Special Needs for Second Generation Ex-Cult Members


By Lee Marsh on July 20, 2016

One of the highlights of the International Cultic Studies Association (ICSA) conference that I attended in July 2016 was Lorna Goldberg’s presentation about the unique needs of second generation ex-cult members, which includes ex-Jehovah’s Witnesses. The title of her talk was Some Considerations Working with Former Cult Members.

Lorna was quick to remind her audience that in the ex-cult member community there is a growing awareness about the special needs of second generation ex-cultists (SGAs) – those who were born in or raised in a cult compared to first-generation former cultists (FGAs) – those who joined.

She told us that in both cases, the high-control group injects the cult personality into the mind of the individual, forcing the authentic personality into the background. But for SGAs, this means the true self never has an opportunity to develop. Then after leaving the cult, born-ins often have a much more difficult time adjusting to life outside the cult, as there is no formed true self to latch onto. They have to start from scratch, figuring out who they are.

I personally suspect that born-ins who lead a double life might have a head start on this. So far, I haven’t read or heard anything about it, although Richard Kelly has said that he believes his double life as a child helped him find his authentic identity soon after he left.

Goldberg also stated that those who fail to examine the impact of undue influence on their lives very often have a more difficult time adjusting to post-cult life, as the cult is so integral to the character of the born-ins’ personality. That is why therapists need to be aware that they might be speaking to the cult personae and not the true personality, when a client defends the cult experience or leader(s).

The goal of meaningful therapy is to help the person shift the locus or center of control from the cult to the client, giving the client greater autonomy. The goal is so they can develop their decision-making skills, because as cult members they made few decisions on their own.

Sadly, those who fail to get therapy often repeat the past unconsciously. They may go back to the cult, get involved in a different cult, high control group, or in an abusive or controlling relationship. This was definitely true for me.

After leaving the cult, I became involved in an emotionally abusive relationship. I also tried going back to the cult, as I wanted to be reinstated. Fortunately, the elder was so abusive to me, I lasted only one meeting and only that long because I didn’t want anyone to see me get up and storm out.

Goldberg made an interesting parallel of SGAs and immigrants from totalitarian countries, because those kinds of immigrants need practical education to help them adjust to their new world. They also need help with dissociative behaviors, especially when there is a history of abuse. They also need to recognize triggers to anxiety, panic and depression when they experience flashbacks, as abuse interferes with and exacerbates dissociation.

For some, medication, at least on a temporarily basis, may help. That is why a general physical or thorough evaluation may be needed, due to the cult’s demand for perfection, as ex- member often experience a lot of shame talking about their problems or when confessing that they were once part of a cult.

I could see that in myself. So immediately after leaving the Witnesses, I threw myself into a college educational experience. I didn’t want to think about the Witnesses. I was moving on with my life.

Later as a therapist, I knew the mistake that many abuse survivors make when they finally leave abusive families. They get involved right away in yet another abusive relationship. I know that was true for me, and more than once.

The dynamics of abuse are the same, whether it is in a relationship with one person, your family, your community, a high-demand religion or another high-control group. It’s all about control and depriving you of your basic human rights, including the right to think for yourself.

Going to the University gave me the tools to think for myself. But looking back, I did not then believe that I had that right, as I did not trust myself, knowing I was making the same mistakes over and over again. Therapy would have helped me realize the error in my thinking and to learn: If I wanted to take control of my life, I had to believe I had the right to do so!

Lorna Goldberg

Lorna Goldberg, LCSW, PsyA, Board member and past president of ICSA, is a psychoanalyst in private practice and Dean of Faculty at the Institute of Psychoanalytic Studies. In 1976, she and her husband, William Goldberg, began facilitating a support group for former cult members that continues to meet on a monthly basis in their home in Englewood, New Jersey. Lorna has published numerous articles about her therapeutic work with former cult members in professional journals


Also see: Impact on Children of Being Born Into/Raised in a Cultic Group by Ashley Allen

What Do Violent Extremism and Watchtower Have in Common?


One of the most competent educators on violent extremism in the world today is Sweden’s Robert Örell. He is definitely receiving well-deserved attention for not only what he knows, but how he is helping to reclaim the lives of thousands of victims of hate groups and radicalization.

Robert was recently asked to deliver an 18-minute TED talk on violent extremism and how hate groups influence their victims. It is a must-watch watch video, which you can access at: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=CNIgKsb1QbA

After watching and listening to Robert’s engaging expose several times on how hate mongers and violent extremist groups persuade victims and members, I was struck with the parallelism of Watchtower’s brand of unethical persuasion.

For starters, people who join Watchtower and violent extremist groups are looking for a community, where they can feel a sense of belonging and have meaning to their lives; both groups claiming exclusivity to the truth.

Both groups do very well at disconnecting their members from family, friends, society and themselves.

The victims are introduced to a higher cause.

Both groups influence their victims and members with black-and-white thinking;

Everything is defined by the group as either good or bad;

Us against them;

They learn to speak the language of the group;

Members are given the feeling they are superior to other people and groups;

A moral superiority complex is constantly reinforced;

They associate only with members of the group;

Non-members are inferior and constantly de-humanized; and

They have no problem violating the basic human rights of non-members.

But don’t take my word for it. I would encourage you to watch and listen to Robert to see and hear for yourself.

Robert lives in Sweden, and has been very active for the last 15 years with EXIT Fryshuset. You can access his group at: http://exit.fryshuset.se/english/. EXIT excels at helping people escape from violent extremist groups that unduly influence their members.

Robert was also featured in a New York Times article, which you can access at:

Another interesting article about Robert and his life as a Neo Nazi can be found at: http://www.news.com.au/lifestyle/health/how-a-neonazi-got-out-of-swedens-most-powerful-white-supremacy-group/story-fniym3t1-1226769235990



Karpman’s Drama Triangle


One of the tools I have found very helpful for people exiting a cult who want peace of mind and to find their authentic identity is Karpman’s Drama Triangle.

The Triangle can help people understand their relationship with a spouse, an ex-spouse, a boss, employees, friends, parents, children, neighbors and their church leaders.

In fact, I just shared the Drama Triangle with my local, Ottawa, Canada, ex-JW Meet-Up group to see if they could find uses for it in their lives, and it turned into a lively positive conversation.

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The Ethics of Evangelism

Image courtesy of Stuart Miles at FreeDigitalPhotos.net

InHungarianButtonWhen I was a Jehovah’s Witness, I thought evangelism or preaching was bad if it was not Watchtower-based. For many years as an ex-JW, I was convinced that any kind of religious proselytizing was nothing more than unethical persuasion.

So I was intrigued, while at a 2012 ICSA (International Cultic Studies Association) conference, in Montreal, Canada, by a session addressing the pros and cons of evangelism. I attended the one-hour meeting facilitated by a retired college professor, Elmer Thiessen, and his insights proved to be a real eye-opener for me.

What was particularly impressive was Thiessen’s list of Fifteen Criteria that one could use to determine the ethics of a church group’s proselytizing methods.

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Claiming Your Repressed Authentic Identity


By Richard E. Kelly

Finding and claiming one’s repressed authentic identity will not be easy for most adults who were raised as children by Jehovah’s Witness parents. First, there’s familial undue influence—close family members trying to reshape the child’s personality—and then there’s the non-familial cult-like identity being imposed upon children by Watchtower’s “new personality” policies and apocalyptic beliefs.

However, it can be done and Bonnie Zieman’s memoir, Fading Out of the JW Cult, makes a strong case for how it can happen. But what makes her story so special is that the protagonist is an experienced psychotherapist. While sharing her story, she explains the psychological manipulation at play in trying to shape her personality.

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Does Watchtower Psychologically Manipulate Jehovah’s Witnesses?


By Richard E. Kelly

InHungarianButtonIn Robert Jay Lifton’s groundbreaking book, Thought Reform and the Psychology of Totalism, Lifton describes the eight methods of control that unethical pseudo-religious groups use to psychologically manipulate the minds of their members.

InGermanButtonIn 1961, Lifton used the words thought reform to describe psychological manipulation, while today most people prefer to use the words mind control, undue influence or brainwashing.

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Watchtower’s Shunning Policy

Eating with the family...

Eating with the family…

By Rick Gonzalez

This is a picture of my dad eating a meal. He had just made lunch for me, but couldn’t eat it with me. I had to eat it at another table with my then four-year-old son while he sat there looking away from me.InFrenchButton-2

Why? Because that’s what the Watch Tower Society tells him to do.InSpanishButton-4

I posted this picture October 26, 2013 on a Facebook forum. InGermanButtonThe first response was, “Don’t know what to say. This boggles the mind; mind-control

religion at its very worst!”

Minutes later a flood of comments and “Likes” followed, reminding me that a good picture can easily replace a thousand words.

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My Declaration of Freedom


A few years ago I needed to take stock of what I had left behind and what I now had. I was scared to leave the Witnesses but I knew I couldn’t stay. I spent most of my time thinking about dying. I had no education. No job. No money. But living free was more important to me than any of those things. The following is my list of the things I learned about what it meant to be free.

Please feel free to create your own list.    


My Declaration of Freedom

  • I am free to be more tolerant of the beliefs of others.
  • I am free to be more accepting that we aren’t all the same and are not at the same place in our lives. What I needed when I was 20 is very different than what I needed at 30 or 40 or 50 or especially now at 60
  • I am free to be more tolerant of others’ lifestyles (because they are none of my business)
  • I am free to be able to do things I love (lots more time because I am not out telling other people how to live their lives)
  • I am free to show my love and care for others without worrying that it takes time from the Watchtower Society
  • I am free to get an education that has improved my self-esteem, my career opportunities and my knowledge of the world around me
  • I am free to get the therapy I needed which took away my depression and improved my self-esteem
  • I am free to be really happy without guilt
  • I am free to live in a way that I feel good about and that enables me to go to sleep at night with a clear conscience
  • I am free to watch/read/listen to what I want without fear of being caught reading something I was told was bad or guilty
  • I am free to buy what I want without fear (especially at garage sales – no more fear of demons)
  • I am free to live without thinking the elders are coming to talk to me about some supposed infraction
  • I am free to let my children lead their own lives without preaching to them
  • I am free to live my life without preaching to anyone
  • I am free to live THIS life without worrying about getting into paradise at some mystical future time
  • I am free to publicly speak out against the things I think are harmful like abuse and cults
  • I am free to accept myself for who I am today knowing I am a work in progress
  • I am free to change what I don’t like about myself
  • I am free to not see anyone in my family who tries to make me feel like crap
  • I am free to leave an abusive husband, relative, friend. I don’t have to stand there and take it
  • I am free to see those members of my family that I care for and treat me with love
  • I am free to no longer be a victim (of people or of the Jehovah’s Witnesses)
  • I am free to celebrate life and holidays, birthdays and even death
  • I am free to love God without being told what to believe and how to believe
  • I am free to sleep in on weekends (or any day now that I am retired)
  • I am free to spend my holidays on vacation instead of at a convention, assembly or meeting
  • I am free to write about what hurts me without fear
  • I am free to be honest – really honest – not false honesty
  • I am free to be happy – really happy – not fake happiness
  • I am free to talk to active Witnesses who come to my door (despite that I was told by the elders not to)
  • I am free to sing the anthem, salute the flag and be proud of being a Canadian
  • I am free to have pets instead of wondering what to do with them when I went to convention.

Life is what we make it. It isn’t directed by some external controlling business masquerading as a religion. I choose and if my choices aren’t always the best, I have the freedom to change my mind.

Here is picture of me at 8 years of age shortly before my mother left. It has taken me many years, but I am free at 60 years of age to have the life I need instead of a life dictated by others
I am free! 

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