Cult experience : abuse, psychological distress, close relationships, and personality characteristics
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Cultic groups distinguish themselves from benign groups through their use of unethical means of persuasion, control, and exploitation. Most people view those who join cults as different from the norm and attribute their psychological problems after leaving cults to personal deficiencies. This study investigated 61 former members of the controversial Church Universal and Triumphant (CUT), evaluating their perceptions of the group’s abusiveness, their level of psychological distress and personality characteristics, as well as changes in the quality of their close personal relationships. Although responses to the Group Psychological Abuse Scale revealed non-abusive pre-involvement perceptions of CUT, current perceptions reflected higher abusiveness, suggesting changes in the interpretations of events for these two time frames, possible misrepresentation on the part of the group, or both. On the revised Symptom Check List-90, many respondents reported high levels of psychological distress, which were influenced by spousal relationships during and after CUT involvement and which decreased since leaving CUT. Respondents’ scores on the Eysenck Personality Questionnaire fell mostly within the normal range, except for extroversion, which fell below the norm. Respondents reported that personal relationships deteriorated during CUT involvement. Similar studies investigating other controversial groups are needed. Research focused on the development of instruments and methodologies permitting the study of children with cult histories would contribute to expanding current understanding of the impact of cults.