How to help someone inside a cult/abusive church {hint: interventions don't work}

I get quite a few emails from parents or concerned friends asking how to help their children get out of cultish churches or abusive relationships. They ask things like: "Should we stage an intervention?" Or: "How can we convince her that she's gotten involved with a harmful group?" My answer is simple and sad. You can't do much of anything.

Until a person is READY to leave, nothing will work. The person inside the group is experiencing a positive payoff. There is a probably a very strong sense of belonging and community. There is a higher purpose to life. Their lives have MEANING. Unless there is greater benefit to leaving than staying, most people will stay.

People will sacrifice their own personal rights and freedoms to receive the emotional and spiritual "high" of the cult experience. Frankly, a parent's concern can't hold a candle to the kind of emotional fireworks their child is experiencing inside the group.

In fact, I would suggest that interventions often have the opposite desired effect causing resentment and loss of trust on the part of the child and frustration for the parents.

All a parent or concerned friend can do is provide a NON-JUDGMENTAL PRESENCE and be READY TO HELP when the child is ready to leave.

Once things start going badly inside the cult (and they always do), the child will remember their non-judgmental friends and family who love them no matter what. If parents and friends can maintain a steady, non-judgmental presence, then their child will have somewhere to go when he/she finally decides to leave.

I would also like to caution that sometimes people need to leave over and over and over again. I tried to escape my fundamentalist cult at least five different times. I always went back. But it's the TRYING to leave that's important and is what outside friends and family should support. Don't berate your child for returning and don't cut off the friendship just because the cult-member isn't ready to leave yet. Just keep providing support.

The point is, don't lose hope if your child or friend leaves and goes back several times. Everyone has a different exit process and you must respect their unique journey. I was always looking for someone who would respect ME as an individual person (because in the cult all individual choice and freedom is completely eroded) and wouldn't just say something like: DUH. Just LEAVE your church already, isn't it obvious you're in a cult?????

I know this might sound weird but I actually NEEDED some kind of control and ownership over how and when I left.  I needed freedom to choose how and when I exited the church. I had no freewill in the cult so making the choice to leave needed to be MY choice. It needed to be about me taking back some personal dignity and sense of self for MYSELF.

I didn't need th gawking and super-curious questions of people on the outside. I just needed somewhere to go.I needed people who were non-judgmental. I'd experienced so much judgment and condemnation inside the cult that I was very sensitive to it---even from well-meaning people who were trying to help me.

I didn't WANT allies who were just a leeeetle too eager to "rescue" me, who would make a big scene, embarrass me or ask all kinds of questions and try to get the juicy details.

Lastly, when a cult-member finally DOES leave for good, they will probably experience quite a bit of withdrawal and shame. They will wonder how and why they got involved in such a harmful group. They will need quiet and anonymity. They will probably need help with basic things like housing, a job and maybe even driver's Ed. Depending on how strict and reclusive their cult was, a newly escaped member will need at least two years of ongoing support.

It's never ever easy to leave a cult or abusive relationship but with when there is outside support, it is POSSIBLE.