Living Your Best Life After Leaving a High-Control Group, Family or Relationship

Are you living up to your full potential for a successful life? Have you noticed there are negative influences limiting you? Many former members of high-control groups often experience negative issues, but do not realize they are not at fault and that their issues are fixable. People who were born into or raised in a cult have spent their early developmental years under authoritarian control. Others may have joined later on in life. Both sets of former cult members may have very significant needs for recovery and healing.

There are potentially serious problems after exiting. Getting away is the first step. But former members are vulnerable to further exploitation by a controlling person or even getting involved with another authoritarian group. Many ex-members try to cope with anxiety and fear by self-medicating with drugs and alcohol. Many people are so confused and blame themselves for not being “good enough” for the cult or controller. Many ex-members report having thoughts of self-harm, as well as harming others. To my knowledge, there has been no scientific study to indicate just how many people have committed suicide who have been a victim of cult mind control. If you are not completely clear about your decision of why you have left a controlling group or person, you are at higher risk to go back to the abuse.

Cults use fear and guilt to program their members into believing that their lives are worthless outside the group. Some participate in distasteful behavior and feel guilty for what they did while a member of the group. Others are victims, traumatized by what happened to them.

Some of these issues that affect former members are easy to recognize but some are not. Perhaps you have trouble sleeping? Make poor financial decisions? Find yourself involved in abusive relationships? Experience issues with trusting yourself or others? Have difficulty making a commitment? If you leave a destructive cult without truly facing the underlying issues and deprogramming yourself from the years of deep indoctrination, you probably are not living your best life possible.

Below is a list of some issues reported to me by former members of destructive groups. Destructive cults can have long-term effects, even if you have been physically away for some time. Don’t be alarmed as there is help. Of course, you can have some of these issues and not been raised in a dysfunctional, authoritarian family system or mind control cult. I myself was raised in a pretty normal, stable family with no trauma or abuse history but was deceptively recruited into the Moon cult at age 19. The key point I wish to make is that unless a counselor or therapist is trained in working with cult mind control issues, they will not get to the root issues to help you fully. Many ex-members spend years in therapy without ever learning about mind control cults and getting specialized help.

As you read down the list, do any apply to you?

  • Extreme Identity Confusion (and sorting out your values and beliefs that are your truly your own)
  • Difficulty trusting yourself (or anyone else)
  • Dissociative States (not feeling solidly in one’s body)
  • Depression
  • Post-Traumatic Stress Disorder (PTSD)
  • Psychosomatic Symptoms: Headaches, Asthma, Skin Problems
  • Negative Triggers (in any or all of the five senses – e.g. words, images, songs)
  • Fear and Phobias
  • Panic and Anxiety Attacks
  • Anger
  • Guilt and Shame
  • Difficulty Concentrating
  • Sexual Dysfunction (especially if violated, or told your sexuality is wrong, or if you were trafficked)
  • Eating Disorders
  • Issues with Drugs and Alcohol
  • Sleep Disorders and Nightmares
  • Issues with Decision-Making and Dependency
  • Issues with Money and Finances
  • Feeling Spiritually Violated
  • Grieving Loss of Friends and Family due to Disconnection
  • Experiencing Harassment and Threats from the Group

The DSM-5 lists 300.15 as the category dealing with brainwashing, coercive control, cults, sects, indoctrination while captive. It says: “Identity disturbance due to prolonged and intense coercive persuasion: Individuals who have been subjected to intense coercive persuasion (e.g., brainwashing, thought reform, indoctrination while captive, torture, long-term political imprisonment, recruitment by sects/cults or by terror organizations) may present with prolonged changes in, or conscious questions of, their identity.” One page with some explanation is here.

Based upon over 40 years of experience, and as a former cult member myself, I believe that to fully recover from the coercive control experienced in all aspects of life, most people would benefit from receiving specialized counseling. It is important to work with someone that understands undue influence and cult programming. You MUST deal with the cult identify to get at the root of the issue. I have developed what I call the Freedom of Mind approach. If you are interested in learning more, this page will offer more information on how to receive help.

Additionally, I recommend you read Combating Cult Mind Control and Freedom of Mind to learn about how cults work, how to recover, and how to help others you care about.

Cult mind control wires the brain to be dependent and obedient to a person or ideology or group. This creates an “external locus of control.” Neurogenesis and neuroplasticity demonstrate that people can retrain and rewire their brain to “healthy” patterns, which includes developing an “internal locus of control” for your own mind and life. Learning how to “be in your body” (not dissociated) is critical. Learning how to do healthy rewiring and doing it all the way back to things learned in childhood. In order to heal from destructive mind control, you must learn how to heal yourself. Learn to identify your authentic self and move the locus of control internally.

If you have the time, energy and resource and wish to schedule a one-hour secure, encrypted Zoom video consultation with me, please do.

Overcoming our past, living in our bodies in the present, learning as much as we can, thinking critically, and connecting with one another for support will help build a brighter future. Use your experiences as a catalyst for growth, change and development. And in this way, live up to your full potential and live your best life possible.