Cults in our Midst

Leaving the Cult

Jossey-Bass Publishers San Franciso
By Margaret Thaler Singer (with Janja Lalich)

Postcult Adjustment

I will explore a kind of peeling off of the outer layer of identity that was taken on while in the cult. The process is a matter of recovering one's self and one's value system, and of keeping whatever good was learned during cult days while discarding all the not-so-good.

Not all former cult members encounter all the problems listed on Table 12.1, nor do most have them in severe and extended form. Some individuals need only a few months to get themselves going again. After encountering some adjustment problems to life outside the cult, they make rather rapid and undeventful reintegrations into everyday life. Generally, however, it takes individuals anywhere from six to twenty-four months to get their lives funtioning again at a level commensurate with their histories and talents. Even then, however, theat funtioning may not reflect what is still going on insed them. Many are still sorting out the conflicts and harms that grew out their cult experience long after two years have gone by. Each former memeber wrestles with a number of problems. Some need more time than others to resolve all the issues they face, and a few never get their lives going again.

Table 12.1. Major Areas of Postcult Adjustment

Practical Psychological-
Cognitive Social-
Makes living arrangements. Arranges financial support.

Copes with difficulties created by distrust of professional services: medical, dental, & mental health professionals and educators.

Arranges medical & dental care.

Examines nutrition & eating habits.

Gets Psychological examination, if needed.

Makes career & educational plans, & gets vocational counseling, if needed.

Explains the years in the cult.

Structures daily life.

Copes with difficulties created by distrust of professional services: medical, dental, & mental health professionals & educators.

Feels depressed.

Has feelings of loss.

Feels guilt & regret.

Lacks self-esteem & self-confidence; exhibits self-blaming attitudes & excessive doubts.

Has panic attacks.

Experiences relaxation-induced anxiety (RIA) & tics.

Separates from family & friends still in the cult.

Exhibits fear of the group.

Feels generalized paranoia & fear of the world.

Is overly dependent for age; submissive, suggestible.

Worries over reality of past lives; must sort out true past from one engendered by the cult.

Experiences indecisiveness.

Experiences blurring of mental acuity.

Has difficulty concentrating.

Has memory loss.

Cannot recall what was just read or heard.

Must stop using cult language.

Has sense of losing track of time.

Experiences floating, slipping into altered states.

Has poor & unreliable sense of judgment.

Hears what others say uncritically & passively.

Has recurring bizarre mental contents from the cult: for example, waking dreams, orange fog.

Has pervasive sense of alienation.

Needs to reconnect with family & friends.

Needs to make new friends.

Distrusts own ability to make good choices.

Has phobic-like constriction of social contacts; mistrusts/distrusts others.

Feels loneliness.

Is confused about sexuality & sexual identity & roles.

Faces dealing with marital, family/parental & child custody issues.

Fears making a commitment to another person.

Feels unable to make & express opinions.

Overextends self to make up for lost time; is unable to say no.

Has sense of being watched all the time - the fishbowl effect.

Is embarrassed & uncertain how or when to tell others about cult experience; fears rejection.

Has hypercritical attitude toward others & society.

Needs to overcome aversions ingrained by the cult.

Has condemning attitude toward normal human foibles & is harsh towards self & others; still judges by cult standards.

Lacks satisfaction with the world & self; feels emptiness at no longer being a world saver.

Is unable to be kind to or supportive of others.

Fears joining any group or being active.

Feels loss of sense of being elite.

Needs to reactivate own belief system & moral code/values & sort them out from the ones adopted in the cult.

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