Post-Cult Problems: An Exit Counselor's Perspective

Post-Cult Problems:  An Exit Counselor's Perspective 

Carol Giambalvo

There are several classifications of ex-members, based on how they left the cult. Former members usually fit into one of the following:

Walkaways and castaways need the most help in understanding their recovery process.  Former members who were cast out of a cult are especially vulnerable; often they feel inadequate, guilty, and angry.  

Most cults respond to any criticism of the cult itself by turning the criticism around on the individual member.  Whenever something is wrong, it's not the leadership or the organization, it's the individual.  

Thus, when someone is told to leave a cult, that person carries a double load of guilt and shame.  Sometimes walkaways also carry a sense of inadequacy.  Often they can think through these feelings intellectually, but emotionally they are very difficult to handle.

Tools for Recovery

In my experience, the most helpful tool for recovering ex-cult members is learning what mind control is and how it was used by their specific cult.  Understanding that there are residual effects from a mind control environment and that these effects are often transitory in nature helps diffuse the anxiety.  Clients, especially walkaways and castaways, feel relieved when they learn that, given the situation, what they are experiencing is normal and that the effects will not last forever.  

Also integral to the recovery process is developing an attitude that there are some positives to be gained from the cultic experience.  When former members learn about mind control, they can use that understanding to sort through their cultic experience, to see how they came to change their behavior and beliefs as a result of mind control.  They can then assess what out of that experience is good and valid for them to hold on to.

When former members live in an area where there is an active support group meeting, it is often helpful for them to participate.  Support group meetings provide a safe place for ex-members to discuss concerns with others who are dealing with similar issues.  In this environment, no one will look at them like they have two heads.

Common Issues in Post-Cult Recovery

Some of the recovery issues that keep recurring in my work with ex-cult members are:

In my experience, there is no difference in the aftereffects experienced by those people who had family interventions or those who walked away or were expelled from a cult.  Most ex-cult members — no matter the method of leaving the cult — had some or all of these residuals.  The difference is that the individuals who had interventions are more prepared to deal with them, and especially those who went to a rehab facility.  

It is important to note and to bring to the attention of the ex-cult member that each individual's recovery process is different and there is no "How To Recover from a Cultic Experience."  In fact, the desire for a quick and easy recovery may be in itself a residual effect of the cult.

Excerpted from  "Post-cult Problems: An Exit Counselor's Perspective" by Carol Giambalvo, in Recovery from Cults: Help for Victims of Psychological and Spiritual Abuse, edited by Michael D. Langone (1993. W.W. Norton & Company.)  Reprinted with permission. Also available from AFF.