Recovering from an Abusive Group

Whether or not the French Legal system determines that Rigpa is a cult, if you personally accept that you were in a cult, you can then apply the wealth of support material for cult victims to your own situation, and that can be very helpful for moving on with your life in your post-Rigpa experience. Whether you can bring ourself to use that word or not, however, you likely cannot deny that, according to the experiences described in the July letter from 8 long term students and other publically available testimonies made by ex-Rigpa members, abuse did occur in Rigpa, and therefore Rigpa could be called an ‘abusive group’.

Though many of us did not experience or see physical or sexual abuse ourselves, most of us who went to a retreat with Sogyal Rinpoche would likely have seen some form of emotional abuse. What we were indoctrinated to see as ‘kindness’ or ‘personal teachings’ ticks all the boxes for meeting the definition of emotional abuse. And how many of those who worked on retreats, particularly in national teams experienced or saw some form of abuse? Unless they remain stuck in denial,  everyone who has seen or experienced any form of abuse in an abusive group will need to go through a process of recovery.

So I’ve gathered some free resources to assist with this:

If you’re not sure if you were in an abusive group or not, try these checklists:

SPIRITUALLY_ABUSIVE_SYSTEMS

Emotional_Abuse_Checklist 

 Group_Psych_Abuse_Scale

And the following two books can help with recovery, no matter what level of abuse you saw or experienced.

Ford, Wendy_ Recovery from Abusive Groups

Herman_Trauma-and-Recovery 

The following is an excerpt from Wendy Ford’s book Recovery from Abusive Groups. Just noting at what point in these phases of recovery you are presently in will be of assistance to you.

 

Phases in Recovery

The recovery process can span any length of time and, basically, breaks out into three main phases. These three phases are:

1. Awareness and Exit
2. Understanding and Feeling
3. Rebuilding and Dreaming

Phase One – Awareness and Exit

This first phase varies in length, and is often dependent on the method of exiting. This phase is marked by the experiences that alert members to the danger of the group and result in the member’s exiting permanently. The key to an effective exit is to “jump start” the critical thinking process of the mind. This process has been on hold for much too long because the group has told the followers that to question and doubt the group is to betray God (or whatever) [in this instance we would be betraying the lama and would show our lack pure perception and devotion and prove ourselves to be a samaya breaker].

The price for questioning and doubting, they are told, is eternal death [or breaking samaya and going to hell in this instance]. This is a very powerful fear to overcome. Awareness of the insidious nature of the cult and the decision to leave comes slowly for some and quickly for others. For example, someone forcibly deprogrammed becomes aware and leaves the cult very quickly as compared to someone who walks out after reflecting over several months or years on “devilinspired” doubts. Even after leaving, some ex-cultists are not sure if they made the right decision and “float” in between their old cult identity and their new liberated identity or pre-cult self. (See Floating, p. 36.) The more information and support cultists receives during this phase, the better equipped they are to handle the pain and loss of Phase Two.

Phase Two – Understanding and Feeling

The second phase is full of ups and downs, of feeling as if you just returned from Mars, of exciting new freedoms and discoveries, and it is also full of rage and pain. It involves coming to terms with being raped, emotionally and spiritually. And for many, it involves coming to terms with being physically raped as well.

I don’t know how to convey the extremes of pain possible in this phase. Perhaps it is how you would feel standing by helplessly as some crazy person slowly murdered someone you loved. It seems so incredible to many that because they wanted to serve God and their country, [in this instance to become enlightened] wanted to help people, and wanted to make the world a better place-for this idealism (or selflessness) they were cruelly used. This is a very difficult aspect of the experience to reconcile.

“What ever did I do to be treated like this?” is a question that rings deep in the heart of any ex-cultist. The answer to this question resides in understanding how mind control techniques work. It is no wonder, then, that the rage and anger the ex-cultist feels is often overwhelming and frightening. So much so, that many tend to repress or deny the full expression of their emotions. But understanding and feeling one’s emotions in a nondestructive way, I believe, is critical to recovery.

This second phase can be an extraordinary journey through pain and loss to learning and mastery. It varies in length and is dependent on how able the excultist is to experience loss and how disciplined the ex-cultist is to study, think, and work toward a thorough understanding of the experience.

Learning to Trust Again

One of the truly tough parts about working through the experience is the very fact that it’s a very big job. The ex-cultist must learn how to trust life again, and learning to trust requires learning how to test reality. Because the cult phobias and teachings often touched on many aspects of life, such as family, government, education, religion, relationships, and economics, the ex-cultist often finds it necessary to examine and reality test most, if not all, of the teachings received in the cult for subtle, residual ideas that continue to manipulate the ex-cultist. In addition, it is in this phase that individuals must learn again how to trust themselves and their ability to make decisions. Learning to trust after you have been used and hurt can be very scary, but trust in yourself and in others can be rebuilt with disciplined thinking and courage. For those who come from dysfunctional backgrounds, recovering from the cult experience often means acknowledging and recovering from the effects of earlier patterns (Black, 1982), such as:

• Abusive parents, relatives, siblings, spouse
• Behaving abusively toward others
• Alcoholism, rape, incest, eating disorders, drug abuse
• Difficulties with intimacy, careers, law enforcement

If ex-cultists are willing to “roll up their sleeves” and “dig their heels in,” and to work through and out of the past, then they can move onto Phase Three, that of rebuilding one’s life and building toward a dream.

Phase Three – Rebuilding and Dreaming

To someone in the middle of the pain of Phase Two, the idea of having a dream again and building toward it is merely a sad, frustrating, and painful laugh. Having spent many years in Phase Two, I understand that despondent feeling very well. It is possible to rebuild your life. You will not be able to make up for all the years the cult has stolen from you, but you can make up for some of those lost years. I’ve worked very hard to recover from an overprotective and domineering family, seven years in a cult, a rape while in the cult, two forced deprogrammings each with conservatorships, a lawsuit for trying to help someone out of a cult, too many job changes, and too many unfulfilling relationships after the cult. If you are willing to stick with it, to work at it, to work through and let go of myths that look like truths, not only in the cult but also in society, and if you are willing to acquire new skills and improve others, you can build a healthy and well-functioning life with a dream you can work toward.

Do you recognise these phases? Where do you think are you in this process?


 

Current and previous students of Rigpa wanting private support are welcome to join the What Now? Facebook group. Please contact us via the contact page and ask for an invite.

Ex-Rigpa students and their dharma friends who want to move on from the discussion of abuse in Rigpa can stay in touch through the Dharma Companions Facebook Group.  

The What Now? Reference Material page has links to a wealth of articles in the topics related to abuse in Buddhist communities. For links to places to assist in healing from abuse see the sangha care resources page.

Those of you who are interested in ‘keeping Buddhism clean’ could ‘Like’ the Dharma Protectors Facebook page. 

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3 thoughts on “Recovering from an Abusive Group

  1. This is a timely post Tahlia. I so wish that there was better understanding of the real harm these troubles cause within the Buddhist community. Yes, the Dharma is about being freed from suffering and yes, Dharma can help with these troubles, but in the acute phase of recovery– the feeling part of the “understanding and feeling phase” that you identify, then the Dharma can be hard to access, especially for those of us who identify Dharma with the abusive situation. It’s a little like drowning maybe. I think that is something hard for those who haven’t experienced trauma of this sort to understand. In my own experience, getting out of bed in the morning was a big achievement.

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  2. Rigpa Brisbane has left me in a horrible place. I decided to leave maybe a year before the 8. For all the same reasons, but not with their profound insight. Many retreats with and many observations of sogyal lakar and finally a place away from the sangha with its self talk led me to understand how I had been mislead and abused. Despite several plees for a loving response from the shanga, they remain mute. I came to rigpa with love. My heart was open in gratitude, so was my devotion, my time, my labour, my wallet.
    My love has been misused. I find myself too wary and distrustful. Not knowing where to turn. Not a place I imagined and hoped for after embarking on the Buddhist path.

    Hope you are all happy and well
    David Walters

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