In the previous post, we explored the challenge of developing a healthy sense of personal power that we encounter when we exit a high demand group. How on earth can we get through life with a faulty set of coping tools, where do we go to learn them, and how can we figure out how to be balanced when all we've seen modeled for us is extremes of power and of emotion?
This topic is a huge one, but a person can do a lot of good work on their own to develop healthy Emotional Self-Regulation after exiting.
REMEMBER: As with all things that make generalizations about groups of people, if this doesn't describe your experience after you left a high demand group or family, then it doesn't! If the shoe fits, wear it. If it doesn't, just consider that it might fit someone else and the information here might be helpful to them. Everybody's path out of a high demand group looks different, and no one individual ever fits into those generalizations. They're meant to help give people some help getting people reoriented, and they're not a box into which people try to shove you. [Read more HERE.]
Healthy Internal Dialogue
We can begin the process of examining the lies we internalized and wrote into our hearts and minds as the immutable laws of the universe. “Good enough” families and healthy religions give children and adults realistic beliefs about how the world works, and they foster our mental health. Dysfunctional systems that perpetuate themselves by controlling others or by controlling the system's milieu teach basic beliefs that keep us dependent on leaders and their dogma, and when we depart from the group, we find ourself with a huge vacuum. If we don't realize what the group's dynamics did to us, we can go through life repeating the unhealthy ways that the group taught us to relate to others.
My favorite way to work on this task came through journaling using a format based on cognitive behavioral therapy. It's easy, and it actually becomes fun after you get into the swing of it. You can make it as simple as you need to or short and sweet. You can also delve into your feelings and vent them in writing to help you figure things out. Much has been written on this topic. I tackle it in a post about it, but there are many great resources online. You can even print out free worksheets from sites like Get Self Help to assist you in this process.
The following PDF downloads can be very helpful in this process until you get the hang of it, and then you can just adapt your own form of journaling and go from there. There are also plenty of books that can help coach you through the process:
- ABC Worksheet (Cognitive Behavioral Journaling)
Nurture Your Self Concept
People grow weary of hearing about this, but I don't know that the importance of self-love and self-respect can be overemphasized. I found it very helpful to break the greater idea of self-concept down into these separate components:
- Self Esteem
- Self Efficacy
- Locus of Control
In a high demand group, self-esteem can come only from the worth that the group gives you. And a person can learn an unhealthy view of self-efficacy in such a system, seeing their success as a means of meriting love and acceptance upon which they base their whole worth. Yet at the same time, a group discourages your independence, so exactly how you merit self-efficacy will often be highly scripted. By working on these aspects of self and nurturing them, your sensitivity to criticism or rejection becomes less and less because you don't feel as wounded or as at risk.
If someone kicks you in the stomach after you've had surgery to repair a wound, it hurts remarkably more than it would if you are healthy – but even that still hurts. And it is healthy to protect yourself when you are wounded, because the hyper-sensitivity you develop is protective. However, it is temporary if you heal properly. There is just so much to juggle and work through after exiting a group, it can be overwhelming at times. This is especially so when we're also working hard to build a good, meaningful life, relationships, and families of our own. We start from where we are and we move forward. There are many considerations that can help us as we do.
Locus of Control represents yet another aspect of self-concept, but that will be the topic of its own post.