I was a few months into my new job and really enjoying my position and co-workers. I was taking a quick break and jumped on a computer in the break room to check email. After checking email, I decided to click over to the SGMSURVIVORS board for current and former member of the cult I used to be a part. I was just about to wrap it up when one of my newest co-workers came up and enthusiastically asked what I was reading. AAAAAAAHHHHHHHHH!!!! Do I just kinda fudge it and say nothing while I quickly close the page? Or do I just tell the truth?
I hesitated and she asked “What?”-you know, the kind of one word question that says “did I just say something wrong to you” sort of what.
I breathed deep and said, “I was checking on a Survivors blog for former members of an abusive church I used to attend…..a cult.”
My co-worker looked surprised and said “But you’re smart, how did you end up being a part of a cult?” Without getting too deep into the details, I explained that I was raised Christian, and while at college I attended some churches to try to stay involved with my faith. Unfortunately, I ended up at a church that seemed so friendly and nice at first; but after being involved for years, came to realize that they would suck people into their relational network, only to threaten to take it away if you dared to disagree with church leadership.
It took me years to admit it….but it’s true. I was part of a cult. And you know why it took me years to admit it…pride. You see, only gullible and naive people get sucked into cults, right? I mean, if I admit that I was part of a cult, than what does that say about me? That I’m gullible and naive, of course. And what intelligent person wants to admit that there a sucker…I certainly didn’t.
Emotional Creatures Are We
The experience of getting sucked into a cult has taught me something-we are emotional creatures first, rational creatures only when forced to change. This is a generalization of course, but I think it holds true and is why thinking people get caught up into cults.
From my experience, I can look back now and see how the church I attended would Love Bomb visitors and then exploit the relational needs or vulnerabilities of these folks. They would draw their new-found recruits into a deeper relational network composed of only members of the church. Once someone became intertwined in the church, that’s when the additional demands (both doctrinally and practically) would be trotted out. At this point, I am forced to make a choice. Do I reject this new doctrine/demand and risk losing my new-found relationships, or do I try to make a go of it so that I can continue to enjoy the relationships that I now depend on for support and self-worth?
It’s this exploitation of our emotions that makes leaving a cult so hard. It hurts like hell, in fact. All of the sudden, people you thought you could depend on are treating you like you’re a criminal. Or acting as if you don’t exist anymore. All the while, you thought you were building relationships to last a lifetime, only to see them washed away in one fell swoop.
It’s then that you realize that all the phone calls, the meals when you were sick, the invites to hang out as couples all hinged on you being a part of the “best church” since the New Testament was written; maybe even better. Now that you’ve voiced some concerns, or pointed out an area where they do not practice what they preach, you become “persona non grata”.
And that’s it in a nutshell. It almost doesn’t matter what the particulars of the belief system are. It’s the fact that you will be punished through your relationships, with cruel efficiency and forethought by people you love. It’s this threat of relational banishment that holds current members in fearful check, while those being banished find themselves overboard and drifting on a sea of emotional turmoil and confusion. Have I mentioned it hurts like hell? Well just in case you missed it, it hurts like hell.