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The Former Cultist Speaks Out PART 4: Help from Many Directions

By Rachael Drew-Kinuthia

Since starting this series of articles on cults and my own personal experience, I have been talking to former cult members. We all seem to agree that it took a number of years, and sometimes multiple tries, before we made our way out. While I was trying to come up with my exit strategy from Jehovah’s Witnesses, I got plenty of scary stories from my devout family members and friends. They always told me of someone who tried the same and now their life was a disaster. Looking back, I know that most of these true-life stories were anything but true. Essentially, fear is a powerful tool to keep people under control. I wish that I had known not to share any of those feelings or plans I had. It would’ve been better if my desire to leave wasn’t known by anyone inside the cult.

Their experience may not be as intense or traumatic, thereby making them want to defend the cult. They may try to talk you out of it, block you, or report your plan to others. Dr. Steven Hassan, the author of Combating Cult Mind Control: The Guide to Protection, Rescue and Recovery from Destructive Cults adds that, “Individual experiences vary within the same organization based on how the individual conforms to the norms of the group. For example, a lesbian teen in a homophobic church will be subject to a different degree of undue influence than a straight man who is married with children in the same church.” Yes, you can imagine in that scenario the straight married father feels their church is fine, possibly even supportive of him, while the teen is desperate to get out and live their authentic life. This would happen in conversations I had with members who said they were happy and couldn’t understand why I wasn’t.

Instead of making it harder for yourself, there are therapists and experts specializing in cult recovery who want to help you. Now, if a person is in a particularly destructive group and needs help leaving immediately—there is help to find safe sheltering, therapy to learn how to filter harmful programming out of your thinking, and give you tools to build a new life for yourself. Talking with others who have left the same situation can help encourage and validate the decision to leave. They might even be able to help you start your new life. Try finding former members on Facebook or through friends they may have mentioned. I also found that reading life stories of other ex-members provided validation and watching programs like A&E’s series Leah Remini: Scientology and the Aftermath can give you further courage. Still, leaving is the first step, but recovering is quite another!

Recovery is a challenge because there are post-cult aftereffects. A lot of ex members will know of these, and they can recommend the resources to help you along with the rest of your journey. Oftentimes, we may feel relief to be out of the cult, but grief over the loss of positive elements such as friendships, a sense of belonging, or the feeling of personal worth generated by the group’s mission. I felt this for a long time and within recent years I’ve found that talking to others helps me properly sort through these intense emotional responses. I found myself going through these phases:

 Disbelief/denial: “This can’t be happening. Maybe it wasn’t that bad.”
 Anger/hostility: “How could they/I have been so wrong?”
 Self-pity/depression: “Why did I have to be born into this?”
 Fear/bargaining: “I don’t know if I can start a new life. Maybe I can still associate with it on a limited basis.”
 Reassessment: “Maybe I was wrong about so many things before…”
 Accommodation/acceptance: “I can move beyond this, this experience won’t define me, and I’m ready to choose new directions for my life.”

Not everyone achieves that last stage of accommodation/acceptance. Struggling with PTSD-like symptoms after leaving a cult is harder than many realize. Some return to cult life, unfortunately. There were times that I actually considered it myself. It is also worth noting, I went through a few of those phases, moved forward just to go back through a phase or two again. This is common. I found it helpful to keep reading books like Inside Out: A Memoir of Entering and Breaking Out of a Minneapolis Political Cult by Alexandra Stein, Leaving the Fold by Marlene Winell, Combating Cult Mind Control: The #1 Best-selling Guide to Protection, Rescue, and Recovery from Destructive Cults by Dr. Steven Hassan, and his more recent book, The Cult of Trump: A Leading Cult Expert Explains How the President Uses Mind Control. I keep on reminding myself that I only want to be around groups of people who are accepting and even encourage questions and independent thinking. Cults always discourage questions and independent critical thinking.

If we all take the time to learn about the potential dangers of cults and conspiracy theories, and how they use mind control to attract and control vulnerable people, then we won’t insult family or friends about their beliefs. Instead of talking down to them or calling them names, we will be genuinely interested in what they understand with the purpose of trying to help them. Appeal to their sense of integrity, reason, and conscience. Please don’t underestimate the value of your research and the conversations with your person of concern. A lot of what you say will stay on their mind causing them to think later. In fact, the next article will be dedicated to the activists who came out of political and religious cults themselves. Help is possible from many different directions and social activists come from lots of different backgrounds, like myself—the former cultist who speaks out.

Rachael’s creative and biographical writing can all be found at the link below. Paperbacks, hardcovers, and eBooks are available. The memoirs cover starting a new life outside of a cult, mental health themes, surviving breast cancer, living with autoimmune diseases and more. The poetry includes many of these same themes, social issues, and relationships. Paranormal fiction will be coming soon… Click HERE.