Getting Un-Stuck: Do the "Stages of Grief" apply to leaving a cult?
Posted by: dsm ()
Date: June 23, 2010 10:24AM

I was just thinking about all the ways we react to cults: discovering we are in one, breaking free, recovering, trying to rescue others, etc.

I was wondering if these stages of grief that are pretty familiar could also be applied to cult recovery. I'm not sure if we would start counting the first stage from after we have left the cult or from some point inside the cult where we start recognizing our situation for what it is.


The progression of states is:

Anger – "Why me? It's not fair!"; "How can this happen to me?"; "Who is to blame?"
Once in the second stage, the individual recognizes that denial cannot continue. Because of anger, the person is very difficult to care for due to misplaced feelings of rage and envy. Any individual that symbolizes life or energy is subject to projected resentment and jealousy.
Denial – "I feel fine."; "This can't be happening, not to me."
Denial is usually only a temporary defense for the individual. This feeling is generally replaced with heightened awareness of situations and individuals that will be left behind after death.
Bargaining – "Just let me live to see my children graduate."; "I'll do anything for a few more years."; "I will give my life savings if..."
The third stage involves the hope that the individual can somehow postpone or delay death. Usually, the negotiation for an extended life is made with a higher power in exchange for a reformed lifestyle. Psychologically, the individual is saying, "I understand I will die, but if I could just have more time..."
Depression – "I'm so sad, why bother with anything?"; "I'm going to die... What's the point?"; "I miss my loved one, why go on?"
During the fourth stage, the dying person begins to understand the certainty of death. Because of this, the individual may become silent, refuse visitors and spend much of the time crying and grieving. This process allows the dying person to disconnect oneself from things of love and affection. It is not recommended to attempt to cheer up an individual who is in this stage. It is an important time for grieving that must be processed.
Acceptance – "It's going to be okay."; "I can't fight it, I may as well prepare for it."
In this last stage, the individual begins to come to terms with their mortality or that of their loved one.

Edited 1 time(s). Last edit at 06/23/2010 10:35AM by dsm.

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Re: Getting Un-Stuck: Do the "Stages of Grief" apply to leaving a cult?
Posted by: dsm ()
Date: June 23, 2010 10:34AM

I can remember well the first couple of stages. Anger maybe not at being in a cult, but in that period before the awareness of cult-hood dawned on me, I was very angry at all the treachery and wasted effort that I saw everywhere. I was in one of those "high-demand" cults that gives people a lot of busy work when they show up to volunteer for a good cause. While they are messing around with the busy-work, the cult is psyching out the new recruit and also systematically isolating the volunteer from other parts of her life by making great demands on time and resources.

Anger at first is useful to the cult because they can manipulate it and lead the recruit to believe some other individual or circumstance is to blame for the situation. Political cults at this point sometimes try to move the recruit away from helping the local poor, for example, to blaming a specific group of people or an institution for the poverty.

But if the recruit sees past that anger, do we go into denial? Can the cult keep us in denial so that we don't exit?

Or do we exit while we are still angry and then deny that we were ever in a cult? How does a cult continue to take advantage of us if we reach this stage?

What do you all think? Am I being a little crazy to try to apply Kubler-Ross stages to the cult-exit experience?

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Re: Getting Un-Stuck: Do the "Stages of Grief" apply to leaving a cult
Posted by: tsukimoto ()
Date: June 24, 2010 05:53AM

Well, when I was in my cult...becoming disenchanted with it and trying to decide whether to leave -- I went through anger, denial, and bargaining, as well as depression and acceptance.

Anger -- I was just frustrated at all the demands my group made on me. I was angry that I couldn't get any answers to my questions.

Denial -- I didn't want to leave; I had friends in the group (or so I thought) and believed in the teachings, just not how the group was carrying them out. I told myself that basically it was a good group, and in any group I'd find things I didn't like.

Bargaining -- I thought if I stayed in the group, I could change it. I eventually discovered that I couldn't.

Depression -- When I realized I had to leave, I did feel sad. There were things I'd liked and valued about the group, individuals that I'd thought I was close to. The group had been a huge part of my life for years. I was sad, I was also angry with how some of our leaders were screwing with the teachings. I may have had some denial. I thought that the problem was a few clueless leaders and that maybe someday things would change and I could go back. I eventually realized that the group's problems were much greater than a few bad leaders -- and that it was not going to change.

Acceptance -- Overall, I feel that my life is better without the group. I do feel angry about how the group is still exploiting its members.

I think it's possible to feel a sense of loss at leaving a cult --- even when it's an individual's choice to go. At one time, you believed in the group's purpose and may have been deeply committed to them. It can be hard to walk away from that.

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Re: Getting Un-Stuck: Do the "Stages of Grief" apply to leaving a cult?
Posted by: pegasus ()
Date: June 28, 2010 12:51PM

I think it is absolutely true that the grief and loss stages can apply to leaving a cult. I have studied grief counselling and thought a lot over the years about how the stages have applied to me. Grief is going to be experienced when we have any significant loss and leaving a cult is a huge loss, possibly one of the biggest we will go thru in our lives.
I believed the group I was in to be my 'true' family and so when I left and I was ex-communicated, I lost all contact with the members of what was to me my brothers and sisters and elders. They were not allowed to talk to me again. So this experience is similar to the death of a family member. There is also the loss of our life story - of what we believed was our history. I thought I was living a spiritual life, making 'progress' and serving God for many years. That narrative then turned out to be untrue when I discovered I had been in a cult. I have had to re-write my knowledge of my life story.
Another loss is that of my certainty and faith in my cult leader as my link to God. The important relationship I held with the leaders teachings; 'my path' was the most important thing in my life and it was a major loss when I no longer had that and realised I did not know what to believe in anymore.

I found the stages came and went in different ways and are not in any particular order necessarily. For me, the knowledge that I had been in a cult was at first way too much to handle and I was in denial - my group could not have been a cult. It took a while to feel anger for me, I think you have to feel safe enough to allow yourself to feel your anger which is natural and understandable. I tend to feel that being angry is a good thing, I find it indicates I am processing something and not just taking it and blaming myself.
When the full truth did hit home to me, I was very depressed - how could this happen to me? What can I do? There seemed no hope.

It takes time to absorb it all and work thru it and I did find it useful to be aware of the grief stages becos it gave some reference point, a way of making sense of my experience which is very important. Everything happens gradually and time really does seem to be a great healer.
Thanks for starting this thread, dsm

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Re: Getting Un-Stuck: Do the "Stages of Grief" apply to leaving a cult?
Posted by: frogla ()
Date: July 24, 2010 11:15PM

try & find an ex cult support group in your area. Watchman Fellowship located in Arlington, tx is a great resource. Also, reading books on cults is helpful. A support group has been great 4 me!

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Re: Getting Un-Stuck: Do the "Stages of Grief" apply to leaving a cult?
Posted by: akita777 ()
Date: September 29, 2010 11:15PM

I am looking for the time when I can really feel that I "was" in a cult. All be it a very short time the damage has bee done even until today(8 yrs ago) I want to learn to talk about this time without bringing the past as if it were yesterday. My memory is bad and often times I get lost in my thinking about those days prior to almost killing myself. It's like a bad horror movie that keeps replaying, over and over. It even reaches out to things that happen now.. Anyone else struggle with this?

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Re: Getting Un-Stuck: Do the "Stages of Grief" apply to leaving a cult?
Posted by: rrmoderator ()
Date: September 29, 2010 11:28PM


See []

This is a directory of licensed professional counselors with experience helping people through recovery from cults.

Perhaps you should look for experienced professional help.

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Re: Getting Un-Stuck: Do the "Stages of Grief" apply to leaving a cult?
Posted by: frogla ()
Date: October 10, 2010 04:16AM

if you wanna join us in our discussion we are over here @ []. we are talking about cults and one in particular called trumpetcallofgod.

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Re: Getting Un-Stuck: Do the "Stages of Grief" apply to leaving a cult?
Posted by: akita777 ()
Date: October 21, 2010 01:00AM

I am stuck in fear that something happened to me spiritually and changed me in such a way that it cannot be undone. I went through great depression crying uncontrollably but it was because I felt like my spirit was crushed. I am trying to work through those stages that hit me so forcefully when I realized what happened. It has been 8 yrs. and still every morning I wake with "him" in my thoughts and I get scared that somehow he implanted himself in my spirit. It's like a presence that is always with me. Some days are unbearable. I fall into deep depression, paranoia. ect, ect. Does it ever change or am I doomed to hell forever?

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