Cults are fuelled by fear, shame and secrecy. Members are taught to set their sights on a future existence on a paradise earth or in heaven, and forced to give up all hopes of true joy or fulfilment in this life. They must resign themselves to boredom, drudgery and self-discipline, which is often accompanied by feelings of emptiness and dread. They are forced to fake a smile and to find the energy to put on a “positive face” in order to prove to outsiders that they are walking the “one, true path” to salvation.
The pressure to conform to external standards of behaviour when feeling dead inside can lead to inner conflict (known as “cognitive dissonance”), stress and depression. Terrorized by the threat of losing their loved ones and social community, being destroyed at Armageddon or losing their salvation, cult members often behave on “automatic pilot”. Like brainless robots, they go through the motions of life, trying desperately to ignore the questions and doubts that sometimes pop up into their minds. They make a massive effort to push them down again, to re-convince themselves that their life is not based on a lie, that all their hard work and sacrifice have not been a useless waste.
I’ve met some active cult members who have literally given up everything for their Group: a decent education, the prospect of having children or following their dreams, a career, retirement fund, or a relationship with their non-cult family members… the list goes on and on. They turned their backs on all this to serve their Organization full time.
Therefore, when they are faced with someone who challenges their beliefs, the need to justify and defend their life choices is overwhelming. That is why talking to indoctrinated robots can be like banging your head against a thick, heavy wall…
In addition, when we speak to people, they do not generally react to the words we say, but the emotion behind them. If we express ourselves in anger, frustration, bitterness or with words laced with ridicule and contempt, we alienate our listeners, causing them to shut their ears, turn away, or fight back defensively. Thus, it’s possible to push them even further from us, and make them more closed to our well-researched arguments.
That doesn’t mean however that there is nothing we can do to help cult victims from breaking free, or that we are powerless in our quest. There are tried and tested ways to achieve this, based on intelligent and compassionate efforts by families and friends who want to rescue their loved ones. If you are interested in learning more about this, I would highly recommend Steven Hassan‘s books, particularly “Freedom of Mind: Helping Loved Ones Leave Controlling People, Cults, and Beliefs”.
Ex-cult members who are keen to expose the Group’s corruption and destructive impact on human lives need to think strategically, using all the means of communication, resources and platforms available. I know of one ex-Jehovah’s Witness family of seven members who all woke up because the father listened to a radio show on the way to work, which mentioned the Royal Australian Commission into child sexual abuse. He was so shocked to discover that his beloved Organization was harbouring and protecting paedophiles, that he started to do his own research, and was eventually able to convince his whole family to leave.
Reading something in a respected newspaper, watching a TV show or listening to a news report on the radio about their cult is one way that could get indoctrinated people thinking critically, but only if they are ready to. In the FB Group “Faith after Deception Fellowship”, someone recently asked the question: “Why didn’t we wake up sooner?” and the most common answer was: “I wasn’t emotionally or psychologically prepared to do so beforehand”.
So, the question is: how can we help Cult victims to open their hearts to the ugly truth about the truth of their Organization? Renowned cult expert, Steven Hassan offers a three pronged approach:
- Build trust with the person. If they don’t trust you or feel they can confide in you, they will never listen to you.
- Ask them searching questions that they can go away and investigate, rather than feeding them answers. If they refuse to respond to you, at least you have planted a small seed of doubt in their minds.
- Help them to get better acquainted with other cults. Many people are now becoming aware that they are in a toxic group after watching Leah Rimini’s brave exposé of Scientology. When indoctrinated people see how Mind Control is used in other Groups, they are faced with the uneasy reality that they are being manipulated in the same way.
If you think it would be appropriate, you could even ask the cult member to answer these 25 questions to find out if they are in a cult.
They also need to know that if they leave, they can count on you. The fear of loneliness and social isolation means that people inside cults remain there far too long, even after they’ve woken up. Ex-members and concerned family and friends need to provide strong and lasting friendships with those who are seeking to escape, to support them on their long and difficult journey out.