lose their leader to death or their group to dissolution,
or are counseled out --
in roughly that numerical order.
Walkaways may leave gradually because of love for family or friends or what is called "cognitive dissonance" -- a growing realization that the ideals of the group are at odds with their actions. They may float into new groups or eventually return to their original group. Frequently they do not face the damage that they have endured, and they experience reduced functionality for many, many years.
Castaways are tossed out by their leaders or groups for real or imagined offenses -- or to keep other members in line. This group may experience the most traumatic reentrance into mainstream society. They usually have not rejected the beliefs or leader of their group and have the added guilt and shame of having been rejected.
Someone involved in the disbandment of their group may experience an ego-strengthening sense of power and control. If the group disbanded against their wishes or their leader died, they may experience a depth of despair similar to a castaway.
Those who are counseled out, through therapy, exit counseling, in-residence programs, or the like, usually experience the smoothest and quickest recovery.
What should a recovering cult member expect?
I'm not usually like this. I pride myself on being organized, and punctual, getting done what I say I will get done. Before "therapy" I set up a business of my own.... After the "therapy" I was just barely was able to stay out of bed more then three days a week. That has gotten better and I rarely stay in bed and may nap once in a great while, as I am extremely tired all the time. I wonder if that is ever going to go away.
Don't make any commitments for awhile. Take it easy. Thank of yourself as recovering from a heart attack or a stroke. Set some time aside in your mind for recovery -- at least a few months.
Many people experiencing "triggering." You may find that anything associated with your group or any of its practices will cause sudden, unexpected discomfort -- even panic. Honor it! It's like the Vietnam vet being triggered by backfiring cars or other load noises. It's a symptom of post-traumatic stress disorder. It's real. Others have gone through it. And recovered.
Sometimes you may be triggered for no discernible reason what so ever. After time educating yourself about your group, you may find those triggers and how these
suggestions work to keep you from thinking and growing emotionally.
The trick is to keep in mind that you can and will recover. Don't allow yourself to identify with being a victim or abused. You have survived some of the worst life will ever dish out to you. Like a hero returning from a concentration camp during war, you are one tough SOB.
Another analogy: Some people after a heart attack go back to work too soon. They never really recover. Some people slide into depression or don't work toward recovery. They never really recover. Some people acknowledge that they've taken a serious blow and work toward recovery -- setting aside a reasonable amount of time to recover their faculties. These people do more than survive -- they can be stronger after the heart attack than before.
It seems to us that recovery from high-control and trance abuse are very similar.
We are not psychiatrists or counselors. Simply lay people who have survived what you are going through -- and talked with thousands of other people in the same spot.
As hard as it may be for you to trust a therapist or doctor, it would be very wise to work with a "dispensing psychiatrist" and therapist familiar with cult survivors, battered spouses, or post-traumatic stress disorder. Tobias and Lalich's Captive Hearts, Captive Minds has a thorough list of questions you should ask your potential therapist before deciding to work with him or her.
The pain of recovery comes and goes. It gets better over time. You must have heard about Kubler-Ross's steps of grief recovery? Shock, denial, bargaining, anger, acceptance?
As a cult veteran, you are in a grief process for the time, money, love, and life that was stolen from you. You can't skip any of the steps of the grieving process. If a parent or loved one died, you'd give yourself a year to recover wouldn't you?
Part of you has died. Give yourself the same respect you would if you had lost your most intimate loved one.
Many therapists insist that you can have a full recovery from cult trauma. We are not therapists. But we suspect this isn't exactly true.
We have had an enormous life-changing experience. One that is shared by relatively few people in the world. Many of us feel that we have been changed forever by time in the cults.
Like all things in life, there is good and bad about this. Our lives may never be the same, nor even similar to what we once envisioned, but we can experience joy, fulfilling work, and deep, satisfying relationships again. We can have great lives.
We are stronger emotionally for what happened. Only a strong person survives a cult. We've been to Hell and back. We lived and our lives are fuller and richer for it. We may still have much healing to do. But we're on our way up and getting on with our lives.
I have a lot of problems sleeping.
Yes, it gets better. It may last a few months.
Many cult veterans continue to tire easily -- some for a few years -- sometimes because of dissociation, sometimes depression. But we've found many ways to deal with it.
At the first sign of trouble focusing, try taking a short nap or walk. Aversion therapy, snapping a rubber band on your wrist when you notice you're fading, works for some people.
Sleeping too much may induce, prolong, or intensify depression. Some psychiatric research indicates that people prone to depression should sleep no more than 7 hours a day. The trick is to relearn allowing your mind/body to tell you when it is really tired without sliding into depression. Try setting your alarm for 20 or 30 minutes and taking a nap every time you start fogging over.
Some people find some medications or a sleep clinic are helpful, too, under a doctor's direction.
Many of us who went through high-control situations react with extreme aversion against order, scheduling, working, and so forth. It's quite natural. You've been "brainwashed." Allow yourself to be pissed off! And know that you may not feel like dancing to anyone else's tune for awhile.
But if at all possible, try to maintain regular sleep times: when you go to bed, when you get up, and a set number of hours a day. Cult veterans appear to be at great risk for depression and other mood disturbances.
If you have trouble getting to bed at a fixed time, try setting an alarm clock to wake you at the same time every morning. You'll naturally tend to get drowsy at the same time every night.
Dr. Margaret Thaler Singer suspects that many, many former cult members suffer from sleep disturbances and sleep deprivation. One common-sense way to test for these conditions is to take an over-the-counter sleep aid, such as Sominex or Excedrin PM. If after 3 days you have begun to wake up bright-eyed and bushy-tailed, in all likelihood you do not have a serious sleep disturbance and can cease taking the sleep aid.
If, however, you notice a surprising new depth to the quality of your sleep, continue needing naps during the day, and begin to have trouble falling asleep without sleeping aids, you may be well advised to explore this situation with your doctor.
Is every cult member severely damaged for life?
Many things can affect the after effects you experience: your physical and psychological constitution before entering, the severity of your group's practices, and most importantly the length of time you were involved.
Conway and Siegelman's research indicates that the number of months meditating, for instance, correspond directly to the number and severity of the side effects cult veterans experience.
Must a recovering cult member seek professional help?
Naturally this is a very personal decision.
But it's our experience that many cult veterans may not have a realistic idea of how much pain they are experiencing and a professional evaluation is very useful as a starting point. And those that do seek out knowledgeable experts in this area recover more quickly, more thoroughly, and with the least pain.
Are there any online resources for cult veterans?
Aside from trancenet.net, there are dozens of informational, professional, research, and self-help resources on the Web.
trancenet.net, its board, its staff, nor its volunteers never offer referrals to other organizations or professionals, however. Our focus is on disseminating information. We do not have the resources to verify credentials or gather reviews of other organizations.