Beginning to Doubt and Question
There are moments when almost anybody can become disillusioned when in a totalistic, or rigid and intolerant, group (or controlling relationship). Losing one’s “faith” can happen for a wide variety of reasons. Maybe they become aware of some discrepancy or hypocrisy in the doctrine or in a leader’s behavior. Perhaps someone they respect decides to leave or is labeled an “apostate” by leadership. Exposure to critical information is a very common reason people begin to doubt. Destructive mind control groups try very hard to keep their members away from negative information about the leader, doctrine or policy.
My forty plus years of work have taught me that destructive cults, of any size, are psychologically, spiritually, emotionally, and sometimes even physically harmful to their members. They all control members as described in the BITE Model (Behavior Control, Information Control, Thought Control and Emotional Control). Just a few such high-control groups are the Moonies, Mormons, Jehovah’s Witnesses, and Scientologists.
Behavior is controlled by regulating with whom the member lives and associates and punishing ones that do not comply. Information is controlled by minimizing or discouraging their access to non-cult sources of information, books, media, critical information and former members. Thoughts are controlled as no alternative belief system is viewed as legitimate, good or useful. Emotional control includes making their members feel that they are part of something elite. But mostly, it uses guilt and fear, especially the fear of leaving the group and being shunned by family, friends and even business associations. This fear of being rejected by God, along with family and friends, is major social control.
Rules to disconnect or shun someone are part of Information control as well as Thought Control. The threat of social ostracism is implied by the group’s loaded language. Different groups have different loaded language terms for “negative” people and “negative” information. They use words such as “apostate,” “possessed,” “wicked one,” “sinner,” “bad association,” “unrepentant,” “suppressive person,” “dissident,” and “spiritually weak.” Critical information can be labeled as “fake news,” “propaganda,” “entheta,” “evil lies,” “spiritual pornography,” and “Satanic.”
When someone is born or raised in a harmful and destructive group, they are usually reared in an ideological and social bubble. Young people have a natural curiosity and a desire to learn which is both idealistic and pure. So, when they are told about the group’s founder and its history, they accept it blindly as the “truth.” When they learn that there are big mistruths, it wakes up their authentic self. Of course, anyone of any age can get curious and start to question.
Another common reason for becoming disillusioned is socially driven, for example, when making a new friend who does not want to become involved. Falling in love with a non-believer is another common motivating reason to make a change and escape. The Internet has provided a unique opportunity for people to find information, almost instantly, allowing them to network with ones outside the insular, closed world of the organization.
Physically Still In, But Mentally Out
Today, critical information and access to ex-members are harder to control. Once-silenced victims are speaking out, media outlets are reporting on dangerous and destructive policies, and social media makes access to ex-members easier than ever before.
This is true, especially for 2nd generation members, children that are born-in, as they have access to the Internet and truth about the unhealthy group. This theme was discussed in the panel of 2nd generation ex-Scientologists at the 2018 ICSA conference. Sadly, many members find themselves trapped inside the group, paralyzed by the realization that if they leave or speak up, they may find themselves without a job, a place to live, friends or family.
These folks are physically still in, but mentally out (PIMO). Being on the “fence” causes a lot of emotional and psychological stress. It can affect your health. For some in a homophobic group, hiding they are gay can be extremely damaging. Unfortunately, many become suicidal.
This term is described by AvoidJW: “PIMO … relates to a person who belongs to a high control group but finds that the repercussions associated with leaving are too great so they remain physically within the group but they are mentally far removed from it.” In the case of this writer, who describes himself as PIMO, if he were to leave the Jehovah’s Witnesses of his own volition, the group would disassociate him & members would shun him from that point on. That includes his family and close friends who remain within the group. It is, for this reason, many members of Jehovah’s Witnesses go PIMO. Many do not sit idly by, avoiding reality. They have decided to become “inside activists” and leak details of what is going on inside the group. This even includes some people high up in the organization.
One such example is that of former Jehovah’s Witness Barbara Anderson who was working at Watchtower’s headquarters when she learned about the conspiracy to protect pedophiles instead of children. When she realized this, she reached out to people she trusted, who previously had left, eventually leaving the group herself, taking with her insider documents that shed light on this scandalous issue. Recently, she wrote a book about her journey. If you want to visit the main whistleblower site for the Watchtower Society, go to AvoidJW.org.
(This week, I speak with former Jehovah’s Witness and activist, Mark O’Donnell. Please watch the embedded video to hear more real-life experiences along with my additional insight on this subject.)
Another experience about being awake but stuck in a cult is from a former Mormon, Michelle. She shares, “I have been a member all my life. I am 32 years old. I hate to admit it, but I have never believed in the things the church tells us we must believe in. … But I also know that if I left the church my entire family would disown me. I know that some of you would respond to that by saying if they truly loved you they would accept your decision. As true as that may be, I know they would never accept it and would hound me for years. I feel so TRAPPED. It seems so weird to say that I feel like a prisoner in my religion. … ” (read her entire experience here.)
Knowledge is power. If you are still in a group and realize that you can no longer believe in the leader, doctrine or policy, you are not alone. If legitimate, they should be able to stand up to your questions and scrutiny. Mind control groups train members to believe there is something wrong with them if they do not follow blindly. I recommend “reality-testing.”
This begins with learning to trust yourself, your intelligence, conscience and your common sense. Next, be very careful when and how you do research, as members are taught to “turn in” anyone who might be looking at critical web sites or interacting with former members. Learn how to protect your information and privacy, this is an essential step. (This blog contains some tips.)
Once you protect yourself online, come up with plausible cover stories that are believable as to why you might not be fully participating in the group’s prescribed activities. Many people develop medical reasons as a cover story. Some develop actual medical problems like migraine headaches, backaches, stomach aches and other ailments including panic attacks. If you aren’t feeling well, then you can’t be expected to fully participate.
Take your time and be thorough in your research. It is critical that you make a fully informed decision so that if you decide to leave the group, you do it for the right reasons. Read non-apostate sources such as media and court records. Also, look at the group’s own literature and fact-check along with source-check. What you may find is that scientists and historians are quoted incorrectly or out-of-context. Additionally, research the person being quoted to see if they are legitimate and trustworthy.
Reach out to known experts as well as ex-members. It is very helpful to learn about other groups you believe to be cults! The parallels will become clear as you learn. I have over 50 free videos and have written several books. (Please do not email me with basic questions until you have invested the time to learn what is available.) With the Internet, it is possible to reach ex-members on Reddit or other support groups, using an alias to protect your identity. And, you can read about personal experiences on social media or watch them on YouTube.
Once you are no longer mind controlled by the high-control group, it is important to make a plan to physically leave, if you believe this is the best option. This state, of being awake mentally while still physically in, is typically not sustainable long-term.
For many, this means, once you get clear and strong, helping your spouse, siblings, or children get oriented. Ideally, make a plan which includes them leaving with you. My book Freedom of Mind was written to orient people to my Strategic Interactive Approach with the goal of empowering people to think for themselves.
If you feel like you need to leave for your well-being, ask for help from others who have already successfully done the journey. You do not need to do this alone. As much as possible, be in control of your life! Decide on a strategy that makes personal sense. It is important that you don’t feel paralyzed or frozen by forces outside of your control.
If your business or livelihood is tied up in the group, start learning a new trade or network and find a new way to pay your bills. You may have to start cutting some of the ties. If you are discovered no longer being a believer, you could lose your job or clients and this would make matters worse. If you do not have a higher education, such as many of Jehovah’s Witnesses, it may be a good idea to get some additional training or schooling so as to better support yourself without relying on any inside the organization.
Socially, you may only be friends with ones that are members. It would be prudent to start making friends outside the group. Connect with non-believing family members, make friends at work, and/or join a club or social group for one of your interests.
If you are married or have children, this “fading” process is one that will be more difficult. It is important not to push your new beliefs on your mate, family or children. Often, when we learn something is not true, we want to tell everyone everything, and this could result in getting punished by the group and prematurely cut off by family and friends. (I know of someone who remained married to a cult member for decades until they were ready to leave, too.)
You want to be strategic and empower your loved ones and close friends to think for themselves. Ask carefully-planned questions that help them to think critically. And you must be patient. Above all, show them love. Love is greater than mind control.
Lastly, you need to undo the cult programming and, if possible, start therapy with a professional that understands undue influence. Reading my books Combating Cult Mind Control and Freedom of Mind should help.
Everyone’s situation is different: some are under 18, some are married, some have children, and some are employed by fellow group members. Whatever your situation, be prepared and set up a support network. Then, decide what is best for you: cut ties with a letter or slowly fade out over a few months.
But I believe that living on a fence is not a healthy long-term option. Be prepared. Be patient. Love yourself. Your future, living free outside the cult as your authentic self, is worth the temporary pain caused by getting off of the fence.
About the Author:
Steven Hassan M.Ed. LMHC, NCC has helped thousands of individuals and families recover from undue influence (mind control). With over 40 years of experience, he is sought after as one of the foremost authorities on undue influence and controlling groups and individuals. Steve understands the subject from a unique perspective as both a former cult member and as a clinical professional. Steven Hassan has published 4 books about cults. His first book, which came out in 1988 under the title Combatting Cult Mind Control, was updated and re-released in 2015 as Combating Cult Mind Control. Chapter 2, My life in the Unification Church has been placed for free on this web site. This book is available as an audiobook as well as on kindle.
Steven is the Founding Director of the Freedom of Mind Resource Center, a coaching, consulting, and training organization dedicated to supporting individuals to have the freedom to think clearly and to freely consider how they want to live their lives. Steven pioneered a breakthrough method called the Strategic Interactive Approach (SIA), an effective and legal alternative for families to help cult members. The SIA teaches family and friends how to strategically influence the individual involved in the cult.
Learn about how the Strategic Interactive Approach can help rescue your friend or loved one out from under predatory influence.
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