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Good article concerning ‘Spiritual’ Abuse

Mark Dombeck, Ph.D. was Director of Mental Help Net from 1999 to 2011. Dr. Dombeck received his Ph.D. in Clinical Psychology in 1995 ...Read More

While doing some "web 2.0" surfing of social networking news sites the other night (digg, metafilter, reddit, etc.), I came across a wonderfully written article by an author publishing under the name "dogemperor". The article concerned her (I think dogemperor is a woman) "escape" from what she considered to be a "spiritually abusive" upbringing. For better or for worse, the article does not go out of its way to present a "fair and balanced" view of the church in question in which the author was raised. I can only take the author’s word for her experiences, having no direct experience with her background. Nevertheless, her article is well written and does a marvelously good job of illustrating a phenomena I’ve written about before: Identity Foreclosure.

The term Identity Foreclosure was coined by psychologist James Marcia in the 1960s, a time period that was greatly influenced by the writings of the great humanistic psychologists, including Carl Rogers. Rogers emphasized the importance of something he called "Organismic Valuing" to healthy mental and emotional life. Organismic valuing occurs when a person is allowed to decide for themselves what something’s value ought to be; whether or not they like vanilla or chocolate ice cream for instance, what they feel is the most appropriate political philosophy, or what sort of partners they want to have sexual relationships with, to give but a few examples. Organismic valuing is vital to happiness in Roger’s scheme (as best as I understand that scheme). If you are good at setting your own values, you will be a happier, more fulfilled person. If your efforts to set your own values are sabotaged by your society, you will fare less well.

I don’t bring up organismic valuing to simply rehash the 60s. There are problems with pure organismic valuing. If no one ever teaches you right from wrong, you don’t get socialized properly; you don’t learn how to function in society. It is important that people teach youth how to be good citizens and how to play by the rules. The thing is, of course, that it is very possible to take this teaching of rules too far. Some parents end up teaching their children so many rules about how to act, think and feel that they end up severely interfering with those children’s capability for independent (organismic) valuing. The children end up sounding like little versions of their parents, parroting their parents beliefs as though they were their own. In the process of this over-indoctrinization, the parents end up doing harm to their children’s individuality.

Marcia’s insight was to see that some people don’t get to form their own independent identities, becuase their caregivers (parents or other authority figures) end up so dominating their young minds that their capability to form independent judgements is suppressed and doesn’t develop normally. To foreclose means to shut down before something is ready to be shut down (as in a bank foreclosing on a mortgage), so Marcia chose that word to identity what was being done to kids whose developmental process was messed with such that they never got a chance to become themselves.

Dogemperor’s article describes her (negative) experiences in a particular family and particular religious environment that seems to have suppressed her unique individuality to a severe and extreme extent. Reading her article reminded me of a star trek episode featuring the "Borg Hive Mind" (from the Next Generation; as in "Resistance is Futile, You will be Assimilated!"), only supposedly, all the events dogemperor describes actually happened. The story dogemperor tells is a story of identity forclosure in action, but it is also the story of how some kids escape such foreclosure, just as some weeds persist in growing in a garden that is sprayed with pesticide. Freedom of mind is like a weed perhaps in some people: stubborn and hard to put down.

So, for what it is worth, I invite you read "Why the subject of dominionism is rather…personal to me.", by dogemperor.

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