I happened upon Leaving the Fold, a book by Marlene Winell while I was searching on Amazon for therapy books for those leaving Fundamentalist Groups. I figured that America, the fundamentalist capital of the world – must have therapy groups for those leaving these groups, and I was right.
I wouldn’t say I’ve ‘learnt’ things per say – but I have found my recovery journey reflected back at me through her book – and that has been useful to contemplate the 20 years since I left The Truth.
I recommend finding yourself a copy of Marlene’s book. I confess I paid a lot of money to have my copy shipped to Australia via Amazon, so I’d recommend finding a copy through a locally based bookseller if you are outside of America.
I have seen many a therapist in my 20 years and found finding the right therapy/therapist hard. One thing I realise now having read Marlene’s book, is that people leaving Fundamentalist groups really should seek out specialised therapy. It is beneficial to have someone trained in helping you understand the experiences you’ve had and have strategies for how to rebuild you belief system.
About Marlene’s book:
She walks through the stages of leaving and recovery typically associated with leaving a High Control Group, such as The Truth. She talks through the major upheaval that is leaving the group– because you find that the person you thought you were, the beliefs, relationship to others (your community) is torn apart. You find you have no structure, or compass with which to operate. You are ‘starting over from scratch on all the basic questions about life’ (pg 17). She touches on the fact that many people contemplate returning to the group during the early stages of leaving – as the anxiety involved in leaving and rebuilding can be debilitating.
She talks about the ‘rebuilding’ phase, where you can start a new life through choice – deciding the beliefs you hold, the morals you have – which can be liberating.
For me one of the most helpful parts of Marlines book was the examination of the common belief and behavioural issues those leaving groups such as The Truth might face. It was helpful for me to hear that others have these issues. Discussion of these issues reinforced something I have believed for a long time based on observing the behaviours in my own extended family- that you can leave a group like The Truth, but not really LEAVE. You can stop believing the religious/faith-based beliefs – but still behave in ways which are toxic and harmful – because the culture of The Truth is still your operating method.
Examples from Marlene’s book: Perfectionism – stemming from our belief system that we need to ‘be right’ with god – and our fervent quest to be perfect in the eyes of the congregation – lest we be judged a sinner/not worthy/worldly. We can take that same perfectionism into our new lives, which creates problems with admitting mistakes, learning new lessons etc.
Self-Responsibility – We have to learn to form opinions and values of our own – rather than rely on those given to us by the group/The Truth. We have to think for ourselves – make moral judgements based on OUR morals -not those mandated to us. It can be difficult to do that, and not rely on others to mandate how to think and behave for you. It can be difficult to learn to take responsibility for yourself, and your own emotions/beliefs/mistakes. Building values and ethics of your own, rather than simply taking those of the group, is an important step in recovering from groups like The Truth.
Safety and Security – People from Fundamentalist Groups find ‘the world’ terrifying – they fear that without the religious system they’ve adhered to, they will be damned and sent to Hell. There is a certain comfort in knowing the path you need to take (even if it is very flawed), and it can be hard to live with uncertainty. Learning critical thinking takes time, and dealing with feeling vulnerable and unprotected by a ‘god’ or faith system which gives you security, can be anxiety provoking. When people are first leaving the group, they can be vulnerable to other High Control groups, and manipulative and controlling people. The need to feel ‘safe’ and have decisions made for them leaves them vulnerable.
Addiction – There is discussion in the book to how participation in these groups can be like an addiction. The need to feed the immersion in the group, its all-encompassing belief system that takes over your life and leaves no time or space for friendships or healthy family relationships. We’re encouraged to pray more and more, to attend more gospel meetings, to be at convention – no matter how boring or inconvenient it might be to our family and work. I believe that groups like The Truth also prime us for other addictions – because we learn to dissociate to survive the boredom and monotony. We learn escapism – which leaves us vulnerable to addictions such as alcohol and gambling when we leave.
Guilt, Control and Children – Another of my own thoughts for years has been how damaging The Truth is to children. Marlene also recognises this. She talks about how manipulation and controlling the behaviour of children is common inside Fundamentalist Groups. Shaming children for asking questions, suggesting to them that ‘God is watching you’ when they make mistakes, manipulating them into believing they are not good enough if they don’t unquestionably follow the group norms. These groups teach children not to follow their intuition, not to ask questions, and essentially – not to trust or believe their own thoughts and feelings. This creates yet another generation of damaged (devout/terrified) follower – a form (in my opinion) of intergenerational trauma.
Marlene also talks about ‘culture’ – something I have been interested in. I married into an Italian family, with an Italian culture -and it raised awareness in me of how families and communities have a culture and typical unspoken behaviours – whether you acknowledge it or not. Italian families are proud of their culture – and it was through them that recognised that The Truth had a culture too. I realised there are also many subcultures, which are not recognised or talked about enough in my opinion – across towns, states and countries. The Truth doesn’t want to recognise the cultures and subcultures – because they avoid responsibility and recognition of their formal existence (ie saying we have no name or legal structure). This is convenient – as it splinters us, makes us invisible, and stops us from raising awareness about toxic behaviours. Workers can say ‘oh well that happened over there, but not here – that town/state isnt the same as us’. Culture holds communities together, culture helps communities’ function – in many cases culture it isn’t a bad thing – but it should be acknowledged that it exists, and stepping outside of cultural norms can be difficult.
Marlene writes about how powerful culture is within Fundamentalist Groups – ‘norms’ dictate how people dress, how the speak, their careers. Belonging to the group around you is a powerful force – you want to fit in, you don’t want to be shunned/told you’re worldly. The nature of the number of generations families have been inside The Truth is also a powerful cultural nuance. The more generations you’ve been in – the more entrenched The Truth culture is in your family. The less people you’ll know outside, the less influence from other people and groups you’ll have.
Cultural Identity is very important in groups like The Truth, and I was pleased to find it discussed in Marlenes book.
I recommend hunting a copy down and adding Marlene’s book to your ‘recovery’ bookshelf.