by Cindy Kunsman cross posted from her blog Under Much Grace
All images by Cindy Kunsman from Under Much Grace used with permission
We’ve already noted that a person’s concept of self suffers while in a high demand group or family, since the member’s sense of worth must be derived from the group. Though they may appear to have autonomy, their choices are bound and limited to that which is determined by the group.
Our sense of worth and our sense of personal power come together and support one another as we move away from following the “path of least resistance” dynamics that we lived and saw modeled in the group, but the group’s way of doing things was not healthy. We want to avoid the pitfalls of power, but we also don’t wish to hand our autonomy over to some new master – like switching drugs of choice.
What if we don’t even know what a healthy sense of personal power looks like? Understanding locus of control gives us great insight into the process of healing, helping us to learn how to feel powerful while we learn how to support the power of others so that they can also be autonomous and free. (Not to mention, groups punish autonomy, and in some, the word itself classifies as a pejorative.)
The term came out of the study of personality, deriving from the Latin term for place or location. It was described using a continuum, and each individual tends to fall on a place on that continuum. As previously noted, former members usually find themselves forced into adopting a locus of control that is entirely outside of themselves in order to merge with the group and its belief system. The group gains and keeps all of the power.
Young children depend on their parents to provide a locus of control for them, but in “good enough” families, parents gradually teach their children how to handle autonomy and power in an age appropriate, safe, and manageable way. Quiverfull families may only observe this training with males only, but because of the concept of the patriarchal rule of a father over his children, even grown men may find themselves subject to an external locus of control. Such families generally withhold a functional level of autonomy from their children which prevents good experience with personal autonomy — both with the young child and adult alike.
The Healthy External Locus
As a former member faces down the lies that they adopted as rules for how the world works and how they fit into it (e.g., “Life is fair.”), and as they learn to honor and trust themselves as their critical thinking that was given over to their group emerges and blossoms, personal power naturally begins to emerge for them. Like self-esteem and self care, a person can also nurture and honor their sense of self-confidence as they gain experience with the perspective of locus of control. Read more about locus of control HERE.
The idea of fate or the power of a micromanaging, leader who is fixated on punishment can be replaced with the balanced idea that though people are not all powerful, individuals actually have a great deal of control over what happens to them. They learn that they can affect what goes on around them in positive ways as the sting of trauma begins to resolve. Rather than “waiting for the other shoe to drop” which is meant to crush them, they can learn that they actually do have freedom and that life can be a much safer place than they ever imagined.
In high demand groups, the illusion of safety is maintained by limiting what can come into the group and by what can be said within the group. It teaches members that constricted control is the only means by which they can find peace and rest. But rigid control treads on and demeans others in harmful ways, and with experience, the former member can learn that they can derive their own sense of peace and worth from inside themselves. They learn that they are safe in who they are through self-trust and confidence, and the environment outside of themselves doesn’t determine who they are any longer.
Cindy is a member of the Spiritual Abuse Survivor Blogs Network.
Cynthia Mullen Kunsman is a nurse (BSN), naturopath (ND) and seminary graduate (MMin) with a wide variety of training and over 20 years of clinical experience. She has used her training in Complementary and Alternative Medicine as a lecturer and liaison to professional scientific and medical groups, in both academic and traditional clinical healthcare settings. She also completed additional studies in the field of thought reform, hypnotherapy for pain management, and Post Traumatic Stress Disorder (PTSD) that is often associated with cultic group involvement. Her nursing experience ranges from intensive care, the training of critical care nurses, hospice care, case management and quality management, though she currently limits her practice to forensic medical record review and evaluation. Most of her current professional efforts concern the study of manipulative and coercive evangelical Christian groups and the recovery process from both thought reform and PTSD.
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