What to do if Your Friend or Loved One
is Recruited into a Cult - Practical Help
and Advice for Winning Them Back

© Spotlight Ministries, Vincent McCann, 2000

The Victim of the Cult

Many friends and relatives of those who get entangled in a cult are usually very surprised that the person could ever fall victim to, what seems to them , to be “an obvious con”. Such things are said like “How could an intelligent person like you fall for such a group”, or “Can’t you see that you are allowing yourself to be brainwashed!” Such reactions from the relatives and loved one’s of those caught up in a cult are understandable reactions to the sudden change in behaviour seen in the individual. But although such reactions are common, experts in the field of psychology and human behaviour have observed that the majority of those who become entangled in a cultic system are usually above average intelligence, idealistic, and from generally good family backgrounds. The truth is, it is not the fault of the individual in joining the cult, rather, powerful mind control techniques have been employed which bypass the persons ability to critically evaluate and question the group who he or she has come into contact with. People do not 'join' cult groups, they are 'recruited' into them.

But is it Really a Cult? A Word of Caution

Before examining the various techniques which many cults utilise, the question must first be asked: "Is the group which my friend/relative has become involved with really a cult?" From a Christian perspective, (which is the angle that this present writer takes) it used to be recognised that a cult was something which was not part of the main body of the Christian Church in its primary teachings about God, Christ, Salvation etc. However, these days, many experts in the field of cult research are recognising that the main criterion for identifying a cult is that of coercive mind control manipulation on the part of any given religious organisation using such methods. At this point it must be stressed that some relatives and friends may become concerned about a person who has simply joined another Christian denomination, but which, maybe does not fit in with their own particular ideas of what Christianity should be. For example, these days, there are many new expressions of the Christian faith, which, although may not be as traditional as some (e.g. the Church of England, Baptists etc.), are nevertheless orthodox in practice and belief. However, there are also many new religious movements active in our present age which seek to mimic Christianity and abuse and manipulate their members. Furthermore, the issue can be complicated further still with some genuine Christian churches exercising authoritarian and cult like behaviour! So how can you tell if its a cult?

The Marks of a Cult

Although religious cults differ in their belief systems they all use the same mind control tactics. The purpose of the information set out below is to give you some good indications of whether the group which your friend or relative has become involved with is using well known manipulative mind control techniques. No one single religious group has been singled out in the following questions. Rather, the information below has been gathered with many groups in mind, all of which are known to use mind control on its members.

It is possible to identify an abusive religious cult by the following list. Where more than five of following areas are discernible, it is highly likely that the individual has been recruited into a cult:

  1. The group will place a tremendous emphasis on "doing good works". Members of the group may appear obsessed with doing whatever the group tells them to do (e.g. 'always' being at meetings).

  2. Some groups require that the members give up all, or at least a substantial part of their income/possessions to the cause.

  3. The leaders of cult groups will forbid their members from reading any literature critical of the group, especially that of ex- members.

  4. In relation to the above, the leader/s of the group may become uncomfortable or even abusive to people who ask intelligent questions about the group.

  5. The majority of cults view themselves as an elite and exclusive group who are 'alone' doing God's will. In contrast, other Christian Churches and denominations are mocked, ridiculed and attacked verbally within the cult.

  6. Take a look at the way the group looks and acts. Does everyone dress more or less the same, act the same, and talk the same? One former cult member, speaking of his particular involvement with a cult said that the group encouraged its members “to do everything in exactly the same way - to pray the same, to look the same, to talk the same. This in psychology is a classic example of group conformity. Its purpose is to ensure that no-one tries to act differently or become dissident, thus nobody questions the status quo.” (Andrew Hart, Jan.1999).

  7. Many cults tend to discourage association with non-members, even family members, where possible (except, maybe, for the possibility of converting them to the group).

  8. Many cults give their members ‘black and white answers’. What the group agrees with is right and what the group disagrees with is wrong.

  9. Everyone in the group will believe exactly the same things (i.e. what the group leaders tell them to believe). There will be no room for individual belief, or opinion even in minor areas.

  10. The group will usually wear ‘two faces’. On the one hand, does it attempt to present itself, to potential converts and the public at large, as a group of people who are like one large family, who have love among themselves, and where everyone is equal. But on the other hand, the reality is, that many members inwardly feel unfulfilled and emotionally exhausted. The only way families and friends of cult victims will be able to find out more about this is by contacting ex-members of that specific group (see useful contacts at the end of this article).

I am Positive that it is a Cult. What do I do Now?

If there are a high proportion of the pointers above, in the group which your friend or relative have joined, what should you do? There are several things which can be done.

Firstly, be Informed about the Cult

Many cults tend to view those who are outside their movement as unenlightened. A pride is built up within the group who believe themselves to be recipients of various spiritual insights which the rest of the world does not have. By finding out what the cult believes you will be more likely to earn the right to be listened to rather than one who has no knowledge. Some of the best ways about understanding what the cult believes and stands for can be found by looking at the group's own literature. However, bear in mind that many cults usually hide glaring mistakes in their history, unusual doctrines which many of the more immature members may not be aware of, and have a track record of damaging people mentally and spiritually. To find out about issues which the group itself will not willingly give away, you need to contact ex-members and those who have examined the group critically. Information about most cults can be found on the internet and public libraries.

Use Critical Literature Effectively

When you do come across the vast amount of literature which is available which exposes the cult you need to know how to use it effectively. One of the main difficulties in using such literature is that the person who is caught up in the cult has been warned by leaders not to read, or talk to anybody critical of the group. Leaders of cults will tell their members that Satan is out to destroy "God's work" and that he has risen up lying opponents who seek to overthrow "God's true people". So, of course, with cult members conditioned with this kind of phobia indoctrination, anytime they come across the literature of ex-members, counter-cult organisations, or individuals, who attempt to point out clear errors in the group, a mind set automatically activates which causes the cult member to literally stop short of his or her critical thinking abilities. In this way the persons God given ability to rationalise with their common sense is taken away. However, there are some ways which may help to disarm this mind set:

Rather than go charging in at your friend or relative with some of the literature which you have come across, a better way is to take an inquiring approach. For example, explain to your friend that you have come across some literature which says some things which are causing you to have problems with the particular group which they are involved with. Ask them if they can help you with it and show you where the literature may possibly be wrong. If they still refuse at this point you can say to them that if they are not willing to look at the literature, then you are going to be left with the idea that the issues which the literature are bringing up must be true.

Another approach is that of pitting one cult against another. This can be done asking your friend to consider the fact that other religious groups (i.e. other cults which the cult in question would actually reject) forbid, or strongly discourage, their members from reading literature critical of it. With this fact established the question can then be asked: "If we are in agreement that the groups we have just mentioned are false cults, how will their members ever know the errors which exist within their organisation/church etc. if they are not allowed to read anything critical of it? Can we agree that, rather than protecting their members from "the lies of Satan" etc., the group is actually successfully keeping its members in a system which itself is actually the liar?" It can then be asked (sensitively): "Is it therefore possible that the group which you are involved with is one of these groups? If they say "No" ask them how will they ever know if they refuse to look at literature which claims to expose it?

Having the Right Attitude is Vital

It cannot be stressed enough that the right attitude when approaching the person in the cult is vital. Saying things like: "You are in a cult" or "You have been brainwashed" only drives the person further into the group. Those in cults are still people, people who will see comments such as the above as personal attacks upon them. It may also be tempting to lose your temper out of the frustration you are experiencing. But it is only natural that negative comments and loss of temper will produce a defensive attitude in the cult member. It must be remembered that the person caught up in the cult has been taught to view you as a spiritual enemy. Acting in a careless way will only reinforce what they have been taught. It is far better to approach the individual with a caring and accepting attitude. It is possible to express to the person that you still accept them, even if you do not agree with their involvement in the group. Let them know that you will always be there for them whatever decisions they make. This is important because many people who get involved with cults eventually leave of their own accord. The length that each person stays in the cult however, will vary with each individual and the kind of things which they are experiencing within the cult. If the person knows that there are loving and supportive friends and relatives outside the cult it will be easier for them to leave the cult by themselves. In addition to showing genuine concern for your friend/relative, be sure to listen to them. Try not to rush in with what you have learnt about the cult. Be patient. Letting them talk for themselves will help them to think through the decisions they have made. They will probably paint a glowing picture of the group and how it has changed their life. Try not to dispute this. On some occasions, they may be genuinely fulfilled by their experience. The important thing is that you simply listen, whatever it is they may be saying. After listening patiently to them, you have basically earned the right to make comments and ask questions about what they have said.

What to do When the Person Leaves the Cult

When your friend or loved one eventually leaves the cult there will follow a time whereby he or she, as an ex-member, will have to slowly re-adjust to life outside the cult. The time period for recovery will vary according to each individual, the intensity of involvement with the cult, and length of time in the movement. What must be remembered is that during their time in the cult, they have had many of their decisions made for them. They have not been encouraged to think for themselves, but merely 'obey their leaders' who have already 'done the thinking for them'. With this in mind, it is vital to encourage the ex-member to make his or her own decisions, even in minor areas. During this time of recovery it is also useful to let the person know that it is all right to talk about his or her involvement in the cult, even the good times! Some friends or relatives may fear that the person is desiring to go back into the cult at this point. This, of course, is always a possibility and must be monitored carefully. However, letting the person speak through their experiences is an important part of the healing process.

Some Do's and Don'ts

(The list below has been compiled by the Cult Information Centre. Used with kind permission)
The Do's

The Best Healing Solution (a personal word from the author)

Although time, and support from friends and relatives is vital in the recovery process of the ex-cultist, there is a more complete healing which heals not only the mind, but the spiritual aspect of the person as well. The writer of this article is a Christian and feels that it is important to stress that full, complete healing is found by having faith in Jesus Christ. Jesus said in the Gospel of Matthew Ch. 11and verse 28:

“Come to me all you who are weary and heavy laden, and I will give you rest.”

I am not promoting another cult, or even a particular Church, religion, or denomination, but rather a relationship with a Person, the Lord Jesus Christ. Before I became a Christian, I was not the victim of any given recognisable cult, but rather the cult of one person. This individual used mind control and fear to dominate and control me for a number of months. I had given up all hope of a future for myself as I was utterly under the full control of this person. My situation seemed utterly hopeless and I attempted suicide on a couple of occasions. However, when all seemed to be totally lost, a group of local Christians heard about my situation. They didn't fully know all the details of what was happening to me but began to pray for me nevertheless. I can only say that what happened in my life soon after this was nothing short of a miracle! I was able to get free of this person, who had dominated me for so long. Soon after, I made a decision to turn from all known sin in my life and put my faith in Jesus Christ. I did this by simply coming to Christ, in prayer, just as I was, turning from sin and placing my life and future in His hands. Since that time, He has continued to heal me from my bad experience. Because I have experienced the torture of mind control first hand, I have a special empathy (which I believe is God-given) with those who suffer in this way. For a more detailed account of my experience read My Story.

Recommended Resources and Contacts

See also Links to Other Sites

Vincent McCann,
Reachout Trust, P.O. Box 43,
Twickenham, TW2 7EG,
Phone: 0181 322 0286
or 0151 201 7879
Email: Vince

Reachout Trust,
24 Ormond Road, Richmond,
Surrey, TW10 6TH
Phone: 0181 322 0286
Fax: 0181 332 0286
Email: quarterly@reachouttrust.org
Wesite: http://www.reachouttrust.org

The Cult Information Centre,
BCM Cults, London, WC1N 3XX
Phone: 01689 833 800
Website: http://www.xenu.net/cic/

The American Family Foundation
AFF, P.O. Box 2165, Bonita Springs,
FL 34133, USA
Website: http://www.csj.org/

The Free Minds Journal,
Box 3818, Manhattan Beach,
CA 90266, USA

Recommended Books

Combating Cult Mind Control, by Steve Hassan

Exit Counselling: A Family Intervention, by Carol Giambalvo

Captive Hearts, Captive Minds, by Madeleine L Tobias and Janja Lalich

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