Why People Stay Trapped in Cults: Survey

The survey produced four top reasons:

1: The influence of their indoctrination
2: The fear of losing loved ones.
3: The fear of God punishing them.
4: The fear of not surviving outside the cult.

137 ex-cult members were asked what their top 3 reasons were from the list of 11 examples below.

  • Nos. 4 and 10 were added together and came 1st with 101 votes.
  • No.1 came 2nd with 92 votes.
  • Nos. 2,5 and 6 were added together to come 3rd with 63 votes
  • Nos. 7,8 and 9 came 4th with 61 votes.
  • No 3 got 31 votes and No. 11 got 13 votes.

1: They fear their loved ones cutting them off and shunning them.
2: They fear they might go to hell if they leave.
3: They fear the psychological weight of condemnation from the leader(s) / church / organisation / members.
4: They are completely overcome with indoctrination or brainwashing.
5: God will be angry with them and punish them if they leave.
6: They fear coming out of spiritual authority and being in danger.
7: They fear never finding a full and wonderful life outside.
8: They fear becoming homeless, alone, and penniless.
9: They fear not being able to survive without their support structure.
10: They have completely lost self-confidence as a result of the indoctrination.
11: They would rather live a lie than rock the boat of their family tradition.

There were six other reasons given by people not on the list of 11, which are listed here:

1: For JW’s, I think the paradise promise plays a big role in 2 ways: 1. Not making it to paradise and 2. Never seeing their dead relatives again if they don’t make it to paradise – JWs use that to guilt people a lot.

2: Fear of the unknown.

3: Guilt

4: Mine was fear of not seeing my children in the next life.. still struggling with this.

5: The biggest one is that the organization teaches that obedience to authority is a value on which to place a very high priority. So disobedience is immoral and obedience is moral.

6: Fear, Finance and Family.

7: Fear of losing the business.

8: Basically facing up to choosing to’ go it alone’, friendless,jobless, homeless in a world that you have been told is wicked is an incredibly brave thing to do.

9: The sunk cost fallacy, having put so much of your life and given up so much, it’s hard to accept that it was all for nothing so you keep hoping it’s all true. Fear of being cut off from family, especially if you’ve seen this happen to other family members. The idea that leaving means your entire world view is void, it’s too scary to have to learn what life is all over again.

10: Fear of the world. (Important if you were born into a cult and taught that outsiders are evil).

11: Fear of disconnection and in retrospect fear of armies of lawyers.

12; Spiritual guilt.


(1) Do not trust your own reasoning – you are sinful / ignorant and need the leader to tell you when you are wrong and how to live your daily life.  The leader and organization is the ONLY one who knows these things or is one of the only ones you are likely to ever find who does.  You will only be able to live without the leaders help after you have fully incorporated his or her thinking into your life.  (Even figures like Jordan Peterson use these tactics.)   (2) Your best life purpose is to support the beliefs of the leader and organization – they are the only ones who can truly help / save humanity.  You should therefore want to give all money and resources to the organization and work to bring all friends and family to the same commitments.   (3) The world is a dangerous, deceitful and foolish place.  You cannot trust anyone except the leader and organizarion, it’s a miracle you survived this long without them – and all of your past and future problems stem from not believing and practicing the leader and orgs teachings – they are the only ones who can keep you safe.  Without them you will be utterly destroyed as well as all those who you love and rely on you.

14: I didn’t know anything else, it was my life.

Many thanks to all who voted and contributed to this survey.