How can I help a friend not make a huge mistake and give away all her inheritance to a cult?
October 26, 2012 8:50 AM   Subscribe

Best friend brainwashed to join a cult overseas. She’s coming back for two weeks. How can I help her not make a huge mistake and give away all her inheritance?

[Asking for a friend]

I am reaching out for some alternate insight. My best friend from childhood left the country a year ago. We have always been spiritually close and are like sisters. She has always come to me for insight and advice and she has always been a kind listener when I needed it. She has also always been somewhat of a lost soul and was never able to find peace with herself here… Unlike some people who suffer and deal, or suffer and try to fic their environment, she left, it was too much for her. She’s always been a wondering soul.

While she was away, she opened up a very spiritual side of herself and, in the few times I spoke to her (skype) and in a letter she sent me, she seemed to be finding her own path to enlightenment and some solid inner ground. Being this open, you can imagine she was in a quite vulnerable place when a few months ago she met a boy (who she also has fallen for) who brought her into a community which, I can only imagine, promised her the « family life and acceptance » she had always longed for. Unfortunately, it turns out the group she has been made a part of is a cult. A big cult. They take travellers in search of inner guidance and offer comfort and acceptance… and also believe that the world is coming to an end. They are asking her to cut all bonds with her family back home and to give them all of her inheritance to help them start a sustainable community for when the world comes to an end (which, for a sane person, makes no sense at all anyway. She is a very smart and intuitive girl, so they must have done some significant damage to her psyche for her to believe this).

She contacted her mom, because she wants to fly back home to unblock her inheritance… but also because she’s not sure that she’s making the right choice. However, she’s been brainwashed. I can only imagine that, despite her doubts, she’s in deep and if she admits to knowing this is a huge mistake … she will feel very humiliated. Also, the cult has probably warned her and convinced her that anything her family and friends say to change her mind are mind games and not in her best interest. So we’re basically going to have to be very tactful about this. Her mom wants us to pretend like everything is normal and that we don’t know, but I don’t think that would be doing her a favor because she’s coming back to feel stability and to have her friends and family pretend and act will fuck with her radar once more.

I know there is a strong light inside her. And I know that I can reach her if I refrain from asking too many questions about whether or not she thinks it’s the right choice. Normally, when you ask a friend questions, you are playing the devils advocate and perhaps proposing new ways to see things… but this is obviously a sensitive case and could pushing her over the edge could mean loosing her forever… asking questions here would be like I’m just trying to get her to figure out « the right thing to do » insinuation that I know better. I think that the only thing I can do, is let her come to me and talk about how she’s feeling. I don’t want to tell her what to feel or how to think because that’s what has been happening for three months and she needs to let her instincts make the decision. I have a feeling she will snap out of it. But I am still worried I might loose her forever.

I was thinking I would try the « mild » approach for a week. I will suggest she stays with me at my place with my roommate (in the neighborhood she grew up in) if she likes… As I have a feeling that staying with her mother, who might be quite emotional, might push her over the edge. Her mom will most likely be trying to tell her what to do and control her because she’s so afraid to loose her (which is quite understandable).

I think that if I am quiet, and accepting, and nonjudgmental and listen to her, and let her speak from the heart… or say what she likes… I might have a chance to bring her back. If she is completely closed down like a clam, and is absolutely unreachable though, I’m thinking an intervention with a trained professional will be in order. Or perhaps finding a way to prevent her from leaving the country again. Also, it was brought to my attention that if she goes back and gives them her money, which is a huge sum, at that point it will be like an investment, and no matter how shitty she might feel about it after, she will most likely stay and commit to what she has put all her money towards.

Any ideas ? Suggestions ? Strategies ?
posted by chrillsicka to Health & Fitness (13 answers total) 5 users marked this as a favorite
She contacted her mom, because she wants to fly back home to unblock her inheritance…

I don't understand what that means ... is her mother still in control of these funds? Are they blocked to her? If so then what's the issue?
posted by headnsouth at 9:58 AM on October 26, 2012 [1 favorite]

I'd call her Mom, explain your concerns and have the poor thing put under a conservatorship until she can think clearly.
posted by Ruthless Bunny at 9:59 AM on October 26, 2012 [1 favorite]

" wants us to pretend like everything is normal and that we don’t know"

Definitely the wrong strategy. As you point out, this would be reproducing the kind of unhealthy interpersonal relationships that led her to the cult in the first place. It's also not the way you change peoples' minds about their life choices.

The only way you are going to get through to her is with a lot of effort on your part to understand exactly what she's been experiencing with the cult. What I mean is that you should, when you hang out with her, get her to talk about it as much as possible. And as she is telling you about it, what you are trying to do is get her to explain her experiences to you as an outsider to the group; which will perhaps help her start to think about the group from an outsider's perspective herself. A helpful starting point for her to rethink what she feels about being part of it.

Getting people to change their minds about things is extraordinarily difficult, but showing that you are truly interested in their point of view, and honestly telling them both when you agree with their choices and experiences, and also where you disagree, is the only reasonable starting point.

Logical arguments have been shown to have quite little to do with changing people's minds; that's not how we are wired.

I would be very interested in some more detail about the group, if you don't mind providing it: religious starting point? ethnic basis? country? size? name of the group? website? armed or peaceful?
posted by jackbrown at 10:21 AM on October 26, 2012 [1 favorite]

Is there some other way for her to find
the « family life and acceptance » she had always longed for ... inner guidance ... comfort and acceptance
? Otherwise, it's going to seem like you (or her Mom) just want to take away whatever joy she's finally achieved.

Love her. Be there for her, whether this works out or not, or even if it works out for a while. I like the idea of her staying with you. You might have to be strong for her Mom, too.
posted by amtho at 10:37 AM on October 26, 2012 [2 favorites]

Here is a list of organizations that may be able to help you, grouped by country.

Here is an article on interventions by Rick Ross.

As someone who clearly cares about your friend and may be one of the few people willing/prepared to take action to help her, you may have to shoulder the risk that your actions will drive her away from you despite your best efforts. If that does happen, don't blame yourself. Some people simply aren't ready to let go of whatever it is that the cult gives them. But if she's smart, and trusts you, then you're definitely in with a shot and you owe it to her/yourself to do the best you can. I hope it works out.
posted by Drexen at 10:38 AM on October 26, 2012 [2 favorites]

Here's the thing: if she gives away her inheritance, she'll be starting from approximately the same place that most people do, with no inheritance. It sucks, but it's not the worst thing in the world. I'd be much more worried about her becoming pregnant by this boyfriend and would talk to her about long-term birth control that can't be tampered with by the boyfriend, like an IUD.
posted by the young rope-rider at 10:52 AM on October 26, 2012 [8 favorites]

becoming pregnant by this boyfriend...

Is pregnancy only possible through a sole decision by her boyfriend?

I would advise suggesting to her that her boyfriend is a saboteur-in-waiting. She may have joined a cult, but she is still in control of her decisions and facilties. Treat her like that, and not as a child.
posted by Kruger5 at 12:13 PM on October 26, 2012
Steven Hassan is a therapist who specializes in non-deprogramming interventions for people who are in destructive/mind-control groups, and also consulting with families of those in such groups.

His books are full of information about his approaches:
Combatting Cult Mind Control (oldest)
Releasing the Bonds
Freedom of Mind (most recent one)
posted by overeducated_alligator at 12:52 PM on October 26, 2012 [2 favorites]

She may have joined a cult, but she is still in control of her decisions and facilties.

She didn't join a religion, she joined a cult. A "cut off all ties with everyone you love and give us all your money for the upcoming apocalypse" cult. I would venture that a person who does something like that is making bad decisions of a caliber that speaks to an unsound mind.
posted by griphus at 12:52 PM on October 26, 2012 [1 favorite]

This is a potentially dangerous situation, especially because there is a large sum of money involved. Seek professional help as listed above or do some research and google up some resources that are best for you, her and that perhaps specialize in this particular cult.

Check into post-cult support groups and get some advice there too.

I would definitely go with the flow with her until advised to do differently. You do not want to do anything to raise suspicion, lose trust or drive her away. This is not new stuff and professional counselors have methods and techniques that work. Be calm and cool until you get pro advice. Don't do anything that may thwart your upcoming, professionally advised efforts.

I wish the best for you and all involved!
posted by snsranch at 3:13 PM on October 26, 2012

What information do you have on the cult? Country, leaders, website, etc.
posted by anon4now at 5:15 PM on October 26, 2012

If it were me, I'd have her mom find a way to lock the bank account and also take away her passport and money so she can't get back to the other country. But that's just me...

Without being quite so drastic, there must be some legal way to protect the inheritance, or at least to stall on getting it "unblocked," whatever that means.

It's just surprising to me that her mom wouldn't be taking really serious and drastic actions if her daughter has joined a cult.
posted by kellybird at 3:25 PM on October 27, 2012

This may be harsh, but perhaps cut down on all the spirituality / mysticism / wandering soul / inner peace talk. Just from the tone of your initial post, it sounds you're enabling this kind of behavior, I'm assuming you're religious, and you're coming from the viewpoint that her new religious beliefs are wrong (and obviously wrong!) yet your religious beliefs are right, because of tradition or faith or family or whatever.

What I'm trying to say is, from an atheist perspective, you sound as batty as she does. Bring it back to reality, what you see and what you feel and whats real... friends, family, loved ones. Try to show her she can find "peace" (ie: stability and happiness) at home with her family and you. Not to say you can't sway her back to your own religious beliefs later, but maybe grounding her in reality will make her realize the ridiculousness of the cult.

That is, of course, if you're willing to accept the possibility that she rejects all spiritual belief, at least she won't believe in the cult anymore, right?

The thing is, her new boyfriend probably believes in this as much as she does and is not actively doing her harm. Every religion/cult pretty much preaches that members should convert others as much as possible.
posted by el_yucateco at 6:33 AM on October 30, 2012

« Older ptsd or just a memory?   |   In Defense of Meat Newer »
This thread is closed to new comments.