So … you have just left a high-control group. Perhaps you are now being ostracized by friends and family still in the group, and are therefore, feeling quite lost and alone. It is a difficult time of disequilibrium, despair, confusion, loneliness and grief. Where to turn? What to do?
One very simple thing you can do immediately is to immerse yourself in good books that will affirm your decision to leave the controls, coercion and exploitation. Reading books by people who survived and left the same extremist group or controlling situation can be very affirming. It helps to read about someone from the same totalistic group, who came to the same conclusions as you and then made their way out. Reading how they executed their leave, and how they coped once out, can help normalize what you are experiencing and offer hope. You can easily do a search on Amazon to find books about specific groups or situations, or you can peruse the shelves of your local library or bookstore. [We have included the Amazon links in the titles ~ed.]
If you are looking for books that can help you realign yourself to a new free life and help you heal from the trauma of being deceived, exploited, manipulated, controlled, repressed, and even cast aside once you decide you must opt for freedom of mind and action, here are a few reading suggestions that I recommend (in no particular order):
When Things Fall Apart: Heart Advice for Difficult Times, Pema Chodron. This is one of Pema Chodron’s many books that help anyone experiencing difficult times. She gently explains how true healing comes from opening to our pain, as would a gentle, caring mother, rather than stoically rejecting and ignoring it. Pema’s own story reveals that she is intimately acquainted with the pain of rejection and aloneness and how with loving, present moment awareness she made the most difficult of times the ones that taught her how to live in peace and with joy. This book can truly be a balm to a hurting heart. Check out her many other titles too – you may find one that speaks to you and your unique circumstance.
Broken Open: How Difficult Times can Help Us Grow, Elizabeth Lesser. With many examples from her own life, Elizabeth Lesser demonstrates how instead of being broken and defeated by challenging times, we can make the choice to use setbacks as tipping points to help us open, grow, heal and transform. She shows us how to become comfortable with uncertainty, how to embrace the grieving process as we move through loss, how to come to terms with our inevitable errors and mistakes, and how to reawaken our broken heart to the myriad of resources that the universe provides.
Legacy of the Heart: The Spiritual Advantages of a Painful Childhood, Wayne Muller. This book is not new, but it is a time-tested healing classic. Regardless the exact nature of the trauma you may be experiencing Wayne Muller will gently take you on a healing journey to discover how you can transform your wounds into creativity, acceptance and meaning. Each chapter demonstrates how to turn a wound into its opposite – pain into forgiveness, fear into faith, scarcity into abundance, drama into simplicity, busyness into stillness, isolation into intimacy, disappointment into nonattachment, obligation into loving-kindness, etc. Throughout my practice as a psychotherapist, I had five of these books in my office to lend out to clients. Clients returned them reluctantly – coming to find such solace and inspiration in the book’s pages. One of my favorite quotes from Muller is found in his introduction to the book: “You are not broken; … suffering is not a mortal wound, and it did not irrevocably shape your destiny. You need not remove, destroy, or tear anything out of yourself in order to build something new. Your challenge is not to keep trying to repair what was damaged; your practice instead is to reawaken what is already wise, strong and whole within you, to cultivate those qualities of heart and spirit that are available to you in this very moment.
“Your life is not a problem to be solved by a gift to be opened. Just as the pain, hurt, and suffering that came to you … were powerfully real, so is the tangible resilience of your spirit equally vital and alive. This book will help you reawaken that inner strength and discover a reliable sense of safety, belonging, and peace.”
The Untethered Soul: The Journey Beyond Yourself. Michael A. Singer. While this is a book by a spiritual teacher, it is not religious. Singer shows us how to expand our perspective in order to be truly free and “untethered”. He demonstrates the power of moving beyond painful thoughts and memories to developing simple present moment awareness and all the power of consciousness that such a simple shift in perspective can bring. If you left a group in order to be “untethered”, the next step is to learn how to move beyond the limited ego self, its preoccupations, its resistance and all the complications and pain the habitual ego-driven life can produce.
The Power of Now: A Guide to Spiritual Enlightenment. Eckhart Tolle. While the title of this book might sound like a ‘religious’ one, it is not. This book is a primer for how to live an awakened, skillful life. Tolle shows you how to use the experience of “now” to find peace, how to relinquish negativity, how to transform suffering into peace, the power of the breath, and the miracle of simple mindful living. When we have left behind all the ideology and formulas of a high-control group, we need a simple guide on how to rediscover the inner purpose of our true self after living in deception and delusion dictated by the group.
Rewire Your Brain: Think Your Way to a Better Life. John B. Arden. When we have been subjected to thought control, been isolated and even forbidden from accessing outside information, our brains become rewired to conform to such undue influence. This book brings you the latest research in neuroscience and psychology called “neuroplasticity”. You will learn simple ways that you can rewire your brain to move away from all the coercive controls, fears and phobias. You will learn how to reactivate the parts of your brain that have been under-activated due to mind-control and how to calm the areas of the mind that have been hyper-activated by instilled fears and phobias. Take back your mind and your life by applying the simple techniques offered by Arden.
The True Believer: Thoughts on the Nature of Mass Movements. Eric Hoffer. If you feel the need to understand how easily intelligent, competent people can become willing followers of mass movements (think ISIS, Nazis, Scientology, etc.) this classic, best-selling book is for you. Hoffer shows how mass movements fulfil the needs of individuals and how easy it is to be duped into becoming a loyal follower. If you want to understand how you could possibly have joined or stayed in a high-control group that stole your life, read Hoffer’s classic. Don’t be deterred by the fact that it was written in 1951. It applies to all mass movements or high-control groups today, as much as it did then.
The Challenge to Heal: A Recovery Guide to Help Reclaim Your Life After Leaving Any High-Control Group. Bonnie Zieman. I would be remiss to leave out the latest book (mine!) on how to recover from the trauma of psychological oppression that results from being caught in any high-control group. This book normalizes the after-effects experienced when one leaves a situation of undue influence, exploitation and coercion. It also explains how to deal with specific symptoms such as learned helplessness, loneliness, loss, anger, grief, guilt, self-recriminations and suicidal ideation. There are chapters to help you cope with ostracism, belonging, selecting a therapist, and forgiveness, etc.This book will serve as an insightful companion through your journey to recovery after escaping the clutches of a high-control group.
You can learn more about Bonnie Zieman, M.Ed., and her work on her website bonniezieman.com.
What do you think about this article? Have you read any of Bonnie’s books? Do you have a book about recovery that you’d like to recommend? We’d love to hear from you!