How to help friends and family

First Relax, Don’t Panic!

It’s important that you don’t overreact. The natural impulse is to confront your friend or loved one immediately, but the cults are ready for that. If it’s a cult then they will have planted a number of mental “booby traps” into the minds of their members. These booby traps are designed to be triggered by a number of common reactions to discovery of involvement in their group. The most common trigger are the words “It’s a Cult!” The cult knows it will be identified as a cult, and so they preempt that event by telling their new recruit that Satan (or some such enemy) will prompt those closest to them to say that they are a cult. So when you say what they have primed their member to expect, the new member will think, “Wow, they were right!”. Then it is unlikely that your friend or loved one will consider anything else you say. In fact your words might trigger panic and make them want to get away from you. So relax, and don’t call them a cult at first.

Focus on the Golden Rule

The Golden Rule is simple: Do whatever you can to keep the communication channels open with your loved one or friend. The cult will be looking for any reason to shut you off from their new member. Don’t give them an excuse. The Golden Rule is simple, keep the communication channels open. You can’t do anything later on if you can’t communicate with the one you’re trying to help.

Educate Yourself About Cults

Learn as much as you can about cults and how they work. Research the cult your friend or loved one is involved with. Take notes. The internet is an excellent resource for research. If the cult they have joined has been around for a while then there should be information about them. If the cult is new, then you might find no specific information about that particular group – contact us at Cultwatch giving us the information you do have, and we’ll let you know our opinion.

Share With Trusted Friends and Family

Share this information with other friends and family of the person involved in the cult. Bring them up to speed. But instruct them to say nothing yet. Make sure they know to keep their communication channels open too. The more trusted people the cult member can interact with, the better the chance of them leaving the cult.

Find Ex-members

If you can, talk with recovered ex-members of the cult. Often they can provide helpful advice and contacts. But be careful, some ex-members may not have fully recovered. Don’t let them know who your loved one is until after you are sure they are trustworthy.

Find Other Friends and Parents

Locate other friends and parents of cult members. They can provide helpful advice and contacts too. But more than that, they can offer support.

Take a Holiday

A cult needs to keep new members in its buzzing thumping environment to really get them hooked. So it’s of major benefit to get them away from that environment for as long as you can. Often a holiday is all that is needed for the new (or long term) cult member to gain perspective. So if you can, get them away from the cult. Make sure you go to a city or country where the cult has no presence. But do it in such a way that there is little time for the cult member to seek approval from their cult leaders. The more amazing the planned trip the more likely the cult member will disobey their leader and go. Taking a holiday is something you can do early on, as long as you remember the Golden Rule – don’t risk losing contact with them. Also, if the place you go happens to have bad communications, no internet or phone, then that will help break the members contact with the group.

Ask Indirect Questions

When the time comes and you sense it’s OK to ask about the cult, ask indirectly. Don’t say “look at the fire”, instead ask “is that smoke?”. In other-words don’t state the conclusion you want, instead get the cult member thinking by pointing them to the smoke and letting them follow it to the fire. Use the research you have done to formulate the questions. Ask one question at a time, not all at once. For example instead of saying “Your guru is a fake because his end of the world prediction failed”, say “I saw in this copy of your group’s magazine this article, where your guru said the world would end five years ago. I must be honest, I don’t know what to think about that. Can you help me?”

Plan an Intervention

An intervention is when friends and family of the cult member sit down with them and try to persuade them to leave. This is a voluntary action of the cult member, they first must be persuaded to talk about the issue – it is important to never force a cult member to participate. For the best chance of success the intervention should include an accomplished exit-counselor and ex-members of the group. Hiring an exit-counselor will cost money, you should discuss fees at the start and be clear about what you are letting yourself in for. Follow the advice of your exit-counselor. Contact us at Cultwatch for recommendations on how to find an exit-counselor in your country. (By the way, if you are an exit-counselor or a counselor experienced in helping former cult members please send us your details. Including which geographical areas you cover.)

Some extra notes…

In most cases, the best way to help friends and family in a cult is to be supportive of them, while not supporting the group or leader they’re involved with.

Ultimatums (“it’s me or them!”) are hardly ever useful when people are still in the firm grip of a suspect group or leader.

Legal issues

It is unlikely that a legal remedy is going to be available to help friends or family members in a cult.

If they are an adult and there is no physical abuse occuring, then there is probably little that law enforcement can do.

However, there may be ways to protect both yourself (and other friends/family members) and them in financial terms. For example, a wife might set up a separate bank account to stop her husband draining it all to give to the cult.

This has issues around damaging the relationship between you and them, and there may also be some significant legal barriers to this. We strongly suggest you talk to a lawyer about potential actions you may be able to take.

Spending time with them

Be as supportive as you can with them. Try to see them as much a you’re able (without putting pressure on them). Avoid confrontations as they are rarely useful and can serve to drive people further away.

When you spend time with them, don’t mention the group and don’t question them about their own beliefs, or those of the group. If they brings them up, be non-committal.

Talk about other family members and friends. Say things like “I saw Bob the other day and he was hoping you’d come to his party” or “Sally said that she misses you”. Things like that to show them that their “old life” is there for them.

Maybe talk to their friends about what is going on. See if they have some thoughts on the situation. Get their friends to invite them to things.

If you ever feel the time is right, you can even say this to them. “I will always be your parent/friend and you can come to me about anything, at any time.” It may stick in their mind and be something to hold on to when they want to get out.