Post-traumatic Stress Disorder



First of, PTSD is not a "disorder", it is a perfectly normal response to a horrible event (or years of abuse) that are threatening your emotional or physical safety and make you feel helpless. That being said, the effects of PTSD are very strong, and can continually mess with all areas of your life, making you unable to function, or unable to rest, be happy, or connect with others. 


"There's this big glass wall between me and the world. I feel numb, am afraid of the nightmares, afraid to feel, afraid of my own memories." cult survivor 


Symptoms of PTSD may show shortly after the event, or years later. Your brain was unable to process the event at the time, and so it keeps bringing them up again and again (thanks, brain!). They include:



Reliving the event


Memories or feelings can be triggered anytime by small every day occurrences. It's frustrating, because you often don't know the triggers, and then you are flooded with memories of the trauma.


Triggers may include:


  • Specific language that was used during the cult.

  • Confrontations with people of authority or being treated unjustly by someone.

  • A news report on sexual abuse, rape, mind control, totalitarian groups, or cults.

  • Situations that remind you of the cult, such as having to prove yourself, go outside your comfort zone, or people using black and white thinking.


Avoiding situations that remind you of the event


At first you might cope by avoiding anything to do with the event. In the long run this won't suppress the feelings though, and you can't heal unless you re-open the wound and clean it up.


  • A person who was in a cult might not speak to anyone about their past, or talk to old friends who were also in the cult.

  • Instead of calling the abuse by its name, you might say "it wasn't really that bad."

  • You might keep very busy to avoid thinking about it, or not accept that you may need help.


Feeling numb


When you suppress all the negative feelings, you unfortunately can't feel the positive ones to their full extend either. It might feel like there's a wall between you and the world. 


  • You may stay away from relationships, or find it difficult to truly connect. 

  • Activities that you enjoyed before the traumatic event may not interest you anymore.

  • You may avoid talking about the event in hopes of being able to forget about it.


Feeling keyed up


You may be alert and on the lookout for danger. This is known as increased emotional arousal. It can cause you to:


  • Suddenly become angry or irritable.

  • Have a hard time sleeping.

  • Have trouble concentrating.

  • Fear for your safety and always feel on guard.

  • Be very startled when someone surprises you.


Other symptoms


Other symptoms also may include:


  • Physical symptoms for no reason you can think of (called somatic complaints).

  • Feelings of shame, despair, or hopelessness.

  • Difficulty controlling your emotions.

  • Problems with family or friends.

  • Impulsive or self-destructive behavior.

  • Changed beliefs or changed personality traits.

  • Physical symptoms such as back pain, headaches, digestive problems, and sleep disorders.


Adjusted from 





"Our clinical experiences with former cultists confirm that they may develop symptoms similar to those seen in victims of imprisonment, torture, incest, physical abuse, or rape."


West and Martin, 1996