Sunday, October 22, 2017

Guilt

After leaving the cult and the initial jolt of horror looking back at the wasted years, as the mist finally started to clear from my mind, I was flooded with paralyzing guilt. Unshakable guilt. Part of this could be due to my Catholic upbringing, but wherever it came from, it was nurtured and grew to overwhelming degrees in the cult. 

I felt I could never apologize enough to my children. Yet even their kindness, understanding, and forgiveness did not make a dent in my self-condemnation.

Each day was filled with self-recriminations. How could I have? I've ruined my life and my kids' lives! It's all my fault! I hate me!

In spite of my niggling self-talk, I studied and listened to audio courses and did what needed to be done each day. I had a lot of kids and responsibilities, so much of the day I was too busy to think. Finally, some light broke through.

First of all came the dawn. This guilt only shows that I am kind-hearted. Psychopaths do not feel guilt.

With that foot in the door, knowledge and realization started to trickle in. Guilt is a waste of time. It does no one any good. It is not productive. I am paralyzed and wallowing. 

Then came the hunger to learn and the resultant study to find out why I had joined and stayed. I worked to build new pathways for my brain. I had to make a conscious effort to not walk down the well-worn path of self-loathing and recrimination, to deliberately work to change the self-flagellation after any perceived mistake into the more productive, I can learn from this and do better next time. And I had to forbid myself from saying, I hate me.

That may sound childish and silly, but through all those years in the cult I believe I remained a child in many significant ways. Just like an alcoholic tuning to the bottle in times of discomfort or confrontation, I turned to the magic of prayer. No facing down problems, no dealing with issues, just "give it all to Jesus" and keep on. There can be little maturity in such an approach.

Finally, I faced the obvious fact that I will need to live with myself for the rest of my life, so it behooves me to get along with myself. To be kind. To treat myself as I would a friend.

As the Dalai Lama has said, self-compassion is closely connected to self-acceptance. More than acceptance, it is actually having compassion for our human frailties and recognizing we are vulnerable and limited like all people. Understanding and accepting ourselves is fundamental in having compassions for others.

Sunday, September 10, 2017

Luck or Merit? More thoughts on the Just World

Human nature is a funny thing.

"My son is attending his dream school," said the mother.

"What a lucky boy!" I said a little too soon.

"He worked very hard and is passionate about his art," she coolly replied.

Of course he worked hard. But not everyone that works hard gets into their dream school. Good things don't necessarily come to people who work hard. Nevertheless, working hard is important.

Taken in reverse, would that mean that kids who do not attend their dream schools just didn't work hard enough? 

This woman's son is the only child of wealthy parents whose grandparents are footing the bill for his university education. This, imho, makes him lucky. What of the son who is accepted to his dream school, but whose parents, for whatever reason, cannot afford the tuition? Did he just not work hard enough?

There are many reasons that kids have to settle for second or third best, or whatever they can manage. Granted, ex-cult members like myself are outliers, who often have many children, minimal higher education, and are playing catch-up financially after making no provisions for their old age nor their children's education. We obediently, "took no thought for the morrow," and "considered the lilies of the field."* 

Highest praise should go to the less-fortunate who struggle to overcome poverty, hardship, and lack of education, like so many second-generation cult members are doing. Let us never fall into the thinking that the world is just and life is fairBad things happen to "good" people, and good things happen to "bad" people.

And plenty of good things happen to rich people.

*******

*Matthew 6:28-34, "Consider the lilies of the field, how they grow; they toil not, neither do they spin: And yet I say unto you, That even Solomon in all his glory was not arrayed like one of these. 
"Wherefore, if God so clothe the grass of the field, which to day is, and to morrow is cast into the oven, shall he not much more clothe you, O ye of little faith? 
"Therefore take no thought, saying, What shall we eat? or, What shall we drink? or, Wherewithal shall we be clothed? (For after all these things do the Gentiles seek:) for your heavenly Father knoweth that ye have need of all these things. 
"But seek ye first the kingdom of God, and his righteousness; and all these things shall be added unto you."
"Therefore take therefore no thought for the morrow: for the morrow shall take thought for the things of itself. Sufficient unto the day is the evil thereof."

Sunday, August 13, 2017

Wise Words

"It is not materialism that is the chief curse of the world, as pastors teach, but idealism. Men get into trouble by taking their visions and hallucinations too seriously."

H.L. Mencken

Thursday, August 3, 2017

Wasted Years, Really?

"Do you really think your years in the cult were wasted?" a friend asked.

My knee-jerk reaction is to say, "Yes! Of course they were." But on reflection, I find I need to qualify that.

From my years in the cult came:

  • The children born to me. I surely would not have had so many children had I not been in TFI. 
  • An appreciation for the little things in life. Having gone without such things as fresh food, clothes that fit, daily vigorous exercise, I am now deeply thankful for them.
  • The ability to live on a shoestring and to feel real empathy for those who live in poverty.
  • An appreciation for freedom, most of all, freedom of the mind - to read, study, learn, or waste time, as I choose. 
  • The ability to speak with confidence in front of a crowd. It is possible I could have learned this elsewhere and with more proficiency, but I learned it through experience in the cult.
  • Similarly, I learned how to teach children and developed the ability to make learning fun.
  • Again, I could have learned this without having joined a cult, but as a result of my years living abroad, I now have a sensitivity and understanding of culture and cultural differences. I have learned, as the Japanese say, "to read the air."
So, although I would have preferred to have made wiser decisions in my youth, I guess I must conclude that not "everything" was a complete waste.

Saturday, July 8, 2017

Post-cult Experiences

Here are a few things I never knew until leaving the cult:

  • There is such a thing as face soap and using it is better than using whatever bar soap is laying around.
  • Face moisturizer is a thing. I should use it. 
  • People actually put sunscreen on their faces everyday, and I should, too.
  • Hair conditioner and/or treatment, when used, will make my hair look like hair, rather than Einstein's frizzy fro.
  • It's possible to buy clothes that fit and flatter. I no longer need to wear donated, cast-off, or men's clothing and shoes.
  • Makeup has expiration dates.

Things I can now do without feeling guilty:

  • Read books
  • Surf the internet
  • Watch TV
  • Not feel I must be busy every single second of the day
  • Buy good quality food
  • Drink a glass of wine with dinner
  • Get my hair cut by a professional
  • Not pray

Things that other people do, but I have not been able to do yet. Either such things are not options for me, or I am not courageous enough:

  • Spa day (I hear that's a thing.)
  • Get a massage 
  • Shop for fun and buy stuff for myself
  • Eat at a restaurant or coffeeshop by myself
  • Go to a movie by myself
  • Hang out with friends
  • Go to a bar or other drinking venue
  • Girls' night out
  • Go on vacation by myself or with someone for whom I am not acting as a tour guide
  • Stop worrying about money

Sunday, June 25, 2017

The Travesty of Being a "Bible Women"

Before, I surmised that abusive parents must have a disconnect with their future selves. They must be blind to the fact that the children they treat so harshly will soon be adults who remember. That seemed to me the only way to explain the abuse of vulnerable children.

What I hadn't considered was the quieter damage done by mothers in their striving to be "Bible women." That sickeningly self-abasing behavior implanted destructive mores in the psyches of the girls in the cult, and also likely taught the boys a Scriptural type of misogyny. Good "Bible women" were supposed to "submit to their husbands, as unto the Lord." Females were taught that it was their God-given duty never to refuse a man.

Girls were not taught a thing about boundaries. They never heard that it is OK to say "no," nor that their body was theirs. They learned these wrong ideas from the Mo Letters and, sadly, from observing their own weak, beaten-down, often exhausted, mothers.

Women, like myself, felt unworthy, "deserving of nothing but hell," as Berg wrote. "The only thing good about us is Jesus." There was no room for self-confidence, self-respect, strength, or growth. Submission was the rule. No need to question or try to get out of a bad situation. Just endure. We deserved nothing better.

Step out of that cult, and besides the myriad of other shocks and changes, we were faced with the challenge of overcoming that behavior. But first we had to notice it. It was part of our thinking, our unquestionable "normal" - the water we "fish" swam in - and thus, pretty hard to see. People continued to walk all over us. It took hard experience for us to, hopefully, learn that our concept of normalcy needs serious alteration and that it was all right, even necessary, to stand up for ourselves.

Monday, June 12, 2017

The Experience Machine*

Imagine you are given the opportunity to plug into a virtual reality machine that would be preprogrammed with all your dreams, creating for you an imaginary life where you can be and do whatever you want. If you have noble ideals, perhaps your world would be programmed so that you, through trial and error, much work and research, discover the cure for cancer. Maybe you would write the greatest novel ever written. Maybe you would go full-hedonism and just lay around on a beach, drinking pina coladas. That would be your entire reality.

You would have no idea that your body was really floating in a vat of liquid with electrodes attached to your brain. Your reality was what you were experiencing in your brain.

Would you do it?

Or what if you woke up today and found out that your life has been lived in an experience machine, and nothing is real? How would you feel?

Is there value in living an authentic life, striving to be honest with oneself? Or is a pretend life better if it means one can be "happy"?

* The Experience Machine is a thought experiment developed by American philosopher, Robert Nozick.