So why did it take me thirty years to be able to say “the church I belonged to for a decade was a cult”? Did I really need to read the characteristics of cults in Vogl’s book? Was I honestly unsure? Was I refraining from using the word to be kind to those who are still members?
No. It was none of those. It was because to label that church a cult is to say that I am the kind of person who could (and did) put myself in a cult and keep myself there for a long time.
That admission provokes shame.
Shame is not guilt. Guilt says, “I did a bad thing.” Shame says, “I am bad.” And because shame feels bad, it is easier to say, “Sure, the church required that we all live together and dating was forbidden and marriage had to be approved by the elders but it wasn’t a cult, it was an extremely controlling religious organization.”
I have a friend at work who is one of the kindest and most grounded people I know. We were discussing something I had done or left undone that I didn’t feel good about. She looked at me with her warm brown eyes and said, “It’s time to give yourself some grace.”
This is the solution for shame—Grace. Self-forgiveness. The only way I can admit that I abdicated responsibility for my own life and turned it over to a cult for ten years is to give myself some grace.
I can take a deep breath. I can cry if I feel like it. I can accept that grace. I can move on.