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'My husband and I are thinking of trying to employ someone to kidnap her'

Dear Virginia,

My daughter has fallen in love with a very unsuitable man who, I fear, belongs to a cult. I know she gives him her salary and I think he gives most of it to this cult’s leader. She is now talking of moving to India with him, and I worry that I may never see her again. My husband and I are thinking of trying to employ someone to kidnap her so she can be brainwashed back again – because I feel sure that is her problem. But she is adamant that she wants to stay with this man and take on his beliefs. I am desperate. What else could we do?

Yours sincerely, Fiona

Virginia says:

I can understand why you feel so very distressed about your daughter’s involvement with this man and this cult, if indeed it is one. The problem is that she is an adult and in thrall to a man – and who knows, it may be real love. He may give her everything she needs.

However, even if she has actually been brainwashed, as you suspect, I do think that your kidnapping wheeze would be a mad, if not illegal, idea. First, I would look up the name of the group on the internet and get in touch with the many other people in the same position as you. You may find that these friends and relations of other cult members have formed groups and meetings that you can go to, and you can discuss strategies with them – and perhaps join one of the groups that exist to fight cults such as the ones you think your daughter has joined.

Then you must find out everything you can about the cult. What are its beliefs? Who runs it? How many adherents are there? What is the address in India? Is it actually a cult or is just a harmless group of people with non-threatening beliefs?

Assuming it is a cult, remember that they flourish on two things: conflict and money. They can deal with furious letters. They can deal with wailing and gnashing of teeth. They can deal with kidnappers and threats. Not only can they deal with it, but they thrive on it. They can’t exist as a cult without being partly defined by a barrage of anguish and disapproval from outside.  Your threats are meat and drink to them.

It will be much harder for them to deal with sympathy, kindness and love. I would write to your daughter saying that you are so glad she has found happiness. Ask to know more about the organisation and wish her well. Tell her you will always love her, and keep up the barrage of affectionate and approving letters non-stop, not only so that she knows you’re always there whenever she needs you, but also so that she find it harder to cut you out of her life completely. Yes, you’ll have to lie a bit when you express enthusiasm for the life she’s chosen. But they’re lying at their end. Use every strategy to keep in touch.

Secondly, always keep the idea of money alive – promises that you might give her money, talk of inheritances, even giving her a bit now and again. Cults are incredibly greedy and they will never cut you off if they imagine that you’re a source of cash.

Apart from that, I wish you well. Many children do, remember, step into cults at a point in their lives, only to step out of them some years later. It’s a stage. A very unhappy stage, but possibly one that won’t last for ever.

Readers say...

She will learn from this

It’s your daughter’s life and if I were you I’d leave well alone. As long as she knows you love her, she can always be in touch when she likes. It may well be that this “cult” offers her all kinds of things that she hasn’t been able to get in her own life so far, and that she’s perfectly happy. I joined a group that was described as a “cult” by my family in my twenties, and although I came out of it after couple of years, I learnt a great deal from it – not just from its teachings. I learnt, by joining and leaving, to assert my own independence.

Sophia by email

Remind her who she really is

I don’t pretend to understand what you are going through, but I hope my experience might be useful to you. Some years ago, in her twenties, my daughter was in a relationship that was emotionally abusive – her fiance was a very controlling man, who gradually managed to get rid of all her friends and did his best to alienate her family. He chipped away at her self-esteem until she only focused on him. I think the most important thing we did was to do everything in our power to keep the lines of communication open and keep reminding her of who she was and that there were people who loved her. It wasn’t easy, as it meant having to see him, too, but it was essential. Try not to let this cause bad feeling between you. Be loving, and persuade her to do the things with you and her family that she has always done, even if he has to come too. Accept that you don’t understand the attachment and appreciate that she is still the same person she has always been. It’s hugely important that you all stay in her life, ready for when she gets over this. Good luck.

Elaine by email

Softly, softly

Please don’t use a “de-programmer” at this stage – and never without exhaustive research – as many of them are as nutty as the cults they oppose. Still, it’s clear that such techniques can work, or governments wouldn’t be using them to neutralise Islamists they have imprisoned or detained.

For now, all you can do is get as much information on the suspected cult as possible through friendly chats with your daughter – and then consult Dr Google, who may connect you with parents in the same bind.

Dominic by email