I’ve started reading a new book on cults a few weeks ago and have found it to be very helpful. The authors explains quite well about the aftermath that happens after one leaves a cult and how to heal after being in one. Although I liked the first book on cults that I read by Steven Hassan, I’m finding more connection with this new book, plus it seems to contain more of what happens on an emotional level, whereas Hassan’s book was very much focused on the logistics of the experience and how to get a loved one out of a cult.
The book I am reading is “Take Back Your Life: Recovering from Cults and Abusive Relationships” by Janja Lalich and Madeiline Tobias. I’m really enjoying reading it, and feel that it is tailored more towards survivors of cults and abuse, whereas Hassan’s book was tailored not just to survivors but also their family members. Still, the authors in both books talk about how a cult identity is formed when a person joins a cult, what happens to people when they are in a cult, and that there is not one kind of person who can be swept up by a cult. There also is much discussion about coercion and mind control in both books.
I find, too that the book by Lalich and Tobias removes more of the stigma off of cult survivors/members and really has helped me work through some guilt that I have due to my experiences in cults. The authors make it clear that when you are in a cult, you are under the influence of charismatic leader(s), and that you may act in ways or do things that you normally would not. Hassan talks about this as well. It’s important for a person, then, who has been through abuse or been in a cult to realize or at least be willing to explore the idea that another person, organization, or group of people really did have that much influence over his or her life, and that people can influence us. However, this can be hard to do because it can lead to a person feeling out of control and fearful. At least it did for me. But, in realizing that other people do influence me sometimes more than I even know, I now have the knowledge and understanding that I need in order to quickly pick up on and assess situations where a person(s) might be trying to control me, which leads to me being able to make better decisions about my life.
One of the most helpful facts that I learned while reading this book, too, is that after being in a cult (especially if you’ve been in one for a number of years) you may have problems with decision making. This is because when a person is in a cult, their decisions about life are made by the people in the cult and particularly it’s leaders. And, despite the obvious consequences of not being able to think for yourself and make decisions, such as being more vulnerable to abuse, coercion, learned helpless, and more, for many people it actually feels good for them to not have to make decisions about their lives and rely on other people or a strict dogma. Having someone else or an organization dictate your life actually can take a lot of pressure of of a person, relieves the stress that comes along with making your own decisions and being independent, and makes it so a person doesn’t really need to spend time thinking or considering things. This leaves the person vulnerable, though, to being influenced to work for the cult and/or get involved in an unhealthy level as it feels good to do so. However, there are many long term effects of this plus it is this lack of being able to make your own decisions that can lead to do things in a cult that you wouldn’t normally do. This training to not make decisions for oneself that is done in cults is one of the reasons for mass suicides in cults and why good people might do horrible things like murder while under the undue influence of cults.
However, when a person leaves a cult where their behavior was highly controlled, it can be hard for him or her to make even small decisions. He/she is not used to being able to truly think again, let alone to start making decisions about life. And, if the person experienced positive emotions and a feeling of ease in life due to relying on or being controlled by others, when this stops it can result in depression and anxiety. It can feel like the person is entering a whole new world after stepping out of a cult. It did for me.
Making decisions definitely has been a challenge for me as I put my life together after being in cults for most of my life. It has been extremely uncomfortable and stressful to learn how to truly make decisions for myself for the first time. When this process started, though, at first I actually relied on the people around me even more than I previously had because I felt so insecure about decision making. Over time I am slowly learning to make my own decisions. Still, sometimes I find myself just not knowing what do to at all, and sometimes this can cause depression and feelings of helplessness.
I am glad though that I found out what is driving this issue. It helps me to feel better to know that this is an after-effect of being in a cult and that likely it will get better over time. Before reading about this, I thought that maybe the problems that I have with decision making were due to depression, ADHD, and anxiety. And they partly may be, however, I know today that this is part of learning how to really live life as an independent adult after all of my cult experiences. And, because I was in cults that were so highly controlled and dogmatic, and encouraged relying on authority figures such as sponsor or my parents, I can see why I in particular might have these issues and why it is taking me a while to work through them.
I am feeling relieved to have some answers. It was stressful to have all of these symptoms and to not know why I was having them. Now that I know why this is occurring, I can be even more gentle and compassionate with myself when I have issues with decision making or other things. Even so, it is frustrating that it took this long for me to get answers despite all of the different doctors, counselors, psychiatrists, and practitioners that I have seen over the years. This just goes to show how little people really do know about cults.
Thanks for reading! Feel free to comment below.
Hassan, S. (2018). Combating cult mind control. Newton, MA: Freedom of Mind Press Book.
Lalich, K., & Tobias, M. (2006). Take back your life: Recovering from cults and abusive relationships. Berkley, CA: Bay Tree Publishing.