Has My Daughter Joined a Cult?

Dear Robin:

Please help.  My daughter is in her second year of college at University of Washington and she has changed remarkably since she started there last fall.

She has begun “counseling” through some outfit called “Re-evaluation Counseling” and her mother and I are very concerned about her recent behavior and some horrible accusations she has made against us.

My daughter was a happy and well-adjusted young woman when she moved to Seattle.  Now she is spending a lot of time and money on this “counseling” and has told us she thinks she was sexually abused as a child.  

I assure you that she wasn’t.

What can we do?  Is this a cult?  Are there legal options available?

Worried Dad

I’m so sorry to hear your daughter could not get into University of Oregon.  

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(“Go Ducks!”  This is Puddles, the travel pillow I took to Maui last week.  Isn’t he adorable?)

Enough kidding around, because your question is a very serious one.

Yes. Your Daughter is in a Cult

Based upon the information you provided to me in our email exchanges, you have a big problem on your hands.  

The link below is worth reading and provides more insight on this mind-control group than I could do justice.

Re-evaluation Counseling

I want to discuss cults briefly before I get to the advice.

Sometimes cults are obvious, like this one or it’s first cousin once removed: Scientology.

Sometimes cults are less obvious.  

They can be groups of friends (especially teenage girls and women in book clubs) political organizations (The Bundy freaks who took over our bird refuge here in Oregon) or even employers or service providers (my favorite DICKs)*.

There is a plethora of information on the web about cults and I’ve tried to boil down the essential warning signs for you here.

How to Spot a Cult:

  • Total authoritarianism with no corresponding accountability.
  • Zero tolerance for critical inquiry from within or without the group.
  • Increasing isolation from family and friends, especially if they criticize the group.
  • Money, money, money.  Always demanding it, always needing more for “the cause.” No accounting for how it is spent.
  • Paranoia about the “outside world” and impending catastrophes.
  • Threats against those who want to leave.
  • Former members are always negative or evil and should be avoided at best and destroyed at worst.
  • Information (such as the link above) which indicate the organization is suspect.
  • The group/leader is always right.
  • The group/leader is the only way to achieve happiness.
  • Members have stilted mannerisms and/or mimic the leader in personal behavior and dress.
  • An apparent inability to reason independently without the group or leader.
  • Anything the group/leader does can be justified regardless of how horrible, including murder.

You told me your daughter has a sudden hyperactive focus on this organization, and that focus has come to nearly eradicate her interests in school, friends, and sports.  Not only has she suddenly had a complete loss of her former spontaneous and ambitious nature, she has also lost her sense of humor.

How do I know that?  Because you showed her my blog on love as it relates to pooping and she didn’t even crack a smile.

Jesus H. Christ on a pogo stick, you need to save that young woman.
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Re-Evaluation Counseling is a particularly insidious cult because one of the core beliefs it hammers into adherents is that almost all of us suffered from sexual abuse in our childhood.

What a great way to knock a young person off a formerly-solid foundation and simultaneously make them distrustful of or even hateful towards their parents.  

This achieves the nice double-whammy of:

1) creating extreme vulnerability, and

2) fostering isolation from family who would warn them away from the cult.

I do believe my new favorite phrase “that’s a neat trick” is apropos here, don’t you?

My Advice to Worried Dad

  • You asked about legal options but I don’t see any obvious ones.  Also, I’m not giving you legal advice, so check with your own damn lawyer.
  • Get thee and thee wife to Seattle post-haste for a meeting with your girl.
  • Open your email before you go and take a look at the names of therapists I sent you who specialize in getting people out of cults.  Sometimes called “deprogramming,” sometimes “exit-counseling,” there are counselors and doctors who know their shit on this subject.  
  • Arrange an intervention of sorts with that therapist, your wife, and your daughter.  I’d like to help with the exorcism but I’m too busy blogging.
  • Find some survivors of this cult online and ask them to talk to your daughter about their experiences.
  • Cut off all money unless and until she agrees to ongoing exit counseling and immediately leaving the cult.

That last one will be hard, because this is your baby.  I know you want so much for her, especially a college education (even if it is at University of Washington), but giving her money is the last thing you should be doing.

Your hard-earned money will only go to a cult, and her studies will continue to suffer until they have been abandoned altogether.

I truly am worried for you and your family so please follow up with me and let me know what happens. 

Readers, do any of you have experiences with cults or cult-like groups?  If so please share them in the comments!

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*See all those points about cults? Now compare them to your office.  See any similarities?

This Post Has 10 Comments

  1. NoName

    As a cult survivor of the law-firm variety, I must comment on the striking similarities between the “How to spot a cult” list and the place I worked. It’s frightening and eerie and I’m glad I escaped with my dignity, both professional and personal, intact. I see a new fresh victim was recently added and I wonder: how long will she last? Will she make it longer than I did? Will she be abused as I was? Or will she be deemed one of the precious “favorites” and avoid the worst of it?

    PS: What’s the latest on Anatomy of a Disaster?

    1. Robin DesCamp

      Thanks for your comment! Care to leave a more specific one with details of the abuse? Or you can email me at robin@robindescamp.com

      “Anatomy of a Disaster” picks up again tomorrow when we begin Part 2: The Divorce from Hell. Thank you for asking! This has been the most read thing I’ve done and I am enjoying the experience. In fact, the work has been so well received that I’ve been contacted about a book.

      Stay tuned on that one but first I need to put the damn finishing touches on “Divorce by Design,” which is currently being fine-tuned to better reflect my charming and endearing personality!

  2. Larraine

    Do the book Robin, I am loving “Anatomy of a Disaster”, it is very eye opening and rather weird how entitled Sam/Samantha feels, I am convinced he/she got the special “Princess” gene. I would love to know more about Sam as a child, I wonder what his behaviour was like even back then? I’m pretty sure there were tells that people either ignored, just didn’t pick up on or turned a blind eye to because they didn’t want to see!

    1. Larraine

      Sorry, hell alone knows how I managed a double post. My bad.

  3. Tyler

    As a former cult member let me leave you a few more common traits found among these mentally hostage taking organizations.
    1. Easy to get in. Hard to get out.
    2. They have their own saying and terminologies that help separate them from everyone else. Nothing makes you feel special like having your own super secret language.
    3. Keeping frequent and regular contact is a must. If they want to mold your thoughts and heart once a week does not suffice. It’s all part of keeping you from freethinking.

    Let me expound on #3. The more time away from these people the easier it will becomes to see through the multiple layers of bull shit. I left the Jehovah’s Witness organization nearly 9 years ago. I had been raised in it and left at the age of 31. I knew something wasn’t right but I couldn’t put my finger on it. After a month of separation from the cult their printed materials which seemed perfectly normal and sound now looks like some of the creepiest stuff I had ever read. It was amazing what just one month did.

    Just something to think about. Hang in there and I wish you and your daughter the best. She needs you now more than ever.

    1. Robin DesCamp

      Thank you to both Tyler and Larry for sharing your experiences. I appreciate the additional information and as to Tyler’s point #3 above and my favorite DICKs: this is exactly why they pretend to be therapists, have an in-house cook, hairdresser, etc. They want, no, they NEED, employees and clients to be absolutely dependent upon them for everything.

      I am convinced, and I am absolutely not joking, that the leader studied a book or two on the subject (“Creating Your Own Cult and Enslaving the Feeble-Minded” and “Mind Control for Dummies”) and based her entire practice upon those teachings.

      Either that, or she’s just a first-rate asshole.

      Meh – works both ways.

  4. Larry

    Felt I should raise my hand and be counted as an escapee from the Jehovah’s Witness cult. I was lucky – never got baptized and escaped as a teenager. However, my mom is still very much in it – and nothing is going to change that until either the new world comes – or she passes away. My sister did get baptized and later went Mormon – so that caused a huge rift in the family. Any religion that puts itself above family is likely a cult. They have a process for “excommunicating” people who do bad things (like get baptized Mormon) and they are shunned.

    Was great fun not celebrating birthdays – Christmas – Valentine’s Day or saying the Pledge of Allegiance in school.

    Today – I find myself pretty much thinking most any religion taking to an extreme is a cult. When I hear Shawna Cox and Victoria Sharp started praying to God to save them while in the back seat of LeVoy’s truck – I think they are not using their brains right.

  5. Larry

    Oh – and I can’t imagine the horror of being a parent of someone who has been seduced by a cult. Especially if they are convincing them that they were sexually abused.

    Best of luck to the family involved.

  6. gitka hamburger

    Esteemed Robin Descamp,
    I a an experienced member of RC and I know from my very own experience that none of your items on how to spot a cult apply to RC.
    Let me tell you in detail:
    “Total authoritarianism with no corresponding accountability. Zero tolerance for critical inquiry from within or without the group.”
    Everyone leading an RC group is expected to regularly consult with the members of the group on how it is going and to change tack if those members express that that is needed. Loke in many other groups with a leader. Workplaces, for example.

    “Increasing isolation from family and friends, especially if they criticize the group.”
    To the contrary. The aim is for people to function better within their normal wide world life. To create deeper contact with their spouses/parents/siblings/neighbours/colleagues/friends etc.
    When they criticise RC, everyone handles that as best they can – sometimes lousily, sometimes elegantly – but it is no reason for isolating oneself from them at all.

    “Money, money, money. Always demanding it, always needing more for “the cause.” No accounting for how it is spent.”
    It is possible to donate money to RC, but that is very rarely promoted or even mentioned; many RCers dont even know about it.
    “Paranoia about the “outside world” and impending catastrophes.”
    Again, to the contrary. The wide world is seen as our home, as it is for all human beings. We sparticipate in it; at thew Paris Climate Conference december 2015 RC was one of the NGO’s and got a lot of enthusiastic feed-back.
    “Threats against those who want to leave.”
    I know many people who left RC because the tools ity offers didint suit them. Several were my friends before they joined, and still are my friends. I know no-one is threatened by any-one from RC. Ever.
    “Former members are always negative or evil and should be avoided at best and destroyed at worst.”
    See above, about my friends.
    “Information (such as the link above) which indicate the organization is suspect.”
    I guess you mean here that any info indicating negative comment on RC is ssuspect. Well, not suspect, but if it takes chunks of what happens in other organizations and says that is RC, when RC is using really different tools and ideas, then it makes sense to point that out, as I am doing here.
    One example from the article in this link:
    ” Strupp and Blackwood (1980) have pointed out that many of the newer therapies are characterised by “…the supremacy of experience for the sake of experience,… and often the wholesale rejection of reason and contemplation as viable forces in solving human problems.”‘
    Well, RC is not a therapy, but a project aiming to hand participants a strong tool to bring themselves to function more rationally in society. Discharge is one of those tools. But reason and contemplation are what results when releasing old sores has cleared the mind – a process most people know.

    “The group/leader is always right.”
    See first point.

    “The group/leader is the only way to achieve happiness.”
    The leader/group are tools. the participant decides for her/himself how to use them and for what purpose.
    “Members have stilted mannerisms and/or mimic the leader in personal behavior and dress.”
    In dress???!! Chuckle…
    Nor personal behavior. To the contrary. Independent thought and action is encouraged, valued, praised, sought after, for/by all participants.

    “An apparent inability to reason independently without the group or leader.”
    See above.

    “Anything the group/leader does can be justified regardless of how horrible, ”
    See first point. Also see previous point.

    I hope I have been able to enlighten you. Feel free to email me at ghamburg@online.nl
    Gitka Hamburger
    Amsterdam, Netherlands

  7. g. hamburger

    One example from the article in this link:
    ” Strupp and Blackwood (1980) have pointed out that many of the newer therapies are characterised by “…the supremacy of experience for the sake of experience,… and often the wholesale rejection of reason and contemplation as viable forces in solving human problems.”‘

    RC is not a therapy, but a project aiming to hand participants a strong tool to enable themselves to function more rationally and elegantly in society. Discharge is one of those tools. But reason and contemplation are what results when releasing old sores has cleared the mind – a process most people know intuitively.

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