The trauma involved in leaving a cult

Chartered Psychologist Jill Mytton has been speaking at the Annual Conference of the British Psychological Society’s Division of Counselling Psychology in Cardiff about children who grow up in religious cults. Her observation is that they face considerable difficulties, not only during their childhood, but also after leaving the group. She explains …

“Second-generation adult survivors of high-demand groups face particular difficulties, not only during their childhood, but also upon leaving the group, because they face assimilation into a culture that is not just alien to them but also one that they have been taught is wicked and to be hated.“

Is it really that bad?

Yes it truly is, I’ve seen and experienced it myself, and I’m fully aware of how controlling some groups can be. What is also true is that when you are inside you don’t actually see it at all for what it really is.

Having once belonged to a group that was quite good an manipulating people, I do truly know how isolating the experience can be – everybody was expected to be at all meetings, twice on sundays for rather long meetings and also midweek meetings. Officially people could come and go as they pleased, but the subtle trap is that only those that were truly born again were real Christians, and if you did not attend then you were obviously not truly born again – essentially emotional blackmail.

Everybody was also always busy doing church stuff and nobody ever really had free time to themselves, it was a constant whirl of outreach meetings, door knocking, tent crusades, etc… oh and you will be glad to hear that nobody ever got converted, and yet rather oddly this complete lack of any results did not deter anybody at all, in fact nobody really noticed. One other observation is that people did not own TV’s; if they did, well they were obviously opening themselves up to worldly influences. Nobody ever dictated “Do not”, but if you wanted to fit in and belong, then you didn’t. There is much more I could, and perhaps will one day, write about it, but I think that’s enough for you to get the general idea of what was going on.

This all blended together to create a bubble in which a separate and quite distinct micro-culture of belief existed and thrived. So much so, that I recall times when I had no real idea of what was happening in the wider world at all and was instead caught up in this whirlwind of frantic and quite pointless activity; we were truly separated from the wider culture.

From a personal viewpoint I deeply regret that I ever allowed myself to be ensnared by this daft utterly pointless nonsense, and am truly grateful that I managed to break away. It took time, but I had a decent chance of doing so. I might indeed have been ensnared as an insecure teen looking for somewhere to belong, but I had once lived outside and had not been part of it since birth.

Imagine being born into this, growing up in it, and experiencing nothing outside.

Jill Mytton is spot on, leaving is not simply putting aside an irrational belief, it is also about stepping out into a quite alien and almost unknown culture. It can and does greatly shake you up and takes quite a bit of time to find an appropriate rational stance, emotional balance, and moral foundation, but before you get there, you often end up wobbling all over the place as you move towards the surface decompressing as you go.

… and yet escape to a better place is possible where you can find rationality, a far greater degree of tolerance (people are not all vile sinners, most are decent and honourable) and stability, all without the involvement of any fictitious supernatural entities.

If you are isolated inside – reach out, there are many good people out there more than willing to help.

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