Vol.1, No. 2
From the Editor
From the Editor
From the Editor of AFF News
I have just returned from the
Awareness Network (CAN) national conference in White Plains, NY. I remember
my first CAN National Conference in Kansas City (1986). I was a hurting ten-year ex-member
feeling confused and isolated. The experience, support, and strength I gained at my first
FOCUS group have stayed with me. I finally had
found people who understood what had happened to me, why it happened, how it happened. I
was offered suggestions and support that helped me grow beyond my group experience. That
was nine years ago and much has changed in my life.
I am often asked why do you keep working with
former members. Interacting with the ex-members at this year's conference reminds my why.
The support and experience that ex-members share is invaluable.
Over the years the resources available and the tools for
recovery have developed, expanded, and evolved.
In this issue of
AFF News we
begin exploring some of the issues that ex-members face in leaving a cult and suggest some
resources for recovery.
many resources to assist the ex-member:
Post-Cult Recovery Workshops,
books, videotapes, and referrals to
I also want to warmly welcome a new member to our AFF
Pascal Zivi, who lives and works in Japan.
|Post-Cult Problems: An Exit Counselor's Perspective
Classification of Ex-Members
There are several classifications of ex-members, based on how they left the cult. Former
members usually fit into one of the following:
1. Those who had interventions.
2. Those who left on their own, or walkaways
3. Those who were expelled, or castaways
Walkaways and castaways need the most help in understanding
their recovery process. Former members who were cast out of a cult are especially
vulnerable; often they feel inadequate, guilty, and angry. Most cults respond to any
criticism of the cult itself by turning the criticism around on the individual member.
Whenever something is wrong, it's not the leadership or the organization, it's the
individual. Thus, when someone is told to leave a cult, that person carries a double load
of guilt and shame. Sometimes walkaways also carry a sense of inadequacy. Often they can
think through these feelings intellectually, but emotionally they are very difficult to
Tools for Recovery
In my experience, the most helpful tool for recovering ex-cult members is learning what
mind control is and how it was used by their specific cult. Understanding that there are
residual effects from a mind control environment and that these effects are often
transitory in nature helps diffuse the anxiety. Clients, especially walkaways and
castaways, feel relieved when they learn that, given the situation, what they are
experiencing is normal and that the effects will not last forever.
Also integral to the
recovery process is
developing an attitude that there are some positives to be gained from the cultic
experience. When former members learn about mind control, they can use that understanding
to sort through their cultic experience, to see how they came to change their behavior and
beliefs as a result of mind control. They can then assess what out of that experience is
good and valid for them to hold onto.
When former members live in an area where there is an
active support group meeting, it is often helpful for them to participate.
Support group meetings provide
a safe place for ex-members to discuss concerns with others who are dealing with similar
issues. In this environment, no one will look at them like they have two heads.
Common Issues in Post-Cult Recovery
Some of the recovery issues that keep recurring in my work with ex-cult members are:
1. Sense of purposelessness, of being
disconnected. They left a group that had a powerful purpose and intense drive; they miss
the peak experiences produced from the intensity and the group dynamics.
3. Grieving for other group members, for a
sense of loss in their life.
4. Guilt. Former members will feel guilt
for having gotten involved in the first place, for the people they recruited into the
group, and for the things they did while in the group.
5. Anger. This will be felt toward the
group and/or the leaders. At times this anger is misdirected toward themselves.
6. Alienation. They will feel alienation
from the group, often from old friends (that is, those who were friends prior to their
cult involvement), and sometimes from family.
7. Isolation. To ex-cult members, no one
"out there" seems to understand what they're going through, especially their
8. Distrust. This extends to group
situations, and often to organized religion (if they were in a religious cult) or
organizations in general (depending on the type of cult they were in). There is also a
general distrust of their own ability to discern when or if they are being manipulated
again. This dissipates after they learn more about mind control and begin to listen to
their own inner voice again.
9. Fear of going crazy. This is especially
common after "floating" experiences (see point 18 below for explanation of
10. Fear that what the cult said would
happen to them if they left actually might happen.
11. Tendency to think in terms of black
and white, as conditioned by the cult. They need to practice looking for the gray areas.
12. Spiritualizing everything. This
residual sometimes lasts for quite a while. Former members need to be encouraged to look
for logical reasons why things happen and to deal with reality, to let go of their magical
13. Inability to make decisions. This
characteristic reflects the dependency that was fostered by the cult.
14. Low self-esteem. This generally comes
from those experiences common to most cults, where time and again members are told that
they are worthless.
15. Embarrassment. This is an expression
of the inability to talk about their experience, to explain how or why they got involved
or what they had done during that time. It is often manifested by an intense feeling of
being ill-at-ease in both social and work situations. Also, often there is a feeling of
being out of synch with everyone else, of going through culture shock, from having lived
in a closed environment and having been deprived of participating in everyday culture.
16. Employment and/or career problems.
Former members face the dilemma of what to put on a resume to cover the blank years of
17. Dissociation. This also has been
fostered by the cult. Either active or passive, it is a period of not being in touch with
reality or those around them, an inability to communicate.
18. Floating. These are flashbacks into
the cult mind-set. It can also take on the effect of an intense emotional reaction that is
inappropriate to the particular stimuli.
19. Nightmares. Some people also
experience hallucinations or hearing voices. A small percentage of former members need
hospitalization due to this type of residual.
20. Family issues.
21. Dependency issues.
22. Sexuality issues.
23. Spiritual (or philosophical) issues.
Former members often face difficult questions: Where can I go to have my spiritual (or
belief) needs met? What do I believe in now? What is there to believe in, trust in?
24. Inability to concentrate, short-term
25. Re-emergence of pre-cult emotional or
26. Impatience with the recovery process.
In my experience, there is no difference in the
aftereffects experienced by those people who had family interventions or those who walked
away or were expelled from a cult. Most ex-cult members no matter the method of
leaving the cult had some or all of these residuals. The difference is that the
individuals who had interventions are more prepared to deal with them, and especially
those who went to a rehab facility.
It is important to note and to bring to the attention of
the ex-cult member that each individual's recovery process is different and there is no
"How To Recover from a Cultic Experience." In fact, the desire for a quick and
easy recovery may be in itself a residual effect of the cult.
Excerpted from "Post-cult Problems: An Exit
Counselor's Perspective" by Carol Giambalvo, in Recovery from Cults: Help
for Victims of Psychological and Spiritual Abuse, edited by Michael D.
Langone (1993. W.W. Norton & Company.) Reprinted with permission. Also available from AFF Electronic Bookstore, or ask for it
at your local bookstore.
AFF's research indicates that
- at least two million Americans are members of cultic or
other psychologically abusive groups;
- tens of thousands of people leave such groups every year;
- a majority of these persons experience some level of
psychological distress after leaving their groups;
- the distress is often directly related to their abusive
experiences in the group; and
- only a tiny percentage of former group members seek help
from experts knowledgeable about cults and psychological abuse, primarily because they
don't know these resources exist.
Recovery, AFF staff and associates put out five books, dozens of articles,
videotapes. AFF also
conducted two recovery conferences and five recovery workshops, and continues to develop a
variety of resources.
Project Outreach seeks to make former
members aware of current and future resources that might help or interest them, their
friends, and their families.
Help AFF assist
these former members by increasing awareness of AFF's resources. We offer
former cult members a complimentary, one-year subscription to
AFF News Briefs,
while funds are available. Please
send us the names of any
former members that may be interested in receiving AFF News Briefs, or tell
them to write us for a
reFOCUS is a network of referral and support for former
members of closed, high-demand groups, relationships, or cults. We offer referrals to
other former members of similar or the same groups, to other former members in your local
area, to support groups, to appropriate professionals, to resources for recovery, to
recovery workshops, and to support organizations. We also offer support over the Internet
through our World Wide Web site:
Our newsletter, the reFOCUS Forum, is
published quarterly (yearly subscriptions are $10). In order to set up a base of
information and referral, we ask subscribers to fill out a questionnaire. We welcome
personal accounts and articles submitted for our newsletter. You can obtain a
questionnaire and reach reFOCUS at P.O. Box 2180, Flagler Beach, FL 32136; Tel: (904)
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from Cults: Help for Victims of Psychological and Spiritual Abuse Edited by
Michael D. Langone, Ph.D., this book includes a diverse group of contributors from the
fields of psychotherapy, nursing, exit counseling, pastoral counseling, and the law, as
well as personal accounts by former cult members.
Recovery from Cults examines the
history of the cult phenomenon, the nature of thought reform and psychological influence,
the psychological literature on post-cult distress, why people leave cults, exit
counseling and deprogramming, and how to facilitate recovery.
Recovery from Cults provides necessary
background information and practical guidelines that can help former cult members
effectively manage the problems they encounter when leaving cults.
Published by W.W. Norton & Company
This 432-page landmark book is a must-read for ex-members,
their families, and helping professionals.
Studies Journal A semiannual, multidisciplinary journal that seeks to
advance the understanding of cultic processes.
Observer Reviews media investigations and reports on cultic groups and
the Cult: Recovering Together A 25-minute videotape developed by
AFF's Project Recovery. Ten ex-cult
members share their moving and dramatic personal stories, tell how they have moved on with
their lives, and suggest strategies for facing the future realistically.
AFF also has
Information Packets on more than 30
groups. Request AFF's complete catalog of books, periodicals, and videos.