People Who Have Broken Free From A Cult Describe Their Experience

People Who Have Broken Free From A Cult Describe Their Experience
Image by Jackson Davis from Pixabay

When we think of cults, we think of creepy chants and sketchy charismatic leaders who victimize vulnerable people. We tend to imagine it as a sinister thing that happens elsewhere and would be impossible for "normal" people in "the real world" to fall into.

We would be terrifyingly wrong.

One Reddit user asked:

Redditors who broke free from a cult, what was it like?

And the responses were more than a little disturbing. Everyday people popped up to share their experiences - and almost without exception people seemed to not even know they were in cults when they were active.

Read through, take stock, and seriously consider the things you get yourself involved in.

Obvious Questions

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I was in a doomsday cult for 23 years from my age 13 to 36 (1995-2018). Nothing odd or weird went on. You would genuinely feel good at start. But once we get deep enough you lose any kind of ambition in life and start having a lot of negativity about the present world and people outside the cult. And you're literally waiting for the world to end.

Based on its teachings, this world should have "transformed" by now, into their so-called heaven, and only a bunch of the cult followers should have remained in harmony. I totally believed everything I heard without questioning (probably because I was young and naïve) and followed their "Rules and regulations " to the dot. Like celibacy, food habits, keeping a distance from everyone outside the cult (even close family members) .. etc.

Finally, when some obvious questions started arising in my mind I felt like fool, and totally lost and betrayed. Like 4 years back, I felt like I couldn't meditate or listen to their daily verses. It felt totally off. I had to dig deep inside my mind to find the reason why I am unable to feel anything. That's when I felt that a number of things didn't add up. No outside influence at all.

It took a lot to break free and am still in the process. I'm 38 and married last year. She's a wonderful person. Her love and support helped me move on. I would say I am doing good now.

- ohrlygr8

Confusing and Painful

Confusing and painful.

I was born in a cult and left when I was 18, because I could not bear to live like that any more. They were very hard on women, reducing them to helps who were not allowed to voice opinions.

Leaving was one of the hardest things I have done in my life. It took me years to realize the pain I caused my family was actually not my fault.

Also, I felt so alien in the world. I missed the general background that people have, because the world I had lived in was so different. I was trying to fit in, without knowing how to set boundaries to protect myself.

I was lucky to know people on the outside. The group I was in did live amongst non-believers. We were just not allowed to mingle. When I left, I went straight into a relationship with someone from the outside.

Within days I realized I was in a bad situation there too. I stuck around way too long, trying to make it work and thinking I was the reason it was so hard. I did get an education, so I would be able to take care of myself.

After five years I ended the relationship, moved out and have been doing better since.

- women_and_wolf

Once You're Out

I think the funniest thing about living in a cult isn't what you notice living in it. It's what you notice once you're out.

There were some pretty strange things that when you're long removed from it all you're like, "Holy shit that IS messed up." When you're in it it just seems normal.

When I was a young, I was told in the end of days I would be tortured for my beliefs. They would try to get me to deny Christ. I needed to stay strong, and resist. So 8 year old me was 1, afraid of getting tortured, and 2, afraid that I wouldn't be able to withstand the torture and wouldn't end up going to Heaven.

When I was a mid-teen, it was things like when I masturbated I was supposed to imagine having sex with Jesus....that last one I thought was weird even when I was in the cult, but more of a "eww, I don't want to do that" over a " that is some sick and twisted sh*t" kind of thing.

That's the weirdest part. When you ask what it was like, my first response is to go, "Like any other childhood really..." And then I think about it and go...hmmmm okay, not quite. It's funny how accepting minds can be when it's all you know.

- cultkid84

Falling In Line

I broke from a cult. I had gotten sucked in during college.

They prey on college kids who are away from home, searching for an identity and desperate for a sense of belonging. At first it was fun. Nonstop activities. People who genuinely wanted me around. Help. Support. It felt good.

But it quickly took over. Then the pressure started. Subtle at first. Give up all other people and activities because they weren't good for me. Spend all my time and energy with the church. They assigned someone to watch me. To report to. To confess to.

At the same time I befriended the cult leader's wife and spent a lot of time with her. I felt privileged. But I started to see things.

I went to catholic school 13 years and I think that was the best inoculation! Then the whole women's role thing really got me steamed. I started arguing with the cult leader's wife about women being equal and I suspect something I said got to her because the cult leader hauled me into a meeting and talked to me for an hour.

By the end he could see I wasn't going to fall in line and I could finally see him for what he was - a fraud. So he kicked me out. I was banned hard! He was afraid I would infect others. My good friend had to flee in the dead of night and hide in another state. They hunted him. But me - they never even spoke to me again!

- harpejjist

Long long ago when I was a preteen I had to stay with some relatives for a while. These relatives were in a 'church' that was run by an openly admitted, formerly imprisoned con man. I was told I had to go to this 'church' too, 3 times a week, or be thrown out of the house with nowhere else to go. Things started off more or less normal-ish and only gradually did it become a fanatical cult.

For the time I was there, I was as sucked in as everyone else and couldn't see that things were messed up. One Wednesday evening I had a bad tummy flu and was left with the neighbors while everyone else went to the church. Friday night rolls around and I'm still too sick and weak to go. Sunday morning comes and I'm perfectly healthy, but no longer want to go. Once again I was left at the house, but with instructions to be gone before they returned. I left and have never regretted it.

What made this 'church' a cult:

  1. I know of at least one young woman in the congregation that had quietly asked around for help because the 'leader' was hitting on her and not taking no for an answer. She soon disappeared and was never heard from or mentioned again. I have no idea if something happened to her, or she just ran but either way it was bad.
  2. At any given time in the last year I was there, at least 3 of the most attractive teen girls lived with the 'leader', an unmarried man, with no supervision, and their parents seemed to think this was wonderful.
  3. The 'leader' would frequently say one thing and then contradict himself in the next sentence, and no one ever noticed or commented on it.
  4. The 'leader' put a great deal of effort into separating his 'flock' from friends, family and the community at large. All holidays became 'satanic' and the congregation was forbidden to practice anything considered normal for holidays.
  5. Years later when I was grown and married, a friend from childhood contacted me to tell me the cult was being investigated by, I don't remember now which alphabet agency. I immediately called the number for that agency that was in the phone book, and told them everything I knew. I never heard anything after that, and have no idea what happened.
- BouncyFerret

"Altruistic Fellowship"

I left AA in 2011, after ten years of lies, coercive deception, and being intimidated by extreme fear.

Although many may laugh at AA being considered a cult, It has all ten of the 'Sam & Tanner' indicators, that would describe it as such.

As Scientology hides behind it being a religion, AA hides behind its structure of anonymity (at all levels). I was pursued and threatened if I didn't go back, and other members visited my family - at home and at their places of work - to tell them I was going to drink, and soon die if I didn't resume meetings.

As AA promotes the image of an 'altruistic fellowship' the Police are very wary of getting involved. It took me over six years to de-program, and even today, I have troubling thoughts from the incidents I witnessed while a member.

The problem isn't about the twelve step program as writ. The problem is the sick individuals that use Its anonymous status as a hiding place, To sexually predate on the vulnerable, use coercion to control, steal, and intimidate others, use 'sponsorship' to inflate their egos and manipulate.

I could recount dozens of sickening things I've seen and experienced around AA. Thankfully there are now many other legitimate support networks, and alcoholics are seeking them out, and gaining credible results. The 13th stepping, 3%ers, have finally been found out for what they are. I always found it odd, that the sickest conduct was always perpetrated by those with the alleged longest sobriety,

- Sea-Alternatives5501

Thank you for sharing this. Indoctrination is scary at many of these meetings. The contradiction and wildly overstepping appropriate boundaries is near constant. I cant imagine AA in it's current state surviving us millenials who question "we do it this way and only this way because we do it this way" and I am forever grateful. Again - thank you.

- jlemo434

Dad Was Sent To Save The World

Not sure if it fully qualifies, but my Dad ran my family like a cult.

He was a fundamentalist Christian and believed he was a priest of the Melchizedekan order sent by god to save a bunch of people before the end times. In reality he was mostly just abusive and pathetic. We had a weekly scheduled meeting where he'd tell me, my siblings and my Mom that we were worthless (based on whatever we did he didn't like that week) and he was our only hope for salvation.

He also would lock me in a closet for days on end if I was more than a minute late mowing the lawn and had me dig my own grave twice (once for insulting my sister, which was a dick move...but not really grave digging worthy and the other time for deciding to leave the house after having been grounded for seven months prior.)

He was religiously popular in all our churches though he hid the whole "saving the world before the apocalypse" thing. I can't say everyone in those churches were bad people like my Dad, but they definitely weren't willing to believe me when I asked for help and were pretty crazy in their own right. My Dad was probably bipolar and a narcissist, I know my Mom was an extreme enabler, though she was abused as well, and I was the black sheep no matter what I did (my sister was the golden child and my younger brother was pretty much forgotten.) We were all, obviously, homeschooled.

I ended up going to a pretty culty fundamentalist university, it's not the one you're thinking of but was just as bad in a more personal way. It was the first time I got a lot of approval, literally had people calling me a prophet. But I realized that I didn't know what the fck I was doing and no one in there right mind should blindly listen to what I was saying and started seriously questioning my faith.

Ended up becoming the first openly non-religious person there. Was harassed, sued and physically assaulted by the campus pastor, personally publicly derided by the campus president and nearly kicked out over a rumor I was Michael Moore's nephew. I was nearly assaulted by a few students over my anti-torture stance, being the straight side of the first gay-straight alliance on campus...and for possibly being Moore's nephew. Was constantly stopped to hear arguments for religion.

Weirdly enough the professors were really good about it all, they disagreed with me but were supportive (I'm still friends with a number of them.) Though they also kind of treated me like a token in the classroom though, constantly asking me to provide the skeptical argument. That was pretty taxing as my entire life became debating religion.

Overall I lost a lot of friend, but some were surprisingly supportive. My Dad obviously hates me even more now. I tried being polite so that I could be there for my brother and I was. A few years back he actually credited me as the top positive influence in his life during an award acceptance speech (that little fcker's way more talented than me.) I didn't speak bad about my Dad until he brought it up during his 18th birthday when I took him out for our tradition Miyazaki film tradition. Prior to that I was just supportive, went nuclear on my parents the times that needed it (they tried to ruin his bugging game programming career in high school...and a lot of other sht,) and giving him old textbooks and computer sht I'd replaced with better so he'd at least have something.

Otherwise my non-religious life has been pretty peaceful and productive. I'm moderately wealthy, have a great career and generally enjoy my life. At the time I thought everyone was like the religious group I was in, but in reality most people don't give a sht. I've explored various other religions but not really found anything. I also tried a lot of psychedelics for a bit, which were kind of the nail in the coffin in explaining away the religious experiences I had as a kid. It's kind of weird how leaving that sht now is just normal (though it took a long time for it to feel that way.)

My Mom died last year from the flu, it kills me she never got away from my Dad. My Dad is a opiate addict, and has been for about two decades. He's also over 800lbs so no one really takes him seriously anymore. I never got an apology from the people I went for help to, though they all speak disapprovingly of my Dad now.

Weirdly enough, despite the sh*t I went through, I'm still friends with the pastors son from my teen years and loosely with the pastor. The son had a better life than me by far but managed to fck it up. The pastor was surprisingly accepting, though disapproving, of my non-religion. Despite being fcking crazy, I'll say that pastor did literally clear his schedule to stay with me while I was waiting in the hospital for my Mom to die - despite my family having left the church for 15 years while their new pastor didn't even show up.

It's weird, it's hard to condemn all the insanity. It's easy to condemn my Dad, but some of the people in that group weren't bad, but just crazy/broken people genuinely trying to do good but hampered by their insanity.

- IAMASolipsist

Selling Waterbeds


I accepted a job as a traveling salesman once upon a time when I was desperate for income. Had no idea that it was a front for a cult.

We sold waterbeds, but anytime someone would tried to leave the company, management would gaslight you, become mentally abusive and manipulative, and try to use your personal life against you. All the other coworkers were honestly like creepy AF. They all behaved like subservient loyal robots literally.

The cult itself, was centered around the owner. They had subtle wording in their company core values and policies that basically referenced that they were a God, if not the God of humanity. It was weird as fck. I was subjected to some really shtty situations, and trying to tell my family and friends about it they wouldn;t believe me. Thought I was a lunatic, it was just a shitty job etc.

But no, there were death threats, other forms of threats, all sorts of just mindblowing crap from management, including attempted blackmailing, framing etc. Company meetings consisted of people getting hazed, but they called it "trust building exercises".

There was also some kind of weird double love triangle going on between some of the coworkers and management. I'm pretty sure the coworkers all fcked each other too. Like you know the movie, what's it called...West World or something? Where all the cyborg robot humans were obviously preprogrammed to act and behave a certain way without fault? That's exactly how my coworkers were.

In the end I realized I had to move across country without warning to get away from them.

- HabalaShabala

Re-Learning The Basics

Having to re-learn basic words, definitions, and thought processes. Oh, Practical Prayer doesn't take up hours of your time? Circular logic is bullshit? Idle hands are NOT the Devil's playground? Being a passive-minded, obsessively-clean, hardworking, frugal SHEEP that gives your blood, sweat, tears, time, and MONEY all to the Church DOESN'T make you a contributing member of society?

- BarGamer

Forgive Everyone Everything

Ex-Mennonite here, from a rather extreme branch of it.

I fcking hate how people idolize Amish and Mennonites and have no idea how fcked up it all is. The physical and spiritual abuse that is carried out behind walls; the sickening way they treat animals; how they force victims to forgive, and cover up the crimes of their own.

People were so surprised and admiring when those Amish whose school had been shot up "forgave" the sicko who did it. Missing from the commentary was that we are told from when we are very young that the only way to enter heaven is to forgive everyone everything. And to be doormats for all the violent men in our lives, whether in or outside the community.

- Hurtin93

How The World Works

Being so completely ignorant of how the world really works was the worst for me. I lived in a bubble just thinking everything outside the religion didn't matter, because soon everything will be destroyed and almost everyone would be dead because they were not Jehova Witnesses.

I had to educate myself when I finally woke up. I read more than 20 books in one year. Trying to comprehend how the outside world really works. But my life has been full of failures because is not the same in theory than in practice. Maybe one day I'll get the hang of it and start succeeding.

- TheKensai

Paying Them For The "Honor" of Volunteering

I was in a cult for around 7 or 8 years. It started off great. I was making so many new friends and the congregation was quickly growing... but then after some time I started to notice money go missing from the church coffers. They were always fund-raising to improve upon something for the church, but the amount of money that they would raise never quite added up to what they would do with that money. After a few years they ended up selling the whole church, with the senior pastors adding the profits to their retirement fund... that's just the financial side of things.

They would also take advantage of their staff. They would get people to work for them without paying them. In fact, one of my good friends got roped into doing a 'traineeship' there in which she had to do over 20 hours of 'volunteer work' every week, for which she had to PAY THEM for the honour of completing.

They would also frequently raise money for 'mission / aid work' in third world countries. However, the funds raised for this purpose were always misappropriated on expensive dinners for the pastors and fully paid vacations that they called 'mission trips'.

The worst part about it has the be the brainwashing. They reach you things that are very narrow-minded and they teach you to think a certain way which is very harmful. For example, they put a big taboo around sex.

So yeah, that really only scratches the surface, but that's a bit what it was like. I really had to reprogram the way I thought a lot after I left, after I realized that a lot of what they had taught me was false.

- judas_crypt

Holidays Are Amazing!

It was difficult. 25 years of not knowing how to think for yourself and suddenly having to, is hard to process. Everything was very routine and once I got out of that routine, I didn't know what to do. Forced myself to meet new people and figure out what "truth" is.

Very happy with who I am now after three years but still learning more about being independent and being open to new ideas and beliefs. Plus, holidays are AMAZING! I love Halloween and Christmas 🎃🎃🎄🎄

- kimv88

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