Recently I’ve been talking to a family who has discovered that they have a loved one who is in a cult. What I’ve rediscovered through the conversations with them is how incredibly frustrating it is for those of us who have a loved one in a cult.
Frustration because of helplessness. Frustration because of injustice. Frustration because of feeling that the cult member can’t hear us. The list goes on.
I remember feeling levels of frustration because of all these things that was so powerful it felt like my body might implode. To love someone (or many someones) so much and to watch them be manipulated into giving their lives (not to mention their money) away to a guru who is clearly using and abusing them causes so much justified anger and frustration that it is almost unbearable.
I’ve received a couple of emails from family members and they say, in one way or another, “But it’s so UNFAIR. It’s UNJUST. How can this be happening?”
Of course they’re right and I agree. …but this is where frustration comes into the picture because there is so little we can do to help our loved ones.
A cult member won’t listen to logic; you can’t walk up to someone in a cult and say, “Dude, you’re being manipulated and controlled. You need to get out,” because the cult leader has taught the cult member to (a) view anyone outside the group as a threat and (b) that leaving the cult means leaving God (or whatever higher purpose the leader says is being served). Logic stops working for cult members very early on in their indoctrination.
And you can’t criticize the cult leader because the cult member feels such loyalty to her that, as we have seen in the past, the cult member will in some cases literally die to serve her.
And you can’t point out that your loved one deserves to: live freely and determine their own life’s trajectory; have autonomy over their thoughts and actions; and not accept abuse in any form in their life. Why can’t you point these things out? Because the cult member has been forced to accept the belief that these things don’t matter. Only The Cause matters (whatever that is) and if their freedom and happiness and family have to be sacrificed to serve The Cause, then so be it. This is a sacrifice worth making.
So there you are with your hands fully tied, unable to talk sense into your loved one. Mind control is kryptonite where sense and logic are concerned.
So what do you do next?
You get extremely frustrated, if you’re anything like me. You rage at the universe and the unfairness of it all. You spend nights lying awake, pissed off, wondering if there’s anything, anything, you can do. You weep. And then you weep some more. And you wonder if you weep enough will that change your loved one’s mind?
From bitter experience, here then are my top three tips for what we can DO when we have a loved one in a cult.
1. Get educated. What will help your loved one, is if you know what he or she is experiencing. Learn as much as you can about cults and how mind control works. That way you will be able to feel empathy for your loved one, and that empathy will help slightly alleviate the teeth grinding frustration you feel. (I always recommend reading Take Back Your Life and Combatting Cult Mind Control.)
2. Stay supportive and loving. Your loved one likely won’t respond, but it is very important to provide loving support and connection to them, so that should they ever decide to leave the cult, they will know that they have somewhere to go. If they starting having thoughts of leaving the cult, but realize they have no friends or family outside the group who are still in touch, it is harder for the cult member to leave. By sending your loved ones birthday cards or a friendly email every once in a while, you are maintaining a very important connection and one that they will hopefully use in the future.
3. Take care of yourself. I can’t emphasize this point enough. The frustration and confusion you feel are very stressful. Having a loved one in a cult is probably one of the most stressful life experiences you’ll ever have. Get support. Talk to a healing professional, preferably one who knows about cults and how they work. (I recommend Rosanne Henry.) You deserve to have someone to talk to about this.