Thursday, August 7, 2008

Post Cult Trauma Syndrome

From the ReFocus Website:

Post-Cult Trauma Syndrome*

After exiting a cult, an individual may experience a period of intense and often conflicting emotions. She or he may feel relief to be out of the group, but also may feel grief over the loss of positive elements in the cult, such as friendships, a sense of belonging or the feeling of personal worth generated by the group's stated ideals or mission. The emotional upheaval of the period is often characterized by "post- cult trauma syndrome":

  • spontaneous crying
  • sense of loss
  • depression & suicidal thoughts
  • fear that not obeying the cult's wishes will result in God's wrath or loss of salvation
  • alienation from family, friends
  • sense of isolation, loneliness due to being surrounded by people who have no basis for understanding cult life
  • fear of evil spirits taking over one's life outside the cult
  • scrupulosity, excessive rigidity about rules of minor importance
  • panic disproportionate to one's circumstances
  • fear of going insane
  • confusion about right and wrong
  • sexual conflicts
  • unwarranted guilt
The period of exiting from a cult is usually a traumatic experience and, like any great change in a person's life, involves passing through stages of accommodation to the change:
  • Disbelief/denial: "This can't be happening. It couldn't have been that bad."
  • Anger/hostility: "How could they/I be so wrong?" (hate feelings)
  • Self-pity/depression: "Why me? I can't do this."
  • Fear/bargaining: "I don't know if I can live without my group. Maybe I can still associate with it on a limited basis, if I do what they want."
  • Reassessment: "Maybe I was wrong about the group's being so wonderful."
  • Accommodation/acceptance: "I can move beyond this experience and choose new directions for my life" or...
  • Re-involvement: "I think I will rejoin the group."


* This information is a composite list from the following sources: "Coming Out of Cults", by Margaret Thaler Singer, Psychology Today, Jan. 1979, P. 75; "Destructive Cults, Mind Control and Psychological Coercion","Fact Sheet", Cult Hot-Line and Clinic, New York City.