What is it like to leave a real-world cult? Today’s article comes to us courtesy of Dr. Christopher Ryan Jones, PsyD. Dr. Jones walks us through the psychology of what it feels like to leave a cult behind you.

Several people wearing ceremonial robes and holding holding candles

1) What is decompressing from a cult like?

It is really dependent upon the individual and exactly how involved in the cult they were and the length of time they were a part of it.

One of the biggest issues is the indoctrination that they experience and the cognition that, now they are no longer a part of the group, some type of judgement, either in this present world or in their afterlife, is certain. So there is always this feeling that they are going to be punished or that they will go to hell.

This is very hard to escape, even after they leave the cult due to the manipulation of religious texts. (Many cults rely on the religious texts of a particular religion and manipulate the text for their own purposes).

Additionally, people usually feel anxiety, depression, paranoia, and isolation. The later is typical, since cults monitor and control the individual’s social contacts. When they leave the cult, they have no contact with the members any longer and are considered outcast. Since they have no other social network besides those within the cult, this is very traumatizing. This of course contributes to the depression and anxiety.

2) What are individuals looking for when they join a cult?

A lot of times people are just looking to belong, not to the cult specifically, but to a collection of like-minded individuals. After all, this is what everyone wants in life.

Many times these individuals have particular needs in their lives, and the cult offers the answers and helps them find solutions to these needs.

3) How does the leader of the cult get power? What makes people want to follow them?

Cult leaders usually possess a combination of charisma and manipulation. They can be very charming, kind, and give an individual a sense that they care. And as mentioned, they often manipulate religious texts and situations that arise to persuade the individual to view things their way.

People follow cult leaders for a number of reasons. One of the techniques that we see in spiritually abusive situations is the leaders are considered to have a divine position. Meaning that they were put in their position by God (or in some cults the leader is god-like, or even God). As such, you can not question their authority.

It has also been observed that they will single out people as being special. In other words, someone may stand up before their following and say that one of the people in the crowd has a special anointing or a special calling on their lives.

Of course, they would have to prove this by their loyalty to the leader. However, this special status is something that is craved by other followers, and so they mimic similar behavior in hopes that the leader sees the same qualities in them and brings them into their inner circle.

Another reason people follow is due to fear. There is usually some form of discipline for those who rebel–and they of course want to avoid this.