To be born into a cult is to be born at a disadvantage. From the onset, you are living in a community forged by people who wish to be with one another led by people looking to take advantage of that desire. You're unable to move freely with so many blind eyes and, unfortunately, the cult may not always have your best interests at heart and all you can do to free yourself is run away. Cults leave lasting impacts, no matter what coat of paint they put on it.
Reddit user, u/eZombiegglover, wanted to know what this kind of upbringing was like when they asked:
It'll Really Just Throw You Off The Whole Thing, You Know?
My parents were Scientologist with my dad being a pretty high ranking guy (He "ran" two major cities in the late 80s). They left when I was still young but they used to harass our family a lot when I was growing up.
Made me very distrustful of organized religion in general.
My mom is now a super atheist and my dad, even though he left 30 years ago, still believes in a lot of the tenets, especially the reincarnation part/thetans. He's just not active and doesn't press it on me (or anyone else) in any way.
Loneliness Breeds Insanity
I grew up in southwest Ohio, but we drove to Virginia for church. It was on a gravel road in the mountains and didnt have electricity. But it did have rattlesnakes and copperheads. We would make the 5 hour drive each way and service was 4 hours long. People would dance around speaking in tongues when the spirit would move on them, and then others would get the snakes out of the box up front and play with them.
It wasnt scary, because it was all I ever knew. Then one day when I was 13 I realized it was all a sham. There was a new family there, who had just moved into the town and were looking for a church. This preacher spent the entire 4 hours talking and yelling and ranting about how it was a sin and abomination for a man to have hair on his face. All because this new guy had a beard. They completely chastised and singled out this poor man in front of his wife and kid. Even at 13 I knew that wasnt right. That was the last time I went to church. I'm 35 now.
I was born into a cult in Indianapolis, IN called the CII (Church in Indianapolis). Most of this information is remembered from a young age or through stories from my father or one short conversation from a woman I grew up with in the cult who reached out to me after herself leaving. My father met the leader through his employer. It is/was a Christian based teaching. The cult grew to such a size that members around the country would move to Indy and live in the same complexes or same neighborhoods to accommodate the requirements of involving other members in your day to day routines (grocery shopping, homeschooling, dinner, travel etc.) The leader is male, his name is Mike Peters. (A google search will provide this information there are a few articles written about the CII) Though led by a male, many females (who were heavily encouraged not to work and to homeschool their children through adulthood thus having more direct contact with Peters) were taught that "worldly" men weren't safe. Eventually some women were taught that their own husbands weren't safe which led to many divorces and relocations once you got the "tap on the shoulder" that you or your family weren't following God's guidance. I remember thinking it very strange that we were not safe to be checked out by a male cashier at a grocery store, that we had to wait in a much longer line to be seen by a female; and beyond that, we had to go grocery shopping with other women from the group.
When my grandmother passed, my father was cautioned not to go to her funeral without a chaperone. Our family went on vacation without another family from the cult and my father had an intervention with some of the leaders. Modesty (sexual repression) was highly maintained. Purity/abstinence, not looking at the shirtless man jogging down the street, no make up, no "flashy/wild/worldly" colors or patterns, no nail polish. My mother would edit books I read with a black marker that involved any sensitive wording involving secular holidays, kissing, magic or harsh words. She would supervise me while playing with dolls. I remember meeting my extended family for the first time and being taught not to call them "aunt" "uncle" "grandpa/ma" etc. We didn't celebrate birthdays or Christmas until we were a little older (still elementary aged) and no other holidays were allowed, aside from 4th of July or non-pagan holidays.
My family moved away from the cult and have since separated. My mother never wanted to leave and is still a CII sympathizer while my father was the one who made it all happen. Thus, I experienced many different versions of my childhood explained to me. My mother told me my father was evil, my father told me my mother was disillusioned. Who's a young child to know the truth? Over the years, my family has made adjustments to the outside world and have made steps towards the healing process though not unscathed from the malicious teachings we were all subject to at a young developmental age. I am able to maintain a low contact (occasionally NC) with my mother by setting and maintaining emotional and physical boundaries. My father and I have been NC for most of the past year. I'm happy to add my sibling and I have a healthy and happy ongoing relationship.
No One Can Talk About It
I wasn't born into one but my parents got involved in hard core Old Testament Christianity just as I hit puberty at 13. It was catastrophic. At 16 I went to my school counselor who took me to Child Services who took me to a doctor who almost cried after my examination & I went into foster care.
The hardest part is while none of my siblings participate in this faith anymore none of us talk. I can function for a few years but I inevitably go off the rails despite therapy & hard self work. Relationships don't survive this turmoil
Lessons You Keep For The Rest Of Your Life
My grandparents basically run a cult. I grew up in isolation and didn't get out until I was 18. It took some time understanding how to "fit in" with normal people. Losing the "foundation" I was raised on was really hard and made me very unstable during my late teens early 20's. We were raised to do nothing but work (physical labor), which has actually come in very handy. I'm still a major loner, which is difficult because I think I'm slightly more extroverted than introverted, but I just have a hard time trusting and opening up to people. I have scars that make people uncomfortable.
Navigating my family's weird demands and emotional abuse made me quite aware, so I've adapted quickly. Also, knowing all the psychological tricks that they used on us and others has made me really good at persuasion and marketing. I'm weary of being manipulative though, so I try to be as straight forward as possible bc it makes me feel gross. I'm basically 25 now and have a degree and a job and a spouse.
Despite the fact that family left the cult, we still aren't close and I don't think we ever will be. Too much at stake. What if one them goes back, etc... I was surprised at the ease of which they let us leave. My grandparents have about 20 other followers. All related to each other, but none related to my grandparents. There's a lot of obvious incest going on. The third generation is quite.... Unfortunate.
Television Tells You The Truth
I remember the day my wife said to me "Honey, I think we might be in a cult." I was so sure we weren't, because when you're in a cult you hear so often that you're in a cult that it backfires and you just know that everyone else is wrong. She had been watching a tv series on fundamentalist cults, and saw so many parallels that it worries her.
I wasn't so convinced until I looked at Hassan's work on cult mind control, and realize "holy sh-t, I'm in a cult." The LDS church manipulates people by seeking to control their behavior, information, thoughts, and emotions. They are textbook in a lot of ways.
Now, I have to differentiate. There are Cults with a capital C like Scientology or the Moonies. There are also cults with a little c that are less obvious. The church of Jesus Christ of Latter Day Saints, also known as the Mormon church, is a "little c cult."
I've been a member for 33 years. I grew up in the church, was a leader as a youth, served a two year mission (which life on a mission is Cult with Capital C), went to a church university, married another church member in the exclusive temple, raised my kids in the church, and was president of my local Elders Quorum when things came crashing down a few months ago.
Mormonism is a high-demand, fundamentalist religion. This means they have a literal interpretation of their scriptures and expect a lot out of you. Along with paying 10% tithing to the church, each member is expected to have a "calling." This is where the local leader receives revelation from God as to where you need to serve. Sometimes callings take a couple extra hours per week, sometimes it's a part time job (all callings are unpaid, of course, until you get to the top). The church keeps you busy with a myriad of obligations.
Core to Mormonisms literal belief is that Joseph Smith was a prophet of God, and that the church is the only true and loving church on the planet.
The church will teach it's members a worldview where everything supports that "the church is true." God help you find your car keys? Church is true. Had a bad day? Church is true. Found peace in a scripture? Church is true. Someone shares facts about the church that make you feel icky feelings inside? They are anti-Mormon and the church is true.
They even teach that if you don't know the church is "true," you should get in front of the congregation and tell them it is true until you believe it. After all "a testimony is found in the bearing of it."
After my wife brought up that we may be in a cult, I broke through the church's mental stranglehold on information, started looking at the church's history from additional sources other than the "approved" curriculum.
Joseph Smith was a convicted conman who told his neighbors stories of treasure buried in hills found with his magical rock, guarded my ancient spirits, and connected to Indian ancestors. In a time where everyone and his dentist had a "Methodist conversion story", Joseph claimed to see God, that he was "led" to ancient treasure buried in a hill, guarded by an ancient angel, and translated by the very same rock he used to con his neighbors. He went on to continue conning people out of the money with various bank fraud and land speculation cons, and claimed to translate an Egyptian papyrus (which we have, and it doesn't translate to what he said it does).
Above all, Joseph claimed God forces him to marry his friends wives, and to marry young girls including a foster daughter. He died in a shootout when he was arrested for destroying a printing press, and held in Carthage on charges of treason.
The core of the church, it's truth claims, we're utter bull sh-t. It crushed us. It was the most painful experience I have ever dealt with. I was suicidal and depressed, which I've learned is a natural part of escaping. My wife and I and our kids are out and have never been happier.
Since finding out, we chose integrity over loyalty and are out. My wife's mom all but disowned her. My family is a little cold, though I hope they warm up again. Lots of families are strained if you leave. They say you don't get your family in the afterlife if you leave.
Seeing it all from the outside it's obvious, but I had zero capacity to understand I was in a cult while I was in it. Zero.
TLDR: raised in a cult until I leaned it wasn't God's "one true and living church." My wife and I broke away and are so much happier.
How Do You Trust Anyone Afterwards?
I was born into a pretty big cult. Been out for 4 years but the damage never really goes away. It leaves you without a family, without any ability to make or maintain friendships, and with an almost paralysing distrust of anyone and anything religious. I would argue that the last one isn't entirely undeserved but it's gotten in the way of a few conversations before.
Got years of counselling and therapy ahead of me to unpick the mess they made of me.
My partner was raised in a cult and I definitely see some of what you said in him. I think he misses having a community, but obviously doesn't actually want to maintain relationships with his family friends who are all members of the cult. Add on to that the layer that his parents and sister are just truly horrible people and I know he feels pretty alone. He is also very distrustful/disdainful of anything non scientific.
You Start To See Through The Cracks
I was born into Scientology. We would go to church often and while I was technically never forced to do courses everyone, family and staff are very pushy on you to attend and do services. Our family disconnected from others when they got SP declares so I would lose friends randomly throughout childhood.
Most of it is reading books written by Hubbard and attending events where people beg/demand money to save the world from psychiatry. They really push on people that the world is evil and falling apart but thankfully you're a Scientologist and this group is going to save the world.
I stopped believing when I realized how much Scientology operates like a business. "Free stress test!" On every f-cking window. Can you imagine if Catholic Churches had gaudy banners advertising "Free confessionals!" Today?
The other event is called the Golden Age Of Knowledge. Every test and bridge level was rebranded and re-edited and they had members purchase sh-t they already owned. So for years no one was getting Scientology. Instead of apologizing, giving refunds, or issuing credit staff say "Isn't this great?!" They've stolen tens of thousands of dollars from people and there isn't a goddamn shred of remorse. They just want more money.
I got extremely lucky and had wonderfully friends that helped me get out. I couldn't have done it without it them.
Cut Off Their Hold At The Source
A distant family member of mine headed a "new age" cult that I got roped into when I left home and went to college closeby. It started out as a group of friends of theirs that I became close to, cause they were the only family around, but then things escalated quickly. It went from love bombing, which I really needed because my family had gone through a terrible divorce and family was never the same after that, to soon after becoming my one and only family.
The cults beliefs were that the love and the connections that we all had with one another were the hope for the future. And the family member who formed this cult was the original creator of everything, and then was supposed to turn everything over to us, the "group" whose love could take things over.
Of course, the group always failed and we were always in trouble, and in order to become right we would have to give away our money and time to very hard, manual labor until we were exhausted. We were so exhausted that anything you told us we would believe.
Well, after a death in my immediate family I stopped showing to the events and meetings of the cult that I normally would, I was given a break. During that break I reflected and realized I needed to get out. I lived on site with that family member so it wasn't easy and I was in limbo for a while... still doing manual labor but not fully committed like I was before. I was working, and I met my current partner who eventually realized what was going on and helped me out. We moved in together and I have since cut 100% of my ties, without ever giving any reason.
I feel a lot of it was dealing with extreme narcissism from the leader, so that is really the best way to get out of that situation. To leave unannounced and abruptly.
At Least Try And Get A Good Story Out Of It
My closest friend in college (we'll call him C) moved to Cali after he graduated. We kinda lost touch after a year or so. A bit later on, I got a call from his mother out of the blue one day. She must have had to dig just to get my cell number, but she starts off and asks me if I've talked to C lately. I tell her no, it's almost been a year since I last chatted w/ him. She then goes on to tell me to please reach out to her if I'm able to get in touch w/ him in any way. He apparently got involved with some cult, sold all of his belongings, and disappeared without any contact with his previous life. They have a private detective in Cali right now searching for him. I don't hear from either of them again for a year after that.
Time goes by, and wuddaya know, I get a call from C one day. He moved to a new city coincidentally a few hours from the new city I had moved to. He's weird on the phone though. Super outgoing energetic dude sounds like a zombie the 1st time I talk to him. I invite him to my city to spend a weekend to catch up.
He actually drives down, and stays for a 3 day weekend and I don't recognize this dude at all. He seemed like equal parts zombie, depressed, anxious, relieved, all at the same time. It was an awkward weekend, the cult thing didnt get broached once. I was never 100% sold on the "C joined a cult story" but without a single person hearing from him, it wasn't the worst possible scenario of all things I guess. Having him sit in front of me that weekend, it firmed that theory up. So I didn't bring it up that weekend, never have actually. Just tried to make him feel at home, and throw some nostalgia his way ya know.
It's been about a decade now, he's married & a dad now. He wrote a novel, kinda sci-fi fiction. It's about a dude who gets caught up in a cult. Then he transcends reality and time and it kinda goes from there... Anyway, I ain't trying to write a book here, but thought I'd share just the short version of one of the crazier stories I've ever lived thru. Can answer any Q's if anyone's interested.
The Definition Of "Cult" Is All In The Execution
Ex-Mormon here, in case that counts. Let's see if I can condense 2 decades of bullsh-t.
I was raised from birth to be a mom. That was my Divine role and the teachings were structured around that message: your job is to birth children. It's the greatest thing you can ever do. Every decision must revolve around making that work. Even if you're broke college students, you must not delay a family for anything.
You're raised to believe that getting baptized at 8 is your choice, but it's never actually presented that way. The lessons are always phrased like, "When you're baptized, this will happen." You're also explicitly taught that you can't get into the "good" heaven unless you get baptized and marry in the temple.
From 18 months on you are taught lessons of obedience, one of which is tithing. 10% of any income for that $124 billion church (and that's just with assets that can be found). 4 year olds are expected to tithe birthday money from Grandma. Tithing is supposed to be paid before feeding your kids or paying rent, and if you do, some miracle is supposed to happen to get those monetary needs met.
Temple rituals involve weird clothes and are largely copied off free masonry. Only temple recommend holders (AKA tithe payers) can enter the temple, so unworthy family members are regularly excluded from weddings. 12 year olds get dunked in a water tank for dead people. These rituals have also been recently changed to remove references to killing yourself and naked touching.
The verbage in lessons involves an us vs them mentality. Non-members, anti-Mormon literature, etc. You are taught so repeatedly that the world is out to get you and that you cannot look at those sources of information that it creates a persecution complex. Any time anyone mentions anything negative about the church, the walls go up and that naysayer is treated like they're making a personal, ugly attack on everything that member ever is.
If you try to leave you are expected to meet with leadership and possibly also missionaries several times to try and get you to change your mind. At church you are taught that people only leave because someone offended them, because you want to sin without the guilt, because you didn't feel welcome, etc. None of that talk is about discovering Ole Joe was a career con man. These meetings are framed around that mentality and you have to go through several of them. If you want to avoid all that, you need a notarized letter explicitly stating you want to leave. A. Notarized. Letter. To. Stop. Attending. Church.
If you try to ghost them and stop going, they send your ministering sisters or brothers to come check on you. As a member you are assigned someone to go with you and visit people (aka check up on them) to see how they are doing and if their needs are met. When you try to leave, these people are usually deployed to bug you and get you to come back.
When parents find out about your lack of faith they try guilting you back as well, but more from the approach of, "How could you do this to me?" If your relationship with them is okay, this hits hard because the heaven aspect of the religion involves eternally-linked families and you are breaking that link. Parents are taught that they will answer personally for apostate children, so they usually try very hard to get you to come back.
There's more, so much more, and some of it uglier than this, but that can be found with a Google search. Basically, this church-cult thrives on guilt and mental manipulation to keep their members submissive and financially profitable. Breaking out of that mental game is extremely hard, and when you do you are hunted down and guilted back.
My personal Tl;Dr: I was groomed from birth to be a baby factory and now I'm stuck in that role with no career prospects. Thankfully my husband is woke and encourages me to be more than what I was raised for. We're still deprogramming, though
The Scars Will Always Remain
My grandparent was the leader of a smallish cult. It was very religious based. My name growing up was Slave 2, and my role was to do all the chores on the farm, all the housework and to please my master. I got out, my body has some pretty horrible scars and I'm okay to talk about my past, though I've lost a lot of friends due to over sharing. I'm happy to answer most questions.
Are you ok now?
Well, I've moved on and flashbacks, night terrors and the like are few and far between. However some days are far worse than others, particularly when I'm having a rather painful day and then the memories of why I'm in pain become hard to ignore. Overall I'd say I'm okay.