On Leaving a Cult …

By Heather Bunting

Were you, or someone you know, raised in a cult?

The sad story of the Hamilton-Byrne children in the press recently and other cults such as the Exclusive Brethren (now the Plymouth Brethren Christian Church) make us appreciate our own religious and mental freedom.

But if you were brought up in a cult and find that that life wasn’t for you, what happened?

Firstly, escaping from a cult is not an easy matter.

Perhaps when one of the flock wants to leave it reminds those in power of their own spiritual and mental bondage. And no doubt in the mix is their mistaken belief that by leaving you are on a one-way express train to hell.

But for whatever reason leaving is extremely difficult.

At the age of 19 I myself thought I was going to have a nervous breakdown the pressure was so great.

But what happens after the escape?

For sure there is a lot of grieving to be done. Families are split which means the person who leaves mourns the loss of those left behind. It is a form of ambiguous loss that they no longer can see the family but the family is still alive. They also grieve over the loss of the dream they had for sharing the future with their family they’ve had to leave behind.

Cults split families, so children leave parents and siblings and grieve that they will never see them again. Parents can be separated from their children, what could be more painful? And so it goes on.

The one who leaves also has to create a new life – new friends, new ways of living, new things to do, sifting through a multitude of religious and spiritual offerings to try and figure out what their belief system might be if they could choose, finding new ways to occupy the time formerly spent on attending cult events.

There is also a battle with feelings of powerlessness as being in a cult means handing power to the powers that be, and regaining one’s personal power can be a lifelong challenge when those old and habitual feelings of powerlessness knock at the door.

Life post-cult is not easy and support and re-education go a long way to helping with the adjustment. Counselling is a good way to get support, especially with someone who has had the experience and now leads a well-adjusted life. Possibilities for Change has such a counsellor.

I’d love to know what you think of what I’ve said here. You can give me your feedback, ask a question by email or post a comment below.

If you or someone you know would like a support as you summon up the courage to take risks in your life, please contact us.