Helping Families Cope with a Cult Member

Just Like the Watchtower
Interesting things that I learned at the 2016 ICSA Conference
By Lee Marsh on August 16, 2016

One of the most interesting things I learned at an ICSA conference this summer was that 80% of cult members leave between 5 to 7 years after they were recruited into the cult. This statistic was shared during Rachel Bernstein’s presentation.

While Rachel considers Watchtower a cult, I am not sure how this applies to most Jehovah’s Witnesses, because so many of them today are born-ins.  However, I do think this statistic may be applicable to young Witnesses who get baptized early and then decide to leave in their late teens.

But the statistic is interesting if indeed it applies to adults who join the Witnesses. For those who have no other family members involved in the Watchtower, this looks promising for non-believing family members, because there is a very good chance that the new Witness will leave within a few years without intervention.

Another interesting thing I learned at the ICSA conference was that some of the biggest concerns that non-cult members have about cult involvement by their loved ones are 1) the breakdown in communication 2) disturbing behavioral changes 3) disapproval on both sides; and 4) a feeling of being betrayed.

All cults, including Watchtower, have their own unique loaded language. As new members get more involved in the cult, communication with family members begins to break down. This is because the new cult members are trying to distance themselves from family who disapprove of their involvement. It’s also a function of the cult’s language, which takes over normal communication, as two different languages are now being spoken. The cult is changing the meaning of words making communication difficult.

Another issue is the changed behavior of the now cult member. A person who was a substance abuser before getting involved in a cult begins to clean up their act and spend many hours preaching or going to meetings. What is interesting about this is that families get used to having an alcoholic in the home. A lot of time and attention is focused on the person’s “problem”. So they are often stymied at the changes and don’t know how to deal with them even though they may be happy on one level. What can happen is that the new behaviors, lack of communication and breakdown of family relationships become the center of attention and may drive the family to seek professional help.

Sadly, the professionals that many families find, are too often unaware of the issues of cult involvement and may suggest a “wait and see” attitude, thinking that this is a phase the person will soon tire of or that the changes are positive and the family should be happy.

Conversely, some professionals may try to focus the family’s attention on how to get the person to leave the cult. Unfortunately, in most cases too little attention is paid on the dynamics of the particular cult, and how they unduly influence and socially control their members.

A mandate for all professionals is to “do no harm” to their clients. When counseling family members, the relationship with the cult member is far more important than what they believe. So it is wise for the professional or therapist to do what they can to maintain and protect the relationship, as that is more effective than confronting a person – not the cult member)on specific cult beliefs or the changes the person has made.

Professionals should avoid attacking the cult group’s leader, as the leader cannot be the sole person the new member is connected to.  

If the family does choose to try to rescue their loved one out of the cult, there are some important things to remember. They are:

  • Whatever information you present to them must be relevant. Never attack the cult group. If you must attack, demonstrate the point using other cult groups.
  • If you present information without understanding it, then it could have a negative impact on your relationship with a family member.
  • Understanding the information and the situation takes time and effort. You can’t just superficially research “the group”. Do your research.
  • It is important to assess the emotional and psychological needs of the person you are trying to help.
  • Ask yourself, “Why are they in the group? What needs are being fulfilled that they were not getting elsewhere?”
  • Create a safe family environment for the person to return to.

Issues for a therapist and professionals to be informed about include:

  • The many methods of undue Influence and psychological manipulation
  • Relationships
  • The attraction to the leader and their methods to attract people
  • The beliefs or theology of the cult
  • The health of your family member. Has joining helped them to stop self-injurious behaviors like smoking, drinking and/or drugs? Is their health being compromised by lack of nutrition or sleep or lack of medical care?
  • Was joining the group a response to previous abuse either in the family or outside of it?
  • Is there an apparent element of salvation or safety within the group?

Each group is different and they change and evolve over time. People will respond differently to the group based on their personal needs for joining and staying. And not all groups are harmful.

When working with family members these are important points to make with them:

  • Focus on places and issues where you can agree and not on arguing your point of view
  • Acknowledge that you have a bias or prejudice and then find common ground
  • Beware of your “need to be right”. It cannot over-shadow the need to be happy. The need to be right might wind up pushing the person back into the group longer

Like dance partners, if you step too close, they will have to back up. But if you take a step back and away from attacking them, they hopefully will step forward, closer to you.

I would like to thank not only Rachel Bernstein, but Joseph Kelly and Patrick Ryan for their good advice, which I have tried to share, in this blog post, from their presentation, Workshop for Families: A Collaborative Approach to Addressing a Loved One’s Cult-Related Involvement at the ICSA Conference 2016 in Dallas, Texas.


Posted on by November 4, 2016

About Lee Marsh

Ex-JW. DFed. A survivor of child sexual abuse, physical abuse and emotional abuse. Survivor of spousal abuse - sexual, emotional and financial. Survivor of sexual assault. And one last one - survivor of ethnic/political abuse. Left the first husband (JW) and lost my home. Left the second husband (never a JW) and lost my home. Wound up homeless for 9 months living out of one tiny room at the YMCA. But I still survive and thrive.


Helping Families Cope with a Cult Member — 3 Comments

  1. Brought up as a JW then disfellowshipped at 26 the only life I have is the 26 years since then. I was not a perfect child but there were many reasons behind that due to the JW cult. I lost all my “friends” my mother my father, all my childhood, all my pictures my memories all wiped out by a sick sick cult? Nobody in that cult will ever realise the harm and damage they caused me for a number of years by destroying my young life but that is what they intend to do why because they believe causing you so much pain will bring you back into their cult. That is a sick way of showing somebody you love them. Well listen up the past 26 years I woke up to realise that worldly people are not wicked you just choose the right associations. The world has loads to offer and is a beautiful marvellous place to live and be free. I love a drink, I love to go to pubs, restaurants, theatres, I love to travel as much as I can, I love to socialise with whomever I want whenever I want. I have such an amazing life now. I am happily married, fulfilled my dreams of living by the sea and the day I die my only regret will be that will be that it took the cult till I was 26 to boot me out as I wish they had done it many years previously.

    I detest that cult and loathe everything it represents and stands for. They are completely dillusional and I hope one day their hypocrisy and their lies are all exposed and the cult members leave in droves.

  2. I am someone who married a man that I loved and stayed with for many years. We had a child together after he quit drinking and we were so happy because we both were able to find new careers and enjoy our family. We rented a place and one of the people who was a close friend or relative of the owner came to fix our apartment at different times; he was a plumber. Later on, we moved and bought a house. We didn’t realize it, but he lived in the area also or moved there shortly thereafter.
    After moving to Hamilton, NJ we thought our lives were “normal” but didn’t know that we moved into a neighborhood comprised of witches and devil worshipers. As time wore on, my husband’s health started to deteriorate. He started needing surgeries. First, he had a hernia repaired and other issues. That took him out of work for a while. Then he had torn his rotator cuff. We found that although we enjoyed our home, our son started having night terrors. We had let the next door neighbors watch our son briefly a few times after school because my job and my husband’s was quite a distance away and my hours didn’t always permit me to pick him up and we initially felt at ease with them until the situation occurred with Megan Kanka. We started to wonder about the backgrounds of our neighbors because of the possibility of child molesters and drug addicts.
    Then, our insurance company came out and said we needed “repairs”. Our roof was falling in. So we had renovations done. We were happy to get it done but were ignorant that others might be viewing our home as something to use against us in the future. We don’t know if they installed equipment at that time, but as the same neighbors said they “babysat” the former owner, who conveniently died a week or so before we closed on the house. The neighbor said that the former owner (who was very Christian) had a relative on the local police force that was a nephew of hers and that her relatives moved her out just before we bought the home. They may have installed something to watch her (or so we thought) because they could see her from the police station. We didn’t know that they were watching us in bed, as well.
    Well, we went through many issues between our child having school phobia and anxiety which we attributed to his losing his step-grandfather and some years after, his grandmother – who my husband had power of attorney for. Well, it turned out that there were many other issues that happened after the neighbor on the other side moved in and the ones across the street started having some kind of desire to stalk me. We didn’t know how big it was and that we were being watched on our TV’s and that they have ways of using TV cameras and animation that have affected us severely.
    They hypnotized me at work and someone made as if they had taken an “interest” in me. They used some kind of hearing device to tell me to get a “white wedding dress”.
    One of the staff at work was a psychiatrist and he and I had a conversation pertaining to my job privately and he stated something about how sad it would be for me to get a “divorce”. I later learned that I was set up at my job and I believe that the job was so that I would be gone from home for long periods of time so that the people who were involved could get inside and set things up to destroy us and the house itself. They inserted something in my dogs with witchcraft or voodoo and they tried to make the larger dog have pain so that she wouldn’t eat. Then they tried to see about making it seem as though I was favoring one dog over the other and brought charges against me and my husband. Well, after I joined the gym, they had people stalking me and making sexual advances. I was emailed at work about a Website I should look at – which was and it had something about Elf waves and Satanic alters and Monarch sex slaves on it. The neighbors started doing things to hurt me physically and tried to ruin my reputation. It wasn’t until later that I found out that many former co-workers were recruited to do this to me and they installed some kind of device in me to allow them to use me sexually and to broadcast or speak through my insides. I didn’t ask them to do this. They did it to kill us. I have yet to get anyone to go against them. Some of my bosses are in show business and music. So are the neighbors. I also worked in real estate and engineering. I was raped in my own house by the neighbors friends across the street. I have had things stolen. My house has been destroyed and my husband has died at their hands. If anyone can help please let us know. They said they used CIA methodology on us. My husband’s boss (he worked for a gas station, towing vehicles) was a former FBI staff member. When he died they didn’t even say they were sorry for the loss.
    They said that they used the money that was owed me from different individuals to overthrow the government. In the meantime they’ve tried to prevent me from working and have made life most miserable. My son has lost so much in the way of education and quality of life due to what has been done. I fear them because they use sex and electric and x-rays and medical devices to affect your health.

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