Exit and Support Network

Common Emotional Difficulties
After Leaving a High Demand Group

The following emotional and psychological difficulties are common with survivors from the Worldwide Church of God, Philadelphia Church of God and all related offshoots.

Not every survivor will experience all of these, or may suffer from additional ones. Experiencing any of this does not mean you are defective. In some cases these feelings may take years to subside, but it is important to realize that, while painful, they are common feelings with exiters. In time they will pass.

This list overlaps with Common Spiritual Difficulties After Leaving a High Demand Group.

Note: The word "cult" is used in the context of a totalitarian, mind controlling organization which has caused spiritual, emotional, and psychological harm to those involved.

  • Enormous Feelings of Betrayal

  • Feelings of Spiritual Rape of the Soul

  • Complex Post-Traumatic Stress Disorder
    Trauma becomes crystallized a few days after a traumatic event, such as exiting an abusive, high demand group. Several of a cluster of symptoms can develop, including spontaneous crying, suicidal thoughts, emotional numbing, phobias, social withdrawal, flashbacks, amnesia, anxiety, depression, shame, guilt, self-loathing, fear of going insane.

  • Anger or Rage
    Toward the group and leader; toward oneself; suppression of anger in the group actually contributed to depression and a sense of helplessness.

  • Denial

  • Identity Confusion/Disorientation
    The pre-cult personality--or real self--struggles with the in-cult personality1 that was imposed by the group. There can be difficulty integrating the cultic world with the outside world.

  • Dissociation (or Dissociative Identity Disorder)
    Not being in touch with reality or those around them; inability to communicate.

  • Floating/Triggers (a.k.a. trancing out)
    Getting triggered into cult mode, flashbacks into the cult mind-set; thoughts of returning to the group, nostalgic feelings (part of dissociation).

  • Panic and Anxiety Attacks

  • Obsessive Thoughts

  • Depression

  • Psychosomatic Symptoms
    Headache; stomach ache; backaches; fatigue; asthma; skin rashes; lethargy; sexuality problems.

  • Problems or Inability in Making Decisions
    Because of the dependency fostered by the group.

  • Lack of Motivation

  • Inability to Concentrate
    With short-term memory loss.

  • Fear
    "What if I am wrong?" "What if harmful events actually do happen?" "I can't ever be happy outside the group." "What if I run into a present member?" Includes phobias and fear of going crazy.

  • Grief & Sense of Loss
    Grieving loss of innocence, idealism, spirituality, self, pride; sense of purpose, meaning and belonging in life; support system; friends and family lost in the group; loss of time, goals and youth.

  • Guilt/Shame
    For getting involved, for the people they recruited, things done while in the group; for leaving.

  • Lack of Trust
    Of group situations; deep suspicions about others motives and attitudes.

  • Intense Loneliness
    Strong and unique bonds were forged in the group.

  • Sense of Purposelessness & Disconnection
    Missing the peak experiences of the group.

  • Sense of Isolation/Alienation
    "No one can understand what I am going through."

  • Overly Critical of Oneself and Others  
    Due to incorporating the harsh attitudes of the cult leader.

  • Seeing Everything in Black and White
    Cults do not teach to look for the gray areas.

  • Problems Having Boundaries
    Boundaries were violated time and again in the group until one lost sense of which boundaries were appropriate.

  • Feelings of Inferiority and Worthlessness
    Cult leaders continually blame members.

  • Hypersensitive
    To anger and rebuffs from others

  • Sleep Disorders Including nightmares and insomnia.

  • Eating Disorders

  • Fear of Intimacy and Commitment

  • Problems with Career or Employment
    Because of years in the group; lost job opportunities, etc.

  • Unable to Deal With Conflicts

  • Impatience with Recovery

Info compiled and posted by D. Williams and Mike
Exit & Support Network™

Also see: Common Spiritual Difficulties After Leaving a High Demand Group

Psychiatric Service Dogs: These dogs are specifically trained to assist people with PTSD, anxiety disorders, panic disorders, phobias, severe depression, etc.

Recommended Articles:

Where Do the Feelings Go? (Feelings from hurtful stimulus were not permitted to be expressed in an emotionally abusive system; includes: "How Do I Go About Writing and What Do I Write About?")

The healing process consists of several stages (from ESN founder in OIU 1, pt. 2)

Cognitive Behavioral Focusing for Exiters (An Approach to Handling Depression, Anxiety, Fear & Guilt)

Complex Post Traumatic Stress Disorder

Questions About Recovery (Q&A)

Prayers For Freedom From Spiritual Strongholds
Very effective in gaining liberation from strongholds and oppressions due to involvement in any harmful, abusive group or occult practices; includes moral issues.

Recommended books for further study:

Understanding Thought Reform / Recovering from Abuse and Trauma

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) told 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."

EMDR: A number of survivors who have suffered trauma say they have been helped with a new procedure called EMDR (Eye Movement Desensitization and Reprocessing). Notice: Therapists trained in complex trauma-related conditions (including mind control trauma) have told us that if the survivor is dissociative (DID), this therapy may cause a flooding of memories. Please discuss this, and any other questions, with a qualified therapist.  [offsite links]

Information & Resources on Trauma, Dissociation, and Post Traumatic Stress Disorder [offsite link]


1 Refer to the book, Snapping: America's Epidemic of Sudden Personality Change by Flo Conway & Jim Siegelman.

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