Today, I would like to cover a topic that is of major concern to me when it comes to those who have been abused. Abuse can come in many forms. It can be emotional abuse, psychological abuse, physical abuse or sexual abuse and exploitation. Whatever the abuse is that happens to us, it creates fear and this fear can stifle a person’s growth. Many times, these fears are “instilled” fears. They are learned over time through the experiences we have had to walk through in life. These instilled fears can also be the by-product of brainwashing/indoctrination. As a result, it produces in people negative traits that follow them wherever they go. It determines reaction. It determines outcomes. Because this issue is so prevalent and difficult to control, I thought I would take a shot at maybe helping others through their fears by telling about mine and how I deal with them. Let me start by naming some fears that many people deal with (this includes me!) who have gone through abuse of any kind:
- Fear of other people
- Fear of being made a fool of
- Fear of being hurt again
- Fear of being called names and labeled
- Fear of being shamed
- Fear of being wrong or making a mistake
- Fear of being attacked physically or publicly (public humiliation)
- Fear of being shunned
- Fear of being slandered or character assassinated
- Fear of government
- Fear of church leaders
- Fear of being threatened
- Fear of not being believed
- This list of fears could go on and on!
First of all, let me say that having fear is normal! It is natural to be fearful. As children, we are afraid of the dark; but then our parents help us through that fear by getting a night light in our room. As we get older and grow through further education, we realize there is nothing to be afraid of in the dark. Also, as children, we have parents that reassure us and nurture us along, helping to guide us through that fear until we are old enough to educate ourselves. But who do we have to help nurture and guide us through our fears as adults? Friends, family and professional counselors.
If you are a Christian reading this, then your answer would be, “You can trust in God! God will not give you more than you can handle. If you really trusted in God, you would not fear.” Sadly, these parroted responses taught to us in church or Sunday school do not eliminate fear. As a matter of fact, all they do is produce more fear, shame, and negative self-talk in someone suffering from fears or PTSD. Fears are REAL in the minds of those suffering from them and, these sufferers are desperately trying to cope and/or find a way to overcome them. None of us WANT to be afraid.
As survivors of religious abuses of varying kinds, we have had our thinking and behavior modified due to indoctrination. Just because we extract ourselves from the abusive organization, doesn’t mean that we leave as a “whole” human being. When I say ‘whole’ I am implying the leaving behind of the mindsets and behavioral patterns we have developed as a result of the indoctrination. When a person leaves an abusive organization or relationship, the mindsets, the fears, and the behavioral patterns all leave with that person. They do not magically disappear! These negative traits are a part of who we are as individuals. At the most inopportune time, they rear their heads in our lives and create untold hardship for us.
How does fear create hardship for us? Let’s look at some ways that it does for me and maybe some of you will relate.
IT PREVENTS FORWARD MOBILITY
Fear stops me in my tracks and prevents or hinders me from moving forward in making decisions that could be beneficial for me. It often prevents me from branching out and experiencing new things; from stepping out into the unknown to SEE what is available to me. Some of these new things could bring much happiness to my life; yet, fear prevents me.
My fears cause me to internalize negative teachings from my indoctrination in the cult into negative PERSONAL characteristics and attach them to my being. In the cult I was taught I was worthless because I was a woman. I was taught that women should not be listened to or believed. As a result of believing I was worthless, that I couldn’t do anything right, it produced other negative feelings.
Anytime I try to do anything good for myself or others, negative self-talk rears its head. My mind seemingly goes into auto-pilot mode and begins to tell me such things as the following:
- You should have answered that question differently. People are going to misunderstand you because you said it the wrong way. See how stupid you are?
- You should have answered that question differently. Because of the way you said it, you may have just hurt this or that person’s feelings. Now look what you’ve done!
- You should have answered that question differently. Now people are going to take what you’ve said and use it humiliate you. They are going to twist your words! See, I told you, you are stupid!
- You should have answered that question differently. Because I didn’t answer it differently, now people think I am a fool. Because I didn’t answer it differently, now I have lost credibility. No one will ever believe me again! See, “THEY” were right. No one should ever believe anything I say!
Here’s the reality. There is a possibility that some or all of these fears could be true. But so what? If someone misunderstands me, I apologize and make it right. If I hurt someone’s feelings, I apologize and make it right. If someone takes what I say and twists it in order to hurt me, SHAME on that person – not me! THAT person is perpetrating evil. I will continue to speak MY truth when asked. I am not perfect. I make many mistakes. I will continue to make mistakes in life as I learn and grow. Where would I be as a person if I did not have mistakes in my past to TEACH me and make me a better person? If I lose credibility, I learn from the mistake and work on getting better. No one is PERFECT. All have sinned. All fall short. Just because we fail or hurt someone does not mean we are worthless, stupid or a bad person – it means we are human! Pick yourself back up and walk!
Surround yourself with “encouragers” to help you pick yourself back up. Encouragers are some of the greatest people you will ever meet. God has put them in our lives to help us through the difficult times. I LOVE encouragers! They are the most valuable to those of us who are hurting. Find an encourager and see the difference it can make.
IT CREATES NEGATIVE SELF-WORTH
Because we genuinely believe we are not good enough, we sabotage our efforts. We blame ourselves anytime anything bad happens! We constantly look within ourselves and reinforce the same negative traits through the same negative self-talk. It becomes a vicious cycle. On the opposite end of the spectrum, it can also lead us to PLACE blame on others in order to shift the spotlight off ourselves. Negative self-worth speaks to us as follows:
- How could anyone love me? Look at what an awful person I am?
- How could anyone love me? Look how I just messed up?
- How could anyone love me? I am used goods!
- How could anyone love me? Look at the mistakes I have made in my life!
- How could anyone love me? I am so ugly.
- How could anyone love me? I can’t do anything right!
This list can go on and on as well. Negative self worth prevents us from seeing how wonderful we are as human beings. It prevents us from being ourselves and enjoying life to its fullest. It will stifle mutually beneficial relationships and hinder or destroy friendships. It will also cause us to second guess everything we say!
Negative self worth can even manifest itself in ways that are repulsive to others! Have you ever come across a person that is boastful? All they do is talk about themselves and all the great things they have done? More than likely, that person suffers from a negative self-worth and acts this way in order to compensate. It never dawns on the individual that he not only comes across as boastful and proud, but he also reeks of self-absorption. Their negative self worth has hindered them from growing; instead, it produced negative fruit that will further harm them. They want to show the world they really are a fantastic person who can do great things. But what it shows others is they are not secure in themselves and who they are as a person.
When this negative self-talk rears its head, tell yourself you don’t believe it! I refuse to believe that I am worthless! I refuse to believe that I can’t do SOMETHING right! I refuse to believe that I cannot correct a mistake if I make one! I will get better! I will be better for ME and others! I will take responsibility for my mistakes and keep moving forward.
IT PRODUCES SILENCE
This has to be the number one trait of fear. It causes us to remain silent. In the face of injustice, our lips are tightly sealed. This is so sad. Because of fear, we enable abuse to further proliferate; allow abusive people to further harm others.
Here’s how my fears silenced me when I was in the cult. None of these are criminal, but they lead to a ‘blindness’ toward emotional abuse, information control and behavior modification.
- There were opinions and lies in the many sermons that were preached. They had underlying meanings aimed at making women look bad. I said nothing to others, only my family, out of fear of being attacked or slandered for “questioning” the leadership. (See my adapted response due to fear? This allowed for these targeted sermons to continue to brainwash the men regarding women!)
- This leader is too controlling. He wants everyone to go to him before making decisions for their family? I remained silent out of fear of confrontation or attack. I decide never to go to the pastor for advice on personal decisions. The pastor knows this and gossips to others about me in order to prevent them from listening to anything I have to say or, associating with me. Now I have only a couple of families as friends. I still remain silent and do not confront the situation. (This pastor will continue to do the same to others because of my silence.)
- This leader is attacking me and my family publicly. I say nothing to anyone in the church. I quietly leave hoping the next church won’t use the pulpit as a whipping post to humiliate and attack people. (This allows for the abuser to keep abusing others the same way!)
- That preacher was accused of child molestation? I won’t talk about it. It can’t possibly be true. No one else better talk about it either and hurt the cause of Christ! The preacher said, “No gossiping allowed!” (Aiding a coverup.)
- Something is not right here. I am not getting myself involved! I don’t want to get hurt. (Another family is destroyed, has no support, and suffers because of my silence.)
Now, let’s look at some fears that I know others deal with that prevent them from stepping forward and reporting criminal abuses:
- I was told not to report it because it was ‘my fault.’
- I was told to let the church handle it. After all, I don’t want to hurt the cause of Christ!
- I will be called a liar.
- I am afraid of anyone else knowing what has happened to me.
- I will have to carry shame for the rest of my life.
- People will think less of me because of the abuse. They will despise me.
- I will be ‘marked.’
- I will be publicly humiliated.
- Everyone will make fun of me.
- I will be harassed.
- They may try to hurt me.
- And on and on we go. . .
The reality is that silence prevents justice, prevents autonomy, reinforces an abusers stronghold, destroys others, and self. Justice is really WORTH the price paid. But most don’t believe that! Speaking up could prevent further abuse. Speaking up shows others that they can speak up too! Speaking up emboldens others and, your courage in doing so may be what makes the difference in bringing about change.
Is there danger in speaking up? In standing up for yourself and your family against abuse? Yes. Don’t let the dangers stop you. It may be the bravest and most selfless thing you have ever done in your life! Standing up for what is right, because it is right, is the greatest character trait of all. Just think of how proud God will be of you! Will we have fears? Yes. Don’t let fear paralyze you. Our silence could mean destruction for someone else. Danger is a part of life. It comes and it goes. Personally, I would rather die for doing what I believe is right than hiding and cowering in fear of others and what they think. I cowered most of my life and I will cower no more. If I am going to make mistakes, I wont run from them! I will face them and allow people to SEE my humanity, my vulnerability, my genuineness. I know that through humility – owning up to my mistakes and working hard to make things right – people will forgive. I pick myself back up and march on.
None of us are perfect! We all will have good and bad days. But when we let fear LEAD us and GUIDE us, we have failed miserably. God is not pleased. ACTION overcomes FEAR. I will continue to do what I am afraid to do. I will continue to speak when I am afraid to speak. I will speak with discretion though, in order to minimize repercussions. I will use gracious words to minimize attack. I will use loving words, because I care about others. I will lift up and edify those that disagree with me, because they are human too. How I respond to the negative could determine whether or not someone who is watching is changed because of me. The same is true for each of you. Will I mess up now and again with my words? Yes. We all will! We just apologize and move on.
Courage is contagious. Others draw strength from those that show courage and try to be courageous themselves. Fear proliferates SILENCE. Silence is also contagious. As a result, we need more people to choose to be courageous for the sake of others. If no one speaks out to stop the abuses, corruption has fertile ground to grow and more and more people will get hurt and destroyed.
Is silence worth the life of one single soul? No. Will FEAR continue to control my life and keep me silent? No. Eventually, I will gain the victory over my fears with each step I take to conquer them. Is there joy outside of the fear? Yes. Is there danger? Could be. You will only know what lies ahead when you take action to do what you are afraid to do. What I have learned is that, in MOST cases, my fears were always bigger than reality. I bet they will be for you too.