General Advice for All Phases
Presumably, you’ll be reading these pages only after you’ve had already a few conversations and disagreements with your loved one. While reading, you’ll certainly come across things and have the feeling that you’ve already “done something wrong.” That’s understandable, and it happens to basically everyone. When dealing with cult members generally, and with the Holic Group in particular, there are a few things which one should do differently than in normal communication and relationships. But you couldn’t have known that at the beginning. You behaved quite normally toward your loved one, without knowing the peculiarities of cult membership. This is no reason to reproach yourself. But the information on these pages can help you in the future.
In all phases, it’s helpful to give your loved one the chance to think about things in peace and quiet. That is
generally only possible when he has some time – even if only a weekend – when he’s not in the group, where he is
groomed with the group’s ideology every day. He has no chance, when in the group, to consider and evaluate things with a certain distance. The group, however, deliberately works to avoid any spatial distance, and concerns itself very intensively with a new recruit, so that he is alone and separated from the group as little as possible. Even if this method is very effective from the group’s viewpoint, parents and friends should avoid imitating it with the opposite intent. Rather, the affected person should feel that he can decide for himself, and is not being pressured or influenced again by somebody else. Especially when a member is in the process of seeing through the methods of the group, and when his first doubts appear, he is very sensitive about any type of manipulation, which would seek only to rope him in again. For practical purposes, this means refraining from continuously trying to persuade the affected person, if he doesn’t desire that. It also means leaving him alone, so that he can reflect, examine, and think about things. In reality, however, this is hardly possible in the second phase (fascination). A new Holic member would not like to be separated from his group. Usually, he even travels to a concluding conversation with his parents in the company of several other members.
Obviously, any forcible disengagement (e.g., by deception or even kidnapping) is to be avoided for consistent ethical principles. Significant mental injury can arise this way. Aside from that, such an attempt would likely generate the opposite effect. It’s also clearly illegal and therefore punishable by law.
One mistake often made in the case of cult members is that friends, relatives, or parents want to solve the problem in their own way, and so, e.g., want to go with the child to a psychologist because of his odd behavior. (To be sure, in the case of a real psychological problem, such help should certainly be utilized).
Reasoning on a purely humanistic basis, or with logical arguments, can also miss the goal in the case of a Holic member. Especially during the fascination phase, the only question which still matters for a Holic member is how one lives correctly according to the Bible. Lines of reasoning other than Biblical ones are therefore not accepted.
You should not overlook, however, the fact that the motivation for joining the group is rarely purely religious. Deeper human needs often play a role: the desire for security, community, certainty, clear direction, a sense of meaning, purpose and goals in life, acceptance, confirmation, etc. A new member would not identify these motives, naturally, but rather present his entry into the group as purely religious. Therefore, even a theological or Biblical line of reasoning can fail, because for the Holic member, the main goal is defending the group and his lifestyle, in which he feels so sheltered. He thinks that he’s now able to satisfy, within the group, some of the possibly unfulfilled human needs mentioned above. His theological lines of reasoning can subsequently appear far-fetched or forced. For him, the main thing is his desire that nothing about his living situation should change – a living situation in which he feels comfortable at the present.
In a Holic member’s life and selfexpression prior to contact with the Holic Group, there are generally signs about which deficits, which unfulfilled wishes and desires, and which life questions occupied him. You can consider which less risky alternatives there are for meeting these deficits and desires. You’ll need to do that, depending upon which phase he’s in, either more directly (the ‘getting to know’ phase or the phase of inner distancing), or more subtly (fascination phase or exclusion phase). It is helpful to not only name these options, but rather (as far as it’s possible) to experience them by visiting these options together or doing an activity together. This doesn’t have to be done by the parents, but rather can also happen with siblings, friends, fellow students, etc., who still (or once again) have good contact with your loved one. Sometimes people of the same age have a better overview of the options that could be helpful to your loved one.
Don’t continually address this topic on your own initiative. Otherwise you’ll amplify your loved one’s defensive behavior. He might feel himself pressured to defend something about which he already has doubts.
In a debate (e.g., when recruiters suddenly appear in a youth group), enter the conversation with a clear plan. Reckon with the strategy, already described above, that lines of reasoning will not really register with the Holic members. Don’t let the discussion be directed by the cult members.
During a visit to the communal living quarters of the cult, be aware that even you may be susceptible to the atmosphere and the seriousness of the group’s lifestyle. Generally, however, you’ll only be able to meet your loved one outside the living quarters. Usually, people are only invited into the living quarters if the group hopes to recruit them. Because you are not under mind control, you will scrutinize yourself as a normal person would, in contrast to the Holic members. You may have intense doubts and difficulties after such a visit or intensive conversations. The selfconfidence with which the group operates can lead you to doubt, wondering if the Holic people perhaps really are right, and you are wrong. Don’t go there alone, but rather have a companion who is secure in the faith and in his knowledge of the Bible. That would also avoid the danger of being alone when two or more group members work on you at once (so-called ‘sandwiching’). After such a visit, talk about it with outsiders, in order to see the situation with a bit of distance.
It is also helpful to collect information about other cults, where similar phenomena and practices are found. While a Holic member immediately moves into a defensive position mentally when the conversation turns to his group, you can quite easily talk with him about Jehovah’s Witnesses or the Moonies. But he should find the parallels to his group on his own. Any direct allusions (“Isn’t it similar in your group?”) only trigger thought-blocking techniques which cause him to avoid this consideration.
In your choice of words, consider that it’s better to address your loved one directly as an individual (“What do you do in the evenings?” - “What does Frank think?”) instead of reinforcing the group identity, and his identification with the group, by means of language (“What do all of you do in the evenings?” - “What does the group think?”). Precisely because the individuality of the person in the group must step back behind the group identity, you should keep bringing your loved one’s individuality to his mind. This is also true for the other group members, who don’t present themselves to your loved one as a homogeneous mass, but rather are themselves various individuals with their own character, communication styles, and varying levels of identification with the group. This, too, should be made clear to your loved one by means of your word choice. This is, however, not a strict rule. In a conversation about group activities (e.g., shared trips), you can calmly speak of “the group” or “your community.” According to the situation, you can decide whether to speak of “the group” or “your group.” Watch to see how your loved one reacts to your word choice.
Consider carefully whether you’ll adopt the wording of the group, which refers to itself as a “family” and to each otheras “siblings.” I recommend using “family” and “siblings” only for the real family and the real siblings of your loved one, and otherwise speaking of “the group,” “the community,” or “your (new) friends.” But here, too, you should watch to see which wording your loved one models; you don’t want to behave too antagonistically to that. You should certainly avoid designations perceived as pejorative, like e.g. “cult.”
It’s very important to keep in contact as long as possible. Reinforce the things you have in common. Keep in contact with your loved one, even if the common interests which existed in your relationship disappear. Support his other social contacts outside of the group, too. If a person is in a group which totally dominates all aspects of his life, exiting that group is all the more difficult if he has no other social contacts anymore and must undertake his exodus alone. Even if your letters aren’t answered, they signal to the cult member: “There are still people out there to whom you matter. If you have problems, you can go to them.” Generally, these letters will reach the recipient. But in rare cases, the group did not give the letters to the recipient “because now that’s not spiritually good for him.” Former friends and other relatives should be encouraged to join in maintaining contact this way. Even though the group’s ideology builds barriers against former friends and relatives, still the memory of the earlier and happy times in the family aren’t so easily erased. For this reason, in conversations, the personal side should always be addressed.
Avoid anything which makes contact even more difficult. But don’t yield to all (including financial) demands from a Holic member. If you know which things the group values, as well as what it considers to be wrong (e.g., celebrating birthdays or Christmas), you can avoid unnecessary areas of conflict. Likewise, never refer to the group as a “cult” when speaking with a convinced Holic member.
It is most difficult for those whose loved ones (usually their children) are firmly lodged in the group, and with whom there is hardly any contact anymore. In this situation, people quickly tend to experience having their thoughts and everything in their lives revolve only around their loved one in the cult.
Precisely in this matter (but also in other things), it is important to encourage family members to deliberately continue to live their own lives. Even if it is easier said than done: the conflict with the cult may not be allowed to overshadow all areas of life. If they want to help their own child or loved one, then they need a foundation for themselves which gives them peace, security, and a sense of being sheltered. You can’t help, if you are struggling with depression and actually need help yourself. In this situation, you should continue to foster a normal family life. You should continue to maintain contacts with friends and acquaintances. Activities are always recommended, too, that you might enjoy and that help to give you an internal equilibrium, or which at least help you to divert you from cult problems (hiking, sports, dancing, attending concerts, vacations, clubs, church choirs, etc.). In this situation, do not neglect the other family members. All of you are suffering in this situation. Together, you can cope better with this situation, than when each person tries to do it alone. Not only does your loved one in the Holic Group need you, but rather the other family members do, too. Facing this situation together, and the community you experience among yourselves as you do so, can also be a source of strength for you.
Set a boundary, and do it promptly, if you detect that the problem is overburdening you psychologically. Protect yourself, and seek professional help, if you feel that it’s all too much, or you’re in doubt about it. It is helpful, too, if relatives or friends carry the burden with you.
Not least of all, it’s important for you to know, and to trust, that no person is exempt from God’s love, and no person can fall out of His hand. The Holy Scriptures bring many examples of how God can open a door even in situations in which we see no exit. Therefore, ongoing prayer for your loved one and for the other group members should have a central place in your life.