Monday, September 14, 2020

Advice to Myself Before Meeting the Cult

Life is hard. The teenage years are especially hard. You feel alone. Unloved. Undeserving. Unattractive.

The future seems daunting. How can you know which road to take?

Having lived long and having made many mistakes, let me offer you some advice.

Expand your horizons. Join clubs. Try new things. Develop an interest in others. Engage with people. Go to school dances. Allow people into your life. Spend time talking with your parents and grandmother. Reach out and make friends.

Cultivate an interest in your studies and excel. Of all the billions of people on the earth, you are lucky to have the opportunity to get a good university education. Do it.

Listen to those who are much older than you. They have lived long enough to have made many mistakes and most likely have learned from them. You can benefit from their experience.

Drugs and alcohol are methods of escape from reality and can lead down a dangerous road. Don’t let them take over your life. Learn to face difficult situations and see them as challenges. By doing so, you will grow in maturity and strength of character.

When conflicts arise, and they will, set your emotions aside and teach yourself to look at the situation rationally. Work together with the other party to lay out your individual goals and then develop a plan to reach them together. Your needs and desires are just as valuable as others’. Do not simply acquiesce. Stick up for yourself. Politely.

Don’t be afraid to change your mind if you find yourself in a bad situation or realize a decision you made was a mistake. “It is a woman’s prerogative to change her mind.”

Develop boundaries. It is OK to say “no” if you don’t want to do something. Everyone doesn’t have to like you. You don’t have to like everyone.

It’s OK to make mistakes or to feel embarrassed. Everyone does. It’s not the end of the world. Get back up, learn what you can, and move on. Misake are for education, they are not food for remorse.

Volunteer to help the needy. Make yourself a person you can be proud of. You are worthy. You are smart. If you have a hard time believing that, seek out a counselor, psychologist, or therapist that you can trust and talk to them. Find a mentor.

Be aware that your brain will not be fully developed until you reach your mid-twenties and therefore you naturally have difficulty envisioning long-term consequences, so make no momentous life-altering decision until then.

Study psychology and critical thinking. These will help you in making life decisions.

You only have one life, and it will get easier. Be the best person you can be. What can you make of this life that you have been given?

Tuesday, September 1, 2020

Conflict Management

Managing conflict was something that did not happen in the cult. It was not a skill that I ever saw exercised or developed. Certainly, conflicts occurred.

If the conflict had something to do with leadership, corrections for perceived mistakes, bad attitudes, and sins, were delivered harshly in the form of humiliating harangues that went on for way too long. These ended with “desperate prayer,” and then some form of punishment, generally in the form of reading assignments, was dished out. It was a win for leadership, a loss for the peon.

If conflicts arose in interpersonal relationships, in order to avoid the discomfort of dealing with them, I honed my avoidance technique. This went right along with the mindset of denial in the cult. I swept the problem under the rug by praying for the Lord to work things out and then tried to forget about it. "Giving problems to the Lord in prayer," as we were taught. Of course, this only left the conflict to fester, resulting in a loss for both parties. My second-choice technique was accommodation. I would give in to what the other party wanted, a win for them, but a loss for me.

I have only recently learned that conflicts are not to be feared or avoided, but that they can be managed successfully for both parties involved. Doing this requires me to have something that I never had before, something considered sinful in the cult, that is, enough self-esteem to realize that my opinion and my wants have just as much value as other people’s. I don’t have to be a doormat and allow others full reign in what they want. In fact, doing so is not helpful for anyone, and certainly not beneficial for the relationship involved.

Emotions are always present in conflicts, but they do not need to control us nor affect how we deal with the issues. Admitting whatever it is we are feeling, as dispassionately as possible, can help us to set aside emotions so that we can deal with the real issues of events or behaviors that need changing. We should own our emotions. They arise from within us. No need to apologize for them. We just need to realize that they have nothing to do with — and should have nothing to do with — the objective of reaching our goals.

When conflicts arise, and they inevitably will, we must identify our goals — what does each of us want to achieve? What goals do we share? Once those are laid out, it is not a given that one party must lose and one must win, nor that both parties will lose through compromise. The challenge is to find ways to collaborate so that both parties gain what they desire.

We can do this by working out a plan together, respecting each other’s wants, and brainstorming how we can get there. The focus should be on changing events or behaviors, not people. The overall goal is mutual gain. Working together is the best way to help us both achieve our respective goals, a true win-win — and a win for mutual respect in the relationship.

Thanks to Professor Michael Dues and his enlightening course,
Art of Conflict Management: Achieving Solutions for Life, Work, and Beyond, for teaching me valuable lessons.

Monday, March 30, 2020

Abnormal Normal: My Life in the Children of God

After five years of writing, editing, and reflection, my story is finished. Both Kindle and paperback versions are available. The link is on the right side of the blog page.

It is not a happy story, but it does have a happy ending. 

Saturday, March 14, 2020

Self-Forgiveness

"Have you forgiven your younger self?" an old friend asked.

Although remembering my mistakes and the hurt I caused others will probably always bring me pain, I can finally say that I have forgiven former self.

Through my years of study I have gained insight into why I acted the way I did and why I made the decisions I did. This understanding has given me a measure of compassion for my younger self. 

Continuing to carry on my shoulders regret for the harm I have done by my involvement with the Children of God helps no one. I gain no spiritual merit for that sort of martyrdom. It's best to just apologize, do what I can to make up for the hurt I've caused, and move on.

My passion for learning—born from the desire to make up for the dearth of meaningful input during my years in the cult—has remodeled my brain in healthy ways. Rather than dwelling on my past mistakes, my dislike for myself, and other gloomy thoughts as had been my habit, my head is filled with new knowledge from the books I've been reading and the courses to which I've been listening. There is no end to new things to learn. 

Another pertinent point is that having lived longer than my parents and two of my siblings, I feel a very real sense of my own mortality. There are projects that I would like to complete in my remaining years on this earth. I don't have time to wallow in regrets.

"Never yield to remorse, but at once tell yourself: remorse would simply mean adding to the first act of stupidity a second." Friedrich Nietzsche

Wednesday, January 22, 2020

Moving On

It's been over a year since I last posted anything on this blog, and I guess you could say I have moved on.

In the intervening time, my focus has shifted and with that, new life has been breathed into me. I have latched onto a new vocation and my energies have been directed into new fields of study. When first entering this new field, I was shaky, lacking in confidence, and unsure of myself. Gradually, as I learned more and received considerable sincere praise for my work, my assurance grew. I have reached the point where I no longer need hear praise to prop up my self-worth. Although there is always more to learn, I know I am smart and good at what I do. That is saying a lot for a former "Bible woman" to whom "any sense of self [was] abhorrent to the Lord," to quote Berg. Or better yet, "I am a worm and no man," as the much-lauded Psalmist, David, wrote. (What a bizarre religion where self-worth was sinful!)

Having a strong focus seems to have caused everything in my life to fall into place. It has given me a sense of security and purpose, as well as engendering strength and confidence. I have noticed that I am relaxed now, freed from my former rushed mindset, where I was always feeling I was doing too little too late, carrying the weight of the the many wasted years in the cult that I wanted to make up for. This freedom has affected many aspects of my life, one of which is being on time. Now I delight in the lack of pressure I feel when early for appointments, trains, buses, etc. I leave in good time, so that I can enjoy all of the journey. I have found that I can be more in the moment, having rejected the mental storm of busyness, and mostly letting go of thoughts of the past and future that so eagerly war for attention in my head.

I dare say that we all need to have some sort of focus—a purpose or a goal—in our lives in order to be mentally sound.

See also, Hope.

Tuesday, December 11, 2018

Returning to the Stanford Prison Experiment

Ben Blum, in his article The Lifespan of a Lie, sets out to put to rest the findings of the Stanford Prison Experiment (SPE). He suggests that the reason we have collectively embraced the lesson of the SPE—that environments strongly affect people's moral decisions—is because it lets us off the hook for bad decisions. In other words, we cannot be held accountable for immoral behavior if it was our environment, not ourselves, that caused us to act as we did.

Seemingly at variance with his viewpoint, Mr. Blum goes on to write about an attempted replication of the SPE. Emphasis added by me:

"According to Alex Haslam and Stephen Reicher, psychologists who co-directed an attempted replication of the Stanford prison experiment in Great Britain in 2001, a critical factor in making people commit atrocities is a leader assuring them that they are acting in the service of a higher moral cause with which they identify — for instance, scientific progress or prison reform. We have been taught that guards abused prisoners in the Stanford prison experiment because of the power of their roles, but Haslam and Reicher argue that their behavior arose instead from their identification with the experimenters, which Jaffe and Zimbardo encouraged at every turn. Eshleman, who described himself on an intake questionnaire as a “scientist at heart,” may have identified more powerfully than anyone, but Jaffe himself put it well in his self-evaluation: “I am startled by the ease with which I could turn off my sensitivity and concern for others for ‘a good cause.’”"


An important lesson that we can draw from the Stanford Prison Study, Haslam and Reicher's replication, Solomon Asch's experiments on the bandwagon effect, and other studies on social norming, is that people generally conform to what they think they are expected to do, and much more so when that expectation comes from an authority figure. The COG employed the highest and most absolute authority of all, God. Following the words of our "prophet," David Berg, created an upside-down, morally abhorrent, alternative reality within COG Homes and was the root of abuse and exploitation within the cult.


See also, The Power of Ideology.

Tuesday, November 27, 2018

The Past is for Education, not Self-Reproach

I think I am not alone in the undesirable mental habit of beating myself up for saying and doing stupid things. I woke in the night and as my mind slid into the familiar berating, I stepped aside and considered why.

My thoughts went back to my years in the Philippines. Each year on Good Friday, we see can a physical representation of this mental habit. Filipinos walk down main streets flagellating themself with whips until they collapse. Some go as far as to have themselves nailed to crosses for several hours. To my mind, this is absurd. What good can come of this?

Yet isn't that just the same thing I have been doing mentally? Self-flagellating as if it would do any good. Did it earn me merit? No.

The past is to be looked at for education, not as a breeding ground for self-reproach. Understanding, accepting, and honestly facing ourselves is vital to having compassion on others, not to mention essential for our own mental health.

To quote the Dalai Lama,

"When we treat ourselves with compassion, we accept that there are parts of our personality that we may not be satisfied with, but we do not berate ourselves as we try to address them. When we go through a difficult time we are caring and kind to ourselves, as we would be to a friend or relative. When we feel inadequate in some way, we remind ourselves that all people have these feelings or limitations. When things are hard, we recognize that all people go through similar challenges. And finally, when we are feeling down, we try to understand this feeling with curiosity and acceptance, rather than rejection or self-judgement."



See also: Guilt.