Childhood Development in Cults
Children learn by playing. Many cults do not allow playing, since it does not serve " the greater purpose." In general, being playful, trying new things in a save setting, being able to explore without repercussions, is not promoted in cults. Real personal development and independent thinking is not wanted, just clones of the leader.
The following is not a full list, nor will it apply to everyone. They're just some observations.
Language: A lot of cults have "loaded language," where words get special meaning or are invented, or used in different ways. Also, the variety of language used might be limited. The less you can express yourself or think about the situation you're in, the less power you have.
Communicating and understanding what others say: In a cult you learn to read between the lines. Usually, what is being said out loud is rarely what is meant. Likewise, you are not encouraged to express what you want in a precise manner. After you get out it's like learning a new language, and it's frustrating when you don't fully understand your mother-tongue.
COGNITIVE THINKING SKILLS:
Learning: Chances are you were still able to go to school or were homeschooled in the cult. To learn under enormous pressure and while abuse is happening, with no real friends, is hard. Or you were not
schooled at all, and when you leave the cult, you have a huge gap. You can catch up, go back to school, but it takes a trust in yourself and can be very intimidating at first.
Problem-solving: The cult leader, elders, people in charge, micro manage every part of life, and there is little space to actually learn problem-solving. So it can be a bit overwhelming, stepping into the real world, and having
to figure out hundreds of small and large problems each day. And the problems are real. How to find a place to live, get paperwork filed, get schooling, find a job, make friends, or simply how to buy groceries (stores can be truly horrifying places with an overabundance of choices).
Reasoning: A cult is all about black and white thinking. It's all or nothing, us versus them, absolutes without space for doubt or questions. You are actively kept from reasoning with your own mind, since it could be dangerous to the person in power. Often logical reasoning gets a bad reputation in cults, because you are supposed to just "trust," "follow your heart," or "switch off that evil mind."
When you get out, it's important to remember that your body is not split into different parts. Your mind and your heart are all you. Your gut is just as important in critical thinking. It might feel very uncomfortable to reason with somebody, to have a discussion. In a cult discussions were confrontations, and you were not allowed to express your opinion. Now it's okay, and it's okay to not know what you think about a topic.
Remembering: Chances are, you have experienced horrific things in a cult, things that you simply could not deal with at the time. That you had to push deep in your mind and forget, in order to survive. That's normal for trauma. As you're trying to heal, it can be helpful to take those horrible memories out of their hiding spot (with the help of a good therapist, knowledgeable in cults, mind control, or domestic psychological abuse). yu might also find your memory is shot when you get back into the real world. So many new stress factors and new images are flooding your system. Give it time. The human mind is amazing, and what might be completely overwhelming at first, will feel normal over the years.
Interacting with others: There is little authenticity in a cult. Most followers have a pseudo personality, modeled after the cult leader. It comes first, their real feelings second. So all interactions with
others happens on two levels at the same time. One: This is what I should be doing, this is what the leader is expecting of me, it is my duty to not let anybody down. Two: I hate myself for doing this, I really would rather not, I am uncomfortable BUT it is my duty to override these feelings, and go with option one. Always.
Every little interaction, at all times, is portrayed to have huge consequences, to be a factor in whether the world is going to be saved, or the group will reach heaven, or the space ship is really going to pick them up.
After the cult, one of the biggest fears is to make mistakes. To say or do the wrong thing. Interacting with other people who have not been in the cult feels like hard work sometimes, or meaningless (because having a beer and talking football is not going to save the world now, is it?).
Relationships with family, friends, and teachers: Mostly non-existent during cult times. People on the "outside" cannot be trusted according to the leader. They are looked down upon. They need to be lied to, they can be exploited since they are of no value. It can be extremely embarrassing to come out of a cult and realize how you
treated others. It's important to remember, that you had to model the leader.
Relationships with authority figures can be tricky. Either by giving others too much authority over your life, or wanting to keep anybody from ever having authority over you ever again (that's a tough one in
the work environment).
Also, if you grew up in a cult and never had relationships with other people before, it might be confusing as to how much to share with new friends or even relatives. Many people who've been in a cult were forced to share every detail of themselves, all the bleeping time. That is not normal. Your new friends do not need to know everything
about you. You can have a bad thought about them, or not want to see them some days, and do not need to share this. Also, if you happen to find yourself in the company of a psychopath (they are very charming, and everywhere), then you give them ammunition by sharing too much. That's how a lot of people leaving a cult might end up in an abusive relationship, or a new cult.
Cooperating and responding to the feelings of others: Empathy is usually frowned upon in cults, to put it mildly. Everyone is supposed to be hyper sensitive to the needs of the leader, and have no empathy for themselves or others. When you are unable to acknowledge your own feelings, and also have no boundaries, you feel as a group.
For many, coming out of a cult, they might either be oblivious to some of the stuff others are feeling, or hyper sensitive. If a new friend is sad, you are sad. If there's an earthquake far away, you suffer with them. It's quite overwhelming. It's a journey to distance yourself from the feelings of others and finding out who you are, what you feel.