Jill Mytton – A Profile

Review of Personal and Professional Learning

(or Where I came from and where am I going to)

Written by Jill Mytton.

This paper was written back in 2006 when I was taking the preparatory modules for a Doctorate in Professional Studies at the Metanoia Institute (in collaboration with Middlesex University). Research these days involves a great deal of self-reflection and that was the purpose of this piece. As a researcher embarking on one of the new breeds of doctorates, I was to be at the centre of the research undertaking. To do this requires reviewing and critically reflecting on the links between my past experiences, current position and future intentions on my doctoral journey. I was also required to show how past personal and professional learning and achievements have contributed to my professional identity to date. Finally it also needed to include a reflection on the relevance of previous personal and professional experiences to the programme. As I began writing it, I found myself immersed in an autobiographical journey and became fascinated by what emerged, I had no idea these thoughts and experiences were in my head. The paper therefore ended up more like my life’s narrative and I was concerned that it would not meet their requirements. To my surprise and relief, it was not only accepted by the examiners but highly praised for the writing – something I was far from expecting and keyed into the ‘well done thou good and faithful’ servant theme that emerged.

 

Childhood

 

“Thou art weighed in the balances and art found wanting”.

(Daniel 5:27)

This verse, inculcated so thoroughly in my childhood reverberates even now in my head along with its antithesis, the longed for acclamation, “well done thou good and faithful servant”. Recently I discovered that I had changed the original of the first to “ye shall be judged and found wanting”. My version, so much stronger.

I did not choose to be born into a religious cult[1], nor did I choose to leave it at the age of 16. Both those important decisions were made by my parents and in between lie years of fear of being judged and striving to gain that yearned for approval. A sense of dissonance. Not a happy childhood then, love was so conditional. I often did not dare speak my thoughts or feelings for fear of retribution, both earthly and eternal. Some of those private thoughts I remember clearly and wonder how different my life might have been if I had felt free to express and develop them.

 

One day, aged 7, I wondered why I could not simply swap places with Joanna the girl next door – my soul could move into her body and hers into mine then somehow I would be free. Looking back this was an existential question into the meaning of existence and of identity and where the “I” resided. It also contained a longing for freedom. Such thoughts I would not dare verbalise. Today I encourage my clients to verbalise their questions in this area, so many seem unaware of their own identity. After traumatic events for example, their world is often profoundly changed and their sense of who they are changes with the event. Our sessions are often filled with existential questions.

 

When I was two and a half years old my parents disappeared for several weeks. They had a head on collision with a drunk driver and my mother nearly died. When she returned home she was a very different woman, always lying down, always ill. I was sent away to live with my grandmother whom I did not know thus losing my home and my brothers too. I still experience intense anxiety when people I love go away for a while. I internalised the belief that I had better be a “good and faithful servant” otherwise I would lose my parents again and be damned forever. Hell fire, brimstone, ashes, burning hell, all very graphic images presented to us as children and all very real, not metaphorical at all. Every Sunday and sometimes on Saturday as well we would go to “meetings”, often we had tea there, soppy sandwiches on huge trays and cups of dishwater. I never understood the meetings except for the hell fire and brimstone bits; the brothers’ words wafted over my head like grey murky winds occasionally acquiring tornado status. I learnt quickly how to dissociate in order to deal with the hours of boredom or fear.

 

When I went to Croydon High School at the age of eight I was so proud when I was made form prefect. “Good and faithful servant”. However, that sense of self worth was soon to be snatched away by my teacher who gave my prefect’s badge to another girl on the grounds that I was often absent. “Judged and found wanting”. I was absent so often because I could not sleep – a troubled child. For the rest of my school days I sat apprehensive at the start of each school year hoping to get that accolade again but it was not until my very last term at the age of 17 when I was finally made school prefect that I did.

 

I knew that I was expected to ask to “break bread” (holy communion) as I entered my teen years. I did not understand what this meant though it seemed to be something to do with being “born in sin and shapen in iniquity” and “being saved”.  I was sure I did not want to stay bad. The compulsion to ask that life-crucial question became stronger, urged on by the preachers’ words booming over my head every Sunday evening. There seemed to be no alternative apart from everlasting death in hell; too awful to contemplate. One Sunday evening the pressure became too much.  That night I lay in bed crying. Some part of me, some inner self-striving voice, knew that I should not ask but my brainwashed, conditioned self took over. So I called my father and asked him the all-important question. He was troubled; it was only much later I found out why. He saw my distress and thought I should be happy not terrified. Nevertheless he passed my request on to the “leading brothers” and two or three of them came to visit me. A 13-year-old girl sat on the couch facing these stern powerful, suited gentlemen who seemed to hold my eternal future in their hands. “Do you agree with the doctrine of the token?” they asked. Terrified as I was by these questions, it seemed crucial to answer yes though I had no idea what they meant. This experience is often repeated today in interview situations when my memory of that interrogation is restimulated.

 

I was accepted and a date set for my first “breaking of bread” on a Sunday morning. I began to feel important, this was going to be my big day, I would get a lot of attention, accepted at last, that “well done” finally achieved. I was somewhat chagrined to discover I was going to have to share my day with another girl who had made the same request. I remember the sense of having something taken away from me – my glorious moment gone. A theme that was to return many times in my personal and professional life.

 

When I was 16 all over the world the brethren “assemblies” were dividing over the latest doctrine that we should not eat with unbelievers; unbelievers included anyone who did not break bread with the brethren, christian or not. My parents decided the doctrines of separation had gone too far, they left the group with a large number of others in the same locality who had come to the same conclusion. What would happen to me now, why had my parents done this thing, why were the brethren so horrid to my dear father, does this mean that all their beliefs were wrong, what should I believe now and – who am I now. A torrent of thoughts I could not share with anyone. I had spent my childhood feeling detached from the real world, the world in which teenagers had fun, boyfriends, parties, visits to the cinema, pop music, giggling over girlie things in the corner of the playground; I was excluded from all of this. And now the brethren too excluded me, ‘withdrawn from’[2]. I had tried so hard to be that faithful servant and still they rejected me.

 

Not understanding seems to be a theme in my life and a theme that generates feelings of panic – I learnt that not understanding something could have dire consequences. In this instance it was as if the jigsaw of my life that I had so carefully constructed according to the many injunctions placed on me was suddenly swept away and the pieces now lay jumbled and confused on the floor, the picture shattered. I retreated into my own world yet tried to be part of the other world I had been taught was totally wicked.

 

My learning to date had taught me that the world is an uncertain place, the “solid” ground from beneath my feet can crumble without warning, I was not valued and did not value myself, people left me without warning, I had an inner voice that occasionally I listened to and I had a longing to be free. My soul seemed to be consumed by fear, anxiety, rage, alienation and no sense of identity. I was still wanting, still worthless, still waiting for that faint praise, still longing to belong, still not understanding.

 

Personal and professional development:  Inextricably intertwined

I am an “accidental woman”[3]. Decisions about my professional future have been often based on pragmatism and on what fate sends me. The brethren did not believe in careers for women, higher education was frowned on and shortly after we left it was banned for both sexes.

 

At 17 I “knew” that normal people (those not in the EBs) went in for higher education and got married. My school had decided I was not very bright and had not wanted me to do A levels at all. I also had no idea what going to university meant or what I could study. Some pragmatic part of me borrowed a careers book from the local library and picked out any careers that would allow me to go to college on the two A levels I did manage to obtain. So Occupational Therapy it was; I had little idea of what that involved. I was offered a place at the London School or Occupational Therapy and was so proud; finally I was “normal”.

 

Before I went to the OT School, I travelled to Zurich, Switzerland for the summer where I met my future husband, Hugo. He too had been raised in the brethren but his family had left a few years earlier that mine. Throughout my time at the School, Hugo remained my boyfriend.

 

The psychology lecturer tested our IQ and excitedly informed me that I was the most intelligent student they had ever had. I could not internalise this startling information, it did not fit with my self-knowledge but I stored it away. Letters from Zurich poured in almost daily along with money to pay for my train fare so that I could now and then visit Hugo for the weekend. This romantic connection gave me status (well done faithful servant) at the college, which at least made me feel important if not accepted. It also protected me from the male students we met at other college dances; I did not have to face the fact that I had no idea how to relate to them. The School was a strange place, the students (mainly female) all wore uniform and we stayed in a student hostel that had very strict rules. Somehow I got a name for being anti-establishment and was called into the principal’s office to discuss this. Today reflecting on this, I know it was my organismic self, trying to find a voice and she sought to silence it, just as the brethren had.

My mother still had control over me and I felt compelled to attend the meetings every Sunday where former brethren carried on as if nothing had changed. I continued to sip the wine, eat the scrap of bread, clinging somehow to past experiences as if they held the glue to maintain some sense of my life being whole.

 

After graduating I wanted to be nearer Hugo so I got a job in Basel working with tuberculosis patients and hand injuries. During my training I felt drawn to the mental health side and not the physical – it all seemed rather crazy to me to be wiring people up to weaving looms in order to exercise their legs, why not simply put them on a bicycle. Maybe too I was feeling some empathy for those locked in “lunatic asylums” – behind closed doors just as I had been and to some extent still was. In Switzerland I did not have the language skills to work in this area though. Professional life decisions again were based on pragmatism.

 

I became very dependent on Hugo. I knew almost no german and did not know how to make friends. Friends in the brethren are given. We got married that year and rented a flat on the lake of Zurich. Bewildered by the language, lost in the supermarkets, with no friends I quickly regressed and began to cling again to the beliefs of my childhood becoming impossibly self-righteous and hypocritical. I cringe when I remember the me of those days and yet feel sad for the young woman still in search of who she was, what she thought, felt and could be. My professional life went on hold as I had two babies very close to each other.

 

Hugo and I continued to attend the former brethren meetings; they gave me some sense of continuity with the past, some sense of belonging but there was also a feeling of disquiet and resentment towards this ritual control.

 

One day, I don’t recall why, I bought a book for Hugo by Han Suyin “The Mountain is Young”.

I read the book myself and today it sits on my shelf treasured and well thumbed. It awoke in me a sense that my private thoughts and feelings, so long buried for fear that I was abnormal to have them, were shared by others. Han Suyin became my god as I entered her world of passion, strong imagery, philosophy, the colourful life she portrayed in wonderful poetic english; it was my story she had written, my words, my thoughts, my feelings.  Her novels provided a bridge from chaos to a beginning of understanding and a sense of who I am.

 

Today I have all her books on my shelves. I find echoes of the brethren in their pages as Suyin talks of China and its turbulent history. So many parallels. This quote

 

“Worse than anything was the fear of being thrown out of the party – the party which was family, security, friends, faith …. That would be living death …. and so some of us stay through habit. Hoping, still hoping accepting through habit”

(Han, 1982)

 

could have been written by a member of the Exclusive Brethren and illustrates how hard it was for us to leave.

 

At around the same time two important events occurred. One day in a children’s clothes shop looking wistfully at a child’s tweed coat, I thought of home. It was reduced in the sale and I decided to buy it for my daughter. But as I went to pay for it, I froze as I realised it was double breasted. I don’t like double-breasted coats. I stood stunned in the shop realising that the dislike of double breasted coats was not mine; sudden clarity, a “Paul on the road to Damascus” moment.  It was what my mother always said and I had simply absorbed her values and beliefs about coats – along with everything else. I paid for the coat and went to my car feeling immense anger. Now it was ME who felt the urge to throw my carefully reconstructed jigsaw puzzle onto the floor. I wanted to commit murder, just to find out whether it really was wrong. I wanted disintegration; I wanted to test everything out like some adolescent girl. I wanted to understand. This fear of disintegration and yet the longing for it in the search for meaning I have seen in my clients and I reflect now on how much easier it would have been for me in my personal and professional journey had I had a companion.

 

A few weeks later on a Sunday morning as I sat waiting for the basket containing the bread to reach me, I had another enlightening moment. This whole ritual had no meaning for me, none at all and I had deceived myself into thinking that it did. I rose from my seat and walked out onto the street outside. I had taken another important step and one I would never go back on.

 

I had finally learnt that I could be a separate individual. I could have my own thoughts, my own individual conscience, rejecting the assembly one I had absorbed from the day of my birth, I could feel my own feelings, do my own things. (As I write this at the age of nearly 60 I am aware that this process of individuation is not yet complete).  I don’t recall discussing this with Hugo, from that moment on he was an appendage as I raced along the road leading away from what I had known; he seemed like a dog on a lead holding me back. And yet I knew he was a good man, he just could not know what was happening to me.

 

We returned to England, my need too strong to stay in that foreign world. Uprooted from the brethren culture and then from my English one had proved too much. By now my children were at school and I applied for a part time job as an OT at Cane Hill, one of the very large asylums still in existence. Uniforms were still being worn. I remember the mask I wore, trying to present an image of a competent woman of the world, but inside I still felt disintegrated, the jigsaw remained scattered on the floor. Hugo and I were drifting apart largely of my doing, our relationship felt wrong, I wanted to be free to explore, to be a teenager in the way I had not been allowed to be. Perhaps if therapy had been available things might have been different for us. Eventually he returned to Zürich and the world he knew though he retained good contact with us.  I feel sad for him.

 

Meanwhile one of the registrars took notice of me and so began a 26-year relationship that eventually led to my life being ripped apart again. Looking back I can see that my childhood taught me nothing about trust. Trust was assumed and “surrender of sovereignty[4]” was the rule. Submission in all things – made me easily open to deception and manipulation by others. This registrar deceived me for most of the 26 years and used me and I let him without realising it. Odd how one learns so well to ignore that inner voice that warns you when something is not right. I remember how I trusted him even though he was married (though when I met him I did not know this) to sort things out so that all would be well just as I had trusted the brethren and God.  I was powerless in a relationship that tapped into my internal world where trusting everyone to do what was right for me reigned.

 

Another theme emerges – trust that somehow it would all work out. Trust that the “other” would deal with the problem. Familiar territory again for in the brethren it is expected that others would sort things out and problems only occurred anyway because one had ‘got away from God’. In my childhood the lesson was that others including God would solve my problems. Now at the age of nearly 60 I seem to be still expecting this as if that lesson so well learned is permanently wired into my brain. God was head of the dysfunctional sect and the Man of God, their leader, was the one I had to obey.  Inner voice versus powerful men. Later to be repeated at the dysfunctional university that has caused me so much pain and distress over the last 6 years and my lack of awareness of what was happening and what to do. Big decisions made in spite of what I might think or want; decisions that I felt powerless to have any influence on. Indeed I did not even attempt to since again I trusted the man in the lead: my head of department.

 

Working at Cane Hill was fascinating. I spent hours thumbing through patients’ files that sometimes contained notes from the previous century. I noticed continuing themes in the lives of these wretched unhappy people – childhoods peppered with abuse, neglect, rejection, abandonment – and responding to my own need of having to understand I began to ask questions about how best to help them, how best to prevent this awful plight from happening to other children. I moved to another hospital, the Bethlem Royal that catered for more acute cases and I began to see how therapy could help; though I still did not realise I needed help myself.

 

The accidental woman moved aside as I took action over my inadequate knowledge base and enrolled on an Open University course to study the “Biological Basis of Behaviour” and to my surprise obtained a first class grade. Encouraged by this I applied to some universities to take a degree in psychology. In 1978 I enrolled at the University of Sussex, moving down to Lewes along with my two daughters. Here I relived some of my stolen teenage years and also obtained some distance from the registrar (by now a consultant). However, I never really found that integration I sought, the voices of the past still echoed in my ears, life still seemed to be bewildering; I still feared judgement and still longed for the “well done”.

 

My daughters and I developed a close relationship as we grew up together linked by our studies and by our enjoyment of parties and people. But suddenly I felt I had to go back to being nearer to the registrar. I had not found anyone to take his place and in fact on reflection it was his existence that prevented it; I simply did not allow anyone else to get that close.  It seemed safer to remain with him. “Hoping, still hoping accepting through habit.”

 

When I obtained my degree, startled by the first class honours, I considered clinical psychology. This seemed to combine my growing awareness of my intellectual ability, my need to understand others, my desire to achieve, my joy of study etc. However as a single parent I was also aware of my developing children now aged 11 and 12. The pragmatic self took over again and I studied for a Post Graduate Certificate in Education and became a Mathematics teacher – well there was a shortage of them. I found a post up in Bromley and so once again the Aebi[5] family was on the move.

 

My daughters did well in Bromley, getting involved in the music there; for them it was a good move. For me it probably wasn’t. I was back near the registrar, seeing him regularly but always aware that something was not right. I longed for the security he could give me and yet over and over again I did not get it. I continued to trust in him – somehow he would “save” me. What was it that stopped me turning my back on the relationship. Hope that it would somehow all work out, trust in him to do the right thing for us, to make the decisions and a fear of trying to make a relationship with someone else. Also I believed I loved him – but then I didn’t know him, he kept himself well hidden.

 

I learned I had a natural talent for teaching – mathematics and statistics had often made me feel physically sick at school so I understood the pupils’ struggles as they searched for some meaning amongst the abstract symbols placed in front of them. I also found they came to me with their personal problems and I seemed able to enter their world and help them through. I was the champion of those who would these days be labelled with ‘learning difficulties’. Asked to teach a wide variety of subjects – german, geography, music, science – I learned to be flexible and respond to challenges and problems as they emerged.  I even taught religious education for one year, which was tough; I found a solution and that was to teach them about other religions and about other cultures focussing on South Africa and the suffering of blacks under the apartheid regime. With many black children in the class this was very successful. We wrote a play together and performed it in assembly.

 

Who was I now? An occupational therapist? A psychologist? A mathematics teacher? All three of course, along with my other roles including being a single mother. But who was I really? That I still didn’t know.  And in terms of my professional development what did I want to be when I grew up?

 

In 1989, aged 45, as my daughters matured and went off to university I decided to return to my interest in mental health and enrolled on the MSc Counselling course at Goldsmiths College (having failed to obtain a clinical psychology place – too old).

 

Here I discovered Carl Rogers and his theories while sitting in the library reading one of his books. The realisation of how conditions of worth had repressed my actualising tendency, had silenced my inner voice, how I had introjected so much from others overwhelmed me as I sat at the table weeping. It all made sense and the fact that Rogers was also raised in a fundamentalist sect facilitated my identification with all that he wrote. My time on the MSc Counselling programme became a roller coaster of highs and lows. My childhood yearning to understand that had been so pervasive throughout my life increased. I became quite introspective trying to hear myself, trying to allow that plant to grow.

 

Certain portions of my intellect were growing with unwholesome activity, while others were stunted, or had never stirred at all. I was like a plant on which a pot has been placed, with the effect that the centre is crushed and arrested, while shoots are straggling up to the light on all sides.

            Gosse (1974: 146)[6]

 

This metaphor is one I now often use with my clients though I substitute the pot Gosse refers to with stones. In my struggle I discovered that I could remove the stones one by one but not the whole lot at once for then I would become too vulnerable, too open to abuse. My “crushed and arrested” centre can never heal, but those straggling shoots have become strong protecting that vulnerable core – at least most of the time.

 

Was I alone in my distress or were others experiencing similar problems; feeling alone even in a group, naïve with regard to men and friendships, depression and sudden anxiety, guilt inculcated in my childhood, an inability to internalise anything other than I was born wicked and shapen in iniquity and nothing that I ever did was of my doing but that of the holy spirit working within me. I was of no value. Other students encouraged me to do my research on other former members. Having avoided thinking about my past this was a huge terrifying challenge. In my mind I had an image of an octopus with multiple tentacles reaching out and drawing me back in, back into the brethren, discovering at last that they were right after all.

 

The overall question I wanted answering was a personal one: did my upbringing in the brethren have anything to do with my distress and difficulties. But it was also important on another level and as I discovered over and over again that I was not alone in this, I wanted to put our struggle into the academic and psychotherapeutic arena. In response to my request for participants, a flood of replies resulted; so much so that my daughter had to start intercepting the post as I became overwhelmed with their stories. I collected participants largely via a snowball technique and they came from all over the world. The response rate was an impressive 82.7% though of these many had to be rejected for various reasons, the oddest being that some participants had simply drawn big black lines through all the questionnaires with the note “This does not apply to me, I am happy in the Lord”. Clearly many former members were clinging as I had to their past beliefs and values. I was still able to use 68% of the questionnaires, that is 201 participants. Even today I still receive requests from former members who have heard of my research to complete my questionnaires.

 

The participants received a battery of questionnaires including one that invited them to tell me about anything they thought was important. In many responses a search for meaning was clear; they wanted to know why, what did it all mean, were they alone. The results showed that this group of people was experiencing a higher level of distress in many areas than the general population including symptoms of Post Traumatic Stress Disorder. Nightmares, intrusive thoughts, flashbacks were common – for me too and finally I found the therapist I needed.

 

Personal therapy was a requisite for the course. I tried Gestalt until I discovered that the therapist was in a therapy group with my skills trainer and also worked with “my” registrar. When I wanted to leave she couldn’t understand why and made it very hard. I learned something about listening to and respecting clients from her. I tried Person Centred but learned that there are some who claim to be person-centred but in fact simply keep repeating what you have just said; this irritated me. I tried a group run by a psychodynamic therapist. This frustrated me because I found the other group members simply did not understand. One day in the group, I put my head in my hands and from my heart cried out “I just want to talk for a month with no one interrupting me, I just want to go over and over it until I am done”.  Shortly after that I found the person who could not give me a month but she could give me sessions of 3 hours or longer over a period of weeks, where telling the story over and over was the main part of the therapy. I discovered Traumatic Incident Reduction (TIR) and gradually my disintegrated jigsaw puzzle began to come together; cameos appeared and the confusion and bewilderment abated.

 

Throughout my life my personal and professional development have been inextricably intertwined. My interest in mental health, which began during my OT training, is a constant theme. Even as a Mathematics teacher I was drawn to helping those pupils in trouble. I saw in my pupils a mirror of myself, feeling alienated by society for reasons beyond their control, struggling against the institutions that were not set up to provide anything other than an education. My ability to empathise was honed even before I knew the word empathy existed. Up to my training as a counsellor, I had plenty of self-awareness, some would say too much, but I had not yet learned to reflect on my experiences and recognise my strengths and learning needs.

 

My interest in PTSD also developed during my counselling training and again it was the recognition that this too explained my own struggles that gave birth to this interest. But could long term stress experienced in a brethren childhood and the fears about eternal lakes of hell fire also lead to PTSD since criteria A would not be satisfied? How else to explain the nightmares, intrusive thoughts, avoidant symptomatology and hyperactive autonomic arousal systems experienced by so many former brethren, myself included.

 

After training I continued working in the GP practice where I had had my clinical placement. I also began work part time at the London Transport Trauma Unit as part of a research project. I trained in the three methods of therapy used; Traumatic  Incident Reduction, Imaginal Flooding and Eye Movement Desensitisation and Reprocessing. My favourite remains TIR with its focus on the client, allowing clients to tell their story in their own time, at their own pace until the trauma resolved. EMDR and Imaginal Flooding felt to me as if I were imposing something on the client. TIR enabled me to remain in the clients’ frame of reference and follow one of Rogers’ favourite poems:

 

I take no action and the people are transformed of themselves;

I prefer stillness and the people are rectified of themselves;

I am not meddlesome and the people prosper of themselves;

I am free from desire and the people of themselves become simple like an uncarved block.

Tao Ti Ching by Lao Tzu (551-479 BC)

 

I realised I was a therapist, a researcher and a teacher. My jigsaw puzzle was now recognisable as “my life”. In 1996 my thoughts turned to the possibility that I could combine all these aspects of myself into one job; that of a university lecturer teaching counselling psychology whilst also carrying out research and seeing clients. This was something I would never have dreamed possible and indeed did not believe it would happen when I applied.

 

When the University of East London offered me a senior lecturer position I was surprised, proud, pleased, overwhelmed. At the same time my nephew Gavin left home and the brethren, appearing in our lives for the first time. He had found us via the telephone directory. He was only 17 and came to live with us. His father (my brother Roger who had remained trapped in the brethren) had the local brethren spy on our house to discover whether Gavin was with us. My first day at UEL was marred by the fact that as I left in my car I spotted Roger and another “brother” sitting in a car waiting it would seem for me to leave. Gavin had in fact left for work earlier so was not at home. Nevertheless I went back home and panicked, unclear what to do. I called the police, I was afraid Gavin would be abducted as had happened with other young people. My brother then knocked on the door wanting to see his son. My neighbour knowing some of the story was outside his house and came round telling my brother to leave, which eventually he did. It is not possible for me to ever leave the brethren past behind me, reminders like this are constant. I have since heard stories of FBI-like activity as they follow exiters even to other countries where they are trying to hide.

 

When I was at Croydon High I clearly remember my Geography teacher saying that she could see me as someone in senior management in a large organisation. At UEL I discovered she was right in thinking I could manage people and situations. Ideas constantly flow into my head, some are solutions to problems as they arise, others are innovations for the course, developments to pursue. As a result of many years of dealing with pupils and clients needing help, understanding and support, I found I was not only an excellent lecturer but was appreciated by the trainees and respected by them. Respect – is this the longed for “well done though good and faithful servant”? The servant bit bothers me – overtones of servility, lowliness, not worthy of more. I was unable to internalise the accolades.

 

At the same time I was being bullied but did not recognise it and my head of department was unable or unwilling to manage it giving me the message that somehow I was failing if I could not find a solution myself. But solutions for this kind of problem require co-operation and a willingness to talk by both parties, something the bully would not entertain. The bullying was not the obvious kind filled with physical threats or actual physical harm. It was insidious, like a worm wriggling its way through my life. I allowed her to diminish me, undermine me yet it felt I could do nothing about it as there was nothing tangible to grasp, no evidence to present.

 

Throughout most of my time at UEL the dissonance of my childhood was evident; judged and yet valued, diminished and yet elevated, succeeding and yet failing. When the bully was promoted over me in October 2003 I became ill, physically and mentally burnt out. I learnt that one couldn’t earn that “well done” without paying a price. The world rewards liars, manipulators and bullies. But I also learned something important about me; I had integrity and I had respect. The respect came from all sides, from my trainees, my colleagues at the university, my colleagues on the Division of Counselling Psychology committee, from the many former brethren who used the email group[7] I run and from my clients. I had finally learned to value myself. The shifting sands began to settle as my healing continued. I was finally able to take control and face the bully (but so far only in my head), face the past and face the future. Headhunted by another university, I am now in senior management in a Department of Mental Health Studies. Full circle.

 

This doctorate I have engaged with will continue my road towards individuation hindered by the system of my childhood. It is a personal journey but also a professional one. My experience in a closed group places me in an ideal position to carry out research on the impact of such groups on childhood development.  The aim of my journey will be to add to existing knowledge and in particular to have an impact on how therapists can best assist people exiting from any organisation that has an effect on the development of identity. At present the literature does not adequately address the impact on children raised in closed groups and what there is lacks that lived-in experience I can bring to this work. The challenge will be to bring a creative indifference to this work whilst at the same time bringing my personal experience and passion to make the findings alive and real to my readers.

 

References:

Gosse, E (1974) Father and Son. London: Jonathan Cape

Han , S (1982)   Til Morning Comes


[1] I use the term “cult” here subjectively – for me if fits but there are a wide range of operational definitions of this term

[2] The brethren had their own language. ‘Withdrawn from’ means exclusion from the group and no contact with them at all not even with family.

 

[3] An Accidental Man by Iris Murdoch

[4] Walter Percy in The Loss of the Creature refers to the surrender of sovereignty, in this instance to experts whose claim to greater knowledge in complex societies may be such as to induce the individual to succumb in matters not only of knowledge but also of taste.

 

[5] Aebi was my married name

[6] Gosse was raised in the same brethren group but in the 19th Century

[7] Feeb –  a mutual self support email group Family of Ex Exclusive Brethren begun in 1998

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