Religious Freedom. What a wonderful concept. Sadly, for some individuals it remains just that. A concept. Individuals born into religious cults or extremist sects know little about choice or freedom. They have been brought up from a young age to believe they have been chosen by God: Chosen by God to live a life devoted to him. And chosen by God to follow a leaders dictates.

 

 

RELIGIOUS CULT DEFINITION:

 

  • It is a group or sect that is not part of a larger or more accepted religion.

  • It is bound together by veneration of some thing, person or ideal.There is obsessive devotion to a person - often the leader. The leader is regarded as the supreme authority although he may delegate certain power to a few subordinates for the purpose of seeing that members adhere to his wishes and rules. There is no appeal outside of the leader's system to greater systems of justice. In a cult, the leader has the only and final ruling on all matters. He/she will tell you that you can only be 'saved' in their religion. (A normal religion would have no trouble with a member going to another religious organisation).

  • It is a religion considered to be either false, unorthodox or extremist.

  • Cults use their wealth and power to curb critics. Their motivation appears rather to be to harass, financially destroy and silence criticism.

  • A cult may claim to make social contributions, but in actuality these remain mere claims or gestures. In the end, all work and all funds, even token gestures of altruism, serve the cult.

  • Cults use psychological co-ercion. Its used to recruit, indoctrinate, control or retain members.

  • Cults limit information and instill fear. They place limits on what you see, hear or do. And program you against media.

  • Almost all cults make the claim that their members are "chosen, "select" or "special" while nonmembers are considered lesser beings.

  • Cults implement time control - never-ending compulsory meetings or tasks.

  • When a family member wishes to disfellowship from a religious cult, they are shunned, alienated and called wicked, evil or a sinner.

 

Cults take away the rights of individuals - children foremost. The right of a child is to be a child. The parents on whom they should be able to depend are controlled by the cult leader and thus the children's fate is in his hands. In cults, parents do not function as they do in the regular world. They are more like middle-management personnel in a business: the cult leader dictates how children are to be reared, and the parents simply implement these orders. Children adopt the cult's right-wrong, good-bad, sinner-saint starkly polarized value system. They are taught that a divided world exists - "we" are inside: "they" are outside. We are right, they are wrong. We are good, they are bad. In this us-against-the-world, children (like the rest of the members) are taught to feel paranoid about nonmembers and the outside society. Cult children learn to obey. Normal aggressiveness, liveliness and assertiveness is often labeled as sinful, which then warrants punishment and suppression. As a result, anxious-dependent personality traits can be built into cult children's developing character.


Teenagers emerging from certain cults, especially those with extrememly controlled environments, tend to act out: They sample sex, mind altering substances, fast cars, fast living, total rebellion and rule breaking. They are often at high risk for sexual diseases and pregnancy, and can fall prey to those who take advantage of  their vulnerability.


Cults take away freedom. Because of the total commitment required of members and the severity of the demands made, cults do very real damage to our democratic way of life. They intentionally disrupt education and career goals, break up families, and stifle personal relationships. A concern for society is that cults are diverting some of some of society's best minds away from education and rational thought.

 

The main reason that people don't leave cults is simply because they are afraid. Many groups chase after defectors. They threaten them, punish them, put them under house arrest. If members try to get away, they are stopped by the cult; if they make the mistake of telling someone they are thinking of leaving, they are suspended from group activities, ostracized and punished. They are criticized, put in the hot seat, and in most cases rather quickly "convinced" to stay. As a member of the group, you come to know of these occurences and dread such a fate befalling you. Once again leaving does not seem like a feasible option.

 

 

Cult survivor's have long spoken about the need for a Refuge. But for many reasons this hasn't happened. The reasons are too varied and personal to list but a sense of urgency has arisen of late. Something has to be done. Now!

Why?

Because:

 

  • Cult behaviour becomes more worrying and damaging over time - like addiction! The leader often becomes more controlling, takes more risks and endangers his followers lives, (not always by obvious means).

  • More cult members are seeking a way to escape.

  • Escapees need somewhere to go and a phone number attached to an organization is vital, so their cry for help can be heard.

  • Assimilating into society is a real issue. Its the same as someone being released from prison. It will be fraught with challenges - the outside world is foreign and strange to them. They need reassurance, support and guidance as they traverse their path to freedom.

  • Many cult survivors are orphans. They have been abandoned physically and mentally by  their family in the cult, and their search for a home, support, love and acceptance is a priority. 

 

Leaving a cult is for many, one of the most difficult things they will ever do. And its especially difficult to do alone. After emergence from the cult the ex-cult member faces a multitude of problems. They have much to learn in a world that is alien to them. And their emotional health generally takes a severe battering. They can feel defective, as perfection has been what they have been striving for. They can also feel a failure. They may lose the ability to concentrate, have a lack of motivation or lose thoughts. And they are often hypersensitive or oversensitised - they have become so adept at reading non-verbal communication that they instinctively modify their behavior to suit situations and people's expectations. Dealing with conflict is another challenge. Their emotions have been so split off that they are yet to realise that a certain amount of annoyance and low level anger is acceptable and healthy. These people are not mental health cases. They don't need psychotherapy - well not initially. They need education and information. Therapy comes after immersion into community - if or when the individual is ready.

 

The subjective essence of an ex-cult member's experience is psychological abuse, and betrayal.  And the punishment and alienation that follows their defection is severe. So severe that many are emotionally traumatised. This condition is called Post-Cult Trauma Syndrome, which will now be referred to as PCTS. Many medical personnel diagnose cult survivors as having PTSD - Post Traumatic Stress Disorder - as they know no different. And indeed the symptoms are similar.  Some common characteristics of PCTS are:

  • spontaneous crying

  • sense of loss

  • depression or suicidal thoughts

  • fear than not obeying the cult's wishes will result in God's wrath or loss of salvation

  • alienation from family and friends

  • sense of isolation, loneliness due to being surounded by people who have no basis for understanding cult life

  • fear of evil spirits taking over one's life outside the cult

  • scrupulosity, excessive rigidity about rules of minor importance

  • panic disproportionate to one's circumstances

  • fear of going insane

  • confusion about right or wrong

  • sexual conflicts

  • unwarranted guilt 

       

They also pass through stages of accommodation to the change: 

  • Disbelief/denial: "This can't be happening. It couldn't have been that bad."

  • Anger/hostility: "How could they/I be so wrong?" (hate feelings)

  • Self-pity/depression: "Why me? I can't do this."

  • Fear/bargaining: "I don't know if I can live without my group. Maybe I can still associate with it on a limited basis, if I do what they want."

  • Reassessment: "Maybe I was wrong about the group's being so wonderful."

  • Accommodation/acceptance: "I can move beyond this experience and choose new directions for my life" or  . . .

  • Re-involvement: "I think I will rejoin the group."

Passing through these stages is seldom a smooth progression. It is fairly typical to bounce back and forth between different stages.

 

For those who don't return to cult life, the following may be experienced for a period of several months or even years.

  • flashbacks to cult life

  • simplistic black-white thinking

  • sense of unreality

  •  suggestibility, i.e. automatic obedient responses to trigger-terms of the cults loaded language or to innocent suggestions

  • disassociation (spacing out)

  • feeling "out of it"    

  • "Stockholm Syndrome": knee-jerk impulses to defend the cult when it is criticized, even if the cult hurt the person

  • difficulty concentrating

  • incapacity to make decisions

  • hostility reactions, either toward anyone who criticizes the cult or toward the cult itself   

  • mental confusion

  • low self-esteem

  • dread of running into a current cult-member by mistake

  • loss of a sense of how to carry out simple tasks

  • dread of being cursed or condemned by the cult

  • hang-overs of habitual cult behaviour

  • difficult managing time

  • trouble holding down a job

Most of these symptoms subside as the victim mainstreams into everyday routines of normal life. But in some cases the symptoms may continue. At least with a support system in place the chances of recovery are more likely.

 

*The post-cult information is a composite list from the following sources: "Coming out of cult, by Margaret Thaler Singer, Psychology Today, Jan.1979 P. 75: "Destructive Cults, Mind Control and Psychological Coercion", Postive Action Portland, Oregon, and "Fact Sheet", Cult Hot-Line and Clinic, New York City.