The Dangers of Groups like Word of Faith Fellowship…

Over the years, different individuals have asked me about my time in Word of Faith Fellowship (WOFF). At times, I have been overwhelmed and stumbled for a concise answer to the question. Why? Simply put, I spent many years involved in the group dynamics and to condense that experience into a short summary proves difficult. That is one reason I am still writing this blog. Just telling my story has not been enough to capture the entire experience. Thus, I have shared stories of other survivors. Not one person’s experience captures the full scope of the dangers of life inside that group. Members involved at different levels have varied levels of drama and trauma levied against them.

In recent posts, I have shared about physical abuses. In my mind, there is no doubt physical abuse has been a part of WOFF-life. No doubt. For this post, I want to focus on another aspect of abuse- emotional and psychological abuse in children and adults alike. This type of abuse is hard to detect, but it is no less real or insidious. This abuse involves the continual state of hyperarousal.

My first encounter with the phrase was in the Findings of Fact in the McGee custody case. I have previously quoted from this document. During my first reading, I passed right over the term, mainly due to ignorance. I had little understanding of hyperarousal. First, let me quote the original document: (State of North Carolina, County of Rutherford-File No.: 00 CVM 0686)

“53. Dr. DeBerry testified that blasting on a child of 5 years of age could have a negative effect mentally and physically in that all organ systems could be placed in a state of hyper arousal, including the auditory system. Children subjected to blasting could become mentally ill. In addition, this type of aversive conditioning, children could have difficulty developing trusting relationships, difficulty with intimacy and interpersonal relationships.”

Tonight, I found a definition of the term on a website for the US Department of Veteran Affairs. The site dealt with Post Traumatic Stress Disorder (PTSD). The link found here. From the site:

“What is PTSD?
Posttraumatic Stress Disorder (PTSD) can occur after you have been through a traumatic event. A traumatic event is something terrible and scary that you see, hear about, or that happens to you, like:
• Combat exposure
• Child sexual or physical abuse
• Terrorist attack
• Sexual or physical assault
• Serious accidents, like a car wreck
• Natural disasters, like a fire, tornado, hurricane, flood, or earthquake
During a traumatic event, you think that your life or others’ lives are in danger. You may feel afraid or feel that you have no control over what is happening around you. Most people have some stress-related reactions after a traumatic event; but, not everyone gets PTSD. If your reactions don’t go away over time and they disrupt your life, you may have PTSD.”

As a side note, the article – “Cults A Natural Disaster” by Shelly Rosen found here, likens cult involvement to a natural disaster.

The VA site goes on to explain how PTSD develops and the four groups of symptoms.

“What are the symptoms of PTSD?

PTSD symptoms usually start soon after the traumatic event, but they may not appear until months or years later. They also may come and go over many years. If the symptoms last longer than four weeks, cause you great distress, or interfere with your work or home life, you might have PTSD.
There are four types of symptoms:
1. Reliving the event (also called re-experiencing symptoms)
You may have bad memories or nightmares. You even may feel like you’re going through the event again. This is called a flashback.
2. Avoiding situations that remind you of the event
You may try to avoid situations or people that trigger memories of the traumatic event. You may even avoid talking or thinking about the event.
3. Negative changes in beliefs and feelings
The way you think about yourself and others may change because of the trauma. You may feel fear, guilt, or shame. Or, you may not be interested in activities you used to enjoy. This is another way to avoid memories.
4. Feeling keyed up (also called hyperarousal)
You may be jittery, or always alert and on the lookout for danger. Or, you may have trouble concentrating or sleeping. This is known as hyperarousal.”
(emphasis added)

This oversimplified definition helps lead us to some understanding. “…always on alert and on the lookout for danger.” I remember that feeling, do you? Former members, let me rephrase: always on the alert for ‘sin’ and on the lookout for someone who might see my ‘sin’ and tell Jane. Only Jane could truly say what ‘sin’ was and how it should be punished.

Does that explain it? Am I getting close? When did you first begin to relax after leaving the group? I have written about it here before, I first began to let go of the constant fear when I heard the question, Why am I not afraid of the Pope? Well, naturally, I am not a Catholic. Then why still be afraid of Jane, you are no longer a part of WOFF.

When former members refer to Jane as “Grandma Jane” or “Mother Jane”, they are still in a state of alertness and on the lookout (from fear) for Jane. The underlying constant hyperarousal state shows in their decisions, actions and speech. They don’t even realize this level of control still persisting in their lives. I can say that because for months after, I was the same way.

“…always on alert…” For present members, tell me you don’t turn your head when the side door to the sanctuary opens and look for Jane? I noticed this while still in the group as I sat towards the back of the sanctuary. Hundreds of heads turning in unison when the door opened and Jane made her entrance. Tell me you don’t stop what you’re doing and listen when you hear Jane screaming from down the hall or from ten rows over? You dare not fall asleep during her preaching, you dare not look less than happy on the platform facing her. You are on constant alert for her presence, her demeanor, her words, why? You know her actions, her words could signal ‘danger’ for you. You could be found out- either for good reason or falsely accused, it does not matter. You know in your gut that you live in constant fear of Jane’s grip. This is a state of hyperarousal. My friends; you are living in abuse.

Oh, you may deny it. You may rename it. You may call it “the fear of God.” You may lie to yourself and say you enjoy it or “need it” so you won’t give to sin. Just the fact that you recognize this state of ‘watchfulness’ as true means you have accepted it as normal. You have accepted your plight of abuse as normal.

NEWS FLASH: Other people in your town don’t live like you do!

Life outside of WOFF is not fear based. Being continually afraid of a person who exercises dominion over you on all levels is not normal. You are being abused and do not even know it. Then again, you may know it and not know a way out.

As far as children are concerned, more from our resource text:

“Can children have PTSD?

Children can have PTSD too. They may have symptoms described above or other symptoms depending on how old they are. As children get older, their symptoms are more like those of adults. Here are some examples of PTSD symptoms in children:
• Children age birth to 6 may get upset if their parents are not close by, have trouble sleeping, or suddenly have trouble with toilet training or going to the bathroom.
• Children age 7 to 11 may act out the trauma through play, drawings, or stories. Some have nightmares or become more irritable or aggressive. They may also want to avoid school or have trouble with schoolwork or friends.
• Children age 12 to 18 have symptoms more similar to adults: depression, anxiety, withdrawal, or reckless behavior like substance abuse or running away.”

In WOFF, if a child got upset when their parents weren’t close by, that was a devil and they were blasted. That produced more hyperarousal, right? The cycle was vicious for some. Trouble sleeping? That was a devil attacking the child. Blast it! Hit the heavens! Adding trauma to trauma. Trouble going to the bathroom? It was clear the leader of WOFF had total authority in the bathroom. There was no privacy inside that group. If the child couldn’t perform, blast it! Peel the paint, shatter those devils, run them out! Oh, the echoes still return…

Children with nightmares? That was the devil! Call Jane, blast it! Children – irritable? Devils. Trouble at school or not want to do homework. Devils. Teenagers with depression, WOFF teachings did not believe in that. Sad and not ‘happy’ was a devil- blast it! Reckless behavior? Running away? What teenager in their right mind would run from all the blasting? What young adult in their right mind would run from all the abuse disguised security? Shall we list names of those who have tried and were promptly escorted by local authorities back into the blasting zone? WOFF members can’t admit that life inside is abusive or they will be forced out of the abuse. Does this make sense? Confusing abuse with safety is a sign of being abused. True emotional safety is not a concern inside WOFF- just run those devils out of here!

Yet, local officials seem helpless. Local DSS workers seem frozen in the fear that leaks out through the walls of WOFF and they cannot move into the safe zone of doing their job. Do RCDSS workers not understand the trauma that life inside this group has been and continues to be for the children? Yes, adults have been abused as well.

As a note, further reading convinces me that many inside of WOFF suffer from Complex PTSD. Many members have been involved for several years. Complex PTSD is defined as:

…”a psychological injury that results from protracted exposure to prolonged social and/or interpersonal trauma in the context or either captivity or entrapment (a situation lacking a viable escape route for the victim), which results in the lack of or loss of control, helplessness and deformations of identity and sense of self. Examples include hostages, prisoners of war, concentration camp survivors, and survivors of some religious cults.” (source link
Many inside of WOFF lack a viable means of escape. Add to this the trauma for even admitting to wanting to leave; you have a formula for intense emotional abuse and destruction of the sense of self.

We will review more dangers of high demand faith groups in future posts.

Rose in Low Light
Rose of the Day

Thank you, for taking time to visit and read this blog. Please, consume the information on this site responsibly. The author is not a licensed mental health professional and encourages those that need professional help to seek it. The intent of the material is to inform and be a resource. Be sure to tell every member that you know at WOFF about this blog. There are readers at WOFF. Jane told me and Josh confirmed it.

Comments are invited from all readers, including present or former members. Polls are not scientific and no private information is gathered.

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Guest posts reflect the opinions of the writers. Their opinions do not necessarily reflect the opinions of John Huddle or any other persons affiliated with this blog.

Please, take time to read the Terms of Use for this personal blog. As mentioned, for posts written by John Huddle, any information about WOFF is from his memories and recollections as perfect as that may be or not be.

Scripture references are Amplified Version unless otherwise noted. (Copyright © 1954, 1958, 1962, 1964, 1965, 1987 by The Lockman Foundation ) This is post number 502.

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