Wednesday, January 11, 2012

Steven Martin on the Role of Denial in the Altering of Memory: Understanding Doctrine Over Person, Part VI

This series of posts focuses on the survivors of Hephzibah House, the IFB boarding home operated by Ron Williams, and I wanted to include some additional information that Steven Martin offers in his book which describes notable role that denial plays within the dynamic of Doctrine Over Person. It expands upon the previous post and explains how to obtain a copy of Steven's book, The Heresy of Mind Control: Con Artists, Tyrants and Spiritual Abusers in Leadership.

More Excerpts from Martin's book:
     Under this kind of treatment, many members end up denying or covering up their true feelings, and so are not honest about their feelings. They put up a front that everything is okay, under the false teaching that to admit problems or struggles shows lack of faith. 
If you interview someone who is presently in a cult and they say they are happy, it may not be a true indicator of their real experience or feelings. Nowhere does the Bible teach that faith involves denial or dishonesty about how we truly feel, such as being sad or angry.  
(pp 125 - 6)

      As for feelings and other situations of life, a former client from another cult said that members are taught to “know the Truth” about situations which arise in daily life. The group taught (as do many others that are similar) that sin, disease, death, and matter itself are unreal, and that one must understand these “facts” in order to heal others. The member is therefore “constantly reinterpreting events as they occur. If he is hurt or witnesses an accident, he 'knows' that, in reality, there are no accidents. If he is sick, he declares that, as the perfect child of God, he cannot in reality be sick.
Despite the extreme pain (and because she was under the guidance of a renowned healer in her own organization), she denied the pain and concentrated on declaring the truth. The swelling subsided after several days, so she, her parents, and her prayer partner concluded that the healing according to their doctrine was well underway. But the ankle hurt for at least a month, and twenty-five years later it still retains some stiffness. She gradually realized that she had not really experienced a miraculous healing. 
She concludes, “The sad part of the story if that a sprained ankle which might have proven to be an easily-handled inconvenience that turned out to be a spiritual and physical marathon with permanent damage to the ankle." 
The same client further expands on how this doctrine is emotionally damaging by squelching one's emotions and the freedom to truly share them with others: 
The [member of this group] is taught that sin, disease, death, and matter itself are unreal. He interprets events and emotions to fit this model of reality. If he is hurt or witnesses an accident, he declares to himself that in reality, there are no accidents. If he is sick, he declares that, as the perfect child of God, he cannot in reality be sick. He must modify emotions like fear, grief, anger, loneliness, depression, and the like to fit his spiritualized view of what is happening. 
Furthermore, he cannot genuinely share gut-level emotions with other people. Telling a friend the details of an illness would give it too much reality, so he tends to describe it in more detail. Likewise, to as an ailing friend what is really wrong would force the friend to make a reality of the problem. Consequently, real needs are not shared and the [member] suffers through many problems alone.
Suppose you feel angry at an act of injustice or insensitivity by the director. He will likely reply, “If you were really spiritual and in a right relationship with God, you wouldn't feel that way.” In essence, your rightful feelings are being rejected, as he is setting up a one-way street where every incrimination is directed toward you, and none is allowed toward him. 
(pp 128 - 9)

Along with the girls who survived their experiences at Hephzibah House, anyone who has left a spiritually abusive religious group can relate to some aspect of these descriptions. Group members and devoted followers are called upon to deny their own experiences and their own feelings in order to meet the demands placed upon them by the system and the leaders. Your own feelings and needs are negated so that you can find your worth and place within the group. These examples also touch on the powerful role that shame plays in the solidification of the identity that a person must adopt in order to merge with the group and gain the acceptance of the leaders.

Check back again soon for more discussion about additional factors that contribute to Doctrine Over Person and why girls who were incarcerated at Hephzibah House can have different opinions about the nature of life at the home.