Exiting from a Cult or suspect group

This page contains:

  • I want to leave a group
  • Intervention - Exit Counselling
  • Understanding the pain of those who have left
  • Some thoughts on counselling Ex- Members.
Intro:  Three ways to leave 

There are three ways recruits leave cults:
Helped out:  Interactions with those outside the cult 
Walked out:  After re-evaluating the nature of the group
Kicked out:  When the group can no longer find a use for the person.

Mini Interventions
The best thing for leaving a group is having good relationships outside the group.  A series of "mini-interventions", that is, meetings with people outside the group who can help with different views and evaluation processes, will assist many recruits to change their opinions about the group.

OK - I really want to leave this group - what do I do?

  • If you are living in a community house, ensure you have a place to go to.
  • Call your Mum or Dad.   If your relationship is not good - don’t worry.  Just say "Mum, I’m sorry - I stuffed up - I got sucked in by these losers."  If she says "I told you so!", just say "Yeah, you did - can I come over?" and no parent will say no. 
  • Call part of your original family who is outside the group - ask them to understand.  If your relationship with them is not great, ask them to try to understand china lighting wholesale what has happened, and to seek whole-family counselling so you can work through this together.  They will be happy to hear from you, and you know the relationship, for all its faults, is long-term.
  • Call us for support, we have a network of people and resources.
  • Expect some harassment from the group - phone calls, rejection.  Don’t engage in any discussions - a polite "I’m no longer interested and I hope you wake up to yourselves" will suffice.  Be forgiving - those people are under some kind of mind-control.  
  • Plan how you will spend your days - do you have a job or study to take up?
  • Carefully get as much of your own property away from the group before they suspect you are going to leave - you may have trouble later.  
  • When you leave, get your name off any house lease (see estate agent or lessor if this is applicable).
  • If you are an office bearer and the group has (or may have) any debts, resign in writing so debtors don’t hold you responsible.  Maybe you need to contact some of them.
  • If there is any illegality occurring in the group including child abuse, forced sex, deprivation of liberty, embezzlement or suchlike, contact the police.  This may also be applicable if you fear retribution or if other ex-members have been victimised.
  • After you leave, it is important that you recover fully.  Some instances of even quite brief cult involvement (weeks or days) can take months or years to recover fully from.  There are many who never go through proper counselling, thinking they can make it on their own.  They can suffer for years unnecessarily.  
  • After you leave, you need to forgive the group.  Grudges & bitterness are unpleasant to live with.  And forgiveness will reduce "Floating" - moments when the group’s teachings come back to haunt.
  • Beware of being consumed by bitterness, thoughts of revenge, or a mission of revenge against all cults.  Some former members think that by putting up a webpage and getting some publicity all high pressure groups will close down within 18 months.  If it was that easy, the last thousand or so people we have spoken to over the last 10 years would have succeeded already.

Intervention - Exit Counselling
If you are a parent or close relative, and wanting to arrange some kind of intervention for a family member who you hope to "rescue" from a cult, please contact us by email or phone 07 3878 5212.  It is best to develop a complete approach involving the whole family and friends network of the recruit.  You and those around the recruit will require some education on cults and understanding of the effect of various types of intervention.  You will also likely need to upgrade your communication skills and understand some more about the dynamics of your family relationship.  Start educating your self on cults immediately.

Much has been written on this subject and there are resources on the www.  Please see our links page.


What’s it like to leave a cult? - It Hurts!

IT HURTS to discover you were deceived - that what you thought was the “one true religion”, or “the truth” was in reality a cult.

IT HURTS when you learn that people you trusted implicitly - whom you were taught not to question - were ‘pulling the wool over your eyes’, albeit unwittingly.

IT HURTS when you learn that those you were taught were your “enemies” were telling the truth after all - but you had been told they were liars, deceivers, satanic etc and not to listen to them.

IT HURTS to see the looks of hatred coming from the faces of those you love - to hear the deafening silence when you try and talk to them. It cuts deeply when you try and give your child a hug, and they just stand there like a statue, pretending you’re not there. It stabs like a knife when you know your spouse looks upon you as demonised and teaches your children to hate you.

IT HURTS to realise their love and acceptance was conditional on you remaining a member of good standing. This cuts so deeply you try and suppress it. All you want to do is forget - but how can you forget?

IT HURTS when you find yourself feeling guilty or ashamed of what you were. You feel depressed, confused and lonely. You find it difficult to make decisions. You don’t know what to do with yourself because you have so much time on your hands now - yet you still feel guilty for spending time on recreation. 

IT HURTS when you feel as though you have lost touch with reality. You feel as though you are “floating” and wonder if you really are better off and long for the security you had in the group and yet you know you cannot go back.

IT HURTS when you have to front up to friends and family to hear their “I told you so” - whether the statement is verbal or not. It simply makes you feel even more stupid than you already do, and your self confidence and self worth plummet even further. 

IT HURTS when you realise you gave up everything for the cult - your education, career, finances, time and energy, and now have to seek employment or restart your education. How do you explain all those missing years?

To fully recover, a cult recruit must experience this pain - to deny it may cause problems later.  Pain with truth is better than happiness with lies. 

Some Thoughts on Counselling Ex-Cult Members
By all means as a friend or interested person, you can help, even if you don’t have formal counselling qualifications.  But do encourage the recruit to go to a professional counsellor, and to talk to someone who can help them work through their world view and work towards their true spirituality.

How did the person leave the group? This will be a major factor in their healing. People leave cults in three major ways:

a. Walk-out  (i.e. burn-out; disillusionment)
b. Kicked-out  (i.e. burn-out; not measuring up) 
c. Counselled-out  (generally recovery more smooth)

  • Was the person in a position of leadership? If so, the guilt may be greater.
  • What kind of contact do they still have? If they are still involved, don’t be surprised if one minute they attack the group, and the next minute they defend it. 
  • Are any friends or relatives still in the group? (the temptation to go back may then be greater)
  • What kind of controls were in place? (check ‘BITE’)

What is the most pressing problem?

a. Rest, a proper diet?
b. Safety?
c. Face to face counselling? (if at all possible, try and find a counsellor with relevant experience, and common values.  )
d. A feeling of peace-of-mind about how the world really works.

Two important reminders during the counselling relationship:

1. Recognise possible fear that the counsellor will manipulate them as in the cult.
2. Be wary of the other extreme also; counsellor idealisation. The professional counsellor could unwittingly fill the void left by the cult.

Don’t be afraid to take a ‘psychoeducational’ approach; that is, explain how cults work and how people can be manipulated.

Encourage the person to meet ex-members and learn from others.

As the individual came from an environment that dictated much of life and made most of the decisions, it’s important to remember the theme of personal empowerment; that is, congratulate and encourage any efforts at facing the pain/making decisions.

Remember that leaving a cult is very similar to a broken relationship or other grief and loss situation. As such, there are often ‘stages’ found in their recovery:

1. After leaving the cult
When you hear statements like “I’m just so confused”, “Maybe I could have tried harder”, or “Was it really a cult?” the person probably is in the early ‘stages’ of recovery and could be quite vulnerable. Also, sometimes after recently leaving particular cults, thinking processes may be a bit fuzzy. As such, don’t assume that the person is being resistant, or is a bogus caller on the phone.

2. Love/hate
Here the person is caught between two worlds. There could be a sense of ‘homesickness’, especially where friends or family are still in the group. At the same time there is the sense of betrayal and loss. The ‘pre-cult’ personality slowly regains control and the person takes stock of missed opportunities etc.

3. Looking to the future
This is more optimistic than the previous two stages. As with the other two stages, this differs from cult to cult. For some, they were allowed to have jobs in the world, hobbies etc. For others, a family, career etc, were all sacrificed for the group. As such, future plans can vary considerably between individuals. As with any trauma, the experience will always be with them. Hopefully with time and support, the person can ‘move on’.

Some Reframing:

What did they learn in the cult?
Sometimes an ex cult member will have some fond memories about the group, despite the pain they experienced. For example, hard work, team work and organisational skills could be viewed to be a unforseen advantage of the cult experience (in a twisted kind of way!) This might help the sense of ‘wasted years’ that an ex member experiences.

You got recruited into a cult ?  Congratulations!
It is also important to note that most people who are recruited into cults did not suffer from any significant psychological handicaps, and did not come from dysfunctional family situations. Although it is important to explore the individual’s vulnerabilities in terms of the recruitment process, it can also be helpful for former cult members to recognise that cult recruiters regularly play on a myriad of personal characteristics that are actually desirable in the general population - characteristics such as loyalty, honesty and idealism.

THERE IS A wide variety of experiences in cults.  Counselling ex-members can contain elements from:
Trauma Counselling    
Initial practical support
Simply talking (thereby diffusing the tension)
Normalise the experience
Ongoing social support

Domestic Violence Counselling 
Feelings of powerlessness, 
Recovering from isolation, threats,  
emotional  abuse etc

Broken Relationship Counselling   
Shock, Grief, Anger etc

Grief and Loss Counselling
A sense of loss in the post-cult period is often very deep and very broad. While one can draw comparisons between leaving a cult and say, the loss of a partner, the loss experienced by leaving a cult encompasses much more. The list below is just a sample of the breadth of loss experienced:

  • Loss of the group
  • Loss of time (years?) while in the group
  • Loss of innocence and idealism
  • Loss of spirituality/cosmology
  • Loss of family  
  • Loss of being a member of the ‘elite’ 
  • Loss of ‘being called by God’      
  • Loss of ‘revelation’
  • Loss of special rituals/customs
  • Loss of easy or black-and-white answers
  • Loss of finances
  • Loss of pre-cult opportunities