How Can I Help the Friends and Family of a Cult Member?

If you are not directly affected yourself, but your circle of friends and family has people whose loved ones have been pulled in by this cult, or by a different cult, the following suggestions could be helpful to you as you relate to the friends and family concerned. Such people suffer not only the effects of the cult’s control over their loved one, but they also usually suffer from isolation, because they can hardly find anybody with whom they can talk about this problem. Indeed, they often detect how their social circles pull back from them. Therefore:

  • Relate to these people normally. If they are treated like a raw egg, then they feel excluded.
  • Help them to get into contact with professionals who know about the group, if that hasn’t happened already, or with support groups.
  • Show your interest in the wellbeing of the family as well as the cult member. Don’t be afraid to talk to the family: they’re waiting for it. But you should have real sympathy; mere curiosity is damaging. But even here, there can be too much of a good thing: don’t go on and on about the problem, and it shouldn’t be the only thing you talk about. Pay attention to nonverbal signals, in order to know whether the person wants to talk about this. If her or his answers are clipped and monosyllabic, it means that the person doesn’t want to talk about it at the moment.
  • They’re not expecting you to immediately have advice or a helpful word. It is often beneficial to the person simply to talk about the problem, and to have someone who’ll listen. They don’t expect you to solve the problem.
  • Be careful with hasty advice (“If he’s behaving that way, then kick him out!”) or with cheap comfort (“Oh, just wait, in a few weeks it’ll be over.”). Normally, you will not have the knowledge to properly understand the effects of cult membership.
  • A young person’s cult membership does not mean that the parents did not raise him properly, or that the family atmosphere is or was bad. Explicit (“Well, with my children, nothing like that could happen!”) or implicit criticism in this regard is very damaging and generally also completely incorrect.
  • A young person’s cult membership can last for a long time. Experience shows that the interest from friends and family fades after a few months, and the loved ones in question are then alone with the problem. Don’t be afraid to ask about the matter again even after longer periods of time.
  • Help the affected loved ones to lead a normal life. Encourage them to join activities or to participate in groups which will bring them into contact with people, and which will help to distract them from cult problems (e.g., choir, clubs, congregational activities, sporting groups, etc.).