We hear terms a lot now days such as, “I’ve moved on now” or “I’m over it”. How do we achieve that when we have been through such a terrible experience because of a cult?
Many religious cults of a destructive nature will teach members that they must put as much as possible memories of their lives before they joined the group out from their minds, suggesting that such times were evil and did not please God. They will try to instill the belief that only the present time and the future within the sect are important and that members should feel shame regarding time spent in life before “being called”.
Once again, let’s look at our two groups of former cult members. If you joined a harmful sect in the teen years or during adult-hood, then you will hopefully have clear recollection of what we may call pre-cult memories.
Although you may have suffered abuse at home before coming into contact with the religious group, hopefully you still have some positive memories of life before the cult. Did you go out to the movies with friends? What about learning to dance, catch fish or that first date?
You may have lost contact with family and friends due to physical or social isolation caused by the cult but may be able to rebuild such relationships and make a new start. The less time you have been in the cult then the easier this should be.
Family and friends who have had nothing to do with cults will not have much understanding of your situation and may ask difficult questions. For example, where have you been? Or why did you change so much? They may even criticize and judge you and if this happens, gently but firmly remind them that they have not been in a cult and that they don’t know what it’s like.
Being honest with relatives and friends and telling them what happened to you will give them at least some idea of your situation and of the task you now face, that is, rebuilding your life. Also this puts the blame for your issues where it belongs, with the cult, not with you.
When you feel ready, mention to former friends that you want to rebuild friendships and that you wish to rejoin social circles but will need time to readjust. You may also like to refer those among your family and friends who are interested to websites or books about cults and the harm they cause. This will inform them about what you face now in your new life and helps them to gain a deeper understanding of your situation. It is better to be known as a cult survivor rather than to be thought of as weird or crazy. Remember you have been taken advantage of by very manipulative and deceptive people and this does not mean you are stupid or gullible. Your effort to find a belief system to cling too has been abused and your enquiring mind has been lead astray.
Questions you may ask your self such as: How could I have been so stupid? Or how did I go along with that rubbish are normal as you sort your mind out but they are not helpful. Questions like these will only add to your already low self-esteem issues. Remember – it was not primarily your fault that you joined the group. Mainly you joined because of the skill of the recruiters, or because you were born there or taken there by your parents.
Why did you join the cult in the first place? Were you caught in an abusive situation at home, school or in some other environment? It may have been an unusually stressful time in your life, such as early University, or when you had experienced some kind of relationship breakdown. That is not you now. When talking with your counselor, it would be beneficial to you if you bring this out in order to deal with these issues.
When you have been able to come to grips with difficulties from your past then the feeling that you need protection and shelter will not be a part of your life. As some people seek the apparent comfort and guidance offered by cults, developing emotional strength, self-esteem and a strong sense of identity will help you avoid being drawn into another harmful sect.
Second generation ex-cult members will have no or very few pre-cult or non-cult memories and will have spent most if not all of their lives in the group as we have discussed. Such people will most likely have not enjoyed things taken for granted by most children or young adults who grow up in Australia.
Young people growing up in Worldwide were denied normal enjoyment in this country such as Christmas and Birthdays as previously covered. Before becoming full members, a water baptism ceremony was required and after such, dating between baptized and unbaptised people even within the group wasn’t permitted. Of course dating between people in the cult and anyone outside wasn’t allowed either.
Some more extreme groups don’t allow the use of computers, TV or radio as well. Second generation cult survivors are not relearning how to live a “normal” life (however you see it) rather, it is all new to us.
As mentioned above, two of the most difficult and damaging issues any cult survivor will have to deal with are anger and fear.
Firstly, there is anger, due to the deception and all of those lost years. This feeling is totally normal in a human being, however, it is important to realize that prolonged anger will not achieve anything. It will not change the cult (if it still exists) and it will not repair your life. Instead, prolonged anger will destroy you and actually allows the cult to continue harming you even though you may have left its membership years ago. Usually, you will not be able to “get even”, or destroy the cult with a campaign or legal action.
How then do we deal with this destructive emotion? Believe it or not, we must come to the point where we can forgive. Are you thinking, “but that just allows the cult leaders to get away with it”? If you still believe in God, then leave it to him to sort it out. If not, then the universe and karma will deal with these deceptive people and you do not have to wreck the rest of your life trying to do it.
I have actually come across stories about victims of violent crimes including rape who have come to the point of forgiveness. On occasions, such people have even met their attackers and have forgiven them.
Forgiveness is in fact all about us, that is, it is letting go of these harmful memories which otherwise continue to cause so much harm and it is about releasing the negative emotions such as anger and fear which go with them.
Research indicates that most violent criminals such as murderers and rapists are victims themselves. Often these people endure many horrible events during childhood. Research also shows that cult leader’s issues are transmitted into the cult. In other words, the issues of the leader become the issues of the cult he or she starts.
Cult leaders are also most likely victims as well, growing up with abuse of one sort or another. Perhaps feeling insecure or as if no one really takes them seriously. It’s only natural then that when he or she has an opportunity to influence and even control others, they will take it. Does this make their abuses somehow justified? Certainly not however perhaps knowing that one cult leader or another also is a victim just might make the process of forgiveness a little easier.
I have often felt major frustration because of all of that lost time in the cult, due to some missed opportunities for different experiences. I must come to a point though where I can forgive if I am ever to enjoy peace of mind. Otherwise the former cult continues to rule my life even though I left it 14 years ago at the time of writing.
In my case though, forgiveness would have been easier if WCG was ever really serious about coming to terms in full with the harm its teachings inflicted on members and former members. In that event it should have used some of the remaining cash given by us to fund counseling so we could be assisted to move on. This would have shown that the sect was actually willing to reach out to the people it hurt so badly. This should have been a high priority before it tried to attract new recruits. Instead, property owned by the sect and of course paid for by the long-suffering members was sold off and the cash didn’t benefit any of us.
About 9 or 10 years ago, Joan and I wrote a letter to the then head of the cult in Australia describing the harm we endured within the group and we asked for a response from him. To our great surprise, we did actually receive one; he admitted that people may have been hurt within the “Church” as he saw it. He indicated that in his view, the ministers had the best of intentions at the time and that no harm was deliberately caused to anyone.
We were pleased that he replied but his letter was very carefully worded and in our view, it was written to head-off the possibility of litigation. If so, then he obviously felt more strongly about the future of the cult as it was at the time than about trying to help two former members move on from emotional trauma caused by the teachings of the group.
This of course isn’t a surprise at all and although no longer married, Joan and I have maintained a good friendship. We have both reached the point where we can see that no matter what the view of former cult ministers is, we will move on by forgiving. This may not help the leaders of WCG as it was but it releases us and allows new lives to be built. That’s what the forgiveness process is all about.
Recently I noticed an ad from a lawyer on a cult survivor website. I won’t quote from it but the thrust of it was that the firm would litigate against cults and former cults in order to recover lost money duped out of ex-members. Do this if you want but such a case might cost you a fortune and may take years. Even if you win, how much sleep will you loose and is your case based on anger? If so, you may get some money back but what about the gray hair and the upset stomach?
In a similar way, fear is usually a normal part of the life of any current or previous religious cult member. While it has a place in our lives and is designed to help us avoid danger, if it is prolonged then like anger it causes major damage. Fear can be a cause of depression and may also harm one’s physical health.
In the short-term, most cult survivor support groups will be able to help you with the acute part of starting or restarting your life away from the cult. That is when you need to deal with issues such as where you will live or severe emotional trauma. Please take this support as trying to rebuild on your own is much, much harder.
During the long-term as you move away from the urgent part of your rebuilding journey, you are likely to notice that cult survivor support groups tend to look at the issue of rebuilding from two different view-points – neither of which is wrong.
Some support groups will provide you with a religious way of dealing with your cultic past. This is fine if you have preserved a faith in God and these groups will actually be able to counter the teachings of cults from the Bible. If you choose to take this road then such support groups will help you rediscover religion as they see it. That is, without destructive cultic control.
If this path is the one you wish to journey down then you will be able to rebuild your faith in God through main-stream religion hopefully without any fear.
Other support groups which assist cult survivors look at the issue from a secular view-point. Many former members of cults choose not to have anything to do with religion at all. Some people whish to put their lives back together without anything that even looks like religion and totally nonreligious help is provided by the second type of support groups described here.
If you wish to remain a member of a group to gain assistance in the long-term then you will need to decide which direction suits you. Then any cult survivor support group should be willing to describe their way of helping with recovery so you may make your choice.
If you take one path to recovery and other former members of your cult or from other cults take another, then please respect those decisions and avoid judging each other. Harsh judging is cultish and that is what we are moving away from.
As the process of starting or restarting a normal and wonderful life in this great country continues, then spend time making friends who have not had anything to do with cults. This will broaden your outlook and helps you to move away from having too many thoughts about the past and all its horrors.
I am fortunate here in that I have a good number of friends from many walks of life. This has helped me to move away from my cultic experiences and helps me to switch the focus to the present and even the future rather than on what WCG was about.
As you move forward and as part of this wonderful freedom then you may find more spare time than you ever had before. The cult is not around to rule any longer and to monopolize your time. Why not take up a new sport or hobby? This assists with making friends and helps you use your time constructively.
Look at that secondary education you missed-out on or check-out a college or university course – perhaps it is not too late to gain at least some of those lost opportunities after all.
People with a healthy self image are much harder to control therefore cults love to smash the normal feelings of self-worth we all should have. Often they confuse self-esteem with arrogance, and humility with self-hatred. A major part of moving on then is to set about rebuilding a healthy sense of self-worth. When you feel good about yourself then you won’t look so much for acceptance from others and this removes a major vulnerability to cultic recruitment.
Part of my own life rebuilding process was to undertake a self-esteem development course and I also enjoyed learning about computers at TAFE. This helped me see that my life could still have some meaning and could be of use to others as well as to me.