Religious Abuse: Healing the Damage

After you leave an abusive leader or group, you will wonder “What do I do now?” For many people, that group and leader defined who they were as people as well as pagans. A large part of the healing process is redefining yourself.

You will feel depression, loneliness, isolation, lapses back into the group mindset or disassociation, difficulty talking about your experiences in the group because of guilt, shame or rage, difficulty in dealing with or getting to know new people or groups. These are appropriate. Working through them is healthy.

Doing the work

1. Work toward trusting yourself, your emotions, and relying on your own abilities. Do energy work, divination and other spiritual practices. Or just practice grounding and centering. Get to know the energy that is you.  Do yoga or tai chi  if you are inclined, these help you to connect your energy back to your body.

2. Write about your experience. This will help you track your progress, understand and evaluate how the situation came about in the first place, and cope with how you feel about what happened.

3. Get in touch with other people who have experienced religious abuse. They don’t have to be other pagans, religious abuse crops up in many other faiths as well.

4. Find a hobby or pastime that reinforces a sense of accomplishment. Focus on hobbies that enable you to solve complex mental problems, physical sports or games or unknotting  hobbies like sewing, weaving, embrodeiry, knitting, or crocheting.

5. When disassociation happens, remind yourself that the episode was triggered by some stimulus. Identify the trigger, and make a new association for that trigger. If sandalwood incense triggers you, use sandalwood incense in another context, like in a bonfire on a camping trip with friends or to keep mosquitoes away in your backyard. Repeat the new association until it no longer triggers you to disassociate. Remember also that the disassociation will pass. Talking it over with someone who understands helps.

6. Renew and strengthen your connection to your deities of choice, spirit guides, allies and friends. One of the common responses to pagan religious abuse is to drop all connections that you have made on the other side of life. Those connections are sound, even if the connections with the leader and the group were not.

7. Decisions, tasks and relearning interpersonal skills take time when you are wounded. Go one step at a time, don’t rush, talk and think things over, and don’t be afraid if you make mistakes.

8. Read, study, evaluate. Most pagan traditions have source materials. Read them and interpret them on your own. Build your own coherent worldview based on your own experience.

9. Don’t join a new group for at least a season. You run the risk of either finding another abusive leader or avoiding healing the damage so that you are an effective energy worker. Rest, recuperate, redefine. You have time.

Your mileage will most certainly vary.

 

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