Tips for the Fascination Phase

Confronting your affected loved one with critical evidence is reasonable only as long as an honest, critical conversation is possible. In the fascination phase, your loved one will have reached a level of fanaticism at which critical information is no longer digested. Rather, the Holic member will close himself off from such information, block it out, or simply dismiss it (“We know what kinds of lies are told about us!”). The Holic Member may perceive criticism of the group to be criticism of himself and his lifestyle (a lifestyle about which he feels so happy, because he thinks that he’s finally found it after a long time of seeking and of feeling illat- ease). He thinks that he must defend himself, but in effect he defends the group and identifies himself all the more strongly with it.

In this phase, let your loved one know that although you don’t understand his decision, you accept it. Avoid critical comments; rather, focus on maintaining contact with your loved one. Therefore, keep these contacts as free of conflict as possible. Your loved one strives to keep contact with family and previous friends as minimal as possible, not only out of obedience to the group, but also for reasons of self-protection, in order to avoid the conversations which are uncomfortable and burdensome for him.

In a conversation with members who are already very committed, don’t exert much effort or energy against the cult. Rather, let that which is freeing about your own faith be evident as a positive alternative. Cult members are more likely to come to independent thought in this way. Against this backdrop, they can recognize the errors and weaknesses of the cult’s ideology. In general, tell them about the experiences of other Christians’ demonstrations of faith. By seeing this, it may occur to them that there are also people outside of the group who devote great effort and commitment to a Christian life. A direct line of reasoning against the group pressures the members into a defensive position and more likely binds them together. It is likewise mistaken to appeal to the cult member’s pity (perhaps even with a threat: “If you don’t come home, I’ll kill myself!”). You will quickly hear the reply that this is merely egotistical self-pity (one of the group’s favorite phrases). A sudden change in the family’s lifestyle (e.g., reading the Bible together more often, if that was not previously the habit) will also be perceived by the cult member as untrustworthy and only as a method of separating him from the group.

On the other hand, questions can be useful. They should, however, be less critical, and rather more informational (e.g., how your loved one imagines achieving certain goals), to avoid pressuring the cult member immediately into a defensive position. Otherwise, you will mainly hear the answers which were worked out previously in the group. Use questions to encourage the Holic member to think his own thoughts. But these questions should not be used as a means to an end. Rather, ask them with a sincere and real interest. Your loved one shouldn’t have the feeling that he’s being interrogated. Avoid, too, the conversation collapsing into a heated debate. Questions or conversations about topics not treated by the group are helpful to broaden the horizons of the individual beyond the confines of the group. It can be, however, that the Holic member rejects such a conversation, or breaks it off, claiming that it’s not interesting for him.

In the course of such attempted contact, you will note that two different identities are present in a cult member. Don’t let yourself be rattled by completely contradictory behavior. Sometimes he may react normally and warmly, perhaps even initiating a visit: this is the authentic identity manifesting itself. A short time later, he can become cold, deflecting, and emotionless again: here the artificial cult identity has regained control. This is explained well (along with other aspects of cult psychology and counseling about leaving) in the book by Steven Hassan “Combatting Cult Mind Control” (2nd edition 2015; ISBN 0967068827). This book is really worth reading. This book is to be recommended to the friends and family of cult members, despite some of its weaknesses (e.g., the book overemphasizes a cult’s manipulative mechanisms and its ability to engage the socio-biographical aspects of the individual, making the cult attractive to the individual. More recent research places emphasis on the individual’s disposition toward the cult’s perceived advantages).

Try as often as possible to address the authentic identity of the cult member and to simply ignore the cult identity. This happens primarily on the level of emotions. The cult member does not receive authentic (i.e., unconditional) love and attention in the group. He is subconsciously thankful for it, even if he appears externally rejecting. Ask yourself about what had been important previously to the Holic member (friends, siblings, hobbies, music, gardening, pets, etc.) and discreetly mention them. Avoid an obvious allusion (“You used to enjoy that”). The Holic member will then immediately think that he must defend himself against these feelings, because they belong to his previous “sinful” life.

But know that the initiative for contact must always come from you. The cult member will not exert himself to make contact. On the other hand, one should not appear too pushy. Visiting, phoning, or emailing too frequently will more likely cause the opposite of the intended result. It is not easy to find the right balance.

A purely practical question is insurance. Normally, members are insured through their employers [or by virtue of being students]. But when the group is on the road in their vans, they sometimes travel through non-EU countries. Not every insurance plan is effective there, because of international insurance laws. Parents should get health insurance, or accident insurance, for foreign travel. An accident abroad could create large financial liabilities.

On birthdays, or at Christmas or other occasions, small practical thoughtful gestures are recommended, which your loved one can use (e.g., clothing) or which have a certain emotional connection (like, e.g., homemade baked goods [not sweet]). Above all, keep in mind that especially in the case of baked goods, it will be shared with the group – therefore send as generous an amount as possible. But avoid a direct reference to the occasion (“I’m sending this for your birthday”), because they reject the occasions. Maybe don’t send it directly on the day in question, but rather a few days earlier or later. It’s best to avoid larger, more luxurious, or more costly gifts. Because of the demands of the simple lifestyle, such gifts are more likely perceived as irritating. As in the case of monetary gifts, which should be avoided, the proceeds will go to the group as a whole, not to your own loved one. You should rather deposit such amounts into an account, so that your loved one receives them after his possible exit from the cult as a financial basis for the construction of his own existence. Naturally, you should avoid anything which is rejected by the group (e.g., sweets, alcohol, entertainment media, and entertainment reading).

Even if a Holic member otherwise rejects any close contact with his “sinful” parents, there is [often] an exception in financial matters: in this regard [most] group members will inform themselves exactly about what is due to them, and will demand it vigorously. The money generally goes to the group, and serves to maintain the Mercedes vans, which are certainly not inexpensive. Parents are advised to consult a lawyer in order to keep any legally-required payments to a minimum.

Because we don’t know the day or the time of our own death, be prepared with a will or other legal documents, so that the cult doesn’t obtain the inheritance. Perhaps you’ll find a reliable and trustworthy relative or friend, to whom you can leave your assets. That person can administer them, and can give them to your loved one after she or he leaves the cult. In any case, consult a lawyer.

Your actions in this phase should primarily strengthen your loved one’s certainty that you will help him at any time (without mentioning directly a possible leaving, or expulsion from, the group).

Especially at the beginning of this phase, when your loved one has only recently joined the group, he will try to recruit and “convert” as many people as possible in his previous social circles. That can happen by means of email exchanges, telephone, or Skype. In general, it’s only a one-time or shortterm contact. When the person he’s contacted doesn’t allow himself to be recruited, the Holic member figures that he’s at least confronted him with the “truth.” Whoever doesn’t accept that “truth” has shown that he is depraved, and further talk with him is not worthwhile. Don’t take it personally if a Holic member severely reduces his contact with you after a conversation is unsuccessful, from his point of view. Instead [of seeking further contact with you], he’ll seek more intensive contact with distant relatives or friends. But these contacts, too, only serve his recruitment efforts, and will be ended after a short time.