Michael D. Langone, PhD
Former group members usually seek information from us because they are trying to understand their group experience and/or deal with post-group problems. Although getting information on the group in question has utility, it is usually at least as important to understand the processes that underlie group involvements. This and other study guides and topic collections are designed to provide you with essential background information.
In this overview we want to call your attention to a number of points that we believe former group members should keep in mind. We recommend that you read this overview first. Specific articles and other resources are listed to the right of the overview, including important definitional essays. Since surveys indicate that over 90% of ex-members have found reading materials and talking to other ex-members to be helpful, we believe that you will find the listed resources to be useful.
We’d like to begin, however, by giving you a few words of advice.
The most important principle to keep in mind when trying to evaluate helping resources is this: different people will respond differently to similar environments. Environments and individuals are complex and interact in complex ways.
This seems like common sense, but it is easy for people to ignore individual differences and overgeneralize: “If Joe and Mary had bad experiences in the Holy Enlightenment Crusade for Oneness, then Harry too must have had the same kind of experiences.” The notion of individual differences implies that, although Harry may very well also have been harmed, he may not have been, or may have been harmed in a different way. Thus, if you are Harry, you don’t want your experiences defined by Joe and Mary. Nevertheless, you may learn something useful by finding out about Joe and Mary.
This is part of ICSA’s role: helping you to learn about the experiences and views of other people, while at the same time encouraging you to think carefully about the degree to which this information may or may not be relevant to your unique situation.
In other words, pay respectful attention to the resources on our site, but don’t do what you might have been encouraged to do in your group, that is, treat this information as holy writ that cannot be questioned.
Question! Question! Question!
If you were really in a destructive group, your capacity for independent critical thinking may have been assaulted and diminished. We cannot help you regain that capacity if we don’t encourage you to critically examine what we say, as well as what others say.
An excellent way to enhance your capacity for critical thinking is to talk to former members from diverse groups, such as in one of ICSA’s “After the Cult” workshops or conferences. The diversity of participants’ backgrounds is one of the factors that make these workshops so effective. Participants begin to see the psychologically manipulative dynamics of groups in bold relief when they hear the accounts of people from groups that on the surface are completely different from their own.
Clinical and research evidence suggests that many former members of abusive groups tend to blame themselves inappropriately for their problems, much as the group may have blamed them. Former members also tend to be depressed and anxious, and often experience what has been called “floating” (i.e., a sense of slipping from normal to group states of consciousness). Some also feel overt or suppressed anger toward the group’s leader(s).
An ICSA survey found that ex-members related to the terms “psychological abuse” and “spiritual trauma” as descriptors of their experience. A large percentage, possibly a majority, appears to need counseling when they leave their groups. Nevertheless, many psychologically needy individuals do not seek counseling, or receive counseling that isn’t as effective as it could be because cult-related issues are not addressed.
Sometimes former group members need help regarding custody disputes or child abuse issues. We have special collections on children.
If you are experiencing psychological distress, it might be advisable to seek professional help, if you have not already done so. If you do, don’t be intimidated by credentials. And don’t be afraid to “shop around” for a therapist with whom you feel comfortable. Psychotherapeutic effectiveness depends upon many interacting variables, and a sense of rapport between therapist and client is certainly very desirable.
Our profiles of people who have spoken at our conferences or published in our periodicals include a number of helping professionals. We advise people seeking professional consultation to investigate options to make sure that they feel comfortable with a particular person. Sometimes state psychological, medical, or professional associations maintain referral services for the public. Even though few professionals have much expertise with cultic groups, many can be helpful, particularly if they have worked with family systems or abused populations and if they are willing to learn about cult-related issues. Our collection for mental health professionals may interest such therapists.
Starting Out in Mainstream America is a helpful reference for dealing with practical issues, such as employment, housing, etc. This e-book is especially useful to people born or raised in high-demand groups (SGAs – Second Generation Adults). Wendy Ford’s Recovery from Abusive Groups is also useful and available free online, along with Starting Out and other books – http://www.icsahome.com/elibrary/ebooks.
Spiritual Safe Haven Network includes information on and links to resources pertinent to spiritual abuse helping religious communities to become safe havens for former group members.
If this service interests you, contact us