Social Psychology -

Social Psychology -

Research Study Escaping Utopia: Growing Up in a Cult, Getting Out, and Starting Over Janja Lalich, Ph.D. Professor Emerita of Sociology California State University, Chico, U.S.A. On Our Own: How Children of Cults Manage to Survive in the Outside World First in-depth research of its kind 65 individuals from 39 groups who left the cult on their own as an adolescent or young adult They left without family members & without any outside assistance All participants completed a basic

demographic questionnaire The following are my preliminary findings To be published next year by Routledge Socio-Demographics Gender Breakdown 50 females 13 males 1 transgendered male 1 F-T-M transsexual Number of years in group: 7- 41 Ages at time of interview: 21- 68 Types of group ranged from fundamentalist Christian to New Age eclectic to Eastern meditation to hippie communal Family Situation

In 34 cases, the mother was still in the group In 23 cases, the father was still in the group More than of the 65 participants still had siblings in the group Because of the large number of family members still in the group, one of the most significant findings is that, in most cases, participants had little or no contact with their parents or siblings. In most cases, this is because contact was forbidden by the group. Thus, enforced shunning of relatives is clearly detrimental to healthy human and family Education Half

were either home-schooled, attended group-run schools, or had no schooling Half attended public school or a private school not run by the group but typically they were not allowed to socialize with children not in the group For this and other reasons (such as strange dress, obvious devotion to some type of leader, odd language, & distant behavior), these cult children were ridiculed and often ostracized by other Thus, these study participants were disadvantaged children. as children, and were ridiculed & ostracized by others as a result of growing up in a cult. Education: Long-term

Effects No matter what type of schooling they had, participants were disadvantaged as adults No educational records Only one or two educated beyond high school Many had barely an elementary school education They had no understanding of the U.S. educational system or how to catch up Never heard of the high school equivalency exam (GED) No understanding of how to get into university, community college, or trade school No knowledge of financial aid or how to evaluate different programs, e.g., accreditation Politics & Religion Less

than half consider themselves religious or spiritual at this point Far less than the national average 26 stated they believe in God or a universal presence 22 are agnostic or atheist 15 dont know 1 doesnt think about it 62 participants say they are politically aware and/or politically active Far higher than the national average This may indicate that a cult experience makes people leery of organized religion & more concerned about political issues and current events.

Relationship with the Group 80% have no relationship with the group These relationships are described as Hostile Have been declared an enemy by the group Do not want anything to do with the group 20% describe the relationship as neutral or good 5 said they have a good relationship with the group 9 said theisrelationship is neutral

This finding particularly relevant since most participants have family members still in the group Relationship with Parents 37% report good relations with mother 38% report good relations with father 26% & 28% describe relations as neutral Parents are deceased in 6% & 14% of cases 31% of women & 20% of men describe their relationships with parents as hostile dont want anything to do with them, or s/he doesnt want anything to do with me An interesting note is that women reported a

better relationship with their father more frequently, while a greater number of male participants described the relationship with their mother in positive terms. Sexual Abuse The majority reported that sexual abuse occurred while they were children or teenagers Many were also physically abused Not surprisingly, the sexual abuse appeared to be more psychologically and emotionally harmful The abuse was kept hidden, and in most cases, was controlled by guilt & fear

In a few cases, abuse was integral to the group philosophy Interesting note: Individuals struggle to deal with the abuse, apparently because they cannot face it, see it is as not a big deal, do not know whom to blame, or continue to feel guilty and ashamed Upon Leaving the Group Extreme confusion, depression, a sense of loss, anxiety & fear Experienced by almost every participant Explained as arising from having defied the cult & years of indoctrination that the cult way was the only way Culture shock

Most participants had been living a very confined & isolated existence Many reported that what surprised them most was how nice everyone was on the outside Every participant except one reported that no matter how bad things got outside, they would never go back Challenges in New Life Sense of alienation I felt like I had just landed on Mars No resources for practical matters No help to understand their experience Repercussions Post-Traumatic Stress Disorder (PTSD),

often undiagnosed for years Floundering, odd jobs, frequent relocations Re-victimization Taking up drugs, prostitution, and/or life on the streets Sources of Help The Internet Most common source of assistance was ex-member websites, either about their own or other groups Contact online led to other resources and put them on the road to recovery What Can Be Done?

This is a uniquely vulnerableand growing population Cultic group demographics suggest that large numbers of 2nd- & 3rd-generation members are leaving the cult Thus, as a society, we need to work toward providing recovery & rehabilitation services for this population

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