How to Leave and Recover From A Cult
Nobody ever wakes up one morning and says to themselves “Today I want to join a cult”.
Very few people have been lured into a cult with the immediate understanding that the religious group that they have joined was in fact a cult.
Examples of some well-known cults that claim to be Christian include the Jehovah’s Witnesses’, the Mormons, the Moonies, Christian Science, Scientologists and many other groups that teach shepherding or spiritual covering doctrines, antinomianism, legalism, prosperity gospel and word of faith theology.
It’s important to understand that many cults can become spiritually abusive and mentally destructive because they rewire the brains of their members through using mind control or brainwashing techniques.
Therefore deception and manipulation techniques are essential tactics that are used by most cults in order to both control their members and to achieve their overall objective.
For more information and perspective regarding the definition of a cult and how the majority of them operate please (read: What is a Cult? The Characteristics of a Cult) and also (read: 12 Characteristics of a Cult Leader)
However, what does a person do when he has discovered that he has joined a cult and has been in such a group for several years?
For many cult members, leaving a cult can be one of the most difficult things to do. Most religious cults have a tendency to put their members into spiritual, emotional, physical and mental bondage. This bondage can make it very difficult for a member to leave the group even if the member is aware that the group is controlling or abusive.
The more that a member has invested his time into the group, the more difficult it might become for that particular member to leave.
I’ve often spoken to cult members who would be aware of the unethical, abusive and extremely controlling nature of their group but yet the members would remain loyal to the group for various irrational or insensible reasons.
The control and bondage in a cultic system can be so strong that the thought of leaving a cult may inject fear and guilt in many members even if they are aware that the group is abusive and Biblically unorthodox.
The cultic system is also designed to create physical, mental, financial and spiritual dependency. Therefore such dependencies create the perception in the mind of the members whereby they incorrectly believe that they cannot “survive” or become “whole” if they were to leave the group.
The various cultic mind control techniques such as the Us vs Them mentality, the love bombing, the overwhelming service, the isolation of members and the authoritarian leadership all work together as a system in order to control the mind & life of the member so that the member remains in bondage to the group even if the member understands the abusive nature of the group
The factors that may prevent a member from leaving an abusive cult may be the following:
1. The member is fearful of the abusive repercussions or harassment from the group or its leadership if the member leaves
2. The member is so indoctrinated by the group’s false teachings that he is afraid of integrating or assimilating back into society or into a new religious group which may have differing doctrines
3. Even though the member may know about the abusive aspects of the cult, the member might be enjoying various benefits of being part of the group, such as a title or position of power, money, or recognition within the group
4. The member may lack an outside support system to help him to leave the cult due to being isolated from friends and family who are non-members.
HOW DO PEOPLE GET OUT OF RELIGIOUS CULTS?
Different members will leave a cult in different ways and for different reasons. There are 5 different ways that a member usually leaves a cult. I call them “The 5 Rs”
1. The Researcher
This is a person who joins a cult but has no idea that he has joined a deceptive or a high control group. Over a period of time, he observes some red flags eg. false teachings; a culture of sexual immorality within the group or from the cult leader; hypocrisy, mind control and brainwashing techniques. Perhaps he notices that within the group there are also abnormal expectations, standards and behavoiurs that are not in sync with normal society or even Scripture itself.
This person then decides to research about the group or he stumbles upon information which basically explains the red flags that he has been observing within the group. The information might be specific to the history of the group and its cultic behavior or the information may generally explain, verify or confirm the false doctrines and cultic system happening within the group. Based on the confirming information, the Researcher eventually leaves the group.
2. The Rebel
This is the person with an independent mind and exercises critical thinking. However within the group he is viewed as a rebel for having an independent mind even though his critical thinking is normal and legitimate.
This person might not be initially aware that he has joined a cult but will have this gut feeling and inner sense that there is something wrong with the group’s methods, the group dynamics and even the teachings.
This person simply does not agree with the cultic system or specific controlling and manipulative techniques of the system and is not afraid to express his thoughts and criticisms. He sees hypocrisy and repression and he is not afraid to point it out. He also questions the doctrines and methods of the group.
He may also become apathetic. Eventually the Rebel leaves because he would rather exit the group than conform to the controlling and manipulative system of the group.
3. The Rescued
This is the person who exits the group after receiving counselling and information about the true nature and hidden beliefs of the group. Perhaps an ex-member, a friend, a counsellor or a genuine Christian who is not part of the group informs and educates the member about the cult and its deceptive behavior and methods. The veil of deception is removed and the person accepts the information and through the support and encouragement of non-members is eventually able to leave the group.
The Rescued is also someone who may have had a desire to leave the cult but however was too fearful or afraid of leaving the group because of bondage or the backlash of being harassed for leaving. The Rescued then seeks outside assistance and support in order to exit the group.
The Rescued is somebody who is usually open-minded and is sincerely searching for spiritual truth even though he may be currently under the spell or deception of the cult. Therefore the Rescued’s open-mindedness and his sincere search for spiritual or Biblical truth enables him to objectively accept truthful information that exposes the cult he has joined.
4. The Ravaged
This is the person who has been burnt out, abused, or victimized either by the leadership or by the cultic system itself. The person becomes traumatized by the system and exploited to the extent that he is unable to function within the group. The person is abused spiritually, mentally, physically, emotionally or financially to the point that one day he wakes up and decides that he no longer wants to be part of the group. Perhaps this person has been cheated of his hard earned money by the cult. Perhaps the person was sexually exploited by the cult leader whilst in the group. Perhaps he has lost his job or loved ones because of the group. He may realize that the group has been placing him in bondage and deceiving him all along, and this then motivates him to leave.
5. The Rejected
This is the person who has been marked, shunned and ex-communicated for various reasons. He has been removed from the group and is no longer wanted as a member. The Rejected is either perceived as:
• too rebellious to control or manipulate within the cult;
• corruptive / toxic to other indoctrinated members,
• a threat to leadership or to the cultic system;
• utterly useless to the agenda or the group.
Cult members may also be told to avoid communicating or fellowshipping in any form with a marked person.
HOW TO LEAVE A RELIGIOUS CULT
It is very important to realize the following when leaving a cult: You do not need permission from the group to leave. Do not be afraid to leave. If you have decided to leave the group – then simply leave and don’t look back. Exercise your God given freewill and LEAVE and NEVER LOOK BACK.
Generally cults do not let people go very easily. With a cult, there is no legitimate reason to leave and former followers are always considered wrong in leaving.
The cultic system is designed to put its members in mental bondage and to create an atmosphere of fear and intimidation should any member decide to oppose the culture or beliefs of the group.
If as a member you decide that you want to leave a cult, here are several practical ways that you can leave:
1. Find Outside Assistance or Support
Most cults tend to isolate their members from friends or family members who are not part of the group. Isolation of members makes it easier for the cult leaders to control their members’ lives.
It’s therefore important to seek the help, support and encouragement of people who are not part of the cult in order to help you with your transition and departure out of the group.
Non-members are able to provide a sense of confidence and clarity and also emotional, spiritual and psychological support. They will also help remove the dependency syndrome on the group that was created in you during your time with them.
Depending on the destructive nature of the cult, outside assistance and support can include family, friends, counselors, doctors, lawyers, police or a genuine Christian church or whoever is appropriate to help you exit and recover from the deception, trauma, abuse or confusion caused by group.
2. Receive Counselling
At times it may be necessary to receive counselling in order to help you deal with any trauma or abuse you may have experienced in the group. It is always important to receive counselling from anyone who has no direct association with the group in order to get a clear and objective understanding of your experience and circumstance. Therefore find someone to talk to who is objective and is not part of the group.
It is therefore necessary to gradually deal with the wrong belief systems and abusive encounters during your time in the group. Counselling or talking to someone outside the group gives you a better perspective.
3. Avoid or Minimize Contact With The Group
When you have left the group, you are likely to be contacted by the members in an effort to charm you or sweet-talk you into returning back to the group. Remember that cults always have a problem with letting go because of their culture of placing their members under bondage. Therefore they will use love-bombing and charm offensive techniques to draw you back into bondage. Some cults may even harass you vindictively for leaving them.
Therefore when you have left the group, you have no obligation to take their phone calls or to invite them into your home especially if they have been deceptive and destructive. Remember to leave and don’t look back.
WHAT CAN WE LEARN FROM THE BIBLE?
Cults are a counterfeit of the true Christian church. Whilst the true church of God provides freedom in Christ, a cult will produce legalism and spiritual bondage.
All cults that claim to be Christian will proclaim a false gospel and a different Jesus (or a false concept of Christ). However the true church of God proclaims the true gospel and glorifies the Biblical Christ.
Cults mostly have authoritarian and abusive leaders and false teachers, whilst the church of God encourages leaders who are servants and do not lord over others (Matthew 20:25-26).
Cults teach doctrines of demons because they are ultimately inspired by demonic spirits, whilst the church of God is directed by the Holy Spirit through whom all Scripture is inspired.
It is important to realize that every day there is a spiritual battle between good and evil. According to the Bible, we do not fight against flesh and blood but against spiritual forces of darkness (Ephesians 6:12).
Satan himself has people who “disguise themselves as servants of righteousness” but yet they are wolves in sheep’s clothing.
Acts 20:28-31 – Therefore take heed to yourselves and to all the flock, among which the Holy Spirit has made you overseers, to shepherd the church of God which He purchased with His own blood. For I know this, that after my departure savage wolves will come in among you, not sparing the flock. Also from among yourselves men will rise up, speaking perverse things, to draw away the disciples after themselves. Therefore watch, and remember that for three years I did not cease to warn everyone night and day with tears.
2 Corinthians 11:13-15 says the following about false teachers “For such men are false apostles, deceitful workmen, disguising themselves as apostles of Christ. 14 And no wonder, for even Satan disguises himself as an angel of light. 15 So it is no surprise if his servants, also, disguise themselves as servants of righteousness. Their end will correspond to their deeds.”
In Galatians 1:6-10, Paul says the following: “I am astonished that you are so quickly deserting him who called you in the grace of Christ and are turning to a different gospel— 7 not that there is another one, but there are some who trouble you and want to distort the gospel of Christ. 8 But even if we or an angel from heaven should preach to you a gospel contrary to the one we preached to you, let him be accursed. 9 As we have said before, so now I say again: If anyone is preaching to you a gospel contrary to the one you received, let him be accursed. 10 For am I now seeking the approval of man, or of God? Or am I trying to please man? If I were still trying to please man, I would not be a servant of Christ.”
2 Corinthians 11:4 says: For if someone comes and proclaims another Jesus than the one we proclaimed, or if you receive a different spirit from the one you received, or if you accept a different gospel from the one you accepted, you put up with it readily enough.
Jude 4 says: For certain people have crept in unnoticed who long ago were designated for this condemnation, ungodly people, who pervert the grace of our God into sensuality and deny our only Master and Lord, Jesus Christ.
2 John 1:10 – If anyone comes to you and does not bring this teaching, do not take them into your house or welcome them.
2 Peter 2:1-3 – But there were also false prophets among the people, even as there will be false teachers among you, who will secretly bring in destructive heresies, even denying the Lord who bought them, and bring on themselves swift destruction. And many will follow their destructive ways, because of whom the way of truth will be blasphemed. By covetousness they will exploit you with deceptive words; for a long time their judgment has not been idle, and their destruction does not slumber.
Matthew 7:15-16 – Beware of false prophets, who come to you in sheep’s clothing, but inwardly they are ravenous wolves. You will know them by their fruits. Do men gather grapes from thornbushes or figs from thistles?
Matthew 24:23-25 – “Then if anyone says to you, ‘Look, here is the Christ!’ or ‘There!’ do not believe it. For false christs and false prophets will rise and show great signs & wonders to deceive, if possible, even the elect. See, I have told you beforehand”
1 John 4:1 – Beloved, believe not every spirit, but try the spirits whether they are of God: because many false prophets are gone out into the world.
Philippians 3:18-19 – For many walk, of whom I have told you often, and now tell you even weeping, that they are the enemies of the cross of Christ: whose end is destruction, whose god is their belly, and whose glory is in their shame — who set their mind on earthly things.
RECOMMENDED RESOURCE: Index of Cults and Religions | Watchman Fellowship, Inc