November 18, 2020 | Melissa Budish

People Who Have Lost Friends Or Family To A Cult Share What Actually Happened

Have you ever wondered what happens behind the scenes of a cult? One of the trademarks of these strict religious groups is their ability to keep their beliefs and practices out of the public eye. When new members are recruited, they often completely cut ties with their previous lives to pursue their chosen path. Even worse, their personalities are often permanently altered from their experiences within their cult.

But what happens to the ones left behind?

People who enter these secretive religious factions often leave worried and confused loved ones behind. When a family member or friend joins a cult, it can put an immense amount of strain on the people they're closest to.

If you've ever wondered what it's like for someone you love to disappear into a cult, read these stories from devastated people who have faced the horror themselves.

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Don't forget to check the comment section below the article for more interesting stories!

#25 A Weight-Loss Scheme Gone South

I lost an aunt and a cousin to Weight Down Ministries. It’s run by this woman named Gwen Shamblin, a real nut job. She lives in Franklin, Tennessee in this huge mansion where she broadcasts live church webinars multiple times a week. People all over join in and host these “church gatherings” in their homes. They get you in by introducing it as a weight loss program. Simple. Lose the weight quick and easy and never gain it back. Eat what you want! So you go, "wow, this sounds great!" Then they slowly introduce the Bible and she’ll preach to you through online videos, then you get recruited to a church in someone’s home near you where the service lasts for FOUR hours. So anyway, my cousin and aunt got sucked into this and now they moved away to live in Franklin where they worship every breath this Gwen Shamblin woman takes. Everyone that joins ends up marrying someone else inside the cult. My cousin's sister wasn’t allowed in her wedding because she wasn’t part of the cult. I suggest reading more about her online. It’s very interesting and scary.

25-1530982843302.jpgRemnant Fellowship

#24 Coast Guard Rescuer Drowning In Religious Extremism

My older brother joined a cult. He had huge substance abuse problems for most of his life. He joined the Coast Guard after high school, but he was getting into trouble at work and didn't really care about his job. One of his superiors, despite the trouble at work, really cared about him and wanted to help him. He recommended that my brother start going to church. So he did, and it really turned things around for the better. My family and I were all so proud of him; he was really happy for the first time in a long time.

And then it just progressed from there. What first seemed helpful started to get out of control. He found the cult that he’s in online. Obviously, they don’t outright say they’re a cult, and my brother saw it as an online community that supported his religion and made him feel like he had others to talk to. At first, we just thought he was taking this whole religion thing too seriously, but then he went AWOL for one of their meet ups. He ended up getting discharged from the military and then he began calling my parents less and less. He moved to the city where the cult is based out of and got some job using connections from the church. He and I were still close and we called or emailed a few times a week. Starting before his discharge from the Coast Guard, in just about every conversation he would bring up doomsday, punishment, and hell. Eventually he began telling me that God told him that he can’t change me, and that unless I decide to accept Jesus as my savior, he could no longer contact me.

We haven’t talked in years. I was the last one he cut off. He still talks to our biological dad once every few months. My brother told my dad that God spoke to him through prayer and told him he’s still got a chance to save my dad. I honestly think he’s just too afraid to completely let go of his old life and the entire family, and that’s why he still keeps in contact with my dad. He gets updates on me through him, but I’ve come to terms with the possibility of never seeing my brother again.

#23 Bright Chess Player Draining His Bank Account

A family friend of mine was a prominent young chess player who, at a stressful crossroads in life, basically had a nervous breakdown at a tournament in Budapest and went outside and somehow came into contact with a cult. He’s been there for a few years. Within a couple of weeks, he withdrew all the money from his bank account and asked his family to not contact him. One of the smartest guys I've ever known.

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#22 Missing In Mexico And Coming Back Married

She wasn't permanently lost, but my aunt joined the Children of God in the 70s. She was down in Texas doing student teaching and one day her roommate called my grandparents to say she hadn't seen her in a couple days and was pretty sure some people took her to Mexico.

My grandparents immediately drove down to Mexico, hired a cult deprogrammer, and rented a house near the cult compound. They basically blew as much money as they could afford, but never saw her before they had to give up and go back home.

A little while later, my aunt called home to tell her parents she was getting married. They told her to wait until spring break and they would come down for the wedding, but she said she couldn't. A few months after that, she brought her new husband to the U.S. to meet the family.

They're still married today and I basically just learned about the whole thing like 6 months ago.


#21 Mirage Of 'The Message'

My father’s side of the family is part of “The Message” cult. My grandmother, aunts, and most of my cousins believe that a man named William Branham was a prophet that spoke to God and he could preform miracles. Branham was part of the post-WWII healing revivals. Apparently, he also had some role in the Jonestown massacre.

Branham died in the 60s, but his followers do some crazy stuff. I’ve gone to my grandma’s church and the service is usually them listening to a tape recording of one of Branham’s sermons. It’s weird. Women are not permitted to wear pants, cut their hair, wear makeup, or practice birth control. Women are encouraged to stay at home and care for children; it’s seen as shameful if a woman has to work outside of the home.

My father is not a believer and is only tolerated because he helps provide for his mother (my grandmother). Even though they’re only a phone call away, the church encourages them not to engage with nonbelievers. It hurts.

It’s hard to visit them sometimes. I’m a short-haired lady who wears mostly cargo pants. While nobody ever says it, I feel judged and excluded. I live several states away and nobody calls to tell me about family news. My uncle thinks I’m possessed by a demon. When my grandmother opens photo albums, there are a lot of faces I can’t recognize -- family I never get to know.


#20 Hypnotized By Hollywood Boulevard

A friend of mine told me how she lost her friend to Scientology. It was more or less because they were residents of Hollywood and would walk down Hollywood Boulevard every day to go school. They'd pass the recruiting center every single day and pay no mind, but one day her friend decided to go in. She said after high school her friend disassociated with her after realizing she wasn't going to be able to convince her to join.

#19 Brainwashed By A Utopian San Fransisco Cult

They joined in San Francisco. It began as a utopian community, which followed the teachings of Christ. They gave literally everything they had away -- blankets, food, whatever the group had they would give away. At the time, communes were common, so what they were doing, moving in with a bunch of like-minded people, didn't seem that odd. To their family, it seemed like an idealistic hippy community.

Then they started asking for money. Always under the guise of feeding the poor or something like that. It didn't begin with asking for money because Jim was the second coming. Their parents sent all the money they had, but my cousins just kept asking for more. Eventually, this was how he isolated his members from their family. If the family kept giving money, then the members could keep in touch. If the money dried up, the family was blamed, the members were cut off from contacting them.

My parents were living in Seal Beach at the time. My mom says the first time they noticed the cousins seemed a bit strange was when they were on a mission trip with Jones. I believe he was preaching at the Crystal Cathedral, and he brought a bus of his followers down. It rained like one of those rare downpours in California. The bus didn't have a windshield, so everyone was just getting soaked. So Jones walked up to the front of the bus, held out his hands and spoke: "storm, stop!" and the rain stopped.

So that was the story my cousins told my parents, and that was the first sign my cousins had been brainwashed. I asked my mom what her response was and she said, "we just laughed. It was so ridiculous. We had no idea what was coming, no one had heard of a cult."


#18 Stuck In A Sea Of Spells

I dated a girl many years ago. We dated for quite a while and even discussed marriage. She wasn’t an atheist, but she was very indifferent about religion and God. She started reading books about being “spiritual.” She explained it as believing in a higher power, but not following a religion. That didn’t bother me. She was into cosplay and Renaissance fairs. She had a few friends who were into it too. They seemed cool. She started hanging out with two of the girls a lot. They were into this “spiritualism” and one was into some kind of paganism. I didn’t really care for that one, but my girl was unbelievably intelligent and strong-willed. I wasn’t too worried. Well, I should have been.

She eventually sat me down and told me she’d been going to this pagan friend’s religious rituals. She said it was a “sect of Wicca.” She said she’d seen amazing things at these ritual services and she even cast a few minor spells of her own that really paid off. She told me one was for her to pass one of her graduate course requirements (basically a big researched speech) and she passed! Well, of course she did... she was a straight-A student from first grade through college. She was very smart! It had nothing to do with her “spell.” She claimed she passed because of these spells and prayers to “earth deities.” So, I’m trying to take all of this in and understand. I was just lost in this sea of insanity.

18-1530984197620.jpgRock N Roll Bride

#17 A Cult Masquerading As Christianity

I worked with a guy at a gaming company when I was in my 20s. We were both artists. He told me he went to church. He got pretty insistent about me checking out his church. I had gone to church when I was younger, but didn’t anymore. Anyway, I went. I thought it was a Christian church since he called it Church of Christ and he carried a Bible.

Well, no. It was a big congregation in some big meeting room, but it was wacky times. There was a little bit of religious talk, but a lot of money talk.

I found out he lived with like 7 other members of that church. He had to break up with his long time girlfriend even though she was also a member of the same church. Then they all had to date each other every week (keeping it hetero, of course) and then maybe an elder would tell them to get married. Fuzzy on that detail.

The poor guy stayed in. I tried to tell him what I had found out but he didn’t take it well and got very defensive and took it as a sign of worldly persecution or whatever.

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#16 Roped In By A Cultist College Protestor

She started off totally normal as far as I knew. She was a freshman on the soccer team and an outgoing person. We had this preacher guy from some fringe Christianity religion who dressed in brown robes and frequently came onto campus and yelled stuff about how we’re all going to hell. You know, typical hateful campus preacher stuff. He usually got taunted by the students. He was in his late 20s and sometimes he brought women in their early- to mid-20s with him. They dressed kind of like Amish women or Mennonites (not sure what exactly) but they only ever sat silently to the side while he ranted and strutted around in front of the library.

Well, my friend paid too much attention to him and somehow his bizarre hateful beliefs resonated with her. She started hanging out with him and his cult group. Over the course of a semester, she dropped out of the soccer team, started writing religious poetry, and eventually dropped out of school altogether. When her parents found out, they tried to intervene. They blocked the preacher from her phone, but when she found out, she threw the phone away. She cut contact with her family and spent a few months following the preacher around, homeless, hitchhiking around the country, and living off the generosity of strangers.

The last time I saw her was when I went out for dinner with her and our mutual friend. It was bizarre, to say the least. A friend and I discussed grad school and life after college while the cult girl had nothing to contribute to the conversation except her plans to wander around spreading the word of God and witnessing miracles. When asked how she planned to survive, she said: “God would provide.” Yeah, I guess he provided the food she ate when me and the mutual friend paid for her meal, because she conveniently waited until we’d been sat at the table to tell us she had no money and couldn’t afford to eat there. I have no idea where she is now, but I can only hope “God provided” her with some common sense... or at least the decency to eat wild berries or something instead of mooching off people and acting high and mighty about it.

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#15 Conversion At 7-11

Two of my college housemates went out one evening to 7-11 and came back converted to Scientology. One eventually got out of it, but it took years. The other, I have no idea.

It was like a horror movie about pod people taking them over.


#14 Completely Cut-Off By Community

My mother grew up in the Exclusive Brethren (also known as the Plymouth Brethren). If you haven't heard of them before, basically they can't communicate with anyone who's not in the religion, no radios or TVs, extremely strict rules, women with long hair, skirts and scarves, etc. Long story short, because she would never have been able to go to college, my grandpa decided to get them basically ostracized from the community (whilst also being in it), then excommunicated entirely. So all was (somewhat) well until my grandpa died. Then my grandma went back into the religion. They went around a couple of their rules so we could see her now and then, but before she died, I hadn't seen her for years. Somebody higher up sent us an invitation to the funeral and my mom and I went. Singularly bizarre experience, but I was grateful for the chance to see her one final time. She loved me a lot, once, and it really hurt when she chose the church over us.

14-1530985116095.jpgDiary Of A Brethren Boy

#13 Being Berated By Their Boss (And Fired For Rejecting Religion)

My boss/friend joined a career advancement/save the world cult. At first, he just started attending seminars and seemed a little more motivated and excited about life. Then he started strongly encouraging everyone around him to attend. He started using odd language for normal everyday terms and talking about how life-changing these things were. His attempts to get people to join became more overt. He started telling people they weren't really trying their hardest at life if they didn't join. He said they are responsible for their lives not working out if they didn't. By the end of the first year, he had signed contracts with them to wear specific clothing, he was asking me for personal details on all my doctors visits, and eventually he "helped me find a new position outside the company" because I refused to attend.

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#12 Drunk On A Pyramid Scheme

Does losing someone to an Multi Level Marketing cult count?

Not only lost a friendship, but had to unfollow all their posts. I can’t answer their calls, texts, or messages because it’s all about me “being on their life-changing team” and “supplementing my income” even though my spouse and I both own our businesses, love our jobs, and don’t need supplemental income.

If you’re reading this and in an MLM business, think about the friendships you have had with people for many years. Don’t throw it away for the small chance you will actually make good money.

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#11 Getting Clean Through Scientology

My step-aunt, uncle, and their daughter are Scientologists. My step-uncle had a substance problem when he was younger and Scientology said they could help him. Surprisingly enough they did, and he got clean (but he got roped in). He and his family work for them now. His daughter works on the cruise ship they have. They seem pretty normal but they occasionally send us DVDs to try and convert us. Also, when my rather wealthy grandpa died, they wanted to take some of his possessions to sell to Scientology.


#10 Shunning All Non-Members For Life

Here in central Ohio, we have a cult called Xenos. They market themselves as a Christian home church group. In reality, you will be pressured into moving into a home where you share a room with others of the same gender in order to prevent premarital sex and experimentation.

You will be forced to shun all non-Xenos friends and family you have. It's pretty baffling how people keep falling for it. I lost a friend to it years ago. Haven't heard from her since. I saw her at the store once a few years ago and she refused to even acknowledge my existence.

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#9 Grandmother's Home-Wrecking Disappearance

Right about when I was born, my grandmother ran off and joined a Buddhist cult. My aunt almost failed out of college that semester, my mom was devastated, and my grandfather was completely lost. She had to cut all emotional ties and attachments to physical possessions. Because of that, she refused to see me or any of her other grandchildren for the two decades she was in the cult. That being said, while she was there, she ended up caring for two other children roughly my age and ironically became very attached to them. This further emotionally devastated my mother and continued to strain the little contact we had from her over those years.


#8 Robotic Letters From A Temple-Obsessed Cousin

I don't know if it was an actual cult, but after my cousin did a legitimate "teach in Asia" program, she decided she was in love with Buddhism and joined a temple in Thailand, whatever that meant. Then after a couple of months there, she went to India. About six months later, she decided to come home.

But she was still in love with the temple life, so she joined a group in the U.S. working with Tibetan monks, or something. She was always a little loose on the details. Then one day she up and left everything behind to study the Tibetan language somewhere in Vermont and then before we knew it, they had sent her back to India.

The group in Vermont is the shady part because my cousin was advised not to talk about who they were, where they were, or how it all worked. She was completely out of touch by modern means for 6 months and only sent a few letters with no return address and a very robotic message, like "it is so wonderful here! Everything is beautiful," etc.

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#7 A Wake-Up Call

We didn't lose her forever, but my aunt joined a Christian commune in Sydney when she was18. She was there for a few years. My other aunt lived in Sydney and saw her occasionally, but cult-aunt straight up pretended not to know her. "I think you have me confused with someone else...".

She came home when she was 22 with her fiance. Now that they were engaged, it wasn't appropriate for them to be under the same roof, even though they'd been living together for four years, so they made her move back in with her parents. She wanted to get married right away so she could "go home" but Nana made them plan a proper wedding, trying to convince her not to go back all the while.

They got married and she disappeared from their lives again until she and their two daughters were in a car wreck and the "church" didn't do anything to help them. They left that church and joined another slightly less-creepy one that let them have contact with their family. No one but Nana has seen them in about 10 years, but they call and write constantly and we all do the Facebook thing so we know what's up.


#6 Ditching Newborn For Non-Stop Cult Work

My sister’s husband was a youth pastor and an all-around super cool guy. I looked up to him a lot. Athletic, musical, good looks, just overall an extremely bright and talented dude. He met some people who run a restaurant called The Yellow Deli in Chattanooga, Tennessee. They also operate a cult called the 12 tribes. Some of their beliefs are super whacked out. Basically, they’re the only ones getting into heaven and everyone else is going to hell.

After he met with them and learned about their culture and mentality, he left my sister and their newborn a couple weeks later. He wanted my sister and their newborn to come with him into the cult, but in order to do so, you have to leave everything behind and work for the cult full-time. Any hobbies or passions you had outside of the cult were banned. Your life had to be completely dedicated to the cult. My brother-in-law would not negotiate and would not come back. Either my sister and their newborn joined or he was leaving them.

Obviously, my sister saw through the ridiculousness and decided not to go with him. It was devastating though... So, obviously, they separated. But man did it take a toll on our families. Imagine a having a close brother-like figure all of a sudden flip a switch and be someone totally different... Weirdest thing in the world. Can’t put it into words. Fortunately, since then, my sister has been remarried to a outstanding guy and they’re a happy family. The newborn, my niece, is now 8 and so happy! She’s so big and beautiful with loving parents. That’s all I care about. As for my sister’s previous husband, don’t ever come back. You have a lot of angry uncles to the little newborn princess you left who would love to kick your butt.


#5 Blind Follower Of 'Bible College'

A friend of mine from college decided to attend what she called a "Bible College" in Florida after she graduated. The guy who runs it is a an absolute nut job. He was a big Evangelist preacher in the 90's who goes around spouting insane conspiracy theories today. He has even made an appearance on Info Wars.

This girl and I got along fine through college. She lived with my significant other and we were in the same major so we had a lot of classes together. I always knew she was religious and a little off, but I had no idea just how bad until the week we graduated. I about lost it when she sat across from me on my significant other's couch and spoke in tongues. She proceeded to tell me that God was paying for her to go to this school and get a "certificate in worship" or something. She showed me a video of a sermon from this guy, and I told her point blank that she was getting fleeced into joining a cult. She got really offended by that.

She has had spotty communication with people from college at best and no one really knows what she is doing. It sucks because she was my friend, and my significant other's friend, and I didn't want to see her get sucked into that, but there is no getting through to some people.

5-1530986131743.jpgCharis Bible College

#4 Wishful Thinking, Misguided Reason, And Nonsensical Beliefs

My mother was the one in my immediate family that originally gravitated towards the thoughts and ideas that the cult generated. Then she got her 3 sisters, her mom, dad and subsequently their entire families as well. The cult was convinced that modern Christianity was flawed in its thinking. I was young enough to follow suit in my mother's beliefs, partly due to having grown up in Christianity from since before I could talk (Monday night Bible studies, Wednesday night youth service, Friday youth camp, Saturday service, Sunday school).

My father wasn't truly that enthralled in the teachings of these people; he was more concerned that he was making zero money in the housing market during 2008. So eventually I started learning that this group's teachings would have small subtle hints that the world was ending. Eventually, they went as far as calculating the sun and moon cycles to figure out what year the return of Christ was coming.

Around maybe 4 years in, my grandpa started to get these "visions from God" telling him to invest in lottery tickets. He believed that that year was the beginning of the end and that we needed to stop all connections to the outside world, and that we were going to be blessed with riches in order to prepare for the end times and prepare a place for those that come searching for safety in the aftermath.

This is when my father decided that maybe he should step in. He started pulling me aside and encouraging me to think for myself, question everything, and to read. Read a lot. I eventually got hooked on the Joe Rogan podcast and read as much as I could on the founding fathers of America. I read everything from The Communist Manifesto to John Locke's social contract theories, even Twilight (I know, gross)

My dad and I began to resent the rest of the family and found a few sympathetic to our way of thought (mostly the husbands of my mom's sisters). My mom eventually came back around after her father never did win the lottery and had to choke back on his words. It breaks my heart to see a man be broken by misguided thoughts, but he kinda had it coming.

It was around 2013 when she finally gave up on the belief, but she still has trouble with falling for things. Last month she tried telling me the earth was flat.


#3 Broken Apart By Jehovah's Witnesses

I grew up as one of Jehovah's Witnesses. They will argue all day that they aren't a cult, but they are.

I divulged to my family that I was having doubts about a few of the beliefs. I tried to explain my logic, did it extremely diplomatically, and just in general tried to help them understand that I wasn't sure yet. I was open, honest, but not disrespectful. They informed me that they would stop talking to me until I "come back." That was 2 years ago. I have no intention of going back, so I've basically lost my family.


#2 Strange Cure For Schizophrenia

My uncle had schizophrenia and joined a cult in which one must worship pagan gods whilst drinking urine. His father, an ex-military soldier, went to the leader's house and dropped him off a balcony. It didn't end well for any parties involved.

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#1 Prying Into Their "Perfect Life"

The girl who should have been my sophomore year roommate joined a cult over the summer. We’d met my freshman year and were friends, but lived (when back home with our parents for summer) a few hours apart.

She called me over the summer and hit me with a super casual, “Hey! What are you doing on...” and named a date a few weeks away. I didn’t have anything going on and told her, thinking she wanted to hang out, and then she went straight to reading from a script because she wanted me to join her at one of the “leadership seminars.” The conversation was really creepy. She kept asking what would make my perfect life, and wanting really specific details like exactly which car and exactly what my house would be like. I kept saying that I didn’t care what it looked like as long as I was happy and she would just phrase the question a different way and ask again and again. I’d already made the mistake of telling her I wasn’t busy that day, so I couldn’t use that excuse. Then she hit me with “and it only cost $300!” Um... no. I thought that was my way out and tried to go with it only to then get to listen to the fact that the group offered all kinds of scholarships! And since I was her friend I’d have a great chance of getting one!




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