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AFF News

Vol. 1, No. 1

From the Editor

Patrick Ryan

It is with great pleasure that we launch AFF News, a new publication aimed at serving the growing population of former cult members.

In the past AFF's staff and associates wrote or contributed to five books and numerous articles addressing the recovery needs of former members. We have organized two recovery conferences and numerous workshops for former cult members across the United States.

AFF professionals have recently gone to Japan where they have helped educate people there about cults, and several books authored by AFF associates have been translated into Japanese and other languages.

Because of our expanding international work, we now use the name AFF (formerly the American Family Foundation) [2005: ICSA International Cultic Studies Association].

The AFF News advisory board includes Rick Larsen (Australia) and Dieter Rohman (Germany). Rick and Dieter will contribute their insights on and experience with the unique cultural recovery issues of our non-American audience.

In future issues, in addition to articles focusing on recovery, we will profile the members of our advisory board so that you will get to know them.

Our goal is to keep you informed of the special issues that affect former members of cultic groups, as well as tell you about the services AFF provides for ex-members, their families, and concerned professionals.

AFF News will be published six times a year. It will be sent free to current subscribers of the
Cult Observer, as well as to thousands of former cult members.

AFF News will announce upcoming lectures and programs on cult-related topics. Tell us about any events in your area, so that we may keep our readers informed.

If you know former members or others who may interested in AFF News, please let us know so that we may send them a complimentary subscription, or give them our address so they can write us to get on the mailing list. Please note that our mailing list is kept confidential.

As a former ten-year member of a cultic group, I am pleased to serve as the editor of AFF News. I welcome your suggestions.
Patrick Ryan

[ top ]

Individual Differences Affecting Recovery

Each person's experience with a cult is different. Some may dabble with a meditation technique but never get drawn into taking "advanced courses" or moving to the ashram. Others may quickly give up all they have, including college, career, possessions, home, or family, to do missionary work in a foreign country or move into cult lodgings.

After a cult involvement, some people carry on with their lives seemingly untouched; more typically, others may encounter a variety of emotional problems and troubling psychological difficulties ranging from inability to sleep, restlessness, and lack of direction to panic attacks, memory loss, and depression. To varying degrees they may feel guilty, ashamed, enraged, lost, confused, betrayed, paranoid, and in a sort of fog.

Assessing the Damage
Why are some people so damaged by their cult experience while others walk away seemingly unscathed? There are predisposing personality factors and levels of vulnerability that may enhance a person's continued vulnerability and susceptibility while in the group. All these factors govern the impact of the cult experience on the individual and the potential for subsequent damage. In assessing this impact, three different stages of the cult experience—before, during, and after—need to be examined.

Before Involvement
Vulnerability factors before involvement include a person's age, prior history of emotional problems, and certain personality characteristics.

During Involvement
Length of time spent in the group
There is quite a difference in the impact a cult will have on a person if she or he is a member for only a few weeks, as compared to months or years. A related factor is the amount of exposure to the indoctrination process and the various levels of control that exist in the group.

Intensity and severity of the thought-reform program
The intensity and severity of cults' efforts at conversion and control vary in different groups and in the same group at different times. Members who are in a peripheral, "associate" status may have very different experiences from those who are full-time, inner-core members.

Specific methods will also vary in their effect. An intense training workshop over a week or weekend that includes sleep deprivation, hypnosis, and self-exposure coupled with a high degree of supervision and lack of privacy is likely to produce faster changes in a participant than a group process using more subtle and long-term methods of change.

Poor or inadequate medical treatments
A former cult member's physical condition and attitude toward physical health may greatly impact postcult adjustments.

Loss of outside support
The availability of a network of family and friends and the amount of outside support certainly will bear on a person's reintegration after a cult involvement.

Skewed or nonexistent contact with family and former friends tends to increase members' isolation and susceptibility to the cult's worldview. The reestablishment of those contacts is important to help offset the loss and loneliness the person will quite naturally feel.

After involvement
Various factors can hasten healing and lessen post cult difficulties at this stage. Many are related to the psycho-educational process. Former cult members often spend years after leaving a cult in relative isolation, not talking about or dealing with their cult experiences. Shame and silence may increase the harm done by the group and can prevent healing.

Understanding the dynamics of cult conversion is essential to healing and making a solid transition to an integrated post cult life.

Engage in a professionally led exit counseling session.

Educate yourself about cults and thought-reform techniques.

Involve family members and old and new friends in reviewing and evaluating your cult experience.

See a mental health professional or a pastoral counselor, preferably someone who is familiar with or is willing to be educated about cults and common post cult problems.

Attend a support group for former cult members.

The following sets of questions have proven helpful to former cult members trying to make sense of their experience.

Reviewing your recruitment

1. What was going on in your life at the time you joined the group or met the person who became your abusive partner?

2. How and where were you approached?

3. What was your initial reaction to or feeling about the leader or group?

4. What first interested you in the group or leader?

5. How were you misled during recruitment?

6. What did the group or leader promise you? Did you ever get it?

7. What didn't they tell you that might have influenced you not to join had you known?

8. Why did the group or leader want you?

Understanding the psychological manipulation used in your group

1. Which controlling techniques were used by your group or leader: chanting, meditation, sleep deprivation, isolation, drugs, hypnosis, criticism, fear. List each technique and how it served the group's purpose.

2. What was the most effective? the least effective?

3. What technique are you still using that is hard to give up? Are you able to see any effects on you when you practice these?

4. What are the group's beliefs and values? How did they come to be your beliefs and values?

Examining your doubts

1. What are your doubts about the group or leader now?

2. Do you still believe the group or leader has all or some of the answers?

3. Are you still afraid to encounter your leader or group members on the street?

4. Do you ever think of going back? What is going on in your mind when this happens?

5. Do you believe your group or leader has any supernatural or spiritual power to harm you in any way?

6. Do you believe you are cursed by God for having left the group?

Excerpted from Captive Hearts, Captive Minds: Freedom and Recovery from Cults and Abusive Relationships by Madeleine Tobias and Janja Lalich  �1994. Reprinted with permission. Also available from AFF's Electronic Bookstore, or ask for at your local bookstore.




+ AFF News, 01.02: Giambalvo, Carol: "Post-Cult Problems: An Exit Counselor's Perspective"
+ AFF News, 02.01: Martin, Paul, Ph.D.: "Pitfalls To Recovery"
+ AFF News, 02.02: Ford, Wendy: "The Role of the Family"
+ AFF News, 02.05: Lifton, Robert J., M.D.: "Cult Formation"
+ AFF News, 02.06: Rosedale, Herb: "Annual Report From the President"
+ AFF News, 03.01: Lalich, Janja Ph.D.: "Crazy" Therapies: What are They? Do They Work? - The Therapeutic Relationship
+ AFF News, 03.03: Lalich, Janja Ph.D.: "We Own Her Now"
+ AFF News, 03.05: Rosedale, Herb: "Conference Report"
+ AFF News, 03.06: Rosedale, Herb: "Annual Report: Letter From the President"
+ AFF News, 04.02: Stein, Alexandra: "Recovering From a Political Cult"
+ AFF News, 04.03: Henry, Roseanne: "Why We Need To Become Spiritual Consumers"
+! AFF News - College Outreach - Cult Observer 14(3) 97
+! AFF News - Cult Observer 13(1) 1996
+! AFF News - Cult Observer 14(3) 1997
+! AFF News - International Students - Cult Observer 13(1) 1996
+! AFF News - Program In Poland - Cult Observer 14(3) 1997
Lalich, Janja, Ph.D.: "Individual Differences Affecting Recovery"

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