The stress of leaving the Christadelphians

By John Bedson
 
A correspondent has written of her life being:
“… a wreckage since leaving the Christadelphians …... I feel I don't belong anywhere, despite having joined a mainstream church. Part of me can't believe I won't return to them; it feels unnatural to be separate from them and it feels inevitable that one day we must go back. I don't understand these feelings, and I don't understand the sense of grief and betrayal I feel for having left the community. I feel like I am not a part of the Christadelphian community, yet also not a part of "the real world." It culminates in feelings of intense depression and alienation and anxiety, and I don't know where to turn for help.”

We Ex-Christadelphians know exactly what this means. Most of us went through trauma when we left and we often see the problem discussed on the Ex-Christadelphian Facebook discussion forum.

We even have friends who were never baptised into the Christadelphian faith, but because of their childhood experiences being brought up by Christadelphians they are left traumatised and unable to function properly in society. To put it bluntly it was child abuse; mental child abuse by indoctrinating irrational nonsense into undefended infant brains.
This note looks at the causes of this “Post Christadelphian Traumatic Stress Disorder”and also considers some of the coping strategies that we have found to be helpful.
This disorder is very common amongst people who have managed to escape from cults, or high control groups such as the Christadelphians. It is often called“Complex Post Cult Traumatic Stress Disorder.”
Christadelphians object that their group is NOT a cult, but they would agree that it is a sect. Just because they don’t drink cool-aid laced with poison or follow a leader with a gold Rolls Royce does not alter the fact that their beliefs and practices are as odd as the Amish, Exclusive Brethren, Scientologists, Mormons, Jehovah’s Witnesses and many other sects and cults who believe eccentric things. Catholics and Anglicans also believe weird things, but they do not seek to control their members’ behaviour to the same degree as a sect or cult.
Christadelphians often count the number of times that their members attend services and have committees who have the cheek to contact “wayward” members who are not keeping a high score of attendance. Christadelphians usually dress alike, with a strict dress code of hats for the women. They generally avoid smoking even though tobacco is never mentioned in the Bible. They have a cult “jargon” in the way they speak (brethren, sisters, ecclesia, the emblems” etc. They are fiercely xenophobic (sinners of the Gentiles etc) and usually refuse to read material critical of their own beliefs. Christadelphians are judgmental and interfering in the lives of their own members. They seek to be “separate” from society which they mistakenly believe to be wicked.

Many Christadelphian ecclesias refuse to allow marriage outside of the faith, or divorce. They will not let members fight for their country, vote in democratic elections or even sit on a jury. Members who will not obey the house rules are frightened by the prospect of being “disfellowshipped” from the group. Members are not encouraged to think freely for themselves because this is seen as a form of rebellion. Christadelphianism seeks to control the thoughts, feelings and behaviour of its followers. All of these things and many more are sect behaviour. It is not natural; it is dysfunctional; it is looking at life through a distorting lens:- It is a sect.
Ex-hostages, prisoners of war, concentration camp survivors, citizens of totalitarian regimes (like North Korea), victims of domestic battering or sexual exploitation, victims of childhood sexual abuse and many others all often suffer from the same sort of traumatic stress disorder that afflicts those who manage to escape from cults like the Christadelphians. This problem is not rare; it is common. These people have been mentally abused by distorted reasoning over periods of time that can extend to many decades.
I was thirty five years old before I managed to escape from my family Christadelphian religion and I can testify that leaving was awful. My head was a jumble for three years and it was twenty years before finally managed to put it all behind me and have the strength to reach back to those who I had left and seek to rescue some from their entanglement with the sect. Unfortunately, assisting Christadelphians to escape is like trying to get people in a burning building to jump out of a window to the safety of a fireman’s net. Christadelphians are afraid to leave. Quite rightly so; life here on the outside can take a lot of getting used to. Sadly, most will never escape and will go to their graves expecting a resurrection, which will never happen.
Ex-Christadelphians suffer from some of the following psychological symptoms:
1. A sense of embarrassment that they believed the paranormal content of Christadelphian teaching.

2. Guilt. You feel that you have betrayed all of the wonderful brethren and sisters who were so nice to you when you were a Christadelphian.

3. Self-doubt. Did you do the right thing in leaving? Will Christ judge you at his return?

4. Dysphoria, or inappropriate expression of feelings. Once you leave the Christadelphians your entire World view and moral compass changes dramatically and you feel as if you are floating in a foreign sea with no foothold. It can take years to rebuild the framework of your life and relations with others can be difficult.

5. Depersonalization and or derealisation. That is, feeling that you are not real, or that things around you are not real. The control boundaries of Christadelphianism have gone and while you rebuild those boundaries afresh the stress can make your head feel “foggy” and out of touch with reality.

6. A sense of defilement or stigma. When you were a Christadelphian you were xenophobic and judgmental of “The World.” Once you leave the Christadelphians you are part of that World and your mind can feel unclean because you are no longer “washed by the blood of Christ.” Your previous brethren and sisters will reject and criticise you. It is not easy to have the mental conviction that it is they who believe the weird stuff and that it is you that have escaped from a strange sect.

The first thing to do if you are suffering from this disorder is to seek help from the many hundreds of Ex-Christadelphians who have experienced the stress that you are feeling. We can put you in touch with the appropriate Ex-Christadelphian forums where all of these issues and many more are discussed. Once you realise that you are not alone and that your problems are no different to what the rest of us went through you will soon cheer up and your load will be lightened. You can also discuss on this blog or on our own Facebook group and we will be pleased to help in whatever way we can.

You might want to study "Post Cult Traumatic Stress Syndrome" on the Internet, where there are many resources which outline the problem and suggest remedies.

In severe cases professional psychological counselling my be required to straighten out your thinking or help to lift depression.

You are welcome to email us: Ex-Christadelphians@hotmail.com and we will be pleased to discuss with you in private by email. You are also most welcome to call me on the telephone if you need support. Or we can perhaps put you on touch with people in your area who left the Christadelphians and who are keen to help others who are exiting the religion.

But perhaps the most useful thing that I can say is that hundred of others have gone through what you are experiencing and the passage of time heals the mental wounds of Christadelphianism. It does pass and you do get over it – more or less. You are not alone and you are on the road to recovery. There is nothing wrong with you other than the fact that you have spent too long in a high control sect and they have messed with your head.

Hold your nerve and whatever happens do not return to the Christadelphian sect or you will have achieved nothing.