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The unexpected lot

Cults and Deprogramming

Cults are a widespread problem that may cause tragedies. Not a few of them go on getting members among shy persons (Zimbardo 1977). A sect leader may promise a glorious future, maybe immortality through kriya too. It may look like a "win-win" deal, enriching, ennobling, empowering and so on, until many hard facts of everyday life strike.

Facts may be likened to ducks:

"When I see a bird that walks like a duck and swims like a duck and quacks like a duck, I call that bird a duck." - Richard James Cardinal Cushing (1895-1970)
Marring things
Quacks like a bird

Learn to identify the sectarian (cultist) and what sectarians do, and then you may help in some deprogramming activity too. A good diagnosis helps for prescribing a cure. Dr Philip G. Zimbardo thinks that

No one ever joins a "◦cult." People join interesting groups that promise to fulfill their pressing needs. They become "cults" when they are seen as deceptive, defective, dangerous, or as opposing basic values of their society.

A sect is a group adhering to a distinctive doctrine or to a leader. It may be regarded as religiously dissenting and extreme. A cult can be a small group of people marked by great devotion to a person, idea, object, movement, or work. There can be dogma set forth by its promulgator. Its religious beliefs may be regarded as spurious. [Merriam-Webster]

The words 'cult' and 'sect' many be interchangeable. However, the 'sect' could be tenser and unpleasant for free thinking. Christianity started as a very tense sect of Judaism, one may add for perspective.

Plotting sects and cults have many common characteristics. There are ways to deal with them; some of which are decent and fair too. Basically, to deal with them all right, just stay away from them. If not, there is a risk of ending up in recurrent troubles. And those who are able to realize and not repress their hovering cult member problems, may seem enigmatic to the "blinded", fooled flock of cult serfs. Well, there is that chance.

Members of the sect that get aware of frustrations of unfulfilled or dwarfed lives, may react differently. "There are basically three ways people leave a cult:

  • By intervention (exit counseling, deprogramming)
  • On their own decision (walkaways)
  • Through expulsion (castaways) [Wikipedia, s.v.. "cult"]."

Deprogramming of a Sectarian and Some of Its Problems

Damage is no joke!

Some enter. Professor Margaret Singer tells that three million young American adults between the ages of 18 and 25 are or have been affiliated with cults. There are at least 250 different cults - depending on the definition used, as many as 2,500 cults can be identified. They fall into ten classes, Singer says. Neo-Christian-based cults; spiritualistic-based groups; Zen-based assemblies; Hindu-and eastern-based groups; political cults; and communal living groups are among them. (Cf. Singer 2003)

There is also much kidnapping in the States, and some victims of parental kidnapping may end up and "grow down" (get deranged deep within) in sects. Exact figures are hard to get. [WP, "Kidnapping in the United States"]

Not all cults are "too bad", or hard. Some are soft-spoken with a big stick hidden somewhere around too.

There are two types of persons who enter a cult: those who are fooled into it, and the rest. Those who are fooled into it, may have sought out that sort environement, or been fooled by the cult facades. Some fooled ones may come to talk of their experiences accordingly. And some who are forced into a cult at a tender age by their insane mom or whatever, and duped there, may start to identify with those who keep them down, a little bit like tamed animals. The sect-tamed may not have all it takes to get well afterwards, if they ever get straight enough for it. Children who get kidnapped or forced into sects due to one of their parents pose problems to be reckoned with too. Child protection authorities cannot easily measure the scope of the problems cults pose. And there may be little a side-lined or bereaved father or mother may be able to do for offspring that have been cowed for long and hard years in a sect. Fundings may or may not suffice.

A lesson to be learnt: The more helpless the sect victims get, the more easily they may be formed to suit the cult:

Patricia Hearst (1954-), now known as Patricia Hearst-Shaw, is the granddaughter of American publishing magnate William Randolph Hearst. In 1974 while she was a 19-year-old student living in Berkeley, California, she was abducted by a left-wing terrorist group. Isolated and threatened with death, she was brainwashed into supporting their cause Within two months of her kidnapping, Patty had issued a statement where she referred to her family as the "pig-Hearsts". After she took part in the terrorist group's illegal activities and serious crimes she was in time found guilty of bank robbery, but in the end she was pardoned by President Bill Clinton. (WP, "Patty Hurst", cf. Brown 1963)

Some remain. Some who enter a fooling cult may be quick enough in leaving the bad environment without lots of damage. Those who stay in a bad cult too long may be broken in, indoctrinated on many levels, harshly treated, and to decrepit or too old and fragile to find a better fare outside. Some may even prefer to stay in a hard cult and may seem to flourish there to the degree the cult and cult rank suit authoritarian mentalities or deranged minds similar to theirs, and as long as they or their family members are not badly hurt. There are cracked cups in many lands, as among those who ran the Great Inquisition and had maimed and killed millions - allegedly for love of their souls. There may be plenty of risks and no healing prospects in such "grand designs". A reign of terror is hardly good for the heart.

Some leave. Among those who leave a cult, some may be well off for it, others so-so, and still others badly hurt. It depends on how much they were made to feel for and focus on the cult leader, its public ideals, and what really went on or took place. Among those who leave a cult or group, motives differ according to initial expectancies versus their experiences in the group. For example, (1) some could have entered it when it was a group, a society, and if the group changes and stands out as cultish and lots of swindles come to the fore, then very disappointed members or what was supposed to be a good group to be part of, decide to leave it, one by one or in flocks. (2) Or members may leave the established cult because glowing expectations were not fulfilled, or thwarted, for example. The cult's facade and what is going on in it, differ a lot in many cases.

Listen to deranged minds if you can handle it. Agitators and fact-bringers are fairly different. Fairness is a clue. All the same, facts are hard to find after experiences in closed settings (cults). Someone on a discussion board spoke of having a cult-twisted, deranged mind, and blamed SRF for it. That might have some truth in it, but there are rules for how proofs are set up in medicine and the social sciences. And someone who says his mind has been deranged, may or may not be no good and very reliable source of information so long as his or her mind is deranged. The challenge is to go for facts and get them as well. And if hard facts are missing, to judge probabilities of "this and that" loosely based on from more than one person. The latter approach may be fit for qualitative research (with quite few persons to be informed by) and quantitative studies (statistical figures derived from larger groups of people).

In ex cultists there may linger underlying motives that twist and derange the overt ones. Persons who get drawn to a cult and accommodate to it, might as well get some tense, underlying motives fulfilled, depending on their character structure. Such a view is hardly alien to psychoanalytically oriented fellows. At first sect-ensnared ones submit to an inferior role, with glowing hopes - for example of gaining cosmic consciousness through Yogananda. As time goes by, an idealised guru image pales, great expectations are not fulfilled. Those who tread on anyway, are called "faithful devotees" and things like that. If they become monks and nuns and also top-dogs in a hierarchy set up, that is neither a guarantee they have become cosmic, nor bitter and helpless and relentless against underdogs: the common followers.

It happens that after leaving a society, people discuss it on the Internet, for example on discussion boards. Some fail to leave, but participate on such boards too. Then there are discussions: some fight their reproachable cult, others gainsay them; some seem to have got wiser, and try to help others and ward off harm, and former members help one another to seek therapists, and further. There are many sorts who get out of cults in time. Nasty and foolish conduct and drivel that runs contrary to one's declared goals indicate great inner conflicts, even torments. Others may feel just helpless.

Recurrent, underlying motives of cultists show up in the course of time, be they desires for money, sex, and influence. These could be settled first. Today's cults are usually led by charismatic guys who centre love, devotion, and allegiance of the members on themselves. Add "more or less" or "somewhat" to that, or "- and that is what they feed on."

A rather deep-set problem might just be that a former cult member's mind may still be fixated in an authoritarian way of working (cf. Adorno 1950). We should not rule out that his mind was that way first, and he sought to find a network in a cult that suited his mentality, seemingly, at first, before his or her disappointments also. There is a lot that must be considered or taken into account apart from this: "It's not easy to tell about one's broken faith, broken life orientations". It may be extremely stressful, shattering, and far from easy to verbalise.

Lack of emphasis may help

One may not be able to solve an inner, sectarian dilemma of domination by turning very vehemently against cults and sects. To get fully free from sects, is to get rid of sectarianism within oneself too.

The alleged anti-cultist may reveals his "addiction" to authoritarian stuff by going too far somehow, drawing in other authority figures to lean on, perhaps hoping they may work wonders in "deprogramming". There is a risk that some take their authoritarian submission problems and "hook up" to nother authority figures that seem better than the authority figures these persons first chose. Someone brawled: "Here's an example of a classic deprogramming technique from an interview with the cult buster pioneer, Ted Patrick". What was left out, was that Patrick had been sentenced to jail for his activities.

Deprogramming may itself work as a form of corky mind control. Deprogramming is not an easy matter, and it frequently needs follow-up, because:

  1. The emotional ties in the organization (friends) are still very strong;
  2. Loneliness and disillusionment are strong factors causing a desire to go back to the cult;
  3. Lingering doubts about a new decision remain for a while;
  4. Confusion and disorientation about the future haunts former cult members.

[◦Wikipedia link] [FA, FB]

Deprogramming Understood

In a cult or sect there may be some plotting to make new members accept a doctrinal body. Thought, knowledge, and loyalities may be affected, eventually. Psychological punishments for non-cooperation may be subtle, affecting such as control and contacts, if reinforcements have failed. Deprogramming may consist in reversing doctrinal plotting through intensive psychotherapy and confrontation. Deprogramming has proved somewhat successful, particularly with religious cult members. Depth of changes in attitude and point of view depend on the personality and motivation of the individual, and how supportive the environment shows up to be. [Ebu "brainwashing"]

For healing of the ex-cultist there are kind-looking, non-coercive methods, based on talk and agreement. Healing from some cults may take from one to five years, and you can hardly rush the process. Maybe you can supply a liberal social climate to derive benefits from. That could help. You may also help in granting the cult victims clear thoughts if you have any to mediate, and if you reach their cores and different wavelengths of mind. Some are narrowminded, insecure, and yet very dogmatic-minded. Sects could initially look like a haven to them for suchreasons.

Deprogramming can mean (1) the freeing of someone (often oneself) from any previously uncritically assimilated idea; and (2) intervening with the goal to persuade a person to leave a religious group regarded as spurious. This last form of deprogramming may be illegal and dangerous, and there is no "standard" deprogramming procedure. Kidnapping may be included in some cases, and discrediting the authority figure, the leader, presenting contradictions between the cult thinking and the realities, expressing oneself too, and transfer of belongingness.

Deprogramming has become less violent with time, although there may still be cases of being threatened with guns, beaten, denied sleep and food, and being sexually assaulted.

I do not advocate abuse, including that of infringing on the airy rights of others and violent deprogramming. Also worth concern is that one may have to deal with the issues of incubation time of ideas, whether dogmatic or better; of faltering; and of facets of assimilation too. [◦Wikipedia link]

Deprogramming oneself, a very hard struggle

The more committed you were first, the harder the struggle to break free, assumedly. A person speaks of her struggle to be freed from a "bad investment" of faith in Self-Realization Fellowship:

At some point, I began to feel that I had been duped . . . I discovered that I was seething with resentment over the years of self-abasement, and humiliated by the fact that I had aided my captors . . . Additionally, the inner compulsion to perform ritualistic practices in which I had lost faith, and the need to overcome the fear that abandoning these practices would cause me to suffer terrible consequences, has made for many painful days and nights. . . . Self-deprogramming has taken me to the edge of despair . . . The truth is that one who delivers their belief into the hands of others risks having to fight to get it back.

One had better leave deprogamming to analysts who know what they are doing and respect their patients' lives and privacy.

Facts are strong medicine to cultists, maybe too strong for some.

A cult freak should not try to help others if he has not got well from serious mental derangement or troubles.

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First Recognise Them, Second, Leave

Here are some points aimed to back up a less cult-ridden existence.

LoTo communicate with cult members means "too bad" in lots of cases

Sound prevention is better than attempts at cure, and attempts set in too late. So turn to prevention of cultish mischief, rather than being late or too late to help far and wide. Young folks may benefit from getting stories told them from a tender age, for one thing. Good tales have a power to make robust, says the originator of Waldorf Education, Dr. Rudolf Steiner. Since shyness has been an increasing problems, the measures that Dr Philip G. Zimbardo describes in Shyness [Shd], offer some help too. Why is it so?

Cult groups make sure to instil fear in members. Both robust ideations and social training can help against it.

Deceptions of bad cults may include lying, withholding largely important information, or distorting information. Thus learning some basics of critical thinking or reasoning helps too.

"Power tends to corrupt and absolute power corrupts absolutely." [Lord Action] A corrup one is getting rotten within. It may take many years and lives before it shows up, though. That is my belief.

"Curiosity and overconfidence have been the downfall of many people, including myself." [Steve Hassan] Are there baits somewhere? Curiosity may be good, but it should be allied with propriety, and knowing one's boundaries. It is not curiosity that is the culprit here, but little cultivation of the right forms of it, as in the explorative sciences, or research. It is possible to cultivate curiosity! If confidence is a problem, measurements should be able to regulate it a lot.

Interestingly, many cult leaders have started out as victims of their cult. Authoritarian minds "stiffen" - gets rigid - in life orientations that are not very liberal, not very permissive for underlings. Fascist mentalities are authoritarian, maintain T. Adorno. (1950)

By preventing others from violating your individual rights - including the right to privacy -, they may soon find you aren't really interesting to them. It is a good tip, apart from "Just walk away."

Cult members may be seriously out of touch with history. Then, do what you can to remedy the matter.

Dietary changes also frequently occur with cult recruitment. If those are unhealthy changes - too bad! But literature on healthy diets abound.

Destructive cults and their members may fail to communicate likably, in part due to an overriding belief system, maintains Steven Hassan.

Recruiters may address the lonely as part of a strategy, Hassan also tells.

Some of the more extreme groups regulate the sex lives of members. There are too bad regulations, bad regulations and other sorts of regulations - cult invasions into one's private life are not welcome.

LoDecide to be cautious

An abrupt change of personality may make a brainwashed victim more distant to family and former friends. If family members say, "He's different! We don't know him anymore!" it may or may not bode well.

Still un-established religions may be held accountable for their actions. With large religions it may be more difficult.

What are common members expected to do once they join? Donate money and property? People should always retain their right to decide for themselves whether to remain in a group.

If you can, seek to research the group in question independently. Contact appropriate others to hear if they have any information on this group. It hurts little to be cautious like that.

There are good reasons to research whether a group of people is a destructive cult or not, but initially it may be wise to refrain from using ideology and theology against it unless such -logies go into the basis of the group.

LoIt may be OK to violate the hard Games of sectarians

Destructive groups try to cloak how their organisations really are.

Helping to "save" someone may be a rationalisation used to justify deceit or manipulation.

Bad cult leaders may have deep inferiority feelings or assist them in members.

People with the freedom and bravado to join a destructive group without overdue coercion, may not feel free to leave.

Further in bookstores and libraries there may be little material with objective accounts of what cults are and what they do and little to help them get out and live on.

If a group thinks it OK to violate its members' civil rights or Human Rights, then freedom is not greatly served. Further, a variety of psychosomatic illnesses may persist in former cult members.

Learning to be an educated consumer can help save your freedom of thought.

[Cf. Hassan 1990:96-111]


  1. To counteract sects, start early, as "The best time to plant fruit trees was years ago". Tell good tales to grandchildren who like a tale or two also.
  2. Decide to be cautious.
  3. It may also do some good to violate the hard Games of sectarians.

IN NUCE To counteract sects, you can prepare against them by apt fables and other sorts of tales, and if you much later tell about a sect very guardedly, that could do some good too.


Gullible friends or relatives who entered cults, probably knew little about mind control or about significant marks of a destructive cults. Relatives, friends and former mates they left for the cult, may think these guys could need "deprogramming" and stay away from those bad environments. That is easier said than one. Deprogramming involves forcible abduction of the cult member, a large fee for it, and lengthy sessions. Further, deprogramming is risky, legally speaking, and can be traumatic.

A destructive cult may be seen to lure people into what amounts to a psychological trap. One may need something to get out of it to also. Inmates of prisons can have a similar problem - lacking in conditions, handy support and good goals within reach. If cult deflectors end up sleeping in the snow or sitting alone under a bridge or something - not to speak of suicide -, something went wrong.

Non-coercive ways to help exist. Exit-counsellors are using techniques from the mental health professions, and counselling ways. A member of a mind control group may deep down want to get out, and timing can make a great difference. "Walk-away" ex-members (who "woke up" in time and left by themselves) may all the same be plagued with guilt afterwards.

Leaving a bad cult can help a lot, and brings a chance to start life anew in some cases. Former cult members and their families do not have to view all that happened in the cult as negative. They can remember the good and take it with them, also knowing that a destructive cult changes members for life.

If you leave bad company, you could need support and a good direction for a period, and move forward to something and someones - hopefully a better, enriching and rewarding future.

[Cf. Hassan 1990, chap. 7]

Walkaway Variations

She said "You just slip out the back, Jack
Make a new plan, Stan
You don't need to be Coy, Roy
You don't need to discuss much
Get yourself free."

- From Paul Simon: 50 Ways To Leave Your Lover - Excerpts


Cult deprogramming, cults detection, probing cultish dealings, sect basics, sectarians at a glance, Self-Realization Fellowship, Literature  

Adorno, Theodor W., Else Frenkel-Brunswik, Daniel Levinson, and Nevitt Sanford. The Authoritarian Personality. New York: Harper and Brothers, 1950.

Altemeyer, Robert Anthony. The Authoritarians. Winnipeg: University of Manitoba, 2006. ⍽▢⍽ A much useful, free online work. Altemeyer, now a retired professor, produced the test and scale for "RWA" or Right-wing authoritarianism, did extensive research on authoritarianism, identifying the psychological makeup of authoritarian followers and authoritarian leaders. He sought to point out who the followers are, how they got that way, how they think, and why they are by turns so submissive and aggressive. He also collected data on authoritarianism among North American politicians. Altemeyer's work is extensively referenced in John W. Dean's 2006 book, Conservatives Without Conscience. Useful.

Brown, J. A. C. Techniques of Persuasion: From Propaganda to Brainwashing. Harmondworth: Penguin, 1963.

Hassan, Steven. Combatting Cult Mind Control. Rochester, VT: Park Street Press, 1990.

Lewis, James R. Cults. A Reference Handbook. 2nd ed. Santa Barbara, CA: ABC-CLIO, 2005.

Lifton, Robert Jay. Thought Reform and the Psychology of Totalism. Chapel Hill, NC: The University of North Carolina Press, 1989.

Martin, Walter, and Hank Hanegraaff, ed. The Kingdom of the Cults. Rev. ed. Minneapolis, MN: Bethany House, 1997.

Singer, Margaret Thaler. Cults in Our Midst: The Continuing Fight Against Their Hidden Menace. Rev. ed. San Francisco: Jossey-Bass, 2003.

Denise Winn. The Manipulated Mind: Brainwashing, Conditioning and Indoctrination. London: The Octagon Press, 1983.

Zimbardo, Philip G. Shyness: What It Is. What to Do about It. London: Addison-Wesley, 1977.

Zimbardo, Philip G. The Lucifer Effect: Understanding How Good People Turn Evil. New York: Random House, 2007.

Cult deprogramming, cults detection, probing cultish dealings, sect basics, sectarians at a glance, Self-Realization Fellowship, To top Section Set Next

Cult deprogramming, cults detection, probing cultish dealings, sect basics, sectarians at a glance, Self-Realization Fellowship. USER'S GUIDE: [Link]
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