Tips for the Phase of Inner Distancing

If you look at the section titled “Problems for Those Leaving,” you can read about what can happen inside your loved one during this phase. In the section titled “Looking Back,” the views of former Holic members are catalogued. They offer a glimpse into the thoughts and feelings of former members. Under the heading “Help for Those Leaving,” the answers of various former members are collected as to what was helpful to them in this situation. Those pages are an important part of what is said here.

In this phase, you must be aware that the distancing from the cult is not absolute. There are certain things which the former members still find to be good (see “Looking Back”), and which they want to continue practicing. You should therefore be careful, even in this phase.

Also, respect the former member’s need regarding conversation. Some of them have a great need for conversation, others have no desire at all to speak about it. Experience shows that it’s good to signal your own openness for conversation (nonverbally, as much as possible), or to arrange unforced opportunities in which your loved one can start such a conversation on his own initiative. Things like simply taking a walk, cooking together, taking a boat ride, or cycling together, etc., can be helpful. In such a conversation (especially if you’ve begun it yourself, or have touched upon sensitive topics with your own questions), watch for (potentially deflecting) signals from your loved one, and then direct the conversation toward more unproblematic topics.

One source of help for those who’ve left the group is conversation with former members. They can remember their own experiences in the group, and they know points of conflict. Through conversation with former members, the person leaving the group can reduce the fear that there can’t be a happy and fulfilled life outside of the cult. Professionals who deal with cult matters can arrange corresponding contacts.

Above all, as long as the former member has not yet formed his own relationships, emotional support (but also practical and in some circumstances financial support) from family and friends is very important. That could take the form of visits, excursions, common tasks (assembling furniture, doing yard work), but also regular or occasional (cooking and) eating meals together.

As far as it is possible, you can also support your loved one in the construction of a new social circle. But pay attention to his interests and preferred social structures. Siblings and friends of the same age can be very helpful in this matter, as they sometimes can perceive your loved one and his needs even better than the parents.

Never conduct a conversation with a raised index finger in the sense of “I told you so.” Consider how difficult it is for anyone to admit an error. Don’t set your own lifestyle as a standard. It can well be that your loved one’s new lifestyle differs from yours. That would be very normal. He must find his own way himself. You can merely be a helpful companion in this process, to the extent that he allows it.

Distancing oneself from a cult is a personal maturation process, during which your loved one finds his way to more individual responsibility. Therefore, things which strengthen his sense of self worth and his inner stability are helpful. For such a process, he’ll need a safe space. In emotional matters, that can be primarily the attention of family members, and time spent with them. But it can also encompass material things (residence, daily life, work).