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Introduction What questions should I ask any group I join?
Exit counselor, author, and former Moonie, Steven Hassan has eight tough questions for any group you encounter:
  1. Who is the leader? What are his/her background and qualifications?
  2. Are there exclusive claims made to wisdom, knowledge, love, and truth?
  3. Is total submission and obedience required?
  4. Does he/ she have a criminal record, a legacy of allegations against him/her or a history of misconduct?
  5. Does the leader demonstrate psychological problems and awareness of their existence?
  6. Are questions and doubts permitted within the organization?
  7. Is the organization open or closed? Are there secrets? Is there real financial accountability? If a group says that you can look at its accounting records, does it actually provide access?
  8. What structural checks and balances exist within the organization to prevent abuse of power? Is there an independent "ethics" committee to challenge and change policies of the group?
    After Steven Hassan, Combatting Cult Mind Control
What if I suspect I was in a cult?
We recommend learning as much as you can about cults and mind control.

For most people there is little doubt in their mind once they become informed.

In particular, we recommend reading firsthand accounts of former members of groups other than your own. If you find yourself becoming unexpectedly angry or depressed, or noting to yourself how similar your experience was, we recommend you reach out for support.

What if I suspect a loved one is in a cult?
The first and most important thing you can offer your loved one: Don't panic.

Very few cults act out violently. It is unlikely that your friend or family member is in immediate danger. And you will need time and patience to give your loved one options in their cult involvement.

Many family members try to avert the very real dangers they see via a "frontal assault." They try to prove that the group or leader that the loved one is following is wrong or evil or whatever. This approach rarely works.

Followers of these groups have been thoroughly indoctrinated to distrust anyone who might help them: doctors, counselors, lawyers, even their own family members. If you attack their belief system headlong, you will just be reinforcing their indoctrination. They will see you as the bad guy.

But there are powerful things you can do:

  1. Make sure -- no matter what she does or says -- that your loved one can count on your love and support. Some people try briefly, yet forcefully, once, telling their family member that they are very concerned about what is happening -- but they will always love and support them no matter what their decision. Then, as hard as it may seem, drop the topic altogether (unless of course they bring it up). This defeats the conditioning they have learned: You are offering unconditional love and support, something that they will never find in their group, but you are not attacking them.
  2. Keep in contact -- even if that means traveling to where the person is. This is what kept some small hope in our hearts. Personal contact too, because letters will not get to the person, nor will phone messages. A "sore point" that we have discovered is pretty common throughout cult involvement.
  3. Read as much as you can on the subject of cults. The more you understand what is going on, the more you will be able to grab any opportunity that presents itself.
  4. Reach out to as many people as you can find who have or are going through what you are. We support a free email list, recover-l, for former members and families. It's based loosely on the AA/12-Step model, and subscribers may choose to maintain anonymity if they desire (Email us for info if you are interested).
  5. No matter what happens do not blame yourself. You won't be any help to your loved one if you feel crippled with guilt about what you should have done or what you should be doing now.
  6. If, you are having guilt feelings or find that you are blaming yourself for what happened to your loved one -- you may want to seek support for your feelings and concerns. Cults do not only harm the member, family and friends are also hurt. Knowledge eases the pain and helps with the recovery process. Most family members will educate themselves about cults, but will ignore their feelings of hurt, anger and confusion. Your feelings are just as important in the healing process.

What warning signs should I look for?
Parents often ask what warning signs will tell them whether their children are at risk for joining a cult.

If you wonder whether this personality type or that is more at risk than another, or this kind of parent is more to blame than another, or maybe you moved your kid too many times during their formative years, our answer would have to be a resounding "No!"

Anecdotal reports and research show the vast majority of people who join cults are 'normal' by any meaningful definition. They are usually above average in intelligence, creativity, altruism.

Cults aren't interested in stupid, untalented, slackers.

How can I protect my children?
There are two proven ways you can protect your loved ones from cult mind control.

The first is easy: Make sure that they never know grief, are never too sad or too happy, never fail or experience too much success, never lack for money or have more than they know what to do with, never hunger or want to share their abundance with those who do, never know a moment's loneliness or fear, never know serious illness, never look for new answers, never want to improve themselves, never fall in love, never divorce, never wish for world peace.

The second is much harder: Educate your children in critical thinking skills, the techniques of undue influence, and the dangers of mind control.

Education may be a lifetime process, requiring effort and even struggle from both you and your children. But it's the only hope you can offer your loved ones -- unless you can promise to be there every minute to protect them.

Where can I learn more?
These six are good places to start and are readily available in paperback at Borders and other well-stocked bookstores.

Captive Hearts, Captive Minds,

by Tobias and Lalich, 1994, Hunter House

Combatting Cult Mind Control, by Steven Hassan, 1988, Park Street Press

Cults in Our Midst,

by Singer and Lalich, 1996, Jossey-Bass

Cults in Our Midst,
by Singer and Lalich, 1996, Jossey-Bass
The paperback edition deletes information about Landmark and Werner Erhard Assoc. due to legal action by the lawsuit Erhard's companies. The hardcover retains the original information.

Cult Proofing Your Kids,
by Dr. Paul R. Martin -- Zordervan Publishing House

Snapping: America's Epidemic of Sudden Personality Change, 2nd Edition,
by Conway and Siegelman, 1995, Stillpoint Press

You may also be interested in a report prepared for the German government, available for free on the Web at http://www.trancenet.net/research.

Self-Help Email Lists
trancenet.net and other fine organizations sponsor free discussion listservs for current members, former members, and their familes. There is introductory information at http://www.trancenet.net/list.shtml.

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