Leaving a cult, cult-like group, MLM, or controlling relationship of any kind ain’t easy.
It’s not just seeing through to the reality of the behaviours and their impact – which itself is not simple from the inside.
First there is a massive recalibration of every experience in that group or relationship: If this person I respected can be this cruel and manipulative to one person for no good reason, how do I now see all the other times they were aggressively reactive, but I believed the ‘reasons’? If they misled me about money or other promised result, what else isn’t true?
Then there’s looking at the ‘good things’ – because no one joins a cult (or cult-like relationship), they join a good thing, as Mark Vicente said about NXIVM . Of course, it’s helpful to begin to distinguish good from bad. But this isn’t about weighing up the lists of pros and cons. There are things that make these groups or relationships too bad to stay. At which point the good has to be seen in terms of feeding the control system. And the ‘good’ can look really, really, really good: it might be about the love, the opportunity, the gift to humanity. doesn’t matter, the ‘too bad’ always outweighs the good. (Mira Kirshenbaum’s book “Too Good to Leave, Too Bad to Stay” talks about this in more detail.) The end does not justify the means.
And then there’s what will be lost, and coming to terms with the implications of that loss:
- ‘Friends’ who were a daily presence in your life will disappear, because the relationship is predicated on your membership. People will talk about you in negative terms, perhaps spreading lies, because from the inside there is never a good reason to leave – and no one who leaves can be considered ‘good’.
- Businesses, families, homes, communities, or activities might all be removed from you.
- In extreme cases, people can believe that they themselves are damned for leaving, but still know they have to go.
Healing is a long, slow process. It’s not as easy as seeing the reality of the situation, getting the hell out and starting again. That’s a vital step, but it’s the first step. Most people who leave a control group or relationship over-estimate how far they’ve come in their healing, especially in the first year. And this makes them very vulnerable to joining another one, being blind-sided by triggered reactions, or still playing out old patterns from which they are not yet deconditioned. They aren’t getting it wrong, just putting unrealistic expectations on themselves.
Even recognising all the red flags is something that tends to happen in retrospect, over time. Because the way the control and manipulation was built up acted as a masking agent. And we don’t even realise what is a red flag in this bizarre intense environment. For example a leader promoting unethical and illegal sales methods should be an immediate red flag – but if they’ve already done the love-bombing, blown hot and cold, modelled what happens to people who speak up, poured over-enthusiastic praise over someone being an obedient student, established a clear hierarchy with themselves at the top, loaded students with huge amount of work that takes up all their time, hot-housed the group into bonding, and positioned themselves as above reproach… then someone who has bought into the projected personality and mission is likely to be vulnerable to trying to make it okay, smooth over the bumpy bits, and offer bizarre and illogical justifications.
It’s weird enough to believe what happened in retrospect. The compassionate mind will continue to question itself, and try to find a way where it must have misunderstood. It didn’t. You didn’t. I didn’t. We have to find that one thing that can’t be ignored, the thing that brings the whole experience into daylight. And refer to it often. It’s even stranger to see it up close in front of your eyes, without being bought in – you might well find yourself needing to voice concerns out loud, just to have them mirrored back in a way that makes them more solid. And if you are bought in, it’s nigh on impossible to see, until a line is crossed. The line crossed probably looks insignificant from the outside. But once it’s crossed, we’re right there at the beginning, where the hardest word is goodbye.
You might like thins version of the song of the same name: https://youtu.be/CqfpA312Two