by Jon Atack
How People Escape
Some people walk out of destructive relationships; they simply wake up. Some are thrown out, and long to return. Others are talked out, by family, friends or professional counselors. With the right approach, anyone can be helped to reconsider involvement with a destructive partner or group.
It is important to be supportive when talking with anyone who is trapped in such a relationship: they probably won’t respond to argument or evidence; but we all respond to genuine concern and affection.
When people leave abusive groups and relationships their routines and habits have to change. They will often have been locked into exhausting rituals and behaviors, and will sometimes find themselves in a vacuum, unsure what to do.
Spend time considering the relationship, but balance this with useful and pleasurable activities: it is time to make a new life. A life that fits more closely with your hopes and aspirations.
Escapees must create new bonds and mourn the loss of whoever they have left behind. It is important to find reliable people during this time of transition; people who encourage autonomy and independent decision-making.
Often, an abusive group or individual will ostracize or “shun” the escapee. Many people lose belief in a group, but stay silent, so that their family and friends won’t ostracize them. This means living a double life, which is always difficult.
Without help or expert advice, those who walk out may have a long journey ahead. We recommend Lalich and Tobias’s Take Back Your Life to shorten that journey. Janja Lalich has also co-written Escaping Utopia, which is specifically aimed at second generation members of abusive groups.
To overcome the humiliation of an abusive personal relationship, Susan Forward’s Emotional Blackmail is a useful start. Domineering and controlling people are often human predators.
Among the most difficult relationships to escape are those with borderline personalities, who switch between being kind and supportive, and hostile and undermining. Such people create disorganized attachments and leave their victims feeling guilty rather than wronged.
Thankfully, most people recover with the support of family, friends or former members. If you are struggling after leaving a group or a relationship, find a counselor who understands the group or type of relationship.
There is a distinction between ex-member help groups and counter-cult groups that are active against a high-demand organization. It is usually best to recover before becoming involved in a counter-cult group, or an on-line discussion forum, but recovered former members, or those with similar experiences, can be very helpful to recovery.
Read the experiences of other former members or victims of abusive relationships. Find new interests and mix with new people. Learn about human predators and the techniques of manipulation. Help others to recover, and, when you feel strong enough and have good support, speak out about the abuse you suffered.