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How to Help Friends and Family Get out of a Cult

Scientology prohibited communication with our family in the late ’70s and early ’80s. This is my story of how I helped my sister escape.

This is the story about how I got my sister out of Scientology. I share it to show how you might help your family or friends out of a cult, too. If you lost a family member or friend to a religious cult such as Scientology, this story offers a way to help them.

How to help a friend or family member leave a cult.

How to help a friend or family member leave a cult.

People get involved with cults for many reasons:

  • They may be married to someone who gets manipulated by the deception, and they go along with their spouse.
  • Parents of young children bring them into the cult before they are old enough to think for themselves.
  • They may find satisfaction from the way other members treat them at first.
  • They may need something more out of life, and they think this is the answer.
  • A trusted friend can introduce them to it.

It may become impossible to communicate with a family member because they were brainwashed to the extent that healthy communication fails. They may also be threatened and afraid to share their feelings with other family members who want to help.

There are methods to break through, however, as I was able to do with my sister. It might be possible to discover a weakness and take advantage of that vulnerability to get them to open up and share their true feelings.

Once you accomplish that, you might find a loophole that will get the person to turn around and ask for help.

Do They Really Need Help?

It's only our guess that they need help. We have to accept the fact that our loved one may no longer want to be close with the rest of the family, due to extensive brainwashing.

If there's any sign that they want help, the next step is to find out how much support they need. It may be possible that the cult threatens their life in some way, and they may be afraid to make changes.

We have to try to work with them and not pressure them. Pressure can only have a negative effect, and we might lose the little chance we have to allow them to share their feelings.

Blocked Communication With Family

Scientology considers people who try to get someone out to be a Suppressive Person. They don't allow communication with people classified as such.

At least this was true in the past, but it changed my entire family. Scientology did not let my sister communicate with the rest of us back in the 1970s because my father was trying to get her out.

The last days of my father's life were miserable. He died without having had communication with his daughter. He repeatedly tried to get through to her, but his calls fell on deaf ears. She never responded to the numerous phone messages he had left for her.

Then he died—­without saying goodbye to his daughter!

I witnessed this, and it wasn't pleasant. My dad was classified as a Suppressive Person because he attempted to obstruct the progress of his daughter’s training within the cult. His attempts were met with hostility that created anxiety for him and the rest of us. He left this world with deep emotional stress over having lost his only daughter.

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I, too, could never get my sister on the phone when I tried to call her. I left messages, but she never called back.

My calls were only put through to her when I said someone was dying or that someone had died. Therefore, when my father died, I got to speak with her.

She came to attend the funeral, but she was distant, and her visit didn't last long. Scientology didn't let her stay to mourn the death of her father with the rest of us. They forced her to return within a day.

A few years later, after another long period of non-communication, I called to inform her that our Aunt had a heart attack. Of course, I got her on the phone, and she came to be with us for a very brief visit.

My Aunt recovered at that time, I’m glad to say, and something good came out of the situation. I stumbled upon a method of breaking through to her. It’s a solution that you can take advantage of too.

Solution: Plant a Seed Offering Assistance

I took advantage of my sister’s visit to get in touch with her deep-felt feelings. I detected she might need help. I realized that she might be kept away from us beyond her wishes.

I could tell she was not herself. She had no mind of her own. I once knew her to have a sharp mind when we were young kids growing up decades before. She was always an intelligent person, and I saw she was losing her ability to think for herself. It was strange to witness that.

Some part of her innermost feelings and thoughts were still present. That was evident while I had a heart-to-heart talk with her.

However, I had to be careful not to alienate my sister. At the same time, I needed to plant a seed, so I told her:

"I suspect you are not happy. I'm your brother, and I want to help you. But I'm not going to lift a finger unless you tell me that you want help."

It worked. A few weeks later my sister called and said, "Will you come and get me?"

Those were such cherished words to me. I quickly responded with joy that I was getting my beloved sister back!

Leave the door open for a cult member to ask for help. My sister finally called and said, "Will you come and get me?"

Leave the door open for a cult member to ask for help. My sister finally called and said, "Will you come and get me?"

How I Helped My Sister Escape From Scientology!

I purchased a one-way plane ticket to go to get her. We rented a U-Haul, filled it with all her possessions, and we took turns driving to bring her home.

When I picked up my sister, I discovered that her kids (my nieces and nephew) were not living with her. They were living in separate quarters in a military-style unit where other members of Scientology took care of them.

I was astonished to discover that parents were not allowed to bring up their kids. This had a significant effect on their lives.

It’s one thing to finally get through to an adult and get her to admit she needed help to leave the church, but when children are trained from such as young age, it’s next to impossible. It’s all they know!

I wanted to bring home all three of her children too, but my sister showed anxiety and apprehension about that idea. So I had to give in on that plan.

One child, my younger niece, came with us, but she later returned to the church. I never really knew what caused that to happen. My sister was afraid to share all the facts with me. Her anxiety indicated that she was threatened. That's all I could deduce from it.

I regret that I didn’t forcefully influence the outcome to bring back all her kids and keep them out of the cult.

There was a reason why it was so easy to take my sister away from all that. I learned later that she agreed to leave two of her kids behind so that she would be left alone with no resistance from other members of Scientology.

How Scientology Alienates Families

Things are very different today than they were in the 1970s. Scientology seems to have lightened up. Members are allowed to communicate with family now, but the closeness of family ties is permanently damaged.

Whenever I tried to discuss the church of Scientology and its effect on our family, I was met with a defensive argument that went nowhere. I realized the only way to keep any sort of relationship, although non-existent, was to lay low. I had to avoid saying anything about how I felt.

  • I couldn’t discuss the past.
  • I couldn't tell my nieces and nephew how their grandfather was emotionally devastated.
  • I didn't even share what I had witnessed when I was still living at home with my parents and saw how my sister was forced to alienate the family.

I discovered that I could never ask questions or bring up the subject. I had tried. They would just argue and insist that my interpretation is wrong or that my memory is faulty.

That kept us from recapturing any kind of a relationship. It also created a further distancing and separation from the next generation of grandkids.

If I were to get too pushy, they might have to share that with other church members, who might consider me a suppressive person. If that were to happen, I’m afraid we’d lose any of the communication we still have, just as it were when my father was declared a suppressive person.

I remember the closeness I had with my two nieces and nephew long before they were involved with Scientology. If it weren’t for that, I imagine I might have had a close family connection with them and with the grandchildren.

The grandchildren are all in their own world, whatever that is. I am sure they have no clue why our family ties are non-existent.

I am sure that the grandkids are even further brainwashed and are totally clueless. I often wonder what they think, what they might be thinking, or if they are thinking at all?

Would they ever reach out and ask questions, or did the brainwashing completely remove their ability to have their own thoughts, their own life, and their own soul!

Generations Under a Cult

What if a more substantial portion of the family is drawn into the cult? What if children were born into the cult in a second or third generation?

These children are completely controlled, and they don't even have a clue why they are disconnected from the rest of the family. That is why it’s so important to try to save a family member before the process continues with the next generation.

Years later, the children may even forget that they ever wanted out, or the memories may have been erased from their minds by some form of mind control. On the other hand, they may just not be willing to admit that they ever wanted out. That might be due to some fear imposed on them by the cult.

When they are young, they may want their relatives to take them. My older niece had asked my parents and my aunt and uncle to take her in, But they all were too old by that time to care for a child.

I wish she had asked me. I was in my twenties and I could have handled it, but I didn’t know she was asking others until years later. That one incident would have changed everything.

When children in a cult grow up and have their own children, that next generation is totally distant and uninvolved with family members who are not part of the cult.

Be Ready to Help With Any Request

Remember how I helped my sister by planting a seed of hope and assistance that later blossomed and resulted in her call asking to come to get her? Well, it can work for you too.

If you have a family member or a friend in Scientology, or any religious cult, and you’ve lost the ability to communicate, plant that seed and wait for the opportunity to help. Do it before it’s too late, and be ready to do whatever you can when the call for help arrives.

For all we know, these people are threatened and afraid to act out against the cult. They may be in a predicament that we don’t know about or one that we don’t understand, and they may not know what to do about it.

I wonder if they ever have the same thoughts that I have—thinking of why there is no family tie, feeling of wanting to be on the other side, thinking of asking for help.

If you ever get that call, be ready to run and welcome your family member or friend with open arms. Be prepared to show them what life is like on the other side.

This content is accurate and true to the best of the author’s knowledge and is not meant to substitute for formal and individualized advice from a qualified professional.

Questions & Answers

Question: My daughter is twenty-three and is in a cult. I haven't communicated with her since she started with it five months ago. I follow their live stream videos daily to see her and make sure she’s alive. She’s lost weight. I set up a wellness visit last week, and a sheriff talked to her and said she could leave. She refused and said that she’s happy there. Did I plant the seed? What can I do next?

Answer: If you tell her you will come to get her if she asks you to do so, as I did with my sister, then you will have planted the seed. All you can do now is wait for that call. My sister called me soon after I told her, but she needed to ask me to help her first.

If you had a wellness visit and talked with your daughter, and she said she’s not happy there, then she would be ready to leave the cult.

After planting the seed to let her know the ball in her court, you need to wait for her to make the next move.

It’s just a waiting game at this point. You can’t push, but be ready.

Question: Can I divorce my husband if he is in a cult?

Answer: It would help if you tried to find out how that particular cult deals with such a situation. You can try doing a Google search to find others in the same position.

I would suggest that you try to discuss it with your husband. Communication is always crucial in any relationship. If you have already come to the end of your desire to save the marriage, let him know that. Let him know why. Let him know how you feel.

Carefully listen as he responds. See what his feelings are. See if he understands that his involvement in the cult has damaged your marriage.

You need to determine if he still loves you and if that love is strong enough to appreciate your feelings. If not, and if he makes that clear, then divorce might be the only solution so that you can move on with your life.

© 2012 Glenn Stok


Glenn Stok (author) from Long Island, NY on August 10, 2020:

Sandy - Be glad you don't know anyone in Scientology. They all seem to be afraid to talk about it to anyone not involved. I never can bring it up for discussion with my two nieces and nephew.

Sandy Mertens from Wisconsin on August 10, 2020:

I don't know anyone who is in Scientology. Though I have read articles and seen programs about it. I can only imagine what it would be like to have someone in my family lost in this cult. As you have experienced.

Glenn Stok (author) from Long Island, NY on August 07, 2020:

Lucy1776 - Thank you for your story. I feel bad for you, as it is a horrible experience.

My nieces & nephew were pre-teens when their parents got them into it. That's why our family was destroyed. They have no clue.

Sorry, but I could not post your comment, for your security, since you included you email address, but I felt you'd want a reply here.

Glenn Stok (author) from Long Island, NY on March 11, 2019:

SuzAnne - That’s a terrible situation for you, especially after having had a pleasant marriage prior to that. The problem is that these types of cults change people who are gullible.

You have two choices. Either do what I explained in this article or seek professional help from a local therapist to try to intervene.

SuzAnne on March 11, 2019:

My husband is into a dominating religious cult. He was kind and loving and generous and now is controlling, manipulating, coercive and dominating. this particular one believes that THE MAN is the almighty all and they must control their women. Where do I go for help if he does not even realize he's this way?He is always right and needs no help according to him. Where do I go from here? I still love him but can't reach him. S.

Glenn Stok (author) from Long Island, NY on February 04, 2019:

Barbara, The “dumping” of people you mention seems to be happening with Scientology too. I was invited to my nieces wedding in Clearwater back in 2010 and spoke with a Scientologist there who didn’t know I was against it. He told me about the way they treat people who say anything bad about the Church with emotional humiliation as a punishment.

I never gave up waiting for my nieces and nephew to ask for help to get out, just as their mother (my sister) did over 30 years ago. Unfortunately we can’t help them until they come to us first. The door is always open.

Barbara Radisavljevic from Templeton, CA on February 03, 2019:

It's a shame that so many cults are out there preying on vulnerable people who may feel lonely and socially isolated. These cults can really make people feel loved at first and use that to brainwash and control them. But when they are no longer useful to the cult, they often get dumped like excess baggage. I've seen this happen to two people I know. Fortunately, their families never gave up on them and family love helped them recover and make their way back to normal lives.

Glenn Stok (author) from Long Island, NY on October 10, 2018:

Ali Shah - If you already talked to him and told him you will wait for him to ask for help, then you’ve done the right thing as I discussed in the article.

That’s all you can do. He has to make his own decision. It may be easier than it was for me since he only was in it for only a short time.

I don’t see any harm in talking with his girlfriend. At least you can find out how she is feeling about it. Just don’t be pushy in case she sides with him.

If he thinks it’s a self help group, and you know it’s not, or if they are extorting money from him, then I recommend seeking the advice of a professional counselor.

Ali Shah on October 10, 2018:

My bro joined a scientology-type cult six month ago. As it is meditation based, he believes that he's in a self-help group. I already notice changes in his words and interests. Not much for now, but I am very concerned. I know it will go worse as he told me how much involved he wants to get in this group.

I clearly understand your precious advice : keep it low and plant seeds. This is what I am doing.

But as it is "only" 6 months that he joined, I wonder if I should not react more/quicker. I wonder if I should talk to his girlfriend ? Or is it a risk to take ?

I wonder if, I am choosing the right attitude in waiting him to... fall.

Thank you very much for your kind answer.

Glenn Stok (author) from Long Island, NY on September 09, 2018:

Vaughn - The way I understand your story, it seems your ex has custody of your kids because you had them in the cult. It’s good that you admit you want out. That’s a good start. The best you can do is take ownership of the problems your choice created, and share that with your ex. Then tell him you need his help to get out and save the kids. Once he realizes you are both on the same page, he may be inclined to help you rather than fight you in court.

Vaughn on September 08, 2018:

I was in a cult, I have 10 kids with the leader. After 22 years of being with him, I tried to leave with my kids a year and a half ago, but he has emergency custody. I currently have 3 jobs, but I can't seem to save up enough money for a lawyer and I am just barely making it by on my own. On top of that next week he is taking me to court for child support. I need to get my kids out!! Do you have any suggestions??? If so, please let me know!

Glenn Stok (author) from Long Island, NY on August 16, 2018:

Dorothy - It’s is sad what you’re going through. You didn’t mention if this was related to a cult though.

Scientology used to be like that decades ago when I got my sister out. Since then they allow communication. However, the damage has been done since we never attained the same closeness with family that I have with friends who were never in it.

You letter to help that you originally sent to your son may suddenly have an affect if he ever has the strength to wake up and realize how he has been manipulated. It’s good you did that. For now, patience is a virtue.

Dorothy Rogers on August 16, 2018:

I sent the "willing to help" message to my son. He was the youngest, smart, loving and very outgoing. THEN he met a girl who was possessive and before we knew it (within a few months), her mother paid for them to go get married, and of course she was pregnant. She separated him from his sister, brother, grandmother, aunts and uncles, his friends. Blamed EVERYTHING on me, his mother....and separated him from me and then his father. Now he drives by our home (2 blocks from his) and ignores us. Wifes family always there and makes sure we are not around. Kids now do not know us. I speak, but he ignores. He was a loving son from a traditional 2 parent family that helped him his whole life...he never did without. It is so sad...…..

Glenn Stok (author) from Long Island, NY on August 04, 2018:

Wina T - Sorry to hear you had a similar situation with someone in a cult. It’s good you found a way to handle it to help get them out. It’s a little easier when they admit they want to get out, as was the case with my sister. Good luck with the final conclusion.

Wina T on August 04, 2018:

This story was very helpful to my similar situation. I got the input how to handle in better way. Thank you.

Glenn Stok (author) from Long Island, NY on April 07, 2018:

Glendazappa - No matter what type of organization one is involved in, if they don’t have the ability to think for themselves then they can easily get hooked.

Glendazappa on April 07, 2018:

I, unfortunately, have an idea what this is like. I have a brother so deeply in Catholicism he has cut himself and family off from everything in world not pertaining to religion. No TV, radio, literature, friends.....Preaching and 'living his beliefs' has even interfeared with jobs.

Conversing with him is difficult, everything any of us say is wrong/ignorant. Telling my nephew to think for himself has caused major damage in all relationships. My brother won't let him be alone with any of us. We see less and less of them.

My nephew is my major concern. It took 16 yrs to get him away from an abusive mother, now he's with a father and step mother who have gone off the deep end these past few yrs. It's going to be tough for him to adjust to reality...if he ever gets out!

I pray for him, he's a great kid who deserves more. Hopefully when he's 18 he,ll have the strength to move out.

Yoleen Lucas from Big Island of Hawaii on June 25, 2016:

I was in a cult once, and so was my niece. I know what it's like to be brainwashed, especially with the threat of hell. I'm glad you were able to get your sister out of there. Yes it's hard; you can't directly confront them. They have to realize it on their own. I'm glad your offer to help worked.

Glenn Stok (author) from Long Island, NY on May 08, 2015:

Supuni Fernando - My sister recovered quickly since she wanted to get out. But unfortunately her kids (my two nieces and nephew) are deeply controlled by it. I can't talk with them about it since they become very defensive. Thanks for your comments.

Supuni Fernando from Colombo, Sri Lanka on May 07, 2015:

I remember seeing victims of cults getting rehabilitation and it's not easy. Sadly I forgot the cult name, but the children faced insane difficulties learning and speaking. They had problems adjusting to the modern society as well.

Cher Anne from Earth on September 22, 2012:

Thank You for sharing this. There is a group on Facebook called Cult Awareness and Recovery(the open page)do you mind if I share it ?

Feel free to join.

Hendrika from Pretoria, South Africa on August 31, 2012:

Reading this is really scary. I have someone that is not really in a cult, but still pretty brainwashed into thinking in a certain way. Even this is hard to break free from or even to get the person to want and break free from it.

Glenn Stok (author) from Long Island, NY on July 27, 2012:

Sue, You picked up on the correct item, the most obvious sign that something is harmful to us. My sister admitted, years later, that she was denied permission to communicate with the rest of the family when my father was trying to get her out. I never asked her, but I am sure she feels bad that she never had contact with her father in his last few years of life. You can't get that back. Thanks for your thoughts on this.

Sue B. on July 27, 2012:


Your hub has truly sparked my interest in understanding the concept of "cult" better. As I have been reading more, I'm realizing just how unclear things can be. Some define cult as any new religious movement while some use the word cult to describe only destructive movements/cults. Although I have never had this experience, as either someone associated with a cult or being a loved one of a cult member, I can understand how confusing this could be and hard to recognize.

I think I have always considered cults very easy to identify, as if it was a group of people with a sign clearly labeling the name of their cult. After reading your hub and a few sociological essays, I realize how informal a cult can be which adds to the risk.

The thought I wanted to share is that any group can be harmful to us-- both a "cult" or organized religion and any group can benefit us in some way- an informal group, a new religious movement or traditional religion. So how can we tell the difference between what is harmful and what is not?

It got me thinking about relationships and how we identify when a relationship is unhealthy for us. We can think this way in terms of our relationships to a group. What grabbed me in your hub is the social isolation or social restriction. This I think is our most obvious sign that something is harmful to us. Controlling behavior can be rather subtle. I can understand being in this situation could leave someone confused and unsure of their own opinion of the relationship. I think another good indicator of a harmful relationship is not being completely happy with the relationship or your life within the relationship and resigning yourself to the belief that it is easier to stay then to try to leave.

Thank you for getting me thinking!

Glenn Stok (author) from Long Island, NY on July 25, 2012:

KDuBarry03, Actually, I backed off when I tried to talk to my niece and she became very defensive. It worked with my sister, but her children are too far gone. I discovered they are also in denial when my sister told one of them in front of me how she was kept from communicating with us back when my father tried to get them out. Her daughter (my niece) refused to believe it. So I don't deserve the credit you gave me. I gave up fighting. I can only wait for them to ask for help. Thanks for reading and for the vote.

KDuBarry03 on July 25, 2012:

Glenn Stok,

This is a very heartfelt and touching story. It is a shame that a cult would actually apprehend your sister and your family from having connections with you. This story is definitely an inspiration to many that, no matter what, family will be there for you and fight for you no matter what. Although I've never had an experience like this, I cannot help but imagine the pain you must have/be going through. You have a strong heart and a strong spirit to fight for your family to just talk to them.

Thank you so much for sharing this great story. voted up and sharing.

Cynthia Calhoun from Western NC on July 24, 2012:

Wow. It's cathartic to share a story like this. Good for you for being there for your sister. She's lucky to have a brother like you. Some members of my own family are very religious - not members of a cult, I don't think - but I'm quite the inquisitive intellectual and they see me as a threat. It's rather sad. I don't communicate with them very much because when I do, they often are trying to convert me to their church. So, while I haven't had the same experience as you, I can understand the pain and frustration when people you love see you as a Suppressive person and won't have much to do with you. It's sad...I go on with my life, but it still tugs at your heart. Thanks for sharing this. I know it will inspire many. :)

Dora Weithers from The Caribbean on July 24, 2012:

Wow! You tried and you deserve to be commended. Let's pray that your efforts will still have some positive effect on the family members who have not yet responded. Thanks for sharing. You've given us so much to think about.

Peg Cole from North Dallas, Texas on July 23, 2012:

This really made my heart ache for you Glenn. It is their choice we know but their situation can only be truly understood by them after they leave it behind. I'm so sorry this has broken up your family ties and for the emotional stress it put both you and your Dad through.

I was so deeply relieved to hear your sister got out and she was so blessed by the seed you planted to allow her to make that decion and know she could count on you for help.

Thanks for sharing this important story so that others can be aware and beware.



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