In understanding how to escape a cult there are specific factors and there are general factors that have to be considered. Specific factors include such things as whether you are living in a compound or even a house with the leader, whether the group is an online group, how much freedom you have to come and go as you please and whether the group has a history of physical or emotional abuse of ex-members.
General factors affect everybody who is in a cult and they have to do with how cults are set up, the techniques used by destructive groups and what they actually do to people. Recognizing the dependency that is created as well as how the members are controlled emotionally and mentally makes it much easier to understand how to escape a cult although the practice can still be difficult!
I am going to assume that you have already taken the very important step of accepting that you are actually in a cult, even if you still have doubts.
Let's have a look at the general considerations first.
Nobody joins a cult. They join a martial arts club, or a personal development group or a church or they go on a sales course. A destructive cult has a façade that it presents to the world in order to attract people.
Once people are in the door, they seem to get what they came for, but they also get a whole lot more. Each cult has it's own process that it leads people through in order to convince them to stay, ostensibly for the benefits they will get in the group.
However, what the cult is doing is changing the beliefs, ideas and behaviors of the new member to be more like those of the leader. Everyone ends up thinking the same things, speaking the same language, doing the same things and, in some groups, even dressing the same. They have basically become clones of the leader.
What has happened is that the leader has imposed a new personality on each of the members. This is a false personality, or pseudopersonality, and it dominates and suppresses the real personality. In very large groups, the leader may not have contact with everyone, but the group process imposes this pseudopersonality on each of the members because the group has been set up to do this. There are strict rules and regulations that are enforced at all levels of the group and simply by being in the group a person's beliefs, emotions, thoughts and behavior are controlled until the new personality is the dominant and stable one.
As I mentioned, the pseudopersonality dominates the real personality but it never totally destroys it. The pseudopersonality is programmed to be subservient and obedient to the leader. It is programmed to believe and accept what the leader says and to not criticize or challenge the leader. It is programmed to put the leader's and the group's wants and needs before it's own. It is programmed to be dependent on the group and on the leader. It has to reference the leader or the group's doctrine before making decisions or doing anything. It is programmed to defend the leader whenever anyone criticizes him or her.
This idea of the pseudopersonality is a wonderful description of what happens to a cult member. It helps to explain why cult members act the way they do and also the conflicts that a cult member has, both during their time in the group and afterwards.
Understanding these ideas is also fundamental to knowing how to escape a cult. We need to take a closer look at some of the aspects of a cult in order to see what keeps the members in the group.
Cult members typically have phobias of leaving, where a phobia is a very strong fear that has little to do with reality. The pseudopersonality is created and kept in place using guilt and fear; fear of not being able to cope without the group is an aspect of this. There may also be fears of dying, illness, accidents, etc if the member leaves. These are often fears installed by the group and/or the leader and for anyone who wants to know how to escape a cult, undoing these phobias is a significant part of that. In fact, some people are literally unable to leave until the phobias are dealt with.
Cult members usually feel very close to the other members. The idea of a family is a very common theme in a cult and members are encouraged to think of each other as brothers and sisters. There is something special shared with others in the group and this strengthens the perceived bond. I say 'perceived' because the friendships in a cult are actually superficial and are contingent on believing in the leader and his or her ideas. When someone leaves a cult, they will frequently lose all the 'friendships'. The loss happens very suddenly and is often deliberately done by the leader who blackens the character of anyone who leaves. In this way the remaining members feel that there is something wrong with the ex-member and that they should cut off contact. This will happen after efforts to get the member back into the group have failed.
Many cult members are cut off from their families and friends, even those who are in a cult but live in their own home separate from the leader. They may believe that their family does not care about them or that their family is evil. (Members can be convinced of this by the leader with almost no evidence of it at all. When you ask the member how they know their family doesn’t like them any more they simply reply, "I don't know.")
This isolation increases the dependency on the cult. It also reduces any critical information that the cult member receives about the cult or the leader. If you are trying to figure out how to escape a cult, it's very important that you see this as an intentional tactic of the cult to isolate you. When you leave, you will need help and support. Contact your family. You may be shocked to find out what they actually think! They may be waiting for you to contact them because they know you are in a cult, or they haven't contacted you because they don't know where you are, but they still love you...
The beliefs, ideas, tools and techniques of a cult are designed to keep a cult member within the group. If you try to use the techniques to help you to leave a cult, you will just cause more problems for yourself. If you are just at the stage of studying how to escape a cult, it won't be easy for you to recognize this idea. You will believe that the tools of the group work and it will feel natural to try and use them. The trick here is, as much as you possibly can, not to try and use the tools you learnt in the group to help you get out. It will be self defeating.
The pseudopersonality is programmed to follow the leader and to do the 'work' of the group. It believes this is the most important thing in the world and the most significant thing it can be doing. Often the belief is "If I am not doing this work, what else is there?" The pseudopersonality literally cannot imagine not doing the work of the group.
The pseudopersonality is also made to be dependent on the leader. You can read more about how that happens in this article on life with a controlling girlfriend. Don't be put off by the title. The techniques and effects are the same. Think of the situation with a controlling girlfriend as a cult of two people!
If the financial future of the person is tied up with the group, this further increases the dependency.
This level of dependency is hard to understand for those who have never been in a cult or an abusive relationship but if you are learning how to escape a cult, you should not underestimate the influence this dependency has on you. It is not a physical barrier like not having the finances, or not having a safe place to go to. It is intangible but that just makes it all the more powerful. Other people cannot see it and think that you should 'just leave, just have no contact with the group' but you know it's not that simple!
The only way to get rid of the dependency is to get rid of the pseudopersonality. This is done by studying the mind control techniques of your particular cult. The more you understand how the cult controlled you, the less the effects of their tactics and the less control they have over you.
Sometimes a cult member has to reduce the dependency in order to be able to leave. In other circumstances, where there is physical danger, for example, a cult member has to run and sort out the dependency later.
Let's look at a very common situation nowadays. A person is involved with a particular group but they live at home with their family and they go to a regular job. They engage in group activities on their time off and even their holidays. They may even try to introduce the ideas of the cult into their job.
As soon as you know that you are in a cult, the best thing is to step away and study what is going on. I know, I know, stepping away is a big deal. But if the group is actually a healthy group, then no harm will be done. You can study the situation and if your decision is that everything is ok, you can come back later.
If you are reading this article on how to escape a cult, then the chances are that you already have serious concerns. Whatever you do, resist the temptation to talk to the leader to express those concerns. Keep in mind, though, your pseudopersonality is programmed to do that. You will probably feel very strongly that this would be a good thing to do. Remember the dependency? This is one of the ways it shows up in real life.
Much better to educate yourself about cults, mind control and how these things work. Search for information about the group written by outsiders, not group members. Cult members are trained to show the group in the best light and even to lie about or justify the negative aspects. Check out online if anyone else thinks that it is a cult. The more information you have the easier it is to leave the cult.
Once you have decided to leave, it's best not to have any contact with the leader or the members. They will just try to get you back. Cult leaders are very persuasive and yours will know how to press your buttons to exert huge pressure on you. The members are programmed to recruit people and they will surely give you all sorts of reasons why you should return. It's best not to subject yourself to such emotional manipulation. It will make you doubt yourself and wonder if you are making the right decision.
Having no contact is usually very difficult because of the programming that I have outlined, but the more contact you have the more difficult and prolonged your exit is going to be. It's best not to discuss your plans to leave with anyone in the cult. It typically just causes problems.
Until you understand cults and psychopaths, (cult leaders are often psychopaths) it's best not to try and get other people out. The effort it takes to convince a cult member that they are in a cult is enormous and getting yourself out is going to be difficult enough. You can come back later and help others if you wish. With family members who are in the cult, it can be a difficult decision whether to try and help them out at the same time or not. Professional help is invaluable at such times.
Closing your social media accounts, changing your email address and your phone number may be necessary if the cult members harass you. If they are trying to make contact with you, it's much better to change these things quickly rather than have to put up with weeks and weeks of avoiding calls and emails.
Once you have left, you will now need to undo the pseudopersonality because it does not simply disappear on it's own. It was put in place with strong influence techniques and reinforced on a regular basis. It takes time and effort to undo such a thing. This is best done with an expert in the field. If you decide to go it alone, you can expect to have more problems over time and it leaves you vulnerable to being recruited into other cults.
Looking at how to escape a cult, let's consider the situation where the cult members live together, often with the leader. Ashrams in such places as India and cults having farms hidden away in the countryside somewhere are common knowledge. What's not so commonly known is that, nowadays, there are many situations where members are living in a house or an apartment block in towns and cities. If the leader is living among them, it often means that he has a huge level of control because of the amount of time spent monitoring and manipulating the members.
In this case, leaving the cult means a physical move to another location.
If all the members finances are going towards rent and paying the leader for 'help', this can leave the member with little funds to rent another place. The members in such situations are often also isolated from family and friends, believing, as I have already mentioned, that their family may have no interest in them.
Some planning in these situations is useful in relation to timing and locations.
It may be necessary to wait until everyone is out in order to be able to remove your belongings without being spotted. Sometimes members may have so little belongings that they can easily be taken out in one trip. Some members may have to disappear during one of their scheduled exits from the house. In many cases they may not be able to take all their belongings with them.
Unless you are specifically planning to leave with another person because they are discontent as well, it's best not to discuss your plans with other members, and absolutely not with the leader. The leader will try various things to get you to stay, first of all, being nice and friendly with you and if that doesn’t' work you will then get the emotional blackmail and threats. Other members you confide in will either try to convince you to stay, or worse, they will tell the leader. (The cult members are programmed to reveal everything to the leader).
The second thing to plan is where you are going to go. If possible, it should be somewhere that the group does not know about, with people that you trust and who care about you. Contacting family at times like this is absolutely worth it, irrespective of what you have been told about them. You cannot trust anything the cult leader has told you! Many members are shocked and surprised at the welcome that they do get from friends and family when they contact them.
Sometimes the place to go is a police station, a hospital or a shelter of some sort. This does not necessarily have to be arranged beforehand, but in some circumstances, such as physical or sexual abuse, or even severe emotional abuse where the person literally cannot tolerate any more, or is afraid for their lives, the victim needs to just leave and get out, go to the authorities and sort things out from there.
There are times a person has to leave without money. Remember you can reverse the charges of a phone call to people. Many people will even let you send a message on their mobile phone so you can get a family member to call you back, or they will let you call family directly. Don't be afraid to lean on family and friends at a time like this. If you wait until you have money to leave a cult, you could end up waiting for years!
Some people end up leaving their passport or identification papers behind because the cult leader has possession of them. Again, this is more control on the part of the leader, convincing the members that either they cannot manage without them out in the world or that he will use the documents against the members should they leave. This is yet another example of how fear can be used to control the cult members. Remember that people lose their IDs all the time and they manage just fine. Yes, it can be inconvenient but when you talk to the authorities you will simply be issued a new one.
Some cults have a history of harassing and even physically assaulting cult members who leave. In these cases, when considering how to escape a cult, you have to take steps to protect yourself. Leaving without saying anything is the best approach, along with going to a safe place unknown to the cult. Going to the police is also a useful thing to do, but the member may be so fearful that they cannot manage this. The fear of what the leader might do to them often inhibits them from being able to go to the police for help.
Once out, no contact with the leader or other members is best. You may need to enlist other people's help for what to do in case the leader or other members show up at your door. The people in the house you are in need to understand that you absolutely do not want to talk to cult members and you they must not allow it under any circumstances.
That means that no matter what the cult leader or members say or do, they cannot come in the house, there is to be no conversations with them and if they do not leave straight away the police should be called. On more than one occasion, a well meaning friend has suggested that the fleeing cult member should be polite and say good bye, or explain why they left to the cult leader, only for the leader to manipulate the cult member into coming back to the cult straight away! No contact means no contact, irrespective of what the cult leader says or does. ANY communication with the leader will be used to manipulate you!
Many cult members have never even met the leader and don't know what the leader looks like, or even if the leader is male of female! The internet has been a boon for psychopaths and cults and many people are caught in online cults, obviously without realizing what is going on.
The first thing is to never underestimate the level of influence that a cult leader may have over the members, even in online groups. That level of influence is possible because the victim has had their beliefs, their thinking and their decision making altered by the cult leader. The pseudopersonality can be very strong even though there was no face to face contact with the manipulator.
In understanding how to escape a cult in this case, all the same principles discussed above apply here as well. Actually leaving the cult is easier in many ways but more difficult in some. Theoretically, turning off the mobile phone and unplugging the computer is all that is necessary to separate from the leader. However, doing these things is not easy for many people who are not in cults! And add to that the dependency of the pseudopersonality and it's incredibly difficult for cult members to not use their electronic devices.
Therefore blocking the leader is important in all means of communication. It may be necessary to shut down or suspend social media accounts. Changing the phone number quickly is usually the best idea because the temptation to read the messages or listen to the voice messages of the leader is huge. And when the ex-member does this the messages will be upsetting. They are designed to be upsetting. The leader will be manipulating the hell out of the member to get them to respond.
Concerns about the leader turning up at the door are typically a big concern for the member, as well as fear about what the leader might do to them. These fears are part of the pseudopersonality and disappear when the pseudopersonality does, It is rare for a leader to show up at the door in such cases, they are often too busy with all the other members that they are manipulating to bother with just one person. But again, with psychopaths you can never be sure, and it's useful for everyone in the house to be aware of the possibility and to have a plan in place should it happen.
Once more, undoing the pseudopersonality is a hugely significant part of how to escape a cult in these situations. Not doing so leaves the victim vulnerable to being caught by the next psychopath they encounter.
Would you like to talk to someone about your situation?
If you think you are or have been in a cult or a destructive relationship, or a friend or family member might be in a cult and you want to talk to someone, send me a message on the Contact page and we can arrange to talk. All communication will be treated in the strictest confidence.
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