Common Issues in Post-Cult Recovery

Posted: January 7, 2010 in Cult, Deception, Discernment, Healing, IHOP, Leaving a cult, Spiritual Abuse

by: Patrick Ryan, Editor of AFF News

Excerpt taken from this online article titled “Post-Cult Problems: An Exit Counselor’s Perspective”

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.

2. Depression.

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 families.

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 floating).

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 thinking.

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 cult membership.

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 memory loss.

25. Re-emergence of pre-cult emotional or psychological issues

26. Impatience with the recovery process.

—end of excerpt–

On a personal note, I can relate to experiencing some of these things after leaving IHOP and have heard many stories of others who have had involvement at IHOP and left (or were made to leave) who experienced much of this list as well.  Those who have left IHOP fit right into the same recovery process of those who leave cults.

  1. […] through a period when they need the prayers, support and sound counsel of a good friend. Here are a few issues one should be aware […]

  2. Hello Barry,
    Have not realized all this!

  3. A former member says:

    I was never officially baptized into a cult (the ICOC) but it’s affects through myself and the family ring pretty true on each of those points. What nobody can tell me is how to deal with those things and readjust.

    • Ariel says:

      Dear former member, thank you for writing. I’m sorry to hear that you and your family have experienced spiritual abuse and are experiencing the after effects of it still. I know what a difficult and painful process it is to come out of abuse like that. I have a blog post titled “After the Damage is Done, How Does the Heart Heal?”
      On the home page, if you click on the link on the right side that says All Blog Posts at a Glance you will find it there. There is also a link on my home page for Wellspring Retreat and Resource Center which is a faith-based organization that works in post-cult recovery. Their website has information and resources that may be helpful to you. Blessings to you and your family as you continue the journey toward healing and wholeness.

  4. Such point-for-point clarification pieces such as this are valuable.

    In my colleague’s and my extensive experience in exposing the global Sathya Sai Baba cult and its leader, India’s most famous guru, we have found a striking fact: governments, and indeed whole societies, fail to face the problem of cults. The ‘answer’ of totalitarian regimes is of course to be repudiated at the outset. Indeed, in their authoritarianism, these closely resemble a great many cults, in any case!

    However, our democratic institutions have failed abysmally. Typically, our governments fail because of certain mistaken and exaggerated notions about religious freedom. They overlook the fact that many cults violate those very notions of freedom which we need, of course, to uphold. We have found that many academic communities seriously offend, for they do not regard apostates as useful subjects for research.

    Certainly, care needs to be exercised in defining what is and what is not a cult, and this level of information is best, in my view, arrived via deliberations across whole communities in consultation with each other. It will not help very much if we see cultism as offending against the cannons of this or that mainstream religion. It is the mentality itself that needs to be understood and addressed.

    Barry Pittard. Blogsite:

    • Ariel says:

      Thank you Barry. I especially thought your last sentence to be very noteworthy: “It will not help very much if we see cultism as offending against the cannons of this or that mainstream religion. It is the mentality itself that needs to be understood and addressed.” (emphasis mine) It’s the cult mentality that shows up in various religious sects, ministries, church denominations, etc and it’s this over-arching mentality that must be identified and recognized. No church will ever admit they are a “cult”…but they will however carefully cloak their use of a cult mentality to gain more support, sacrifice, money, etc. from their congregants. For example, a church leadership that requires their members to consult the pastor or elders before making a major purchase (house, car) or changing jobs is operating out of a cult mentality. Unless their members have their eyes opened to this fact they will fall right into the blind allegiance that cults rely on to control people…and sadly once the behavior of following cult mentality is learned, it’s a difficult programming to un-learn.

  5. ruthsongs says:

    And the one who leaves the cult may experience negative consequences of the stress related to leaving…. marriage and family problems, or even sickness. The cult leaders then use this as ‘proof’ the one who left is out of the will of God or is suffering because he/she ‘touched God’s anointed’

    • Ariel says:

      I completely agree with you. Please see my post on “The Path That Leads to Life is Indeed a Narrow One” for my reply to your comment.