Alienation · Grief

Please Let me Have my Grief

Please let me have my grief, for the sorrow I have felt has shaken me to my core.

I live with it every day, and it’s complicated.

When the first wave of grief hit me like a tsunami, I could barely breathe.

I lay on my couch looking at the white ceiling, completely dissociated.

Tears frequently rolled onto my face and my heart was filled with a deep sadness that was and still is indescribable.

How was I to cope with the reality I was facing? How could I update? And for many months, I did not. For many months, I experienced profound crippling loss.

I’ve experienced loss in my life before, losses that many people go through, but this loss felt different. I had no-one around me who could understand.

The process of entering a cult and sustaining a life in a cult is an alienating journey and the process of exiting a cult is also an alienating journey.

This alienation causes tremendous heartache for many people. It is complicated grief.

Although it would appear to be the consensus that it is not the belief system that distinguishes a cult, it is safe to say that many cult members do have a belief system that they feel very passionately about. It is also safe to say that for most, these belief systems are extreme.

As one enters a cult and lives within a cult, this belief system, which alienates the member from others outside the group, is seen as something to be proud of and something that will contribute profoundly to the positive advancement of the cult’s ultimate goals. It is a legitimate human need to want to contribute to a group that you share an interest in.

Cults come in all shapes and sizes; there are political cults, spiritual cults, new age cults, therapy cults, lifestyle cults, dietary cults, and religious cults, as well as others. They can exist wherever there is a group of people committed to the same purpose, ideals and beliefs. Some are large and have thousands of members, some are small and have only five members.

There are many different things that initially attract a member to a cult and these can include: the promoted goals of the cult, members of the cult, community, doctrine, political issues, social utopia and spiritual enlightenment. Once attracted to the cult the powerful alienation, dissociative, and emotionally arousing techniques used and the psychological indoctrination can quickly trap a person within an abusive system.  Once trapped and controlled the person can passionately endeavour to fulfil the overt intentions and covert agendas of the leadership and most significantly the leader.

Whilst in the cult the ideology one holds dear becomes a channel for the passions of a person. Although the ideology may well have been programmed into the person whilst they were in highly suggestible states, nevertheless, it comes to have significant meaning to the individual. This should not be taken lightly.

A person exiting a cult will have to go through a period where they let go of their ideology. They will have to sieve through what they believe on a very deep level, and this process has no time limit. Awakening from an ‘ideological dream’ is not a fun process for many. It can have many layers of shame and confusion. It can expose deep existential questions that never existed within the cult or before the cult. It can feel like the death of self.

Many members of cults give a tremendous amount of time for free to their group and its leadership.  They may have given their skills, talents and professional abilities to help fulfil the agendas of the cult without financial reward.  It can be a painful part of the wake-up call when one realises the time lost to an abusive group. To add insult to injury, many adult members also give money, inheritances and property to the cult. This loss can lead to financial issues which may need legal advice as well as the emotional impact of profound resentment.

A person exiting a cult will generally be alienated from anyone still inside the cult. If there are loved ones still inside the cult (family or friends) this can cause tremendous grief. Many ex-members speak of knowing that this will happen when they choose to leave a high control group, but for many the grief is still incredibly deep and excruciating when it arrived. If a person joined the group as an adult or joined during childhood, they generally have to grapple with the loss of loved ones pre-cult .  They need to ask themselves whether they would like to repair these relationships; and if they do how they will go about doing this. Cults specialise in alienation and most people become alienated from pre-cult loved ones, even if it is only mildly.

 I believe that it is this relational loss that hits ex-cult members the hardest.

I feel my grief in the middle of my chest. It swells and rises as a sensation. At times, it floods my whole body with excruciating agony.  Emotional flooding is a common experience during exit and post-exit recovery.

Being alienated from loved ones causes very deep emotional wounding.  Just because this pain cannot be seen does not mean it does not exist. The most vulnerable people are those severed from their loved ones.  Cult leaderships know this, either consciously or unconsciously, and utilise this alienation to gain control of the individual.

Healing from this complex grief can take time and if you are an ex-member in recovery please know there are people who understand and will allow you the time you need to heal. Do not be shamed by people who will not let you experience your grief.

As an ex-cultist I have had many things stolen from me, so please, let me have my grief…

For support and information on recovering from a high control group and leadership please visit:


2 thoughts on “Please Let me Have my Grief

  1. Kudos for this deeply reflective and no doubt soul-searching essay. It strikes me as vitally insightful on dark issues of human bondage and liberation, as framed in probing discussion.

    Man’s inhumanity to man is an old acquaintance of humanity, i.e. the higher potential of our species (its happier healthier possibilities, as yet unrealized for the most part) – and has always come in so many forms, myriad guises. But the ground floor of comprehension about these issues – ‘conflicted human condition’ stuff – just seems to tower over society’s head – impossible to reckon with for so many reasons. Alas I consider none of them good enough. I think back on lyrics like Dylan’s, and so many others – how long must we sing this song?

    Among admirable insights I read above – one likely crucial (I feel) for understanding our contemporary milieu and issues of manipulation and thought control running rampant:

    “… this relational loss that hits ex-cult members the hardest.”

    I so agree, and feel you’ve touched a profoundly important base.

    If I may, beyond agreeing – I’d like to submit for your consideration – one’s relationship with one’s own self (not just others) is also ‘in the bargain’ i.e. a flip side term of the equation. This goes to Festinger’s noted concept of cognitive dissonance. Whenever some ‘mind-blowing’ eye-widening schmeorizing elicits gasps of amazed rapture just at the “pawsabilities” (vapidly construed) – psychologically:

    Disclosure: that was shamelessly quoting myself, crossing fingers it relates in this context – from my reply post correspondence ( @ ). Reference Festinger, WHEN PROPHECY FAILS (cognitive dissonance): “Against the pleasure of thinking themselves so special – the pain of all that crashing down around them, the bursting of an enthralling bubble – effectively impaired the believers psychologically, from being able to face it. They were forced in effect to dig deeper, retreat further into the delusion. By having it laid bare as such, they were psychologically driven into spasms of denial, script revision – propelled wily-nily into a deepening defiance of reality, sanity, reason, truth and meaning.”

    Rather than any higher thought or reasoning, the currency of such discourse, despite the ‘intellectual garb’ – proves to be rote animal instinctual mechanisms – e.g. pleasure/pain, Fight or Flight reaction – all kinds of behavioral instinct, automatic default settings of animal origin – seem to underly the pathological scope and scale of thought control operations of the fringe cultic milieu.

    To reclaim one’s being from cultic subjugation, as you so well note – means loss of ties and good fellowship with brethren, one’s cultic ‘friends and family.’ As a psychological matter of incentive, motive – the menace of such relational loss accounts for a key part of cultic ‘ways and means’ (as an m.o. of manipulative exploitation). Luring whoever into a cultic web is often baited by the promise of “instant friends” awaiting with open arms. For anyone who’d realize need to leave, especially as becomes urgent for sake of sanity, reason, even life and limb (at the extreme) – the threat of relational loss can hold those ‘caught in the web’ fast in it.

    Even after such point as those who’ve ‘taken the bait’ realize the situation in which they’ve become trapped.

    Its not that a fish reeled in on a line can’t get off it and escape back into the waters from which it was caught, to reclaim its freedom. It does happen, as it can. Only that – it don’t com easy, the odds aren’t encouraging. Many if not most are unable to “get off the line” ever.

    That’s why I feel strongly, as a matter of inherent issues in our midst – awareness needs to be raised first and foremost. So applause for this essay and blog. These issues need to be explored in depth – spelled out, detailed – understood much better. An ounce of prevention is ‘best medicine’ – when even a pound of cure may not be enoug

    I look forward to how this blog unfolds – with a hale cheer and forcible wishes to the courageous struggle of epic human depth, and the ‘right stuff’ – true grit. Even in such ‘midnite hour’ of darkness so deep – I realize a good feeling, considering what ‘the darkest hour’ comes -just before.

    And thanks to private correspondence directing my attention to this blog. In affirmation I’d offer encouragement to take heart and claim your grief. In mythology the hero’s journey (i.e. the human adventure) is from dark to light, from human bondage to liberation – not the other way around. Its archetypal stuff of a vital human sequence. Awakening follows unconsciousness, painfully. A prior stage of blissful ignorance, in harm’s way unwarily – gives way to a ‘sadder but wiser’ condition, that isn’t ‘off alert’ anymore.

    As a guide for our vital human interests, in whatever situation where doubt or pause raise question – it seems to me that our cognitive processes and functioning (thought, ideas etc), for whatever power or influence they exert over us (psychologically – prove to be far less reliable, way likelier wrong – than the realm of affect, emotion, and direct ‘gut level’ sensation. By the math, there might be a ratio of about one idea that, as tested and checked out – actually turns out to be correct (whaddya know?) – for about every thousand ideas one has gotten, by whatever inkling or hunch. For every thought that turns out to have been on target – there’s about a thousand that have to tossed out.

    How interesting to observe in our current subcultural milieu – as host to proliferating thought control capers – the extent to which broadcasts of its ‘world outreach’ operate by – ‘radical theories’ (‘that change everything’), amid exhortation to ‘bring back new ideas, our world is doomed at present for lack of – ideas that could save it.’ It resembles an active direction of attention toward attention-captivating ‘thought’ sensation.

    Whether just by effect – or knowing, willful intent – the subcultural ‘rad schmeorizing’ pattern’s ‘fringe-level’ m.o. seems to operate in a certain manner – with particular results. In stealthy fashion, it appears to subtly direct attention – toward sensational ‘ideas’ as they’re staged – insistently, actively, expressly.

    In the process, awareness is being systematically guided, lured away from – feeling. The sense of ‘something wrong’ is signaled by feeling, not thought as caught up in an endless train of “What if X – wouldn’t that possibly mean Y? In which case – maybe Z?” etc.

    If one hasn’t invested too much into dubious ideas unwisely, before finding out – one can just shrug shoulders maybe, say “Oh well – back to the drawing board.” But cognitive dissonance, along with the menace of total loss of one’s only ‘friends and family’ (cultic brethrent) – relations – make powerful medicine but – not good. Ideas and thoughts, all the eye-widening ‘theoretical’ realm of fringe discourse poses riptides of the human condition. If Obiwan were here, hopefully he’d wisely say: Trust your feelings Leia


    1. Hi Brian, thank you very much for your insightful, and as always poetic way with words 🙂
      As you rightly comment it takes true grit to get through the experience of the relational losses that come through exit.

      I am reminded of a story that moved me profoundly when attending an ICSA conference of a woman who, for sanity’s sake, needed to leave a cult she was born into (I can’t even imagine the experience one must have being second generation, or third, or forth…). She had 9 siblings and being the eldest she was like a mother to her brothers and sisters. On leaving she knew she would lose all contact with her family that she loved dearly. It honestly broke my heart to empathise with her profound pain and her profound bravery. How does one ever really recover from such?

      I am also reminded of the time a professional I was working with in my own recovery, sensitively told me that there will come a time when I will live a fulfilling life again. I remember at the time thinking this professional was nuts but it was during a period when the grief was all consuming and crippling. When I wrote the above post I was still experiencing profound grief….and at times I still do…but the professional counsellor was right and I do now feel that I live a life that is becoming increasingly fulfilling.

      True grit is what it took, and I used to describe the first couple of years after exit as though I was deserted on a beach alone, whilst there was storm after storm after storm, and I only had a tarpaulin as protection. Not sure what the tarpaulin symbolised, perhaps just the grit, but it was completely horrendous and it was only my love for those I held dear in my heart that kept me alive.

      I will in time focus more attention on this blog, as you well know through our personal correspondence, I have a lot on my plate right now, but I look forward to writing more and your comment has inspired what I feel will be my next post, which will be on the various exit routes out of such a nightmare.

      There are numerous, and they all come with similar and different processes.

      Thank you again for taking the time to comment 🙂


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