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I have been reading articles on Recovering Grace for a couple of years now, and the testimonies of others have been powerful tools for personal healing and for re-evaluating the way I think about life. One of the more common themes that I have seen in the comments on Recovering Grace articles is that people shouldn’t “throw the baby out with the bathwater,” or that the original seminars were great and things only got iffy once ATI started and students were involved with the training centers.
I would argue that this is not the case.
A little background: I never visited a training center. My family never even joined ATI (primarily because I think my parents thought the education provided was laughably substandard). I never owned a white blouse and navy skirt—by the skin on my teeth I resisted. But I did go to several Children’s Institutes and one Basic Seminar. My parents used the Character Sketches as family devotionals. I happily memorized the scripture verses and songs from the Children’s Institutes. We avoided rock music and went to a “Gothard church.” Because my parents planned for all of their children to go to college and didn’t make me wear skirts, we were considered the liberal family at church.
I was very conflicted—I wanted to join ATI during my teen years in order to fit in with my church friends, but some of the things in the Character Sketches and Children’s Institutes really bothered me. I would even argue with my parents over some of the “principles” that seemed hypocritical.
But there was one verse, one principle that I unknowingly absorbed and lived out for ten years: “The heart is deceitful and desperately wicked. Who can know it?” (Jeremiah 17:9). Anyone familiar with the Institute in Basic Life Principles (IBLP) knows how this verse is applied in their teachings. According to Gothard, it meant that I was so inherently sinful that I couldn’t trust myself—my thoughts, emotions, or will. My feelings were biased by my baggage and only revealed my baser nature. As a young woman, I should only trust my father and then later my husband. I could never trust myself because I didn’t know what I needed and didn’t know how to protect myself.
When I was 18, I was in a pseudo-courtship (everything was vague and undefined because we were young) for a year. It was a relationship between six people—me, my parents, him, and his parents. I eventually broke it off because God made it clear to me it was not meant to be. But throughout the process, I often felt bullied by his mother. I remember pushing the feeling aside. What did I know? She was far older, much more experienced, and she only wanted to help. The more I stuffed those emotions inside, the more miserable I felt. Still, I believed that emotions, especially mine, were never to be trusted.
A few years later when I was a sophomore in college, I invited a transfer student with whom I was acquainted to share my dorm room. Coincidentally, she felt beaten down by the teachings of IBLP, too. I learned that she had had a very domineering mother who had (perhaps permanently) handicapped her daughter’s conflict and communication skills. I wanted to be her friend, so I rushed into the intimacy of friendship with the girl, even though as I got to know her I didn’t like her very much. I still didn’t trust myself, so I assumed that the numerous red flags I was seeing were just a result of my being selfish and suspicious. By the end of the year, this girl accused me of stealing from her and distracting her from her schoolwork, among other issues. The resident director of our dorm helped engineer enough peace between us to finish the last three weeks of school, and then I tried never to speak to her again. I had been victimized once again by an “unsafe person” because of my failure to trust myself.
It was during the hurt of that ordeal that I ran into the arms of comfort of another abusive “friend.” This friend was emotionally abusive and a master at manipulation. I had a problem of not knowing how to firmly say no, and she could guilt me into doing whatever she wanted. Again, there were red flags, but I had become so entangled in her narcissistic web I didn’t know how to get out without everything blowing up in my face. She even sent me a letter detailing how self-centered and mean I was and that I hadn’t been paying her enough attention. My initial reaction was to feel hurt and offended, but I knew my emotions only ever reflected my sinful desires. I was disinvited from her wedding. I learned of parties I hadn’t been invited to. I saw the look other girls gave me from the half-truths she spread. To this day sometimes I randomly think of her.
As I matured in life and went through my healing process, I tried to think back on what I could have done differently. Some things were simple, like needing to pay very close attention when someone makes blanket claims like “every girl in high school hated me,” or makes statements about how many best friends have come and gone. Others lessons have been more difficult, like learning to say no and refusing to feel guilty for it.
It took me a long time, but I finally found the deeply buried foundational reason why I had ignored red flags for so many years and took to heart whatever people said about me. It was the belief that my heart could not be trusted. I finally connected the dots between this concept, IBLP teachings, and my dependence on others’ opinions of myself. It has been so freeing to finally realize that I can trust the innate senses and warning signs that God gave me for my protection. And while I didn’t meet any of these three people at a seminar, nor as an authority figure at a training center, the dangerous ideas that IBLP planted in my mind held me hostage to the point that I couldn’t defend myself from abusive people—people with their own agendas, their own baggage, and their own issues.
So to those of you that say good things were learned at seminars and Children’s Institutes, or that being loosely involved in the IBLP or ATI organizations won’t hurt you: I must strongly disagree. Even from the sidelines, this non-biblical thinking poisoned my thoughts and put me in harm’s way. I thank God for helping me see the truth, and with His help I will never put myself in a dangerous relationship again.
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