Week 2 – Recognizing Signs and Building Strength

Recognizing Signs and Building Strength: An In-Depth Understanding of Second-Generation Cult Victims

Week 1 has coming and gone and brought us a basic understanding of cults and how they operate. This resource will help you identify the signs of second-generation cult involvement and suggest strategies to foster resilience in those impacted.

Recognizing Signs of Second-Generation Cult Victims

Cult experts have shed light on various characteristics of second-generation victims that set them apart:

  1. Limited Exposure to the Outside World: Victims often exhibit a skewed understanding of the world due to the isolated nature of cult environments. This aligns with Janja Lalich’s idea of the ‘bounded choice’ (2004).
  2. Dependence on the Group: In many cases, especially when second generation victims have attached to their peers groups because their parental guidance was non-existant, they are more dependent (Goldeberg, 2006).
  3. Unquestioned Acceptance: Members of any generation tend to be barred from asking questions of their leadership on some level. Second-generation thoughts and beliefs were molded from the thought-objects created by the group. This may create a scenario where there is little room for critical thought process (Matthews, 2017).
  4. Fearful or Paranoid Behavior: Fear or paranoia, possibly related to the consequences of leaving the group or displeasing its leaders, is a common sign of Emotional control in the BITE model (2020). Fear is inevitable for this population. They will be facing the daunting and courageous task of overcoming fear as they break free (Matthews, 2017).
  5. Isolation from Family Outside the Group: Victims often have limited contact with relatives outside the cult. This provides a mechanism for controlling behavior, thoughts, information and emotion as described by Hassan (2020). Isolation also ensures fidelity and loytalty (Lalich & Tobias, 2006; Singer, 2003).

Building Strength in Second-Generation Cult Victims

Building Building in these individuals requires a planned, compassionate approach that incorporates the expertise of numerous cult-specialized scholars:

  1. Education: As per Lalich’s and Tobias’ concept of ‘take back your life’ (2006), victims need access to unbiased information about the world and an understanding of the manipulative tactics of cults. Reading literature on how cults work is a key initial step to gaining footing.
  2. Professional Support: Encourage victims to seek help from mental health professionals. Therapies should focus on shifting control from external sources to internal sources, cognitive reframing where appropriate, psychoanalytic approaches that allow for critical responses to thought -objects created by the group, and building a strong sense of self-efficacy. Clients who have experienced intense traumatic moments of any nature may result in neural-biological based therapies for a short period of time to desensitize or resolve intense flashbacks or intrusive thoughts
  3. Building External Connections: Following the advice of experts like Furnari and Henry (2006) encourage victims to form connections outside the cult. Cultivate relationships with non-cult family members and facilitate community engagement.
  4. Encourage Independence: Victims should work on developing life skills promoting independence from external authority, ranging from education or vocational training to everyday tasks (Matthews, 2017).
  5. Provide a Safe Space: Offer a non-judgmental, understanding environment, as championed by Szalavitz and Perry (2006) in their trauma-informed approach. This allows victims to express their fears, hopes, and concerns without fear of reprisal.

By acknowledging the psychological complexity of second-generation cult victims and applying strategies proposed by these expert scholars, we can provide robust support to victims on their path to recovery. Patience, understanding, and professional assistance are critical for this journey. Through initiatives like International Cult Awareness Month, we hope to illuminate these experiences and extend resources to those affected. Remember, you’re not alone—help is always available.

Engaging with Professional Assistance and Support Networks

Navigating the recovery path can be arduous, especially for second-generation cult victims. Hence, it’s important that they engage with professional assistance and support networks to assist with recognizing signs and building strength.

  1. Psychotherapeutic Intervention: Psychological therapy can be vital for recovery and recognizing signs, especially with therapists experienced in cult dynamics. This can involve different approaches, such as Cognitive Behavioral Therapy, trauma-informed care, and even narrative therapy. Experts like Lifton, Zimbardo, and Hassan have extensively written about the importance of therapeutic intervention.
  2. Peer Support Groups: Joining support groups, both online and offline, can provide a safe space for second-generation cult victims to share their experiences and learn from others who have faced similar challenges. Experts like Giambalvo and Lorna Goldberg emphasize the therapeutic potential of such groups.
  3. Educational and Vocational Training: As emphasized by scholars such as Janja Lalich and Gillie Jenksin, Roseann Henry, Steven Hassan and more, such training can help victims gain essential life skills, build independence, and reintegrate into society.

Building strength involves understanding what happened to themselves and working with a qualified cult specialist to unravel and re-write their thoughts and feelings to live more authentically and independently. Recognizing signs is a pivitol first step in freedom.

Hashtags: #internationalcultawarenessmonth #icam #icam2023 RecognizeTheSigns #EmpowerYourself #BuildingResilience #BreakTheCycle #ProtectYourself #SurvivorStrength #ResilienceWorkshop #SpottingManipulation


Goldeberg, L. (2006). Raised in Cultic Groups: The Impact on the Development of Certain Aspects of Character. Cultic Studies Review, 5(1), 1-28

Hassan, S. A. (2020). The BITE Model of Authoritarian Control: Undue Influence, Thought Reform, Brainwashing, Mind Control, Trafficking and the Law (Doctoral dissertation, Fielding Graduate University).

Lalich, Janja. (2004). Bounded choice : true believers and charismatic cults. University of California Press. https://www.ucpress.edu/book/9780520384026/bounded-choice

Lalich, J., & Tobias, M. (2006). Take Back Your Life: Recovering from Cults and Abusive Relationships. Berkeley, CA: Bay Tree Publishing.

Matthews, C. (2017). Second-generation religious cult survivors implications for counselors. International Journal of Cultic Studies, 8, 37–49. https://www.icsahome.com/articles/second-generation-religious-cult-survivors-implications-for-counselors-docx

Perry, B. D., & Szalavitz, M. (2006). The boy who was raised as a dog and other stories from a child psychiatrist’s notebook: What traumatized children can teach us about loss, love, and healing. Basic Books.

Resources to Share for Building Strength

The following are various resources for this week for building strength and resilience. These are meant to share on your social media. These are just suggestions. If you share articles or books, it is recommended that you read them and describe why you like them. This also ensures you agree with the principle of each resource. If there are Amazon links, the sponsoring organization, The Freedom Train Project Incorporated, is receiving a percentage of sales to help victims of cults and coercive control.


Butterflies & Bravery focuses on leaving, living, and loving after a cult.
Butterflies & Bravery focuses on leaving, living, and loving after a cult.
The Cult Vault - A podcast offering in-depth insight into some of history's most infamous Cults, modern-day sects and conspiracies within these groups.
The Cult Vault – A podcast offering in-depth insight into some of history’s most infamous Cults, modern-day sects and conspiracies within these groups.
Trust Me, a podcast about getting to the bottom of how extreme belief happens, who's susceptible and what being in a cult is really like.
Trust Me, a podcast about getting to the bottom of how extreme belief happens, who’s susceptible and what being in a cult is really like.