Important Points to Keep in Mind
People do not join groups they know will be bad for them. Initially, they usually view the group they join as “wonderful.”
Those who have grown up in these groups (second generation adults - SGAs) usually had no say about their being a part of the group. Some of these young people are kicked out of their groups; for others the decision to leave their family home/group may have been a costly, but healthy decision. Abusive groups or relationships (e.g., between a pastor and a congregant) tend to be characterized by a power differential in which the more powerful figure exploits his/her position to take advantage of those with less power.
Thus, when people leave abusive groups or relationships they tend to feel
betrayed, and/or confused because they cannot account for their pain, and/or that they are failures because of their inability to live up to the demands of the abuser(s).
Those who feel betrayed will tend to be wary of relationships in which there may be a power differential (e.g., psychotherapist-client; pastor-congregant). Even though many want help or a faith community, their level of hesitation, suspicion, and sensitivity may be quite high.
Those for whom confusion is dominant may benefit from education about the dynamics of spiritual abuse, although sometimes indecisiveness makes it difficult for them to pursue or persist in educational endeavors.
Those who feel that they are failures may still believe in the abuser and tend to be self-blaming. This makes them vulnerable to other abusers, who may realize that “strategic kindness” can help them gain control over the self-blaming person. Self-blamers may also unwittingly communicate a desire to restore the once-rewarding dependent relationship they had with their abuser. This kind of ambivalence can be especially trying for SGAs, some of whose abusers may have been family members with whom they understandably seek some kind of reconciliation. Even those abuse victims who have overtly rejected their abusers may maintain some level of faith in the belief system into which they were indoctrinated.
Sorting through which aspects of a belief system an individual wants to keep, modify, and/or discard is a long process, which is complicated by the redefining of words that so often happens in toxic groups.
What to Expect from Spiritual Abuse Victims Who Have Recently Left an Abusive Situation
What You Can Do for Victims of Spiritual Abuse
Michael D. Langone, PhD