Here are a few methods to heal from the anxiety of leaving a toxic, high-control fundamentalist group. Remember that spirituality has to be based on our personal relationship and walk with God and not just the practices and performance of a particular religion or even a feeling.
WAYS TO HEAL
Realize that you are dealing with grief–plain and simple. Leaving means loss. Loss of friends, reputation in the community, innocence, community, and definitely time. Don’t minimize the trauma involved in exiting and don’t minimize the loss you feel.
1)Denial and isolation; 2. Anger; 3. Bargaining; 4. Depression; 5. Acceptance. People who are grieving do not necessarily go through the stages in the same order or experience all of them.
When you’ve left a religious group, it is essential to understand the emotional changes you will encounter.
- You will be angry, mostly at yourself for not seeing the light sooner, the time that you’ve lost, the things you’ve given up to conform to the group, the life choices that you’ve made and you may be angry at yourself for even grieving.
- There will be depression and bargaining. This is the “if only” stage. You feel blame, mostly against yourself. Regrets of “if only I knew what I know now,” “If only I had been strong enough to leave earlier or stand up in that situation,” “if only I were a different person this never would have happened or gone on so long.” These realizations may cause you to feel down because you can’t turn back the clock.
- Acceptance of reality is a strange thing. I had difficulty accepting that I would never have that old, “ignorance is bliss” feeling again; when you didn’t see as much or understand as much about what you saw; that loss of innocence. But I would ask myself, do you really want to go back to zombie-land? Blindness may make you feel happy but is that reality? Jesus said he was the truth. Did I want truth or fantasy? I even asked God to give me back a certain feeling. He did, and then he let me see some more corruption. God wants us to live in reality.
Move at your own pace to heal and be patient with your progress. That inner peace has to be real. Everyone cannot accept that loss if this is the only community that they’ve known. It took me years of coming to grips with what I would give up and to feel better about leaving than staying. Everyone is different. People are at various stages, and that’s fine.
Journal, journal, and journal again. I a couple of years ago, I created a healing book. When I had an excellent scripture, or thought, I would write it down. I would write down what I learned about myself in therapy. My need for approval; my people-pleasing “disease”; things about my childhood and trauma that I carried with me before joining my church. All of these things will be a bible of sorts for you to look back at in moments of stress and self-contemplation. It will help you to stay focused on your healing. Be excited about God’s next chapter for your life. Talk to yourself about your exceptional abilities and how they can be used.
Study and study the Bible again. In high control religion, you’re often used to leaders telling you what and what not to do and conforming. Renew your relationship with God and his Word. Realize why you are, where you are in your thinking. In our religion, no one has a future that’s safe outside of their four walls. This is not true. God is omnipresent. He can use you if you just walk and talk with Him. If you stay in the Word of God, you will see his wideness, his love, and wishes for your well being and not just fear.
Branch out and educate yourself. Reach out to others that can help and know what you’re going through. Get help for anxiety and use the internet to study religious exits and trauma. A lot of the fear involved in leaving is being indoctrinated with the belief that bad things happen to people who are not part of the religious group.
Bad things can happen to everyone in the world. Time and chance happen to all mankind.
A useful resource is the ICSA (International Cultic Studies Association). From Baptist to holiness groups to business cults, people that have left toxic churches and organizations all have similar experiences and feelings. Unfortunately, some are so traumatized that they can’t even read their bible without PTSD events happening, and they leave Christianity altogether. Get help for the brainwashing and wrong indoctrination you received in various areas and understand that God wants the real you.
It is not uncommon for former members to tell me that they don’t even know who they are and that their church prevented them from becoming acquainted with themselves.
That should never be the case.
Be Brave in Christ
One final thought for this post:
Grief often involves feelings of fear
Fear of change and the unknown:
God has not given us the spirit of fear
6 For this reason, I remind you to kindle afresh the gift of God which is in you through the laying on of my hands. For God has not given us a spirit of timidity, but of power and love and discipline. 2 Timothy1:6-7 (NASB)