People Who Escaped From Cults Share How It All Began, And How They Escaped.
Ever wondered about joining a cult? Or maybe a mysterious organization where you're a bit unsure of the belief system? Well, check out the experiences of some people who were either raised in or joined a cult.
Many thanks to all the Redditors who responded. Check out more answers from the source at the end of this article!
1. Be careful when online.
Found them online when I was only 14. Wasn't introduced to it, I stumbled on it. They seemed normal at first, but then things started getting weird. If you didn't agree with everything they said, you were shunned as an outcast, which I found strange considering so many of them had joined as outcast members of society. I wanted to leave, they said you could anytime, but it was an addiction, and they knew. You weren't going to leave. Until I did.
2. Free drugs will bring in a crowd.
According to my dad who joined a cult when he was 17 in Cali, and left about a year later:
He joined because free drugs and free place to live.
He left because the cult started to tell people not to contact their families and only the higher-level members got drugs anymore.
He says after he left the main leader went to jail for sex crimes of some sort and the whole cult folded.
3. This is a nice one.
I ran away from home at 16 and joined this weird spiritualistic cult. They didn't have any gods but they believed a lot in spirits and ancestors and stuff.
We all lived in this big house owned by the leader guy who's name was Jonathan, Jonathan had a special kind of connection to the spirit world or whatever. They were all super good people, they took me in, gave me food and clothes and stuff, one of the guys gave me a job in his company. They had a lot of rituals and stuff we all did, with a huge emphasis on community and common good and honoring the dead. It wasn't a bad thing so does that make it not a cult?
I dunno they did require a lot of dedication to the group and stuff, I believe 5% of income had to go to the cult, to help Jonathan with rent and so they could all buy food and stuff. I lived with them for a few years, they got me through high school and without them I never would've gone to college, which is the reason I left and where I am now.
I grew up in the Family Radio cult. What they are mostly remembered for is their 2011 prediction of the end of the world and rapture. Spoiler: The world didn't end. I was a young adult and able to leave in the chaotic aftermath without too much of a fight from my parents. I'm doing....okay. Many people are not. Some are still making more predictions.
I do want to take a second and say that 90% of the people in the group were kind people who really didn't want the world to end, but were just so brainwashed that they really believed it. Some of the nicest, most giving people just got sucked in, chewed up, and swallowed in the abysses that was.
5. Starting over would be tough.
From birth. Literally walked away without a penny at 21. When you leave a cult you not only lose your home, family, financial stability but you lose your lifelong identity, your only known community, and you lose the ability to be sure of anything anymore.
6. There's always one in the family.
My mother is a follower of supreme master ching hai. Since 2004. Google her. Really weird when it first started, tried to force my dad and the whole family to eat vegan and wasted tons of money on useless merchandise, like an $800 portrait of the "master." Aside from that and the condescension toward us non-believers, no real culty threats like you'd typically hear.
7. "All I saw was love and kindness..."
Well, I was born into a family that were a semi-popular religion. Now, whether they are a cult or not is debatable, but I for one do believe that it is one. The moment where I realized that I had to leave was when I brought my friend over one day. My mom scolded me for bringing them over and told me that everyone was out to ruin my life if they weren't in the same religion as us. They would talk about how they are horrible and corrupt people, that we needed to cleanse them.
I took a look at my friend and I couldn't see that. All I saw was love and kindness, I knew that these views were corrupt themselves, and then I started to talk to my brother who also shared the same thoughts. We both brought it up with our parents and the elders of our church, and none of them could give us any answers about anything. This is when we both decided that we can not follow the lead of people that can not explain what they are leading us into. In the end, we just didn't really believe in the religion itself.
8. Love finds a way.
My parents grew up in a religious cult and as teenagers, they fell in love but when they asked permission from the church elders to court each other and get married, they were denied. My mum was ex-communicated suddenly in her early 20's (she didn't know why until finding out by chance a long time later) - so they didn't see each other again for 20 years while one remained on the inside, and the other in the 'real world'.
Mum tried writing to him a couple times, but dad was brainwashed and told her that she was evil and should repent for her 'sins'.... things that he had been told about her by the cult etc... Both remained unmarried. When dad was ex-communicated himself 20 years later, my mum heard about it through his brother who had left some years earlier. It took them another year to get in contact, they were in different continents, didn't know where each other were and dad was trying desperately to get used to life in the outside world, having never lived in normal society before and now in his mid 40's.
One day he finally had a letter from mum, he wrote back immediately and basically assumed that they were getting married - packed his bags and moved across the world to find her. Mum answered the door to dad in the early 80's, having not seen him in 20 years, they were engaged that night and married within 6 weeks. They are still happily together.
9. Where do I find one of these "Burn Parties".
I realized my family was in a cult when I was 10 and we had a burn party for the television. As it exploded, people chanted, "die, Satan! Die!"
10. "It's been a wild ride..."
My parents joined a cult in west Texas when I was about 8-9 after searching for "the truth" their whole adult lives.
Long story short, it wasn't that weird at first. I like to use the frog in boiling water analogy. If it was that strange when they first started going, they wouldn't have stayed.
It became a doomsday cult, multiple marriages, all the girls were married up by old elders leaving nothing for us young dudes so naturally, we rebelled.
My escape wasn't as harrowing as some others but my leaving did set up me saving my 15 year old sister (under cover of darkness abducting her from my dad's house and transporting had to my mom in LA) from marrying an elder who already had 4 wives and about 10 kids.
It's been a wild ride...
My friend joined because he was homeless and they promised to get him clean and sober.
He left because he got clean and sober. He took what he needed and faked the rest. There were others there out of desperation. He connected with a few of them. Their philosophy was eat the meat and spit out the bones. I'm still clean and sober. I had three years in January.
12. Smart gal, indeed.
My sister was involved with a cult for a little while. She never joined, but she was friends with a few of them. But of course, that's how they get you. Eventually (like... a year or so after she started hanging out with them?), they basically forced her to make a choice: join the church, or get lost. They worded it differently, of course, about how they just wanted her to be "saved" and all that nonsense. Obviously they're just trying to prey on people with few friends and low self esteem, making them scared to lose the only friends they have and tricking them into joining.
My sister got out of there and never contacted those people again. Smart gal.
13. This one is tough to read.
My mom was in this cultish organization in her 20's (not really sure why she joined...?) and used to talk a lot about her glory days. When my siblings and I were old enough to participate, naturally, we joined. They require you to pay to be there and participate in the mission trips/teaching (which are basically required to maintain membership) and then require total submission from women to men and the group leadership and complete submission from the guys to the group leadership. Lots of hierarchy and if you don't "hear the voice of God," you're screwed.
As a woman, if I disagreed with anything my superiors said, they would ostracize me and do pretty much everything in their power (which was a lot) to make my life terrible. They preyed on people who have low self esteem and few friends, then they teach you that you only matter if you hear and obey God and then effectively make it so the only friends you have are members. Even though I had friends and good [enough] self esteem when I joined, I started feeling pretty bad about myself and lost almost all of my friends (outside because obviously and inside because I asked questions).
The most cultish part of my experience was that despite all of this, they still enticed me to come back a few times and rejoin activities, committing to greater and greater responsibility each time, which meant worse treatment each time because, for me, having greater responsibility meant asking questions sometimes.
Even logistical clarification questions (ie. when are we supposed to be at X event, what's the address of Y location) infuriated my leader. When I tried to talk to his leaders about this, they tried to gaslight me then ostracize me. On third time back, I promised myself I would never return.
My brother is still involved and it makes family gatherings extra tough. My sister would be involved if her husband's job would allow him to relocate. I went back one time to see my brother get married (to another member). I ran into my old crew and leader who discouraged me from starting medical school, noting that it would delay my marriage and childbearing and that the workforce isn't the woman's place. It's a message I've been hearing from my mom for years and continue to hear every time we talk. It's very hard continuing to be a part of a family that's so deep in this ideology.
14. From humble beginnings...
Well. It was more of a small group with cultist traits than an actual cult, but the same principles apply.
I got in as it was just forming. Back then it was just a place for like-minded people to discuss world affairs. I was an arrogant teenager who was more smart than wise so I liked that part. Then it started to get progressively more isolated, the idea started to grow that people who didn't think the same things were by definition wrong and we shouldn't talk to them. Initially, I protested, but that was quickly smothered.
I won't pretend I'm only a victim here, I made my choices and they were stupid, but it is hard to understand the effect of that isolation of you've never experienced it yourself. It can be similar to an emotionally abusive relationship where your partner gets progressively more controlling and possessive and when you look back, you think "how could I possibly have let this all happen?"
Then they wanted everyone to change themselves, to 'develop' themselves and get rid of 'irrational' thought/behaviour patterns.
I bought into this at first, thinking I was growing to be a better person, a more positive influence on the world (again, isolation and a good dose of the young arrogance of a clever-but-not-intelligent person, I like to think I've grown a bit in that respect since the end of my cult life). Then I started to feel like I was losing myself, losing the idea of who I was. This was of course written off as being an irrational thought I needed to get rid of. I started to resist the constant changing more and more. They tried quarantining me with my then boyfriend who was also part of the whole thing, because I was starting to rub off my rebellion on my best friend, who got caught up later when she was in a very vulnerable place in her life.
That was probably the darkest period I've ever lived through. And I'm glad that I did live through it. At some point, the only reason I wanted to stay alive was because I couldn't bring that heartbreak upon my mother, who I was hardly allowed to see (her being a non-believer, of course), because I knew she wouldn't understand, would never get closure, and I just couldn't do that to her. I had BAD panick attacks. I had recurring nightmares where I was trying to run away from someone but it felt like I was running through thick syrup. I held myself catatonic whenever my then boyfriend was trying to make me change again. I didn't know what to do, because I'd internalised their moral standards; leaving their group seemed like the worst thing in the world to me, but I also couldn't keep doing what they told me to do. I was so stuck and lost.
Eventually, they figured out I wasn't going to be a productive group member anymore so they kicked me out. Came home from my customers service student job one day, my boyfriend sat me down and broke up with me. I cried my eyes out. He left to go stay with friends. Next morning, I woke up, and I felt so free. Life felt so much brighter and better and more enjoyable. I finally didn't have to live up to their standards anymore, I loved it.
Later, when the emotional aftermath started hitting me, I realised I'd still internalised their moral standards; I'd just accepted that I was a bad person. It's been two years now since I got kicked out. I'm still dealing with it often, but getting better. I'm learning to look at it as a valuable lesson now, but I'm not kidding myself. It was horrible. It was bad. It scarred me in a way that'll never be gone. I'm just going to have to turn those scars into a strength.
About a year and change after I got kicked out I saw my best friend was no longer Facebook friends with the cult people. I'd been wanting to contact her for a long time, but I was chicken and I didn't want to deal with the possible heartbreak of her telling me I was evil and that she didn't want anything to do with me. So when I saw she was probably not in contact with those people anymore, I was so happy. I sent her a message, we met up, bonded over our experiences, and it was just like old times. Turns out she had been kicked out in a similar fashion as I had been just a few months after me and was also kinda afraid to contact me. I'm still so happy to have my friend back.
We are told that, if you're not confident, you should just "fake it til you make it."
This is great--in theory. In practice, sometimes "faking it" can have extremely real and terrible consequences, which these people found out the hardest of hard ways.