As I prepare to post a series on the Spiritual Sounding Board blog, I wanted to offer this information as a resource to those who were children who were born into or grew up in a high demand or “totalist” environment. Jill Mytton grew up in a cultic Christian fundamentalist sect and describes some of the difficulties that one faces when they know nothing about what life is like outside of the group. How does a blind person conceive of what color is? How does a lame person or someone with no legs walk? In many ways, the person who grows up in a group struggles to learn what they never knew before so that they can leave. Why is it so hard?
This video (embedded below) touches on the pressure of bounded choice, but the lack of resources – abilities and experience that the adult never developed because they were micromanged actually present a different pressure that intensifies things for those who grow up in a group.
I am not an atheist, and I do believe that Christianity offers the best set of resources that help a person recover from spiritual abuse. Yet I also understand that many people feel quite threatened by and isolated from Christianity because of what they suffered. I hope that the reader considers that I am not recommending atheism personally, but it may also be the only safe place that people may find after exiting a spiritually abusive group.
I believe that the very honest and candid interview validates the experience that one goes through in a religious group, particularly for those who were raised in one. It offers much insight, and I am so grateful to Jill for her perspective and candor.
There were many quotes that I could have pulled from this interview, but I could not transcribe it all. Here are a few quotes that caught my attention, but know that there were so many good ideas that I had to give up and let the video speak for itself.
I hope that these snippets will entice the reader here to view the entire video. I just couldnt' transcribe the whole thing. I hope that all will view it and will glean much from it, at least some insight about the special challenges faced by those who grow up in a sect – never having the luxury of their own choice about whether they really wanted to follow the faith that was demanded of them.
Quotes from the interview:
There are some parts in this paper to actually critically reflect in a way that was productive. I had to get permission, almost, from someone else to do it. So I raised the whole area with a friend of mine, and he started talking about it, and it kind of gave me permission to do the same. And I found that quite interesting, because I think that –you know – at this age, I ought to know by now what critical reflection means. But actually, I think that some parts sometimes, I actually don't. It's as if something hasn't developed, and I feel angry about that sometimes. I really feel angry about it.
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“It felt like a proxy self... Did I exist? I felt like I was asleep.
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And I fear for the children today. I really fear for them, the children of the Exclusive Brethren or children of any other group that's as closed as that – as pathogenic as that. Because now, they not only have their home life and their church life, but they're now getting their school life, all three areas – three important areas of their lives – all giving them the same message. That they're worthless, shapened in sin and shapened in iniquity.
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[In reference to patriarchal groups and the difficulties that women face, Mytton states] One writer called it the “realistic right of exits.” When we leave, we actually don't have what we need to survive outside. And yet when we leave, we should have the right – the right to choose to leave. Either choosing to leave the religion or choosing to leave the culture. Or if they're entwined, you're leaving both.
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[Concerning shunning from family when Dawkins points out that some groups call for physical death for leaving, Mytton states.] You can be psychologically killed.
Jill Mytton, M.Sc., C.Psychol., is a Chartered Counselling Psychologist. Currently, she is a visiting Lecturer in the School of Psychology, London Metropolitan University and at the New School of Psychotherapy and Counselling, London, where she is also a research supervisor for doctoral students. She is currently studying for a doctorate at the Metanoia Institute affiliated to Middlesex University. She is listed on the British Psychological Society media list for Cults and Thought Reform and has been involved in several TV and Radio broadcasts. Her primary research interest is the mental health of Second Generation Adults, i.e., those born or raised in cultic groups. She has presented at several conferences, including: INFORM London, April 2008, the annual Division of Counselllng Psychology conferences in Dublin, 2008 and Leicester 2012, the ICSA Annual Conferences in Geneva 2009 and Montreal 2012. She was born and raised in the Exclusive Brethren, leaving at the age of 16, when her parents decided to leave. Apart from a small private practice, she also runs an email support group for former Exclusive Brethren and has become a point of contact for leavers of several groups.