Do You Still Have a Monster Under Your Bed?

In November 2015, I was a guest speaker at the Cult Information & Family Support (CIFS) in Sydney. Below is a shortened version of the talk I gave about the lingering fear that can persist after leaving a high control group.

The aftermath of the Two-by-Twos has been, for me, a long and protracted monster-under-the-bed mentality. You know in your head this monster is purely psychological, but that does not prevent fear still getting the better of you in an irrational way from time to time… I had been mentally conditioned from a young age, and had believed and bought into everything I was told. I had broken free, but had not understood how I had been conditioned, and how it still affected me. Now, as I recognised the thought-stopping phrases I had been subjected to from my youngest years, I saw the flesh and bones and sinews of what makes up this monster, and the final vestiges of mystique were ripped away.

– Cult to Christ

For many of us, we may have been out of a high control group for many years – ‘free’ – but the monster still lurks. There’s a fear deep down in the psyche that we just can’t expel. If we get too close, it’s there waiting for us.

I came from a group where we knew we were the right ones. That absolute knowing is one of the aspects of the monster under the bed. For years afterwards, even when I knew it was not true, somewhere deep down in the recesses of my psyche was that fear, that doubt – maybe they were right. Maybe I have…
Lost my way,
Lost out,
Given the devil a foothold.

Do these ideas sound familiar? These are some of the consequences we were taught would happen if we went our own way. These are some of thought-stopping clichés we learnt, the fearful thoughts that our minds became conditioned to revert to constantly, whenever we found ourselves doubting. These phrases were designed to prevent doubt and being “led astray”. When we left the group, we couldn’t automatically erase these thought-stopping phrases. They still come back to haunt us from time to time. It took me the best part of 20 years (until the writing of my book), to really haul out the monster under the bed and dismember him. I did this by reading and studying cults, realising all the thought-stopping clichés I had been subjected to, and de-mystifying them.

Can you remember some of the thought stopping clichés you learnt? The immediate thoughts you reverted to when faced with doubt and uncertainty? Perhaps it’s time to haul them out and examine them in the cold light of day.

The Way is Perfect But The People Aren’t!
That was a great cover-all for every sin committed by others, including the workers.

Don’t Give The Devil a Foothold! If you doubt, the devil will get a toe in, and eventually claw up into your brain, leading you out of the way.

We Are The Only Group Not Started By a Man! Do they still use this one?

Narrow Is The Way And Only a Few Find It! That’s why there are so few of the friends worldwide.

We Have The One True Ministry! “The workers without a home and the meeting in the home.” Great catch cry.

A Short History of My Monster
What do you do when you find out you’ve been lied to? Uncovering the truth about the origins of the Friends and Workers group shook my faith to the core. But if you’re fully invested, and it’s the only foundation of faith that you have – not to mention friends, family and no life outside the group – you go into quiet denial. You take all that information and stick it in a little room somewhere in the dark recesses of your mind, and close the door, and erect a “do not enter” sign on the door. And that’s what I did.

I was a faithful devotee whose faith had been shattered, but I carefully glued it back together and hoped that it continues to hold my faith without my belief leaking out everywhere.
“We still have the one true ministry.”
“I still can’t give the devil a foothold by doubting.”

The thought-stopping clichés kicked in and short-circuited any critical thinking at this stage.

Then I met the man who would become my husband (20 years this year, by the way!). He wasn’t beholden to the system. He wasn’t afraid to ask questions. He didn’t know we weren’t supposed to ask questions. He asked me lots of questions and he asked the workers lots of questions.

This faith of mine, which I’d so carefully patched up, started leaking. My belief was no longer neatly contained, and lots of questions and doubts started leaking out, and soon there was a very big puddle of disbelief spreading all over the workers feet and they were not amused.

I opened my mouth, and direct questions and challenges started to come out. I’m not saying I wasn’t terrified of the consequences – I was, but at some point my doubts became bigger than my fear.

Well, standing up to the workers is a bit like telling Kim Jong-Un that he’s a delusional narcissist dictator. You know you’re immediately in danger of being executed…. Or at least excommunicated!

Somehow I’d reached a place of no return, where I couldn’t just retreat back into the group and stay there. I’d learned too much, and asked too many questions to which I didn’t have satisfactory answers. And so somewhere in here, I leapt. I describe it in my book as being like Alice in Wonderland, throwing herself down the rabbit hole. And in those first weeks and months, fear absolutely engulfed me. I had left the one “True Way”.

For nearly 6 months, I didn’t know what was going on. I thought I was losing my mind. There was also deep fear on the part of my parents – because we had been taught and had it reinforced over many years – that terrible accidents happen to those who leave. I was about to be hit by a car or struck by lightning any minute.

Information I found on the internet was deeply liberating. Finding other people who had been through the same thing, and had the same past, was the single biggest factor in helping me start to overcome the debilitating and sometimes overwhelming fear. I kept notes and records of conversations, and wrote at length at various times about my experience over many years. It wasn’t until mid-2013, when interviewed by The Age newspaper (Melbourne Australia), that I was spurred on to finally finish the book I’d be mulling over for so long.

Writing it was tough, but it was what really enabled me to pull the monster out from under the bed, once and for all. To start with, I couldn’t write for very long. I’d get the chest tightening, irregular heartbeat, tremors, all that. I’d be crying and stressed and have to stop. After a few rounds of this I’d take a break, and then it would be really hard to get back to the writing – sometimes for weeks or months, because I knew I’d have to go through it all again.

But it also made me cranky. I’d been out for TWENTY YEARS! And my post trauma stress symptoms were returning every time I tried to talk or write about the group. Why? I’m a person who’s big on self-control, and people will tell you I’m not the emotional type. But all these years down the track, the group still had a hold on me that I couldn’t control or overcome.

I started studying cults. I discovered “thought stopping clichés”, all those little phrases you learn in the group that you use like a mantra to stop doubts, every time you find yourself wanting to think for yourself and have a questioning mind. I started to understand HOW the group had had such a strong control over me. I read countless books –Jonestown, Mormonism, Scientology, the Elizabeth Smart abduction, many more about people being kidnapped and held hostage for years. In all these groups, no matter how extreme, even Jonestown, I recognise the mind-set. I see quotes that could have come straight from the Two-by-twos.

That’s scary, but also good. Because I can now fully appreciate that the Two-by-Twos are just another one of those groups. They are nothing new. They are the same old mantra of “we are the only right ones”. I no longer believe it in any way, shape or form, because I’ve now seen it a thousand times in so many other groups. I understand why and how it happens.

Writing the book was very hard, but incredibly therapeutic. There has been some flak over the title – some people strongly object to it being a cult – they say “It’s not Waco! It’s not violent! It’s not dangerous!” Actually, it is spiritually and mentally and psychologically dangerous. It enslaves people and holds them in bondage. It separates families. The psychological can be more damaging than the physical.

It also preaches a false gospel, one based on works, not grace. What I believe now stands on its own two feet; it isn’t channelled through or under the authority of someone or something else. My faith, at its core, is independent of all other people, truly dependent only on God himself.

My book is not going to appeal to people who are still fully sold on the group. I get that. But it was never going to appeal to them anyway. In the end, my book is for the survivors, the exes. Those who left recently , or years ago, and still suffer from the monster under the bed.

Have you confronted your own monster under the bed? He feeds on fear and mystique. His favourite treat is the thought-stopping cliché. I’d just like to really encourage you, if you haven’t already, to write your story down, get it all out on paper. If it’s tough to do – that’s all the more reason to do it. It means there’s still a monster under the bed, and he needs dragging out.

2 thoughts on “Do You Still Have a Monster Under Your Bed?”

  1. I understand everything you say and the truth behind it all. I was close to a complete breakdown and a miracle happened. I now no longer ‘belong’. I feel free with a massive weight lifted off my shoulders, yes you pay a price when you leave but realise that you are brainwashed into believing all hell and damnation will fall upon you if you leave. I am now in a better place and can finally think for myself even though I have flash backs I am leading a happy and fulfilling life.

  2. Thank you for your bravery in telling your story. You speak for many, I’m grateful to hear a story which has resemblance to my own. The distance between the experiences of ours and our peers in ‘the world’ leaves me lost at times – unable to articulate my journey or story. Thank you for articulating our story

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