Heal Yourself First, Then Help Others


May 11, 2016 marks the 40th anniversary of my waking up from cult mind control: day five of a deprogramming initiated by my family after I nearly died in van crash. You see, at age 19, I was deceptively recruited into a front group of the Moon cult. I was transformed into a different person for two and a half years: I was a leader, fanatically convinced that God was using me to help set up a “theocracy” to rule the world, and that those who would not join and comply would be eliminated. My mind had been manipulated, indoctrinated and I was deceived into believing a fantasy delusion. This realization–that I had been mind controlled– was difficult for me, but once I “woke up,” Iwas forever changed.

Before I became involved with the Moonies I was an introverted kid, perhaps smart for my age, but not a joiner. After I exited the group, I felt within me a need to warn everyone about the dangers of the Moonies and groups like them. I fully immersed myself in the pursuit of knowledge. I read everything I could get my hands on about the psychology of “undue influence” and re-enrolled in college to study psychology. I had a chance to have my life back again. I decided to use what I had learned about public speaking and activism as a way to expose cults. However, I was so eager to save the world, that it took me years to realize that healthy psychological well-being meant that I had to repair my sense of self. For a long while I refused to go to therapy as I didn’t trust anyone and I thought I could “tough it out.” After a few years, I fell in love, got married, and it soon became obvious I needed to work on myself. I had to encourage the phantom “cult identity” of me to learn that it wasn’t a “sin” to think of my needs and my feelings, as I had been programmed to believe in the cult.

This desire to fight against those who damaged us is not uncommon with people who escape cults. Whether it’s those leaving Scientology, the Jehovah’s Witnesses, or any other group, there seems to be a pattern of newly awakened crusaders determined to do battle with the organizations that once held their minds captive. They speak out, they write blogs, and they form groups all in the hopes of saving the world. The thing is though: exiting a cult is about so much more than just renouncing membership.

Cult indoctrination takes time. The mind is not manipulated and programmed overnight. The same is true for the recovery process. A newly awakened person may understand that they were being taught lies as truth, but rarely do they recognize how their very thought and emotional processes have been changed and shaped by the cult group. It’s very common to come out of a cult with a strict black and white way of thinking. This “us vs. them” mindset, taught by cult leaders, tells us that there is only one right answer and one right way of doing things. Added to that, many ex-members exhibit an obsessive way of focusing. They feel an ingrained sense of urgency to work against the cult and ignore the “normal” world. This is especially true for those, who like me, were taught the ideology that Armageddon is to take place at any moment. Instead of managing multiple aspects of life, (education, job, family, relationships, hobbies) it is easy for a person to fixate on their activism to the detriment of themselves and their loved ones. Sadly, these tendencies can be a hindrance to true recovery.

Additionally, an unhealthy mindset mixed with activism can end up causing more harm than good to the cause itself. When a person is a cult member (particularly if they are born one) there is a huge amount of suppression of thoughts, feelings, and behaviors. Followers are programmed not to speak negatively, especially against the cult authority. After leaving, the person is “free” of the cult, and there is often the attitude of “no one will ever silence me again.” While this should technically be true, even I have had to learn the hard way that we all need to be thoughtful about the short and long term consequences of our words and actions.

This “refusal to be silenced” often causes issues. When disagreements arise between activists, the resulting fallout can have damaging consequences. Public infighting and social media attacks dilute the core message and alienate many who are looking for real help. Divisions and mudslinging sessions between former members serve as leverage for the very groups activists claim they are combating. Cult leaders have only to look at these conflicts to find examples of how leaving the group causes unhappiness, and they use this to further indoctrinate those still inside.

It can be confusing, but former members must realize that there is a greater cause regarding activism about undue influence, abusive people, and cults. This cause should always remain central to any public interaction.

If you want to help others, please start by taking the time to work on yourself. True healing does not mean simply leaving a group and rejecting its teachings. We need to think about our thought and emotional patterns and how we interact with others. This type of recovery is a journey that takes time and a deep understanding of what really happened to us. Once we have processed our personal experiences we are much better able to make a difference to others.

Changing our very psychology of “self” takes time and effort. Reading, journaling, and therapy with a counselor or consultant who really understands how to undo the damage done by mind control can make a huge, positive difference. I like to say, “The way to recover from cult mind control, is to learn to control your own mind.” This includes rediscovering the authentic selves we are born with, knowing how the mind as an organ operates, and understanding how social influence works. There are strategies and techniques to reclaim the “locus of control” within your own body instead of looking to an external authority figure. If you are still having sleep disturbances, getting triggered, using cult terminology, having trouble trusting yourself or others, or finding it difficult to make commitments it can be a sign that there is more healing to do.

In the last 40 years I have become a trained mental health professional, developed my own recovery process, written books, appeared on television, and spoken publicly to train others. Yet, I am still on my journey and learning new things every day. I am getting deep bodywork, going to a therapist, doing yoga, and practicing meditation. In order to stay grounded I surround myself with trustworthy, loving friends and family. I have learned that you must take the time to heal yourself. Activism is great and can be very therapeutic, but not at the expense of having a satisfying personal life. Without that, you never have true freedom of mind.

By | 2017-03-21T11:18:45+00:00 March 31st, 2016|Categories: Resources and Support, Blog|Tags: , , , , , |10 Comments


  1. Linda April 14, 2016 at 11:13 pm - Reply

    Thank you for this blog post, Mr. Hassan. Having gone through the waking up experience after my own cult involvement, I can attest to how traumatic and frightening the process can be. It’s important to emphasize to the recovering soul that healing can take many years and that being honest with yourself is key in being able to reach out and seek help and support. For a while I found that I had to sift myself like wheat from the chaff, and sort out the parts of my thinking that were influenced by the cult mindset and the parts that were coming from the real me. It was very difficult to tell at times, but it’s good to remember there’s no time limit on healing. What I am really thankful for today is that I am still growing and learning as a person and as time goes by, I’m even better and more effective in helping others who suffered from involvement with the same cult that I was once a victim of. As for disagreements between activists, I believe it’s best to remember we’re really on the same team, and although we may process things differently or approach a given situation in different ways, the ultimate goal is facilitating freedom of mind for anyone who seeks it. If a colleague or professional associate has a disagreement with another working in the same field, it’s not helping anyone to attack this person publicly and try to discredit their work. How about approach them privately and voice your concerns, seek common ground and try to come to a meeting of the minds. Differences should be aired outside of the public eye where they can cause discord and confusion. Challenging and questioning one another as professional associates should always be allowed and can be beneficial, but how about setting a standard of conduct that seeks understanding and shows discretion. I consider that the best policy.

  2. X April 16, 2016 at 12:50 am - Reply

    I was born and raised in the Children of God and really appreciated this article. Thank you!

  3. Joan of Arc April 25, 2016 at 9:42 pm - Reply

    This really resonated with me! I left the Jehovah’s Witnesses 2 years ago and it’s sobering to know that it took you 40 + years and that you’ll still working on yourself! Thanks for doing the work that you do!

  4. Thriving May 17, 2016 at 7:16 pm - Reply

    This is great. I just left a group 6 months ago and I have found myself in counter obsession. My boyfriend just told me he is tired of me talking about the cult. Like it is an ex I havent gotten over. So I am reading this blog and getting on with my life. I practice yoga and have a good therapist but I know it will still take more time to heal. I need to spend my energy re-building my life and not fighting the cult. Thank you for sharing your story.

  5. Leesa Hawes August 21, 2016 at 2:02 am - Reply

    Thank you for your wise words. After leaving a cult I come to realise how emotionally and cognitively damaged I was. I am 55 and after a lifetime in a cult (Jehovahs witnesses), I am the oldest student in my year doing a degree at university (social work). I am slowly learning to critically reflect through tutorials, essays and journaling, as well as applying theory to practice in placement with a large organisation dealing with the most underprivileged in our society. I too will incorporate self-care and constant critical reflection into my daily lived experience in order to strive to connect with my authentic self and thus gain the skills to help others in a professional and evidenced-based manner. I have referenced your book “Combatting Mind Control” in a submitted essay it is a great resource.

  6. […] I’ve written before about why ex-members need to heal themselves before helping others. Even if they’re not interested in becoming a vocal activist against destructive cults, there are plenty of good reasons to learn about undue influence and work on personal recovery.  It still amazes me to encounter incredible ex-member activists who have not done their own learning and healing! […]

  7. Tracy April 17, 2017 at 7:33 am - Reply

    Amazing read. Professionaly written. A true eye opener. Helped me to know that I am not odd and there are others just like me. I with share with everyone I can.
    Thank you for taking the time to write this and continue to help others.

  8. Niki April 17, 2017 at 9:50 am - Reply

    I really enjoyed reading this article as it resonates with how i feel about how activism cam help individuals leave an abusive entity.
    It could be a religion, cult, or a multi level marketing group that feels controlling.
    I was a Jehovah’s Witness, and can tell you that I myself have been working on healing my mind and soul from the teachings of this region/cult. It’s taken about 4 years of mindfulness meditation reading self help books going to am energy healer and learning about how the mind can be reprogrammed because it is neuroplastic . We can be healed.
    I went back to school now that I am 47 and a single mom I am proud to say I am further along on my development than I ever was a Jehovah’s Witness. I used to suffer from depression and anxiety.
    Jehovah’s Witnesses claim to be the happiest people on earth. I can tell you it’s not true. All they care about is appearances. Deep down they are like everyone else and sometimes worse because they have to bury their ambitions to put the kingdom first.
    Many suffer from mental health issues and alcoholism. I saw it for myself. They also hide abuse whether it’s towards a woman or child and protect the abuser if he has good standing in the congregation .
    Activism is necessary but it has to be done in a non hostile way with love because this is essentially what this religious group is lacking Real love of God.

  9. Elle January 22, 2018 at 9:29 am - Reply

    Thank you so much for this article and others like it. To be able to find articles like this on ‘safe’ ‘non-apostate’ websites is so useful for raising awareness that JW’s is in fact a cult and people need help to be able to escape or to leave with dignity. And to acknowledge that there is a healing process to go through is comforting also. Thank you

    • Steven Hassan January 22, 2018 at 3:50 pm - Reply

      Thank you for your kind words. More knowledge, awareness, and transparency are needed so as to protect ones from cults such as the JWs. We appreciate your support.
      Kindly, Kimmy O’Donnell, FOM support staff.

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