Lourdes, Lifeboats, and Bounded Choice: The Complicated Process of Exiting Totalist Groups Part 4

Lourdes, Lifeboats, and Bounded Choice: The Complicated Process of Exiting Totalist Groups Part 4 July 26, 2014

by Cindy Kunsman cross posted from Spiritual Sounding Board

Obstacles that Second Generation Adults like Lourdes Torres-Manteufel must overcome when exiting threatening, high demand situations and groups like Doug Phillips’ Vision Forum

“When we leave, we actually don’t have what we need to survive outside.”

Jill Mytton

I once heard a story from India about an elephant that spent its life tethered to a stake that was driven deeply into the ground. He spent his whole life living only within the radius allowed by the tether. One day, the tether breaks, but the elephant never ventures out beyond the circle, even though he is no longer physically restricted. He stays within the familiar and never ventures out beyond the well-worn path, the radius of that which the elephant has always known. It’s really quite a sad story.

The concept of bounded choice parallels that of the story of the elephant. Though no physical restraints exist, people who believe that they have no choice find that forces more powerful than physical ones keep them bound to a predictable number of options. I told a counselor once that, despite having no tether anymore, I’d walked that same circle so many times that I’d surely turned it into a trench because of wear, making it even harder to get out of the habit. I hope that in explaining the reasons behind this process of the bounded choice of the Second Generation Adult (SGA) who grew up in a high-demand system, that the knowledge will serve as yet another lifeboat of validation that will help them move on to deeper healing.

Particular Constraints of the Totalist Environment, Especially for the Second Generation Adult

Once an individual becomes a part of a closed, totalistic system, several factors work to keep them entrenched in that system, powerfully tethered to the predictable radius that is acceptable to the group. Members appear to have a wealth of options, but like the elephant, they can’t walk away. The group dynamics and the withholding of information and knowledge drastically limit rational choice. Because of distorted and absent boundaries, personal choice actually becomes organizational choice which constrains the member to a predetermined set of “givens” that are determined by the group. It gives theillusion of freedom, but denies the power thereof.

In Chapter 3 of the recovery book, Take Back Your Life, Lalich and Tobias explain the additional pressures that children face from childhood into adulthood, all of which tend to keep them silent and powerless. I’ve listed only some of these pressures, personalizing them for those who grew up in the Quiverfull/Patriarchy Movement. To that list, I would add the lifelong physical consequences and theprofound psychological toll associated with Developmental Trauma Disorder.

  • The group’s world and perspective may be all that they’ve ever known. (How does a child do something that they have never experienced and lack the skills to accomplish and perhaps even the vocabulary to describe these tasks?)
  • They fear the unsafe and evil outside world, both physically and in terms of ideas which are seen as more destructive. (See writings concerning young women in patriarchy.)
  • Restricted self-determination, particularly for daughters, at the discretion of the visionary patriarch of the family for whom they exist to serve until given in marriage to their own new male covering.
  • Unmarried girls are the de facto property of their parents, as the wife is considered the property of her husband.
  • Self-concept rooted in vilification, from the diabolical child concept of the Pearls to an aberrant, pessimistic view of total depravity in children *(particularly in females)*.
  • Because of the mandated submission and authority structure, children are also subject to the requirements of the leader who acts for God as His mouthpiece, superseding their own judgment and conscience. (Review Voddie Baucham’s material on “multigenerational faithfulness, especially this mp3 download about Baucham’s duty to do what neglectful parents will not; and summary One , Two, and Three.)
  • Exiting one’s authority structure results in punishment as God himself retaliates against them for their rebellion (which is qualified as witchcraft).
  • Children adopt a black/white, all good/all bad sense of understanding and lack the reasoning enjoyed by adults, often learning nothing else, as the same is demanded of their parents.
  • Children are taught blind obedience as opposed to critical thinking and the challenging of ideas from within their system (a punishable offense).
  • Unreasonable expectations which build anxious and dependent traits into a child’s developing character.
  • The pragmatic limitations of provisional and dependency needs.
  • The long-term emotional and psychological constraints experienced as a consequence of mandated enmeshment.
  • Medical neglect and untreated illness within some subgroups (As a random example, aside from the Luddite tendency in some groups to prefer health food store cures in place of traditional medicine, I recall a now deleted blog post of a patriarchy leader who bragged about saving money by taking her child to a vet.)


The Charismatic Leader’s Daunting Demands

Janja Lalich – who herself spent 11 years inside a radical, politically-based “closed system” – explains even more specifics in her book entitled Bounded Choice. She identifies comprehensive factors that bind an individual within a totalistic group, identifying four“interlocking and interactional dimensions of the social structure” that create a “bounded reality and contribute to a state of personal closure for the individual participant” (pg. 261). An open system is a dynamic one that allows for choices, and personal closure results from the bounded reality of the static, rigid confines of Doug Phillips’ concept of “normativity.”

Those four dimensions of Bounded Choice include:

  • Charismatic Leadership.
  • Idealistic Belief System.
  • Systems of Control.
  • Systems of Manipulation.

These can be further explored in this online summary. I believe that exploration of Charismatic Leadership explains much about why a young adult would concede to the pressures of their minister and an attorney like Doug Phillips of Vision Forum, whose practices depended on persuasion. This direct influence just intensifies the additional pressures and constraints associated with the SGA.

All idealistic, manipulative, and cultic groups center around a Charismatic Leader (Charismatic Authority) who develops a group of elite individuals that surround him or her (but it is more rarely a woman). These create an upper echelon or inner circle of leadership. When members receive individual acknowledgement from that “inner circle” or from the charismatic group leader personally, this greatly reinforces their own sense of pride and personal power, and a sense of personal elitism as well.

They experience love and Charismatic Authorityadmiration for the leadership as positive reinforcement, but there are also negative deterrents associated with the charismatic leadership. (Many people describe this dynamic as “Stockholm Syndrome,” but I find this inaccurate and misleading. One does not need to be exposed to terror to develop this affection, and the process is far more subtle and pedestrian/plebeian.)

But accompanying this love comes specific fear of leadership, fear of loss of status, fear of failure to meet the impossible group standard, fear of the power that the group holds over others in the group, etc. For those who depend upon the group for their basic human needs and lack the ability to provide for themselves, rejection results in fear for their very survival.

The above list of fears reminds me of the compulsive tendencies of those who are “habituated into compliance” (i.e., conditioned, groomed) within an abusive relationship that sexual trauma and codependency expert Patrick Carnes notes in his book, The Betrayal Bond (view additional info/references here).  A recent on this blog also notes a composite list of the toll that an abusive relationship takes on the targeted person.

Relationship Patterns of Victims in Response to Those who Exploit Power (Carnes, pgs. 125-7)

    • Compulsive Helplessness
    • Compulsive Focus on the Abuser (Involves care taking/giving and enmeshment.)
    • Compulsive Self-Reliance
    • Compulsive Caregiving
    • Compulsive Care-Seeking
    • Compulsive Rejection
    • Compulsive Compliance
    • Compulsive Identification with Others
    • Compulsive Reality Distortion (Denial of abuse and wishful thinking.)
    • Compulsive Abuse Seeking (In other relationships or through self-destructive behavior.)


The Inadequacy of the Fear-Based Systems of Patriarchal Perfectionism thatDemanded that “She was responsible to get the heck out!”

I don’t know the specifics of Lourdes’ life. I don’t know whether she received “good enough” parenting before encountering Phillips that would have given her more wherewithal to remove herself from the situation. She didn’t have Flip Wilson Disease (“the devil made her do it”), but she didn’t have a lifeboat – and she needed one. What she couldn’t manage then, she has endeavored to find now with the help of her family. I believe that her efforts to follow what she believes God requires of her now – to make right the past – should be lauded.

Similarly, I don’t take pleasure in revealing the sad details of my own experience in this series, but like Lourdes, I believe that God has made a way and wanted me to share what I’ve been through, for such a time as this. We overcome wickedness by the Blood of the Lamb and through the word of our testimony (Revelation 12:10-11).

What I do understand well is the pressure as a child, a young adult, and a middle-aged one that this kind of situation is not as black and whitesimple as some would like it to be. In talking with Julie Anne about this matter, she mentioned a word that comes up often with so many people when discussing Quiverfull/Patriarchy: MESSY. Life is messy, and Lourdes’ situation proves even more so.

James wrote that pure religion, pure and undefiled, involved two tasks. As Christians, we are to visit the widows and the fatherless in their affliction (notable among those whom Jesus described as the “least of these”). We are also to somehow manage to keep ourselves unspotted from the world. We are imperfect creatures in an imperfect world with the frustrations that the Apostle Paul struggled with himself and wrote about in Romans chapter 7 when we fail to accomplish that to which we aspire. We are messy people, and we all fail all the time at both the care that we should show to others in need and in keeping ourselves unmarred by the world we live in – though we aspire out of love to be perfect … or, at least we should aspire out of love, not fear of reprisal.

I believe that Quiverfull/Patriarchy fears “contamination” as I’ve heard Kevin Swanson put it. Its followers focus on the process of remaining pure, as if they can somehow keep their souls pure through their own efforts. But that purity comes from the work of the Holy Spirit and the Word in us, not through our striving or even through cleaning up our behavior and thoughts. It comes from inside of us and manifests as it changes us outwardly. And that is an ocean away from a cavalier attitude towards sin.

But in the striving and fear while avoiding contamination, patriarchy throws the least of these away while taking care of themselves. They lay a band-aid on a cancer, cover it in gingham and bows, and stamp it with “Biblical” superlatives to avoid the mess. And it is sad, for I also desire to emulate and live pure religion, too. I am spotted well enough now and am completely dependent upon the grace of God to purge me and make me clean.

The messy may need not apply at the establishment of patriarchy, but He who came to seek and save the lost doesn’t mind messiness a bit. He is the True Lifeboat – the Prince of Life who is intimately familiar with our pain and is moved with compassion for us. He became MESS for us – sin – and did what the Law could not do for us or in us, so that we might live in Him, fulfilling the righteous requirement of the Law by following His Spirit.

He who calmed the storm and walked on the water rescues us when sorrows like sea billows roll. May all hearts find Him, and may the bondage of the condemnation of the Law be put back under the water where it belongs. It was buried with Him in baptism. May we all rise up to walk in the newness of His unbounded, abundant life, and maybe even get out of the boat to walk on the water with Him.

 Excerpt from Bounded Choice by Lalich:

“Generally, we need to better understand present-day manifestations of … totalistic systems and their effects on our society. Although the two groups discussed in this book may be regarded as extreme and unusual, in fact, the people in them were in many ways no different from everyday citizens. They were by no means crazy or suffering from psychological maladies – at least not when they joined. Nor were they evil, ill-intentioned, or stupid.

“For the most part, they were just people who had a deep desire for a better life and found a way to act on it that they thought was right for them. Unfortunately, their idealism was betrayed by the very systems in which they participated, the very structures they worked so hard to uphold” (pgs. 260-1).

*      *      *

A big thank you to commenter “BeenThereDoneThat” here at SSB for sharing this inspiring video of hope and encouragement!  This is the perfect complement to this discussion, pointing the way out of the false confines of our perceptions!

A final note:  Those who struggle with finding justice on the journey of forgiveness may benefit fromreading here.  I wrote everything I’ve learned about forgiveness and about the often hard journey on the way to forgiveness, quoting and pointing to the best sources I’ve found thus far.  One of the most painful things to hear when struggling in pain involves the false accusations that getting out of harm’s way and caring for self amount to unforgiveness and bitterness — so often thrown at victims in their brokenness.

 *      *      *      *      *

GOD BLESS BRAD, that Futurist Guy who did the bulk of the tedious work and Dr. Barb Orlowski, for editing all of these posts that were so personal for me.  Especially with the first item in the series, I struggled to write because of the emotions I found myself sorting out.  Brad’s impressive grasp of several related topics in addition to that of spiritual abuse made the experience a pleasure.  Because of the nature of the subject, I found him to be an excellent “mirror” which allowed me to see myself reflected back through his editing.  Bad therapists make for distorted and occluded images when they make the therapeutic process about themselves, letting that compete with the needs of the client.  I found Brad’s compassionate and inquisitive comments to be quite therapeutic.

I’m grateful, and I’m glad to have him, Barb, and Julie Anne with me on this new stretch in my journey.  I’m amazed at the timing and the way everything came together, as I’ve been preparing information on these topics for some time, but I haven’t written about them.  Moved by Lourdes Torres-Manteufel’s courage and Katie Botkin’s wise words, I find myself grateful to them as well for giving me the perfect framework to put these things all together in a way that I pray will be very helpful and meaningful to many.

We, being many, are one body in Christ, 

and every one members one of another.

Romans 12:5

Cynthia Mullen Kunsman, RN, BSN, MMin , ND

www.UnderMuchGrace.com (Discussing the phenomenon of Spiritual Abuse in Evangelical Churches) 

Read everything by Cindy Kunsman!

Comments open below

NLQ Recommended Reading …

Quiverfull: Inside the Christian Patriarchy Movement by Kathryn Joyce

13:24 – A Story of Faith and Obsession by M Dolon Hickmon

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  • Astrin Ymris

    It seems to me that if you wanted to sum up all of Quiverfull/Christian Patriarchy Movement/Christian Reconstructionism/Religious Right in a single sentence, that sentence would be: “They don’t want people to know they have a choice.”

    They may differ on exactly what the default should be, or how much scope there ought to be for allowable choice, but the common denominator is that certain ideas and possibilities shouldn’t get a public airing and/or children should be “protected from”, lest they realize they have a choice.

    The choice of education and career over early marriage and being a SAHM. The choice of exploring your sexuality on your own terms– with an unconditional right to refuse what you don’t want. The choice of choosing how many children you wish to have, and when. The choice of living “out and proud”, rather than in the closet. The choice of religious belief (including none), the choice of going to the source to verify fact claims, the choice to disagree with what the “authorities” say.

    Like I said, there’s a wide range of belief about how much choice is “too much” to have, but if they had their druthers, they’d keep certain “choices” from the public arena if they could.