Complex Post Traumatic Stress Disorder and those who leave cults
Quite a few people on JWD have said they suffer from Complex Post Traumatic Stress Disorder ( C-PTSD). I'm not sure how well this issue has been discussed. C-PTSD is slightly different than PTSD. PTSD requiresone traumatic incident that can leave a mark on the psyche. C-PTD results for repeated incidents as in prisoners of war, victims of child abuse and spousal, hostage situation, combat soldiers and those who lived in cults.
Not all people will experience C-PTSD. Some will experience it for a while and then it fades away. Others may suffer for years. And many will have the symptoms but never connect it to having lived in a high-control group/cult. So it might be helpful to take a look at it.
Most people who have lived in a cult or high control group such as the JWs will experience many of the symptoms of C-PTSD. In the book Trauma and Recovery Herman discusses the symptoms. I will add my comments in red. .
Complex Post-Traumatic Stress Disorder
Trauma and Recovery by Judith Lewis Herman Some researchers and therapists have made a distinction between simple PTSD (derived from a one-time or situational trauma) and severe PTSD (derived from "prolonged, repeated trauma" as experienced by survivors of childhood abuse. Herman has defined the expanded concept of PTSD.
1. A history of subjection to totalitarian control over a prolonged period (months to years). Examples include hostages, prisoners of war, concentration camp survivors, and survivors of some religious cults. Examples also include those subjected to totalitarian systems in sexual and domestic life, including survivors of domestic battering, childhood physical abuse, and other organized sexual exploitation. One of the identifying factors in cults is that they have an almost complete control over members. People are not encouraged to think for themselves. They are not allowed to question since that is seen as an act of rebellion. Strict sanctions are placed on those who refuse to conform or choose to leave. The control can even continue long after a person has left the cult. Cults are known to have control over a person's thoughts, feelings and behaviors.
2. Alterations in affect regulation, including
- persistent dysphoria (inappropriate expression of feelings) Having spent years controlling how they express or repress emotional responses many people have difficulty in this area. For example they may laugh when sadness or anger would be the more appropriate response
- chronic suicidal preoccupation Losing one's family, friends and religion can make one feel very isolated. After years of being told they are worth nothing and God will destroy them many feel hopeless and may see suicide as a way out. Some may still believe that if they die before Armageddon they may have a chance for the resurrection when they can be reunited with family.
- self-injury There are many ways to injure oneself -
- risk-taking behaviors such as car racing, ignoring health problems, promiscuous sex
- substance abuse, eating disorders
- cutting or other forms of self mutilation (unnecessary operations)
- explosive or extremely inhibited anger (may alternate) The WTSdoes not permit expression of anger especially towards the Society. It is normal therefore for people to never have learned that there is a healthy way to express one's anger.
- compulsive or extremely inhibited sexuality (may alternate) This is another area where the WTS has exerted its control even into the marital bedroom. Like many people who grew up with strict sexual rules, many people leaving cults experiment with their sexuality but don't have a good idea about sexual boundaries. And as in most things others are too afraid to leave behind the strict rules that had been imposed upon them.
3. Alterations in consciousness, including
- transient dissociative episodes Some people may block out the memory of part of their judicial committee. They can be traumatic especially if the vote forces you out
- depersonalization (feeling like you aren't real) and derealization (feeling like what is around you isn't real) For those who were disfellowshipped or disassociated it would be common for them to experience either of these two
- reliving experiences, either in the form of intrusive post-traumatic stress disorder symptoms or in the form of ruminative preoccupation (going over it again and again). Again judicial committees are traumatic experiences. Just the threat of what might happen could be enough in some people to trigger PTSD
4. Alterations in self-perception, including
- sense of helplessness or paralysis of initiative There is little opportunity for self-expression and determination. All life's choices must be examined in light of WT teachings. Self determination and efficacy are viewed as negative traits. Leaving the JWs often means that a person has not developed critical thinking and social skills required to deal with life in the real world
- shame, guilt, and self-blame A lifetime of being told you are not good enough, you don't do enough and more more more is required creates an identity that is shame based. Most JWs have been trained to "be on the watch" for Satan is out to get them. Any weakness can only result in thoughts of self-blame and guilt
- sense of defilement or stigma Well being reproved is a sure-fired way of feeling stigmatized. Even the threat could be traumatic if the possible outcome could result in discipline. Even if the elders never find out about certain transgressions the person would carry the guilty secret around inside them
- sense of complete difference from others (may include sense of specialness, utter aloneness, belief no other person can understand, or nonhuman entity). In many ways cults foster this kind of specialness. Being an member of such an exclusive club has its perks. But at the same time it is fostering a sense of separateness form the world it also fosters a sense of separateness for other JWs, especially if a person thinks they may be outted to the elders
5. Alterations in perception of perpetrator, including
- preoccupation with relationship with perpetrator (includes preoccupation with revenge) It's hard to let go of the control the WTS had over our lives. We may find ourselves going over things said, especially in judicial meetings. When we discover the real truth about their so-called truth it is hard not to be angry at the deception and betrayal.
6. Alterations in relations with others, including
- isolation and withdrawal Betrayal is nasty. It makes it very hard for people to trust again. As a result many people withdraw from others before they can be betrayed again.
- disruption in intimate relationships fear of further betrayal reduces trust and therefore complicates personal relationships. This can become even more complicated when the partner was never involved in the JWs -- they don't understand
- repeated search for rescuer (may alternate with isolation and withdrawal) despite the fear of betrayal some people will get involved in serial relationships hoping to find someone who will help/save them
- persistent distrust distrust can affect not only personal relationships but can also affect relationships in the workplace as well as with friends
- repeated failures or self-protection an unending cycle of seeking and then pushing people away can lead many to feel even more damaged
7. Alterations in systems of meaning
- loss of sustaining faith many - not all - people find it difficult to get involved in any other religion. Spirituality becomes redefined as a personal inner experience
- sense of hopelessness and despair with so many disruptions in every part of a person's life it is easy to think the problem is with them rather than with the things they were taught and their experience with the WTS. Hopefulness and self-efficacy may seem impossible
Understanding the impact of our experience can help us to realize that it was traumatic and our reactions are the normal reactions to it.
Trauma can interfere with our daily lives and that would be a good indication that we need to seek out some professional help.
People will also go through stages of reactions, at times handling it better than other times.
For most people the opportunity to debrief, share their experiences and get support is essential to real recovery and the cessation of the C-PTSD symptoms. Even when most symptoms have subsided new issues can be triggered that many or may not require professional help.
There are plenty of stories here of people who have successfully moved on with their lives.
Thank you, Lady Lee, for posting this.
Thanks. I manifested a number of the symptoms after making the actual decision to leave. Its good to know that I wasn't just going crazy.
Its good to know that I wasn't just going crazy.
Even though we feel crazy doesn't mean we are crazy
Thank you, LL.
After reading this I realize that there is some PTS effects in my personality that I have just come to live without actually examining why. With me it was not just the JW experience but it was combined with a mentally ill/alcoholic father who was abusive (not sexually) when drunk and detached when sober. He had experienced a mob beating and head injury during the war when standing on the street with the Watchtower. He was in his early twenties at the time and the family always said it changed him. He eventually was given 1940's era electro shock "therapy" . He was a good person, long gone now, and I understand him better.
Lady Lee, thanks for posting this. I'm going to show it to my husband to see if it clues him in.
Gregor, I'm glad you understand your Dad more now. But I know it doesn't change how things were when you were a child. (At least you have two kick-butt sisters!!) *hugs*
Cool. I posted a link to this once, but you did a much better job at expounding it. Thx.
To Lady Lee: That was an extremely well-written post. When I got my degree, I didn't have many options for courses about cults. I had chosen to take extra electives and did Social Gerentology and Child Development, with an emphasis on abuse of any kind. As you know, you can only take so many credits.
I wish someone could put your post in a newsletter somewhere that people can download.
My best to you.
Thanks for the info. It makes me glad to know that people like you are spending time in doing research that will and has helped others about JW's mind control influence.
i deal with "sometimes-I'd-rather-just-be-dead-than-deal-wtih-this-crap-any-longer syndrome"....