Cults and Post-Traumatic Stress Syndrome

Regions of the brain affected by PTSD and stress.
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I’ll just be honest. I have to wonder if what I am not struggling with is some sort of PTSS. I know it sounds odd, but several events over the weekend have convinced me that something else is going on. There are things which set it off – that internal insecurity so intense, so horrific. There is also regret that I participated in some of this – where I was the one forcing hell or some practice upon some which have no doubt left them wounded, sick and sore.


Cults have become a phenomenon in our world today. There are thousands of members in the United States alone. Ex-members exhibit symptoms of post-traumatic stress due to the use of mind control techniques which are used within the cults. 10 ex-members of cults were sought out through the internet to participate in a survey which was designed to assess whether ex-cult members suffer from symptoms of post-traumatic stress. The 4 page survey consisted of three parts; history, symptoms, and treatment. Age of involvement was usually early twenties and thirties. Subjects reported having a religious preference, several had close friends and most had up to 3 years of college education. The majority of subjects experienced a predominant loss prior to joining the cult. A few had traumatic experiences preceding membership. Subjects did not display post-traumatic stress disorder prior to joining a cult unless they had experienced a trauma. Ex-cult members clearly showed that dissociative symptoms are central to the cult experience. Almost all subjects sought multiple treatments for recovery. These included; psychotherapy, individual and group, medication, pastoral counseling and exit counseling.

via An Independent Research Project.

From here:

Symptoms of PTSD: Avoidance and numbing

  • Avoiding activities, places, thoughts, or feelings that remind you of the trauma
  • Inability to remember important aspects of the trauma
  • Loss of interest in activities and life in general
  • Feeling detached from others and emotionally numb
  • Sense of a limited future (you don’t expect to live a normal life span, get married, have a career)

Symptoms of PTSD: Increased anxiety and emotional arousal

  • Difficulty falling or staying asleep
  • Irritability or outbursts of anger
  • Difficulty concentrating
  • Hypervigilance (on constant “red alert”)
  • Feeling jumpy and easily startled

I know that it may appear as a weakness, but there are some things which just set some of the above symptoms off. But I look around and think – for 32 years I was convinced that a question was sin, and that a sin would send me to hell. My world was pretty secure, and oddly enough, secured by that fact.

One of the things about the blogosphere is that we can hide our insecurities and weaknesses, but why should we want too?

It wasn’t a Jim Jones cult, but it was a cult nevertheless.

I used to laugh and chuckle at the lady who lost her mind. She had set in the congregation for 25 years and become convinced that Christ would come back before her long-time pastor died. He died. Bam. Christ didn’t come back. She was so wrapped up in what the pastor said that when he died and Christ hadn’t return, she lost her mind. She operates now as a shell, medicated, and sometimes completely distant. Now I look and pity her and think how many others are so heavily invested, mentally, into that particular sect, cult, congregation, that it is no longer just a matter of faith faltering, but of real mental damage if something doesn’t come ‘true.’

(Then, secretly, I wonder what will happen 22 May 2011)

It is difficult not to, when you have grown up for so long in such a way, not to look at other fundamentalists with anger.

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19 Replies to “Cults and Post-Traumatic Stress Syndrome”

  1. I am very new to this blog, so forgive me if I am presuming too much, but you might check out information on spiritual abuse. Dynamics can be similar to domestic abuse, and certainly can lead to PTSD.

      1. Ah, I see Ken posted some good search terms. “Bible-based cults” might be helpful as well.

        And I must say, I was so distressed to read your earlier post today about that teenage girl who was raped and then bullied into “confessing” publicly. Beyond the fact of blaming the victim (which is, I’m sorry to say, usual for those who have been sexually assaulted), this “church’s” use of public shaming is deeply abusive. What a total miscarriage of Christianity.

  2. Great post! Your post and subject matter definitely resonate… As Anna suggested, you might narrow your focus to “abusive churches,” or, “cult-like bible churches,” “spirtual abuse,” etc, if you haven’t done so already. Leaving an abusive group was DEFINITELY a source of PTSD. A good beginning guide might be “Recovering from Churches that Abuse,” by Dale Enroth. Blessings!

  3. I’ll say it again, on the record: You need to be on anti-depressant/anti-anxiety meds. A mild dose of the right medication could vastly improve your overall outlook and give you the foundation for working through your issues with EFFECTIVE, COMPLIANT talk therapy. Your blanket dismissal of medicine is thoroughly irrational and a symptom of your condition.

  4. Whether you need temporary medical help or not, you should probably read “New Light on Depression”. It’s a helpful book.
    I understand your feelings. I still battle them, as I’m still affected by a closeness to that sort of harmful environment.
    Hang in there.

      1. Nah. Not the only alternative. Not always an alternative. Certain herbal formulas are helpful.
        By the way, if you are speaking of the UPC as a Fundamentalist group I would say that they are not. There’s a large disconnect between the two.
        Of course, it may not be the UPC to which you refer.
        Nevertheless, I hope you feel better. That is a tough struggle.

  5. I can laugh about some of the ridiculous stuff I have heard at churches over the years.

    While I still feel the odd bout of depression now and then, Jesus gets me through the occassional blues. Anti-depressants didn’t work for me. It was while I was on them I went missing twice. The Holy Spirit is my upper and downer! I have moved on without forgetting.

    Pray you can move on.

  6. I’ve found that leaving an abberrant-abusive, whatever-you-want-to-name-it “church” is as devestating as the degree of investment that a person put into the group in the first place… If you merely visited, or attended, but never got close to the inner-ring of its leadership, than your exodus would be less traumatic, and your recovery time shorter than someone who had invested very deeply and extensively in the group. There is usually a classic-pattern narcissist at the top, and he has done a lot of damage, and he and his leaders will take ZERO responsibility for any of it. So, the victims of the leaders never really are vindicated when they leave, and are left to heal on their own. (That’s where the meds tend to fail miserably in achieving what is really needed. The depression is a perfectly healthy, normal response to the trauma of leaving–it MAY be unhealthy to “medicate away” the need to go through a spiritual-emotional process of healing.) The books of 1 & 2 Tim, 2 Peter, and (especially) Jude, (Ezek 34, too) were of tremendous value and lasting encouragement to my famly and me as we were delivered. They let us see how God feels about those who would discourage, use, or injure members of HIS flock, and assured us of a certain, future judgement that abusive leaders will receive, should they refuse to repent of the damage they’ve done to His people. Can’t claim to be an expert on this, but definitely can claim to have experienced the pain of belonging to, and leaving, an abusive, cult-like Christian group! The greatest blessing for us in leaving such a group was in continuing to pray, to find a healthy church (with God’s help!) for us to raise the kids and belong, and to simply spend the time healing that we needed. I may be off on this, but I believe that the person who leaves an abusive church is actually LESS likely to join another one, for sake of his/her experience. Of course, they may not join ANY church for obvious reasons, but they usually do not jump right into another abusive one once they’ve concluded that the church they left was truly wrong. If they are not clear on the deficiencies and errors of the group they left, they will remain vulnerable to returning or to joining another one just like it. Sorry for the long post response! Blessings from Oregon! Ken

  7. I am a former preacher from the UPC and am certainly dealing with some PTSS. I am scheduled to see a psychiatrist in a few weeks. I recently came off a 21 day fast, while trying to rejoin myself to a local church (not UPC) and it sent me on an insane mind spin and I feel like I am just now coming back to reality. I feel I can no longer attend a church nor hold faith in Christ, as it is either my sanity or faith. I am also a former Marine and a current member of AA with two years sober. It is hard to balance all of that because AA has many cult like parts in it, but it is the only way I was able to get sober after leaving the cult. I feel like I am always confused and afraid of burning in hell. Just needed to tell someone. Thanks 🙂

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