by Cindy Kunsman cross posted from her blog Under Much Grace
All images by Cindy Kunsman from Under Much Grace used with permission
Before developing as fairly functional internal locus of control and as strong sense of worth, and until former members work through how to relate to others with both good internal and external boundaries, things can be very difficult for them. There’s so much to do immediately.
The insecure person tries to build a network of safe friends who can relate to them and hae their best interests at heart. This is healthy in the beginning of recovery, but after some time has passed, it becomes self-defeating and inhibits recovery and growth. Some fall into the trap of surrounding themselves with people who are more comfortable for them and go to great, unhealthy lengths to isolate themselves from people who challenge them. They work hard to have as much control over their external life as they can. No conflict means no struggle which translates into peace and self-worth for them.
Default Reaction to Conflict
When faced with conflict, in the beginning of the process, former members will very likely to do what comes naturally – just like most people on the planet would do and as many do, even though they aren’t struggling with so many pressures. They will react to the threat from their perspective of external control. They can’t regulate their internal world, so they reach out to try to exert pressure and control on the outside world. (This is exactly what we see in people like Voddie Baucham and Michael Pearl who demand that their children have more self control than they do, and they accomplish this through brute force.)
Very capable people manage to do this fairly well until a bad day comes along. They are then left with the overwhelming feelings of low worth and a sense of powerlessness. All that an external locus of control does is create the illusion of peace and safety. But real peace and safety that abides – that doesn’t dissolve on a bad day — comes from within. But this is something that is largely unknown to the person with an external locus of control, poor self-worth, and unhealthy boundaries.
Adopting High Demand Thought Policing and Counterattack
When a person feels out of control, they are more likely to fight for survival, and that is often what ends up happening soon after a person exits a group and begins finding their way into some semblance of wholeness. Rather than tolerating discomfort and sitting with the reality that other people have different perspectives that seem threatening (something not taught to them as a healthy means of coping), many who have yet to find a sense of balance will repeat the tactics of control that they experienced in their high demand group.
The most natural, early response involves an attempt to control their own milieu by silencing differences, and pejoratives start flying as the counterattack of retaliation launches. Milieu control quiets criticism, and scapegoating takes the competition down a notch or two so that they feel like less of a threat.
Quite often when a hypervigilant person reacts in this way, their reaction is far disproportionate to the situation and the matter at hand. And why would it not be? They are frustrated, tired, lost, and they feel threatened. They do what they know. They do what comes most naturally out of their feelings of pain and fear.
The Conundrum of Internal Boundaries
This makes internal boundaries perhaps the most difficult element of recovery to master, and I found that I had to build a good chunk of an internal locus of control before I could even think about internal boundaries. I had to have a certain amount of self worth along with experience at deriving peace and joy from in myself. I had to learn how to respond to my environment and those around me with moderation, too.
I’d spent my life reacting to circumstances because of my feelings of helplessness, and the idea of being put back into a position of dependency felt horrible and terrifying. Becoming aware of my own powerful emotions like anger intensified how I reacted to everything until I was able to accept them and then learn how to appropriately express them (because all I knew was inappropriate or maladaptive expression). It was only until I’d developed some emotional self-regulation and containment that I found practice of internal boundaries to be possible. (But everyone’s journey comes together in a different way.)
I did resent the idea that I often had to “be the bigger person” in some situations, because I had to accept the limitations of a situation or the people with whom I interacted. I was also compromised and in great pain, and on many levels, I felt that it was wrong to show any kinds of softness. I didn’t want to adjust my expectations to something more realistic for others, for I could not recall any instance of them doing so for me. But I chose to be healthy and considerate, as I know too well how difficult recovery can be, especially early in the process when I felt completely out of control. I made the choice to heal and be healing instead of continuing in my desire for justice that I began to realize that I would never get.
It was by no means a quick or easy process, and it is still uncomfortable to experience conflict or even take the ammunition that someone else displaces and directs at me instead. But I lean on my internal locus and maintain and defend my external boundaries. And I endeavor to always maintain my internal boundaries, but this is so much harder for me. Those external boundaries require that I give up the fantasy of what I want to be true, and I’m not always happy with what is left over in the realm reality.
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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