The following excerpt is from the Cultic Studies Journal, Vol. 14, No. 1, 1997, pages 19-20. I genuinely hope that this information is helpful in the healing process for those who have been abused and exploited emotionally and sexually in the “church” system.
Bearing in mind that cults control their members through deceptive and manipulative techniques that induce dependency, anxiety, and fear, the recovery process for someone who has extricated herself from a cult is indeed a rocky road. Former members typically experience a range of feelings: fear, mistrust, and betrayal, as well as confusion and disorientation. At the same time, they usually feel relieved to be out of the cultic situation. Major areas of work will revolve around the following: reestablishing boundaries; regaining self-esteem and self-confidence; dealing with feelings of betrayal; learning to trust again; resolving identity crises (who am I? how did it happen?); and what I call exorcizing the “hindering” emotions of shame, blame, and guilt.
Given the sophisticated and totalist nature of thought reform in a cultic environment, it is hard to separate the effects of sexual abuse from the overall psychological rape perpetrated by the leader and the group. The sexual exploitation is reinforced by the psychological violation; as a result, the harm to the individual is twofold.
Another significant factor is that typically cultic sexual exploitation and abuse is not a one-time occurrence. Integral as it is to the cult philosophy and worldview, ongoing and persistent abuse is likely to be part of daily life; for some women, a decades-long reality. Therefore, the abused female cult member – similar to certain battered women who are also victims of mind manipulation – needs to unravel the psychological trappings that were imposed on her by the perpetrator to ensure submission without challenge to his authority.
In some cases, the feelings related to sexual abuse may be the deepest and last layer of cult-related trauma to explore. Acknowledging that one was sexually exploited in the name of a greater goal is often a painful process. Consequently, some cult members deny, rationalize, minimize, and distort the meaning of the experience, while others may dissociate, separate from, split off, and even “forget” what happened in order to tolerate continued membership in or loyalty toward the group. Part of the healing process will entail the recovery of such unpleasant or unwanted experiences as part of one’s own past. Without such reclamation, the negative experiences tend to come back later and disrupt healthy functioning and the opportunity for satisfying personal relationships based on equality and mutual trust.
Various forms of self-expression (art, music, poetry, dance, journal keeping, drama), support groups, individual therapy, public speaking, and legal action are all means by which women have rid themselves of residual cult thinking and the unnerving aftereffects of cult abuse. Each woman’s healing journey is different. But often with the help of friends, family, educators, counselors, clergy, or therapists, she will find her preferred means of working through the pain, guilt, and shame that is the inevitable legacy of cult membership.