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WHY WE USE SYMBOLS/ICONS IN OUR LISTS.

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Groups listed, described, or referred to on ICSA's Web sites may be mainstream or nonmainstream, controversial or noncontroversial, religious or nonreligious, cult or not cult, harmful or benign.

We encourage inquirers to consider a variety of opinions, negative and positive, so that inquirers can make independent and informed judgments pertinent to their particular concerns.

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See:  Definitional Issues Collection; Understanding Groups Collection

Views expressed on our Web sites are those of the document's author(s) and are not necessarily shared, endorsed, or recommended by ICSA or any of its directors, staff, or advisors

Grief, Loss, and the Former Cult Member
Patricia Goski, R.N.
Cult Observer, 1994, Volume 11 , No.  7 

In 1990, I exited a religious cult in which I had spent the previous 18 years of my life.  During the course of my adjustment to life outside of the group, and as a result of working through myriad recovery issues common to former cultists, I recognized, both in myself and in other former members, a profound sense of loss accompanied at times by a tremendous grief and anguish.  Consequently, I decided to research the issue of grief and loss as it relates to the former cult member in order to learn just how prevalent and how anguish‑producing it is.  Even though the research completed at this time represents a biased sampling of the entire former cultist population, the findings are consistent with my initial impression that former cultists come face-to-face with a multiplicity of losses, accompanied by a deep, and sometimes debilitating, sense of anguish. 

The study consisted of a three-page survey mailed to 150 former cultists. Eighty surveys were returned (53%). Of the 80 respondents:

  • 74% exited �religious� cults

  • 16 % had been with groups having a �new age� focus

  • The average length of stay in the group was 9 years

  • The average length of time since exiting was 7.7 years

  • �Walkaways� numbered 66, or 85% of all respondents

  •  9% of all respondents had been exit counseled

  • The former cultists rated three factors as having been most helpful to them in their recoveries:

  • Learning about mind control (49%)

  • Having other former members to talk to (47%)

  • Reading books on the subject (40%)

  • With respect to the experience of the former cult members with mental health professionals:

  • 52 acknowledged having received professional help

  • 26 stated that their particular mental health professional was very well informed; many former members had received referrals from people involved with AFF or the Cult Awareness Network

  • 21 stated that their mental health professional knew little or nothing about cults, mind control, and recovery issues related to former cultists, but that these professionals were willing to be educated about such matters

  • Of the 52 who acknowledged having received professional help, 5 claim to have been misdiagnosed and/or mistreated

The last two pages of the survey focused on 31 specific areas of loss. Sadly, many of the surveys were returned with nearly all 3l checked as applying to the respondent, and as having caused tremendous distress during the first two years out of the group.  Of the 31 issues addressed, l will mention the five that were identified as having caused the most distress not only during the two immediate post-cult years, but since departure, however long ago that may have been.  All of these issues were rated as having caused �extreme� distress in the lives of the former cultists involved. 

  • The loss of innocence (the result of feeling that one had been spiritually �raped, used, betrayed) (84%)

  • Grief over the years �lost� in the group (71%)

  • Grief regarding �what could have been . . .� (71%)

  • Loss of meaning/purpose in life (69%)

  • Loss of trust in religion (68%)

Although exiting a high-demand group signifies, and carries with it, hope of a new life filled with individual freedom, especially the freedom to make one�s own decisions and choices, departure also means coming face-to-face with a multiplicity of losses.         

  • Let us consider, for a moment, a few examples of these losses, and empathize with the inner struggle and grief that challenge many a former cult member.  Consider, for example, the former cult member who leaves spouse, and/or family, behind in the group, and the long-term friendships one forsakes upon leaving the group.  What grief must accompany the loss of such precious relationships?  What of the individual�s personal and social sense of identity, which identity, for so long, was �defined� by the cult leader or leadership?  The recovering former cult member struggles with the loss of his �cult� identity, and must find, for himself, the answer to the age-old question, �Who am 1?�  In addition, the former cult member�now no longer part of a group where lofty, unattainable ideals of perfection and responsibility reign�may grope in an emotional �limbo� of sorts, feeling that his life has lost significance, meaning, purpose.  He no longer has the �personal responsibility� of saving the world, or of being �perfect,� weighing upon his shoulders, and struggles to define what his role is, and will be, in life.  Needless to say, in these instances, the potential for feelings of worthlessness, hopelessness, and despair are great.  Finally, what of all those innocents, who come face-to-face with the realization that their trust has been violated�that their bodies, minds, and souls, their love, devotion and energy�have been manipulated, used, and abused, in the name of all that is �supposed to be� good?  Whom can they trust now?  Their sense of loss and betrayal, and subsequent grief, are indeed profound!

My hope upon initiating this research was to magnify the issue of �grief and loss� as it relates to the former cult member: first, validating, through research, its existence among the former cult member population; and then focusing attention upon both the acute and long-term distress accompanying this process.  My desire was also to further sensitize those of us who are dedicated to helping individuals recovering from cult life so that, with increased awareness and sensitivity, we might help to alleviate some of the emotional and psychological pain associated with this grieving process.

 

Patricia Goski (R.N., St. Francis School of Nursing)

 

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Our E-Library contains full text articles and other resources related to the information below.  Click here.

WHY WE USE SYMBOLS/ICONS IN OUR LISTS.

Please note:

ICSA does NOT maintain a list of "bad" groups or "cults."  We nonjudgmentally list groups on which we have information.

Groups listed, described, or referred to on ICSA's Web sites may be mainstream or nonmainstream, controversial or noncontroversial, religious or nonreligious, cult or not cult, harmful or benign.

We encourage inquirers to consider a variety of opinions, negative and positive, so that inquirers can make independent and informed judgments pertinent to their particular concerns.

Views expressed on our Web sites are those of the document's author(s) and are not necessarily shared, endorsed, or recommended by ICSA or any of its directors, staff, or advisors.

See:  Definitional Issues Collection; Understanding Groups Collection
 

Views expressed on our Web sites are those of the document's author(s) and are not necessarily shared, endorsed, or recommended by ICSA or any of its directors, staff, or advisors.

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