Stages of Leaving a Cult

I followed a link from to:
The period of exiting from a cult is usually a traumatic experience and, like any great change in a person’s life, involves passing through stages of accommodation to the change:
  • Disbelief/denial: “This can’t be happening. It couldn’t have been that bad.”

True for me.  Was it really that bad?  Am I being melodramatic?  I once believed that my finding fault with anything church related was due to my rebellious and sinful nature.  As my mother pointed out- maybe me finding ‘offense’ says more about my heart than the message.  Perhaps only the unloving and judgemental don’t experience unconditional love and acceptance in messages of intolerance and bigotry. 

  • Anger/hostility: “How could they/I be so wrong?” (hate feelings)
Yes.  I am angry with myself for staying in it for so long. I regret the time I spent pouring out my sins to god and reviling myself.  I could have been sleeping.  Or playing basketball or making friends. 
I am angry that everyone else is still there.  The same teachings are there and they are getting more extreme. 
  • Self-pity/depression: “Why me? I can’t do this.”
This is much better for me.  Now I have stronger feelings of hope that- yes, I can do this!  No longer am I being battered with the ideas that I cannot do anything good on my own.
  • Fear/bargaining: “I don’t know if I can live without my group. Maybe I can still associate with it on a limited basis, if I do what they want.”
Ah, yes.  I still associate with ‘the group’ as long as I am careful to speak their language and not vocally disagree. 
Reassessment: “Maybe I was wrong about the group’s being so wonderful.”
This happened for me before I started coming out. 
  • Accommodation/acceptance: “I can move beyond this experience and choose new directions for my life” or…
  • Re-involvement: “I think I will rejointhe group.”
And this is where we are right now.  I have hope that ‘the group’ will change.  We are staying connected and even cautiously active in our bible study group.  And yet, for the health of our family we must follow a new direction. 
The following are some symptoms I occasionally experience.
  • sense of loss
  • alienation from family, friends
  • sense of isolation
  • fear of evil spirits taking over one’s life outside the cult
  • fear of going insane
  • unwarranted guilt

Lasting effects:

  • incapacity to make decisions
  • hostility reactions, either toward anyone who criticizes the cult or toward the cult itself
  • low self-esteem
  • dread of running into a current cult-member by mistake
  • suggestibility, ie. automatic obedience responses to trigger-terms of the cult’s loaded language or to innocent suggestions
  • “Stockholm Syndrome”: knee-jerk impulses to defend the cult when it is criticized, even if the cult hurt the person


This information is a composite list from the following sources: “Coming Out of Cults, by Margaret Thaler Singer, Psychology Today, Jan. 1979, P. 75; “Destructive Cults, Mind Control and Psychological Coercion”,”Fact Sheet“, Cult Hot-Line and Clinic, New York City.

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