The Challenges of Leaving Spiritual Community
It is seldom easy to leave a community that you have belonged to for any length of time. Groups that encourage members to invest a great deal in the community, spurn outside relationships, and which attempt to fulfill many roles for members will be the hardest to leave. You may leave fearing for your life (as in some cults) or with deep sadness in your heart from simply outgrowing what was once home for you.
Here are some of the challenges you may face when leaving a spiritual community.
- The group may have been a major part of your support system, so departing may leave you feeling alone, lonely, and without support.
- If you still have friends or family members who are part of the group, your leaving will likely disrupt (and maybe ruin) your relationship with them.
- You will rarely get support from within the group for leaving. In fact, your leaving is often perceived as threatening to those you have left behind, because you are challenging their choice (the more they have given up to continue in the group, the more they need to justify their decision to stay). Often you will be blamed and made wrong, even used as a negative example. Some members of the group may take your leaving as a betrayal. You have broken a loyalty to the group that was carefully nurtured.
- All sorts of “defensive” reasons may be offered within the group for your leaving (you are running away, afraid to take the next step….) although seldom are the defensive reasons for staying in a group identified. Sometimes after leaving, we wonder what took us so long, and feel foolish and guilty about what we participated in.
- It is rare for a group to not hold beliefs that its way is the best way, so now you are up against a belief system that until recently you also held. Lingering doubts may pester you. It takes time to undo a whole belief system.
- If the spiritual community you are leaving has been the mainstay of your world, who is there to celebrate with you when you leave (unless you were kidnapped and deprogrammed)? Who sees it as a graduation?
- Being part of a more authoritarian group has likely eroded your autonomy and confidence to go it alone. If the group centered around a teacher, you may have learned to look outside yourself for direction and guidance, even truth. Reclaiming your own spiritual authority will take some time.
- It may not be only spiritual authority you have given away; in authoritarian groups, teachers make decisions about their students’ everyday lives, so life outside the flock more closely resembles someone coming out of prison. You may experience difficulty making decisions, feel a loss of identity, even culture shock.
- Often when leaving a spiritual path, you don’t have anything to replace it. You are stepping into the unknown. This will put you face to face with your fears.
- People leaving dysfunctional spiritual groups experience a similar “rope burn” as people leaving intimate relationships that were hurtful. It leaves them bruised and mistrustful and makes it harder to commit in the future.
I encourage you to honor this as the challenge that it is and find true support for what you are going through.