5 Steps to Help Your Cult-Involved Loved One
Sometimes, people join cults.
When you love one of those people, getting them out can quickly become an all-encompassing goal.
If you're like us, you probably want to help them understand how harmful these groups can be. You may have already discovered that discussing the subject doesn't yield the result you want.
This post is designed to help you contextualize your situation and brainstorm what to do next when your loved one is cult-involved.
While no guide can ever be exhaustive enough to meet every situation, PLC's goal is to help you get the conversation started.
Step 1: Try to Remain Calm
Staying calm is easier said than done, especially when you're concerned about someone you love. However, acting from a place of "desperation" may not produce the results we hope for.
Step away from the situation and take a few deep breaths.
Now is the time to evaluate the situation.
It's important to identify what you know and don't know about your loved one's involvement.
Oftentimes, when families suspect that their loved one is involved in a cultic group or relationship, their anxieties about what could be going on can drive decision-making. This may result in arguments, confrontation, or even estrangement.
Raising the temperature may also push your loved one further into their group or the relationship in question.
It's not uncommon for cultic groups or relationships to prime members by saying along the lines of: "Your family of origin will never understand you, but we will".
You don't want to feed into this notion.
You don't want to become the source of contention.
That's why it's important to stay calm.
Step 2: Be Curious!
Your next goal is to gain an understanding surrounding your loved one's experience. If they decided to join a group, you should try to know the reasons why.
If you have the ability to communicate with them, try approaching your loved one from a place of curiosity instead of criticism, fear, or anxiety.
We refer to this as benign curiosity - ask questions, but don't probe for information or dirt. Be neutral.
Again, this can be difficult, but we want to find out as much as we can about the content they are consuming and what they believe.
If they mention books, content, or other media:
What are they reading?
Do they leave these resources around others?
Are they excited to share the ideas being presented?
Who are they listening to?
What shows/productions are they watching?
Are they involved in online groups or active on social media?
These questions can provide a helpful internal roadmap for understanding what may be contributing to the decisions your loved one is making.
Keep in mind that being curious is different than debating their beliefs.
Allow them to share the information that they want to share with you.
Being curious may also signal to them that you are "convertible" or "savable", which means it can be the tool that allows you to remain in communication.
Step #3: Get Organized
(sooner rather than later)
Cult involvement can be complicated.
If you want to maintain a connection and potentially help them leave, it's important to form a cohesive narrative about your loved one's involvement.
One of the best ways to stay organized is to make a timeline of events. Having a clear timeline at your disposal can help you understand their motivations, avoid potential triggers, and otherwise prepare for your interactions with them.
A timeline can include the following:
Date of birth
Year graduated from school(s)
Family of origin's culture/religious beliefs
Any mental health or physical diagnosis and when they were diagnosed
Significant events in their life (parental divorce, trauma, etc.)
What year their interest in group involvement or relationship transpired
Any major events that have transpired while they are cult involved
It's much easier to formulate this ahead of time - and much harder if your loved one is already in crisis (which is when this info is most valuable).
Plus, if you end up needing the assistance of helping professionals, providing a concise timeline can be a helpful tool to aid their understanding of your situation.
Step #4: Create a Safe Space
Everyone's situation is unique. Your encounters or communication with your loved one will vary from someone else's.
In extreme instances, it's possible that you may not have the opportunity to be in active communication with your loved one at this point in time. It's an incredibly painful possibility for someone to be in.
If you are in contact, have safe topics of conversation in your back pocket.
As for how you engage, it's still best to be indirect. One tactic is to integrate conversations into an activity - even doing dishes together counts!
Why go to all this effort? Because it helps take the pressure off of having a direct conversation.
Cultic groups or relationships are high-pressure environments, and you don't want to add more pressure on the person involved. Your aim should be to always provide them with an "out".
For example, you can say, "I would love to see you this weekend, but it is no problem at all if you can't make it". You may feel disappointed if they can't meet, but it's unwise to guilt them if they cannot meet with you.
Also: If interacting with a cult-involved individual is stressful for you, provide yourself with an "out". You can let them know that you only have 45 minutes today because you have an appointment to attend.
It's better to speak with them when you are calm.
They will read if you are stressed while interacting with them. It is okay to keep interactions brief to avoid contention and maintain a safe relationship.
The hope here is simple: by being a safe space you can provide a positive influence that's not involved with the group. Ideally, you can use your influence to help steer them away from the group in the long term.
Step #5: Seek Professional Help
If you feel that your loved one may benefit from speaking to professionals, finding help is an option.
Seeking professional help or guidance may look like the following:
Educational support: Learning from books, podcasts, documentaries, or other forms of media can be helpful tools in understanding cult dynamics, recruitment, and recovery. It's important to take note if you start feeling overwhelmed. Sometimes deep dives may fuel anxiety. Self-care is incredibly important to keep in mind when ingesting educational materials. Make sure to take breaks!
Mental health support: Therapeutic support can be a helpful resource for managing your anxieties surrounding your loved one's involvement. Your loved one's involvement may put a strain on the family unit. Additionally, clinicians may be able to provide you with tools to assist in managing conflict with a loved one.
Ongoing support: It's important to know your options and to have resources prepared to aid your loved one's recovery after a cultic situation. Oftentimes, families have tried many different things before approaching cult intervention/mediation specialists.
Professional resources for cult recovery and intervention are expanding, so take time to see what's out there! You never know where help can come from.
Side note: check out our post on why you should avoid cult deprogramming - it may come in handy!
Navigating cult involvement is tricky, but possible.