Why Do Members Stay? (video)

Over the last few years since leaving Word of Faith Fellowship (WOFF), several folks at different times have asked this question or one similar. Why do people stay inside WOFF? For many, the idea behind the question is: John, if things are as bad as you say, why don’t folks just leave? For those being more inquisitive, they are asking me: John, if it was that bad, why did you stay for so long? These are very fair questions. In this post, I will share an answer from a cult expert and add my reflections to help complete the answer for my situation.

During my research, I came across a video put out by Steven Hassan. This video is an informal conversation filmed in a hotel room about 2 years ago. The participants were Steven Hassan a leading cult expert, Attorney Paul Grosswald, ex-Scientologist, and Karen Pressley also a former high ranking ex-Scientologist. Much of the content does center on Karen’s experiences and her successes since leaving the group. During the discourse, there are several notable quotes which include answers to why folks stay in controlling groups, as well as other points of interests for those trying to understand the cult experience.

Before we begin, let me explain that I have no experience with Scientology or the Moonies. The purpose of this video is only as an aide to help answer the question: Why do members stay? The video is over fifty (50) minutes long and there is no way I can review the full content here. For this post, we will just hit on some major keys for understanding given by the participants. Some of the terms describing the rules or actions within Scientology were foreign to me and can only be explained by context.

Ex-Scientologist Karen Pressley, Paul Grosswald and Steve Hassan talk from Steven A Hassan on Vimeo.

About eight minutes into the video, Karen very vividly describes the treatment she saw of a particular member inside her group. This included physical and emotional abuse and the dehumanization of the individual. At that point, the attorney asks Steven Hassan, “So, Steve, you’re the mind control expert. Can I ask you to briefly explain why people would stay in that kind of environment when there is that much abuse taking place?”

Steven Hassan who has been visibly moved by the account pauses for a second and then introduces himself. Mr. Hassan was in the Moonies, after he got out, he has for many years been helping folks leave cults or who have already left cults. He has a website- www.freedomofmind.com and had authored two books at the filming of this video. (There is a third book which has just been released which we will cover later- Freedom of Mind: Helping Loved Ones Leave Controlling People, Cults, and Beliefs – available on Amazon.com.)

Mr. Hassan continues to give a very brief and succinct answer. “Basically brainwashing and mind control exists. People get deceptively recruited into totalistic organizations not knowing what’s really going to happen to them1. Their mind gets twisted and they get split into a cult identity that suppresses their real identity and they are trained to “thought-stop” any negative thoughts against the leader, the doctrine or the organization2. They are given phobias that if they ever leave they are going insane, or they will get cancer, they will become a drug addict or commit suicide … Chapter 10 of my 2nd book I have listed on four pages single space the most common ones3…”  

Here I will review this answer and comment from my experience during and after my time in WOFF. Concerning the first part of the answer: Which present member or survivor of WOFF knew fully the extent that their life would be controlled BEFORE they went into WOFF? I certainly did not. And as the years passed, who could accurately see how much their life was being consumed into WOFFness? That my friend is part of the effects of living immersed into the WOFF sub-culture; you lose perspective and your bearings. When you have no non-WOFF sources to compare your life to, then all that is happening appears normal and acceptable.

For the second part of the answer; I would say some folks have a more obvious change of identity when they go into WOFF. Others may not have an outward change so much as an inward change that dictates their life-choices and the way they relate to former friends and relatives. There are great changes in priorities and activities when a person joins a mind control group. Concerning the “thought-stopping” phrases and attitudes during my time at WOFF: there was a unique WOFF-language and within that code talk, there were NO critical words or thoughts allowed about Jane, her decisions, her actions or her choices- NONE. She demanded complete loyalty and allegiance. For a member to waiver was an invitation for church discipline.

The third part of the answer addressed the phobias instilled or forced upon members to keep them from whatever the leader did not want them to do. The main no-no was of course to leave. There was a confliction here as you would be threatened with being put out of the group for certain behaviors then are told you could not leave. Then you would be threatened with being put out. Then you would be told you are free to go. If you leave, you were called a Judas, God-hater, lover of self rather than God, reprobate, backslider, apostate. Some were told if they left then they would be murdered, return to their drugs, become a prostitute, go to HELL, lose the call of God, get cancer and so on… I feel certain Jane has come up with some new expressions since I left.

(During the conversation, there is reference to a show involving Anderson Cooper. I am not familiar with the show and it appears the content has no bearing on the answer to our question. We will skip those references for the most part. )

Hassan continues and summarizes his answer with this: The answer is no person in volitional control of reality and mind-body experience would ever allow a crime like that to be committed and not be appalled and run away or call the police or something like that… much less go on international television and lie about it. … But, lying is major piece of mind-control cults.

So what does this mean? What is he saying? First, he explains the process of being recruited into the mind control group. Then he explains the obvious impairment that exists for a person to take the treatment that is common in such mind control groups. The mind control process renders individuals too impaired to see the similarities between the way they are being treated and stated crimes against a person as defined in the code of law. Faithful cult members may think they deserve their treatment since they are so bad or sinful or “full of devils”. MANY cult members are probably very ignorant as to the definitions of what constitutes assault or kidnapping or torture.

The hard part comes for individuals on the outside to understand why a person doesn’t just leave a group like WOFF, is because those on the outside are NOT under the mind control, the fears, the “thought –stopping” blanket of control which falls on WOFF members. When you have never been under the mind control, it is hard to understand the effects of it and how it clouds or rules your thinking.

Another key is in the last part of the answer Hassan gave. “But, lying is major piece of mind-control cults.” Potential recruits are lied to in order for them to NOT know what will really be required of them when they join. As the process or recruitment and merging into the group continues, there comes point where individuals will choose to rationalize or lie to themselves that what they are seeing or experiencing is not really all that bad or in some cases necessary to “know God” or be a part of “God’s people”…They first believe the lies and then repeat them to themselves to quash their anxiety or their concerns. Thus begins their travel into the WOFF fantasy.

That is my reason for staying so long. I rationalized and believed the lies being told to me for many years. All of this was in order to not face the real and growing agitation and concern on the inside of me that things were not right. My concern that Jane was not the only person who could hear God and that she does not hear God perfectly every time and that here was something strange about her telling folks when they could have relations with their spouse. She claimed to not be able to control 400 folks, but, she went into a rage when she did not know the minutest of details about an event or happening within a household or family. She flew into a rage when she was not told ahead of time or asked about certain things. So, what she claimed she could not do was obviously something she wanted to do – with her whole heart and soul.

The answer Hassan gave outlined the foundation as to why someone would stay when they were treated so badly. Each person goes through their own personal thought processes in order to succumb to the deceptive mind control. There is a major disconnection with their true identity and thus, a person’s full rational capacity is impaired and in some cases extremely suppressed to appear non-existent. For WOFF members, all of this while appearing perfectly normal and even successful, to those looking in from the outside. (Notice that Hassan’s answer included nothing about a certain level of intelligence that could protect you from the deception. Many intelligent folks join cults of all types.) Many on the outside of WOFF are not fooled by the big cars, house and nice clothes. There are some who know that these are all an outward sham to hide the hurting folks who strive to meet the legalistic rules and ever changing standards within the group, often suffering severe consequences for the most minor infraction.

Later on in the video, Karen talks about her life two years after she had left Scientology. “I was literally afraid to surf the Internet, because when we were in Scientology we were forbidden to ever access the Internet, under threat of going to the RPS… I took pleasure with using scented soap, because for all my Scientology career I had been forbidden from using scented product.. I was at the store and realized I could buy scented products… just a real simple pleasure like that made a huge impact on just regaining my autonomy…”

Hassan commented on the Internet, “It (the Internet) is the enemy of any totalitarian group… because they want to do information control…they don’t want members to talk to former members and critiques and think for themselves. And make their own decisions, and the extent they can phobia-tize people to stay away that is one thing and to not allow them access to computers is another way…My experience is that deep down people want to know truth and they want to be free and they want to feel love and be loved. And in an environment like a totalitarian cult run by a narcissistic psycho-pathological leader. (Megalomaniac) You are not only NOT going to feel love, you are going to feel terrorized and helpless…”

This is one of the saddest consequences of being in a mind-control group, especially one that is using the Scriptures to justify their devious doings. The treatment members receive inside WOFF is labeled as “love”, worse; much of what is done inside is called “God’s love”. Combine the desire to be loved with the desire to know God and make it into heaven with the dynamics of mind control and you have an irresistible draw for many folks and a formula for disaster. This could be the reason for such bewilderment and angst when a person leaves. If what you just left was called “God’s love” and you were treated so badly, why would you seek any more of “God’s love”? Why would you jump into the water again after being nearly boiled to death?

On the other hand, just because you leave a group like WOFF, does not stop your desire to be loved and feel love. But, in the confusion of leaving, how can you trust anyone else who comes toward you in a similar fashion as those did when you were approached about WOFF? Can you also see why some former members resist going to church for fear of being ambushed by their idea of God or “God’s love?” Who wants to sign up for more of a WOFF-experience?

In closing, during the video, Hassan makes note to applaud Karen for once being so high up in the group for so many years, and yet still being able to come out and rebuild her life. Yes, there is hope. Karen credits much of here rebuilding to her education. For each survivor, there may be a different source or combination of things that helps them rebuild. But, rebuild we shall, and we must. Each survivor can come out and make the most of their lives, in order to prove wrong the edicts of failure from their previous group!

Thank you, for taking time to visit and read this blog. Please, consume the information on this site responsibly. The author is not a licensed mental health professional and encourages those that need professional help to seek it. The intent of the material is to inform and be a resource. Be sure to tell every member that you know at WOFF about this blog. There are readers at WOFF. Comments are invited from all readers, including present or former members. Polls are not scientific and no private information is gathered.

Look on the right side of any post for the option to subscribe by email for notifications or RSS feeds notifying of new postings. It is a great feature. Also, find more posts by selecting “Categories”.

Guest posts reflect the opinions of the writers. Their opinions do not necessarily reflect the opinions of John Huddle or any other persons affiliated with this blog.

Please, take time to read the Terms of Use for this personal blog. As mentioned, for posts written by John Huddle, any information about WOFF is from his memories and recollections as perfect as that may be or not be. Scripture references are Amplified Version unless otherwise noted. (Copyright © 1954, 1958, 1962, 1964, 1965, 1987 by The Lockman Foundation ) This is post number 410.

Technorati Tags: , , , , , ,

2 thoughts on “Why Do Members Stay? (video)”

  1. “But, rebuild we shall, and we must. Each survivor can come out and make the most of their lives, in order to prove wrong the edicts of failure from their previous group!”


  2. Well said, Arthur. I am proof and a witness to that fact. Today, I can honestly thank Wade for leaving me and moving to Spindale. Why not thank Jane while I am at it. After all, she made it all possible. She actually did me a favor…….thanks Jane! My life is so much better now. I have finally become the person God intended me to be, doing what I love to do. I work for a wonderful charity, Canine Angels. Oh, BTW, if you haven’t figured it out, Canine Angels, are just that….service dogs. I guess I still have major “perversion” when it comes to dogs. That was one devil “they” couldn’t cast out.

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *