by Brenda Lee
I recently attended the ICSA ( International Cultic Studies Association ) conference held in Lakewood , Colorado , October 2-3, 2009. As always, the sessions were informative and well-organized.
The first session I attended addressed the question: “How can I help someone involved in a cult?” Most of those attending were parents who were being shunned by a son or daughter involved in a cult. Understandably, attempts to reconnect intellectually and emotionally with their child had failed. (Milieu control, censorship of communication both internal and external, is one of the initial eight points of mind control that cults utilize to gain subtle control over new members.)
While a parent’s natural instinct might be to lecture and point out all the group’s flaws to save the child from something they know will be detrimental to the entire family’s well-being, shouting from the rooftops, “Don’t YOU realize this is a cult!?” isn’t necessarily the best approach.
We must remember: unsolicited advice comes across as criticism and the intangible cost of perceived criticism can drive a person deeper into a cult, resulting in the “handlers” [i.e., the cult leader(s)] attempt to harness even more control over the person. This point was driven home by a former Jehovah’s Witness who shared the following with me, “I think my father’s opposition to the family’s fanaticism caused us to draw even closer to the organization, thinking that he was a tool of Satan. That sounds crazy but that’s the way I looked at it.”
What Strategy Should I Use to Communicate?
An important component to communicating is to be patient because as trust builds, the cult member is able to share more with you. You should hold back your ace until you feel the person’s belief system is teetering. Going in with both barrels firing isn’t going to make the person consider what you have to say; it will only elicit defensive retreat.
I truly believe that simply asking questions about your loved one’s mindset, the group’s expectations and their history in a non-threatening manner is your best strategy. Unfortunately, few people have been educated about how cults work and their first strategy is to charge straight ahead from the front lines, hoping to mow down the enemy (cult leader) in the process.
Lee is a regular bullet columnist who has appeared as a regular on the TV documentary The Secret Lives of Women “Cults” segments. She has written several pieces in our starting rotation but her first essay for the bullet was on Mothers Day “An Author’s Reflection on Mothers Day…” She overcame her mother’s (mis)using religion like a scalpel in a power-mad effort to break her will, only to write a powerful book of revelation and triumph.