Book Review of “Recovery from Cults: Help for Victims of Psychological and Spiritual Abuse”

Michael Langone, Executive Director of the American Family Foundation (AFF) has done a skillful job of organizing and editing contributions from 22 experts on cults. Recovery from Cults is packed with current wisdom about helping cult victims. The book includes informative sections on understanding mind control, experiences of leaving cults, guidelines for facilitating recovery, and special issues such as child abuse and teen Satanism. I recommend it especially to researchers, mental health specialists, and clergy. Ex-cult members and their families will find particularly helpful the chapters on mind control, exit counseling, rehabilitation, psychotherapy, and guidelines for the postcult period.

Recovery from Cults, which originated from AFF study groups, is an important and heartening milestone in the development of the anticult movement from its infancy to maturity. Over the past 20 years this movement has gone beyond the rather simplistic theory of “brainwashing” in explaining cult recruitment and entrapment. As represented here by the contributions of Singer, Langone, and Zimbardo and Andersen, cult behaviors can be better understood in terms of current theory and research in social psychology, clinical psychology, and psychiatry. Thus destructive groups misuse social persuasion and are often led by sociopaths.

Riveting, if grim, personal accounts and case examples of how individuals are systematically cut off from outside influences, denigrated for expressions of independent thinking, and reduced to psychological dependency are coupled with detailed guidelines for helping professionals working with ex-cult members at various stages of recovery and in a wide range of settings.

In contrast to the days when ex-cult members were dismissed as late adolescent rebels or diagnosed as pathological by mental health specialists, now there is a multidisciplinary core of professionals with expertise in helping former members. Sharing their clinical experiences in the book are a diverse team of experts, representatives of professional psychology (Singer, Langone, Martin), social work (Lorna and William Goldberg, Markowitz), psychiatry (Halperin), nursing (Galanti, Kelley) education (Eisenberg), and counseling (Dowhower, Tobias, Tucker). In short, as the cult member leaves the group, information, rehabilitation, support, psychotherapy, and hospitalization are available as needed. John Clark, the eminent psychiatrist to whom this book is dedicated, is no longer almost alone in providing mental health services. And, in sharp contrast to the days when lawyers tended to avoid cult-related litigation, a group of lawyers with experience in cult cases is represented here by Herbert Rosedale.

With the sunshine of negative publicity, the loss of key lawsuits, the conviction of cult leaders for criminal acts from murder to sexual abuse to fraud, and the outrages of Waco and Jonestown, cults too have changed. For instance, as described by Galanti, the Unification Church no longer always hides its identity when recruiting in this country. As noted by the Goldbergs, cult victims today tend to be older and from diverse groups. Satanism (Tucker), ritual child abuse (Kelley), political cults (Lalich), and New Age groups (Garvey) have attracted attention while Bible-based (Trahan) and Eastern meditation (Ryan) groups continue to exert mind control.

The approach to helping former members has also changed. As described in chapters by former members and exit counselors, each group has a distinct language and modus operandi to control its victims; and helpers need to know the specifics about each group. For the most part, illegal kidnapping and confrontational deprogramming have been replaced by voluntary exit counseling. David Clark, Kevin Garvey, and Carol and Noel Giambalvo stress the voluntary and ethical character of their work with cult members. Ex-members are still an essential part of the helping team. Otherwise traditional mental health interventions may be insufficient. Some exit counselors now have professional qualifications in mental health.

The thorough index and comprehensive references for each chapter will be helpful to scholars and those who want to do further reading or study. Although case histories and personal reports give flesh to the terrible damage associated with cult experiences, the tone of each chapter tends to be serious, and assertions of opinion are documented with relevant research and theory. For the most part, fair-mindedness and objectivity prevail over the temptation to sensationalize or to express outrage. For example, in the chapters he authored, Langone is evenhanded but critical in countering the arguments of cult apologists and procultists.

I have just a few criticisms. As mentioned by Giambalvo and colleagues, consultation is a better term than exit counseling to describe the interaction with a specialist when the member is still in the group and has not requested help. I am uncomfortable when such consultants, associated with the anticult movement and retained by concerned parents, present themselves as impartial counselors. Once the cult member has left the group and has sought assistance about personal issues, then the process becomes counseling. A second flaw: As is almost unavoidable in edited books, the chapters vary somewhat in quality and occasionally duplicate one another.

If I have a major discontent with Recovery from Cults, it is with what is not included here. I encourage Langone and his team to publish another volume. Among appealing topics: successful prevention programs; case histories of ex-cult members years after the experience; cults in court—wins and losses and their consequences; how to respond to the violent and suicidal group; illustrations (from tape recordings) of the distinctive processes of exit consultation; rehabilitation and psychotherapy; how to choose an effective helper; how highly visible destructive groups manipulate celebrities, academics, big business, the church, and the military; and ethical principles for helpers.

In sum, this fascinating text at once replaces popular myths about cults (and the types of people who become members) with hard facts, and provides invaluable guidelines for clergy, therapists, support group leaders, and others looking for ways to facilitate recovery from the effects of involvement with totalist cults.

Congratulations to Langone and his coauthors on a major contribution which belongs on the bookshelves of CSJ readers and all those interested in cults.

Arthur A. Dole, Ph.D., ABBP Emeritus Professor of Education University of Pennsylvania

The Sin of Forgiveness

Since the story of sexual abuse by former Father James Porter broke in the news media in May of 1992, my wife and I have personally received calls from over 3,300 survivors (as of December 1997). Only five calls have been at all negative. One was from an obviously irrational man who left a rather vile message on my answering machine also irrelevantly referring to the fact that I am Irish (actually a Polish, Irish, and French mix). Another hostile call was from a man who pretended to be a newspaper reporter from the Harvard Crimson. Later the Crimson told me they had never heard of him. A third call was from a priest who said he had seen me on TV, and that I was doing some good, but that he still thought I was influenced by the man downstairs. Lastly, two phone calls came from elderly-sounding women shortly after the story first broke. The gist of each of these separate calls was that I was immoral because I did not exercise Christian forgiveness towards Father Porter and the Catholic Church. Here is my answer.

When a person commits sexual assault it is a crime against society and an individual child. In the case of child sexual abuse, justice should always prevail over mercy or forgiveness for several reasons. The most important of these is for the protection of other children. I think you will find very few people who will argue that an armed robber should not receive justice through the criminal court procedures. When sexual assault of a child occurs another type of robbery has taken place. A child has been robbed of his or her innocence. In fact, the crime is even greater, for their childhood has been murdered. To let the sexual assault criminal off without any jail time is to send a signal to other perpetrators that they can get away with it, and that it is not a very important or serious crime. The victim who forgives the perpetrator before justice has been done is really just looking for the comfortable way out. It is emotionally very difficult to confront your perpetrator in court and the forgiveness rule provides a rationalization to avoid this.

One caller, a victim of a Catholic priest, informed me that he was unsure what to do because he feared that bringing discredit on the Catholic Church would be like throwing out the baby with the wash. The irony of his words did not dawn on me until later. To cover up child sexual abuse is to throw out the baby and to save the dirty wash water. It is precisely babies – ourselves, and potential future child victims – who are thrown away.

Before the Father Porter story became public, there were a few victims of his who were worried that we might be doing harm to Mr. Porter because he might have been cured of his evil tendencies. Other survivors of other perpetrators whom I have spoken to have had the same fear. Confronting the perpetrator would cause a disruption in the perpetrator’s family that they thought might not be warranted if the person was now reformed. The problem with this attitude is that the concern is centered on the wrong person. There is no rational reason to take the risk that a perpetrator is reformed when doing so endangers children. Former victims have direct knowledge that the perpetrator has done it before. No one can prove positive that the perpetrator will not do it again. Besides, there is also no way that we can know whether already there are other victims of whom we are unaware, because by its nature the sexual assault of children is a secret act.

We do not have the ethical right to protect the perpetrator from the consequences of his or her actions. The perpetrator must be judged based on what they have actually done, not what they may or may not do in the future. It is not cruelty to make a perpetrator pay for the consequences of his or her actions. It would be cruel to allow a perpetrator, who has not been exposed, loose on an unsuspecting community where children are thereby placed at risk.

Perpetrators by their nature are skilled manipulators. They are able to emotionally or even physically control children and can be very convincing, charming individuals. A perpetrator may produce crocodile tears and sincere sounding words of regret – the motive for which might be only to dissuade the victim from exposing the criminal acts. It is easier for the victim to let himself or herself be manipulated by the perpetrator’s expressions of remorse, because the victim wants to hear that the perpetrator is truly sorry. (I have even been told instances where the perpetrator would assault a child day after day and after each particular incident would cry and express remorse.) It is difficult for survivors to throw off the role of victim – to shed their feelings of shame for what was done to them. The perpetrators sometimes real appearing remorse makes it easy for the victim to remain silent. I believe that the only way to judge the honesty or sincerity of a perpetrator’s remorse is to wait until the day when the he or she is released from prison. If he or she then approaches a former victim and asks for forgiveness, perhaps the perpetrator could be believed sincere, since there might be no self protective motive. We must speak out.

To conclude, I refer you to one of the Survivor Proclamations – Perpetrators shall hide, not their victims.

The Mystery of the Breath (for health and healing)

A few months ago my mother told me that she witnessed my father terrifying me with a vacuum cleaner when I was about two years old. When she asked what he was doing, he said he was going to make a man out of me. At seven I took the wrong street home from Sunday School arriving home on time. An hour later my paternal grandmother returned after going up the right street to meet me. She went to the cupboard, returned with a double razor strap, and beat me with it for a very long time yelling something about paying attention to instructions.

Four years later my fifth grade teacher had the class sing every morning for forty five minutes. Life was wonderful, I was receiving mostly A grades, and was even asked by my teacher to sing for the entire school!

Over the next few years as a result of accumulating demerits by not making my bed, taking out the trash, feeding the dog, or doing the dishes, I received from my father several beatings that went beyond the point where I could scream. I also experienced several random traumatic experiences involving my ability to breathe. At thirty-three, after enduring a numbing sense of loss from a devastating divorce and loss of the presence of my beautiful three-year-old son, I realized that my life felt very empty — at an all-time low. I remembered that singing used to make me feel great, but I could no longer hold or match a tone vocally and I instinctively sensed this might connect to my grief and confusion. I sought a singing teacher and found one who, as chance or destiny would have it, was receiving a form of transformational breath training. She recommended I do the same.

Now, at fifty-four, I feel much younger and my life is much different. Relationships guide my priorities. I feel worthwhile and am treating myself accordingly. Though some hearing loss challenges my patience at times, I am most often at peace — even when those near me are not.

Without becoming a yogi or a spiritual master there is a great deal that can be done very simply through balanced breathing, conscious exercise, and nutrition. Here we explore the mystery of the breath.
Balanced Breathing.
Breathing is the physical, mechanical act that brings air into the body. Breath is the air or life force that is taken in. We are born with the instinct to breathe, though most of us use only a fraction of our breathing strength. This natural ability may have been compromised in the womb, during birth, infancy, or later. It is further compromised by air and water pollution, devitalized and toxic foods, stress, chronic muscular tensions, toxic belief systems, and chronic fear, shame, and guilt.

How we breathe affects our health, the way we look and feel, our resistance to disease, and our life span. Few people really know how to breathe optimally and fewer yet can sustain a full-bodied breath for more than a few moments before experiencing dizziness, confusion, and spaciness. Sore, tight muscles, hyper- or sub-inhalation/ventilation, trauma re-stimulation, and toxin recirculation also result.

A normal, relaxed, fully functional, and balanced breath is like a wave. The breath wave must be able to freely transition up and down between the abdominal, mid-, and high-chest breath. To better understand this breath wave, imagine lying down at the beach, on your back, with your feet pointed toward the water. Watch the rise of the ocean out about fifty yards. This is like your breath at your belly. Watch the calm, surf less water rise and come forward where it meets the uppermost part of the shore (the back of the top of your head), then recede back towards the depths of the ocean (your belly). Think of the water as your life force. Imagine your chin as a rubber raft that is gently raised as the water approaches the uppermost part of the shore (the top of the back of your head). That’s the inhalation. For the exhalation imagine the water receding and dropping somewhat evenly overall and slightly faster in the chest area. If you’ve watched waves rush in and recede, you will know what I mean. If you’ve never been near the ocean, for twenty minutes watch the breathing pattern of a two-month-old baby in deep sleep, imagining it in slow motion. Feel your back softly flatten into the surface on which you are lying as your pelvis rocks gently forward — like a gentle sexual thrust or extension. Feel your pelvis rock backward and out of the way as your back arches slightly to express the rising belly. To allow the tip of the wave to raise the jaw and move the occiput, try the breath wave in a sitting position or with the head at a lower level than the surface on which you lie.

The breath wave may go out of balance. For instance, instead of rising and coming forward to raise the belly, chest, and chin, it may stay level or sink downward as if some one were pressing down, not allowing it to rise or fall. It may halt, then push upward again, having lost momentum and its smooth transition. We experience this as feeling breathless or stuck.

A major obstruction to a balanced breath wave is a locked-up diaphragm. I call the diaphragm the speed bump of life. This speed bump functions like a breakwater which restricts the natural ebb and flow of the breath. It may appear as a hitch or shuddering movement as the breathwave travels erratically upward or downward within a breath cycle. The degree to which the breath cannot transition is the degree to which we get stuck emotionally and mentally, feeling anxiety or fear.

We resist unwanted information and related feelings by holding or reducing our breath. So, if someone is saying something and it seems logical but you notice your breath becoming slower, more shallow, faster, or deeper, you probably have an issue, positive or negative, with the information. It will pay off to become more conscious of your breath, body sensations, and the situation.

To deny our body responses and somatic awareness is to suppress millions of years of somatic evolution and survival mechanisms. For example, the next time you feel your breath catching or find yourself suppressing it, you might think of it as a message. Notice if you are afraid, anxious, at a loss for words, or in some way disempowered. Then take one or more long, slow, deep breaths. Start in your belly and maintain a foundation there while letting the breath move up to the top of the chest. Then exhale by letting go.

Some indicators of unbalanced breathing are: tightness in the chest; chronic illness; fear or depression; frequent colds; poor attention; sighing or yawning; poor posture; can’t catch breath. An irregular breathing pattern is a tipoff. Repeating a poor breathing pattern over time will restrict or lock up the diaphragm and the musculature of the pelvis, stomach, back, chest, throat, jaw, and eyes.

If breathing more fully causes you to feel uncomfortably dizzy, spacy, or confused, it’s probably because your breathing is habitually imbalanced or too shallow. At first you may feel energy in the form of buzzing, streaming currents or breeze like sensations. I used to feel dizzy and occasionally still do, but as I am able to tolerate more breath, the dizziness subsides and I become energized and relaxed just by breathing in a balanced way for a few minutes. Many clients have reported increased relaxation, intense sexual feelings, bliss, and even mystical experiences from the breath work!
Breathing Based Stress Management.
We encounter emotional, physical, mental, and environmental stresses daily. Burnout, fatigue, guilt, lack of control and helplessness, epidemic-scale autoimmune disease, food allergies, chemical hypersensitivities, mental weakness, and confusion plague our society. Responding rather than reacting is a primary goal of body-centered stress management. How you breathe impacts all of these. Strategies for handling distress often tempt us to rely on cognitive or thinking processes. We try to substitute information for experience and intuition. If heeded, one’s body will prompt one to respect its vulnerability, listen to and trust its
messages, exercise and feed it wisely, allow it to rest and heal. This is the basis of intuition!

Shallow breathers poison themselves, says Paul Bragg. Take lots of long, slow, deep breaths and you will live longer. By not breathing sufficiently, toxins remain in our bodies, running through the entire elimination system and back into circulation again. Good breathing practice can release over 70% of your toxins! Dr. Sheldon Hendler states in his book, The Oxygen Breakthrough, that Breathing is the first place, not the last, one should look when fatigue, disease, or other evidence of disordered energy presents itself.

Correct respiration reduces negative stress, helps to balance the brain hemispheres and blood PH, strengthens the immune system, improves brain blood circulation, memory function, metabolic activity, muscle and vascular tone, lymphatic drainage, arterial blood flow, and psychological functioning. Nerve and hormone responses such as secretions of adrenaline, neuropeptides, endorphins, epinephrine, norepinephrine, insulin, glucose, and others come under more dependable control. This has enormous relevance in self-regulation and stress management. It is also the basis for deep emotional release, self discovery and _expression, internal power, and spiritual experience.

My son was ten years old and was afraid to go on the Santa Cruz roller coaster with me. He finally relented when I reminded him of all the great foods he’d learned to enjoy because he had been willing to take a little risk. I told him I would remind him to breathe. With the first run his face and knuckles turned bone white and he finished visibly shaken. On the second ride I kept up the reminders to breathe. On the third ride we rode in the front car joyfully whooping and hollering as we both held our hands triumphantly in the air during the entire ride.

Breathing into fear and resistance; breathing and consciously surrendering, letting go, and trusting; breathing during times of threatening stress – these are moments of extreme power and transformation. Control your breathing and you control your life!

How you breathe and what you eat influence your life more than almost anything else. You may have previously realized the importance of the food you eat, but remember: anything you do 7,000 to 30,000 times a day has to affect you in many, many ways!

Conscious breathing has deeply affected the core of my personal evolution, my thoughts, feelings, and actions. I’ve even learned to like myself! I have also forgiven my father. He is gone now, to his next _expression. I know that he loved me. What he did to me was done to him, and there’s no one left to blame. His ring is my most valued possession and I wear it proudly.

Michael Grant White is creator of Balanced BreathingTM, a Somatic Education System, is certified in Radiance Breath work and Rebirthing, and is a member of the steering committee of the AHP Somatics and Wellness Community.

Introduction to Emotional Deprivation Disorder

As a former Regnum Christi member, friend of several priests, and the mother of a former LC seminarian, I have observed closely the unhealthy emotional deprivation that is imposed on Legionary seminarians and priests. They are cut away from their former friends and their families and are reproached if they express any longing for their parents or siblings. They are told to always look cheerful and never to express any complaints, whatever they may be feeling inside. Further, they are told to make friendships only within the Legion, yet when it is policy that they are to inform on one another, there can be no friendship. A very unhealthy emotional scene is established in the Legion in which a man’s loving heart is excised (while it is still beating). This condition can be likened to the disorder called the Emotional Deprivation Disorder described by the doctor of the heart, Conrad Baars, M.D. who was a faithful Catholic and now deceased.

A link to the description of his work can be found:

Ruth D. Lasseter Mother of 6, Grandmother of 7 and Assistant Editor of Canticle Magazine

Sexual Abuse Victim Anger and How to Help

Do not be put off by Victims’ Anger; it is a necessary step on the Path to Recovery

People on the board complain from time to time about the anger of other posters, [but never about their own!]; as if this was some inexcusable sin or defect. It is normal for people who have been deceived or abused in any way to be angry to some degree. Regarding victims of sexual abuse the anger can be greater and unknowing people continue to be scandalized by this anger/rage; not knowing that it is normal for people who have been seriously sexually abused to be angry; it may take years to overcome this.

Clinicians distinguish between two categories of sexual abuse: that perpetrated by family members and that perpetrated by others. Regarding the victims of Father Maciel’s sex abuse we conclude from the testimonies that this was the more insidious form of sexual abuse, incest, because they were his children, his sons. A propos this issue brought up by a friend these ideas came together on the spur of the moment.

The Bad News
Most male victims of sexual abuse:

  • do not become aware of the abuse for a long time
  • do not understand the nature of their abuse [e.g. may still confuse
    pedophilia with homosexuality]
  • are very confused about their participation in the abuse and about their own sexuality
  • were not diagnosed for years
  • did not face it for years
  • never got proper therapy for this illness
  • thought they could get over it on their own
  • got on with their lives, e.g. they got married and had careers.
  • their ‘lives’ did not solve the underlying problem.

The Good News

  • confronting the offender is part of the recovery process
  • acceptance and kindness of friends and significant others is basic
  • it is never too late to face our past and begin working on the issues
  • every little progress in healing goes a long way
  • relaxation and stress reduction is helpful
  • quiet meditation can be transformative [it probably has to be very different than what was experienced in the abusive environment]
  • increasing self-esteem and enjoying success can be restorative
  • live in the present moment
  • enjoy the simple things of life
  • expose yourself to nature to be healed by Nature
  • re-learn to trust God when you are ready
  • do fun things
  • laugh at life, yourself, and the silliness of life
  • create a new, more mature Faith Life, relationship with the Church, Jesus Christ, the Spirit and the Father.
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