RECOVERY FROM MIND CONTROL
HOW DO PEOPLE GET OUT OF RELIGIOUS CULTS?
Different people leave in different ways. Some WALK out. Some get KICKED out. Some cult members just BURN OUT. Others GROW out. Still others FIND OUT or get COUNSELED out.WALK OUTS
* These people simply rebel from the situation and leave.
* Unless they shed the mind control, walk-outs may lead destructive or fear-filled lives.
* Some adopt the attitude that since they couldn't measure up to the system's requirements, there isn't any hope for them anyway, so they might as well "live it up" while they can.
* Some develop patterns of living that they wouldn't have chosen otherwise.KICKED OUTS
* These people are excommunicated or shunned for a variety of reasons, usually related to the fact that they failed to fully integrate the four aspects of mind control--information control, thought control, emotion control, and behavior control.
* People who are kicked out of cults are commonly filled with grief and guilt. They are still very loyal to the group's beliefs and its people, even though rejected by the group.BURN OUTS
* These people have been so abused spiritually, mentally, physically, emotionally and financially, that they are barely able to function on a normal basis.
* Some :burn-outs" exhibit the Post-Traumatic Stress syndrome that is commonly experienced by war survivors. They are usually very confused, perhaps even physically ill, afraid and unable to trust anyone, most of all themselves.FIND OUTS
* These are people who are given, or stumble onto information which explains the situation enabling them to leave the mind control without fear and guilt.
* These people usually take several years to work through the adjustment to normal living and attitudes. Education, scriptural as well as secular, cultivating new friends and establishing a new environment and restoring one's God-given personality are most helpful. The more one learns, the greater the healing.COUNSELED OUTS
* These people are rare.
* Few studies have been done on the needs of people who were born and raised within a mind control group.
* Most counselors are ill-equipped to handle the complexities of exit counseling because there are so many factors involved in mind control, and each person's experience is different, even within the same group.LEAVING THE SPIRITUALLY ABUSIVE SYSTEM THE WITHDRAWAL STAGES
One former member observed that she isn’t an Ex-cult member she is a "Recovering cult member."
The control in spiritually abusive systems is so strong that people report they have been affected for years afterward. It is for this reason that the WITHDRAWAL STAGES should be well understood by everyone.STAGE ONE:
This often begins almost immediately after conversion. The mind and will may be completely taken over by the logic presented by the cult. However, the gut feeling, emotions, or conscience often indicates that something is not quite right.STAGE TWO:
This doubt causes a feeling of guilt which the person attempts to stuff and deny. The guilt drives him or her to deeper resolve to "do right" or submit and to ignore any information that conflicts with the cults’ message. However, the conscience continues to exert itself causing the person to question things. Most people don’t know what to question. They may question the "standards", the existence of God or the truth of the scripture. They rarely have enough wisdom to question the history or the doctrine of the group.STAGE THREE:
The person will give lip service to the group but in reality often behaves or does things that are against the rules. This causes even more guilt and more resolve to "get right."STAGE FOUR:
If the person is observant and alert, he or she may notice some discrepancies between what the scripture says and what is done within the group. Or he may hear of a scandal or problem that bothers him. This may worry some people but many others just think, "Oh, well, the people aren’t perfect but the organization or church is perfect." Or "Oh well, what can I do?" or "Oh well, God will take care of it."STAGE FIVE:
The person may hear of the history of the church and begin to wonder why he was lied to regarding the founder of the group. An inquisitive person may begin an investigation. At this point, the person usually becomes very quiet and fearful about letting others know of his questions. By this time he has found out that it is socially unacceptable to voice any doubts.STAGE SIX:
The denial stage in which the person decides to ignore all the warning signs. They are actually afraid of or angry at anyone who has information that exposes the deceit of the workers. Some people NEVER get past this stage. They are hostile towards any information that spotlights the deceit and errors of the group.STAGE SEVEN:
The "Don’t know what to think" stage. MANY people get stuck here. They will try to figure things out on their own. They are suspicious of everyone. They don’t trust their friends or family and they don’t trust themselves. They don’t trust traditional Christianity. They don’t trust the information that exposes the group. They may not trust the scripture and might try to find reasons to believe the Bible wasn’t translated correctly. This stage is very critical. The stress of it can cause illness, anxiety, nightmares, emotional problems, marital problems, divorce, destructive accidents because of so much mental preoccupation, suicide, hostility and anger. Some report a problem with nausea, clenched teeth or other outward signs of tension. This stage is extremely painful and frightening. Usually the longer a person or his family has been in the group, the more painful it is.
At this stage, some people try to reason with the leaders. They will either arrange for visits or write long agonizing letters. Some hope that they can change the system or get some to agree with them. They are AMAZED at the total inability of leaders to hear what they are saying. However, some will agree with their arguments, pat them on the head and try to smooth their ruffled feelings.STAGE EIGHT:
The state in which a decision is made to leave the group. The person may go in several directions. They may become angry at God, or become an agnostic or atheist. They may try to start their own spiritual quest or church in the home. They may reach out to secular psychology for relief. Or, they may hook into another cult. They may decide to just let the spiritual part of their life hang in mid-air for awhile. Some people get stuck in a yo-yo syndrome: they will leave the church, go back to the church, leave, go back, leave and go back. They rarely ever figure out what the church believes or even what they believe. Or, they may become born again as a result of doing some intense praying, in-depth study and reaching out to normal Christian information. This stage is extremely crucial. If a married couple doesn’t agree or reach this stage together it can destroy their marriage.
Almost total rejection from the group and professing family occurs if the person announces his new allegiance to Christ instead of to the group system.STAGE NINE:
The state in which the old personality disintegrates and a new one is formed. The person will get rid of old clothes, old hairstyles, old possessions. Some people experience a lot of anxiety in adjusting to a new identity because their whole self concept was so closely tied to the group attitude towards themselves. New interests, charitable activities and hobbies are found. Bible study and Bible classes become the new excitement if one has been born again. The person rejoices at every new day and has a sense of peace. The world looks beautiful, people seem wonderful, nature seems to glow with the power and beauty of God. If a satisfactory church is found the person finds a great deal of happiness.STAGE TEN:
The person is in constant amazement at the difference between the old life and the new life. The person is able to pity those who are still in the old group and will eventually be able to laugh about his old experiences. The person will often want to reach out to others whom he has known while in the group. He feels a strong need to talk about the experience in order to understand the strong emotions and confusion he felt while inside the group. Talking to other ex-professing people seems to be the best therapy for those going through this process. Writing down what one has heard, experience and believes also helps clarify one’s thoughts.
-I think most may experience several or all of these regardless of how they left.
RECOVERY FROM RELIGIOUS ABUSE
What happens to individuals who have been psychologically abused and morally betrayed by fundamentalist cultic religious groups? how can they recover from the damage done? Physically leaving such a group is relatively easy, but the emotional and psychological departure can take months or even years. This is why many people do not understand how any person can stay within a situation of religious abuse - much the same way that people fail to see how battered women stay with their abusers.
Such dysfunctional and destructive groups often use manipulation, fear, and deception to maintain a hold on members. They also shower their prey with unbelievable amounts of affection and approval for staying in the group and meeting their expectations ("love-bombing"). Groups also control and distort information from the outside. Thus it becomes a sin to read any "worldly" publications or "spiritual pornography." The group makes an extremely sharp distinction between right and wrong, good and evil; everything in the group is positive (godly), everything outside is negative (satanic). Ambiguity, doubts, and serious questions are not tolerated. The authority of the group's leadership is virtually absolute. All problems are oversimplified and deflected either away from the group or back towards the individual
(this is a methodology that I have come to call conflict isolation).
It is no wonder, therefore, that the religiously abused frequently suffer from emotional and psychological problems. I believe that it is high time that our society recognizes and deals with religious abuse as a social-psychological disorder in itself.Generally, a person who breaks involvement with a dysfunctional group will encounter the following problems:
* Depression - the product of group-induced self-doubt and self-blame.
* Isolation and loneliness - the shock of crossing the barrier from one social environment to another.
* Impairment of decision-making and other intellectual skills.
* Floating - occasional lapses into the group's imposed mindset, often triggered by certain stimuli (music, symbols, key words or phrases, etc.).
* Difficulty in talking about group involvement - often related to strong feelings of guilt, fear, and bitterness.
* Interpersonal difficulties - communication, expression, making new friends, organized activities, dating, emotional and physical intimacy, etc. Recent walk aways are frequently mistrustful and suspicious of other people and groups.
So, how does one recover? How does a person heal the wounds of religious abuse? Hopefully, within a caring and understanding new social setting. This can be a family, a support or therapy group, or an organized community such as a mainstream church, religious group, or humanist society. It should also be done with patience and the consideration that recovery will take time and effort.The following are some ideas for persons who have walked away from religious abuse and who are on the road to reclaiming their lives.
* Work towards trusting yourself and relying on your own abilities.
* Put your experience down in writing. This will help you to evaluate, understand, and cope with your past involvement in the abusive group.
* Get in touch with other people who have gone through similar experiences, either one-on-one or in a support group.
* Find a hobby or pastime to reinforce a positive sense of accomplishment.
* When floating occurs, firmly remind yourself that the episode was triggered by some stimulus. Remember also that it will pass. Identify the trigger, learn to make a new association, and repeat the new association until it overrides the old one. Talking it over with someone who understands can really help, too.
* Handle decisions, tasks, and relearning of interpersonal skills one step at a time. Don't rush yourself, talk and think things over, and don't be afraid if you make mistakes - we all do!
* Be more willing to help people as you go along. This builds up self-esteems and exercises your problem-solving skills.
* Take a breather from organized religion for about three to nine months, at least. Deal with your questions about religion, ethics, and philosophy in an honest and challenging manner.STAGES IN RECOVERY
There are three main stages in the recovery process:
* Realization and Exit
* Comprehension and Emotions
* Reconstruction and DreamingStage One
This first stage varies in length. The length is dependent on the method of exiting. This stage is marked by the time and experience that alerted the cultist to the danger of the group and resulted in the cultist exiting the group permanently. The key to an effective exit is whatever helps to "jump start" the critical thinking process of the mind. This process has been on hold for much too long because the cult has told the followers that to question and doubt the group is to betray god (or whatever). The price for questioning and doubting, they are told, is eternal death. This is a very powerful fear to overcome.
Awareness of the insidious nature of the cult and the decision to leave comes slowly for some and quickly for others. For example, someone receiving exit-counseling becomes aware and leaves the cult very quickly as compared to someone who walks out after reflecting over several months or years on "devil- inspired" doubts.
Even after leaving, some ex-cultists are not sure if they made the right decision and "float" between their old cult identity and their new freed identity or pre-cult self. The more information and support a cultist receives during this stage, the better equipped they are to handle the pain and loss of stage two.Stage Two
The second phase is full of ups and downs, of feeling like you just returned from Mars, of exciting new freedoms and discoveries, and it is also full of rage and pain. It involves coming to terms with being raped, emotionally and spiritually. And for many, it involves coming to terms with being physically raped as well.
I don't know how to convey the extremes of pain possible in this phase. Perhaps, it is how you would feel standing by helplessly as some crazy person slowly murdered someone you loved. It seems so incredulous to many that because they wanted to serve God and their country, wanted to help people, and wanted to make the world a better place - for this extension of their selves they were cruelly used. This is a very difficult aspect of the experience to reconcile. "What ever did I do to be treated like this?" is a question that rings deep in the heart of any ex-cultist. The answer to this question resides in understanding how mind control techniques work.
It is no wonder, then, that the rage and anger the ex-cultist feels is often overwhelming and frightening. So much so, that many tend to repress or deny the full expression of their emotions. But, understanding and feeling ones' emotions in a non-destructive way, I believe, is critical to recovery. This second phase can be extraordinary journey through pain and loss to learning and mastery. It varies in length and is dependent on how able the ex-cultist is to experience loss and how disciplined the ex-cultist is to study, think, and work toward a thorough understanding of the experience.
A Big Job. One of the truly tough parts about working through the experience is the very fact that it's a very big job. The ex- cultist must learn how to trust life again and learning to trust requires learning how to reality test. Because the cult phobias and teachings often touched on many aspects of life, such as family, government, education, religion, relationships, and economics, the ex-cultist often finds it necessary to examine and reality test most, if not all, of the teachings received in the cult for subtle, residual ideas that continue to manipulate the ex-cultist.
In addition, it is in this phase that the individual must learn how to trust themselves again and their ability to make decisions. Learning to trust after you have been used and hurt can be very scary, but trust in oneself and in others can be rebuilt with disciplined thinking and with courage. For those who come from dysfunctional backgrounds, recovering from the cult experience often means acknowledging and recovering from the effects of earlier dysfunctional relationships, such as:
* Abusive parents, relatives, siblings, spouse or abusing others
* Alcoholism, rape, incest, eating disorders, drug abuse
* Difficulties with intimacy, careers, law enforcementStage Three
To someone in the middle of the pain of stage two, the idea of having a dream again and building toward it is merely a sad, frustrating, and painful laugh. Having spent many years in stage two I understand that despondent feeling well. It is possible to rebuild your life. You will not be able to make up for all the years the cult has stolen from you, but you can make up for some of those lost years. I've worked very, very hard to recover from a severely dysfunctional family, a life of abuse emotional, physical and sexual, the death of a daughter, many years in a cult, time on drugs and alcohol to 'forget' and so on.
I'm here to share with you that if you are willing to stick with it, to work at it, to work through and let go of myths that look like truths both from the cult's teaching and from within society's teachings, and if you are willing to acquire new skills and improve others, you can and will be able to build a healthy and well-functioning life with a dream you can work toward.
AFFECTING RECOVERYUNDERSTANDING THE DYNAMICS OF CULT CONVERSION IS ESSENTIAL TO HEALING AND MAKING A SOLID TRANSITION TO AN INTEGRATED POST-CULT LIFE.
Each person's experience with a cult is different. Some may dabble with a meditation technique but never get drawn into taking "advanced courses" or moving to the ashram. Others may quickly give up all they have, including college, career, possessions, home, or family, to do missionary work in a foreign country or move into cult lodgings.
After a cult involvement, some people carry on with their lives seemingly untouched; more typically, others may encounter a variety of emotional problems and troubling psychological difficulties ranging from inability to sleep, restlessness, and lack of direction to panic attacks, memory loss, and depression. To varying degrees they may feel guilty, ashamed, enraged,lost, confused, betrayed, paranoid, and in a sort of fog.ASSESSING THE DAMAGE
Why are some people so damaged by their cult experience while others walk away seemingly unscathed? There are predisposing personality factors and levels of vulnerability that may enhance a person's continued vulnerability and susceptibility while in the group. All these factors govern the impact of the cult experience on the individual and the potential for subsequent damage. In assessing this impact, three different stages of the cult experience-before, during, and after-need to be examined.BEFORE INVOLVEMENT
Vulnerability factors before involvement include a per-son's age, prior history of emotional problems, and certain personality characteristicsDURING INVOLVEMENTLength of time spent in the group
There is quite a difference in the impact a cult will have on a person if she or he is a member for only a few weeks, as compared to months or years. A related factor is the amount of exposure to the indoctrination process and the various levels of control that exist in the group.Intensity and severity of the thought-reform program
The intensity and severity of cults' efforts at conversion and control vary in different groups and in the same group at different times. Members who are in a peripheral, "associate" status may have very different experiences from those who are full-time, innercore members. Specific methods will also vary in their effect. An intense training workshop over a week or weekend that includes sleep deprivation, hypnosis, and self-exposure coupled with a high degree of supervision and lack of privacy is likely to produce faster changes in a participant than a group process using more subtle and long-term methods of change.Poor or inadequate medical treatments
A former cult member's physical condition and attitude toward physical health may greatly impact post-cult adjustments.Loss of outside support
The availability of a network of family and friends and the amount of outside support certainly will bear on a person's reintegration after a cult involvement.
Skewed or nonexistent contact with family and former friends tends to increase members' isolation and susceptibility to the cult's worldview. The reestablishment of those contacts is important to help offset the loss and loneliness the person will quite naturally feel.AFTER INVOLVEMENT
Various factors can hasten healing and lessen post-cult difficulties at this stage. Many are related to the psycho-educational process. Former cult members often spend years after leaving a cult in relative isolation, not talking about or dealing with their cult experiences. Shame and silence may increase the harm done by the group and can prevent healing.
Understanding the dynamics of cult conversion is essential to healing and making a solid transition to an integrated post-cult life.Individual Differences
* Engage in a professionally led exit counseling session.
* Educate yourself about cults and thought-reform techniques.
* Involve family members and old and new friends in reviewing andEvaluating your cult experience.
* See a mental health professional or a pastoral counselor, preferably someone who is familiar with or is willing to be educated about cults and common post-cult problems.
* Attend a support group for former cult members.The following sets of questions have proven helpful to former cult members trying to make sense of their experience.Reviewing your recruitment
1. What was going on in your life at the time you joined the group or met the person who became your abusive partner?
2. How and where were you approached?
3. What was your initial reaction to or feeling about the leader or group?
4. What first interested you in the group or leader?
5. How were you misled during recruitment?
6. What did the group or leader promise you? Did you ever get it?
7. What didn't they tell you that might have influenced you not to join had you known?
8. Why did the group or leader want you?Understanding the psychological manipulation used in your group
1. Which controlling techniques were used by your group or leader: chanting, meditation, sleep deprivation, isolation, drugs, hypnosis, criticism, fear. List each technique and how it served the group's purpose.
2. What was the most effective? the least effective?
3. What technique are you still using that is hard to give up? Are you able to see any effects on you when you practice these?
4. What are the group's beliefs and values? How did they come to be your beliefs and values?Examining your doubts
1. What are your doubts about the group or leader now?
2. Do you still believe the group or leader has all or some of the answers?
3. Are you still afraid to encounter your leader or group members on the street?
4. Do you ever think of going back? What is going on in your mind when this happens?
5. Do you believe your group or leader has any supernatural or spiritual power to harm you in any way?
6. Do you believe you are cursed by God for having left the group?
EXIT COUNSELING FOR WALK AWAYS
For those who walk away, get kicked out, or are abandoned by their cult leaders, it is often a surprise to find that freedom from the cult is not necessarily freedom from the cult's influence and from techniques of mind control.
Building a new life, finding work, starting new relationships, learning to enjoy being yourself, trusting your own judgment, and sorting through goals and values may seem overwhelming. Even these basic tasks may be impeded by difficulty in logical thinking, mental confusion, anxiety, cult-induced phobias, and heightened emotionality. In addition, nightmares, depression, and a sense of hopelessness lead many to seek therapy after the cult.
A complication to all of this is that many ex-members have difficulty finding knowledgeable therapists familiar with cults and mind- control techniques. Without addressing the particular methods and techniques used by the group and its belief system, therapy is often prolonged and unduly complex, and often doesn't address the immediate needs of the former cult member.
As a therapist working with ex-members, I can explain the various general elements of cult recruitment and mind control as well as identify the effects of emotional, physical, and sexual trauma. Even more effective, I have found that when therapy is combined with the expertise of an exit counselor familiar with the group or type of group, recovery can be greatly facilitated. Therapy can then be utilized to address recovery needs and other issues.
The advantage of exit counseling is that often the ex-member is now aware of the specific manipulative techniques used in the group. Reconstructing some of these techniques can be done with the help of an astute therapist, but often the altered states of consciousness experienced during cult membership will continue to induce a spontaneous amnesia. In other words, while chanting, praying, meditating, or using other exercises during the course of group involvement, altered states (also known as dissociation) are achieved. Even slight deviations from our normal waking state of awareness can be enough to make the cult member highly suggestible and then vulnerable to subtle group influences. These deviations of consciousness combined with the suggestions, commands, and subtle influences of the group or leader are often outside of the person's regular conscious awareness.
The mind naturally attempts to make sense of what is illogical. However, acceptance of cultic beliefs, influences, and values are often hard to dispel when they are deeply embedded in the above manner. Conflicts and doubts about the group may be sensed, but the source of these feelings are out of conscious awareness. It is for this reason many people leave their groups knowing something was very wrong with the experience, yet have difficulty understanding what happened to them. Often ex-members blame themselves for not being able to stay in the group, feeling a sense of personal failure. They do not see the "technology" church, or the guru as being at fault, but rather somehow they believe something is deficient in them.
Example 1: In a large mass transformational group, hypnotic trances are induced throughout the training though never labeled as such. The instillation of cultic beliefs is done while the individual is in an altered state of consciousness (hypnotic trance) and is highly suggestible during various "guided imagery" exercises. Other exercises or "processes" use highly emotional states whose aftereffects camouflage and make inaccessible an intelligent and conscious evaluation of the experience.
Example 2: Another common occurrence is the hallucination of demons or "deities" following prolonged meditation in some Eastern groups or following indoctrination in certain Bible-based groups. Practitioners of Eastern groups that promote lengthy meditation on and communication with these "entities" may have difficulty stopping the hallucinations after they leave the group. In Messianic and Bible-based groups, fear of Satan or demons may be deeply instilled to prevent members from leaving or communicating with those outside the group. Fears of these "dark forces" may be manifested by extreme distrust of those outside of the group, fear of oneself, or, in extreme cases, hallucinations of demons or Satan.
To someone unfamiliar with cultic practices, the effects of those techniques might be dismissed without appreciating the power they have over mental processes. The problems of cult-induced hallucinations and illogical thinking in the above examples may be quite misunderstood by traditional mental health providers. These are not examples of psychosis, but of purposely induced cultic phenomena in order to maintain control of and further separate the member from society. Without an adequate understanding of what occurred in the group, it is extremely difficult to separate and distinguish cultic beliefs and values from previously held ones. Illogical thinking, difficulties in concentration and decision making, and erratic behaviors and feelings are difficult to eradicate when their source is unknown. Understanding the use and misuse of altered states combined with the beliefs of the group is helpful in making sense of post-cult difficulties.
One option available to ex-members is to find an exit counselor familiar with your group and arrange for some intensive time of counseling for yourself. This is not psychotherapy but an informative process designed to educate you about the specific mind-control techniques used by your group and their effects; the foundation, fallacies, and implications of the beliefs of the group; and perhaps information on legal and ethical issues of the group and its leader. "Magical" powers and manipulations of the guru or leader can be exposed and the source of phobias revealed and resolved.
Since there are over 3,000 cults in the United States, it is unreasonable to expect someone to be familiar with your cult if it is small (less than 50 members).such as Eastern meditation, New Age, mass transformational, and psychotherapy, political, Bible-based, and so on. Thus, finding a counselor with a special knowledge of your type of group is a reasonable expectation.
Ask other ex-members about their experiences, read as much as you can about cults and mind control, and then interview several counselors before choosing one. Make sure you select someone you feel comfortable with, can afford, and who is familiar with your type of group.
All of these authors and excerpts can be found here [www.caic.org.au