Anger & Forgiveness

"Father, forgive them, for they know not what they do." 

It is with that famous quote from Jesus that we open this page. Forgiveness is a very deep, wide and for many of us a subject we are only now learning to grapple.  What is forgiveness?  Can you forgive someone who doesn't desire or seek forgiveness?  Are your wounds so deep that foregiveness seems out of the question?  Strangely enough, it was not Jesus who forgave in wholesale fashion those who were responsible for his situation, but He sought His Father's forgiveness on their behalf.  It would seem then, that ultimate forgiveness, the final dispensation must come only from God.  The Gospel teaches us that it is God, for Christ's sake, who is able to forgive our transgressions.  When Jesus taught us to pray, He asked His Father to "forgive us our debts, as we forgive our debtors".  Is it then incumbent upon us to forgive the debtor whether or not forgiveness is requested?  Is wholesale foregiveness even possible?  Can you or I forgive, for example, the two assasins of Columbine High School?  What is the core of forgiveness?  Before the barrage of scriptures come rolling off your tongues or your keyboards, make sure of your definitions. 

The following was reproduced from Madeline Kandau Tobias and Janja Lalich's book "Captive Hearts, Captive Minds". We felt it could be of help to those who have left the Kingdom's influence and are adjusting to being "out from under". One of the recurring statements one hears ex-members repeat with regard to leaving the Kingdom, is the advice given by those being left behind, "Well, we hate to see you go, but whatever you do, don't be bitter." We the editors believe it is unhealthy to hang on to anger and know that hate is destructive, but, in light of the recurring Kingdom advice, we thought it prudent to reprint some insights on the subject from the authors of "Captive Hearts,  Captive Minds".  Tobias and Lalich have demonstrated a broad experience with regard to cult recovery issues, and their wisdom reflects on the importance of Anger and Forgiveness. We suspect that some of these comments will make great discussion topics on the Guestbook pages


The emergence of anger is one of the first signs of recovery. Anger is a normal and healthy reaction to the hurt and assaults that you experienced. Anger is the most appropriate response to the abuse and manipulations of the cult. It is also the hardest emotion for some ex-members to get in touch with and deal with. If you feel angry, it means you are now ready to acknowledge that you were victimized, which can be incredibly painful. What was done was heinous--and you are entitled to your rage. Just as fear is the backbone of mind control, anger is the fuel of recovery. Anger is an extremely valuable tool in healing. It fortifies your sense of what is right by condemning the wrong that was done to you. It gives you the energy and will to get through the ordeal of getting your life back together. Suppression of anger while in the cult contributed to depression and a sense of helplessness. Now the reverse is possible. Anger can be a double-edged sword, however. It can motivate healing or be turned inward, against the self. Some people may find it easier to blame themselves than to use their anger to make necessary life changes. This can result in alcohol or drug use, physical illness, or emotional disorders including depression and suicidal thoughts and behaviors. Anger can also be directed at innocent others. If expressed inappropriately or unconsciously, anger can further a person's isolation. To be used effectively, anger must be focused on its source--primarily the cult leader. Remember that your anger may be hard for family, friends, and sometimes even therapists to accept. You may be urged to forgive and forget. Ex-members who have been brought up to hide or deny negative feelings may not have the tools or experience to know how to express this potentially healing emotion.

Former cult members "need to realize that what was done to them was wrong ," writes Michael Langone. "[They] must be allowed - encouraged even - to express appropriate moral outrage. The outrage will not magically eliminate the abuse and its effects. Nor will it necessarily bring the victimizer to justice. But it will enable victims to assert their inner worth and their sense of right and wrong by condemning the evil done to them. Moral outrage fortifies good against formidable evil. Even implicitly denying victims' need to express moral outrage shifts blame from victimizers to victims. Perhaps that is why so many victims are disturbed by 'detached' therapists, or 'objective' scientific researchers. They interpret the detachment or "objectivity as implicit blaming of themselves."* People who have experienced a particularly traumatic cult involvement or childhood physical and sexual abuse share certain experiences. Both have been victimized by those they depended on and trusted. Many cult members have also been sexually and/or physically abused. All have been emotionally and spiritually victimized. Anger at such abuse can be expressed and transformed through the use of the techniques given below. Initially, it is important not to do these exercises alone. When repressed anger is first released, the intensity can be overwhelming, even frightening. Therefore, some of the activities listed here are best done with a trusted and stable friend or therapist.

  1. Keep a diary and write about your anger and other strong feelings. Former cult members have consistently said that writing about their experience has been one of the most helpful vehicles for working through their feelings of betrayal and abuse.
  2. Write a letter to your cult leader. Tell him or her off. It is not necessary to send it, especially if doing so would put you in danger. You don't have to mail the letter to feel the positive effects of having written it.
  3. Talk to someone about your feelings. Make sure it is someone who can understand and empathize.
  4. Turn on the shower, get in, and scream.
  5. Get in your car, turn the radio on loud and scream - but not while driving.
  6. Do something physically expressive: pound pillows with a whiffle bat or tennis racket. Go into the woods and pound boulders with a sledgehammer (wear protecdve goggles). Direct your anger into the activity.
  7. Fantasize taking revenge; imagine it. People spontaneously imagine scenarios in which their injured pride is restored. Don't, however, act out by doing something illegal or dangerous to another.
  8. Speak out publicly about your cult experience. Get involved in an anticult group. This has been therapeutic for many ex-members. 9. Get the law on your side. If your group has been involved in criminal acdvity, consult a lawyer for your own protection before going to the police.
  9. Consider a civil suit for damages against the cult. Again, seek legal advice about this first.
  10. Take an assertiveness training course.
Forgiveness as a Means of Recovery

Forgiving yourself is essential to elimination shame and guilt. Shame is toxic. It cripples self-esteem and retards emotional healing. Although guilt may help a person avoid the same mistakes again, excessive guilt prevents growth and learning from those mistakes.

The first step toward forgiveness is to bring into clear focus where you were when you were recruited. Your own vulnerability and the cult's recruitment tactics need to be understood. Separating what the cult recruiters did and said from your needs at the time of recruitment will help put the process in perspective. Remember, being vulnerable is not the same as being to blame. Knowing your vulnerabilities can help you to identify deceptive recruitment and indoctrination techniques.

Once a person is recruited, his or her personality changes, as the secondary or "cult" personality develops. Few persons can resist the systematic manipulation that occurs in a cult environment. Those practiced in thought reform techniques can sense just how far and fast a person can be deceived and exploited. Pressure to conform and the promise of reward, along with induced feelings of guilt and fear, are powerful agents of change. Take all this into consideration when evaluating your situation. Above all, have compassion for yourself.

The following technique, adapted from 12-step programs, is a useful exercise for working through guilt and shame:

    1. First make a list of everything you did in the group that now produces feelings of shame, guilt, and regret.

    2. Share this with someone you trust, someone who will not judge you. Talk it over with a therapist, counselor, clergy person, or another ex-member. You need someone else's perspective and objectivity. You need to get it out of you.

    3. Look at the list and see if you can make amends to any of the people involved. This should not be done if it causes further pain to another or puts you at risk of reinvolvement with the group.

    4. If you can, and if you find it helpful, ask for forgiveness from God or your spiritual source.

    5. Don't forget to forgive yourself. This is both the hardest and the most important part. As long as you are operating on guilt or shame, you are emotionally handicapped.

We can seek forgiveness from those we hurt, from God, and from ourselves, but forgiving those who so deliberately hurt us is a different matter and a highly personal one. As more than one ex-member has said, "As a fellow member, I can forgive those in the group who hurt me. They were as much under the influence of our leader as I was. As for the leader, since he shows absolutely no remorse for what he has done to me, what he continues to do to others, and what he would still do to me if he could, I do not forgive him."

It has been said that success is the best revenge. Becoming functional and happy outside of the cult, rather than getting sick and dying or becoming a complete loser as the cult may have predicted, is the best manifesto of your success and the best exposure of the cult's lies about life outside of the group.

from Madeline Kandau Tobias and Janja Lalich's book "Captive Hearts, Captive Minds". 1994 Hunter House Inc. Alameda, CA. p. 134-139, Used with permission.