My Personal Story of Escaping a Cult - Part 4: Healing, Forgiveness & a Final Message for the People Still in the Cult
In the past 3 weeks, I have written a detailed account of the inner workings of the cult I belonged to, how & why I left, and questions for the cult leader. Today, I am writing on a topic that has been much requested - how I have healed from this experience.
It is a tough question to answer because healing from such a thing is not a one-time act. There is no one thing you do or quick 3 step process for healing after leaving a cult. Despite this, I will do my best in the following paragraphs to capture some ways I have healed from this experience. I hope they can help you as well.
1) Forgiveness is your friend. I recently had the pleasure of interviewing a man named Capt. Charlie Plumb who was a POW in Vietnam for 6 years. I was asking him about what virtues are necessary for a good protector to possess. He named one thing that I hadn't given much thought to - forgiveness.
Capt. Plumb told me that only if you can forgive your enemies can you see things as they really are. He also said that if he could not find a way to forgive his torturers he would destroy himself by holding onto hatred. In this way, he could have survived being a POW but lost the battle of the aftermath due to holding a grudge of hatred. Wow. Part of how I have healed is in realizing that if this man can forgive the men who tortured him and killed his friends, then I certainly can forgive the cult leader and all its members. They have done far less evil to me than the torturers did to Capt. Plumb.
I do forgive the cult leader - I do not condone what he has done and continues to do, but I do forgive him. I harbor no hatred or animosity towards him or anyone in the cult. I must confess that I believe the only reason I am able to forgive them is because I have prayed for God to send me the grace to forgive them. My natural, human inclination is to be angry, bitter and resentful. But I know I am held to a higher standard.
It has been said that you don't forgive someone for their sake, you forgive them for your sake. As Capt. Plumb said, he knew the hatred he harbored would destroy him if he could not forgive his captors. Therefore, forgiving them was essential so he could survive the aftermath. Why does someone like Capt. Plumb who was captured and tortured for 6 years not have PTSD but some one else who face far less horror does get PTSD? I don’t know but I think forgiveness has a huge role in this regard. Forgiveness allows you to emotionally and spiritually survive the aftermath.
No one is saying forgiveness is easy. But it is essential to surviving the aftermath and not allowing the cult leader to win. If you continue to harbor hatred, the enemy has won. He is living in your head rent free and taking up the vast portion of your heart. Raise the rent and kick him out! I simply refuse to grant this victory to the cult leader.
Lastly, as a Christian, I believe that we are called to forgive our enemies because Christ forgave His enemies. "Father forgive them, for they know not what they do." Is the ultimate example for mankind. If I am going to claim that I am a Christian I must at least make an attempt to do what God says. He calls us to forgive our enemies and I am viewing this as a tremendous blessing and opportunity to practice obedience to God's commandment.
2) Focus on living your life not reliving the past. What happened to me is sad and disappointing but what good does focusing on that do for me now? As such, if you choose to make what lies ahead - your future - your focus, it is easier to move on. I am in the process of writing an amazing book based on 119 interviews about the virtues of the warrior heart - I should focus more on that instead of all this cult drama. The truth is, at this point, time spent worrying about the cult and its machinations is time not spent doing what I need to do and I what I feel I am called to do. Time to move on.
3) Play a game. The game is called "What good will arise from this and can I create any good by going through this experience?" Seriously, play this game and try to come up with as many ways this experience can lead to good things as possible. Write them down. Visualize them prominently in your mind.
For me, going through this struggle has made me even more relatable to others and has humbled me. A fellow speaker once told me that "people relate with your mess not your success." I now have a mess I can share with others in order to relate to them better and to help them.
Prior to going through this, I held my intellect in much higher regard than I do now. I now realize that very often, the reason people get victimized (by a cult or anything really) is often not an intellect problem but a heart problem.
This experience has taught me to be much more careful in guarding my heart and not to trust appearances. It has also taught me to focus more on the truth of someone's claims rather than the charisma or energy with which they make those claims. "Is what this person is saying actually true?"
It has also taught me to trust my own intuition much more because I had been suppressing bad feelings about this cult and its leader for 3 years before finally taking action. Had the situation been different, I could have been physically injured or killed if I chose to ignore my intuition like that.
This experience validated very powerfully for me Gavin de Becker's main point in his iconic work, The Gift of Fear: Your intuition exists to protect you and it always has your best interest at heart. That is something you can trust. You cannot necessarily trust that another person has your best interest at heart - they may not. But your conscience, your intuition, is always trying to protect you. To phrase it another way, your intuition doesn't lie to you so that it may hurt you. It may be wrong about something, but it doesn't lie to you so that it can rip you off or scam you. A person, however, may be doing just that.
4) Talking to others who have a shared experience. I am quite blessed to have been able to talk with several people who are "expats" of the same cult. We have had many good conversations and they have allowed me to vent my thoughts and get them out. I do not believe that keeping in this type of hurt and pain is good for your physical or spiritual health. Having a good outlet like people who know what you're going through has been invaluable.
Generally speaking, there will be at least one other person you can talk to who has gone through some similar pain you are facing or faced. Find them and talk. I do not recommend talking in a whining or bitching kind of way - but talk to just let your emotions and thoughts be released. Look for and discuss real solutions to your problems.
However, if you feel very hurt and upset, let that out too. Be honest about how you feel, don't try to live up to my standard or anyone else's standard of how they think you should feel. Likewise, be honest enough to admit if your feelings and emotions on this issue are reasonable or not. Having extreme feelings of anger is not justification for having them but if you do in fact have them, don't compound your problem by lying to yourself that you don't have them. Admit that is where you are at and immediately set up to remedying the situation. Always have the courage and honesty to face reality.
I am very grateful to several people who have spoken with me extensively - you know who you are. I can never repay you for your service to me and I hope I have been able to help you in some way deal with your pain as well.
WHY I WROTE THE BLOGS:
What happens now? Now, I move on and let go. Is it a one-time act? No. I will need to continually remind myself that I have moved on. But this is the final blog on this cult topic. I will continue to speak with anyone who wants to talk but I am no longer going to be writing blogs on the topic - I have said what needs to be said.
I wrote the blogs so that the cult members who wanted the truth would be able to see it. Many have reached out and expressed gratitude that I wrote the blogs and we have had private and personal conversations about their concerns and feelings. They are now forewarned and forearmed.
CLOSING MESSAGE TO CURRENT MEMBERS OF THE CULT:
I will close now with my parting words to the members still in the organization: I do not hate any of you nor do I have any ill will directed towards you. I understand fully the dilemma you are facing, to leave or not to leave? I cannot tell you what to do. I can only speak of my own experience.
Since leaving, I feel immeasurably better. I have decreased my stress, increased my freedom to train and seek knowledge from any source, made new friends with the expats (who have treated me better than the cult leader ever did in 12 years) and perhaps most importantly - I no longer have to lie to myself and pretend that everything is "ok". I knew in my heart and my gut that everything was not ok and now, I no longer have to live with fighting my conscience.
As I have written before, no amount of secret or specialized knowledge is worth your dignity, peace of mind, integrity or virtue. Loyalty to any man should not be based on what that man knows but on how virtuously they live. Knowledge without virtue will destroy you. Virtue is what sets up the appropriate limits around how to live and apply your knowledge. Only when virtue is mixed with knowledge do you get wisdom & only wisdom can help you to accurately employ and apply the knowledge you gain. The bottom line is this: if you are acquiring all kinds of knowledge with no virtue, what is the point? If you have to do something immoral in order to get the information, is it worth it?
This is what motivated me to seek the truth. My heart knew and whispered to me that I was compromising my integrity by continuing to ignore my intuition. Ironically, the cult leader has oft quoted a line from the Hagakure, "When your own heart asks, how will you respond?"
My question to you is this: "When your own heart asks about the cult and its leader, how does it respond?" Are you filled with peace, tranquility and assurance of what you are doing to be right, just and "defending the paths of truth"? Or do you have doubts, unanswered questions, & is your heart put ill-at-ease and would you prefer to simply avoid thinking about this question? Only you know the answer.
I know that when my own heart asked, it told me I must leave. It also told me that I had a moral obligation to warn the other members. I would not have been able to sleep well at night if I had stayed or if I had left but said nothing.
It has been brought to my attention that many of you still in the cult think I am calling you stupid for not being able to tell you are in a cult. Far from it. I was a loyal believer & follower for 12 years! I was one of the few who graduated Jokyo. If I was calling you stupid, I would be condemning myself out of my own mouth. No, I do not believe you are too stupid to know you are in one. I think you trust the leaders as I did. I think you have good intentions and project these intentions onto the leaders as I did. I think, that like me, you want to see reality the way you wish it was and not as it truly is. When I was still in the cult, the way I imagined things to be was simply better than things as they really were - so that's how I chose to see it. That does not make you stupid - it makes you human.
Some have expressed the desire to speak together as a group to discuss things - I have been a proponent of this from day one. I would encourage you to ask the leader to set this up so that all may be discussed. Do you not deserve to hear both sides of the story? Are you not adults, long-time students and paying members? I am all for meeting together to talk and hear everyone speak. I encourage you to ask leadership to set this up.
Personally, if you want to know more details of the situation & do not want to wait for a group meeting that may never happen, why have you not reached out to me? You have trained with me for many years, I will always take your call. Why do you plan and whisper behind the scenes when I am right here waiting to talk?
The other expats and I have nothing to hide. I do not bind you to keep secrets. In most of my conversations with current members I have had multiple people on our phone and video calls because I have nothing to hide. I have made these blogs public and spoken openly to anyone who would call. I will answer any questions you pose to me. But you must want the truth. You must take the risk to hear my side of the story knowing it may upset you and it may raise questions that you do not have answers to.
I care about all of you enough to have these conversations with you. If you want to talk, call me. If you believe that I am in the wrong and have made false claims, let's debate that too. I must tell you that to this day, over a month since my withdrawal from the cult, NOT ONE person has debated my claims with me nor have they offered proof to support the leader's claims. Why has no one done this?
If everything I am saying is wrong and the leader has immense proof to back up his claims that I have questioned, then this whole thing could be settled and over if the leader would just give you the proof to bury me. Why hasn't he done so? Why would he allow me to question him so openly in these blogs if he readily had the proof that could crush my position? Blog #3 on the cult asked some very specific questions - if those can all be answered with proof, why hasn't the leader done that?
(I'll add one more question that slipped my mind - The cult leader claims to have earned 2 PhD's from Japanese Universities. My questions are simple: What were the PhD's in, what universities, what years did he earn them, & what are the titles of his dissertations?)
Some of you have been or are angry at me, but if you are angry, why are you angry? Have I said anything that is incorrect? If so, prove it to me. I sincerely want to know. This is not an arrogant challenge but a genuine request for you to prove me wrong. The cult leader says we focus on reality, truth and purity right? Then use those principles to demonstrate where and why I am wrong. If you cannot do so, find someone who can. If you cannot find someone who can, why are you angry with me? Hasn't the cult leader said many times, "Don't shoot the messenger"? Why do you shoot the messenger if what I am saying is true?
No matter what happens moving forward, I forgive each and every one of you and I do not have any malice directed towards you at all. It is because I care for you that I wrote these blogs. I easily could have left the cult, said nothing and done nothing to rock the boat. I couldn't do that though because it wasn't the right thing to do. The cult leader is dangerous and continues to victimize people. If you knew what I know about what he has done to people it would make your hair stand on end. I cared about you enough to risk writing these blogs so that you could hear the truth. I have warned you that the field up ahead is a mine field. If you choose to walk that path with this knowledge, I cannot stop you. But I care about you enough to shout loudly and warn you: "Hey brother! Don't keep walking that way. You are entering a mine field!"
I wish you all the very best and I would still fight for you if you were being harmed.
Live with Virtue,
Welcome to the Anatomy of a Warrior Blog!
National Speaker, author, blogger, and life-long student of warrior arts and science.