by Jon Atack
Your Freedom From an Abusive Group or Partner
Recovery strategies include understanding the methods of manipulation, which not only speeds recovery, but helps to guard against future manipulation. It is important to question the beliefs instilled by the cult or predator, and dismiss anything false or dangerous.
Ensure Your Safety
The first step to recovery is ensuring your safety from an abusive group or partner. It may be necessary to alert the police to your situation, especially if your group or partner has a history of physical coercion. While you are recovering, you should block any contact from anyone who is abusive.
Avoid Judgmental People
The support of family and friends is very helpful to recovery, but avoid judgmental people at this point: people who want to tell you what to think or how to behave, or want to explain why you were abused. You are regaining sovereignty over yourself, and it is important to make your own rules.
Take Care of Yourself
Once you have a safe place to live, have a physical check-up with a medical doctor and visit a dentist and an optician, if you need to.
Sleep deprivation is a typical form of abusive control. It clouds judgment and makes us more compliant and submissive.
In the first days and weeks, you may need extra sleep – this is perfectly normal while recovering. Aim for between seven and nine hours sleep, once you have settled down.
A comfortable sleep environment is essential. Sleep should be uninterrupted – switch off any devices at least an hour before your bedtime. Push aside anxious thoughts by deciding to consider them when you are fully awake, and relax yourself by thinking about pleasures yet to come.
Make sure that you eat properly. Many groups force cheap, high-carbohydrate diets, laced with sugar, on their followers. It is important to have the right balance of carbohydrates, protein and fats.
It is also important to create a gentle exercise program. Choose an activity that you like – swimming, cycling, and walking are all good, but if you like to play tennis, badminton, squash or soccer, find a sports club and sign up. If nothing else, take a short walk each day.
Start to Reach Out
Contact with other people is essential to successful recovery strategies. It helps to have even the lightest social contact. Solitude can lead to too much self-focus, which can lead to depression and self-doubt.
Make contact with others who have recovered from similar situations to your own. If possible, meet up in person, but at first you might want to create an anonymous identity and search the Internet for survivor groups.
Be careful not to join a group that is steered by angry victims – often such people are stuck in their own recovery, and will taunt and humiliate newcomers, just as their own predatory partner or leader did.
If you are attacked on an Internet forum, withdraw without comment. Discussion is the way to resolve difficulties, not argument. You may want to return to the critic later, once you feel strong enough to counter aggressive behavior, but in the initial stages of recovery, look after yourself, just as you would when recovering from an illness. Keep the stress levels as low as possible for a while.
Address Your Involvement
Take time to think about your involvement with the group or predator, but take an equal amount of time away from the subject. You may feel guilty for doing anything simply because it pleases you, but it is a very good idea to list your pleasures and indulge some of them. Your self-determination has been taken from you: it’s time to take it back! You can go to a movie, or buy yourself a box of chocolates, if you feel like it. You no longer have to police yourself to conform to the arbitrary restrictions that have been imposed upon you. There is no longer any pressure for you to confess or shame yourself.
Consider the teachings or beliefs of the group or partner: the rules you had to live by. It is crucial to ‘unfreeze’ these rules by thinking them through. You may decide that some of the rules are sensible – you have the right to choose which to reject, and which to maintain.
Talk about these rules and beliefs with others who have suffered, but also with people who have had no similar experiences. It is important to know that you are allowed to express your opinion, and that by expressing it, you learn about yourself and grow.
Understand the Methods of Manipulation
Understanding the methods of manipulation not only speeds recovery, but helps to guard against future manipulation. It is important to question the beliefs instilled by the cult or predator, and dismiss anything false or dangerous.
Lalich and Tobias’s Take Back Your Life is an excellent recovery manual. If you want to know more about the general subject of cult involvement, we recommend the new edition of Steven Hassan’s Combating Cult Mind Control. Jon Atack’s Opening Minds gives an overview of manipulation in all kinds of relationships and the Open Minds website hosts a great deal of information.
If you feel overwhelmed, find a good counselor. For our advice, click here.
Don’t be worried if you “float” back into the shame, fear and disgust induced by the abusive group or partner: with time, you will come to be stronger than you ever were, and these “floating” incidents will diminish.
As Hoyt Richards says, surviving a cultic experience is a badge of honor. We become stronger and more knowledgeable as a result, and we can also help the broader society to avoid the pitfalls of toxic relationships. Survivors become thrivers!