Cults are notorious for being secretive, possessive and incredibly isolating, so escaping from the grips of one can often seem like a near impossible task.
In a new Reddit thread, former cult members have been sharing exactly what it was like on the inside and how they eventually managed to leave.
One user delved into their experience in the Advanced Training Institute (ATI), a religious homeschooling program designed by now disgraced Christian minister Bill Gothard. If you’re familiar with US reality family the Duggars, this is the same lifestyle they follow.
Reddit user JustDatingTowns says they were born into the cult and “literally walked away without a penny at 21.”
“When you leave a cult you not only lose your home, family, financial stability but you lose your lifelong identity, your only known community, and you lose the ability to be sure of anything anymore,” they explain.
“The leader Bill Gothard has in recent years fallen into disgrace after the bulk of us raised in the cult became adults and opened up about the horrible things they taught us and experienced.”
They go on to describe Gothard as “a narcissist who created an entire religion with himself at the head” and note that he was recently accused of sexual assault.
Another person who was also in a religious homeschooling cult shares a more light-hearted experience, saying they left because they just couldn’t be kept away from the box office!
“Raised in a fundamentalist church that strongly favored homeschooling with particular attention paid to long denim skirts and women being submissive. Not sure it was a cult, but dang, we were weird,” they say.
“I am free from all that [now]! I escaped by growing up and realising I didn't want to spend the rest of my life just watching movies rated PG or below. Gosh, I hate Hallmark movies. Sooo much.”
A few other users open up about their experience growing up as Jehovah’s Witnesses.
“I was born into a family that were Jehova's Witnesses. Now, whether they are a cult or not is debatable, but I for one do believe that it is one,” one person writes.
“The moment where I realised that I had to leave was when I brought my friend over one day. My mum scolded me for bringing them over and told me that everyone was out to ruin my life if they weren't in the same religion as us.
“They would talk about how they are horrible and corrupt people, that we needed to cleanse them. I took a look at my friend and I couldn't see that. All I saw was love and kindness, I knew that these views were corrupt themselves.”
They confronted their parents and church elders about it but say “none of them could give [me] any answers about anything.”
It prompted them to make the break after realising they could “not follow the lead of people that can not explain what they are leading us into.”
Another former Jehovah’s Witness says they were “brainwashed from infancy that this was the true religion.”
“If you want an idea of what the cult was like, think of 1984. No, seriously, that's not an exaggeration,” they write.
“The cult had thought crimes, doublespeak, and a worshipful attitude of the ‘governing body’ (head honchos of the cult) and anything they said was automatically right unless it was though to be wrong later on by the same governing body.
“Any disagreement meant re-education in the Ministry of Love, or shunning, which meant complete avoidance by everyone still in the cult from you, including family members who were still in.
“I got out when I said enough is enough. I still haven’t talked to my mother in 10 years.”
Another person shared the similar experience of their sister who had to drop all contact with her friends.
“My sister was involved with a cult for a little while. She never joined; she was too smart for that, but she was friends with a few of them. But of course, that's how they get you,” they wrote.
“Eventually (like... a year or so after she started hanging out with them), they basically forced her to make a choice: join the church, or get lost. They worded it differently, of course, about how they just wanted her to be ‘saved’ and all that nonsense. Obviously they're just trying to prey on people with few friends and low self esteem, making them scared to lose the only friends they have and tricking them into joining.
“My sister got the f**k out of there and never contacted those people again. Smart gal.”