Over the next months and years, there will be many people exiting cultic bonds and beginning the often torturous process of healing their brains, hearts, and relationships. Some will have the resources to become activists who can reach out to their former communities.
They’ll be exiting QAnon, alt-right groups, anti-vax mom groups, anti-lockdown rally groups, anti-mask groups, and the online subscription communities of narcissistic messianic wellness influencers who offer love in one hand and terror in the other.
Many will have suffered from a triple isolation: from the outside world, from fellow members who offered toxic alliances disguised as friendship — and to whom they could not confess their doubts — and from their own sense of internal guidance. (cf. Stein)
The cultic group or ideology will have stolen precious, intimate things: marriages, family bonds, altruism, their capacity to trust. It might be very hard for them to grasp that there are people in the world who are earnestly trying to listen and tell the truth about things.
The injuries will be moral, social, and financial. With online indoctrination there can also be cognitive injuries: social media addiction issues, attention span loss, insomnia. When I left cultic groups I couldn’t string two sentences together on the page. My brain was not my own.
In order to restore a brain that had always read and written obsessively, I used to sit in my car on a country road and listen to the NPR news cycle, over and over again. Just to hear something that proved there were attempts in the world at clear and truthful communication.
If a survivor makes it back to social media to tell their story, they are re-entering a battle zone. Or a bar after going sober. They need space, time, and support in this space, on this screen, just as they need IRL resources, health care, and green spaces to collect themselves and start over.
This means it can really help to listen generously, thank them for showing up, avoid nitpicking, patronizing them, or shaming them with questions about why they got caught up. If they say something you don’t understand or 100% agree with, make a cup of tea and think about it.
These folks are precious resources moving forward. They know where they were. They know what worked and what didn’t work to bring them back. If they’ve gathered the gumption to return to the hellsites of Facebook or Twitter and share what they know, roll out the carpet for them. Throw a party.