April 20, 2019 | Delaney Caulfield

Former Cult Members Share Their Stories

Cults have major control over their member’s lives. And they’ll use that power to manipulate you; you’ll gladly hand over your finances, take out a line of credit for them, immerse yourself in debt, sign your house over, whatever they ask you must oblige. They can dictate when you eat, sleep, who you talk to, what you wear.

It’s a scary thought, not having control over our own lives. Every day more trauma and abuse are inflicted upon those people, few are brave enough and lucky enough to escape. The ones that are have shared their stories of survival and fearlessness, getting away from the cult that was manipulating them.

1. Sounds Like a Lame Party

I realized my family was in a cult when I was 10 and we had a burn party for the television. As it exploded, people chanted, "Die, Satan! Die!"

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2. A Unique Experience

I don’t want to overstate my experience. In my late teens, I became involved in a group called The Way International. Shortly after I made my recruitment official (by graduating from a 36-hour introductory class), the cult fractured in a major schism. I “left,” but it’s not that simple. Everyone around me left too and we all stuck together.

The local leaders formed their own group. So although I was involved in The Way for less than a year, formally, I spent two years before that immersing myself in its doctrines and the better part of a decade after that trying to hold on to what I thought was good about it. So, yes, I left a cult. But it was unlike the experience of most people who leave cults.

I was not isolated. I was not alone. I didn’t lose contact with my friends or my family. I was shunned—but only by people with whom I had no daily contact in the first place. In other words, so what? For me, the value of leaving a cult lies in recognizing what draws people to and from religion in general.

Rafael Olmeda

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3. Sometimes You Gotta Disguise Yourself to Get Away

My dad used to be one of those cult guys you'd find in airports with the shaved heads and robes. He said he joined because the cultists were all like friends to each other and he was disillusioned with the world in the aftermath of the Vietnam War. One day he was offered a fair day’s pay for a fair day’s work on a construction site and after a few weeks of that he just broke off contact with the church, grew his hair out with a beard and they never found him.

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4. Starting Over at 21

From birth. Literally walked away without a penny at 21. When you leave a cult you not only lose your home, family, financial stability but you lose your lifelong identity, your only known community, and you lose the ability to be sure of anything anymore.

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5. College Is Such a Vulnerable and Curious Time for All of Us

I didn't initially think it was a cult but during a senior trip (private Christian high school) we met the group Bound 4 Life. I went to college in San Diego and joined their local chapter. After joining I was heavily encouraged to not cut my hair or shave and to fast for 21 days (any liquid was fine). The meetings were either in front of the courthouse or in an office building.

You were expected to stand for four-plus hours, three days a week with tape over your mouth in silent prayer then two days a week there were meetings designed to make you feel like you weren't doing enough for "the cause" and that you were not praying or participating enough. You would get calls on a daily basis from the leader "checking" in on you.

It was very well organized focused on making you feel inadequate mentally, physically and religiously. Something just clicked in my head and I stopped responding to their calls and since they could not get past the main gate on campus they just left me alone (despite the emails I still get 11 years later).

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6. Funny How the World Never Seems to End

I grew up in the Family Radio cult. What they are mostly remembered for is their 2011 prediction of the end of the world and rapture. Spoiler: The world didn't end. I was a young adult and able to leave in the chaotic aftermath without too much of a fight from my parents. I'm doing…okay. Many people are not. Some are still making more predictions.

I do want to take a second and say that 90% of the people in the group were kind people who really didn't want the world to end, but were just so brainwashed that they really believed it. Some of the nicest, most giving people just got sucked in, chewed up, and swallowed in the abyss.

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7. Life is Generally Easier for Men, No Surprise the Same Goes in Cults

Fellow ex-ATI here. My dad joined from the beginning. We were a "pilot family." We went to all the places: Northwoods, Headquarters, and Flint. I worked in the publishing house for a while. I sat in Bill Gothard's office and watched him work. I found it odd, even from the inside, that he needed to have a 15-year-old girl do his typing for him. His excuse was that computers are a temptation.

But 12 hours a day of watching somebody strikes me as worse. As I got older I got out. My parents divorced so that helped the transition. At least I had a place to go. As a guy, ATI wasn't as bad for me. But I saw the way my sister and mother were treated. It makes no sense. My dad still follows even after the allegations about Bill came into the light.

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8. So it Was a Good Cult?

I ran away from home at 16 and joined this weird spiritualistic cult. They didn't have any gods but they believed a lot in spirits and ancestors and stuff. We all lived in this big house owned by the leader guy whose name was Jonathan, Jonathan had a special kind of connection to the spirit world or whatever. They were all super good people, they took me in, gave me food and clothes and stuff, one of the guys gave me a job in his company.

They had a lot of rituals and stuff we all did, with a huge emphasis on community and common good and honoring the dead. It wasn't a bad thing so does that make it not a cult? They did require a lot of dedication to the group and stuff, I believe 5% of income had to go to the cult, to help Jonathan with rent and so they could all buy food and stuff.

I lived with them for a few years, they got me through high school and without them I never would've gone to college, which is the reason I left and where I am now.

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9. I Like How the Terrorism Didn’t Factor Into the Reason She Left

It's not a cult per se, but I joined Hezbollah when I was 17, and left when I was 22. I'm a girl so I didn't fight or anything, but I did recruit a lot of other girls. I joined because a lot of my friends were doing it. Now, they are not your everyday terrorists. A lot of our activities concentrated on the concepts of jihad and martyrdom, but they offered a bunch of other stuff.

A lot of it was educational (because women can't be uneducated, they are half of society and they raise the other half). They give university scholarships, offer free additional classes for those with learning disabilities to help them, and eventually, they even made job offers. We also had outdoor activities, trips to tourist sites, hiking, picnics.

They also organized "cross-religious" activities, especially with Christian organizations, those were meant to teach us tolerance. All in all, they were very nice people. The reason I Ieft is that I didn't feel like I fit in, they are EXTREMELY religious. I'm religious too, but not to that level. They also started judging me for the way I dress, for having male friends, and for being "too brainwashed by the western media."

Also, I was too surrounded by women, which led me to discover I'm bisexual, this is something I'm still struggling to accept. I felt I needed to get away from all these women before I lose my mind. I'm still friends with many of them though, and I still count myself as a Hezbollah supporter.

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10. They Prey, It’s What They Do

My sister was involved with a cult for a little while. She never joined; she was too smart for that, but she was friends with a few of them. But of course, that's how they get you. Eventually (like ... a year or so after she started hanging out with them?), they basically forced her to make a choice: join the church or get lost. They worded it differently, of course, about how they just wanted her to be "saved" and all that nonsense.

Obviously, they're just trying to prey on people with few friends and low self-esteem, making them scared to lose the only friends they have and tricking them into joining. My sister got the heck out of there and never contacted those people again. Smart gal.

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11. Corruption is Bountiful Out in the World

Well, I was born into a family that were Jehovah's Witnesses. Now, whether they are a cult or not is debatable, but I for one do believe that it is. The moment where I realized that I had to leave was when I brought my friend over one day. My mom scolded me for bringing them over and told me that everyone was out to ruin my life if they weren't in the same religion as us.

They would talk about how they are horrible and corrupt people, that we needed to cleanse them. I took a look at my friend and I couldn't see that. All I saw was love and kindness, I knew that these views were corrupt themselves, and then I started to talk to my brother who also shared the same thoughts. We both brought it up with our parents and the elders of our church, and none of them could give us any answers about anything.

This is when we both decided that we cannot follow the lead of people that can not explain what they are leading us into. In the end, we just didn't really believe in the religion itself.

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12. Exorcisms Aren’t as Glamorous as They Sound

I was 18, I just wanted to start a new life and they seemed so inviting. I told my mom I was going to school in the states. She didn't ask many questions, my dad had just passed and I told her they offered me a scholarship. I left in January. I was greeted by many foreigners who had just graduated high school. I think in total there was 55 of us.

They didn't have a place for us to live when we first got there. We ended up living in an abandoned hospital. I was scared, but everyone else around me acted like it was normal. The second day they took our passports to "scan them in case we lost them" that was the last time I saw my passport for three months. When I questioned them about it, they said the scanner needed repairs but it was high on their priorities.

The second week was a struggle, one of the leaders called me out amongst the entire group and said I had been infected with evil and was demon-sent. This lead to me being cast away from the group. I tried to find friends in the locals but instead found drugs for the first time. Went on a good two-week binge spending nearly $800.

Eventually, they invited me back, they held me on the ground and had an exorcism to remove the evil. I was so scared, I was so high, I played along. This went on for almost 10 months on and off being attacked. I got my passport and fled back to Canada (my home country) with one of the girls who was also enrolled.

It's too long of a story to tell the entire 10 months. I ended up going back recently to the city to shoot a photo series that I'm currently developing in the darkroom to turn into a book.

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13. The Truth is Not Always What You Think it is

I grew up in a 'Hindu' cult. It was the Truth, exemplified in our guru with his lifestyle of six cars, two mansions, three businesses and international vacations in first class, together with annual celebrations of his and his family members' birthdays. All of which we were solicited to pay for and sponsored to the bottom of our pocketbooks and into debt, to prove our devotion.

We were the elite destined for self-realization and were only to have limited association with the rest of the world, even our own non-believer families. Disobedience meant shunning and expulsion. We celebrated our birthdays only by decorating the guru's home and giving gifts to him and his family. I was homeschooled and attended university by distance learning, all so that I could stay in the group with our strict timetable of daily morning and evening prayers, communal meals, and morning and evening sermons by the guru (unless you were 'spiritual enough' to work unpaid in his businesses or doing chores at his home).

We had mandatory purification baths every morning and evening, and if we touched something “polluted” (a menstruating woman, an unbathed person, old food, dirty clothes, a thread from these clothes, had marital relations, etc.) we had to bathe and change clothes all over again. Menstruation meant seclusion for three days; birth or death in the family, 11 days.

We asked the guru's permission for every step in our lives—going to the doctor or into town, buying appliances, visiting family and hiring someone for home repairs, to education, career, marriage. Vaccines were frowned upon and if you got chicken pox or cancer, or had an accident, it was due to your bad karma or ego. Girls had to wear their hair long and both sexes had to wear old-fashioned traditional clothes that covered us from shoulder to ankle. We had to be vegetarian. It was easy to control people—we lived in rental accommodation owned by the guru's organization, overseas disciples had visas sponsored by him, and he handled our utilities, phones, and internet.

These were occasionally cut off or destroyed (once or twice by bulldozer) to discipline erring disciples, in addition to the public shaming during the sermons, yelling at or “blows” that also included physical 'correction' AKA purification (being hit) by the guru—which was considered a blessing as it was his guidance and sacred touch. Teens were strictly supervised; we got in trouble after a group of teens went out (chaperoned) to a local temple's dance and music program, and more seriously when we went the beach, since the cult provided “everything we needed in life.”

Romance was forbidden and marriages arranged by the guru between group members. The more the couple was opposed to each other, the more ideal, “to put the guru first always in your marriage.” Even those young people who vomited in disgust, or swore they would rather die, were gently coerced into marriage; gays too, with the opposite sex.

Several disciples were encouraged to and did break off their engagements or divorce their significant unbelieving others who would “block the light” and “drive them insane.” Two girls eloped and no one, including their families, attended the wedding. We were also told that natural disasters and manmade tragedies were due to our impurities.

To offset these, we made huge donations to the guru's temple. He even had a (badly) hidden camera to film worshippers who thought they were alone. We were told that in fact, nothing would be immoral if the guru “the living Truth” asked it, whether financial transactions, plagiarism, lying or stealing. Information was strictly controlled: gradually, movies were banned and our library was disbanded.

People were told to stop talking to one another “gossiping”; new babies were secluded at home. Disobedient disciples were sent out of town and shunned for several days as punishment. Around the point when we were told to cut off our mobile phones (both private and group-sponsored contracts) give up our Wi-Fi and Facebook, and abandon our pets (“do not try to understand the guru's orders but just trust”), I read up on cults on the internet and decided to get out.

I sold my jewelry to finance my plane ticket, driving lessons, return to university classes and cult recovery workshop. In my recovery group, I discovered how similar our cults were. My friends and family in the cult have cut me off; my other family and ex-cult-members have welcomed me with open arms.

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14. Imagine Not Having Coffee for That Long, I Would Break Down Crying Too

My family had a foreign exchange student live with us my freshman year of high school. He was a great guy and we had never thought about having someone live with us out of the blue like that. He came over here from Germany and the family he was assigned to (before he moved in with us) was a part of some sort of cult here in Texas.

He was locked in his room all the time (when he wasn't in school) and as soon as he came home he had to attend "the temple" as he called it. Imagine coming across the world to experience the US and THAT is what you encounter. Word got out through our high school that he was being subjected to this stuff and my dad of all people said: "he should come live with us."

Both my sisters had moved out for college so we had extra room. The second day after he moved in I walked into the kitchen in the morning and he started acting REALLY weird. Like freaking out. He was cooking something in the microwave. I opened the microwave door and he started crying. Turns out he was boiling a cup of water with confiscated coffee grounds so he could make a damn cup of coffee.

He said his previous host family literally beat him when they caught him making coffee and locked him in his room for a week. I got my dad's bottle of whiskey out of the cabinet and said not only can you have coffee, but you are welcome to anything in our house as well. It took him a couple of weeks but he finally assimilated. In the end, he actually became Homecoming King of my high school as well. He also became my best friend for a year until he headed back.

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15. Masochists Just Want to Have Fun

I don't know if I was born into a cult or we started when I was one. It doesn't really matter for me. At a very early age, my mom divorced my dad, and we were in this cult that beat the sin out of you. The ideology is simply put: we are all sinners with the devil is in us and the only way to get him out is brute force, preferably with a gang beating by the church elders.

There would be days we had to stay at other people’s homes when my mom was recovering from the beatings. When new members realized what was up they'd go to the cops and the church would then move. When I was about two my mom kidnapped us kids from my dad and we ran away with the church. The church moved several times, and we with them.

This continued until I was about 10. We changed my name four times during this period and I would sometimes go to more than one school per year. I'm now in my mid-40s; a recovered alcoholic, successful at work, and in a relationship with a terrific woman. I only reached out and found my dad about a year ago. Which didn't go as well as you would hope. But hey, it’s not Disney, its real life.

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16. They Love the Young and Vulnerable

This past year in college I was gradually pulled into a cult at a vulnerable time in my life without being aware until I did some thorough research online. It's a Korean cult, here it's called Providence, and it has a growing following here in the US. The leader used to be a Moonie and claims that he is the real messiah—although no one in the group will mention this until you realize it yourself.

He is in prison on rape charges. Coming out of this I have serious trust issues and only a month ago finally completely broke off all contact with the group after I pulled the wool off my eyes in August. They continued to try and convince me to come back.

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17. Time and Self Assurance Are Survival Tools

It's a Slavic community (Russians, Ukrainians, Georgian, etc. Eastern European) strictly Pentecostal (talk in tongues). Ladies required to wear headdresses and skirts and men aren't allowed to wear ties. Extremely misogynistic, if you're a woman over the age of 21 and not married then you're odd. Going to college and wanting something better for yourself is wrong and against the Bible, women should only want children and understand that they are put here to bear children.

I went to church four times a week. Eight years of Bible studies since I was six. I could go on for hours about having to fake attaining the holy spirit. But I just want you to know that there are other people out there, yes they’re your family but is it worth having to be part of this? Obviously not. You have to choose the life you want to live. I moved out, I stopped attending church.

I even got my septum pierced. My mother was distraught but slowly she is accepting this is who I am. I'm talking reaaaaalllll slow—she still tries to get my septum out. But I'm happy we are on speaking terms. I'm in college, I'm supporting myself, and I'm happy. Though parts of my family won't speak with me, I'm okay with it. Because I'm leading the life I want. Right now it may seem terrible, but I promise it gets better. Baby steps

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18. Cults Work the Same as Some Large Corporations, They Like to Settle Out of Court

I was raised in cult teachings in an isolated, homeschool environment, and then my family moved to the cult later. Brainwashing was there. It wasn't obviously rote and the same thing every time, as the pastor was very charismatic and convincing, but it actually was. We sang about only 20 songs, mostly hymns over the course of the time I was there.

It was run and controlled by a single pastor. There was a board, but there was no accountability. It was kind of a joke. Only the most supportive (i.e. the people who considered him always right) were elected to the board. It was very abusive and controlling. Coffee was unspiritual. Missing meetings gained you a phone call from a board member telling you that you were breaking fellowship.

Everything was about the pastor. I mean, literally. Sin was thinking negative thoughts about the group and the pastor. He set himself up as the wisest man on earth. For the girls...they had it worse. He would convince each one they had a sex problem (i.e. idolatry), and he would proceed to sexually abuse them. This cult is less than 30 people. As for why he's not in jail...settlements.

My experience was awful. I had some serious depersonalization, and the effects on me are awful. Living in fear, anxiety, intense emotional pain, constant flashbacks—it's really bad. My parents are still in it, and relationships with them are probably impossible. Talking about anything will get me verbal abuse. Child abuse is really bad. I left this last year, so I'm still processing a lot.

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19. Just as I Thought...Frauds

I was married to a Scientologist. Well, Scientology is weird. It's all consuming, as most cults are. My ex-husband only knew and associated with people in Scientology. However, all his friends were actually very very nice and really cool to me. I made a lot of friends through him. I never felt outwardly pressured to join Scientology, but the insidiousness was absolutely there. I'll get to that.

My ex-husband was raised in it, you could say he was a second generation Scientologist. His parents joined up back in the L. Ron Hubbard days and they were IN IT. They both worked for the church, as auditors. They were dirt poor; all of their money went to the church. Hundreds of thousands of dollars. They were so deep in debt.

They had no health insurance, and no money for anything except rent for their tiny, run-down apartment. That part made me the saddest. They were nice people. Now, I married him back when I was younger, more idealistic and willing to overlook major differences. I was a bit lost myself and really just looking to connect with anyone.

I was always atheist, and actually really against organized religion, but he always assured me that Scientology was not something he was active in and that it wouldn't be a problem. He wasn't taking any courses all the time we dated and were engaged, so I believed him that Scientology was more like his parents' thing than his.

After we got engaged, he started telling me how a friend of his needs some "help." She was training to become an auditor (that e-meter thing you hear about) and needed someone to practice on. I declined. He kept asking and insisted that it’s just for her practice, it doesn't mean I'm "doing Scientology," and that it would mean a lot to him.

So I did it. Ok. What a silly experience. Honestly, it’s just really silly. You sit in a room with the auditor, hold these cans. Let me tell you—the rigmarole they use to get the "cans" set right so they pick up your wavelengths (or whatever they call it) is laughable. Lotion on the hands, squeeze the cans—that didn't work? Go for a walk, drink some water.

Lotion again, squeeze the stupid cans. All this over and over, until something on the auditor's end says it's all working now, and then you're good to go. I lied through the whole thing. They acted like I made some amazing breakthroughs, (I got a "floating needle"!) and then that was it. However, I was then called over and over and over to come back in.

What the heck? I thought this was a one-time thing to help this chick out? Nope, they were all over me. They wanted three-hour sessions, days in a row, on weekdays! No wonder Scientologists are all poor as shit—they want you in constantly, during work days! I became so disagreeable to them that they actually gave up calling me to get me in.

I guess they figured me being married to one was enough to eventually get me. The Scientologists on the lower portion of the "bridge" tend to know nothing about the Xenu stuff. I asked them and they acted as they'd never heard of it. I guess you don’t get to read that "tech" till way later (a few hundred thousand deep).

The overriding insidiousness I saw was the learned ability to scam people. I witnessed a Scientologist owned business get taken down by the feds for defrauding their clients. The reason I divorced him was that he stole a large sum of money from my account that was not to be touched. It just vanished and he had nothing to say for it. He opened TWO credit cards in my name and maxed them. He put me into financial ruin. It was a disaster.

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20. Being Told Your Sins Caused Your Nephew’s Illness is Another Level of Terrible

I grew up in an odd family, but we had a lot of odd families as friends so it seemed semi-normal. There were six children, my mom and dad. I was the fifth child, and life seemed fairly normal. Went to church every Wednesday and Sunday. Southern Baptist, kinda overly religious but whatever. Still social enough.

When I was entering second grade my mom pulled me and my two brothers closest to me out of school and started homeschooling. All of this is mediocre sure. Just kinda odd. My two oldest sisters both get married at 19 and start immediately having babies. My mom and dad sign to let one of my brothers get married at 17..

Little odd but not a cult. I get it. Fast forward we leave the Baptist church to go to a spinoff because the lead pastors got into a fight and we followed the more eccentric one. Still not that odd. Things started getting weird when they were teaching the Book of Revelation. The pastor started preaching the end of the world...healing.

We were the only TRUE Christians in the whole world. My parents moved us to a rural town and prepared us for the end. My dad, a nurse, stopped believing in doctors. My sisters continued with their families, not much contact...The end didn't happen. My older brother and I got jobs at fast food restaurants he would sometimes work til 4 or 5 in the morning.

But was still expected to show up at 8 a.m. for the four-six hour sermon three times a week and return to work that evening at 4 or 5 and got kicked to the street when he didn't show. We weren't allowed to see him. My other brother broke his wrist, instead of going to the hospital we just went to the pastor because he had all healing powers.

My parents had to ask the pastor before anything, including meaningless things like if they should call their children. My grandma was brought to our neighborhood and isolated until she died because of lack of care, all because "Jesus would heal her if she only believed." My older siblings seemingly had a normal life. Families, jobs, friends.

I started noticing that this church was a little whack when I was about 16 and started telling my older sister about it. Just telling her what was happening; how I was repeatedly called to repent for my sins in front of everyone and how we no longer were allowed to associate with the brother who was kicked out. And he was damned to eternal hell because he was blasphemous to the holy ghost (the pastor).

My sister got pregnant with her fourth child. Who we found out had a lot of medical issues. Obviously, my parents ignored it. Until one day I was sad and told my mom (I was 17) she suggested we call the pastor to ask forgiveness of all my sins, because obviously, that's why I was sad. I said all right. We called. Not even three minutes into the conversation he yelled at me stating I was the entire reason for my nephew’s problems, that babies aren't born that way unless someone has committed a terrible sin.

I cried for a very long time. Next day I called my sister when I was alone and told her she had no idea how to deal, her baby was potentially dying and it’s being blamed on her 17-year-old sister. Anyway. I can't say all the crazy stuff that happens. I can say since leaving the cult my parents won't let me see my little brother. If I call and ask a simple question I'm directed to Jesus. Or pastor for the answer. It's terrible.

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21. Being Asked to Lie to the Police is Definitely a Red Flag

I was raised without ever going to church. The only experience I had with religion was being told about the Christian god and that we were apparently Methodists. I had no idea what church was supposed to be like. I joined a non-denominational youth group when I was 12. It's a national group, but this particular church hosting it was batshit crazy.

The shirts we wore to the group were all cotton because mixing fibers is a sin. They would take the girls aside and tell us that accidentally showing your bra straps was tempting the boys into rape. Grown women were encouraged not to work in favor of being a wife and mother, and birth control was considered abortion. The fun videos we watched were Ken Ham lectures on, as he called it, "evil-lution."

And they were trying to begin running a pray the gay away camp. I finally left at 14 when the church leaders took me aside and told me that because I had a single mother and she didn't come to the church, I was surely hellbound. To save my soul, they were going to find me adoptive parents in the congregation, so I would need to tell the police my mom was abusing me so I would be free to adopt. I never went back. But even as crazy as they were, they weren't even the worst group in town.

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22. One Big Happy Family

I was born and raised in a small communal Bible-based cult in the US. I was a part of the cult until I was 27. Daily life revolved around a church and the pastor's wife, who ran the cult. The children were raised to be workers in the church and to give their lives for what the leader wanted. My siblings, mother and I were once one of nine families and other single people when the group originally started, but that has now dwindled down to roughly three-four families.

We were not allowed to have friends outside the church, to live anywhere except a church-owned house, or leave the church without escort or express permission. As kids grew up and went to college, they were discouraged from getting jobs to pay for school, but instead heavily encouraged (coerced) to max out student loans and give the money to the church.

Student's class schedules were denied or approved, as the leadership saw fit. The single family unit was destroyed and everyone was pressured into viewing the group as one big family. I have been out now for four years and it has been one interesting ride thus far. Learning how to live in the real world has been difficult but the independence and freedom I now have is irreplaceable.

My entire family, except for my father, still attends the "church." I still believe in the Bible and I attend church. Needless to say, I am extremely skeptical of dogma and religion and I do my best to seek out the truth and reject lies.

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23. The Grass is Certainly Greener on the Other Side

I was born and raised in the FLDS religion. I left when I was 26, just after the church leader was arrested and convicted of child molestation. I had several moms, one dad, and many siblings. As far as experiences, I can't say it was overly terrible, because I was living inside it, and didn't really know what the outside world was like until I got the internet.

I remember when a couple of my brothers left the religion. They were excommunicated, and we were not allowed to talk to them at all, and they were not welcome into the home. The church was all about community living—giving what we had (as far as money, etc.) to the church, or at least to the elder in charge of the home (in my case, my dad), and donating our time to the storehouse.

Every weekend. The church was ever present, and distributed books and tapes of church doctrine and church music were played throughout the home pretty much constantly. I've been out of the FLDS for six years now, and have no intentions of going back. In fact, it's been heartening to see a few family members on their way out recently, and I've made a few reconnections with people I haven't spoken to for years.

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24. Complete Control is Total Domination of Someone’s Life

I was born and raised in the COG/TFI (Children of God/the Family International) and I'm convinced it is/was one of the most detrimental cults out there because of the way their doctrines were weaved into every tiny area of people's lives. Everything was dictated by leadership and controlled by peer pressure (it was a communal cult; hive mentality was rampant).

The type of food you ate, the way you dressed, who you lived with, the education you received, the movies you watched, the music you listened to, who you had sex with, who you married...EVERYTHING was controlled. There was absolutely no real freewill allowed and very minimal contact with the outside world happened, except if you were asking people for money or trying to convert them to Christianity/the cult.

I left when I was in my early 20s and it's only been a few years since then so I'm still trying to unlearn a lot of things. I decided to go to college and get an education and I'm so freaking miserable because basic things like "how to study for an exam" or "how to interact with your professor" are completely foreign concepts to me.

I didn't find out till college that I'm pretty good at science and math—subjects that were highly discouraged in the group, or if taught at all were either very simplistic (math only went up to basic algebra, if you were lucky) or taught with such a religious/creationist spin that it's unrecognizable as science. I like to imagine that if I'd had regular schooling when I was younger maybe I could have been an engineer or an astronaut or something awesome.

Forget dating. I have more sexual knowledge and experience under my belt (hurhurhur) than most people my age, and I don't have a clue what normal dating looks like. Sex is synonymous with intimacy which is synonymous with control. I am terrified of getting into a relationship because I know that it would be so ridiculously easy for someone to abuse their power over me.

When you're raised to always say yes, you have no idea what a struggle it is to say no. When people find out about this cult the thing that usually get focused on the most is the sex aspect of it (it was literally a sex cult) but for me the worst part is just having no frame of reference for connecting with other people outside the group.

I can forget the bad things that happened and just get on with my life, but it's difficult knowing how to make new friends and build a life outside of TFI. I just don't GET most of what people talk about (I've only got a few years of movies/music/pop culture history in my brain), and can't really relate to how other people act/react to things.

I didn't have any of those "normal" experiences like high school, dating, going to prom, etc. My best friends are former TFI people because I can't seem to make real friends out here in the great wide jungle of a world. I wonder how I will ever be able to get close to people when they will never be able to comprehend the experiences I've gone through, and at the same time, I can't relate to their experiences either.

"Real life" things that most people take for granted like graduating college, buying a house, having a successful job, etc. seem like fairy tales to me because nobody in my life growing up did those things. I don't have anybody who can give me advice on how to accomplish those normal life tasks because nobody I grew up with (or our parents) did any of those things. I feel pretty lost. I'm still picking pieces of this cult out of my identity and it's exhausting.

Cults Escape FactsPixabay

25. Does Anyone Like Homeschooling?

I was raised in a cult. Both of my parents were members of the Children of God, nowadays called the Family International. We traveled all over Europe from city to city and performed music on the streets and passed out leaflets to convert people. I have many brothers and sisters mostly from different dads, as the philosophy of the sect was kind of rooted in the free love hippy movement.

There are some pretty serious and I think conclusive accusations of child sexual abuse within the sect, but thankfully my parents didn't do that. My stepdad however physically and verbally abused us, as corporal punishment was very encouraged. He never got caught, although we frequently showed overt signs of abuse, but since we weren't ever in one place more than a couple of days.

We were, of course, all homeschooled too, which I hated since that was also a constant source of abuse. My stepdad taught me timetables by asking me repeatedly "what's x times y?" and if I'd get the result wrong I'd get slapped on the fingers with a cooking spoon as many times as the result was. Thankfully my parents got out of the sect by the time I was about 13 years old.

My stepdad didn't give up his habits though, which continued until I was big enough to fight back. Settling into regular school was very difficult, as I was constantly and heavily bullied for wearing second-hand clothes, not speaking German well and just being completely different. After a couple of years though I went from worst in the class to best and being kind of accepted.

Nowadays I still have some lingering issues, which I'm not sure if they'll ever be fixable. One of them is trust issues, which has also prevented me so far from seeking therapy. It's all a very long time ago too and I've pretty much made my peace with all of it already. I think my parents got out of the sect before it got really crazy.

Cults Escape FactsFlickr, Eric Gross

26. Fast, Fast, Fast, Fast, Fasting

I was born and raised in a cult, and considered myself a member up until I left my parents' home at the age of 18. The group I was associated with is not well known, but the effects on the members are tragic and undeniable. We were literally brainwashed. We had weekly services with a set program (three hymns, prayer, sermonette, hymn, announcements, main message, hymn, prayer).

It never altered from that layout. As well, the messages we would hear were often videotaped sermons from maybe five main people at "headquarters." The topics were extremely narrow (prophecy/the end is coming/self-improvement/all of you suck and you should hate yourselves/setting ourselves apart/don't talk to "worldly" people they will taint you).

There were many ways in which we were indirectly encouraged to harm ourselves. Many people looked down upon modern medicine and felt that using it was a way of turning away from God—slapping him in the face, making it clear he wasn't needed. I personally knew people who died for their faith, waiting for God to heal them.

On the other hand, when any of the main leaders fell ill, they were immediately rushed off to receive medical care. They controlled our diet. We pretty much were kosher (though they denied all influence or association from/with Jews). There were annual days of fasting, and whenever the leadership could scare up enough drama within the members, they would declare a "church-wide fast" so we could all get closer to God and resolve our issues.

We fasted when the church's income was said to be dropping. We fasted when leaders were ill. We fasted when people died. We had our own personal fasts for the hell of it, or when we felt especially guilty and out of touch with God. Parents were encouraged to get their children involved as young as possible. My parents tell me I started observing the annual fast when I was three years old.

I remember one year when my brother was two or three, at one point during the day, he just broke down sobbing because he was so thirsty (oh, yeah—we abstained from food and drink. We got obscenely dehydrated, every time). Looking back, I just don't understand how a parent can behave that way. They were so sex-negative, I can't even describe it.

We spent so much time and energy frantically thinking, "I can't think about sex" that it was all we thought about. It was evil, dirty, wrong, and it would hurt if we weren't married. I literally built up so much fear over it that when I did finally have sex (as an unmarried adult, haha...) I had developed vaginismus, a sexual pain condition.

The cause is often psychological—in my case, being so afraid of it hurting, that it hurt, which further fed into my fear. There was actually an entire message once where one of the leaders took on the subject, "Are we a cult?" and he actually went through a checklist for us. His conclusion was that we were a cult, but that it was a good thing. We should be proud!

Only not, pride is a sin. We should be pleased. You had to be baptized before a minister would marry you. You couldn't be baptized and marry someone else who wasn't. You couldn't marry outside the church. Some ministers wouldn't baptize you if they thought your only incentive was to get married. There were rampant cases of sexual abuse from the leadership, but we were always too fearful to report it.

Always taught that it must have, in some way, been our fault. "Traditional" gender roles were enforced—i.e., women stay home, pop out babies, cook, and clean. Men were to work and support the home. Having children, and lots of them, was strongly encouraged—"Be fruitful and multiply", and all that crap. Adoption was frowned upon, even for those who were unable to have their own children.

So many families were living in poverty because there were just too many children to take care of. God forbid that any of them have a medical condition that required constant treatment. We were robbed on a regular basis. They called it tithing. Not only did we give 10% of our entire income, but we were also to set a second 10% aside (to be used at a seven-day religious convention of sorts every year) and on every third year, we would give an additional 10% to the church.

Imagine losing 20% of your income every year, and 30% every third year. Imagine being poor to begin with. Imagine being told you are poor because you have been literally stealing from God by not diligently paying your tithes. I could go on forever. There is so much.

Cults Escape FactsWikimedia Commons

27. Therapy, Everyone Needs Therapy

I was born into a cult that started in the late 70s. It is renown for it affiliation with sexual freedoms, drug manufacture, and sexual abuse against children. I lived there ‘til I was around 12 years old and myself, along with the other children I grew up with were all abused to different degrees by the adult members of the commune.

The cult leader was a man who believed that spirituality was closely tied to sexual freedom and that even young children should be having sexual experiences. At its maximum, the commune was around 200 strong, and during my time there were repeated attempts to shut it down and many raids on the property by police.

It was eventually shut down after the allegations of sexual abuse surfaced and many of the dominant members were imprisoned for abuse and drug charges, including my father. My family has been traumatized by the experience and don't really speak to each other, my siblings are too angry to have a relationship with my mother as they reasonably blame her for not protecting them. I've had years of therapy to try and move on and am fairly well adjusted these days, but I don't have much to do with my father and the memories of that place give me the creeps 20 years on.

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28. Rodents Weren’t the Only Thing That Hotel Was Infested With

When I was 17 I moved out of my parents’ home and into an evangelical Christian cult in Chicago. I lived there for under a year. It was a strange place and it took me a few years to realize it was a cult. This place was founded during the 1970s and bought a large hotel building on the North side of the city. They had extremely rigid rules about dating and talking to members of the opposite sex.

There were also rules that stated people could not leave the building without a "buddy." The building itself was in terrible shape, it was infested with rats and cockroaches. I would wake up at night to find mouse droppings in my sheets. I ended up leaving because I developed a crush on a girl. The leadership found out and I was pretty much shunned by any other women my age (I am a chick). So needless to say they were not very gay-friendly. The whole place was pretty messed up. I am lucky that I left when I did.

Cults Escape FactsWikipedia

29. The Moral of the Story is Pot Saves?

I joined a very extreme charismatic church in around 2006 when I was 18 years old (I'm female). I was very involved and would attend church around five times per week. The movement started in the UK, but I am from Canada. When I was 18 years old in 2008, I took a gap year after high school to go and volunteer in one of the churches in the UK.

The rules were fairly strict. Women were not allowed to preach and it was taught that men were the head of the household. Things got more intense the elders not letting me leave prayer meetings ‘til I 'encountered' the holy spirit (i.e. falling on the floor). I was made to sign a contract that I would work 60 hours a week for 12 months.

However, before signing the contract I reminded them that I would be leaving in June because I was starting university that fall and wanted to have the summer at home. In April they told me that I was not allowed to leave until September when my Visa was up. The 'elders' told me that they had a meeting without me and God had told them that I had to stay the rest of the year.

Being an 18-year-old girl I was naive and terrified. I told my parents. My parents threatened to go to the media, as I was being held against my will in the UK. The elders from my church back in Canada basically had a lot of bad press already so they convinced the elders in England to let me go. Since then I have become an atheist, but not without being kicked out of the church first (because I smoked pot). If I ever asked questions they would tell me I had a deceiving spirit, and try to pray it out of me. They only let me read the books that they said I could. It was awful.

Cults Escape FactsShutterstock

30. Females are Strong as Hell

I grew up in a cult. I wasn't born into it—my family converted when I was 9-ish. I remember everything about my life changed. We went from a seemingly "normal" family with no religion to suddenly everything was a sin. Everything was wrong. The "prophet" WMB was born in 1909 and died in 1965. To this day, there are people who still believe he is going to magically come back to life and preach tent meetings around the world.

I left the cult and my family the night before I turned 18 with the help of my now ex-husband (another story for another day). My family finally realized about two years ago that they were brainwashed and left the cult. They're still trying to find what "normal" is for them. Many things have gone back to the way they were before they converted—music selection, etc.

In that environment, women are a doormat. We have to be submissive to our husbands in every way. Women are supposed to stay home and basically be child dispensers. I knew from a young age that I was child-free, so this never appealed to me. While I enjoy doing all of the "wifely" things (cooking, cleaning, etc.) I knew that there was more for me.

I am now 27 and a successful businesswoman. Sometimes I do still struggle with the cult mentality. Some of those things never leave you. It wasn't until recently that I thought of myself and my partners as equals—two people on the same team working towards the same goals. Funny thing is that my previous pastor was actually arrested for DUI last year.

It's hilarious and awesome but also sad to hear about all of the corruption in the church and cult. I can't understand how so many otherwise intelligent people can be so brainwashed.

Cults Escape FactsShutterstock

31. Only in It for the Free Drugs

According to my dad who joined a cult when he was 17 in California, and left about a year later: He joined because of free drugs and free place to live. He left because the cult started to tell people not to contact their families and only the higher-level members got drugs anymore. He says after he left the main leader went to jail for sex crimes of some sort and the whole cult folded.

Cults Escape FactsShutterstock

32. Emotional Ecstatic Manipulation Says It All

I left a Pentecostal group that was very cult-like. The leader had a charismatic personality (no pun here), whom you dare not question, extremely strict rules, there was shunning, there were services every night of the week, and people were manipulated into ecstatic fervor that was like an addictive drug. I lived in a group home situation where everyone was part of the church.

The reason I got involved is that I needed love, security, and certainty. The group gave me these but also demanded everything in return. How I was able to consider leaving started when I got pneumonia and was on bed rest for several weeks. While the group in the home was still around me, I was freed from the cycle of emotional ecstatic manipulation in the daily worship services and from the leader’s daily control.

With my head getting a chance to clear, I decided that this church situation was not healthy and secretly made plans to get out. I was able to get an outside job that paid me enough so I could move out, get a place of my own. When I left I went cold-turkey on the group and just told them my work hours didn’t allow me to be at all the services.

After a couple of years, they gave up on getting me back in the group. And it took a couple of years to get my mind free and become my own person again. Years later I look back and see how I fell into the trap mostly because of my emotional needs. Now I know how to look for the signs as to how healthy a group is and how to avoid the ones that aren’t.

I avoid leaders with charismatic personalities. I judge if a group is able to accept me despite my difference of opinion or not. I’m not an atheist, I’m still a spiritual person, I’m not anti-religion. But I’m not totally dependent on anyone for my spirituality or my judgments.


Cults Escape FactsWikimedia Commons

33. Is This a Black Mirror Episode?

I literally walked into the Church of Scientology. I moved to Clearwater as a minor, made some friends and walked into (without anyone present with me) what I thought was a museum. Being brought up without any religion, although both my parents were raised conservative Muslims, I grabbed on to the ideology of "you are what you make of yourself."

Long story short, five years later, while working for a Scientology owned company while still exploring whether I wanted to join or not I got held hostage (literally) for three hours because I wouldn't accept their philosophy on a small incident and left the workforce only to have a beer bottle broken over my head by my life-long Scientologist long-term boyfriend and have the cops (who were Scientologists) arrive at the house to determine there was nothing to "escalate to a domestic violence report" and then later on (two days later) flee the house with my dogs and took what little I could with the time I had for my own safety. So yeah, that's my life in the cult. Some people are cool, most people are brainwashed.

UFOs factsWikimedia Commons, Scientology Media

34. A Love Story That Spans Decades

My parents grew up in a religious cult and as teenagers, they fell in love but when they asked permission from the church elders to court each other and get married, they were denied. My mum was ex-communicated suddenly in her early 20s (she didn’t find out why until recently)— so they didn't see each other again for 20 years, while one remained on the inside, and the other in the 'real world.'

Mum tried writing to him a couple times, but dad was brainwashed and told her that she was evil and should repent for her 'sins'...things that he had been told about her by the cult etc. Both remained unmarried. When dad was ex-communicated himself 20 years later, my mum heard about it through his brother who had left some years earlier.

It took them another year to get in contact, they were in different continents, didn't know where each other were and dad was trying desperately to get used to life in the outside world, having never lived in normal society before and now here he was in his mid-40s. Dad told us later that he wanted to find mum, but was afraid because he believed she was going to hell.

(Edit: clarified this with Dad this morning, apparently he didn't believe this when he left actually, but he spent at least a year wondering if he should ask to go back because he believed that his soul was damned by leaving). One day he finally had a letter from mum, he wrote back immediately and basically assumed that they were getting married—packed his bags and moved across the world to find her. Mum answered the door to dad in the early 80s, having not seen him in 20 years, they were engaged that night and married within six weeks. They are still happily together.

Cults Escape FactsShutterstock

35. Asking Questions Can Save You, But Not Your Family

My mom was in this cultish organization in her 20s (not really sure why she joined) and used to talk a lot about her glory days. When my siblings and I were old enough to participate, naturally, we joined. They require you to pay to be there and participate in the mission trips/teaching (which are basically required to maintain membership) and then require total submission from women to men and the group leadership and complete submission from the guys to the group leadership.

Lots of hierarchy and if you don't "hear the voice of God," you're screwed. As a woman, if I disagreed with anything my superiors said, they would ostracize me and do pretty much everything in their power (which was a lot) to make my life hell. They preyed on people who have low self-esteem and few friends then they teach you that you only matter if you hear and obey God and then effectively make it so the only friends you have are members.

Even though I had friends and good (enough) self-esteem when I joined, I started feeling pretty crappy about myself and lost almost all of my friends (outside and inside because I asked questions). The most cultish part of my experience was that despite all of this, they still enticed me to come back a few times and rejoin activities, committing to greater and greater responsibility each time, which meant worse treatment each time because, for me, having greater responsibility meant asking questions sometimes.

Even logistical clarification questions (i.e. when are we supposed to be at X event, what's the address of Y location) infuriated my leader. When I tried to talk to his leaders about this, they tried to gaslight me then ostracize me. On the third time back I promised myself I would never return. My brother is still involved and it makes family gatherings extra tough.

My sister would be involved if her husband's job would allow him to relocate. I went back one time to see my brother get married (to another member). I ran into my old crew and leader who discouraged me from starting medical school, noting that it would delay my marriage and childbearing and that the workforce isn't a woman's place.

It's a message I've been hearing from my mom for years and continue to hear every time we talk. It's very hard continuing to be a part of a family that's so deep in this ideology.

Stupidest Things to Impress Crush factsShutterstock

36. This Feels Like Time Traveling

I don't know if a lot of people have heard of William Branham, but he was friends with Jim Jones of Jonestown Massacre fame. I was born into a church in an island in the Caribbean where the pastor had his fingers in everyone's lives and they saw William Branham as a prophet sent in the end times to usher in the rapture.

Think old school hardcore Pentecostal but with access to people's finances as well. Well, my parents got tired of that and moved to a state in the Midwest United States where they had a sister church that was a bit more liberal (the pastor didn't ask how much people made). All of these churches taught that holiness required that women not cut their hair or wear pants or makeup.

Men couldn't wear shorts or have facial hair. Smoking and drinking were explicitly not allowed. I was raised in this and didn't know any better. At 16 years old, our pastor had a vision to move out West, so the entire Midwest church up and left for a state in the west. Growing up my parents were more liberal than most, and I had a very happy childhood.

When I reached 18 I was finally allowed to date. Dating is very strict and they split it into three "phases" (their term). Because of the distance the church puts on you and the other person, anyone dating is really making a beeline towards marriage/getting laid. Most kids are scared of the world ending and ending up in heaven a virgin so as soon as someone is 18, most people in the church marry.

Phase one is simply talking to a girl. For most youth get-togethers sexes are split and if a guy is seen talking to a girl for more than a few minutes at a time, he better be ready to explain himself to the church leaders. If he likes a girl, he can tell the leadership he wants to get to know a girl better and they are officially in the first phase.

At the first phase, you are allowed to talk to that specific girl and that is it. No touching or hand-holding. Phase two is when you are officially dating someone. You are allowed to hold hands but nothing else. At this point, you need to talk to the girl’s parents to make sure they are OK with you dating their daughter.

Most parents require a chaperone at this point since they are allowed to go on dates. Phase three is engagement. At this point, you ask the woman's father for his permission to marry, and then you propose. Kissing is still not allowed at this point. On paper no one kisses before their wedding day, however, in practice, most couples end up sneaking kisses and more (except penetrative sex) during this point.

It also depends on the parents since some parents are super strict about chaperones and some aren't. I married at 20, which was pretty old, but my ex-wife had barely turned 18. We were both kids and had no clue what we were doing. I was required to marry someone in the church so I had few options as to who I could marry (the local church only has around 100 people so, during church conventions where 1,000-2,000 people would gather, it was a veritable dating frenzy).

I was very sincere in my belief of the church and when I married it was to have kids and to keep the church going. My ex-wife, however, had only started going to the church since she was 13 so she wasn't as brainwashed as I was and eventually left me for another man. I agonized a lot over this and eventually started seeing a therapist for couples counseling (normally you see the pastor for counseling but since she had left the church she refused to see the pastor so I told her I was willing to go to a regular therapist).

She ended up only attending one meeting and I kept going at first hoping to convince her to go, then eventually just using it as regular therapy. The therapist convinced me to follow my passion for Latin dancing (dancing was strictly not allowed in the church unless it was "in the spirit" which meant you basically marched to music).

Dancing taught me to treat women as equals and taught me confidence. Before I was never allowed to touch or hug women I wasn't related too but during dancing, I learned that touching is natural and normal. I eventually left the church at 25 years old, and had my first drink (the church basically teaches you that one drink will get you drunk so imagine my disappointment at my first margarita). I became a flight attendant and married another flight attendant. She has been amazing and has opened my eyes so much.

Cults Escape FactsPxHere

37. Turn Those Scars Into a Strength

Well. It was more of a small group with cultist traits than an actual cult, but the same principles apply. I got in as it was just forming. Back then it was just a place for like-minded people to discuss world affairs. I was an arrogant teenager who was more smart than wise so I liked that part. Then it started to get progressively more isolated, the idea started to grow that people who didn't think the same things were by definition wrong and we shouldn't talk to them.

Initially, I protested, but that was quickly smothered. I won't pretend I'm only a victim here, I made my choices and they were stupid, but it is hard to understand the effect of that isolation if you've never experienced it yourself. It can be similar to an emotionally abusive relationship where your partner gets progressively more controlling and possessive and when you look back, you think "how could I possibly have let this all happen?"

Then they wanted everyone to change themselves, to 'develop' themselves and get rid of 'irrational' thought/behavior patterns. I bought into this at first, thinking I was growing to be a better person, a more positive influence on the world (again, isolation and a good dose of the young arrogance of a clever-but-not-intelligent person, I like to think I've grown a bit in that respect since the end of my cult life).

Then I started to feel like I was losing myself, losing the idea of who I was. This was of course written off as being an irrational thought I needed to get rid of. I started to resist the constant changing more and more. They tried quarantining me with my then-boyfriend who was also part of the whole thing, because I was starting to rub off my rebellion on my best friend, who got caught up later when she was in a very vulnerable place in her life.

That was probably the darkest period I've ever lived through. And I'm glad that I did live through it. At some point, the only reason I wanted to stay alive was because I couldn't bring that heartbreak upon my mother, who I was hardly allowed to see (her being a non-believer, of course), because I knew she wouldn't understand, would never get closure, and I just couldn't do that to her.

I had BAD panic attacks. I had recurring nightmares where I was trying to run away from someone but it felt like I was running through thick syrup. I held myself catatonic whenever my then-boyfriend was trying to make me change again. I didn't know what to do, because I'd internalized their moral standards.

Leaving their group seemed like the worst thing in the world to me, but I also couldn't keep doing what they told me to do. I was so stuck and lost. Eventually, they figured out I wasn't going to be a productive group member anymore so they kicked me out. Came home from my crappy customer service student job one day, my boyfriend sat me down and broke up with me.

I cried my eyes out. He left to go stay with friends. Next morning, I woke up, and I felt so dang free. Life felt so much brighter and better and more enjoyable. I finally didn't have to live up to their standards anymore, I loved it. Later, when the emotional aftermath started hitting me, I realized I'd still internalized their moral standards; I'd just accepted that I was a bad person.

It's been two years now since I got kicked out. I'm still dealing with it often, but getting better. I'm learning to look at it as a valuable lesson now, but I'm not kidding myself. It was horrible. It was butts. It scarred me in a way that'll never be gone. I'm just going to have to turn those scars into a strength.

Cults Escape FactsShutterstock

38. When You’re Stuck Between a Rock and a Hard Place

SGI, which is a big Buddhist cult over in Japan. I started dating a Japanese man who was raised in the cult. I wanted to respect his religion and see what it was about, because it permeated all parts of his life. Poor guy. They harass you, guilt you, brainwash you, etc. The worst thing they try to take from you is your time, they want you chanting morning and night.

You get fed that all things wrong in your life are from lack of chanting, so you are fearful not to chant as much as possible. They will devour every waking second you have until you've failed out of college and lost your job (happened to two people we knew), then they will blame you for it and say you didn't chant enough. The more you chant the more diamoku you get.

Whenever anything even remotely good happens to you, you're supposed to tell the big group in one of the numerous meetings. You also get harassed for not dragging everyone you know to the meetings. They constantly ask you for things (go door to door, pass out newspapers, hold a meeting in your house, let's chant over tea tomorrow)

It's just terrible, they install a big altar in your house so it's around you at all times. I still am sickened by the altar in my closet we can't get rid of yet. I want it burned. At first they lovebomb you, then they beat you down for not being good enough and you get dragged through the mud for various reasons. They also are just a big circle jerk, constantly worshipping Sensei (who takes their money and sits on it, builds himself palaces).

Their big fake message is that they are praying for world peace, but the organization never does anything for anyone. The leaders just get richer. Also, their precious Sensei is above the law and sexually assaulted a female member. She was ostracized and abused by the cult for saying anything. The news was swept under the rug. I hope she's alright.

This cult becomes your hobby, your beliefs, your only friends (everyone leaves you for trying to drag them into it). It becomes your life. It also sort-of "breaks" you. I've never met a member who wasn't a pathetic, weak person. Anyway, tried it out for a year to appease my boyfriend’s parents. Start to realize it's a freaking cult.

Boyfriend and I talk a lot, he's really pissed at it because it's literally destroyed any semblance of a normal life he would have had. Can't leave it perfectly because his parents will leave him. They're all he's got besides me. So we just take out the altar when they come and not fight it too much. A few days ago I told him I refuse to see his parents casually.

I feel violated after I meet them. Recently we all went out to dinner and it's located in a hotel. In the hotel lobby, in public, was a group of SGI members waiting for us. It was humiliating and terrifying. I had no idea they were coming, this happy memory in my mind is now terrifying. They kept asking detailed questions that are dangerous to just tell people.

Like, when do you wake up, what bus route do you take, who do you bank with, etc. I was so scared. I just looked down and refused to look at any of them in the face. While my fiancé tried to answer as little as possible. I knew then I couldn't deal with his parents. It's terrible because they're so nice, but they violate my boundaries.

I'm not SGI and the mom wouldn't stop gloating about how I was a member. I wanted to punch her in her wrinkled face. So I told him I refuse to see his parents. He got really sad, but we made a compromise to only see them for important events. He doesn't understand why I feel so deeply violated. I think he's just used to this inexcusable behavior.

He's been beaten down by his steamroller parents for his entire life. He's got no friends. He's socially a bit off. He's got depression. He can't rely on his parents or open up to them because they'll get all creepy culty on him. It's really lonely. I know he doesn't want to lose his parents, so I just try to deal with it. It's hard. It breaks up families.

His entire family won't talk to them because his parents are creepy. All of my boyfriend’s friends left him as a young child because his parents wouldn’t stop trying to convert them when they wanted to go play outside. I am doing my best to not break up his parents and him, because he's already suffered so much to have them in his life. I understand, I was raised in a cult as well. Just a different one. Mine involved being a spiritual warrior and using my third eye to defeat demons, or so my grandma says.

Cults Escape FactsGetty Images

39. Be Careful With Those Who Try to Sell You “the Truth”

My parents joined a cult in west Texas when I was about 8 or 9 years old after searching for "the Truth" their whole adult lives. Long story short, it wasn't that crazy at first. I like to use the frog in boiling water analogy. If it was that batty-insane when they first started going, they wouldn't have stayed. It became a doomsday cult, with multiple marriages, and all the girls were married up by old elders leaving nothing for us young dudes so naturally, we rebelled.

My escape wasn't as harrowing as some others but my leaving did set up me saving my 15-year-old sister (under cover of darkness abducting her from my dad’s house and transporting her to my mom in LA) from marrying an elder who already had four wives and about 10 kids who were later arrested for molesting his step-daughter. It's been a wild ride, guys...

Men's Secrets factsPixabay

40. They All Wear Masks

Joined the Twelve Tribes of Israel back in 2012, I met them through one of their cafés in Colorado. The idea of communal living and dedication to a cause was very appealing to someone who hadn't had a job in a while and was going to lose their home soon. The mask of super friendliness and hospitality was covering up racism, child abuse, and total domination of people's lives. I mean TOTAL.

From what time you woke up, to how you dress, to how to wipe your butt. Spent three years of my life there, working 12 to 16 hour days, six days a week. I was being groomed to get married and become a leader in "the community" when I left with just some clothes. The controlling nature of the place made it feel like a prison camp and I couldn't take it anymore. A year-and-a-half later and I'm the happiest I've ever been.

Cults Escape FactsWikipedia

41. Sketchy Indeed

I worked for a New York City political party which doubled as a sex cult behind the scenes. The short version is that they're a political party whose foundation is built on a controversial form of amateur therapy which insisted that depressed/lost people use political activism as their means of finding fulfillment.

It's a perpetual motion device essentially, processing sad people into activists for the cause via a 'school' and political party both headed by the same figure. Lots of sketchy additional stuff about patient-patient and patient-doctor sex being a part of therapy, and the highly questionable practice of party-members and patients giving financial donations to support the party leader's lifestyle. I worked for the party for a while, and definitely felt like they were trying to convert me in a number of instances.

Unsolved Mysteries FactsShutterstock

42. Getting Out is Only Half the Struggle, You Still Need to Survive

I grew up in an international extreme cult known as "Children of God" or as we called it "The Family International." In many ways, I never truly escaped. I'm really scared to go into the details right now because I'm at work and I'm afraid someone will glance over and see what I'm typing. I've never really told anyone, mostly because I don't want to be treated as less of a person over what I've been through.

Part of this cult’s doctrines involved going abroad to poor countries to spread the religion, and so I ended up in a tiny village in Romania. Growing up we were never allowed TV, books, games, nothing, it was all of the devil. I was allowed to have Legos growing up. One of my first memories is having my dad smash the spaceship I built because it had guns on it.

As a child I was suicidal from a young age, I used to sit in front of a window crying and wishing to jump, but I was afraid, not because I might die but that if I didn't I would be beaten. In our group, we were encouraged to live communally, and I grew up living with other families in one big house. This presented many clashes between people and tensions not just between the adults but between the children as well.

I used to live with a family who had a 16-year-old son who was the definition of a bully. He would walk into the room where I would be doing something and just proceed to kick the crap out of me, but he made sure to never leave marks. As for how this affected me, well as soon as I could, at 16, I started smoking.

Until then I was homeschooled, and when my parents decided to put me into public school, I didn't know the local language (we weren't allowed to socialize) and I had no idea what the heck I was doing. I dropped out of school after three months and began using everything I could get my hands on. Three years I spent living with my parents just kind of lost and alone.

Fast forward to now. I'm off the stuff for a year, have a job, and got my GED (not like it helps since it's only valid in North America). I'm hoping to one day move out of my parents’ house but I have nowhere to go. I'm saving up money and intend to leave for England as soon as I can afford it. As for how I am now, all my experiences in my life have led me to be very untrustworthy of everybody.

If someone is nice I automatically assume they want to hurt me. It's something I'm working on but is still a very real problem. Psychologists are unable to help me due to the fact that I live in Romania and they've never witnessed or heard of anything like what I've been through.

People Who Struggle With Mental Health Share the Moments That Finally Made Them Seek HelpShutterstock

43. Rinse and Repeat

I was born and raised in a cult as well, left the week before I turned 18. I don't particularly want to name it, as though not well known, it can definitely be Googled, and I've been hiding this part of my life too long to be able to be open about it now. Praying, fasting, guilt, prophecy, end times, guilt, isolation, communal living, guilt, tithing, self-loathing, guilt.

The cult I was raised in sex was highly encouraged, and that's putting it mildly. Enforced is not the right word, but it's the first one that comes to mind. In my opinion, second generation cult kids have it the absolute worst. We didn't ask for it, we literally didn't know any better. That was our "normal." By the time second generation kids come around, the cult is still new enough that later generations haven't been able to mellow it out yet, and small enough that horrible practices and abuse are able to pass under the radar.

Abuse was so much a part of my life, physical, sexual, mental, you name it, that when I left and started socializing with regular folks, I couldn't process what real socializing, dating, or an active sex life really is. I couldn't understand, couldn't believe it, couldn't accept it. I have been locked in rooms for three days and night to "fast and pray."

I've been denied contact with other humans for weeks, or even months, to "get closer to god." I was given to men by request. I was once held down by four men, while a group of maybe a dozen other men exorcized me. They believed I was possessed by a demon because of my inability to be like them, to "get with the program." I was spanked, beaten, and whipped most of my life.

Simply put, I was terrified my entire childhood. I lived every second of my life in fear. And in case you were wondering, no, I am absolutely not religious in any way, shape or form. I believe religion is a cancer. No offense is intended.

Arthur Miller factsPixabay

44. What an Absolute Nightmare

I was an exchange student from Malaysia and was placed in Missouri in 2006. They were a family of four (son and daughter) and they lived somewhere around Webster Groves. They looked nice, warm and welcoming but it was all a facade for they were trying to gain my trust. Coming from a country where all your neighbors are practicing a million different religions would kind of desensitize you OR make you very aware.

I was the latter. The first week was fine, but sometimes I would wake up a little early and find them gathered in the kitchen in a circle, around the kitchen table, mumbling, and whispering. They'd stop as soon as I entered. It was very disconcerting but I brushed it off thinking it was an American quirk. During the second and third week, it became worse.

The boy wouldn't touch me because “I'm born from sin” (his words) and the girl was afraid of me because I spoke to the father whilst looking him in the eye. I started prodding her for answers whenever little things that I did (which are normal, by the way, like reading before bed, talking directly to the parents, eating a sandwich) would illicit small gasps and hyperventilation.

She told me that I have residues of the wicked and that I'm going to hell. She told me about a “cleanse,” and a daily prayer-wash. I've seen them singing the same hymns over and over again, reciting the same verses in different tones and it really freaked me out. I wasn't stupid. I realized I was in a cult when they took me to “church.”

I was made to sit in the front and the “pastor” was conducting the service specifically for me. I realized it when I looked around and saw that everyone was looking at me. I felt like I was in a horror movie. Wide-eyed, silent stares. Men and women were separated, people wore different colored ribbons on their wrists and the children looked haunted or just plain frightened.

Nobody spoke to me or even came close to me. The men never looked me in the eye and the women whispered and shunned me. I went there twice. School was on break so I had to stay in with them. Many weird things happened but none was as bad as waking up in the middle of the night to find the mother sitting next to my bed, reciting verses from the Bible in the dark.

As soon as I'd wake, she'd stop and silently walk away. The family began treating me badly after that. I was punished for being out of line (no dinner, locked in till morning, no sweet drinks, I had to cover up with long sleeved tops, long pants/skirt, etc.). I think I lasted because I was curious. They probably thought that since I'm from South East Asia, I must be quite gullible and naive.

They tried brainwashing me about how sinful I was, how “lost” I was, how the world is going to end and I'll be dragged into hell unless I accept their teachings. I was there for a month before our chapter coordinator came by for a visit. I told her everything (outside the house, naturally) and I left with her immediately. We came back with a group of people from the exchange organizations about an hour later and found them in the midst of burning the things of “the sinful nonbeliever.” Thankfully my passport and other relevant docs were untouched. I never found out what kind of cult they were.

Scariest Things They've Woken Up To factsShutterstock

Sources: Reddit, , , , 5

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