This advice is based on counseling for real people who have left cults, in addition to my own experience. I don’t claim to have always followed this advice perfectly or even well, but here are my thoughts. When someone leaves a religious cult, church and family in the cult immediately feel compelled to bring them back into the cult. They are motivated by fear you’re going to hell (the ultimate fear), so they believe they’re acting in love. They do not realize that indoctrination drives their actions. And the basis of indoctrination is control, not love. Though the cult members may have good intentions, by attempting to pressure you against your explicitly stated will, they violate your personal boundaries, disregard your independence, and disrespect your personal healing and spiritual growth process. Every cult has mechanisms to keep its membership entangled. You know you are in a cult when the group does not respect your decision to leave and uses questionable means to try to keep you in the fold.
Cult members use various forms of pressure. They believe their role is to keep sharing the conversion message with you. Even though they know you’ve already heard and rejected their message, they are not concerned with success. They are taught that if they are a “witness” by sharing the message, they are “planting seeds” and giving god an opportunity to work on your heart. They may pressure you to go to church, tell you they’re praying for you or “sorry you’re struggling,” shove the message down your throat by proclaiming to you even when you protest, send you videos or media with Christian messages, share their testimony with you, or offer to meet with you to discuss your decision. The motive is always the same: re-conversion.
By pressuring you, cult members are attempting to create an imbalanced power dynamic. By telling you they care for you as they continue to try to persuade you against your will, they are setting themselves up as authorities and placing you in the position of a needy person who should change. They know what’s in your best interest and you don’t. This is not how healthy adult decision making, therapy, or healing ever works. It violates the most foundational aspect of therapy, which is respecting the person’s decision-making and thought process, and not taking advantage of or setting up an uneven power dynamic through pressure. It’s hard to have a loving, balanced relationship with someone when you’re always trying to change them against their will. This prevents true hearing and seeing of the other person.
You have options. You are never in the position of needing to defend yourself or give an explanation. If someone makes you feel uncomfortable, don’t talk to them. You must set your own boundaries, however. Cult members have been programmed to ignore boundaries because conversion takes precedence, so you must clearly state your boundaries and repeat them every time the cult member violates them. Stand your ground and walk away if you have to. It’s OK if you lose your cool sometimes. When setting your boundaries, state your needs and wants very clearly using I language: “I feel this when you say this. I want love and connection in our relationship. I do not want to talk about church or religion at all. I won’t talk to you if you bring these things up. I would value our relationship and would prefer to continue connecting” (Or say you need some space and time).
You may choose to create distance and space between yourself and certain people if you feel the pressure is too much and they refuse to listen. You need to take care of yourself and respect yourself first. Mutual respect is the foundation of any relationship. If it is violated, you have the right to walk away. You may even want to flip the tables and give your own “testimony,” sharing how the cult harmed you and how leaving is the right decision for you, how it’s empowering and freeing. Ultimately, the hope is that you can maintain relationships based on shared humanity rather than unverifiable religious beliefs. But you can’t control anyone; you are only responsible for your own actions. That’s the whole reason you left religion to begin with. However you decide to relate to people still in religion is ultimately your choice. No outside authority controls you or dictates your self-interest any longer.