If you have the suspicion that one of your friends, either in real life or online, is getting sucked into a cult, don't panic as there is hope. You can give it to them.
Important note: If at any point you see that it is likely your friend will cause harm to themselves or others, please seek professional assistance, using emergency services if at all necessary. But, because you’re their friend, you’ll hopefully be reaching out to them before they get anywhere near this point.
Below are ten things you can do to help them break free from a cult that is taking them away from their usual self.
1. Stop! Think before responding.
There are many things that you can do and say that might drive them away from you and into the cult’s embrace. Even if it seems correct, you really don’t want to say things like “You’re in a cult,” “You’re brainwashed,” “They are dangerous,” “The cult leader is a horrible person,” etc. If you do they may become defensive and stop listening to you.
2. Do some research.
Spending a little bit of your time to learn more about what a cult is and about the specific cult in question will help you out. You’ll begin to see reasons why some people could be attracted to the cult. It might also allow you to better ‘speak the language’ as you demonstrate understanding and care enough to learn something that they are interested in.
3. Engage with questions in an open and non-confrontational manner.
We can often learn more and achieve a better understanding of things when we come to the conclusions ourselves. If you give them the option to change instead of requiring that change, you will prevent barriers that may harm your communications. Asking questions like “What do you mean by that?” and “Can you explain this to me?” and “How does that work?” can really help to shed the light on what they see and what they know.
4. Focus on learning why the cult is attractive to them.
While cult leaders and those who enable them can be quite good at psychological manipulation, it is important to realize there may be some legitimate reasons why they are interested in the cult. Such reasons often include the fact that such groups provide a sense of community and well-being that they might not otherwise get to have.
5. Don’t rub it in.
If they agree with you, or change their mind on anything, don’t harp on it. Usually, we don’t enjoy being wrong. Even more so, we don’t like being told we are or were wrong. Instead, offer appreciation that they could evaluate something from a different viewpoint.
6. Get support from mutual friends or their family members.
The more friends and family who offer genuine human connection outside of the cult, the cult will become less appealing. If possible locate closer friends and offer them your concerns and information (such as this) as to how to approach someone possibly joining a cult.
7. Offer them a temporary escape.
Because cults often offer continual emotionally engaging material that help to keep them hooked, it can be useful to break this up and provide a reset on their habits that might be making it worse. Go somewhere fun or do something new and exciting. If anything, you can just have a good time together! When you’re out and about with them avoid reinforcing memories of the cult by discussing it. Instead discuss other interesting topics that seem to be interesting and worthwhile.
8. Spend quality time with them.
Just as junk food over time can lead to detrimental effects, so too does continued engagement with cult members and material. Offer them a steady alternative where they may feel valued when they spend their time. Maybe even look to do some volunteer work together?
9. Keep on being a good friend to them and let them know their friendship is valuable.
When you let them know that you mean something to them, they will see that you value their existence and their presence. You can let them know that other friends and loved ones value them too. But if you cut your friendship short by severing social ties or making ‘me or them’ ultimatums, you’ll lose the ability to help. Stay connected for as long as you can and you’ll be able to do that much more.
10. Take care of yourself.
If you find that your efforts are causing you your own challenges, take a step back or maybe a little break. When you are healthier yourself, the more you’ll be able to help your friends and family.
There is no guarantee that if you follow the suggestions above you will succeed, but you will have a greater chance of success if you do. And even if you don’t succeed immediately, you may find that your early intervention will have been helpful down the road.