How To Escape The Cult You Are In (if you really want to)
As I was writing Cult Escape, it dawned on me that that there needs to be a chapter about how people can escape the cult they are in, if they really want to. I sat down with a blank computer screen and a blank mind. What a question, and not one to be taken lightly! If I was to write this chapter, it would have to be serious, deep and meaningful and would have to work. People’s lives and families are at stake. This is not a time to be flippant or to have fun. I felt a tremendous responsibility and had no idea how I could write something that would work for anyone. Did such a way exist?
So, I typed the chapter title and immediately, like a light was switched on, I saw, dare I say, the answer to how to escape a cult, in fact how to escape any situation. It took me about a year just to craft this chapter, the longest chapter of them all, many rewrites and lots of polishing but here it is, for you to inspect, consider, and to take on board in your own life or to simply reject. No pressure:
How To Escape The Cult You Are In – if you really want to. (Chapter 23 Cult Escape)
In this chapter, I use my personal experience from my Exclusive Brethren years, as a reference for any cult that anyone might want to get free from. Although the escape route I took will probably be different than other people’s route, the principles will be the same and could, therefore, be helpful.
I know what it is like to go through the great struggle and pain that leaving a cult can cause. There was a time when I felt like I was a rope in a tug of war. My heart was being wrenched from two different directions and the best word that I use to describe what it is like is dread. I felt I was totally trapped in my situation with no way out; a place of fear and indecision. What I once was taught and totally believed, appeared to be brilliant white light and truth, but turned out to be what I now see and believe as darkness and man-made religion.
I am aware of how sensitive the subject of leaving a system of control is. I have attempted to write this chapter sensitively but forgive me if I ever appear clinical or calculating. Sometimes, tough decisions have to be made and we all have different tolerances and speeds that we are comfortable with. I take it very seriously. I am approaching this subject as if it was a matter of life or death. It is in a way. We can live our lifetime ranging from being free to live and love unconditionally, or we can be restricted and controlled by a man/woman or a system that has managed to incarcerate us in their laws and so kill the spirit in us that was meant to live free.
Here is some good news to begin with. The truth of how anyone can be set free from a cult or system of control is simple. The journey may be challenging but the principle is indeed simple. Most of the challenges are in the mind where we are threatened with the emotional stress of separation from our loved ones, fear of the unknown future, and beliefs that the situation is hopeless and too complicated.
Here is that principle:
A person will leave a cult when their value to escape, is stronger than the value to stay.
Have you ever been to a Japanese water garden and watched a Shishi-Odoshi. If so, you will have watched bamboo rods fixed to a hinge, slowly filling with water until the balance shifts then whoosh, the water tips out.
In life, we only ever do what is most important to us, or that which we value the most. It is therefore ‘values’ that keep people in a situation that they don’t want to be in. Only when you reach a tipping point in your values will you move from your current situation. This is where there is a more powerful reason to leave than to stay.
I was shocked when I first realised just how much my values are behind my decisions in my life. Values can be as important to our life as a compass is to a ship. When we identify our values and change them, if we want to, we can find the necessary motivation and power to make needed massive life-changing decisions instead of living in paralysis. This applies not just to being trapped in a cult but any controlling situation that people find themselves in. Such is the importance of understanding this principle, I shall list eight characteristics:
- A value is simply what is important to you.
- Everything you hold dear to and fight to preserve stems from your own value system.
- Values are what you stand for, what you believe in, and what you do.
- Values make you the person you are.
- Values provide our upfront motivation so are life or death to our potential success in anything.
- Actions reveal your values because you always act with what is most important and valuable to you at the time.
- People confused about their values accomplish little.
- Conflicting values hold you back and cause stress.
Generally speaking, we only ever do what our values motivate us to do. Here are some examples of how values can direct a person’s life.
Many people have a job they hate, yet the money they need to maintain their lifestyle is a greater value to them than the job they do. Therefore, they set their alarm clock to wake themselves up at 6 am every morning. Those same people who hate their job, value the security the money gives them more than even looking for another job that they love.
Some people value the feeling food gives them more than being slim. Some people value being slim more than food which causes them to be aware of what they eat.
Some people value their marriage enough to refuse to have an affair when temptation appears. Some people value spending more time with their children than working all hours to pay for a larger house.
From every large to every small decision, our life is the manifestation of our values. Values can be the biggest motivator to any decision we make in our life. Values can also change and when they do, we change.
When I first realised that I wanted out at the age of 18, my values to stay in the EB were more powerful than my values to leave. What was most important to me was not upsetting my parents and friends and not upsetting my life of relative peace. I was trapped with too many reasons of why to stay. My values to stay controlled my life. I had to have a change of mind if I was to ever escape.
It took me four years to get to the tipping point and escape. In those four years, my values began to shift with regards to freedom from boredom and control, expressing myself, enjoying things that had been utterly forbidden like football matches, restaurants and the cinema. I didn’t understand that my values had been decided for me and imprinted on my mind through repetition, tradition, culture, fear and the will of the leader of the Exclusive Brethren.
When my value for freedom from Exclusive Brethrenism became higher than my value for anything else, I changed. I escaped my situation.
This powerfully motivated me to take the necessary practical steps to leave, which were to arrange accommodation, install a phone line for my business and sort out my other needs.
I want to point out that in that moment there were still many unanswered questions that remained unanswered for years. However, I wasn’t waiting until I understood everything. That’s called paralysis. I was aligning to my new values and being true to myself and how I felt. In time I was to see that it was one of the greatest decisions I have made in my life.
Similarly, if your life is being controlled in any way, your values today and every day will decide what you are going to do about it. For example, what value are you putting on the familiarity of your cult life, the tradition of your peers, the ‘being told what to do,’ the laws that are supposed to protect you, the ‘putting up and shutting up,’ your ‘always correct’ interpretation of your Holy Book, being true to yourself, or your limited life span etc?
At this point, I want to mention what I shall call Value Perverts. These are lies that can powerfully lock false values in a person’s mind often through indoctrination or brainwashing. These can burrow so deep and be so insidious that many will never ask or even consider their validity. They are usually steeped in tradition and for many are utterly unquestionable. I know this is controversial, but I invite you to just consider the following beliefs that I came to see were just lies:
If I leave my cult/religion:
- I will go to hell which will be eternal conscious torment.
- I will definitely be worse off than I am now.
- There will never be any hope for me ever.
- I will be an outcast.
- God will be angry with me and punish me.
- I will come out from under spiritual authority and will be in danger.
- I will be doing the worst thing that I could ever do.
I will never find a full and wonderful life outside the religion I have been married to.
So far, this chapter has been majoring on one main point; Values. The aim so far has been to show that values are the pivot on which will determine whether we remain in a cultic controlled situation, or whether we will escape it.
Values Realisation Exercise – (Revealing Why You Are Where You Are)
If you are trapped in an abusive controlling situation, it is because you are trapped in your values.
Changing your values changes the priorities of your entire life. If you change your values, you change your destiny!
Sitting on the fence over a life-changing decision can be very challenging and stressful. I’ve mentioned already in this book how my four years of indecision felt like I was a rope in a tug of war. I was being pulled hard from both directions at the same time. It took me four years to reach my tipping point. It can take some people a lot longer.
The aim of this exercise is twofold:
- To help towards realising your core values which reveal the real reason why you are where you are today.
- To help you come to a place of a clear decision whereby you can move on with your life, one way or another.
The 21 questions enable you to deeply examine both sides of the issue. Leave the cult or stay. Your free will to choose must be respected. Cults do not respect this. However, love respects choices and does not coerce one way or another. It is your life. What do you want?
Find somewhere quiet if you can and ask yourself the following: (Best to be ruthlessly honest with yourself.)
- What do you value most about staying?
- What do you value most about leaving?
- What five things might you be missing out on if you leave?
- What five things might you be missing out on if you stay and do nothing?
- What will it cost you to leave?
- What will it cost you to stay?
- What benefit would it give you by staying?
- What benefit would it give you by leaving?
- What will change in other areas of your life if you leave?
- What will stay the same if you stay?
- If you were to leave, how much would the condemnation of the cult bother you?
- How much should you value their condemnation?
- How much are you basing your decision to stay on how others think or feel about you?
- How much do you value making the most of the remaining years that you have left in your life?
- How important to you is obeying a system that intends to keep you under its control through its laws and rules?
- How much do you value the adventure of going into the unknown, the excitement of exploring life free from cultic law you have been under?
- How do you feel about staying where you are so that you can continue the same relationship with family and friends?
- How does leaving, and by your example, family and friends might also leave in time, sound to you?
- What 3 reasons are most important to you that would make you want to stay where you are? What else?
- What 3 reasons are most important to you that would make you want to leave where you are? What else?
These questions lead to this one final question:
21. What one reason of highest value to you, would tip you into making a total commitment to yourself, right now, one way or the other?
By asking yourself these 21 questions, you will have been feeling and realising your values, those things that are important to you. They have been the motivations in your life so far. Most people have values that motivate them to leave whilst at the same time have values that motivate them to remain where they are. This is a conflict of values and they can block a person from moving forward freely.
In the four years that I was struggling about wanting to leave, the conflict of values caused me the unhappiness that comes from indecision or double-mindedness. The pain of this unhappiness eventually exploded on my 22nd birthday when my mind became awakened to two brand new values. (1) The fear that in 10 years time I would have been 32, and if I did not take (2) personal responsibility immediately, I would be guaranteed to be starting another 10 years of unhappiness/misery.
The fear of this reality of 10 more years, coupled with the awareness that only I could take responsibility to prevent this, gave me the clarity I needed. It was as if the sun came out and dispersed the fog of indecision and procrastination. Now I knew what I really wanted or more to the point, what I didn’t want. My new values now empowered me to act single-mindedly.
However, it’s important to note that despite making the clear commitment to leave, I still had a conflict of values going on, but these were now not powerful enough to override my top two values. If I had waited for all my values to align, I’d still be trapped today. I left exhilarated by my honouring of my top two values yet saddened by the conflicting values that I still had. For those, healing and the coming to terms with those conflicts needed to take place. They took place over time!
The following chart shows my top 10 values before and after my overriding decision to leave. (Because they were personal to me, they might not make sense to everyone).
|My Values and conflicts before I escaped.||My Values and conflicts when I escaped.|
|1||Pleasing my parents||Fear (of 10 more years of unhappiness)|
|2||Family values||Responsibility (My life is down to me)|
|3||Keeping the peace||Pleasing my parents (Still a massive conflict of values)|
|5||Freedom / Liberation (A conflict of values)||Self-Respect|
|6||Prosperity (A conflict of values)||Freedom / Liberation|
|7||Excitement (A conflict of values)||Curiosity|
|8||People-pleasing (A conflict of values)||Family values (Still a conflict of values)|
|9||Curiosity (A conflict of values)||People-pleasing (Still a conflict of values)|
|10||Secrecy (A conflict of values)||Friendships (Still a conflict of values)|
If you feel it would help you, make two lists. One with your top 10 values at the moment. Then next to it, a list that would include values that would give you the motivation to make the decision to leave. Remember the question before, “What one reason of highest value to you, would tip you into making a commitment to yourself, right now, one way or the other?” To leave your situation, your values will have to be greater than what they are to you staying in your situation. Can you see what new values you would need or what values you would have to change to cause you to make that life-changing decision to leave?
This exercise is not a science, but it can be a massive help in understanding ourselves and our motivations. In an ideal situation, a person could change all 10 values with no conflicts. This would give them every reason to leave their situation with the minimum of difficulty. For those who have what I had, still a conflict in some of their values, it makes leaving still a potentially difficult challenge.
However, to get to a tipping point and actually make that decision to leave, your revised / new values HAVE TO BE MORE IMPORTANT TO YOU than the previous ones.
As Tony Robbins states, “You can’t always control the wind, but you can control your sails”.
My new values were powerful enough to overcome the pain of leaving my parents and all the people I knew, including the indoctrination and ‘pleasing God’ under the EB laws.
We end up doing what we value the most. I recommend you taking time to really evaluate your values, and if you can do so, with the help of friends, family and faith to help elicit the values.
If you are unhappy yet not sure that you should break free and escape your situation, I suggest it is simply that your value of staying is at the moment greater than your value of being free from your past and your present. Consider this reality check:
In ten years time, you will be ten years older and maybe ten years longer in a controlled, smothering, disrespecting-your-free-will environment. Yes, the people may be sincere but how about you being sincere with yourself? I came to the place of valuing my free will higher, than submitting to those who insisted they control and abuse it. In other words, if you realise you are unhappy failing to keep other’s rules and laws, then be honest with yourself. Go! You might just find as I did, that God isn’t a law wielding, rule demanding, regulation changing, strict disciplinarian that many poor controlled souls are being coercively indoctrinated into yielding to right now. You might even find that God actually loves everyone unconditionally! Imagine that!
Being true to the new values that I realised, and looking back now, I can clearly see that it was one of the best things I have done in my life. Phew!
If on the other hand, you feel at this time that your values in staying are more powerful than your values to leave, then why not commit yourself to staying? Sometimes it is about choosing the right time, the right time for you. Maybe if you leave, your family will stay and there would be a family split. Accept your situation, at least for now. You can always revisit this values exercise in the future. Keep on searching and you will find. Where there is a will there is a way.
Lastly, if you have come to that place of a decision to leave, don’t do it alone. You are not alone. There are many resources that can really help you and where you will be able to talk to people. Have a look at the Help page at the website below and take courage, there’s more to life than being controlled, it’s called freedom.
If you would like to read the rest of the book Cult Escape, my full story of struggling to escape from the cult I was born into, click the button:
Believing the best for you.