Vol. 1, No. 1
From the Editor
WELCOME TO AFF NEWS
It is with great pleasure that we launch AFF News, a new publication aimed at
serving the growing population of former cult members.
In the past AFF's staff and associates wrote or contributed to five books
and numerous articles addressing the recovery needs of former members. We have organized
two recovery conferences and numerous workshops
for former cult members across the United States.
AFF professionals have recently gone to Japan where they
have helped educate people there about cults, and several books authored by AFF associates
have been translated into Japanese and other languages.
Because of our expanding international work, we now use the
name AFF (formerly the American Family
Foundation) [2005: ICSA International Cultic Studies Association].
News advisory board includes Rick Larsen (Australia) and Dieter Rohman (Germany).
Rick and Dieter will contribute their insights on and experience with the unique cultural
recovery issues of our non-American audience.
In future issues, in addition to articles focusing on
recovery, we will profile the members of our advisory board so that you will get to know
Our goal is to keep you informed of the special issues that
affect former members of cultic groups, as well as tell you about the services AFF
provides for ex-members, their families, and concerned professionals.
News will be published six times a year. It will be sent free to
current subscribers of the
as well as to thousands of former cult members.
AFF News will announce upcoming lectures and
programs on cult-related topics. Tell us about any events in your area, so that we may
keep our readers informed.
If you know former members or others who may interested in AFF
News, please let us know so that we may send them a complimentary subscription, or
give them our address so they can write us to get on the mailing list. Please note
that our mailing list is kept confidential.
As a former ten-year member of a cultic group, I am pleased
to serve as the editor of AFF News. I welcome your suggestions.
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Individual Differences Affecting
Each person's experience with a cult is different. Some may
dabble with a meditation technique but never get drawn into taking "advanced
courses" or moving to the ashram. Others may quickly give up all they have, including
college, career, possessions, home, or family, to do missionary work in a foreign country
or move into cult lodgings.
After a cult involvement, some people carry on with their
lives seemingly untouched; more typically, others may encounter a variety of emotional
problems and troubling psychological difficulties ranging from inability to sleep,
restlessness, and lack of direction to panic attacks, memory loss, and depression. To
varying degrees they may feel guilty, ashamed, enraged, lost, confused, betrayed,
paranoid, and in a sort of fog.
Assessing the Damage
Why are some people so damaged by their cult experience while others walk away
seemingly unscathed? There are predisposing personality factors and levels of
vulnerability that may enhance a person's continued vulnerability and susceptibility while
in the group. All these factors govern the impact of the cult experience on the individual
and the potential for subsequent damage. In assessing this impact, three different stages
of the cult experiencebefore, during, and afterneed to be examined.
Vulnerability factors before involvement include a person's age, prior history of
emotional problems, and certain personality characteristics.
Length of time spent in the group
There is quite a difference in the impact a cult will have on a person if she or he is
a member for only a few weeks, as compared to months or years. A related factor is the
amount of exposure to the indoctrination process and the various levels of control that
exist in the group.
Intensity and severity of the thought-reform program
The intensity and severity of cults' efforts at conversion and control vary in different
groups and in the same group at different times. Members who are in a peripheral,
"associate" status may have very different experiences from those who are
full-time, inner-core members.
Specific methods will also vary in their effect. An intense
training workshop over a week or weekend that includes sleep deprivation, hypnosis, and
self-exposure coupled with a high degree of supervision and lack of privacy is likely to
produce faster changes in a participant than a group process using more subtle and
long-term methods of change.
Poor or inadequate medical treatments
A former cult member's physical condition and attitude toward physical health may
greatly impact postcult adjustments.
Loss of outside support
The availability of a network of family and friends and the amount of outside support
certainly will bear on a person's reintegration after a cult involvement.
Skewed or nonexistent contact with family and former
friends tends to increase members' isolation and susceptibility to the cult's worldview.
The reestablishment of those contacts is important to help offset the loss and loneliness
the person will quite naturally feel.
Various factors can hasten healing and lessen
cult difficulties at this stage. Many
are related to the psycho-educational process. Former cult members often spend years after
leaving a cult in relative isolation, not talking about or dealing with their cult
experiences. Shame and silence may increase the harm done by the group and can prevent
Understanding the dynamics of cult conversion is essential
to healing and making a solid transition to an integrated
Engage in a professionally led exit
Educate yourself about cults and thought-reform techniques.
Involve family members and old and new friends in reviewing
and evaluating your cult experience.
See a mental health professional or a pastoral counselor,
preferably someone who is familiar with or is willing to be educated about cults and
Attend a support group for former cult members.
The following sets of questions have proven helpful to
former cult members trying to make sense of their experience.
Reviewing your recruitment
1. What was going on in your life at the
time you joined the group or met the person who became your abusive partner?
2. How and where were you approached?
3. What was your initial reaction to or
feeling about the leader or group?
4. What first interested you in the group
5. How were you misled during recruitment?
6. What did the group or leader promise
you? Did you ever get it?
7. What didn't they tell you that might
have influenced you not to join had you known?
8. Why did the group or leader want you?
Understanding the psychological manipulation used in
1. Which controlling techniques were used
by your group or leader: chanting, meditation, sleep deprivation, isolation, drugs,
hypnosis, criticism, fear. List each technique and how it served the group's purpose.
2. What was the most effective? the least
3. What technique are you still using that
is hard to give up? Are you able to see any effects on you when you practice these?
4. What are the group's beliefs and
values? How did they come to be your beliefs and values?
Examining your doubts
1. What are your doubts about the group or
2. Do you still believe the group or
leader has all or some of the answers?
3. Are you still afraid to encounter your
leader or group members on the street?
4. Do you ever think of going back? What
is going on in your mind when this happens?
5. Do you believe your group or leader has
any supernatural or spiritual power to harm you in any way?
6. Do you believe you are cursed by God
for having left the group?
Excerpted from Captive Hearts, Captive Minds: Freedom
and Recovery from Cults and Abusive Relationships by Madeleine Tobias and Janja Lalich ©1994. Reprinted with permission. Also available from AFF's Electronic Bookstore, or ask for
at your local bookstore.