You can take the person out the cult, but you can't take the cult out of the person
They have to do that themselves. And from what I've noticed, many of them don't. The reality is, recovering from a spiritually abusive church takes time and effort. It is hard work. The individual must be dedicated and willing to re-examine every belief they ever held, every unhealthy way of relating to other people, every false perception they unknowingly believed.
It's almost like taking off the glasses you didn't even know you were wearing and learning to see in a new way. Except, it's deeper than that. Effective cult groups get down inside your very DNA, laying tracks and neural pathways through your psyche and heart. Sometimes, the amount of work to be done seems overwhelming. The process of pulling up all those tracks can, at times, be discouraging.
In the beginning, I was often discouraged at how many times I floundered, flailed. But half the battle of recovery is simply this: NOT GOING BACK.
Even if former cult members struggle, flail and flounder or even if they don't do any recovery work at all, they are in a far better place than those who go back.
And let me say, NOT going back is super hard work. Even if they don't go back to the actual cult, here's what going back looks like for some ex-cult members:
- They leave one cult and dive straight into another one. Cultish groups feel like home. They feel normal. Even if the group isn't directly religious, ex-cult members seem especially susceptible to getting involved in multi-level-marketing (pyramid) schemes, selling dietary supplements, questionable start-up companies.
- They attract needy, unstable relationships. I'm often amazed at how quickly ex-cult members are able to recreate the same kind of unhealthy, codependent relationships outside the cult context. I was in this pattern myself for awhile and finally my husband was like: "Elizabeth, do you realize you're attracting the same kind of people to yourself as the ones who hurt you in the church?" It was a sobering wake-up call. Again, it takes concentrated effort to make different kinds of friends.
- They retain all the same lingo/"Christianese" language. A sure-fire way of gauging how far an ex-cult member has recovered is whether or not he/she uses the same lingo. Do they seem genuinely interested in your welfare or are they mainly concerned with whether you're still attending church? Do they say things like, "Well, I was going to go buy some shoes, but I hit three red lights and realized the Lord was telling me to go home instead"? For myself, it was difficult at first to quit using "churchy" language to describe my life or the things that happened. The church vocabulary was so much a part of my way of processing my life that NOT talking like that was almost like learning to speak a new language.
The weird thing for me is that even after all these years, if I allow myself to "go back" then I have this almost immediate, visceral response to being in these groups. I immediately default back into the old ways of thinking, speaking, acting, dressing. It's like I get this profound urge to start wearing floor-length skirts and even altering my voice to sound more demure, deferential.
This is why going back is not an option for me. It means losing myself again.
And I've worked too hard to find my voice and to live in freedom. To be honest, I'm just too happy now to even want to go back.