Study: Recovery, " Repairing The Soul After A Cult" 2/2 AFF resources about psychological manipulation, cult groups, sects, and "new religious movements."
Study Resources Repairing the Soul
Psychological Manipulation, cult groups, sects, and new
Cultic Studies Study Resources
Repairing the Soul After a Cult Experience
Janja Lalich, M.A.
2/2 When a person finally breaks from a cultic relationship, it is the soul, then, that is most in need of repair. When you discover one day that your guru is a fraud, that the "miracles"
are no more than magic tricks, that the group's victories and accomplishments are fabrications of an internal public-relations system, that your holy teacher is breaking his avowed celibacy with every young disciple, that the group's connections to people of import are nonexistent - when awarenesses such as these come upon you, you are faced with what many have called a "spiritual rape." Whether your cultic experience was religious or secular, the realization of such enormous loss and betrayal tends to cause considerable pain. As a result, afterwards, many people are prone to reject all forms of belief. In some cases, it may take years to overcome the disillusionment, and learn not only to have trust in your inner self but also to believe in something again.
There is also a related difficulty: that persistent nagging feeling that you have made a mistake in leaving the group - perhaps the teachings are true and the leader is right; perhaps it is you who failed. Because cults are so clever at manipulating certain emotions and events - in particular, wonder, awe, transcendence, and mystery (this is sometimes called "mystical manipulation") - and because of the human desire to believe, a former cult member may grasp at some way to go on believing even after leaving the group. For this reason, many people today go from one cult to another, or go in and out of the same cultic group or relationship (known as "cult hopping"). Since every person needs something to believe in - a philosophy of life, a way of being, an organized religion, a political commitment, or a combination thereof - sorting out these matters of belief tends to be a major area of adjustment after a cultic experience.
Since a cult involvement is often an ill-fated attempt to live out some form of personal belief, the process of figuring out what to believe in once you've left the cult may be facilitated by dissecting the cult's ideological system. Do an evaluation of the groupÕs philosophy, attitudes, and worldview; define it for yourself in your own language, not the language of the cult. Then see how this holds up against the cult's actual daily practice or what you now know about the group. For some, it might be useful to go back and research the spiritual or philosophical system that you were raised in or believed in prior to the cult involvement. Through this process you will be better able to assess what is real and what is not, what is useful and what is not, what is distortion and what is not. By having a basis for comparison, you will be able to question and explore areas of knowledge or belief that were no doubt systematically closed to you while in the cult.
Most people who come out of a cultic experience shy away from organized religion or any kind of organized group for some time.
I generally encourage people to take their time before choosing another religious affiliation or group involvement. As with any intimate relationship, trust is reciprocal and must be earned.
After a cult experience, when you wake up to face the deepest emptiness, the darkest hole, the sharpest scream of inner terror at the deception and betrayal you feel, I can only offer hope by saying that in confronting the loss, you will find the real you. And when your soul is healed, refreshed, and free of the nightmare bondage of cult lies and manipulations, the real you will find a new path, a valid path-a path to freedom and wholeness.
Checklist of Cult Characteristics The group is focused on a living leader to whom members seem to display excessively zealous, unquestioning commitment.
The group is preoccupied with bringing in new members.
The group is preoccupied with making money.
Mind-numbing techniques (such as meditation, chanting, speaking in tongues, denunciation sessions, debilitating work routines) The leadership dictates -- sometimes in great detail -- how members should think, act, and feel (for example: members must get permission from leaders to date, change jobs, get married;
leaders may prescribe what types of clothes to wear, where to live, how to discipline children, and so forth).
The group is elitist, claiming a special, exalted status for itself, its leader(s) and members (for example: the leader is considered the Messiah or an avatar; the group and/or the leader has a special mission to save humanity).
The group has a polarized us-versus-them mentality, which causes conflict with the wider society. The group's leader is not accountable to any authorities (as are, for example, military commanders The group teaches or implies that its supposedly exalted ends justify means that members would have considered unethical before The leadership induces guilt feelings in members in order to control them.
Members' subservience to the group causes them to cut ties with family, friends, and personal group goals and activities that were of interest before joining the group.
Members are expected to devote inordinate amounts of time to the group.
Members are encouraged or required to live and/or socialize only with other group members.
Originally published in Creation Spirituality Network Magazine, Vol. 12, No. 2, Spring 1996 Janja Lalich, Education Director, Community Resources on Influence & Control -- P.O. Box 1199, Alameda, CA 94501 -- Tel: 510-522-1556.
She is co-author with Margaret Singer of Cults in Our Midst:
The Hidden Menace in Our Everyday Lives (Jossey-Bass, 1995), and "Crazy" Therapies, (Jossey-Bass,1997).
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