Being raised my entire life in the controlling atmosphere of this type of religion left permanent scars on me. Sometimes, when I think about it, I feel so angry and betrayed! The cult dynamic leaves you feeling helpless and unable to make it through life on your own.
It’s so powerful because it robs you of your individuality, your independence, and your trust in your own thoughts. It takes away who you are and changes you into a clone. You lose your identity and accept the ideology that you’re going to be some great soldier for Christ, all for the greater good, etc.
In reality what you’re doing is checking your brain at the door, and becoming just another robot marching to the tune of the leader. This pastor is just a man, who has developed his own interpretation of what the Bible says, often to fit his own needs and his own desires. And yet, he himself is deceived into thinking that he’s doing the “will of God”. They have all the power, but they have been trained to think and to truly believe that this is what God wants them to do.
My personal brainwashing began when I was just a baby. I’ve written about how I was trained from a child with spankings that began before I learned to walk or talk. I was under the power of the preacher/father before I had any memory of my existence.
Growing up in this atmosphere, whether by nature or by early early training, I was extremely sensitive, eager to please, and tenderhearted. That left me wide-open to become the biggest clone of all. The model robot I became, and I was very skilled at doing everything I was asked to do. I never went through the rebellion that teenagers go through, for the most part, because I had been trained to be so sensitive to the slightest misbehavior that might throw me out of favor, “with God”.
I did it because I really wanted to please God. I did it because I was scared of what God would do to me if I didn’t measure up. I also did it because I love God. How could I love something I feared so much? I guess because I loved and feared my dad in the same way.
I was taught from early on to be sensitive to my dad’s moods and get out of his way if he seem like he was tired and grouchy. I was trained not to talk to him if he was busy, because I would be bothering him. I was trained in so many other ways.
I loved his hugs and his cuddles, when they were given, and the rare approval that I saw in his eyes. Yet I feared him so much that I was scared to ask for anything that I wanted. I knew that I could approach him any time to tell him that I loved him or to give him a hug, but I knew that if he looked at me sternly, I was in huge trouble.
That’s the same way I looked at God. For the better part of my life, even as a grown adult, I was scared to make a move without the approval of the pastor. I was scared to think a thought that would be contrary to what was taught by the pastor. I was scared to make a choice on my own without seeking his advice. Many people, grown men and women, we’re afraid to make purchases, or move, or get a new job without consulting the pastor first to get his approval on those choices. The pastor’s approval was equated with God’s approval.
When one lives in this environment, without using their own brain, getting out can be very difficult…even scary. For the first time in your life you have no one else to blame for your mistakes. If anything goes wrong, you have to take responsibility for your choices. You’ve not had much practice making choices, so it’s a pretty sure thing that you’re going to make some wrong choices along the way. That could be terrifying, especially when people from the cult point their fingers at you and say “well you should’ve stayed in the church.. you should’ve asked pastor for advice and followed his advice.”
The thing is, we don’t learn how to make choices without making them. Our brains are like muscles. If they haven’t been exercised, they will buckle under weight. When other people were making small choices like what kind of clothes to wear for school, or whether or not they wanted to try out for the football team, we were not allowed to make those choices.
We couldn’t choose our friends, we couldn’t choose what activities we wanted to do, we couldn’t choose what music that we wanted to listen to, or what entertainment we enjoyed. We never learn to choose what clothing we wanted to wear, what hairstyle we enjoyed the most, or whether not we wanted to wear make up. We were given instructions to follow about all these personal things. We didn’t learn how to make choices.
When we finally break free from the cult and we start trying to make decisions and choices, we don’t really have any background information to use to make the wise decisions. We are in terror trying to decide and often it is difficult to make any decision at all. However not making a decision is a decision, and that’s where we get into trouble. That’s where things get difficult for us, because life gets a little harried.
I’ve had my own list of “bad choices” to try to live with, once I got out on my own and could actually make these decisions for myself. However, I’m learning to make decisions. I’m learning how to balance my budget. I’m learning to make career choices, life choices, and of course wardrobe choices, hairstyle choices and even “how to raise my kids” choices. Do I always make the right decisions? No, absolutely not! However, I learn more and more.
Each failure is only a step in the right direction, because I can take that information and use it for future choices.
Yes, I grew up in a cult. You talk about a dysfunctional family! It was a dysfunctional world where we were not allowed to fellowship with anyone else. I was homeschooled, and my entire life revolved around the cult.
Getting out brought such freedom! But, getting out also brought a lot of terror and fear.
Every day I still deal with the brainwashing. Every day I am filled with self-doubt. Every day I battle those little voices from the past who tell me that I’m “nothing but a worm,” that I don’t have a right to make my own decisions, that I need to lean on the words of someone else to try to understand what God wants of me. It’s the perfect recipe for codependency.
We were taught that we could not make it on our own without leaning on the church and the pastor. We were trained to not make it on our own without the direction and control of the pastor. I sometimes feel completely helpless, trapped, and very dysfunctional. However, I have to cut myself some slack when I stop and think about the years and years and years where I was not allowed to make choices, to think for myself, and where I was taught that I had to have someone else to lean on.
Sometimes I wonder if I’ll ever be confident and independent from the past. I know those scars have affected me for life in many ways. However, every step I take to be more independent, and every choice that I make gets me just a little bit closer to being the individual that I really want to be.