Understanding Scientology, by Margery
The Plight of Parents -- Some Suggestions for Families
- We would like to ask the congressmen and senators ... to
imagine what it would be like to have their son or daughter take a trip
across the country after graduating college, planning to retum home at
the end of a stated time, to resume the life and career for which they
had been preparing ... and then to receive a phone call from an
unspecified place three thousand miles away, from someone who sounds
only vaguely like the son (or daughter) they knew so well only a few
months before, but whose voice is the voice of a ventriloquist's dummy,
who speaks to them only in the stilted phrases of a religious pamphlet,
who seems to have no recollection of the twenty-odd years of mutual
caring and struggling and tears and laughter that makes a family ... and
who cannot answer the simplest question without consulting some unknown
person standing beside him!
- -- Parents of a cult member
I have often thought that the twelve years I spent in the Church of
Scientology were a far worse ordeal for my parents than for me. For me,
the problems came later, when I left the cult and was faced with reentry
into the world I had abandoned twelve years earlier.
Losing a child must be the worst imaginable nightmare for any
parent. The death or abduction of a child at any age can leave a parent
with scars that never completely heal.
Losing a child to a cult can be equally traumatic for a parent;
however, unlike the death of a child which can be mourned and resolved,
having a child in a cult like Scientology presents the parent with a
frustrating dilemma in the form of an unresolved and unresolvable loss.
The child is gone -- perhaps for five years, perhaps for twelve, perhaps
forever -- and the parent is left behind with the difficult task of
reconciling feelings of both uncertainty and hope.
What I want to do in this chapter is provide a few tips for the
parents of a Scientologist, written from the point of view of an
ex-member. In other words, things that helped me or that I think would
have helped me to escape from the cult.
In writing this chapter, I rely on the wisdom of others who are
professionals or experts in the field of cult recovery, including: The
Cult Awareness Network; The American Family Foundation in the book
Cults: What Parents Should Know; Steve Hassan in his book
Combatting Cult Mind Control; James and Marcia Rudin in their
book Prison or Paradise; and R. K. Heller in the book
Deprogramming for Do-It-Yourselfers.
The American Family Foundation gives a list of behaviors in a family
member which may be indications that they are becoming involved in a
destructive cult such as Scientology. For parents with a family member
already in Scientology, many of the behaviors on this list will probably
seem quite familiar.
- Secretive behavior -- the person going out frequently but
not wanting to say where he or she is going, or talking on the phone in
manner, being vague about who is calling, etc.
- Change in vocabulary or speech patterns -- especially
important with this cult.
- Emotional changes -- the once warm, loving and open
family member who becomes cold and distant toward other family members.
- Shift in friends and activities -- especially with new
friends who also use unfamiliar vocabulary; spending long hours at night
and on weekends at "the org" or "on course" is demanded of new
- Rejection of secular goals -- the new Scientologist very
quickly learns to shift his goals from secular activities (college,
career, marriage, etc.) to goals within Scientology such as "going Clear
or OT," "becoming a Class Eight auditor," etc.
- Dubious financial activities -- Scientologists are under
constant pressure to come up with more and more money. A warning sign
would be a child asking to borrow large amounts of money, or trying to
borrow money from a bank, or from relatives.
- Disturbing sexual attitudes -- the person no longer
dating or expressing an interest in marriage or family.
- Abrupt marital decisions -- a child who abruptly severs a
serious relationship with someone outside the cult and instead looks for
a relationship within the cult.
- Shifts in religious, philosophical or political views --
the student in Scientology learns from the beginning to discredit all
forms of government, and all forms of traditional mental health,
particularly psychiatrists. A sudden belief in past lives and a
denigration of Christianity or other religions would be consistent with
- Extreme commitments -- such as the decision to sign a two
and a half or five year contract to join "staff," or a billion year "Sea
Org contract," which are the standard contracts for staff members in
- Unconventional lifestyle -- living communally and working
long hours for a very small wage are typical within Scientology.
- Changes in appearance -- Scientology staff members can
appear somewhat unkempt because of the lack of money to buy adequate
clothing and toiletries.
- Vocational turnabouts -- the person will eventually
abandon prior career plans in favor of a career as an "auditor" within
Scientology (which has nothing to do with keeping books!) or deciding to
join the Sea Org.
- Indications of psychological distress -- overeating,
oversleeping, outbursts of anger or depression may indicate increased
- Diminished academic performance -- the Scientologist
still attending non-Scientology classes will probably lose interest in
the secular classes as he or she spends more and more time on the cult
courses, and will eventually drop out of school.
When a someone finds out that their family member is in Scientology,
there are a number of common thoughts and feelings they might have, for
- Guilt -- "What did we do wrong?" or, "It's all my fault."
- Shame, embarrassment, self-consciousness -- "What will we
tell the relatives?" or, "What will the neighbors think?"
- Fear -- "What if we can't get him/her out?"
- Accusations -- "It's all your fault," or, "If you hadn't
been so/done X, this wouldn't be happening."
- Bitterness toward life, God -- "God, why is this
happening to me?"
- Loneliness -- "I really miss her/him."
- Sense of being burdened, overwhelmed -- "I just don't
know what to do about all this."
- Helplessness, incompetence -- "There isn't anything I can
do about this."
- Rejection, hurt -- "How could he/she have done this to
- Alarm -- "I am really worried about him/her."
Although many of these feelings are self-defeating, there are some
very concrete things that a parent both can and should not do to
maximize the chances of his or her child getting out of the cult. I have
attempted to list these in order of priority:
- DON'T debate Scientology's ideology, methods or theology
with the member in person, in letters or on the phone. Many parents, in
their frustration, attempt to do this because they don't fully realize
the effectiveness of the mind control that is controlling their family
Scientology, through the use of the hypnotic Training Routing Zero and
the repetitiveness of many of the auditing processes, has the member
under a hypnotic trance as well as brainwashed, and it is not possible
in most situations to use a rational approach to get them out of
It's like this: if a person is hypnotized to see a black dog in the
middle of the room -- they can pet the dog, hear him bark, etc. --
telling him there is no dog in the room probably won't work. It's much
the same as telling a committed Scientologist that Scientology is wrong.
Instead of trying to reason directly with the person, you must use
indirect methods. Trying to reach the person emotionally is one way of
- DO tell the person that you love them and let them know
that your home is always open to them should they want to get away from
the cult. There are many people in Scientology who are deeply unhappy
and many who even want to leave, but who stay because they think they
have no place to go.
- DON'T use a confrontational or condescending approach
with the Scientologist. Never start or become engaged in an argument
with him about Scientology. Even though you know you are right,
understand that the Scientolgist also believes himself to be right about
Scientology. An argument will only drive the person further away.
- DO keep your cool and try to control your emotional
reactions, especially anger. If you can think of a time when someone was
angry with you, you can understand that anger only increases feelings of
defensiveness in the other person. Don't get angry at the cult member.
As Steve Hassan says, it isn't his fault!!!
- DO try to appeal to the person's emotions, and don't be
too upset if the person becomes angry. Sometimes parents become anxious
during an exit counseling when the cult member becomes angry, when in
fact the anger may be a good sign. The person is experiencing an honest
emotion, possibly for the first time in a long time, and it may be the
anger that helps to jump start the thinking processes.
When talking or writing to the cult member, talk about current family
happenings, talk about the friends the cult member had before joining
the cult, try to stimulate old memories, do anything to appeal to the
precult identity of the person. Send frequent letters, and have other
family members and friends of the cult member send letters too. Send
photographs -- this can be very effective. Make frequent phone calls and
don't worry about the phone bill.
It is also important to visit the Scientologist whenever possible. A
personal visit will help to counter the cult propaganda that you are a
Suppressive Person, or a Potential Trouble Source. When you visit, and
the cult member finds himself happy to see you, it may cause the member
to feel some confusion, but the confusion is a good thing as it will
challenge the cult propaganda.
- DO get the cult member to come home for a visit whenever
possible. Get a solid commitment from him as to the date. Invite the
family member home for family functions, for holidays, even for a
funeral. Keep the contact with the person alive in any way possible.
- DON'T ever tell the cult member that his views are
ridiculous, absurd or wrong. Don't use the words "cult" or "deprogram"
with the cult member as these will immediately identify you to him as a
- DO learn to practice active listening techniques with the
cult member. Train yourself to listen to everything he has to say.
Listen respectfully, ask questions which will cause the person to
clarify or explain what was just said, especially when the person has
just spouted some rote cult propaganda. Whenever possible, try to
stimulate the thinking processes of the cult member. Encourage the cult
member to talk about his or her experiences in the cult. Whenever
possible, try to relate experiences from your past which are similar.
Let the person know that you are trying to understand.
- DO become educated about the group. Read anything you can
find about Scientology. Read books, magazines, newspapers. Take notes.
Contact the anti-cult organizations for information. Even collect some
of the cult propaganda. When you are educated, talk to other family
members or former friends of the Scientologist to let them know what's
happening. Supply them with facts and information
to help them understand the situation.
- DO learn some of the key Scientology words such as:
"clear," "reality," "auditor," "ethics" or "ethical," etc. and avoid
using these words in conversation with the Scientologist. Using these
words will have the effect of pulling the Scientology training and
propaganda in on him and make it more difficult for you to achieve
closeness in the relationship.
- DON'T send unsolicited critical articles in the mail to
the Scientologist. He she won't read them, and will again identify you
as a Suppressive Person (the enemy), making it harder for you to
establish a relationship in the future. If there is an article you wish
to share with the person, wait until you are alone with him and have
more control over the situation. I do not know of any instance in which
showing the Scientologist a critical article helped to get him out of
Scientology; usually it has the opposite effect.
- DO be prepared, however, with information that you have
collected. The person may come home at any time. Life in Scientology is
not easy; some members do walk away from the organization because the
conditions inside the cult became unbearable. This does not mean they
are "out" of Scientology. But if they do come home and are
disillusioned, it may be a time to very gently start to show them the
other side of the story regarding Scientology.
- DON'T try, however, to get the person out of Scientology
by yourself, if there is an alternative. You and the cult member are too
emotionally involved for you to be effective in counseling the person
out of Scientology. If the Scientologist does come home for any reason
try to find an ex-Scientologist or an ex-member from another cult who is
familiar with Scientology to talk to your family member. If the
Scientologist has to admit that he is wrong, it will be much easier for
him to do with a neutral person than with a parent.
- DO ask the Scientologist still in the cult about his
personal needs. Is he getting enough sleep? Is he eating enough? Are
they getting medical care? Does he need a care package? If so, send one
at once, or, better yet, take one to him. Small gifts of food, clothes,
toiletries, etc. are usually much needed by the Scientologist.
- DON'T ever send cash or money, however, as it will
immediately go to the cult, especially large amounts. Send small gifts
instead. If the member wants to come home, send the plane ticket, not
the cash. Most Scientologists are eager to do their "next level" in
Scientology, and if you send money, that's where it will go. Especially
avoid sending inheritance money. It would be better to keep that money
set aside for the Scientologist until he or she comes out of the cult,
when the money will be much needed for recovery.
- DON'T pay large amounts of money for deprogrammers or for
legal aid until you have thoroughly checked out the credentials of the
person in question. With exit counselors or deprogrammers, ask for the
phone numbers of three or more familes who have used them, and call the
families to ask about their experiences with the person.
- DON'T, if your child leaves Scientology, attempt to
replace the cult experience with another religion, no matter how strong
your own personal beliefs are. Don't try to witness to the Scientologist
or the newly exited Scientologist. Show your love through what you do
Try to understand that the exiting cult member has had an extremely
traumatic experience. He might not be ready for religion in any form for
a long time. It's very similar to a person who has been through a
traumatic divorce. The person might not want to date or remarry for a
long time after the divorce, and it is the same in most cases with the
ex-cult member and religion.
- DO get professional help for the ex-Scientologist, if
possible with a counselor who has had some experience with former cult
members and their special problems. Try to locate other
ex-Scientologists in your area who can spend some time with your family
member. Like any person who has gone through a painful experience, the
ex-Scientologist may have a compulsive need to talk about the cult
experience with someone outside the family.
- DON'T feel excessive guilt or shame about your family
member's experience with the cult; these feelings only hinder effective
action and are non-productive.
- DO find a support group of other families in your area
who have had experiences similar to yours. The two organizations listed
at the end of this chapter are the best resources available at this time
to help you locate this support. There is no reason for you to feel
alone. Thousands of families of all religious, economic and family
backgrounds have been through what you are going through now.
- DON'T neglect your own needs or those of other family
members. Even though you have a family member in Scientology, life must
go on. Let the other children in the family know that even though you
are concerned for the family member in Scientology, they are just as
important to you.
- DO file written complaints with all the public officials
you can find. In any way you can, take action against the cult. If you
are aggressive against Scientology, they may decide it's not worth it to
them, and they may send your family member home, hoping that will cause
you to cease your actions against them. There is some disagreement with
this, as your actions against Scientology may also alienate your family
member who is in the cult. The best advice might be to check out
anything you plan to do with someone else who knows Scientology.
Certainly don't do anything rash or illegal.
- DON'T ever give up. You never know when your family
member might come home. In my case it was after twelve long years that I
arrived home with no warning. You must remember that no matter how
strong or effective the mind control of the cult, it can never
completely erase the years of love, nurturing, heredity, training and
home environment the person had before Scientology. There is always
For further information and referrals, feel free to contact
- Cult Awareness Network
2421 W. Pratt Blvd. Suite #1173
Chicago, Illinois 60645 (312) 267-7777
[WARNING!: The Cult
Awareness Network was taken over by Scientology in a bankruptcy auction
in October, 1996. Do not contact them for help with cults!
- The American Family Foundation
P.O. Box 2265
Springs, Florida 33959 (212)249-7693