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How I healed the psychological injuries from my abuse in a cult

The Seven Steps of Transformative Empowerment Healing for the Fullest Possible Recovery from Abuse

By Lawrence Wollersheim

Almost everyone knows someone who has been abused and still shows the effects of that abuse. Many individuals and even some psychologists still think of being healed from abuse in the traditional terms of recovery success as defined as “getting back to as close to as possible to where you were just before you were abused.” Today, because of the following new Transformational Empowerment Healing steps, that old standard is simply too low and no longer applicable.

To help set a foundation for these seven effective abuse healing steps, it is helpful to know that for 15 years the author of this article was the executive director at Factnet.org. Factnet.org is the largest and oldest internet organization that helps individuals recover from the most severe forms of physical, sexual, mental, financial and political abuse caused by destructive and pathological religious, social and political cults.

For 20 years the author was also mentored by and worked with Dr. Margaret Singer, professor emeritus at UC Berkeley, a recognized world leader in recovery from severe abuse caused by pathological organizations or individuals. The seven transformational empowerment healing steps found below have been derived from those years of hard practical experience at Factnet and in training and collaboration with Dr. Singer.

They present a time-proven super-tool box for individuals wanting to turn the pain and debilitation caused by the abuse that they have suffered into a transformational empowerment healing experience. It is a set of tools that will make them magnificently better, stronger and wiser than they were before they were abused. This level of transformational empowerment healing is simply not available to individuals who do not know about the following seven proven steps of this process or who currently see their abuse recovery in terms of their highest hopes for recovery being just getting back close to where they were before the abuse occurred.

The author has personally seen the transformative empowerment healing steps described below work successfully on abuse so severe and cruel it is hard to speak about, and the author also has personally used and worked these steps through the years to recover from his own severe and long-term abuse.

The Seven Steps of Transformative Empowerment Healing

Pre-steps:

  1. Prepare yourself for starting the 7 steps by changing your standards of healing recovery by making up your mind that the definition of true abuse healing is not just getting back close to where you were before the abuse, or just not hurting so much, or just living with more manageable wounds that still make you “limp” a bit less through life. Adopt the new understanding that while each of these stages of gradually recovering from being abused are important milestones, true transformational empowerment healing goes far beyond these partial healing stages to the fullest possible healing. As hard as it may seem to even conceive of right now, it transforms your abuse wounds into some of the greatest strengths, experiences and wisdom of your life and it allows you to fully move on.
  2. Understand that, except for Step seven being done last, the following seven steps do not need to be done in any particular order.
  3. 3.) Do each step as fully as possible in a discriminating, natural way that seems to work best for your unique personal circumstances. Wisdom and the unique case-by-case circumstances will dictate modifying the following steps where necessary while yet still maintaining their spirit. For example, many individuals who have been victimized by the mental torture and coercive mind control found in destructive cults need more personal assistance or one-on-one educational support in the various steps until they recover more of their critical thinking capabilities.

Step 1

Learn more about the dynamics of what happened to you by reading the personal accounts of victims recovering from similar abuse. When you find out that you are not alone and how others are coping with the same type of abuse, it will assist your recovery progress significantly.

With severe abuse, often the abused individual is locked into a fixed and rigid perspective about what has happened to them and what will happen because of the abuse. From the personal stories of other similar abuse victims in the recovery process, you will begin to unlock your perspective of things and see your abuse from other new and important perspectives. This simple change of perspective and seeing new perspectives has amazing healing powers.

These personal stories are not professional “How to” recovery manuals. They do what professional abuse recovery manuals simply cannot do, because no matter how expert the professionals are (unless they were also similarly abused), they cannot see the specific abuse experience from the complex inside dynamics as only another abuse victim can. For example, at FACTNet we suggest that an individual who was sexually abused as a child by a cult that condones the sexual use and abuse of children should read the stories and recovery debriefings of other victims of that cult or similar cults who were sexually abused. Read and heal!

Step 2

Actively and aggressively learn about the psychological dynamics and principles of the specific type of abuse that you have experienced, the characteristics and profile of the abuser, and the unique and successful abuse recovery strategies for that specific type of abuse. In other words, learn the who, what, why, and how of what happened, and how recovery is possible. This educational step is CRITICAL!

Take the attitude that, when you finish studying the psychological and research literature on this type of abuse, you are going to have the equivalent of a college masters degree on this narrow abuse type. Amazing healing takes place when you learn the psychological principles and dynamics of victimization cycles, abuse and recovery itself. Generally, the more you know about the type of abuse that you have suffered, the faster and easier the seven recovery steps will go.

Step 3

Get one-on-one therapy from a licensed specialist in good standing in the area of abuse that you have suffered. He/She should be familiar with the most successful techniques for your type of abuse recovery. Keep getting therapy for enough time so that you are more functional and have healed some of the worst mental and emotional pain. Therapy will even help you deal with any ongoing physical pain caused by your abuser.

There is no substitute for this powerful internal healing therapy step for the mind. Sometimes cost, cultural considerations, or shame make it more difficult to get started with a regular program of personalized therapy for your specific type of abuse, but do not neglect this absolutely essential transformational healing step. Many times in individual therapy, individuals discover that the abuse that they have suffered has activated other abuse or problems in their lives, and the therapy helps heal these other related or now activated items as well.

In this step, it is also quite advantageous to join group therapy for the specific kind of abuse that you have suffered, but be sure to do this in co-ordination with your individual therapist.

Step 4

You know what your abuser did to you. It is more than wise and reasonable to believe that your abuser will not stop the cycle of abusing you or other unaware victims unless they are exposed and/or caught and/or punished though the legal system. Here is where you get to use your anger at the abuser to constructively bring the abuser to justice. Anger over the abuse injustice is appropriate and useful if used as temporary motivational healing scaffolding.

This is a social legal process of transmuting any natural anger or desire for revenge toward the abuser that you may have into cathartic, powerful personal and social healing. More importantly, when you sue the abuser, expose them publicly and take them to court, you COMPLETELY and radically reverse the psychologically important victim/oppressor “who is in or has the control” dynamic.

When you take the abuser to court, you are now the society-sanctioned legal “oppressor” of your unjust abuser and he/she is now the appropriate and legitimate “victim” of you and the social justice process. Even if you do not win, it cannot be over-emphasized just how much this step will help turbo-charge your transformational empowerment healing process when you sue the abuser! Seeing your once-in-control and “powerful” abuser on the witness stand in court, forced to answer your attorneys’ questions and to face his/her destructive actions and the consequences of those actions, does absolutely cathartic wonders to break your abuser’s former hold on your mind and life, and, more importantly, to restore you once again to your own full power.

Successfully taking the financial resources of the abuser in court judgments against the abuser rightfully allows you to take and use those resources to help restore and repair your life. Furthermore, it removes those same financial resources from the abuser so that they cannot be used to assist the abuser in abusing others in the future.

Even if the final court judgment is that the abuser just goes to jail without paying you any financial damages, you will still receive the healing empowerment that seeking justice in an ethical social process brings. Suing your abuser also does much to educate others about his/her abuses and about this type of abuse itself through the pubic exposure that you bring to them though the disinfecting light of the public courts and media. Finally, suing the abuser for your legitimate abuses increases his/her costs for wrongdoing and begins to make him/her consider avoiding such wrongdoing which would cause more, similar costly lawsuits in the future.

Sometimes it takes repeated lawsuits over time by many victims against wealthy organizations to finally take the profit out of the wrongdoing. And, nothing has been proven more effective to stop significant wrongdoing faster than taking ALL of the profit out of it through continuous legal punishment.

Some psychologists and therapists not personally familiar with the powerful cathartic healing and personal empowerment of the “therapy” of social justice through the enforcement of justice in the courts often downplay this turbo-charged, mega-healing step. They do this, in part, because sometimes in the court process the abuse trauma is reopened before the individual is adequately ready to confront their abuser publicly. This is a legitimate, but not a determinative, point. Some psychologists and therapists under-use this step in their patients’ full healing program, because justice is not always just and fair, and the abused individual might lose the case on a technicality or other quirk of the legal process. Sometimes the stress of the court process brings up other life stresses and seems, at least temporarily, to make things worse.

While these are important issues of informed consent that should be discussed fully, they do not diminish the mega-potentials for a sudden and dramatic surge in cathartic healing, for significant financial restitution to cover your abuse damages and recovery costs and for a more complete recovery process empowered though the socially sanctioned court system where abusers are finally forced to answer to both the abused and society for what they have done! All in all, when the public educational exposure and the sue-the-abuser benefits are weighed against the before mentioned risks and, when the abused individual has had enough therapy and has adequate personal and litigation support, this step is central and essential in the full transformative empowerment healing process.

Even if you do not prevail with the level of social punishment or financial restitution that you hoped for, going through the process itself can transform and heal you at such a deep level that it is still more than worth the effort if you are seeking the restoration and additional strength and empowerment of the fullest possible healing! It should not be skipped simply because of fear, shame, expense or difficulty.

(Please Note: There is a statute of time limitations for bringing a lawsuit for legal recovery that varies from place to place. Know what this is early on in your recovery process. You might want to spend some of the available statute time (2-5 years in most places,) before filing your lawsuit to do the other recovery steps so that you are more ready for the court healing process.)

Step 5

Join a support organization for those who have suffered your kind of abuse. Actively help this organization educate others about the form of abuse that you have suffered. Help them with the advocacy and legal issues relating to your form of abuse.

Being in a support group of peers similarly abused will significantly help support and advance your individual therapy sessions and your general healing. Helping others similarly abused recover also adds a new dynamic flow to your own healing process, once again deepening your personal healing and speeding you toward true transformational empowerment healing where you will, in truth, become significantly stronger and better than you were before you were abused.

Step 6

Bring your spiritual wisdom and spiritual nature into your healing process. Allow your Higher power if you have one to help heal you. It will also dramatically speed and ease your recovery process.

No matter what denomination you might be, there is to be found in your tradition the spiritual wisdom that one does better by somehow forgiving the abuser sometime during the healing process and/or after justice has been served and the abuse dangers handled, so that another form of healing can take place in both the abused and the abuser. To love and forgive your abuser at the appropriate time approaches the near epitome of transformational empowerment healing.

Many spiritual traditions teach that, at the essence of our soul or spirit, we cannot ultimately be destroyed or harmed permanently. This deeper spiritual truth, when embraced, has further helped many severely abused individuals gain another new healing perspective on what was done to them.

If you are not religious, information on the psychological aspects of abuse also supports this idea of deep level of healing though love and forgiveness. There are also some twists to this situation. For example, if you were in a religious cult and the religious abuse and spiritual betrayal has put you off all kinds of spirituality, it is still absolutely critical to begin your inner spiritual life again. Deep spiritual abuse and spiritual betrayal are among the hardest of the abuses and betrayals to overcome, but when you do, you will find that you will heal faster and at a more lasting, deeper level than on almost any other step of the seven transformational empowerment healing steps.

Step 7

Move on! When you have adequately done steps 1-6 above and you know how much stronger you are now because you have healed yourself using the steps of the transformational empowerment healing process, it is time to COMPLETELY move on with your life and to let go of the transformational healing process itself or even of helping other abuse victims as a substantial part of your life. As hard as it may seem to believe, there is a point where you can look back at all that has happened in your recovery and healing process, and see the whole process (including the abuse,) as a type of paradoxical “blessing” that has made you who you now are and more beautiful than you would have become, in a unique way, had your life not been exactly what it was.

Moving on is sometimes one of the hardest steps if you were very severely abused. The transformational empowerment healing process is so powerful that it can easily become a lifestyle or mission you create in reaction to what has happened to you as opposed to merely a life career choice you might have made had your life not experienced the abuse.

Now that you have reached this point, with so much empathy and history with other victims who have had your kind of abuse and with the profound experience of your own recovery process --- it may be very hard for you to imagine not being there for other victims. For many who have completed the other steps, it is hard to image walking completely away from this area of your life, yet that is what the last step requires of you if you want to experience the full joys and benefits of this amazing healing process during the rest of your post-abuse recovery life. This is exactly what full recovery means; you will have a post-abuse recovery life!

There is comes a point where simply realizing that you have recovered and/or have done enough for justice or to help others recover is all that remains to be done, coupled with simply walking away and into actively living the rest of your non-abuse related life --- not as a recovered abuse victim, but as yourself whole, free, and beautiful.

(Please note that in some cases individuals who have been abused get credentialed and make their ongoing financial livelihood by helping other similarly abused individuals. These individuals represent a discriminating and freely chosen exception to the Move on step. And, it is also likely that, if these individuals would take a long-term sabbatical or change their focus from the particular abuse that they personally suffered, they too would experience a new level of healing and freedom that can only be experienced to be known as true.)

Those are the seven steps! Always use the seven steps as a checklist in a discriminating and adaptable way to your unique and particular case-by-case, individual circumstances. Use it to see how your or another’s healing is progressing toward the fullest possible recovery through transformative empowerment healing.

If you do these seven steps with a persistent, patient determination you will become stronger, better, wiser and healthier than you could have ever imagined. Your experience will become so transformative that it will border on being spiritually transcendental.

If you have not done so already, right now, make up your mind or re-confirm that you will use the full Seven Steps of Transformational Empowerment Healing to become far better than you would have been had you not ever had your particular abuse experience. Begin to see what you now see as possibly only a shame or a disability as a powerful seed that will unleash and unveil what is most beautiful, true, and indestructible about yourself.

About Lawrence Wollersheim

Lawrence Wollersheim is the Co-founder of www.factnet.org, the oldest and largest internet source of free information on cults, mind control and recovery from all kinds of abuse caused in cults. In a court case – now required study for many constitutional and social advocacy law students – Lawrence won 9.2 million dollars in paid court judgments against the Satanic, UFO cult called Scientology (AKA Dianetics, Narconon, The Way to Happiness, etc.) As a young adult, Lawrence was imprisoned, starved and tortured on a Scientology prison ship, and almost died while being subjected to classic Russian and Chinese brainwashing techniques designed to break him down completely, destroy his core sense of identity and turn him into malleable slave labor for this cult. Lawrence is currently the Executive Director of IntegrativeSpirituality.org. He may be reached at Wollersheim@msn.com for comments on this article. Lawrence is no longer taking on any personal abuse recovery assistance work as he is completing his step Seven and moving on.
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