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Home arrow Leaving a Cult? arrow Stages in Recovery from Cult Involvement

Stages in Recovery from Cult Involvement

There are three main stages in the recovery process:
  1. Realisation and Exit
  2. Comprehension and Emotions
  3. Reconstruction and Dreaming

Stage One

This first stage varies in length.  The length is dependent on the method of exiting.  This stage is marked by the time and experience that alerted the cultist to the danger of the group and resulted in the cultist exiting the group permanently.  The key to an effective exit is whatever helps to "jump start" the critical thinking process of the mind.  This process has been on hold for much too long because the cult has told the followers that to question and doubt the group is to betray god (or whatever).  The price for questioning and doubting, they are told, is eternal death.  This is a very powerful fear to overcome.

Awareness of the insidious nature of the cult and the decision to leave comes slowly for some and quickly for others.  For example, someone receiving exit-counselling becomes aware and leaves the cult very quickly as compared to someone who walks out after reflecting over several months or years on "devil-inspired" doubts.

Even after leaving, some ex-cultists are not sure if they made the right decision and "float" between their old cult identity and their new freed identity or pre-cult self.  The more information and support a cultist receives during this stage, the better equipped they are to handle the pain and loss of stage two.

Stage Two

The second phase is full of ups and downs, of feeling like you just returned from Mars, of exciting new freedoms and discoveries, and it is also full of rage and pain.  It involves coming to terms with being raped, emotionally and spiritually.  And for many, it involves coming to terms with being physically raped as well.

I don't know how to convey the extremes of pain possible in this phase.  Perhaps, it is how you would feel standing by helplessly as some crazy person slowly murdered someone you loved.  It seems so incredulousness to many that because they wanted to serve god and their country, wanted to help people, and wanted to make the world a better place - for this extension of their selves they were cruelly used.  This is a very difficult aspect of the experience to reconcile.  "What ever did I do to be treated like this?" is a question that rings deep in the heart of any ex-cultist.  The answer to this question resides in understanding how mind control techniques work.

It is no wonder, then, that the rage and anger the ex-cultist feels is often overwhelming and frightening.  So much so, that many tend to repress or deny the full expression of their emotions.  But, understanding and feeling ones' emotions in a non-destructive way, I believe, is critical to recovery.  This second phase can be extraordinary journey through pain and loss to learning and mastery.  It varies in length and is dependent on how able the ex-cultist is to experience loss and how disciplined the ex-cultist is to study, think, and work toward a thorough understanding of the experience.

A Big Job

One of the truly tough parts about working through the experience is the very fact that it's a very big job.  The ex-cultist must learn how to trust life again and learning to trust requires learning how to reality test.  Because the cult phobias and teachings often touched on many aspects of life, such as family, government, education, religion, relationships, and economics, the ex-cultist often finds it necessary to examine and reality test most, if not all, of the teachings received in the cult for subtle, residual ideas that continue to manipulate the ex-cultist.

In addition, it is in this phase that the individual must learn how to trust themselves again and their ability to make decisions.  Learning to trust after you have been used and hurt can be very scary, but trust in oneself and in others can be rebuilt with disciplined thinking and with courage.  For those who come from dysfunctional backgrounds, recovering from the cult experience often means acknowledging and recovering from the effects of earlier dysfunctional relationships, such as:

  • Abusive parents, relatives, siblings, spouse or abusing others
  • Alcoholism, rape, incest, eating disorders, drug abuse
  • Difficulties with intimacy, careers, law enforcement

Stage Three

To someone in the middle of the pain of stage two, the idea of having a dream again and building toward it is merely a sad, frustrating, and painful laugh.  Having spent many years in stage two I understand that despondent feeling well.  It is possible to rebuild your life.  You will not be able to make up for all the years the cult has stolen from you, but you can make up for some of those lost years.  I've worked very, very hard to recover from a severely dysfunctional family, a life of abuse emotional, physical and sexual, the death of a daughter, many years in a cult, time on drugs and alcohol to 'forget' and so on.

I'm here to share with you that if you are willing to stick with it, to work at it, to work through and let go of myths that look like truths both from the cult's teaching and from within society's teachings, and if you are willing to acquire new skills and improve others, you can and will be able to build a healthy and well-functioning life with a dream you can work toward.

 
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