We can also share the advice below, which relates to helping people out of cults, and how to recover…
(from the Cult Watch Team - a website)
How to help others in a suspected cultic group?
People have free choice and there is no guarantee you can help a person out of a cult even if you do all the right things – there are no ‘silver bullets’. But there are certainly things you can do that will improve the likelihood of success. Usually the people asking for advice are the loved ones of a person in a cult. The sort of advice we give them probably falls within two buckets – one, to keep a relationship going so the person doesn’t become even more cut off, and has someone outside the group they feel comfortable talking with. You can only really help someone if you are in contact with them. The second bucket is about trying to help the person think for themselves in a way that helps them fairly assess their situation. Cults break down peoples’ ability and willingness to think critically, or even make simple decisions. Once a person stops thinking critically, the leaders can control them very easily. But to help a person do this, you need to be in a relationship with them…
Our guidelines for helping a person out of a suspected mind control situation are at [www.cultwatch.com
] so please read this in full, and the summary below...also please do read www.howcultswork.com
This is for a soft approach rather than an intervention. We'd normally suggest the softer approach first, which really centres around getting a person to thinking for themselves about the really critical topics around the group he/she is part of. Many people make the mistake of arguing with a cult member about things that are not really important, and in fact are just symptoms of the bigger problem - for example, why a person wears a certain type of clothing, or worships in a certain way, or even why they give money - it is all because they have decided at some point that the person leading the group is telling the truth and they need to do what they're told... eventually this becomes doing what they're told without question, or even a critical thought. So - getting a person to think critically and independently is key, as is maintaining communication, and a gentle, non-confrontational approach (normally anyway).
Firstly, try to avoid confrontations ("it's me or them!") as they are rarely useful and can serve to drive people further away.
It’s important that you don’t overreact. The natural impulse is to confront the person immediately, but the cults are ready for that. If it’s a cult then they will have planted a number of mental “booby traps” into the minds of their members. These booby traps are designed to be triggered by a number of common reactions to discovery of involvement in their group. The most common trigger are the words “It’s a Cult!” The cult knows it will be identified as a cult, and so they pre-empt that event by telling their new recruit that some enemy will prompt those closest to them to say that they are a cult.
So when you say what they have primed their member to expect, the new member will think, “Wow, they were right!”. Then it is unlikely that your friend or loved one will consider anything else you say. In fact your words might trigger panic and make them want to get away from you. So relax, and don’t call them a cult.
The 'golden rule' is to keep in communication. Avoiding confrontations (unless they're absolutely necessary) will help with this. When you do manage to spend time with them don't make all the conversation about the group - keep things light most of the time, talk about everyday things, help them to feel comfortable with you so when the time comes that they start to have doubts about the group they may be willing to confide with you. If you are always criticising their group then you may push them into a position of having to defend the group, and if they do start to have doubts they may feel too embarrassed to share those with you.
Talk about them other family members and his friends. Say things like "I saw Bob the other day and he was hoping you'd come to his party" or "Sally said that she misses you". Things like that to show them that their "old life" is there for them.
Talk to other family members / friends about what is going on. See if they have some thoughts on the situation - a consistent approach from everyone would be ideal. Just be careful whom you talk to and what you say – some people can’t keep a confidence, and the wrong thing to the wrong person might get back to someone in danger and damage the chance to help them.
If you ever feel the time is right, you can even say this to someone in danger. "I can't support you in this, but I care about you and you can come to me about anything, at any time." It may stick in their mind and be something to hold on to when (if) they want to get out.
Learn as much as you can about cults and how they work. Research the cults. Take notes. The internet is an excellent resource for research. If the cult they have joined has been around for a while then there should be information about them.
A cult needs to keep new members in its carefully constructed environment to really get them hooked. So it’s of major benefit to get them away from that environment for as long as you can. Often a holiday is all that is needed for the new (or long term) cult member to gain perspective. So if you can, get them away from the cult. Make sure you go to a city or country where the cult has no presence. But do it in such a way that there is little time for the cult member to seek approval from their cult leaders. The more amazing the planned trip the more likely the cult member will disobey their leader and go. Taking a holiday is something you can do early on, as long as you remember the Golden Rule – don’t risk losing contact with them. Also, if the place you go happens to have bad communications, no internet or phone, then that will help break the members contact with the group.
When the time comes and you sense it’s OK to ask about the group, ask indirectly. Don’t say “look at the fire”, instead ask “is that smoke?”. In other-words don’t state the conclusion you want, instead get them thinking by pointing them to the smoke and letting them follow it to the fire. Use the research you have done to formulate the questions. Ask one question at a time, not all at once. For example instead of saying “Your guru is a fake because his end of the world prediction failed”, say “I saw in this copy of your group’s magazine this article, where your guru said the world would end five years ago. I must be honest, I don’t know what to think about that. Can you help me?” Or "it seems as though your lifestyle is very basic these days but I've heard the leader lives in a mansion with a private chef and has eight luxury cars and his own private helicopter - I was wondering how I reconcile that?"
To get family members and loved ones thinking critically about their group, you'll need to find out all you can about what the group believes, who the founder is, and why they believe what they believe. Then, you can isolate the two or three core issues that you think your family should be thinking about. Maybe it is the person who started the group, and evidence that they may not be as trustworthy or noble as their followers believe. Maybe there is something in their history that's a clue e.g. a court case. Do they seem like the sort of people a holy God would choose to give a special message to, which we assume they claim? Often what a group believes isn't really important - what is more important is the credibility of the person who teaches the group these beliefs. So this is where it's important to identify and pick your battles. In forming questions, focus on the things that really matter – the roots of the tree, not the leaves. E.g. if a cult makes its members wear purple cloaks, don’t focus on the purple cloaks so much as why the group leaders might force them to wear the purple cloaks (making members conform, building obedience and ‘herd mentality’, creating a mechanism that makes members feel like they are in an exclusive club and are different to non-members, discouraging individuality). Bring it back to the important things like the motivations of the leaders and the results (mind control). In the same way, look at the origins of the group and the character of its founders (the roots of the group) since if the origins of the group are questionable then the beliefs of the group today lack credibility and legitimacy. For example, a group might teach that to please God each member must spin in a circle 8 times anticlockwise every morning at 7am because the founder of the group heard this from God. It would be pointless to argue with the person about why they do this. Instead, it would be better to ask whether the founder was a reliable source of this information about how to please God since he was convicted of fraud twice and was sued by two of his former wives for physical abuse... that sort of thing. The best questions are ones that will undermine the person’s blind obedience to the leaders of the group, and will help them see that in reality things are different to what they are being told.
This is about the 'roots' and the 'leaves'. Example of attacking the 'leaves' on the tree would be arguing about they way people are expected to dress, dietary rules imposed on the group, worshipping without music, that sort of thing. These are issues worthy of debate, but not the key problems to solve. The main issue is WHY there are rules being imposed on the congregation. WHO creates these directives and HOW do they justify having the right to do so. These are what we call the 'roots' - the origins of the teachings, and the control exerted over people who should have the right to make their own decisions about things that are not black and white in scripture. Deal with the roots properly, and the leaves fall off the tree anyway. So try to focus your attention, and the attention of the person you're trying to help, on the 'roots', rather than the 'leaves'.
With Christian-based groups, we would urge you not to make the issue their belief in God and the Christian message per se, as if you make it seem as though leaving the group is abandoning their faith, you are unlikely to succeed. The issue is with the group they are in, how they control people, perhaps their own interpretation of the Christian message - the person's desire for a meaningful faith must be seen as separate to and independent of the group. Showing them that the group they are in is not the only place they can have a relationship with God is important. At the moment they may have been led to believe, or have an incorrect perception that if they leave the group they are leaving God because this group represent the one true faith etc.
One of the hardest things to do with a cult is to remove yourself from them. In fact, the degree of difficulty in leaving is often a sign in itself that the group is a cult, or at least unhealthy.
Don’t be in a rush to leave, but ensure you have a plan in place first. It may be hard to wait another week or two, but you’re likely to have an easier time if you do things in a measured, calculated way than if you just leave without any sort of plan.
LEAVING A CULTIC GROUP
SEEK OUTSIDE ASSISTANCE
The first thing we’d suggest you do is seek outside assistance. You don’t have to do this on your own. Think of all the people you know (outside the group or their influence) and consider how they could help. If you need to physically leave the group, who could you stay with?
Find a group of people who you can turn to for assistance. Make a list of whom you’d like to help you, and then approach them and gauge their enthusiasm.
Consider who should be on the list very carefully. Start with those you know well (friends and family), and then go on to those you don’t know well (perhaps a colleague at work, a neighbor) and finally those you don’t know at all but would be useful to have on it. This last group might include a lawyer, a doctor, a leader at another (mainstream) church and so on.
Don’t include people whom you know to be gossips. Firstly, it’s not their business to spread your personal news around, and secondly it carries the risk of increasing pressure and attention from the group you’re leaving.
BREAKING THE NEWS TO THE GROUP
This is going to be one of the hardest things you ever have to do.
Broadly speaking, there are three main ways to do this.
Firstly, consider whether you actually have to tell them. Can you just walk away and not look back? Obviously you will have some contact from them once they realise you’ve left, but you don’t have to tell them in the first place – you can leave them to figure it out.
The second option is to tell them directly. This doesn’t have to be the whole group, or some posting on Facebook, or anything like that. It can a simple email or phone call to someone in the group whom you feel would be most receptive or sympathetic to your news.
If it’s an email, get one or two of your support group to read it and see what they think.
If it’s going to be a phone call, write down phrases and paragraphs of what you want to say and don’t get dragged into topics you don’t want to. Remember that you don’t have to say why you’re leaving, only that you are leaving. Hang up if they start to get personal or abusive.
The third option is to get someone from your support circle to do it for you. They can make the phone call (you can tell them what to say) or they can send the email. This is a good option, and one that you shouldn’t be afraid to use. We all need help from time to time, and this is one time in your life when you probably need help.
FURTHER CONTACT WITH THE GROUP
Once you’ve told the group that you’ve left (or they’ve figured it out for themselves) you are likely to have further contact from them. At least for a short while, until they give up.
Cults generally don’t just let people go. As we mentioned at the beginning, it’s one of the confirming signs that the group was unhealthy.
The first contact you have from them will likely be an email, phone call or personal visit. Prepare what you want to say to them beforehand. You can re-use parts of what you wrote when you told them you were leaving. Or it can be as simple as “I’ve decided to leave the group, and I ask that you don’t contact me again” and hang up, or press send.
You don’t have to take their phone calls, or invite them into your house. In fact, we’d suggest you don’t do either. If there is some good reason for you to do so, have someone with you (even for a phone call) for support.
But try not to engage with them. You can screen your phone calls (let it go through to voicemail or a message service, and see if your phone company can provide caller ID), and you don’t have to answer the door. You can also give your trusted circle a code for the phone – let it ring once, hang up, then call back.
Consider changing your mobile phone number (if you have one). Some phone can also screen calls and even text messages, though this requires you to know their phone numbers and enter them.
You can also get your email software to screen emails from certain addresses, either moving them into a certain folder, or permanently deleting them. Remember that once you’ve read something, you can’t un-read it, so try to put aside any natural curiosity to avoid reading hurtful personal attacks upon yourself. If you want to check that there’s nothing practical in the email (like, where you can collect any personal belongings you left behind) you can always get a member of your close circle to read it.
Some countries have harassment laws, so keep any texts or emails they send you, and don’t delete voicemail messages. See if there are ways to get these off your phone so they can be recorded. (In New Zealand, where Cultwatch is based, three unsolicited texts after you’ve asked them to stop is enough for the phone company to block further texts from that number to you.)
DOCUMENT YOUR DEALINGS WITH THEM
Document every contact you have with the group from now on. (And as much of the past as you can, if you want.) At the very least, keep a diary and each day write down any contact with them in as much detail as is practical. Some countries allow you to record conversations that you’re part of without the other party being informed. (Again, check with a lawyer on this.)
You can easily record phone conversations by putting your phone on speakerphone, and using an electronic recording device. Practice with other conversations first until you’re confident you can do it. If someone from the group rings you, don’t be afraid to say “can I call you back in five minutes?” to ensure you’re ready. But remember, you don’t have to talk to them, so only do it if there is a good reason to do it.
If you do have contact with the group, documenting your dealings with them has a number of benefits. Firstly, it will help confirm to you how destructive they are. Phone calls (or worse – personal visits) early in the morning or late at night are designed to catch you off guard, and break down your resistance.
Also, if they threaten you, you will have proof of it and can use it with law enforcement authorities.
(We generally find that law enforcement are of little use in most situations as no law has been broken, but threats may be of more interest to them.)
If you have a digital camera, check whether it has a time stamp on it, and set this correctly and make sure it shows on any photos you take. Then, if the occasion arises when you can use it, it will record the time and date of the photograph.
Note that taking a photograph of someone when they know they’re being photographed is an aggressive move, and will often result in a response from the other party. Be prepared for this, and don’t take a photograph if it’s going to put you at risk.
But the best approach is to try not to engage with them, so hopefully you won’t have much to document.
We generally find that law enforcement are of little use in most situations as no law has been broken. (If you think one has, check with a lawyer.)
Cases of physical or sexual abuse are a different case, and will elicit a response from police. If you’ve been documenting things, you should have some good proof of what’s occurred. Start by contacting a lawyer, and then get their advice on how to report the group’s actions to the police.
In extreme cases of assault (either physical or sexual), go directly to law enforcement as the time taken to report the offence can be a factor in getting a conviction.
IS YOUR WORK GOING TO BE AFFECTED?
Is your work/income likely to be affected? Are co-workers (or even your boss) part of the group? In that case you will likely face some pressure at work and you need to prepare yourself to deal with this. Most countries have laws around why people can and cannot be dismissed from their employment, and it may be worth talking to a lawyer about this.
If your work is going to be affected, then ensure you document everything (or as much as you can) with your co-workers/boss as this can be used in court if you decide to sue them for unfair or constructive dismissal.
Again, Cultwatch are not lawyers and we strongly recommend that you seek legal assistance over any employment dispute as soon as possible.
We have had cases where an employee was pressured to join (and remain in) a cult because their boss and/or several co-workers were in it. One option to consider is finding another job as soon as possible. Ask yourself if you really want to stay around these people.
One thing we’d suggest throughout this difficult process is seeing a counsellor. When we’re physically under stress we see a medical doctor, so seeing someone when you’re under emotional stress makes sense. And after what you’ve been through, being under emotional stress would be normal and expected. Try to find someone who is part of a collective or has been recommended to you. (They’re more likely to be good.) If cost is an issue, many churches offer counseling sessions at little to no cost and that might be an option.
Once the contact from the group has tapered off and you consider yourself “out” then you need to think about how to move forward, and about your recovery from this horrible situation.
Professional counseling is a good idea, and one that can start from the very beginning. It’s good to have someone independent to talk to, even outside your trusted circle of helpers. Continue this even once you’re “out”, as recovery can take months or (more probably) years. You’ll know when it feels right to stop.
Some people who have a bad experience with a religious cult want nothing more to do with organized religion. Decide for yourself whether it was this group that was bad, or whether it’s put you off religion for good.
If you do want to continue with your faith, then acknowledge to yourself that you have been wounded by this experience, and may need to take a break from actively being involved. When you find a new church, consider just being an attendee for a while, before getting involved in anything within the church.
(See our section “How to find a good church”)
When you talk to others about the group, listen to what you’re saying. If your voice and comments are full of bitterness and anger (which is perfectly reasonable and understandable) then talk about this to your counsellor. Anger directed at a valid source is a normal and very human emotion.
Time is the great healer, and unfortunately it usually doesn’t pass as fast as we’d like. It may take months or years, but one day you will wake up and realise you haven’t thought about the group or the experiences you had with them for a long time. Talking about it helps, and that’s why we recommend a professional counsellor.
If you decide at some stage in the future you want to warn others about the group, read our section on “Warning others about a group you were in”.
People leaving mind control groups often go on to experience a large range of painful and/or harmful emotions including:
A sense that they've been cheated (of even wasting part of their life)
Betrayal by those they thought cared about them
Confusion over who God is and whether they are saved... where was He in all this?
Grief over losing something that was important to them
Fear that something bad will happen to them outside of the 'protection' of the group and its leader(s)
Anxiety or embarrassment over what people back in the cult may be saying about them
Guilt over leaving the group
Panic attacks - being controlled by another person can almost become comforting because of the protective element, and that has been lost
Resentment at financial impacts
Loneliness, having lost friends and family to the group
A feeling that they are not good enough
Difficulty in trusting others and forming quality relationships
An inability to make everyday (and big) decisions for themselves
These are the after-effects of mind control (or brainwashing as some call it) which really require that trained counselling to deal with it.
All the best!
The Cultwatch Team
Their advice about cults that family members and friends need extra
Some cults continue to pursue ex-members in either an aggressive (rare) or passive way.
Sometimes it is required to take steps to ask them not to do this any more.
We recommend this is done by calmly informing the people involved (possibly the leaders as well) that you have made a decision to cease your involvement in their group and request they respect that decision by no longer having contact with you. If this is not working, or if they have been ignoring this request, then the next step is to calmly but firmly advise them that you’ll have no choice but to contact the police if contact persists from the group. This is not something you want to do, but it will be done if there is no other option.
If they still keep harassing you or even contacting you against your will, then go to the police as you said you would do.
If at any time you feel your physical safety is in danger, then go to the police straight away. But this situation is rare.
You may like to see a legal representative to find out your options around legal action eg restraining orders if nothing else works. But again, that would be rare in this kind of situation.
That’s our general advice, hopefully it answers your question.
The Cultwatch Team