Sectarian Drive: How Can You Help a Loved One Get Out?

Did your sister invest in another education to get rich? Has your companion changed his behavior drastically since seeing a whole new group of friends? Your best friend assures you that she can now cure any disease with magical thinking? Beware, your loved one may have fallen into the hands of a sectarian urge? How to help him? explanation.

Maybe you are one of the listeners of shock meta, this podcast produced and hosted by Élisabeth Feytit. Former follower of the New Age, this producer and director of documentaries has been targeting (ex) “believers” of sects or sectarian excesses since 2019, among others: Jehovah’s Witnesses, anthroposophy, but also movements or practices that we find less dangerous such as yoga, coaching, astrology or cartomancy. If all these practices are not associated with cults or sectarian deviations, some people may be confronted with “gurus”, isolating themselves from their families, spending a fortune on training on “positive thinking” and “law of attraction” with no result other than significant loss of money or serious psychological harm.

Do you think you have someone close to you who you think is in danger and/or under the influence of a guru? But you don’t know how to react, how to help him? Listening to Méta de Choc can give you the first keys to understanding the control mechanisms and the need to remain present or present for your loved one. The Miviludes (for “Mission interministérielle de vigilance et de combat contre les adrivages sectaires”, the government agency responsible for observing and analyzing the phenomenon of sectarian aberrations) also offers several essential measures to watch out for to avoid deadlocks. We’ve got it covered for you.

What is a cult or a movement with sectarian drift?

Before going any further, it is necessary to understand what a cult or a sectarian drift is. We often picture a group of people who organize human sacrifices in the name of Satan as very closed movements, where people are chained to a guru, unable to be free from their thoughts as well as from their movements. The American criminal Charles Manson, at the head of the “Manson Family”, offered a boulevard for these kinds of performances that you inevitably suspect caricatured.

Miviludes states on its site from the outset that:there is no precise definition of what a cult is“With respect for all beliefs and fidelity to the principles of secularism, liberty of conscience and freedom of religion, the legislature has always refused to define the concept of sect”writes the desk. “For the same reason, there is no definition of religion in French law. These are concepts that refer to everyone’s private life, by definition excluded from government intervention, except in the absence of disturbance of public order and compliance with laws and regulations. †

In addition, the French system is thus not interested in sects or beliefs, doctrines or ways of thinking as such. He is interested in sectarian excesseswhich means “the practices, methods, actions and conduct of any group or individual, regardless of the nature or activity, which undermine public order, laws and regulations, fundamental freedoms and the safety or integrity of persons through the implementation of techniques of submission, pressure or threatsor by practices that prefer mental grip and people a part of their free will† †

Mividules receives requests for referrals every year regarding possible sectarian deviations. In 2020, for example, it received more than 3,000, according to the latest activity report. It can then report a movement, a group or a person to the judge, depending on the case, or even request an intervention. But before contacting the government agency, make sure to collect elements that will make it possible to characterize a sectarian drift.

On its site, the AVREF (Association for the Assistance of Victims of the Excesses of Religious Movements in Europe and their Families) has also published (non-exhaustive) a list of reported communities.

How to detect a sectarian drift?

For this, the Mivdules has put a list of warning signs on its site:

  • mental destabilization
  • the exorbitant nature of the financial requirements
  • break with the original environment
  • the existence of attacks on physical integrity
  • employment of children
  • antisocial discourse
  • public order disturbances
  • the importance of legal disputes
  • the possible diversion of traditional economic circuits
  • attempts to infiltrate the authorities.

Of course, the agency specifies that a “a single criterion is not sufficient to establish the existence of a sectarian drift and not all criteria have the same value”† These warning signs exist for information only.

How to detect a sectarian drift according to the behavior of a relative?

Indeed, to advance in your analysis of the situation, you must observe your loved one. Has his behavior changed in just a few weeks or months? Has he or she invested a lot of money in training courses at dubious outlets? Or has he drastically changed certain pillars of his life (food, clothing, relationships, etc.)? Here too, the Mividules takes stock:

  • adoption of a language specific to the group
  • change in eating or clothing habits
  • refusal of care or discontinuation of regularly prescribed medical treatments
  • situation of break with family or social and professional environment
  • exclusive commitment to the group
  • absolute submission, total devotion to the rulers
  • loss of critical thinking
  • stereotypical answer to all existential questions
  • employment of children
  • the existence of damage to physical or mental integrity
  • lack of sleep

Particular attention should also be paid to the economic assets of the person you suspect is related to sectarian aberration:

  • acceptance of increasingly strong and sustainable financial demands
  • involvement in a process of debt
  • bequests or gifts to natural or legal persons associated with the group to which the victim belongs
  • obligation to buy or sell certain materials or services as an essential condition of belonging to the group
  • participation in conferences, internships, seminars, retreats, in France or abroad
  • existence of fraud or misleading advertising about the essential characteristics of a product or service.

Finally, the Mividules also describe criteria that can affect social and democratic life, ranging from: “disorder of public order” come “misappropriation of official trademarks, designs, titles and models to cause confusion in the public”

What actions to take?

If you recognize more than one of the above criteria, you can fill in the Mividules.

To do this, go to this link.

You can approach victim support associations (list of associations can be found here), alert the gendarmerie or even contact a state administration (contact details can be found here).

Before contacting the agency, you can also ask it for its opinion on a possible sectarian drift through this other link.

Stay tuned

In the meantime, stay present for your loved one: look at him or her, do not close yourself off from him and do not let his or her beliefs bully you. It would be the best way to sever ties and thereby eliminate the possibility of getting out. Finally, be patient. Some people take years to escape the clutches of a movement or guru.

According to Mividules, there are about 500 sectarian groups in France, including 500,000 followers.

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