finally be born. What is more sacred than the birth of the new you?

Those of us who are being shunned by controlling groups will understand the need to rebirth, redefine, and reclaim our true self or authentic identity, apart from the group. This is best done when not bombarded or overwhelmed by the din of talking heads, idle inner chatter, or persistent striving.

Bowker also tells us the ability to be alone is “self-strengthening”. He continues:

“You have to have that capacity: the ability to know that you’re gonna survive, that you’re gonna be okay if you’re not supported by this group … Put another way, a person who can find a rich self-experience in a solitary state is far less likely to feel lonely when alone.”

There are psychological, emotional, spiritual, and creative benefits when one part of our story ends and we find we have a period of solitude and an opportunity to just do nothing. If, due to being cut off from family and friends, you now have to reorganize your life – time alone with nothing to do will be required. Adjust your perspective. Instead of viewing alone time as a punishment, see it for the gift it is!

You now have the opportunity to design and create a life and identity without the interference of the group. Decide which parts of the old you and the old story you value and want to keep, which parts were created as an accommodation to the group, and what qualities, values, principles, relationships, and goals you choose to develop and embrace now. Now, more than ever, we need our solitude. Being alone gives us the power to regulate and adjust our lives. It can teach us fortitude and the ability to satisfy our own needs. A restorer of energy, the stillness of alone experiences provides us with much-needed rest. It brings forth our longing to explore, our curiosity about the unknown, our will to be an individual, our hopes for freedom. Alone time is fuel for life.”  – Dr. Ester Buchholz

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? Do you have a story about shunning and solitude that you’d like to share? We’d love to hear from you! And check out Bonnie’s other books. She has written several books related to recovery after leaving coercive groups, including:





Revitalizing the Desire to Help

The desire to help is a significant motivation for most members of authoritarian cult groups. They may want to save people so they can go to heaven, or create a heaven on earth; they may sincerely believe they can make others rich, healthy or wise – but their intention is genuine. The leaders may be cynical predators, but the followers are usually motivated to help.

After leaving an authoritarian group, it is a let-down to find that not only are the leadership’s intentions corrupt, but that you are now in a world that seems to lack high purpose or ideals. You may have spent years trying to lead people to a better life, only to find that your efforts were in vain.

Some former members become demotivated. They can even suffer from chronic fatigue disorder, depression, or other mental and physical maladies resulting from trauma; a lack of clear purpose in life only makes the problem worse.

The best way to overcome these difficulties is to find motivation again: it is vital to find a genuinely good cause, something you feel passionate about. There is a unique feeling of satisfaction in helping others overcome – or even avoid – the trauma you experienced.

If you want to protect others from the lures of human predators, and save them from the disappointments you have suffered, the Open Minds Foundation may be the right cause for you.

At Open Minds, we offer preventative medicine to proof people against destructive groups and relationships. As the old saying goes, we believe that an ounce of prevention is worth a pound of cure. You can help by tweeting about us, by linking us to your Facebook page, or by making a monthly donation. We’re also happy to receive blog posts and ideas to improve our website or our outreach program.

So, we may not usher in the Kingdom of Heaven or ‘Clear the planet’, but we can help the next generation to be far less susceptible to manipulation, and that is a worthy cause indeed!

What do you think about this article? Do you agree? Have you read Jon’s new book? Do you have a story about the desire to help that you’d like to share? Would you like to help Open Minds help others? We’d love to hear from you! 

ICSA Conference in Tennessee – October 2017

Our friend Barbara Anderson, who recently posted this thought-provoking article on Spiritual Abuse, will be participating in an exciting conference at Middle Tennessee State University on Saturday, October the 14th, from 9am to 4:30 pm.

This conference, entitled: “Understanding Abusive Spiritual Systems and Relationships”, will explore spiritual abuse and counseling interventions for clinicians working with those who have experienced abusive spiritual systems and relationships, and their loved ones.

Attendees will be able to identify clinically relevant effects of spiritual abuse, describe three models of clinical intervention with this population, utilize effective skills for assessing spiritual abuse through guided table discussions, and identify the unique clinical needs of children raised in spiritually abusive groups.

For further details, please visit ICSA’s conference page.


ICSA Conference in Los Angeles – October 2017

Our friend Dr. Donnie Whitsett and our Advisory Board member Rachel Bernstein will be among the presenters at an informative workshop in Los Angeles on Saturday, October the 21st, from 9am to 4:30 pm, at the Atkins Research Center.

The worksop is open to family members, former members of cultic situations (groups and one-on-ones), and others interested in this topic; the day will include presentations and group discussions on topics such as the following:

  • Neurobiology of trauma
  • Dealing with loss
  • Common issues in recovery
  • Unique challenges of people born and/or raised in cultic groups
  • One-on-one relationships
  • Challenges of reintegration for ex-members and families
  • Is therapy important?
  • Importance of support groups

For further details, please visit ICSA’s conference page.

Identity – Can You Tell Me Who I am? – Gillie Jenkinson to speak in London

Our Advisory Board member Gillie Jenkinson will be speaking at the 2017 BACP Private Practice Conference in London, on Saturday, September 23rd. The conference, “Identity – Can You Tell Me Who I am?”, will explore a range of issues, including sexuality, gender, culture, bereavement and loss, abuse, and physical and mental ability, focusing on the challenges mental health practitioners face helping their patients. Gillie will be joined by Mary Louise Russell, and together they will address the specific problems facing patients who are exiting high-control organizations, as they re-discover (or, for “born-ins”, create) their own authentic identity.

For more information, visit the conference web-page.

Recovery from Coercive-Control Abuse Requires an Open Mind

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.

pssst illioOne 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:

  1. Challenge automatic thoughts that arrive unbidden and originate with the group
  2. Re-consider erroneous beliefs about yourself, instilled by the group, that cause you to doubt yourself for daring to leave the group
  3. Challenge fears instilled in the group that insinuate you are now doomed or damned
  4. Re-examine suggestions that you are incapable of functioning on your own, outside of the closed, seemingly protective group
  5. Reconsider any closed stance developed about psychology and psychotherapy
  6. Challenge the suggestions you will never find such a family outside of the group
  7. Challenge fears that you cannot cope with being disconnected from the group or ostracized by it
  8. Re-examine the belief that everyone outside of the group is evil, immoral, a bad influence, out to hurt or corrupt you
  9. Reconsider the cult-sourced distrust of the outside world and its many resources
  10. Challenge beliefs that you cannot move past feelings of being a victim of the group
  11. Challenge beliefs that only that group has “the truth” or knows “the way
  12. Reconsider any cult-sourced thoughts telling you that you cannot cope with all the learning and changes required to move forward with your life
  13. Challenge belief you will never be free of the after-effects of this episode of your life
  14. Challenge any vestiges of fear of reading new materials, doing your own research, entertaining alternative views
  15. Re-examine patterns learned in the group of excluding and isolating yourself
  16. Re-consider the thinking that says you have lost too much time and cannot rebuild your life
  17. Challenge fears that you will never recover from what you experienced in the group
  18. Re-examine and re-consider long-standing stories you have constructed about your life, your possibilities, your limitations, your past
  19. Challenge the idea that there must be something ‘wrong’ with a person who joined a high-control group or cult
  20. 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.

an open mind

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:

Oliver Wendell Holmes quoteOpen … 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! 

This Book Could Save A Life

A Review of Bonnie Zieman’s Cracking the Cult Code for Therapists: What Every Cult Victim Wants Their Therapist to Know

If, twenty years ago, my sister and her therapist had read Cracking the Cult Code, she could very well be alive today. Had I read this book in 1992, I might have been able to guide my sister Marilyn in her recovery process. So this is much more than a must-read book for mental health counselors: reading this book could save lives.

My sister and I were raised as Jehovah’s Witnesses. While I broke away from the cult when I was twenty, Marilyn was not as fortunate. She “woke up” in her early forties, but she was unaware of the baggage—induced phobias, guilt and shame, learned helplessness, etc.—that she carried.

She paid the ultimate price for it, when she was murdered in 1998, by her third abusive husband. I believe it happened because, due to her cult indoctrination, Marilyn was not ready to live in a world outside of the cult that was foreign and frightening to her.

Unfortunately, even today most mental-health counselors do not fully understand the psychological issues in play for people leaving a cult-like group, particularly “born-ins” like Marilyn and me. I believe this book will help to change that.

As Bonnie states in her book: “The problem is—and the reason for this book—there are very few therapist who really understand the dynamics and dangers of cults, and the debilitating after-effects of having been caught up in one.”

I am certain that therapists and friends/family of ex-cult members will especially like Bonnie Zieman’s focus throughout the book: what therapists will be treating, and not how they will treat it. Cults are best identified by their behaviors, such as repression, coercive controls, rigid schedules and petty rules, rather than their beliefs.

cracking the cult code coverI am also pretty sure that Marilyn would have posted on her refrigerator this quote from Madeleine Tobias, one of many thought-provoking quotes found in Bonnie’s book: “More often than not, leaving a cult environment requires an adjustment period, not only to reintegrate into ‘normal’ society, but also to put the pieces of yourself back together in a way that makes sense to you.

“When you first leave a cult situation, you may not recognize yourself. You may not know how to identify the problems you are about to face. You may not have the slightest idea who you want to be. The question we often ask children, ‘What do you want to be when you grow up?’ suddenly takes on a new meaning for adult ex-cult members.”

If Marilyn had read this book, she would have finally understood that people who leave cults have been traumatized by deception, thought-control and betrayal. That once she was out, it might be a long journey, and she’d need help from a therapist who had cracked the cult code. Only then, at least for Marilyn, could she have reclaimed her suppressed identity and built a new self-directed life.

What do you think about this article? Do you agree? Have you read Bonnie’s book? Do you have a story about finding the right therapist that you’d like to share? We’d love to hear from you! 

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

Editor's Note: This entry is part 4 of 4 in the series Healing Perspectives

Last Best Cure - Emotions Manifesting As Physical Ailments

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)and 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.”

unique perspectives - childhood disruptedStress, 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.Triumph - Emotions Manifesting As Physical Ailments

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. 

“…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 af
fected 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.

(This article was adapted from Chapter 16 in “The Challenge to Heal: A Recovery Guide to help reclaim your life after leaving any high-control group”.)

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 emotions after recovery from a high-pressure group manifesting as physical ailments that you’d like to share? We’d love to hear from you! 

How I Recovered from the Jehovah’s Witnesses by Susan Gaskin

Our friend, the vivacious and witty YouTuber Susan Gaskin, gives us some valuable tips on recovery from high-control groups, based on her personal experiences leaving the Jehovah’s Witnesses culture of undue influence. She also recommends some of our favorite books on recovery: Steve Hassan’s “Combating Cult Mind Control,” and Bonnie Zieman’s “Exiting the JW cult.”

What do you think about this video? Do you have a story about recovery that you’d like to share? We’d love to hear from you! 

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