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What to do if you know someone is in a cult

A cultic group can be very unassuming. It can be based on religion, personal development programs, the New Age realm, political ideologies, pyramid selling, or a one-on-one relationship. It is very confusing and upsetting when someone close to you has been manipulated and recruited into a destructive cult.

You may notice:

  • their personality has changed; that they are spending more and more time with the group they’re involved with;

  • they are spending a lot of money on courses or products associated with the group;

  • they may be regularly tithing a proportion of their income to the group which you know they cannot afford; or

  • it may be more extreme, whereby this person has sold all their possessions and has moved in with the group leader or onto a commune.

Cult members will appear outwardly happy, however internally they are emotionally distressed, anxious and depressed. They need to appear happy in order to recruit others, so that they can bring in more money for their cult leader.

It is a very complicated situation to interpret and act upon, as all cults have different beliefs and practices, and display varying levels of psychological, physical, sexual, or financial abuse.

Following are some suggestions of actions you can take to help this person, keeping in mind that the process can be long and unpredictable:

  • if the person is not a close family member, contact their family and discuss their knowledge of the group and any action they have taken thus far. NB. Do not tell the cult member that you have done this;

  • if you or their family talk to the cult member, do not say anything negative about the cult or the cult leader, as they will shut down and not speak to you about what is really going on, or may cut off from you entirely;

  • ask the cult member open-ended questions about the group and their beliefs. Perhaps ask some subtle questions which might encourage them to think logically, and hopefully start having some serious doubts, for example: "is this how you've always intended to live your life?"; always create an environment where they feel safe with you, and know that no harm can come to them when they are with you; also, talk about happy times the family has spent together to bring up good memories of their former life when they were close to family and friends;

  • ensure that you and their family keep your communication lines and ‘door’ open to them, so that when the time comes when they leave or want to, that they know they have your support and can call you to come and collect them, from anywhere, at any time;

  • do as much online research on the group as you can. In addition, educate yourselves on 'mind control' so that when the cult member leaves the cult, you and their family can support them throughout their recovery, which unfortunately can be difficult and can take some time.

You can visit the following websites for further information on mind control:

  • Cult Information and Family Support: (Australia)

  • Info-Cult: (Canada)

  • International Cultic Studies Association: (USA)

  • European Federation of Centres of Research and Information on Cults and Sects: (France)

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