03 January 2008

Abuse and Cognition - The Burks Study, Part 1

Abuse impairs memory, particularly - but not exclusively - if it happens early in life.

Given this fact, it should be no surprise that psychological abuse can also impair cognition.

In plain language, being abused emotionally and mentally... may actually affect your ability to think, even for some time after you escape from the abusive environment.

The doctoral dissertation of Ronald Burks, published in 2002, focused specifically on how abuse affects our ability to think.

Dr. Burks first reviewed available professional literature on people who had survived abuse in cult environments. With respect to this information, he considered possible sources of bias in the reports. He also looked at the validity of making general conclusions based on the very specific sets of people who were studied.

Even allowing for these factors, he still observed that
"While results differed on whether members of groups are emotionally healthy, clearly some ex-members exhibit significant pathology that cannot be accounted for by pre-existing factors.  No studies were found that conclude that membership in a cult has long term, positive effects on those who leave."
Please consider those sentences again. "... clearly some ex-members exhibit significant pathology that cannot be accounted for by pre-existing factors. No studies were found that conclude that membership in a cult has long term, positive effects on those who leave."

In other words, from the available studies, cult experiences can damage some people. Significantly. And people who emerged from cults and were included in these studies didn't seem better off as a result of their experience.

Dr. Burks then conducted his own direct study, involving 132 people who had previously belonged to abusive religious cults [Eastern or Western], or "had been in abusive relationships or families that fit the admission criteria...." His volunteers were drawn from people who actively sought treatment at [a specific center] "for after-effects of their experience in the group or relationship."

This is important. He looked at people who had been seriously harmed, and knew they had been harmed, and were trying to do something about it.

The specific center he worked with "treats only persons who have experienced some form of perceived psychological trauma perpetrated by another person". Very importantly, "All clients who are admitted report having experienced repeated emotional injury and being led to believe that it was their own fault or for their own good."

Thus, all of his volunteer subjects were definite survivors of emotional and psychological abuse at the hands of other people.

Why did he include people from abusive families, abusive relationships? An abusive family is structured like a cult... or, more truly, a cult is structured like an abusive family. An abusive relationship is structured like a cult... and so are abusive workplaces. Many cliques, and essentially all gangs, are really cults, whether they are in realspace or cyberspace.

In any cult there are leaders and followers. There is power, with its perks, and there are toadies, feeding on scraps from the leaders' table. There are targets and scapegoats, rules spoken and unspoken that cult members violate at their peril.

So all of the people Dr. Burks studied had been immersed in cultic environments, and escaped to tell the tale - but they still carried the scars. And those scars were the focus of his study.

[Part 2 follows immediately.]

2 Comments:

Anonymous CZBZ said...

"In plain language, being abused emotionally and mentally... may actually affect your ability to think, even for some time after you escape from the abusive environment." ~Stormchild

I've experienced this in my own life and witnessed it while helping other people heal from abuse.

This is one reason why it's important for people to accept their potentially irrational state of mind and not make long-lasting decisions for at least one year after an emotional trauma of some kind.

Thank you for the link. i'll definitely read Burke's dissertation.

Hugs,
CZBZ

14 January, 2008 15:59  
Blogger Stormchild said...

This is very, very sound advice, CZ, and it bears repeating:

"...it's important for people to accept their potentially irrational state of mind and not make long-lasting decisions for at least one year after an emotional trauma of some kind."

Thank you again!

14 January, 2008 19:52  

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