Mother’s Day, and special days: Triggering pain for mothers of estranged adult children
by Sheri McGregor, M.A.
Here it comes again—Mother’s Day in the United States and in Canada. Mothers of estranged adult children in the U.K. have already seen Mother’s Day come and go. Soon, mothers in Canada and in the States will be on the other side of the holiday too—until next year, when it rolls around all over again.
Hang in there. Mother’s Day won’t stop coming just because we’re estranged. And having spoken with thousands of parents who’ve been cut off by adult children, the reality is that the situation may not be ending for you anytime soon either. That’s why it’s so important for you to adapt.
What can you do?
Since starting this site, I’ve written a few articles about getting through Mother’s Day when adult children are estranged. You’ll find in them practical advice and concrete tips. You’ll also find comments from mothers of estranged adult children who share their experiences, and acknowledge the emotional pain. In this article, we’ll focus on Mother’s Day from an emotional triggers perspective.
Mother’s Day when adult children are estranged: Avoiding extra hurt
Mother’s Day, like any time when we’re particularly reminded of an estranged adult child and the relationship we used to share, can trigger an onslaught of feelings. While it’s helpful to acknowledge the pain, it’s also easy to slip into a looping circle of thoughts that bring us down. Everyone else is having fun, and I’m sitting home alone. What did I do to deserve this? This is so embarrassing. Nobody understands.
Each of us has our own personal version of woeful thoughts. And scrolling through Facebook with its stream of happy family shots might fuel the feelings behind them. Protect yourself if you need to. Just as social media can push emotional buttons, going to a brunch on Mother’s Day when you’ll be surrounded by families also might not be helpful either. Do you have other adult children or family who want to take you out? Remember, this is your day. You get to choose! Take care of yourself.
What else might make you feel sad or lonely? Make a few notes of what will hurt or help–and then be proactive. Mother’s Day when your adult children are estranged is similar to other times that are particularly hurtful because they remind you of loss, stress, or grief. In my book, Done With The Crying: Help and Healing for Mothers of Estranged Adult Children, in one story, Julia misses her only son. They were very close, and in the early mornings, he used to call her daily to chat. Julia had come to expect those calls. So after the estrangement, she would stare at the silent phone. Time gaped, and she felt horribly alone and sad.
Before her son walked away from the family, Julia’s mornings revolved around those calls. Their chat sessions had become part of her routine. They connected her to her son, and to the life they shared. But post-estrangement, Julia learned to adapt. Using one of the tools in the first chapter of the book, the first step toward her healing was to alter her routine. Looking at her phone each morning, wishing it would ring, only reminded her of what she’d lost.
Just as mornings were particularly difficult for Julia, Mother’s Day can prick up the feelings of loneliness and rejection that are common with estrangement from adult children. For some it’s a particular song. Others might be bothered by a particular sporting event, or other recreation. Even if you don’t realize why, you might find yourself overeating, grousing at the cat, or having troublesome dreams. The feelings or behavior may be related to emotions triggered by a holiday like Mother’s Day, or another personally significant day.
While I’m past the pain of estrangement, certain places and activities do remind me of my estranged adult child. Eating strawberries makes me think of him—he’d choose them over any sugary dessert. And a nearby street never fails to remind me of him. Memories are attached to those things, so it’s natural the mind connects them to someone who was once so much a part of my life.
Does that mean I’m sad? Not anymore. I’ve come to think of those triggered memories as hiccups. Like some of the other mothers whose stories are shared in my book, I’ve worked through the pain, and moved beyond it. Recognizing those triggers, and then taking action to make new routines can help.
Stepping forward: Be good to yourself
There’s no set schedule to moving beyond emotional pain. There are only steps, big or little, that move you forward. Whatever you do, don’t get down on yourself. Acknowledge your feelings so you can deal with them. Remember the utter shock you felt when your son or daughter first cut you off? Don’t think of triggered emotions as setbacks. They’re aftershocks—a normal occurrence that relieves pressure. Pat yourself on the back for accepting where you are right now, and for recognizing that in coping mindfully like Julia, you’re healing. Think: Forward. I’m adapting. I’m moving on.
Like Julia and other mothers whose stories of estrangement from adult children are shared in Done With The Crying: Help and Healing for Mothers of Estranged Adult Children, you too can heal. Mother’s Day doesn’t have to be a bad trigger day. You too can be Done With The Crying.
Here is Steven Hassan’s B.I.T.E. model, a checklist for the characteristics of a cult. As well as religious organization’s this behaviour can be present in many groups situations, families, working life and friendships.
The Evolution of the BITE Model – Steven Hassan
There are three components to Festinger’s theory – control of behaviour, thoughts, and emotions. Each can be affected by the other two. By manipulating three elements cults gain control over a person’s identity. Through working with former cult members, a fourth important component is identified – control of information. When that is controlled as the amount a person can receive limit capacity for independent thought. These four factors are easily remembered as BITE Behaviour, Information, Thoughts, Emotions.
The Bite Model
Regulation of individuals physical reality
Where, how and with who the member lives and associates.
What clothes, colours, hairstyles the person wears.
What food the person eats, drinks, adopts and rejects.
How much sleep the person is able to have.
Little or no time spent on leisure, entertainment, and vacations.
Major time commitment required for indoctrination sessions and group rituals.
Ask permission for major decisions.
Need to report thoughts, feelings, and activities to superiors.
Rewards and punishments (behaviour modification techniques, positive and negative)
Individualism discouraged ‘group think’ prevails.
Rigid rules and regulations.
Use of deception.
Deliberately holding back information.
Distorting information to make it more acceptable.
Access to non-cult sources of information minimized or discouraged.
Books, articles, magazines, TV, radio.
Keep members so busy they do not have time to think and check things out.
Compartmentalization of information – outsider vs insider doctrines.
Information is not freely accessible.
Information varies at different levels and missions within pyramid.
Spying on other members is encouraged.
Pairing up with ‘buddy’ system to monitor and control.
Reporting deviant thoughts, feelings, and actions to leadership.
Individual behaviour monitored by whole group.
Leadership decides who needs to know what and when.
Extensive use of cult generated information and propaganda.
Newsletters, magazines, journals, audio tapes, video tapes and other media.
Misquotations, statements taken out of context from non-cult sources.
Unethical use of confession.
Information about ‘sins’ used to abolish identity boundaries.
Past sins used to manipulate and control, no forgiveness or absolution.
Need for obedience and dependency.
Need to internalize the groups doctrine as ‘truth’,
Adopting the groups ‘map of reality’ as Reality.
Black and white thinking.
Good vs Evil.
Us vs Them.
Use of loaded language (thought terminating cliches) words are the tools we use to think with. Those special words constrict rather than expand understanding and can even stop thoughts altogether. They function to reduce complexities of experience into trite, platitudinous ‘buzz words’.
Only good and proper thoughts are encouraged.
Use of hypnotic techniques to induce altered mental states.
Manipulation of memories and implantation of false memories.
Use of thought stopping techniques which shut down ‘reality testing’ by stopping negative thoughts and allowing only good thoughts.
Rejection of rational analysis, critical thinking, constructive criticism. No critical questions about leaders, doctrine or policies seen as legitimate.
No alternative belief system viewed as legitimate, good or useful.
Manipulate and narrow the range of a persons feelings.
Make the person feel that if there are any problems its always their fault, never the leaders or groups.
Excessive use of guilt.
Who you are (not living up to potential)
Your thoughts, feelings, actions
Excessive use of fear
Fear of thinking independently
Fear of the outside world
Fear of enemies
Fear of losing ones salvation
Fear of leaving the group or being shunned
Fear of disapproval
Extremes of emotional highs and lows
Ritual and often public confessions of sins
Phobia indoctrination inculcating irrational fears about ever leaving the group or questioning leaders authority. The person under mind control cannot visualize a positive fulfilled future without being in the group.
No happiness or fulfilment outside of the group.
Terrible consequences will take place if you leave, hell, demon possession, incurable diseases, accidents, suicide, insanity, 10,000 reincarnations etc.
Shunning of leave takers, fear of being rejected by peers, friends and family.
Never a legitimate reason to leave. From the groups perspective people who leave are weak, undisciplined, unspiritual, worldly, brainwashed by family or a counsellor, or seduced by money, sex or ‘rock and roll’.
It is important to understand that the Destructive Mind Control can be determined when the overall effect of the four components promote dependency and obedience to some leader or cause. It is not necessary for every single item on the list to be present. Mind control cult members can live in their own apartments, have nine to five jobs, married with children, and still be unable to think for themselves and act independently.
Religious Trauma Syndrome is the condition experienced by people who are struggling with leaving an authoritarian, dogmatic religion and coping with the damage of indoctrination. They may be going through the shattering of a personally meaningful faith and/or breaking away from a controlling community and lifestyle. RTS is a function of both the chronic abuses of harmful religion and the impact of severing one’s connection with one’s faith. It can be compared to a combination of PTSD and Complex PTSD (C-PTSD). This is a summary followed by a series of three articles which were published in Cognitive Behaviour Therapy Today.
Religious Trauma Syndrome has a very recognizable set of symptoms, a definitive set of causes, and a debilitating cycle of abuse. There are ways to stop the abuse and recover.
Symptoms of Religious Trauma Syndrome:
• Cognitive: Confusion, poor critical thinking ability, negative beliefs about self-ability & self-worth, black & white thinking, perfectionism, difficulty with decision-making
• Emotional: Depression, anxiety, anger, grief, loneliness, difficulty with pleasure, loss of meaning
• Social: Loss of social network, family rupture, social awkwardness, sexual difficulty, behind schedule on developmental tasks
• Cultural: Unfamiliarity with secular world; “fish out of water” feelings, difficulty belonging, information gaps (e.g. evolution, modern art, music)
Causes of Religious Trauma Syndrome:
Authoritarianism coupled with toxic theology which is received and reinforced at church, school, and home results in:
• Suppression of normal child development – cognitive, social, emotional, moral stages are arrested
• Damage to normal thinking and feeling abilities -information is limited and controlled; dysfunctional beliefs taught; independent thinking condemned; feelings condemned
• External locus of control – knowledge is revealed, not discovered; hierarchy of authority enforced; self not a reliable or good source
• Physical and sexual abuse – patriarchal power; unhealthy sexual views; punishment used as for discipline
Cycle of Abuse
The doctrines of original sin and eternal damnation cause the most psychological distress by creating the ultimate double bind. You are guilty and responsible, and face eternal punishment. Yet you have no ability to do anything about it. (These are teachings of fundamentalist Christianity; however other authoritarian religions have equally toxic doctrines.)
You must conform to a mental test of “believing” in an external, unseen source for salvation, and maintain this state of belief until death. You cannot ever stop sinning altogether, so you must continue to confess and be forgiven, hoping that you have met the criteria despite complete lack of feedback about whether you will actually make it to heaven.
Salvation is not a free gift after all.
For the sincere believer, this results in an unending cycle of shame and relief.
Stopping the Cycle
You can stop the cycle of abuse, but leaving the faith is a “mixed blessing.” Letting go of the need to conform is a huge relief. There is a sense of freedom, excitement about information and new experiences, new-found self-respect, integrity, and the sense of an emerging identity.
There are huge challenges as well. The psychological damage does not go away overnight. In fact, because the phobia indoctrination in young childhood is so powerful, the fear of hell can last a lifetime despite rational analysis. Likewise the damage to self-esteem and basic self-trust can be crippling. This is why there are so many thousands of walking wounded – people who have left fundamentalist religion and are living with Religious Trauma Syndrome.
Religious Trauma Syndrome mimics the symptoms of many other disorders –
post-traumatic stress disorder
obsessive compulsive disorder
borderline personality disorder
marital and sexual dysfunctions
drug and alcohol abuse
extreme antisocial behavior, including homicide
There are many extreme cases, including child abuse of all kinds, suicide, rape, and murder. Not as extreme but also tragic are all the people who are struggling to make sense of life after losing their whole basis of reality. None of the previously named diagnoses quite tells the story, and many who try to get help from the mental health profession cannot find a therapist who understands.
What’s the problem?
We have in our society an assumption that religion is for the most part benign or good for you. Therapists, like others, expect that if you stop believing, you just quit going to church, putting it in the same category as not believing in Santa Claus. Some people also consider religious beliefs childish, so you just grow out of them, simple as that. Therapists often don’t understand fundamentalism, and they even recommend spiritual practices as part of therapy. In general, people who have not survived an authoritarian fundamentalist indoctrination do not realize what a complete mind-rape it really is.
In the United States, we also treasure our bill of rights, our freedom of speech, freedom of assembly, and freedom of religion. This makes it extremely difficult to address a debilitating disorder like RTS without threatening the majority of Americans. Raising questions about toxic beliefs and abusive practices in religion seems to be violating a taboo. No one wants to be pointing fingers for fear of tampering with our precious freedoms.
But this is the problem. Sanitizing religion makes it all the more insidious when it is toxic. For example, small children are biologically dependent on their adult caretakers; built into their survival mechanisms is a need to trust authority just to stay alive. Religious teachings take hold easily in their underdeveloped brains while the adults conveniently keep control. This continues generation after generation, as the religious meme complex reproduces itself, and masses of believers learn to value self-loathing and fear apocalypse.
There is hope
Awareness is growing about the dangers of religious indoctrination. There are more and more websites to support the growing number of people leaving harmful religion. Slowly, services are growing to help people with RTS heal and grow, including Journey Free. We are discovering the means by which people can understand what they have been through and take steps to become healthy, happy human beings.
Psychology Explains How Narcissists Use Projection To Manipulate
PSYCHOLOGY EXPLAINS HOW NARCISSISTS USE PROJECTION TO MANIPULATE
Narcissists have no real self-awareness to speak of. Indeed, their very sense of value is derived from how others perceive them. As a rule, narcissists are unable to recognize their shortcomings and failures, instead choosing to cast the blame – no matter the merits of such – onto someone else. It’s called projection – a default defense mechanism of the narcissist.
In this article, we’re going to define narcissism, projection, and how those with narcissistic tendencies use projection in order to achieve their aims. As you will read, narcissists are experts at manipulation. To this end, we’ll discuss how you can spot the narcissist, along with proactive things you can do to avoid becoming a victim of narcissistic manipulation.
WHAT IS PROJECTION?
In the field of psychology, projection – or psychological projection – is the denial of subconscious impulses by the human ego. For instance, someone accusing their partner of cheating when they’re actually the one engaging in the scandalous act is projecting. A jealous co-worker who accuses everyone else in the office of being jealous is projecting; secretly, they’re jealous of just about everyone with a modicum of success. And so on.
While common among the narcissistic, projecting is something that we all do to varying degrees. We usually project onto others when we have uncomfortable, sometimes disturbing, emotions, and thoughts about ourselves. The father of psychoanalysis, Sigmund Freud, believed that we project things onto others when we don’t want to burden ourselves with our perceived flaws or feelings of inferiority.
In other words, we want others to be the vehicles for our insecurities. We don’t want to deal with them anymore.
The thing is: while we all project, we don’t make a habit out of it. Most of us wouldn’t use projection to make someone feel inferior. We certainly wouldn’t employ projection as a means of coercion. Because, well, you’re not a narcissist (we don’t think.)
Speaking of which, let’s discuss narcissistic personality disorder in a tad more detail.
THE STORY OF NARCISSUS (THE OG NARCISSIST)
The ancient Greeks and Romans promulgated a myth about a young lad a wee too obsessed with his image. The story goes that Narcissus was a handsome guy who rejected all female comers. In fact, Narcissus rejected all of those who loved him, leading some of those he loved to take their own lives as a last effort to show Narcissus their devotion and love.
None of this moved the vain young man, however, which led the Goddess Nemesis to punish Narcissus for his callousness. The story ends with Narcissus getting a glimpse of himself in a lake, which reflected back an image showing him in the prime of his beauty. Narcissus fell in love with his own image, eventually realizing that nothing could love him as much as he could love himself. Nemesis takes his own life shortly after this realization.
NARCISSISTIC PERSONALITY DISORDER
In the late 1800s, psychologists decided that the vain Narcissus was an apt representation of some of their clients. A sexologist by the name of Havelock Ellis coined the term “narcissus-like” to describe his patients engaging in excessive masturbation.
In 1911, an Austrian psychiatrist by the name of Otto Rank published the first academic paper proposing narcissism as a potential psychological disorder. Rank described narcissism in the context of excessive self-admiration and vanity. Three years later, Freud published the paper On Narcissism: An Introduction.
“…a personality disorder with a long-term pattern of abnormal behavior characterized by exaggerated feelings of self-importance, excessive need for admiration, and a lack of empathy.”
Clinical treatment of NPD is not well-studied but is thought to be difficult – as those with NPD are unable to see their condition as a problem. NPD occurs more often in males, affects roughly one percent of the population, and is far more common in younger people than older.
Exploiting others for personal gain without feelings of guilt
An inability to understand the thoughts and feelings of others
Strong feelings of envy towards others
Constantly engaging in the bullying, belittling, and demeaning of others
A sense of entitlement and the need to be treated special
The need to be perceived as superior and unique
Obsession over desired traits such as attractiveness, intelligence, power, and success
The need to be constant admiration from other people
NARCISSISTS + PROJECTION = MANIPULATION
“When the [narcissistic] individual is in the superior position, defending against shame, the grandiose self aligns with the inner critic and devalues others through projection.” – Darlene Lancer, JD, LMFT (source)
HERE’S HOW NARCISSISTS USE PROJECTION TO MANIPULATE YOU (AND WHAT TO DO ABOUT IT):
1. THEY “CALL YOU OUT”
Perhaps the most straightforward way to project is to call someone out. When a narcissist calls you out, you can bet they’re doing so for one of two reasons: (a) to get you to do something, (b) to attack you, or both. Guilt-tripping is among the most common methods narcissists use. If that doesn’t work, they may get frustrated and verbally attack you.
What to do: In any case, don’t take the bait. Recognize the behavior for what it is: a shameless, insulting attempt to manipulate your thoughts and feelings. You have something they want – don’t give it to them!
2. THEY MIMIC
While narcissists have the emotional depth of a puddle, they’re smart enough (many are highly intelligent) to know that emotionality matters to people. For this reason, narcissists will often mimic the emotional behaviors that they see elsewhere to convince someone of their genuine nature.
For the narcissist, the problem with this tactic is that mimicry goes against the grain of innate human behavior. Assuming that they’re not some CIA-trained spy, the entire façade will become apparent sooner or later.
What to do: Be observant. Someone’s core personality will always make itself known. You just have to keep your eyes and ears open.
3. THEY USE CHARACTER ASSASSINATION
If you’ve ever been the victim of character assassination, then you may know the far-reaching effects. Targeting someone’s character is the ultimate “go for the jugular” act. When a narcissist engages in character assassination, it’s often out of vengeance, or for the purpose of winning people over for some reason.
What to do: The most important thing here is not to panic. Most have pretty good sense when it comes to getting a feel for someone’s character. For this reason, we’re naturally cautious when someone verbally attacks another’s person. If these things are occurring in a work environment, it may be necessary to speak with your manager, human resources, or the legal department.
4. THEY PLAY THE VICTIM
Narcissists love to play the victim. At first, anyway. Why? Because they realize that most of us have some kind of sensitive core. We don’t like to see other people suffer. We want to help alleviate that suffering. Narcissists are all too eager to take advantage of this near-universal human trait. For this reason, the narcissist will project a “Woe is me” demeanor as well.
Some less-intelligent narcissists make the critical error of playing the victim to one person. If this is the case, it’s much easier to see through the charade.
What to do: It’s important to remain observant and keep your ear to the ground. If you’re particularly sensitive (e.g., an empath), make sure that you’re offering your assistance only to people you know well.
3. THEY SHAPE SHIFT
When a narcissist feels that they’ve got the victim where they want, they’ll quickly drop the act. They do so because they’re confident that the victim will offer little if any resistance. Indeed, this is often the last opportunity that the potential – or, by this point, possibly real – the victim will have to minimize the damage.
If you catch onto the shape-shifting, don’t expect the narcissist to go quietly into the night. Remember, narcissists are experts in the art of manipulation – and they may still be able to flummox you just enough that you’ll keep them around.
FINAL BIT OF ADVICE ON DEALING WITH NARCISSISTS
At this juncture, it is critical that you not hesitate to “end it.” Unless that person has some undiagnosed mental health disorder, there’s just no rational explanation for displaying extremes along the personality spectrum. Particularly if you’re being hurt in the interim.
Christmas is the hardest time of year for those estranged from close family
With Christmas just around the corner, many will be finalising plans to see their families over the festive period. Yet for others, family relationships are challenging, distant and a source of pain. In some cases, relationships break down entirely leaving people estranged from close relatives.
Results from a new online survey of people estranged from family members conducted with the charity Stand Alone, has shown how difficult Christmas can be. The survey was completed by 807 people who identified as being estranged from a parent, sibling or an adult child.
Almost all identified the holiday season as the most challenging time of year, describing feelings of loneliness, isolation and sadness. These feelings and experiences are in direct contrast to the idealised images of happy families around the dinner table that feature in Christmas advertising and the media at this time of year. One respondent said:
Everyone always says ‘what family plans do you have for holidays?’ and look at you funny when you say none. It’s hard to explain to people why you don’t want to be with your own parents.
Two-thirds of the respondents felt there was a stigma about family estrangement. They described feeling judged or blamed – and feeling that estrangement was a taboo subject about which there is little understanding or acknowledgement.
No two estranged relationships looked alike. Yet common factors often led to estrangement, such as having mismatched expectations about family roles and relationships, clashes in personality and values, and emotional abuse.
Estrangement was found to be more complex than simply a lack of contact or communication between family members. Although most of the respondents who were estranged from a parent, sibling or an adult child had no contact whatsoever with this individual, approximately 25% had contact that was minimal in nature. These results are similar to those of Australian social worker Kylie Aglias, who has distinguished between family members who have no contact at all (physical estrangement) and those whose contact is infrequent, perfunctory, and often uncomfortable (emotional estrangement).
We also found that estranged relationships change over time and that cycles in and out of estrangement are common. Of those who said they wished that their estranged relationship was different, most wanted a relationship that was more loving, warm and emotionally close.
What can be done to help?
When it came to getting support, respondents said those friends and support services which offered them emotional and practical support and took the time to listen to them and show them understanding were the most helpful. They found it unhelpful when they felt friends or counsellors dismissed them or when they felt they had been judged and blamed for the estrangement.
It would be wrong to assume that all those experiencing estrangement wish for there to be reconciliation in the future. Feelings about the future of estranged relationships were varied. Of those who were estranged from a mother or father, most felt that there would never be a functional relationship between them in the future. Yet for those who were estranged from an adult son or daughter, most felt that there could be a functional relationship in the future or were unsure of the future direction of the relationship.
Four out of five respondents also reported that there had been a positive outcome from their experience of estrangement. These included feeling more free and independent, feeling happier and less stressed, and having gained a greater insight or understanding of themselves and relationships more broadly.
By listening to the hidden voices of people who are estranged from close relatives, we can begin to move beyond assumptions about what families could or should look like and begin conversations about families and family relationships as they really are.
A woman in West Cornwall is using her traumatic experience of leaving Jehovah’s Witnesses, after being raised as one, to offer a new counselling service for former members of religious cults.
Laetitia Latham Jones, from St Buryan near Penzance, recently qualified as a crisis and trauma counsellor and set up Taking The Helm, which provides counselling for everyone from victims of abuse, to survivors of natural disasters.
But it is those who have left religious cults that Laetitia wishes to specialise in helping, drawing on her own childhood experience and being disfellowshipped from Jehovah’s Witnesses, a religion which she describes as having the traits of a cult.
In recent years, many former Jehovah’s Witnesses have described the religion as being cult-like, but fearing repercussions, most have done so anonymously.
Now, hoping to help others who have been shunned and left isolated after leaving religious groups, Laetitia has spoken out about what happens when you say you want to leave.
“I was born into a religious cult myself. Other people join them, but I had no choice.”
Originally from Kent, Laetitia says her parents became Jehovah’s Witnesses about four years before she was born. “They knocked on our door and caught my mum at a vulnerable time of crisis.” She explains.
“One of my older brothers had severe autism and had to live in a residential hospital at six years of age. After he left the home, my mum was obviously distraught and a Jehovah’s Witness called at her door.”
Laetitia’s mother started attending meetings, and her father could see it seemed to help her, so he accompanied her.
By the time Laetitia was born, the family were well-established Jehovah’s Witnesses, attending meetings at their local Kingdom Hall three times a week, and door knocking in the local area to try and recruit new members.
As a child, Laetitia was involved from the start. She recalls being taken out to preach every Christmas Day, something she hated because they received a lot of negative responses. She remembers a man shouting at her father, saying that his children should be at home opening presents rather than knocking on doors.
“By the time I was eight years old, I was out preaching on my own, with my parents calling on other homes in the same street. I was trained with good arguments for each subject that could be raised. I had a really good argument for evolution, and for not having or giving blood transfusions – even if it is for a family member.”
But preaching on Christmas Day was not the only thing that made Laetitia’s childhood different than most. “At school, I was kept out of religious assemblies and religious studies. We didn’t celebrate Christmas, birthdays, or Easter because we were taught they had Pagan origins.
“They feel that celebrating birthdays places you upon a pedestal and the only person you should honour is God.”
But for someone born into the religion, not having a birthday party did not seem all that strange:
“We were also encouraged not to associate with anyone outside of the religion and my friends didn’t celebrate their birthdays either.”
Although Laetitia would get in trouble for small acts of rebellion or asking too many questions, (like, ‘why have Adam and Eve got belly buttons in our pamphlet?’) she decided that she still wanted to be baptised as a Jehovah’s Witness.
“I was baptised at the age of 14 – full immersion in a pool at one of their conventions. At the time, I thought it was what I wanted. A friend of mine was baptised at 12 years of age, and I was quite close to her, so I asked my parents for the next two years until they agreed.
“The elders take you through a set of questions, to ensure you know what you’re getting into, but obviously at 14, you are still too young.”
If the elders thought being baptised would make Laetitia a more committed Jehovah’s Witness, they were wrong, because two years later, she had had enough and wanted out.
“At 16, I asked the elders to disfellowship me, because I wanted my own life, and I wanted my freedom. I was dating a young man who wasn’t in the religion, and he had all of his freedom and I wanted mine too.”
Laetitia continues: “I knew what would happen, I knew I had to choose between my family and my own life, because you are shunned once you leave. As I was young, I didn’t really appreciate the consequences, and the effect leaving would have on me way down the line.
“I was a rebellious child, and not looked upon favourably by my parents, so I thought it wouldn’t matter anyway. However, years on you realise it has a bigger effect on you than you thought it would.”
Laetitia says she was brought before three elders known as a judicial committee, who tried to convince her not to leave Jehovah’s Witnesses before the disfellowshipping. “I had been in front of them twice previously for various things, as I was not an obedient child. They tried to talk me out of it, but I insisted. I had my boyfriend, so I knew there was someone to support me. Maybe if I’d been on my own, I would never have asked.”
As soon as she left, Laetitia’s life changed: “Everyone you’ve known and grown up with shuns you. They don’t speak to you anymore. If they see you on the street, they will cross to the other side rather than speak to you, so you have to get used to that.
“With my parents, I was still living in the family home, so they had to interact with me as they usually would, but there was a definite atmosphere. They told me I couldn’t leave home unless I married, so I discussed this with my boyfriend and about five weeks later, at the age of 17, we were married and I was able to move out.”
Speaking about the adjustment that followed, Laetitia says: “When you are raised in a cult you do not realise how isolated you are from the outside world, so when you come out it is extremely difficult to learn how to mix with a community, to make friends and trust others – because you are taught to trust no-one in the world.
“Many people who leave cults are isolated and some have committed suicide, because they cannot handle the shunning and the outside world.”
Of course, Jehovah’s Witnesses vehemently dispute they are in any way a cult, and have a section on their website dedicated to explaining why they are not a cult, saying: “No, Jehovah’s Witnesses are not a cult. Rather, we are Christians who do our best to follow the example set by Jesus Christ and to live by his teachings.” The website continues to argue that they are not a cult because they ‘have not invented a new religion’, and ‘do not look to any human as their leader.’
Laetitia disagrees: “The religions viewed as cults interfere with your personal life. They control what you wear, what you read and what you watch on TV. We weren’t even allowed to watch Scooby Doo!
“In my research, I have discovered there is actually a checklist for cults known as the B.I.T.E. model.”
Having left her parents and the religion that she was raised in, Laetitia says there was domestic violence in her marriage when she was pregnant with her daughter, so feeling vulnerable she returned to the Jehovah’s Witnesses so that she could have contact and support from her family again.
She went through a process of being reinstated, where she had to attend church for six months without talking to anyone to prove that she was committed to being a member again.
After leaving her first husband, Laetitia eventually married again, but although her second husband was happy at first to attend the Jehovah’s Witnesses meetings, he soon realised after talking to an elder, that for them to accept him, he would have to quit his job as a policeman.
This prompted Laetitia to disassociate herself from Jehovah’s Witnesses for a second time, and disassociation results in the same treatment as disfellowshipping.
When Laetitia’s second husband retired from the police force, they moved to Cornwall with their son. She recalls visiting the Witchcraft Museum in Boscastle in 1996 where she was shocked by the ways that women who were branded as witches had been tortured by people who were supposedly Christian. “So I thought, if they teach that witchcraft is evil, but can perform horrific tortures, then maybe the other side isn’t as bad as they say it is. That’s when I began looking into witchcraft.”
With a love of morris dancing as well as developing an interest in Paganism, Laetitia was invited to train as a ‘teaser’ for Penglaz, the Obby Oss at Golowan Festival in Penzance. Her tutor turned out to be Cassandra Latham, who she had previously met at the Pagan Conference in 2003.
In 1996, Cassandra became the first person in the UK to have her occupation registered with the Inland Revenue as ‘village witch’. As a much respected wisewoman in West Cornwall, Cassandra was looking to not only train up a new teaser, but a wisewoman who could work alongside her.
Laetitia and her second husband eventually divorced due to their lives going in different directions.
As a village wisewoman living with Cassandra in St Buryan, it would seem that Laetitia could not be further away from her upbringing as a Jehovah’s Witness. However, when her father died of cancer five years ago, she attended her local Kingdom Hall following the funeral, to be somewhere he would want to be. She promised her father that she would return before he died and her grief at this time led her to become reinstated.
“Of course, when the elders discovered I was with Cassandra, all Hell broke loose, as you can imagine.” Laetitia remembers.
“They sent me a text to say they wanted to see me, and I visited the hall that evening, where two elders were waiting for me and brought up websites on their iPad with my pictures with the ‘Obby ‘Oss and Cassandra.
“They were angry and instructed me to leave Cassandra immediately, and called her an evil woman, and began questioning me about my personal life. I replied that she had been extremely kind to me as she gave me a home rather than see me become homeless after my divorce.
“I reacted angrily and shortly after that they instructed me to attend a hearing with the judicial committee of elders and I refused. The following day they called at Cassandra’s cottage and announced they were disfellowshipping me once again.”
Despite her reaction to the Jehovah’s Witnesses trying to tell her how to live her life, Laetitia says that she doesn’t hold any resentment towards her parents, who have both now passed away, following her mother’s death earlier this year.
“I don’t hold a grudge. They caught my parents at a vulnerable time, and I feel so sorry for them as they were taken advantage of. My parents lived and breathed that religion for 60 years, and now that I have more knowledge of cults, I can see they wasted their lives believing they would never become old or die, waiting each day for Armageddon and the paradise earth where they would live forever.”
Laetitia is clearly happy with where she is now, and proud of her achievements – with good reason: “As Jehovah’s Witnesses, we weren’t allowed to go on to further education after leaving school. We were told that college would have wild parties, drug taking, bad associations etc. They didn’t want us to have a career as we were pressured to be ‘pioneers’ where you preach for 90 hours a month and have a small part time job to earn money.
“I wanted to be a professional dancer and my sister wanted to be a P.E. teacher, but we didn’t pursue those careers as it would be difficult without parental support.
“I attended college in my early 30s and did NVQ levels 1, 2 and 3 in Beauty Therapy, went on to attain Diplomas in Holistic therapies, I teach Reiki courses and now have my Counselling Diploma.”
Looking towards the future and hoping that her Counselling Diploma and her experience can help others, Laetitia says:
“I had a friend from childhood who was a Jehovah’s Witness and committed suicide at the age of 21. He was depressed, and he told the elders he considered ending his life, but received no help.
“My research and study of religious cults show that many people end their lives because they are shunned and isolated after leaving Jehovah’s Witnesses and other cults.
“I want to be there for people who reach out for someone who understands their problems.
“I could save lives in this way, just by being there, and I feel this is the reason for my life experience.”
I happened to come across an article about you and wanted to say thank you for sharing! Up until about a year and a half ago I thought I was the only one that experienced the aftermath of being disfellowshipped. Anyway, I hope you and yours are well! A.C
My sister, just sent me over your article from Cornwall live. Thank you for sharing your experience, it very much reflects our upbringing as a JW. I build up the courage 5 years ago to leave, not disassociate as my mum is mental and physically disabled, which you know would mean I would not be able to talk to her. Cutting the long story short, I am now a mental health nurse, due to witnessing so many witnesses disfellowshipped through acts they did whilst mentally ill. It is not all roses as many believe it is and I am so glad you have found your way and shared your story. Kind Regards S.M.
I just wanted to say well done for your brave interview on cornwalllive – good for you being able to talk openly about repression and controlling organisations and how much I respect your decision to help others who fall into these traps – also ignore the trolls as some people have nothing better to do than continue the repression this way! Lots of love. L.F.
Thank you for your article . I’m glad you were honest. I’ve left after 30 plus years . I was unhappy about the secret data base of paedophiles. Since speaking out I’ve been shunned . My daughter no longer speaks along with ..4 grandchildren. It’s just ridiculous. So many are leaving , I’ve been trying to visit people as they leave to make sure they have food . The situation has got very bad over the last few years . But I’d like to say thank you . Much love. A.C.
There are many articles on parents with estranged adult children. This article however will touch on adult children with estranged parents.
When people hear about the loss or the impending loss of an estranged parent some people feel shocked and unprepared to experience the range of emotions of grief. They may struggle with a wide variety of things that they will have to be consider in a very short period of time. Funeral attendance, flights across the country, other people’s feelings and their own feelings. The loss may leave them mourning not only their estranged parents death but also the loss of an imaginary, what-may-have-been relationship.
Sometimes people find out about the death of their parent in an insensitive way. Maybe they found out after the fact in obituaries or through the “grape-vine” of other estranged family members. Communication in estranged family relationships are sometimes non-existent. It is not unusual for major events – even a death – to not be communicated. They may assume that they were left out with evil intent when it’s possible that the family of the estranged parent has perceived the relationship to be so strained that the person wouldn’t want it communicated.
Reasons people may grieve an estranged parent:
Grieving that the relationship now has no chance of mending. Often at some level there is an unspoken hope that the relationship might be restored. Death closes the door on reconciliation. Words are left unsaid and the feelings still remain, sometimes without closure.
Grieving the loss of a part of heritage. Even though the relationship with the parent wasn’t strong, the death involves someone who is a part of their lineage and the chance to learn about the other half of their family may be gone.
Grieve what might have been. People reflect on a time when they loved the parent, or wanted to love them. Although there may not be a longing for things to change, there is a feeling of melancholy that things were not different. The death of the parent brings to mind ideas of how the relationship should have been. After the loss, the dream for a better relationship remains only a dream, and in many cases people grieve the death of the dream rather than the loss of the person.
Some people experience apathy to the loss of the non-existent parent in their lives. It is entirely possible that they dealt with the grief of loss when they were first estranged. The length of time and purpose of the estrangement greatly affects each persons response.
Ways to help someone with the loss of an estranged parent:
Regardless of whatever expectations they think society has placed on them for handling the loss of an estranged parent, they have experienced a loss and they are allowed to grieve. Giving them space to grieve without judgment is important.
People may express deep sadness and remorse for the wasted years. Missed phone calls or chances to re-connect and opportunities lost. Remind them to not waste the rest of their life looking back at what could have been.
Talking about the past can be cathartic and open doorways to recovery. Though sometimes people don’t realize that reciting a general litany of of unhappiness is one of the main reasons they stay stuck. The goal is to become emotionally complete with what happened so that they don’t need to be a current victim of what happened in the past. It’s bad enough that they were mistreated and/or harmed, but remaining stuck in the destructive mental repetition can prevent them from moving forward.
Remind them that forgiveness isn’t saying that the estranged child ‘accepts’ or ‘approves’ what happened. Forgiveness is the acknowledgment that what happened, happened, and that they are now ready to let go of the baggage. Forgiveness isn’t always about the other person, it’s about moving forward.
What NOT to say to someone grieving the death of an estranged parent:
“They were an awful person, why do you even care?” Invalidates the feelings of the grieving person. They are trying to figure out their own emotions in the situation. They may be feeling confused or upset that they care about this person too. They may be upset that they care for this person at all, adding even more to their confusion and grief. Invalidating their feelings may make them feel like they aren’t allowed to express them at all.
When will you feel better?” Expectation for a timeline for grieving puts unnecessary pressure on the griever to just get over it and again reinforces that they aren’t allowed to express their emotions.
“You didn’t even know him/her” amplifies what the griever is probably already thinking. Knowing this doesn’t take away from the pain of being unable to connect to their estranged parent, in cases it might even be the primary cause of their grief.
Liberating Losses: When Death Brings Relief, By Jennifer Elison and Chris Mcgonigle. Sometimes we are relieved that our loved one is no longer suffering; at the other end of the spectrum, a death might finally free us of an abusive or unhappy relationship. In this groundbreaking book, the authors share their own and others’ stories, compassionate clinical analysis, and pragmatic counsel with other disenfranchised survivors.
Toxic Parents: Overcoming Their Hurtful Legacy and Reclaiming Your Life, By Susan Forward. In this remarkable self-help guide, Dr. Susan Forward draws on case histories and the real-life voices of adult children of toxic parents to help you free yourself from the frustrating patterns of your relationship with your parents — and discover a new world of self-confidence, inner strength, and emotional independence.
How to practically cope with increasing anxiety during this time
Source: Melanie Wasser/Unsplash
So much in our world has changed since I wrote my last post. And yet, the realities of our existential fears still persist and may be more evident than ever. The anxiety of this world continues to remain palpable – the empty shelves, the sickness, the isolation, death, and the reality of the unknown future. This week, I have been reflecting on the increased anxiety that we feel as humans when there is a threat to our well-being. We have a natural instinct to turn inward, to plan, to gather supplies, to be on high alert. And we have a natural instinct that causes us to feel fear in our bodies. All of these instincts are a result of being faced with four core existential fears (loss of control, challenges to our identity, isolation, and ultimately, our fear of death).1,2 The COVID-19 pandemic hits across all of our existential fears. When we are faced with these fears, we are confronted with information—and what we do with that information matters. As a therapist, I wanted to provide practical ways of coping with these fears and how we can use these fears to help us move forward.
1. Use your fear as information: Acknowledge that you are feeling a feeling. Do not ignore it, honor it, and ask yourself—”What is is this feeling trying to tell me?” For example, if you are feeling exhausted, increased pounding in your chest, inability to stop intrusive thoughts, take a deep breath, acknowledge these feelings and sit with them for a moment to say, “What is my concern here?” Are you afraid of losing work, losing your health, of not knowing what the future holds? Reflect and then begin to see what you can reasonably do with that information. Sometimes all we can do is acknowledge it (i.e., I do not have control over if my college classes are cancelled) and other times we can realize what we do have control over and what we don’t (i.e., I can wash my hands and keep limited social contact, but I cannot ultimately control whether I am exposed to illness). If you allow yourself to use your feelings as information, you can learn something from yourself. Feelings are there for a reason and often do not come from nowhere.
2. Practice acceptance: This may be the hardest step. We often do not want to accept “what is” and we would rather live in an alternate reality of “what we want life to be.” The truth is many will get sick, many will die, and we do not know what the future holds. When we begin with this reality, we can move toward “what is.” We can ground ourselves toward the truth and act accordingly. We wash our hands, we stay home, we connect virtually with those we love and express those feelings. We can begin to acknowledge our existential fears as facts and not fears.
3. Find connection: Talk to people in your life and connect with them. Use virtual means and schedule a hangout. Share your concerns, your struggles. Are there people in your life that are adding to your stress? Give yourself permission to take a break. Do you have someone in your life that will listen to you? Can you find something to talk about that you both can share together that is about something other than this crisis alone? Talk about your favorite show you are watching or the book you are reading. Make this an intention to connect. We are all in the midst of this experience and we might just be able to learn something from each other.
4. Use grounding techniques: When we are in a state of crisis, our body is telling us something. It is telling us to pay attention to the threats around us. This is a protective, natural response of being human. What makes a pandemic so unique is that our bodies are designed to alert us to these threats in short bursts, and cannot sustain threat-signals for an extended period of time. This can create fatigue, exhaustion, and just plain “foggy-headedness.” So you need to ground your body. This is a natural way to signal to your body that it is safe. Grounding techniques are universal and involve our five senses. Breathe deeply with your body in a child’s pose, or lay on the ground with your body on your back stretching like it is waking out of bed and practice deep belly breathing for two minutes. Notice your breath as it moves in and out. Let your thoughts come and go. Do not hold onto them, just notice them. Another grounding technique is called just notice them. Another grounding technique is called progressive muscle relaxation. You can google that to find the specific movements, but it can be as simple as squeezing your muscles tightly as you inhale and releasing your muscles as you exhale. Repeat. Notice your body and your mind.
5. Take a break when you can: Give yourself permission to take a break from the news, from fear and worry. Allow yourself to immerse yourself in a hobby like drawing, listening to music, reading a book, talking with a friend. Allow yourself to laugh and to be in the present moment. Put your phone in a drawer. Sit on your porch and see if you can hear the birds sing. Put “bookends” on your thoughts and when they start to circle back to worry or fear, notice it and then direct your mind to whatever you are doing in that moment. Be intentional about this practice. You do not need to be productive, you just need to feel and be. In fact, we can’t help it. I am just asking you to notice being human.
I hope this is helpful to you during this time. We are in this together. And we need each other. People react to fear in various ways—hoarding, becoming rigid, denial, anger—all various forms of fight, flight, or freeze. In my next post, I will explore this more. But for today, acknowledge what your fears might be trying to tell you. And lean in, trusting that your body is good and trying to tell you something. Listen to reality and ground yourself in your body. Immerse yourself where you are mean to be. Existential fears are a part of our life. We just may have realized it for the first time. Welcome. This is what it means to be fully alive.
What to do when Father’s Day isnt happy – Alison James
Do Father’s Day posts on social media make you want to crawl under the covers until the day is over?
Do Father’s Day commercials make you feel sad or angry?
Do you wish Father’s Day would be over already, so you would stop being reminded about your dad?
Even though Father’s Day is a happy occasion for many people, it can bring up painful or negative feelings for others.
Whether the day reminds you of a loving father who died, a less than loving father who wasn’t there the way you needed him to be, or if you’re a father who can’t be with your child for any reason, those are all losses that could make Father’s Day difficult. If the day brings up negative feelings then you might be experiencing unresolved grief.
Unresolved grief can have a long term negative impact on your life. Grief is cumulative and cumulatively negative. Grief not only affects current relationships, but it affects future relationships, your work, health, and even hobbies. The intensity of your feelings may lessen over time, but grief doesn’t heal on its own.
Here are some signs you might have unresolved grief around your dad:
Do you refuse to talk about him?
Do you feel angry or sad when you think about him?
Do you avoid places that remind you of him?
Do you put your dad on a pedestal or only see his negative qualities?
Do you avoid watching movies, eating foods, or going to places that remind you of him?
Do you avoid contact with him?
Have you ever wondered what life would be like if you weren’t carrying around the pain from your relationship with your dad?
If you’re like most people, you were never taught how to heal your broken heart. Although there are plenty of articles, and well-intentioned people, who will share a list of ways to change your feelings short term, they never show you how to truly recover. Frankly, if you want to recover from grief then you must have the courage to do the work.
The first step is admitting that you want help.
Talk to someone you trust. Tell the truth about yourself. Ask them not to judge, criticize, or analyze (then don’t judge, criticize, or analyze yourself either).
Whether you are already in one, or considering joining any kind of group be it a religious group, place of work, performance group etc. the following article will enlighten you on what signs to look out for.
By Rick Ross – Expert Consultant and Intervention Therapist.
Ten warning signs of a potentially unsafe group/leader.
Absolute authoritarianism without meaningful accountability.
No tolerance for questions or critical inquiry.
No meaningful financial disclosure regarding budget, expenses such as an independently audited financial statement.
Unreasonable fear about the outside world, such as impending catastrophe, evil conspiracies and persecutions.
There is no legitimate reason to leave, former followers are always wrong in leaving, negative or even evil.
Former members often relate the same stories of abuse and reflect a similar pattern of grievances.
There are records, books, news articles, or television programs that document the abuses of the group/leader.
Followers feel they can never be “good enough”.
The group/leader is always right.
The group/leader is the exclusive means of knowing “truth” or receiving validation, no other process of discovery is really acceptable or credible.
Ten warning signs regarding people involved in/with a potentially unsafe group/leader.
Extreme obsessiveness regarding the group/leader resulting in the exclusion of almost every practical consideration.
Individual identity, the group, the leader and/or God as distinct and separate categories of existence become increasingly blurred. Instead, in the follower’s mind these identities become substantially and increasingly fused–as that person’s involvement with the group/leader continues and deepens.
Whenever the group/leader is criticized or questioned it is characterized as “persecution”.
Uncharacteristically stilted and seemingly programmed conversation and mannerisms, cloning of the group/leader in personal behavior.
Dependency upon the group/leader for problem solving, solutions, and definitions without meaningful reflective thought. A seeming inability to think independently or analyze situations without group/leader involvement.
Hyperactivity centered on the group/leader agenda, which seems to supercede any personal goals or individual interests.
A dramatic loss of spontaneity and sense of humor.
Increasing isolation from family and old friends unless they demonstrate an interest in the group/leader.
Anything the group/leader does can be justified no matter how harsh or harmful.
Former followers are at best-considered negative or worse evil and under bad influences. They can not be trusted and personal contact is avoided.
Ten signs of a safe group/leader.
A safe group/leader will answer your questions without becoming judgmental and punitive.
A safe group/leader will disclose information such as finances and often offer an independently audited financial statement regarding budget and expenses. Safe groups and leaders will tell you more than you want to know.
A safe group/leader is often democratic, sharing decision making and encouraging accountability and oversight.
A safe group/leader may have disgruntled former followers, but will not vilify, excommunicate and forbid others from associating with them.
A safe group/leader will not have a paper trail of overwhelmingly negative records, books, articles and statements about them.
A safe group/leader will encourage family communication, community interaction and existing friendships and not feel threatened.
A safe group/leader will recognize reasonable boundaries and limitations when dealing with others.
A safe group/leader will encourage critical thinking, individual autonomy and feelings of self-esteem.
A safe group/leader will admit failings and mistakes and accept constructive criticism and advice.
A safe group/leader will not be the only source of knowledge and learning excluding everyone else, but value dialogue and the free exchange of ideas.
Don’t be naïve, develop a good BS Detector.
You can protect yourself from unsafe groups and leaders by developing a good BS detector. Check things out, know the facts and examine the evidence. A safe group will be patient with your decision making process. If a group or leader grows angry and anxious just because you want to make an informed and careful decision before joining; beware.