Fear, guilt, loss and alienation are some of the many emotions experienced by former cult members when they leave their communities.
This is the finding of Dr Jill Mytton from London Metropolitan University who will present her research today (20 June), at the British Psychological Society’s Division of Counselling Psychology’s Annual Conference being held at Trinity College, Dublin.
Deciding to leave a cult in which you were raised is a brave decision and one that will have many repercussions. This research explored the difficulties experienced by individuals who leave cults they have been raised in and the difficulties they experience as they start a new life on the ‘outside.’
Specifically this focuses on individuals who have left the Exclusive Brethren, a Christian fellowship that practices separation from the rest of society. Dr Mytton, who was raised in the Brethren, spoke to former members and viewed their e-mail support groups and blogs.
Many spoke of the tremendous loss they felt as the Brethren was their entire life; loss of family, friends and identity. Those who left family behind felt guilty about the hurt they had caused and some felt that they were not part of the wider world; neither one of ‘them’ nor one of ‘us.’
Fear was another common factor - fear of the outside world, fear of not being able to cope and being alone.
"After I had stated I was intending to leave the Brethren, I had many dark warnings about the cold hard world outside, telling me that there was nobody caring, that everybody was selfish and nasty and ready to use me for what they could get and treat me as disposable afterwards."
"In leaving, I felt a great, almost overwhelming fear of the unknown and being literally, completely on my own in a world I was ignorant of. Also I carried a huge sadness at distressing my parents, particularly the fact that I couldn't make them understand that I still loved them."
Dr Mytton said: "There is very little known about the effects on children who are raised in cults and choose to leave when an adult. My research draws on my own experiences and those of others who have experienced this first hand, and are still living with the consequences.
"By continuing research in this area we can gain a better understanding of those who leave religious cults which will help therapists who work with them."