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'Victims gradually lose their ability to make independent decisions and exercise informed consent.'
- Dr Margaret Singer

 



Online Book - 'From Fear to Freedom' by Peter Black
The only life he knew was in a controlling cult. After 30 years, a broken marriage and ravaged self esteem, Peter steps out into suburban Brisbane, a world of unknown technology, few friends and years of rebuilding.  

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Chapter 9: Helping the helper.

This section of our study into the damage caused by destructive cults is written with those who are trying to help friends or family members harmed by such religious sects in mind.

Let me say a big thank you for your efforts if you are trying to lend assistance to such a person as he or she rebuilds a damaged life. If you have never had an experience with a cult or in some other situation where you have been controlled or brainwashed then hopefully you have learned from websites, books on cults or perhaps from this material just what sort of harm is caused by such situations.

I also hope you will see how the rational thought processes of a cult survivor are likely to be badly distorted by the belief systems of the particular group especially when fear is involved as we’ve just discussed.

It is a fact of human existence that we need to experience something ourselves in order to totally and completely identify with it. I hate the death and destruction caused by war yet such conflicts interest me strongly and because of this, I delve into information on various battles when I can.

As a result of this interest, I have heard many interviews over the years with war veterans. Typically, they will comment along the lines that the experience was so horrible that you can’t fully understand it unless you were actually there.

I have a good imagination and can visualize almost anything including what it might be like to face the terrors of battle. The important word here though is might, as I have never been there. Therefore I can’t totally know what it’s really like.

Victims of floods, cyclones, fires and violent crimes are likely to make similar statements as well. A counselor or psychologist will have a degree from a college or university and will be able to explain from an academic viewpoint what a cult survivor is dealing with. Also they will state how he or she should be feeling at any given time but even with such understanding, they won’t know how it actually “feels” to have spent many years in a cult unless they have spent time in such a group. This is why in my view, the best counselors are the ones who have been there just like us.

So how do you help a friend or relative in a cult? If this person is an adult and is happy to remain within the group, then you may not be able to do a lot about it in this country. You can try pointing out problems that you see within the sect and you can ask if he or she is really and truly happy and satisfied with no doubts or fears.

You could attempt to show this person any material which you have found that indicates the particular group might be harmful however be very careful here. If your friend or family member chooses not to listen or look at your material then continued badgering from you may drive him or her further into the group. Remember they have probably been told not to read or listen to anything critical of the religion.

You might ask if the person is totally in charge of their lives and whether he or she feels any guilt if some directive from the sect isn’t followed? Does he or she feel guilty if a meeting of the group is missed? Avoid strong criticism of the cult as this often results in the member becoming defensive.

Showing interest in the happenings within the religion can encourage the member to talk but be careful here too as you don’t want to be seen as a possible new recruit. Please avoid using the word cult or sect when talking about his or her group as these almost always have a negative slant.

Try to make sure your concerns about one group or another are based on a genuine belief that such a religious sect is definitely destructive and not on a personal dislike or grudge against it. If the particular cult is fairly large and has been around for a while then facts on it should be available and the internet is a good place to start now days.

The key to dealing with family or friends who are in the group is remember to build bridges, not burn them. Express your doubts carefully, in a manner which may encourage them to question. Telling them they are brainwashed or deceived is likely to be counterproductive. Encouraging them to increase their level of analytical thinking, rather than just accepting what the cult tells them may cause questions to arise.

The ultimate hope here is that such questioning will lead to a point where your cult member loved one or friend is able to see the deception going on for themselves. In that case, they may eventually grow enough courage to “become a walk away”. Meaning that they leave the cult and your help would then have been invaluable.

If you are a parent of someone who is not yet of adult age and he or she is falling into the grip of a cult which you believe is causing harm, then contact a large cult survivor support group. This issue is likely to be complicated and will probably involve the Court system. It is beyond the scope of general material such as this. Similarly, if your marriage has broken down and your former partner is taking children into the group or keeping them there, the first step is to ensure a “parenting plan” is agreed, which should be done through an experienced family solicitor.

If your friend or family member remains within the group then please always be willing to accept contact when or if it is possible. Sometimes people leave cults after many years so never give-up hope.

If your relative or friend comes to you while leaving or attempting to leave the group, be ready to lend immediate help if requested and please DON’T JUDGE. Also I ask you as a cult survivor myself to avoid the following comments or questions:

  • Why did you walk away from your family?
  • How could you believe all that rubbish?
  • Well now you’re out of that stupid Church, you’ll have to get a job.
  • I hope you don’t bring any of that crazy religion around here.
  • What’s the problem? Can’t you just get on with life now?
  • You’ve left that mad cult so now come to Church with me.

Such questions or statements are totally understandable but they show a complete ignorance of the situation facing your relative or friend and also they are very judgmental. Remember cult members are almost always exposed to judging on possibly a daily basis. If a former cult member is unfortunate enough to run into the types of comments above, that could drive them right back into the sect where he or she may still feel safe.

If your friend needs urgent help with accommodation for example then please assist however handing over large amounts of money is not a good idea. He or she may not be able to handle it and if contact still occurs between this person and the cult, some or all of it may end-up going to the sect.

Be there to guide and gently advise if asked, but try to help your loved one to make his or her own decisions rather than deciding for them. The cult would have made many decisions for its members and when learning to live outside a destructive sect, we need to reach the ability to arrive at important decisions ourselves. Of course this takes time but with proper counseling, it becomes easier.

May I ask you to imagine for a moment that something long held to be a fact of history didn’t really happen? For example if you saw proof that man never really went to walk on the Moon at all. Rather, if it could be proven to you that it was just a trick of Hollywood, how would you feel? Wouldn’t you feel lied to and cheated? You would be likely to think something like this, well if that’s all make-believe, then what else is also?

On a personal level, if you suddenly found out in adulthood or as a teenager that your parents were not really your parents at all, rather that you had been adopted, how would you feel? This comes as a shock to an adoptee and is similar to a cult survivor finding out one way or another that most or all of the teachings which we believed totally to be true are not. Our whole world is turned totally up-side-down.

Feelings of anger, betrayal, and a strong unwillingness to trust anyone are common. The cult survivor reasons, if I’ve been deceived once so badly, then who can I trust ever again?

Not only will future belief in religion or the ability to ever have a faith in a belief system be damaged but trust in partners within relationships is likely to be harmed as well.

Feelings of being like a small ship on a large ocean without a rudder a common as the cult survivor comes to grips with the reality of being outside. Some people report a “floating feeling” from time to time and they may appear spaced-out at times. Apparently words, phrases or certain situations experienced can rapidly remind them of times within the cult. An altered state of consciousness may briefly occur like that deliberately caused within the group. Fortunately the condition normally clears-up after some Months in most people. In a small number of cases though it may last much longer and if this is so for you, please seek counseling or recommend that your loved one does do so as soon as possible.

This is what your loved one is dealing with and you are sure to need patience as you bring help.

Try looking at it this way, someone who has been in the armed- forces for many years will probably have some difficulty readjusting to civilian life where there are no orders to follow.

In a similar way, a person who is released from prison after spending many years there will also have large challenges learning to live outside the institution where everything was organized for them. You guessed it, : it’s likely to be very similar for someone coming out of a religious cult.

The freedom as we have seen is great but it can be terrifying as well as it forces the cult survivor to take charge of their own destiny – something foreign to someone in a controlling sect or relationship.

Your loved one’s view of the sect in which they were a member is likely to be strongly influenced by the way he or she came out from it. If they walked out of their own accord, then their view is probably going to largely be one of distrust, contempt and fear.

On the other hand, if he or she was kicked out for some reason, then they may view themselves as the reason for the issue. That is, they are likely to think, “There’s nothing wrong with the group, it’s all my fault”, or, “I just am not good enough to measure-up.”

In this case, your loved one or friend might think of the sect as something they should still really belong too and might view the cult with sympathy and even love. Remember the cult was family to us and particularly if a member is booted out, he or she feels grief as you would if loosing your place within a family.

Over the years during many conversations with other former members of WCG, I have found that most of us have struggled along with very little help at all in rebuilding our lives. A close friend of mine found that his wife didn’t understand his issues even though she spent many years in the sect herself. Her experiences were very different to his largely because her mother protected her from the worst aspects of the group and so this lady felt that her husband was exaggerating his plight.

My friend on the other hand was exposed to the very worst of WCG and was repeatedly beaten by his father in the name of discipline. This man felt at the time that he couldn’t even turn to his wife for understanding and help in dealing with cultic issues.

The point I wish to make here is that if you are able to lend assistance to a cult survivor, then it can make a real difference if you go about it properly.

In the long-term, lending help to a cult survivor may be a satisfying and rewarding experience. You will learn a lot about an ugly side of human life, that is, the damage caused when one person or a group of people decide to deceive and control others. If your loved one is successful in rebuilding a shattered life, it will be like watching a beautiful flower opening. When that happens, you will know that your help has contributed to the rescuing and setting free of another human with the right to choose their own destiny.

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Disclaimer: This page is about groups, organisations or movements, which may have been called "cults" and/or "cult-like" in some way, shape or form.  But not all groups called either "cults" or "cult-like" are harmful.  Instead, they may be benign and generally defined as simply people intensely devoted to a person, place or thing.  An account from one person must be read as that; ideas could have been taken out of context or have been misunderstood.  Also, practices may change over time, or between one centre and another.  CIFS encourages readers to research widely before forming an opinion.  Information from one single source would need to be judged against other sources and one's own personal experience.  Therefore, the discussion or mention of a group, organisation or person on this page is not necessarily meant pejoratively. 
 
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