How Can Friends and Family Respond?
In dealing with a loved one who’s involved with the cult, you must distinguish between three or four phases:
1. The Phase of Getting to Know the Group
There have already been the first contacts with the group, but he still doesn’t consider himself to be a solid member. He doesn’t yet identify with it, but rather is asking himself, whether the group is the right one for him. There is still a certain inner distance from the group, and your loved one is still ready to take critical information into account. He generally talks about the group and its members in the third person (“they do that …, among them … ”). This phase can, however, be very short (a few days to a few weeks). During this time, changes in your loved one don’t seem conspicuous enough to cause concern. For this reason, one only detects a cult problem in this phase in the rarest of cases. Usually, you’ll only see that there’s a problem in the next phase, the phase of fascination. Then the changes in your loved one become really conspicuous. This is normal and understandable. If this is the case for you, there is no reason to reproach yourself for not realizing it sooner.
2. The Phase of Fascination with the Group
Your loved one considers himself to be a solid part of the group, and he is enthusiastic to have finally found that for which he was looking. You notice clear signs of fanaticism right away. You detect this in how emotionally and aggressively he reacts to critical lines of reasoning, or in how instantly he dismisses them (“We know what types of lies are told about us”). A clear sign of how strongly the person already identifies with the group is the transition from the third person to the first person: “We do this … among us … ”
3. The Phase of Exclusion from the Group
A person enters into this phase when he has been excluded from the group against his will. This phase is described under the heading “Punishment – Exclusion” in great detail. Because the group places great value on communal living, the person’s moving out of the communal quarters (i.e., an address different from the address of the Holic Group community) is a clear sign of an exclusion or of a voluntary exit from the group. Because the excluded person hopes for a readmission, he continues to avoid contact with family and previous friends, as well as with other excluded members or former members.
4. The Phase of Inner Distancing from the Group
If a person leaves the group on his own decision, he skips over the third phase. Those who’ve been excluded, however, need a process of self-discovery and inner liberation. This process can take several years to reach the phase of inner distancing. Here, your loved one is interested in making contact with other former members and with his relatives. He views much of the Holic Group’s lifestyle and theology critically, but he also continues to have sympathy for some parts of it. In his language, too, you detect the distancing: he’ll speak again in the third person (“among them ...” or “in the group ...”), or with temporal distance (“back then we did that ...”). The beginning of this phase is shaped by an examination of the Holic Group’s lifestyle and theology as well as the processing of what was experienced there. Later, more attention is devoted to planning and shaping one’s own life.
To properly relate to your loved one, you must know which phase he’s in. What might be reasonable and advisable in one phase might be completely counterproductive in a different phase. Expulsion or voluntary departure from the group represent clear turning points. However, the transitions from the ‘getting to know’ phase to the fascination phase, and from the expulsion phase to the phase of inner distancing, are quite blurred. And naturally, an individual will develop and change even within a phase. On the following pages, you’ll find advice about how to respond to your loved one in the various phases (see website menu).