Friday, June 13, 2008

Did TM Abuse Me? Some Symptoms

Last week, I wrote about strengths recovering cult members demonstrate.

Here I list challenges former cult members may face. (Most leave without serious problems.)

"Symptom" lists can be powerful things.

This list may be your first hint you suffered cult-related trauma. But it also delivers the news you are not alone. And you can do something about it.

You may feel relief reading this list. It may validate your experiences and feelings that mainstream culture dismisses, denies, or judges. These "symptoms," which some feel shame about, are normal for people leaving cults.

You may recognize some symptoms. But you may not attribute them to cult trauma. You may believe "something's wrong" with you. That you are the only one who suffers this way.

One woman I talked with reported experiencing twitching and involuntary movements a few months after starting TM. Her doctors treated her for epilepsy. I told her many TMers suffered this way. Although she had heard such stories, she never applied them to herself.

We learned in Transcendental Meditation that the techniques and the Maharishi were perfect. So if there were problems, they must be with us.

TMers tended to shun people with problems — to avoid their "stress" or bad karma. So we learned to keep problems secret. We never knew many fellow TMers experienced similar things.

And, as a double-whammy, TM culture encouraged us to shun medical and mental health professionals. If we admitted seeing them, the Org barred us from future courses. Which had the same weight for us as a Catholic being separated from the sacraments.

If we sought help, we risked losing our connection to the only spiritual life we knew.

Please read this lengthy list with an open mind. And if these challenges are still keeping you from a happy, productive life, please consider seeking help.
  • sense of loss
  • frequent crying
  • unusual shame, guilt, or fear
  • sucidal feelings or attempts
  • grieving your loss of former group, friends, or family

Grieving up to a year or two after leaving is common. However, on-going or recurrent depression paralyzes some former cult members for many years after leaving.

anxiety & post-traumatic stress disorder
  • panic or anxiety attacks
  • unusual avoidance of gatherings of people, stressful situations, or uncomfortable feelings
  • exaggerated startle reactions
  • "flashbacks" of past trauma
  • ritualistic behaviors to deal with anxieties
  • shakiness
  • trembling
  • sweating
  • cold/clammy hands
  • dizziness
  • jitteriness
  • tension
  • racing or pounding heart
  • dry mouth
  • numbness/tingling of hands, feet, or other body part
  • high pulse and/or breathing rate
  • nightmares
  • dreams of being back in cult
overwhelming stress symptoms
  • headaches
  • muscle aches
  • backaches
  • asthma
  • skin problems
  • bowel problems
  • unrealistic or excessive worry
  • unrealistic fears concerning objects or situations
Former cult members often don't realize the stress they are under. They became accustomed to unusually high-levels of stress in their groups. Consider taking a stress inventory.

fatigue & sleep disturbances
  • unusual over or under sleeping (hypersomnia/insomnia)
  • on-going, disabling fatigue

dissociative states
  • unusual or frequent staring vacantly into space
  • "blissing out" or "spacing out"
  • losing moments or hours of time
  • losing track of where you are while driving
  • not following conversations because you lose track of the thread
  • feeling "not real," feeling separate from oneself
Often a friend or family member first notices these symptoms.

cognitive & language problems
  • short-term memory difficulties (losing keys, etc.)
  • difficulty remembering periods in life, especially from cult
  • difficulty remembering names & faces
  • concentration difficulties
  • focus difficulties, jumping from activity to activity
  • difficulty making decisions
  • frequent difficulty finding words (perhaps related to aphasia or "tip of tongue" experience
  • stuttering
  • frequent forgetting what you are saying when speaking
  • unusual lack of motivation to speak
  • difficulty with reading comprehension (reading passages over & over again without understanding)

eating disorders
  • anorexia
  • binge-eating
  • obesity

Eating disorders are frequently unhealthy attempts to re-establish environmental control. High-demand groups, such as cults, steal personal control from members.

identity confusion
  • uncertainty over one's core values
  • sexuality or gender confusion
  • uncertain or frequently changing spirituality
  • difficulty holding jobs or choosing career
  • floating into and out of your cult or other high-demand groups

intimacy issues
  • difficulty trusting, inappropriately trusting too much or too little
  • difficulty making friendships or getting close to others
  • having few or no close friends
  • distance from family or friends
  • fear of intimacy or commitment

thrill-seeking, risk-taking, compulsive pursuits
  • workaholism
  • alcoholism
  • gambling
  • promiscuity
  • spending sprees
  • shoplifting
miscellaneous psychological challenges
  • disabling perfectionism, "nothing is ever good enough"
  • exaggerated feelings of superiority
  • exaggerated feelings of low-self esteem or unworthiness
  • difficulty making decisions
  • unusual dependency on others
  • slowed psychological development (difficulty maturing)
  • fear of God's punishment, ill health, financial ruin or other punishment for leaving group
  • rigidity of beliefs or rules
  • fear you're "going crazy"
  • feeling as if others are watching you
  • financial difficulties
See also Margaret Singer, PhD: "Coming out of the Cults," "Post-Cult After Effects."

John M. Knapp, LMSW

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