Is She Really Free to Leave?
This attitude presumes that the cult member has the freedom of mind, finances, and the resources to just “leave.” The bars are invisible but very real. In my experience, depending on the length of his involvement, the “exit cost” is usually very high to walk out of a high demand group. The indoctrination of the group’s beliefs, along with the habits ingrained into behavior, make it difficult to leave without help. If she did have freedom of mind, I can say from my own experience, she would have left the group long ago. As we shall see, one vital step of the Strategic Interactive Approach is to remove the phobias that keep the cult member imprisoned. (Please see chapter ten of my book, Freedom of Mind: Helping Loved Ones Leave Controlling People, Cults, and Beliefs.)
It is important to do what you can to speed up the reality-testing process because the longer the person stays in a cult, the greater the damage done to the fabric of this life. The more healthy contact that cult members can have with family, friends, and non-members, the better their chance to leave sooner.
Former Members Have Regrets
Former members often express anguish over damage done to their psyche and to their valued relationships. They feel sorry about lost educational and career opportunities. Even worse, they feel guilty about the people they recruited, the money they collected, and the unethical behavior they committed as members. The longer they were in, the deeper the regrets when they get out. Cults have shown us that a passive, hands-off, wait-and-see approach can have tragic consequences. Few people suspected that a UFO-cult, like Heaven’s Gate, would end in a mass suicide.
However, there are some families who realized that their loved one was under mind control. I first met Bob and Alice Maeder at a Cult Information Service meeting in New Jersey one year after their daughter Gail’s death. Even though Gail had cut off contact with them, they had made repeated and often ingenious attempts to find and communicate with her. The Maeders are good people and loving parents. Even though they lost their daughter to Heaven’s Gate, they still come to cult awareness meetings, appear on television, and participate in interviews in the hope that other parents will be spared their suffering. They want to tell you: “Do everything you can to rescue your loved one. Don’t sit back and passively wait for her to leave.”
I would encourage people to research former members of the group your loved one is in–but please be careful not to share your actual identity with strangers or unknown websites. One former member of a Korean Apocalyptic cult told me how he would create phony websites that sounded like they were owned by former members. He did this to create a “honeypot” to identify families looking to help loved ones. He also did this to use key search terms that would divert people to them and away from legitimate resources.
Through my lifetime of work, I have developed a trustworthy network of former members and other resource people which allow me to locate up-to-date information on a particular group.