Below are some terms that I use in my writing about cult recovery. They are also common terms in the broader cult recovery world (except where noted).
A set of beliefs that one consciously or unconsciously holds to be true. They inform your choices and define your values. Two or more contradicting beliefs may exist at the same time creating dissonance and triggers or reactive behavior and/or emotions.
Belief systems are developed initially from the environment you were raised in; family, friends, school, media and other surrounding influences. When you are raised in a cult or a high control group/family these beliefs are specifically crafted to control and coerce all members to believe and act in certain ways. Members are socially shamed, punished (physically and/or emotionally) for deviating from these beliefs, and attacked (physically and/or emotionally) for leaving.
Behavior/Information/Thoughts/Emotions are the four things often used by cult recovery experts to identify cult patterns in organizations, groups, or families.
A sign that a group is a cult is the degree to which they seek to control members’ physically, what they do and do not do, their access to information from outside the group, and what they think and feel about the world, themselves, and others.
A common cult practice of using words to make meaning, including emotional expectations is to use specific words and phrases to mean special things within the group for the purpose of control and coercion. These may be words invented by the group or common words redefined by the group. People outside the cult do not know these special words or phrases.
Physically In/Mentally In, Physically In/Mentally Out, Physically Out/Mentally In, Physically Out/Mentally Out.
This set of terms was developed by a Reddit Ex-Jehovah’s Witness group around the year 2000 to express the different states of physical and mental status of people in and out of the Organization. It is currently widely used in the ex-Jehovah’s Witness recovery communities and some other ex-cult groups are picking it up.
When someone is participating actively in the group, their thoughts and emotions may be in agreement with the group (PIMI) or may be separated from the group (PIMO). When a person stops physically participating in the group, their thoughts and emotions may still believe the teachings are true (POMI) or they may have changed those beliefs (POMO).
These terms can be applied to any cult or high control group. In this workshop we are primarily addressing people who are physically out and working on changing those beliefs from the group that no longer serves them (thus still a bit mentally in). Again the focus here is on people who are physically out and “on their way” to being mentally out.
In cult recovery terminology, this refers to a process of using circular reasoning, behavioral practices, and emotional manipulation to stop critical thinking and doubts about the group’s leadership and beliefs. It works to keep people trapped in the group and afraid of the outside world.
A couple of clarifying examples:
- Circular reasoning
A Jehovah’s Witness teaching is to expect to be criticized and persecuted by the ‘world’ including ‘worldly’ family members because they are part of ‘Satan’s old world’. When a family member expresses concern about a member’s involvement in the group, the member is immediately triggered to think about the ‘expect to be persecuted’ belief they have been taught. They do not think logically about what they are hearing and may believe the criticism itself is proof of the realness of the JW ‘truth’.
- Behavioral Practices
Jehovah’s Witnesses practice meditation and prayer upon the Organization’s writings anytime they are tempted to believe a ‘worldly’ thought. Other groups teach chanting, singing, swaying, or other disassociating techniques to separate people from their ability to think critically.
- Emotional Manipulation
Thought stopping is used to teach members to only have positive thoughts about the group and to both fear and reject the outside world and to feel superior.
Unpacking is a process of examining the details of a belief, or an emotional reaction in order to explore its roots and substance. Look into where it comes from and whether it is still something you agree with. If it is no longer serving you, this unpacking gives you the opportunity to repack, or reorganize, your beliefs in a way that does work for you.