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They Told Me If I Left ...

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They Told Me If I Left ...
Occasionally, someone comes to us who is terror-stricken in this way.
But it was so nice at first ...
They told me that if I left, I would backslide spiritually.
They told me that if I left, I would join up with the enemies of God.
They told me that if I left, they would have ...
They told me that if I left, I would bring evil...
They told me that if I left, something terrible would happen to me.
They told me that if I left, I would go to Hell.
They didn
They told me that if I left ...

by Ron Henzel

One of the most insidious features of Spiritual Abuse ...  

... is the state of terror in which it leaves so many of its victims. 

People who flee Spiritual Abuse are in a double-bind: in the very process of fleeing from the oppression that comes from being part of the group, they are terrorized by the threats of the leadership and various members -- threats of dire consequences, punishment from God, and even eternal damnation. 

Jehovah's Witnesses are told that members who leave the Watchtower Society will be destroyed in Armageddon.  Members who leave the International Churches of Christ (also known as the Boston Movement) are told that they will be condemned to eternal torment in Hell.  In the group I came out of, the leader kept telling us that no one "prospered spiritually" after leaving, and he not-so-subtly implied that many of them were never really Christians in the first place.  (Translation: they're going to Hell.) 

In one form or another, to one extent or another, spiritually abusive groups elevate affiliation with their "body of believers" to a requirement for salvation -- or at the very least they elevate membership in the group to a requirement for demonstrating that you are a Christian.  In either case the result is the same: once you're in, you can't leave -- at least not safely; at least not without jeopardizing your eternal destiny. 

After spending a sufficient amount of time in these groups, escaping members are often totally defenseless when it comes to this kind of spiritual terrorism.  They have come to the point where because they are no longer able to endure the very real fear and torment of being in the group, and they are willing to risk the potential fear and torment of being outside the group.  But they frequently leave with the sincere conviction that their departure is a sign that they are going to Hell, and they have no idea how they are going to cope with that.  For many going through the exit process, fears of eternal damnation become a constant preoccupation.  Once they are fully out, the result is almost always severe depression, and they are sometimes suicidal. 

As for me: I was too afraid to commit suicide, because all my assurance of salvation had been stripped away by my abusive group, and I didn't want to arrive in Hell any sooner than I had to.  I kept praying to God that He would give me whatever it was that I needed (repentance, more faith, etc.) to be assured of salvation long after I left. 

Another woman who left our group before me remembers drawing a deep breath and saying to herself: "Well, this probably means I'm going to Hell ... but I can't stay!"  Another former member moved hundreds of miles away to avoid the inevitable, searing condemnation of the members she left behind, some of whom had been old friends before she joined.