Finding back to your "self" after the cult



There's a trend in psychology to integrate past experiences or parts of your personality you're not too fond of. You might have stumbled upon it in self-help books or therapy. There's also often the assumption that you have a) a lot of control over what happens in your life and b) some flaw within you that made you end up in a cult.


Integrating your past (the cult years) is probably an important step in healing. Integrating the person you were during that time, not necessarily.


Cults prey equally on everyone, so there's nothing within you that's particularly special or horrible. Once they've got you, you are unlikely to gather the strength to leave, and you have very little control over what kind of pseudo-personality you are assigned in the cult, as well as what you are forced to do to survive.


So fully integrating a personality that stands for the cult, and is usually modeled after the leader, might be unhealthy. The person you became during the cult, while often based on your true self (enough to cause confusion) is separate from you. As a result, after leaving the cult, you might not feel whole, as if you're split into different pieces.


Gillie Jenkinson, M.A. suggests in her article "An Investigation into Cult Pseudo-Personality: What Is It and How Does It Form? " that instead of integrating, of fully rejecting the cult personality, the most healing path, is to "chew it over."


Basically, you look at all parts of your experience, see what actions and thoughts were true with who you were before the group (it might be a slightly different process if you were born in cult and therefore developed both your identity and the pseudo-identity at the same time).


Then you look at all the incredibly uncomfortable stuff you did during the cult, things you might be ashamed of, things you might be angry about or don't really ever want to think of. After sorting through this, you might also look at what you learned, the few positives that came out of the experience (maybe the closeness, living in different countries, being able to adapt to almost anything, learning a particular skill). 


You keep what you think is of value and chuck the rest. A nice image is actually throwing the pseudo-personality up, instead of letting it poison you. Because, once again, you are dealing with a foreign object!


Many people who've been in a cult want nothing more to do with who they were, think it was their fault and feel guilty, or keep acting in accordance to the pseudo-personality. It is very uncomfortable (break down crying, hating the world) to get back in touch with yourself, and see all that was taken from you, all the wrong done to you. It's also extremely frustrating and creepy to have two different views on everything. Those thoughts that pop into your head that are incredibly judgmental of your own actions or other people as learned during the cult.


It takes strength and probably a good counselor since you can only see your thoughts from the inside. Send them this article by Gillie Jenkinson, M.A., if you feel like your counselor is not aware of pseudo-personalities. If they are unwilling to learn, get a different one. 




"The child who is born or raised in a cult does not have the previous personality or a cohesively formed personality on which the new cultic personality is imposed. Aside from inherent temperament, basic character becomes impacted and shaped by the cult experience. The cult personality is not superimposed, but becomes as aspect of the original personality. When those who have been raised in cults leave that world, they have to enter an entirely new socio-cultural environment – a wider world with new expectations and rules. Although younger children, particularly those who exit with parents, typically show some degree of resilience and an ability to adapt well to the outer world, former cult members who are young adults, especially young adults on their own, usually have tremendous difficulty with adjustment. Entrance into the world outside the cult is complicated by the fact that their cultic upbringing has left them deprived of many coping skills to adapt to the task. However, we have been impressed with the resilience and strength that these individuals have shown."  

Post Cult Problems by Lorna Goldberg, MSW

















“Most people think happiness is about gaining something, but it's not. It's all about getting rid of the darkness you accumulate.” 


Carolyn Crane


A good beginning to finding back to yourself:


  • What are your hobbies?

  • Using "no" as a guide. 

  • Do things you really, truly, completely, want to do.

  • Follow your gut feeling.

  • Be okay with not knowing what you like.