Those involved in a totalitarian mind-manipulating organization become enmeshed in the government of that organization. Totalistic groups use varied forms of thought reform, manipulation, coercion, deception, peer pressure, guilt, fear, phobias and threat tactics which lead members to absolute obedience and non-questioning. Deceptive ministers distort the Bible (heavily using the Old Testament Law) to enhance their control on the unsuspecting and vulnerable. Due to the implementation of these deceitful tactics, recruits often suffer a loss of identity, will, and the ability to think critically. Members may no longer control their own life due to the reasons mentioned above; instead, following the loss of their critical thinking skills, they surrender their life to the authority and direction of the authoritarian leader.

Fear phobia induction (this is covered in OIU Newsletters (Volume 4, Pt. 3 under F-E-A-R)

Emotional Ramifications:

Upon exiting, the survivor may struggle with many recovery concerns trying to repair themselves from the damage and personal loss due to spiritual, emotional, financial and often physical abuse. The control of information, propaganda tactics and secrecy causes critical thinking skills to cease which creates conformity. They may suffer from a loss of will and hope, along with inferiority, shame and guilt. The group leaves exiters’ thinking skills impaired and the decision-making abilities dormant. Dependency on the group is fostered. Disassociation replaces interpersonal skills. These are just a few of the ramifications from cultic involvement.

Common Emotional Difficulties After Leaving a High Demand Group

Traumas After Exiting:

Many survivors of an exploitive group experience to some degree emotional trauma in the form of phobias, guilt, low self-worth, deep depressions, complex post traumatic stress, inability to concentrate, anger and fear. They also can experience “floating,” also known as trancing out and dissociation. Floating inhibits recovery from the devastating experience. On top of all that, the survivor must get reincorporated into the “real world.” For many this can be life-threatening.

The implications resulting from involvement can be devastating. Totalistic, abusive groups can cause tremendous trauma, which is considered the deepest emotional pain felt. The feelings are analogous to being incested or raped. Individual lives may be shattered; however, these effects do not need to continue throughout life. A member had no choice when recruited, but does have a choice in the healing process.

Healing and recovery begins when you make a personal decision to take back your life by verbalizing the emotional, physical, spiritual, financial, and all too often, sexual abuse inflicted on you. This is easier said than done to regain your voice, but is possible to accomplish.

Each survivor has the opportunity to sort out the past and find the answers to his/her questions that will allow healing from the emotional trauma and complex post-traumatic stress. The traumas are caused from the deception, coercion, manipulation, guilt, fear, abuse and the array of mind control techniques which prevailed through the organization.

Many who do not challenge what they were in, and who do not confront the denial, often find themselves in another deceptive, mind-manipulating group, or floundering.

If you have been victimized by being disfellowshipped or abused in any way, don’t keep the pain to yourself. You are not alone. Survivors do not have to succumb to the control and fear tactics that once permeated their life. You are now free–to think, question, make your own choices, and speak up. Please feel free to tell your personal story. Get connected to people who have been there and can relate to your situation.


Recovery consists of breaking down every facet of manipulation and building a solid foundation on truth. It takes time and must be complete in order to resume a functioning and positive life. It encompasses the following:

Education on exploitive and high demand groups

  • Evaluate your involvement. Why were you recruited? What attracted you to the group? What was going on in your life at that time? Was the verbal abuse and control familiar with what you experienced in your family background?
  • Evaluate the group intellectually and theologically. How does the group you were in compare to the thousands of other abusive groups? Understanding the phenomenon of such groups is the only protection from re-recruitment into another one with the same characteristics.
  • Scrutinize the group’s ethics. Where does the money really go? Learn the methods of mind manipulation used by the group. Investigate the group’s practices of deception, manipulation, persuasive techniques, etc. Research the group’s history and its leaders. For those striving to discern truth from deception, it is important to read the OIU Newsletters.
  • Understanding thought-reform and propaganda techniques is very important and will help you to see that even though you made a choice to go into the group, you were deceived (along with many others) for the purpose of being exploited. Think about what your vulnerabilities may have been at the time you were recruited. Although your motives were no doubt sincere in wanting to serve God, those good intentions were used against you.
  • Understand how the founder of the group distorted the Scriptures in order to control, coerce and exploit others. Read books about spiritual abuse.

Questions About Recovery (From our Q&A)

Exiters often have times when they feel like going back into the group. That is one reason why it is recommended that they stay away from any literature that the group puts out. They may feel the “high” of the group, or may wonder if they were wrong for leaving and question if the group might have been “the true church” after all. This is called “floating” and it is important to try and pinpoint what triggered the episode and to recognize any loaded language involved. The trigger could be visual, verbal, physical, etc. Cognitive focusing is helpful at this time.

Understanding Mind Control & Exploitation(many articles)

Therapeutically Speaking(Covered in OIU Newsletter #1, Pt. 2)

Education: the Key to Recovery Covered in OIU Newsletter #2)

Cognitive Dissonance (Covered in OIU Newsletter #4)


Exiting a high demand, exploitive group creates deep losses, including loss of identity, loss of trust and loss of hope. After-effects such as depression, anxiety, anger, floating, dissociation, fear phobias, isolation, loneliness, grief, physical ailments and lacking feeling are common and will pass in time.

Pace Yourself

When trying to recover and heal from a high demand, abusive group, be sure and pace yourself. Recognize when you are starting to feel overwhelmed and finding it very difficult to read and retain information. This is a very common symptom and will pass in time. It doesn’t mean you have lost your memory. Move away from anything that is making you feel burdened, pressed or squeezed into a mold. Realize that being under a lot stress or experiencing triggers will cause symptoms to increase. Take a break when you need it, and do whatever you have to in order to stay away from relationships that get in the way of your healing process. This may mean distancing yourself from those you know who are still in the group. Instead, take time out to rest, go on a walk, listen to music, draw, write poetry, remind yourself you are now living in the present and they can’t control you anymore–whatever helps you. Don’t forget to include a healthy, balanced diet with plenty of fresh fruits and vegetables (taking added supplements for stress if necessary). Get adequate sleep, exercise, and times of relaxation, as neglecting these things can affect how you feel physically and emotionally.

What About Professional Therapy?

If you feel you need further help in resolving depression, relational problems, abuse from your past, guilt, phobias, anxiety, fears, shame, addictions, etc., don’t hesitate to seek competent help from a professional therapist who understands mind control, abusive groups, and trauma, or who is willing to educate themselves on such.

In addition, don’t rule out health problems. Realize that long term emotional stress such as anxiety, grief, fear, guilt, anger, etc. can be very draining, even exhausting the endocrine glands, along with creating nutritional deficiencies. This needs to be taken into consideration along with therapy.

If you weren’t raised in the group, it is very common in the latter stages of recovery to experience a re-emergence of prior emotional hurts, such as unresolved grief, death of one’s parents, abandonment or loneliness from the past, personal problems, unsatisfactory relationships, or drug, alcohol and/or other addictions in the family. A good counselor can help you work through these things, yet at the same time should never try to control you, attribute your symptoms exclusively to problems prior to entering the group, or blame you for being deceived, but will instead empower you and listen to you. If the counselor is not adequately trained to help you, their therapy could end up harming you. All your questions should be answered fully before you begin therapy. The book Captive Hearts, Captive Minds (Freedom & Recovery From Cults & Abusive Relationships) by Madeline Tobias and Janja Lalich has a good section on therapeutic concerns and choosing a counselor in chapter 12.

Dialectical Behavior Therapy: If you are struggling with any kind of destructive behavior; i. e., suicidal behavior, or self-injury, Dialectical Behavior Therapy (DBT) has been found to be helpful. This kind of therapy helps survivors to use tools to control moods that can go out of control very rapidly. As one child survivor (who underwent DBT) related to us: “When you feel powerless, you feel hopeless. Once you realize that you have the power to change things in your life, you will not feel you have to wait for people to be good to you. You have the power to choose a better option.”

Links Includes trauma & PTSD resources)

Reintegrating Into Society

This is the last stage of healing. While you still may miss friends left in the group, you will find yourself talking less about your group involvement and becoming more involved in your job, new relationships with others, hobbies, and fresh interests of a personal nature. It takes much courage and strength to start a new life for ourselves and to break free of the group’s mind control and emotional and spiritual abuse. Allow ample time for recovery, but remember that you have developed a lot of strengths and skills as a result of what you have suffered. Make a note of these positive things about yourself. Discover your creative abilities which may have been put on hold, or never fully appreciated, while in the group.

Hope For the Future

Upon exiting, many individuals learn of a new freedom and opportunity for growth which they were never able to experience while in the organization, a freedom to question and research the history of Worldwide Church of God and its splinter groups, and to educate yourself on mind manipulating groups, without fear or guilt for reading “outside material.” As you grow in your new life and also in your spiritual understanding of the true Lord Jesus of Scripture, His wonderful grace and unconditional love and acceptance of you, many burdens will be lifted off of you. You will feel free to be yourself and begin developing your gifts and interests again. This can be the beginning of a new life that you choose for yourself. While recovery takes a long time (often years), this experience doesn’t need to destroy you or take away your hope for a better life. You can regain your creativity and your individuality that God originally gifted you with, and you can become a stronger and more discerning person than before your involvement.

By L. A. Stuhlman and D. M. williams
Exit & Support Network™

NOTE: For those needing help in abusive situations, call the National Domestic Violence Hotline (online chat also available 24/7)


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