3 REASONS WHY PEOPLE LEAVE CULTS – What You Should Know When Talking To Them
Why do people leave cults? Why are some willing to seek help from counter-cult ministries while others reject any form of help from ex-members or religious associates? Why is it common for ex-cult members to react defensively to any form of criticism of the group they left? Why do members remain loyal to the ideals of the group in spite of suffering mental and emotional abuse from cult leadership? To answer these questions, we must study the three types of people who leave cults.
Those who leave on their own and make a permanent break from the cult group. These are the people who are considered “disassociated” or “apostate” by their acquaintances in the religion. They are viewed as untouchable because they took a stand against the “God appointed” leadership of the cult. Although people in this group may have exited the cult over doctrinal disagreements, many leave due to one or more bad experiences within the group. If they left over their experience and not over doctrinal disagreements, they may turn to a similar cult group (often one that splintered off of the main group). Others who leave based on personal experience become skeptical of anything “religious.” Having been turned off to “religion” by the physical and emotional control they experienced from cult leadership, many give up on the idea of “God” altogether and become skeptics and agnostics. Others who drop out of the cult may retain a belief in God, but isolate themselves from religious association for fear of being scammed in another cult. Unfortunately, only a small minority of those who officially leave cults have truly been born again by the Spirit of God and have found true freedom, not in a religion, but in a personal relationship with Jesus Christ. Thus, we advocate using sensitivity when discussing spiritual topics and asking leading questions to help the former cultist re-evaluate cult doctrine and policies.
Those who drop out without officially leaving. These are considered “inactive.” The reasons for their “inactive” status can vary from minimal disillusionment to complete denial of the cult’s beliefs and practices. In the latter case, their failure to make a permanent break from the cult group may stem from a fear of being rejected and shunned by their friends and family members in the cult and a desire to convince others in the cult to join them in leaving. Those with only minimal disillusionment may carry doubts about the religion or feel they are unable to live up to its demands, but they may not have seen enough evidence against the religion to convince them to officially exit the cult. In many cases where inactivity is due solely to the member’s inability to live up the standards of the cult, any criticism of the cult may illicit a strong, defensive response on the part of the inactive member because he or she may still embrace the cult’s authority in his or her life.
Those who broke the rules and were expelled from the group. Former members who were “excommunicated” or “disfellowshipped” against their will are the least likely to seek help from counter-cult ministries. Since most of the people who were ousted from the group due to performance failure still accept the cult’s authority over their lives and believe the cult is the only true source for obtaining God’s approval, many will either react by working to get back into the cult (get “reinstated”), or give up on trying to be worthy altogether and turn to drugs, sex, alcohol and the party scene for emotional support. Feeling rejected by “God” due to the cult’s rejection of them, they often think that they might as well “live it up” since they only have a few years on earth before God will permanently destroy them along with the rest of the wicked of mankind. While both types of people who are expelled against their will are often sensitive to criticism of the cult, you will find those who chose not to turn to worldly lifestyles but work hard to get accepted back into the cult, most sensitive to anything negative or critical of the cult. They may go so far as to avoid all contact with other ex-cult members in an attempt to keep “pure” of “apostate” (anti-cult) thinking, and they may view all attempts to rescue them from the cult as attacks of Satan who would seek to destroy their confidence in the cult, God’s “true religion” in their minds.
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