Exit and Support Network

If You Have a Loved One in a
Deceptive, Exploitive Group

If you have a loved one that has been ensnared in a deceptive group, you are undoubtedly feeling confusion, anger, worry, guilt, shame, helplessness and much pain. You feel you don't even know your loved one anymore and that it's impossible to reach them rationally. You may be questioning why this has happened and you may be desperate to know what you can do and how you can help.

Unfortunately, innocent people are often recruited into high demand groups during a vulnerable time in their lives and come under the group's mind control (or psychological manipulation). These groups offer "black and white" answers to life and they prey on people's fears. 

Let's first try to understand exactly what has happened.

Loyalty and Love Transferred to the Group:

As a result of the group's use of sophisticated mind control techniques, a pseudo-identity or personality is often formed and causes them to surrender control. Their loyalty and love for their family and God are transferred to the group and group leader and they become very dependent on them. Due to the organization's deception, they strongly believe that they are obeying God and His "government" when in reality they are only obeying the leader. They won't admit that this has happened because in their minds they truly believe they have found "God's one true Church" with revelations given to "God's Elijah," "God's Prophet," "God's Apostle," etc.

How Did Herbert W. Armstrong Recruit People? (The step-by-step process)

Why it's Hard to Leave Philadelphia Church of God Are (Written by ex-PCG member but applicable to those in any of the totalistic Herbert Armstrong groups)

No Critical Thinking Allowed:

The group allows no criticism, doubt, or critical thinking and thought-stopping techniques are utilized by the member to keep such from occurring. If you try to engage them in a discussion about the group, they will repeat everything the leader has told them via sermons, CDs, booklets, literature or videos, because their critical thinking processes have been shut down and they will not reason intellectually. They have been deceived by the group's leader to believe that they are "the elect" and that the outside world does not understand "God's Truth." As a result, they are instructed to keep all their literature and sermons notes a secret from non-members, even going so far as to hide them from unconverted mates.

Control of Information:

Another reason it is hard to cause your loved one to listen is because of the group's control of information or what is known as "milieu control." The member looks upon all literature or information that is critical or revealing of their group as lies or slander. To them it is "Satan trying to get a hold of my mind" or "Satan persecuting God's true church." Therefore, they usually will refuse to read it or listen to anyone, unless and until their mind begins to open.

Support Received From the Group:

It is also important to realize that your loved one will be getting support, sympathy and "love" from the ministers and group members every time they attend services. They will tell the member that they are going through this "trial" with you because of knowing "the truth." The more you try to convince them otherwise, the stronger they become in believing they are right and you are merely being "used of Satan." Realize your loved one was a target and the leader has deceived and exploited them without their informed consent.

Exploitive, destructive groups will do everything possible to create division in order to retain their members. If your loved one has just started reading the group's literature, listening to the TV program, or videos, or even if they have questions, you have a better chance to help them understand the true motives of the group. If they are already a member, or attending on a regular basis, especially for quite awhile, their critical thinking skills have been shut down.

What to Do:

Educate yourself as much as possible, not only on the group, but on religious cults, mind control (thought reform) and abusive churches. See our Booklist along with articles on Understanding Mind Control and Exploitive Groups.

  • Pray for wisdom before every encounter.
  • Remember that it is always easier to approach them if they have doubts or questions.
  • Stay calm, patient and respectful.
  • Built rapport and trust.
  • Be an active listener.
  • Have a curious, yet concerned attitude.
  • Demonstrate unconditional love (real love is stronger than the group's love).
  • Help the member get in touch with who he was before he was recruited.
  • Periodically bring up prior, fond personal or family memories (this re-stimulates memory).
  • Find out if they have unanswered questions about their group.
  • Understand how they will reinterpret certain scriptures.
  • Try to get them engaged with you in researching the group objectively.
  • Plant seeds of doubt.
  • Learn to awaken the member to the control of the group over their life.
  • Keep in personal contact with the member (cards, letters, phone calls, photos, etc.).
  • Know why you believe what you do (be able to share your own personal assurance of salvation if asked).
  • Help them to know that God will deal with them individually and directly; encourage them to pray themselves and study their Bible themselves.
  • Pray that the spiritual strongholds will be broken and that their eyes will be opened to the deception they are under.
  • Seek out others who understand cults and/or spiritually abusive churches and who will pray with you and support you.
  • Welcome the family member back into your home if they leave the group.

What Not to Do:

  • Don't tell them they are in a "cult" or are being "mind-controlled" or "brainwashed"
  • Don't refer to their leader as a "cult leader."
  • Don't suggest that the members of the group aren't Christians.
  • Don't argue the Bible or act judgmental.
  • Don't push them into a defensive corner.
  • Don't become angry and/or emotional.
  • Don't underestimate the control that the group has over them.
  • Don't blame yourself.
  • Don't neglect the rest of your family or your own health.
  • Don't send them money, as it is usually turned over to the group.
  • Don't have joint checking/savings accounts if at all possible.

So much fear has been implanted into members by the literature and sermons that they can become paranoid or phobic and feel they might lose the Holy Spirit, be cast into the Lake of Fire, or go through the Great Tribulation, if they leave the group or are disfellowshipped. Members are convinced that they have "proven" everything they have come to believe and want to do whatever it takes to "obey God" as they see it. If you are negative, argue or try to prove your case, or become emotional and overreact, they will see you as being "against God" and you quickly become the "enemy." They also believe that if anyone criticizes the founder of their group it is the same as criticizing Jesus Christ.

Also read: How do I help a friend or loved one leave? and Why do they stay in these groups? (Q&A)

If They Are Not Yet a Member:

If your loved one has not yet become a member, but is wanting to become one, you could ask him/her calmly how it is possible for them to "prove all things" according to Scripture if they are unwilling to examine all the evidence available to them from all sources? You could also ask them if a false religion would try to convince people not to examine what ex members might have to say?

Don't ask too many questions at once, or force them to do what you want. Your goal is to try to get them to think so they can make an informed decision.

If they aren't heavily involved yet, they may be willing to read: Where is the True Church? or some articles in our section: Understanding Mind Control & Exploitation.

Here are a few positive testimonies out of many:

I Was Thinking of Becoming a PCG Member

I Almost Became a Member of Restored Church of God! 

I Noticed There Was Something Wrong With the Living Church of God

Spared From Living Church of God After Finding ESN Site

If You Are Dating Someone in One of these Groups:

If you are presently dating (or engaged to) someone who is a member of one of these controlling groups, or who has just joined, you must realize that their loyalty is always going to be first to the organization. By continuing being with you, they are considered "disobeying the authority" since dating outside the group is usually forbidden.

Don't just go by your emotions or your feelings of love. If they do not show any indication that they are going to leave, or will give up their beliefs and put their love for you above the group, it is recommended that you not keep hanging on and having a false hope, as you will only be setting yourself up for more pain and disappointment in the end.

If you decide to go ahead and marry the person, there will be no way to reconcile your beliefs with the beliefs they hold as long as they stay a loyal member. The group will soon come to overshadow any love they ever had for you as it becomes first and foremost in their life. Tragically, these groups have the potential of destroying a marriage.

If They Were Previously in Worldwide Church of God Before Present Group:

Read: Note by ESN at end of "Why it's Hard to Leave Philadelphia Church of God."

Conclusion:

If you find you are becoming involved to the point where dealing with all of this is causing more depression, anxiety, hurt, anger, increased turmoil and ill health in the family, and/or causing you to seek revenge, then it is time to let go of it. In these circumstances you may have to make the decision to distance yourself from those in the group in order to gain peace of mind in your own life This means to make each day count with the people you love and who are not involved with any of these exploitive and controlling organizations. It is important to spend time and energy with those who appreciate you and need you, not with those who continue to judge and criticize you.

Although it is very discouraging and depressing to have a loved one in these groups, there is always hope no matter how long they have been involved. Just remember that it often takes time for their mind to be set free from the deception and for them to make the choice to leave.

By D. M. Williams
Exit & Support Network™
August 23, 2000
Last updated December 21, 2015

The following letters to ESN pertain to having a loved one inside these groups:

Keep Lines of Communication Open With PCG Members Wanting to Cut Off

Loved Ones Finally Out of PCG! (encourages others to not give up hope)

My Girlfriend Decided to Leave PCG

The Only Answer (covers gaining custody of children)

God's Timing for Our Loved Ones

Family Finally Out of PCG!

Related Articles:

Questions About Members (Includes "How do I help a friend or loved one leave?") [from our Q&A]

How Do People Get Out of Religious Cults? (Includes "Stages in Leaving the Cultic System")

Opening the Closed Mind (directed at Jehovah's Witnesses, but contains questions that can help any member of deceptive groups to think) [offsite article]


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