I’ve talked at length in many of my videos of the toll that destructive groups like Scientology take on their members. They consume endless amounts of money, time and attention and can rob people of the best years of their life, toiling away for some “wonderful cause” that in reality is nothing more than a money making scam, a manipulative effort to control people’s lives or worst of all, a violent terrorist group that indiscriminately kills the innocent.
One of the tragic human costs of these groups is the psychological and emotional damage they cause. Even years after leaving, former members are often wracked by fear and anxiety, depression, feelings of guilt and shame, nightmares and anger. Some descend into a spiral of excessive alcohol and drug use or neglect their health in other ways, and often take out their rage on their closest loved ones or friends, alienating themselves even further.
What I’m talking about, of course, is Post-traumatic Stress Disorder or PTSD. While you may think that such a term only applies to combat veterans, rape victims or survivors of natural disasters, the truth is that some people who have left destructive cults suffer from PTSD too.
What is Trauma?
Trauma is defined simply as a “deeply distressing or disturbing experience.” But more specifically, it describes experiences or situations that are emotionally painful and distressing and that overwhelm a person’s ability to cope, leaving them powerless. (Center for Nonviolence and Social Justice)
Trauma is not something that only weak or sick or morally bereft people experience. It can happen to anyone and could be thought of as something more like an injury which needs to be treated than a mental illness which a person has to endure for the rest of their life.
“PTSD is a mental health disorder which develops in some people who have seen or lived through a shocking, scary or dangerous event. It is natural to feel afraid during and after a traumatic situation. Fear triggers many split-second changes in the body to help defend against danger or to avoid it. This “fight-or-flight” response is a healthy reaction meant to protect a person from harm. Nearly everyone will experience a range of reactions after trauma, yet most people recover from initial symptoms naturally. Those who continue to experience problems may be diagnosed with PTSD. People who have PTSD may feel stressed or frightened even when they are not in danger.”
Everyone responds to different experiences in different ways, depending on their background, education, mental and psychological make-up and ability. This video is no effort to diagnose anyone or tell anyone how to live their life. In watching this, if you feel that you may be suffering from lingering trauma or post-traumatic stress disorder, it’s important that you see a trained mental health professional who can provide you with an accurate diagnosis based on your personal situation.
Scientology Causes Trauma
There are a number of ways that groups like Scientology can create stressful and traumatic episodes in a person’s life. I’m not just talking about one or two minor incidents of worry or upset that are blown out of proportion but things Scientologists are put through which can have long-term emotional and psychological impact.
The most immediate and well-known examples are the physical abuses which upper level Scientologists in the Sea Organization have to endure. We’ve all heard the horror stories about The Hole and the RPF or Rehabiliation Project Force, where malnourished and sleep-deprived Sea Org members are overworked, forcefully degraded, made to confess to sins they never committed, jeered at and even made to lick the floor with their tongues.
But you don’t have to be at the upper levels of the Sea Org to experience this kind of trauma. Let me break it down: the daily life of almost any Sea Org member consists of getting up early, working all day long with only a half hour for lunch and dinner, no work breaks or time off and people literally yelling at them from four or five different directions. You are never working hard enough, never making enough money for the Church and can never get out from under the ever-present emergency situations created by Scientology management that have to be solved now now now. Every Sea Org member is caught in a hamster wheel of futility, running harder and harder on a road to nowhere. And worse, because of the constant threat of punishment, it’s like there is a hammer over their head all day every day. They have three or more musters every day where roll is called and announcements made, including public shaming when production quotas aren’t being met or someone is being made an example in front of the group for whatever the Sea Org considers unethical conduct. Punishments can be anything from reduced pay to having to scrub pots in the galley until late at night or other harsher forms of physical discipline to being demoted or even kicked out.
Most people would give up such a lifestyle after a few days or weeks but Sea Org members endure it for years and even decades. There’s almost no way to avoid exhaustion, mental breakdowns and serious psychological trouble after years of such abuse.
I’ve seen people who have come out of the Sea Org go on drug and sex binges and almost kill themselves trying to adjust to life in the real world, trying to deal with what they experienced. These are not people who were just stupid or who deserved what they got because they’re morons. Some of them unfortunately were born into Scientology and didn’t know any other kind of life existed. Regardless of how they got in, though, none of them deserved what they got.
You don’t have to work for Scientology to be traumatized by it. There is also the stress and trauma that regular Scientology public are put through as part of Scientology’s counselling or auditing techniques.
Much of Dianetics and Scientology counselling consists of recounting or re-experiencing earlier times of great trauma or stress and for some, this has only reinforced the negative feelings and has even triggered full pyschotic episodes. What’s more, Scientology “security checking” makes a person confess all of their morally reprehensible acts, which are written down in detail and then used against the person to force them to “take responsibility for their deeds” by making amends through coerced monetary donations or having to work on Scientology projects.
There is also the dictum that in Scientology, you are always responsible for your own condition. It’s never the fault of the organization or the group when you are victimized by Scientology. By convincing its members that they are the ones causing all of their own problems, accidents or unfortunate circumstances, no matter what, they create a mindset similar to what happens when you convince a rape victim that they are responsible for what happened to them because they were wearing the wrong clothes. The person begins a vicious cycle of self re-traumatization, eventually blaming themselves for situations that had nothing to do with them simply because they think they are responsible for it all.
Finally, for every Scientologist and Sea Organization member, all of these activities occur under the shadow of disconnection, meaning that if you step out of line or start to question what is going on or vocally disagree with what Scientology’s executives or leaders are up to, you could easily end up losing all of your Scientology friends and family forever. Scientology’s public relations statements try to make light of this and even claim that there is no such policy as disconnection but hundreds of Scientology’s disconnected victims prove otherwise.
Despite learning to smile and put on a good front to non-Scientologists, these practices take their toll. Scientology and other destructive cults are not just silly people frollicking in fields and wasting their lives following the advice of mad men. They are groups that are victimized by very harmful practices and mind altering techniques. Unfortunately, they don’t even realize this until real psychological and emotional damage has been inflicted which, in some cases, can take years to recover from.
While it’s certainly entertaining and even fun to laugh at the antics these groups can get up to and their odd beliefs, we need to keep in mind that there is a very real human cost to being involved in a destructive cult. It’s important we remember what we are fighting against and help those who have come out of these groups by getting them the care they sometimes need to recover.
Thank you for watching.