It’s easy to dismiss people who get involved with cults as being crazies. We all like to think that something like that could never happen to us because we’re smart enough to know cults when we see them. But while impressionable people may be easier to influence, almost anyone is in danger. The leaders of these groups and sects are no fools when it comes to the human mind. They are master manipulators who use their capabilities to analyze you before reeling you into their twisted webs. Once they have you under their spell it’s nearly impossible to get away.
A cult is a social group defined by their spiritual or philosophical views or a common interest or goals. Cults are usually secretive, but this makes them even more exciting when they make the news. People are fascinated with them because to outsiders their stories are often almost unbelievable.
The things that cult leaders can convince their believers to do are quite extraordinary. Just think of Charles Manson who convinced his spell-bound followers to carry out gruesome murders for his cause or Marshall Applewhite of the Heaven’s Gate cult who persuaded 39 people to commit suicide so that they could board a spaceship hidden in the tail of a comet.
These people are out there and here’s how they draw you in…
15. They Play On Your Vulnerabilities
It’s hard to believe that a psychologically healthy person could become involved with a cult. It’s much easier to think of these people as all having some kind of mental health problem that made them a soft target but that’s not the case at all. In fact, only around 5% of cult members have serious psychological issues before joining.
But what they do is that they prey on your own insecurities; they look for people in stressful situations and offer them solutions. For example, a wife who has just lost her husband may be easy to draw in if they say that their organization helps people deal with loss. They will often search for their recruits in places like colleges, support groups, or religious gatherings. Cults offer people answers to complex personal and social problems.
14. They Use Creative Peer Pressure
We all think that we are immune to peer pressure and that makes it easy to draw us into cult groups. In psychology, this is known as “self-serving bias”. This is what makes us believe that we are not influenced in the same ways that others are; for example, by TV advertising. Ever noticed how most of us believe that we are superior drivers? That’s self-serving bias, and it’s universal.
Cults use a creative form of controlled peer pressure to lure us in, often beginning with hyped up meetings. During these meetings, you’re introduced to friendly and enthusiastic people who are excited about the cause and after a while, you will become uncomfortable unless you join in and get excited too. They keep up this pressure with follow-up calls and meetings until they get a commitment from you.
13. Love Bombing
Human beings are social creatures, so feelings of loneliness can be almost intolerable. We will do almost anything to feel loved by others and connected to them. Cults use this to their advantage by offering us “instant” friends – if only we will do what they say. For a new recruit suddenly having a group of close new friends can be heady but later on, this closeness will be used as a form of control.
Because cult leaders isolate people these new “best” friends soon become the only friends a recruit has and leaving the cult will leave them isolated and alone, something no one wants.
12. They Offer Exclusivity
Cults rely on deception. Not many people would join them if they made their intentions known in the beginning. They also offer something exclusive, something that isn’t available to everyone. They use this as a carrot and it often includes rewards such as money (with greed driven cults) and religious salvation. But in order to receive this reward you need to follow their rules and do what they say.
Cults want you to believe that their organization is your only hope, that you cannot achieve your goals without them. They want you to believe that no other group is as successful or enlightened and that you can only solve your problems by following them. This way they always have a way to keep you under their control – if you want to leave you lose the chance to achieve your goal.
11. Restrict Diet And Sleep
When we think of mind control, we often think of science fiction, but real mind washing techniques are even more terrifying – and subtle. Take for example the influence that sleeping and eating has on the brain. We all know that after a bad night we feel sluggish the next day right? If we don’t eat we become irritable. In both cases, your thinking ability is affected.
By restricting the amount of sleep that new recruits get cult leaders make them more open to persuasion. It hampers normal thinking processes and makes it easy to accept what they are told. Dietary control is often passed off as “fasting” to achieve a spiritual goal, but again this is just another way to weaken the subject.
One of the most obvious signs of a cult is a group that seeks to isolate you from anyone outside of the group and its beliefs. But they are sneaky. They aren’t just going to come out and say that you can’t associate with non-believers at first. It will just be discouraged. The leaders want you to believe that having relationships or friendships outside of the group can stop you from achieving your goal. That way ceasing contact with them seems to be your own idea.
To a cult, your family and friends are a definite threat. They can talk to you, even persuade you and dangerous groups don’t want that. If they can keep you isolated and focused on the group’s goal, then they keep you loyal to them alone.
9. Make You Dependent
Cults don’t want their recruits to be independent. Independence is a threat because it means that you might access other information or make decisions, both of which could cause you to leave the group. Instead, they want you dependent on them for everything; from what you eat and wear to what job you do or who you marry.
Often cults will have a leader who makes all the decisions for the group and nothing can be done without their input. Before recruits make any type of decision they are required to consult with the leader.
A good example of this is the Heaven’s Gate suicide cult. In this group followers were not even allowed to purchase personal items like deodorant – all their requests had to be filtered through a special needs department who would decide whether or not the item was truly required.
8. Remove Uncertainties
Cult groups prey on people who hate uncertainty. And the world is an uncertain place so anyone offering to remove the grey space and replace it with simple black or white thinking has ample hunting ground. With cults, everything is black and white. People are either “saved” or “doomed” or “good” or “evil”. There is a clear distinction between “us” and “them” – feeding into that exclusivity again and providing simple answers to complex questions.
Cults deal only with absolutes – you’re either entirely committed or you are out. The only way to be saved or reach your objective is to follow blindly and not question. There is no other way or possible solution and even considering something like this is a sin. People want answers and sometimes no matter how crazy they may sound if they are presented in the right way they will be accepted.
7. Keep Self Esteem Low
Keeping the self-esteem of their members low is crucial to the cult influence. A person with a low self-esteem doesn’t trust their ideas and intuition and is much more open and accepting of messages coming from a seemingly powerful person – in most cases a charismatic leader.
One Heaven’s Gate survivor spoke about the way this was done in that group. They were trained and brainwashed to always second guess themselves and made to believe that confidence was an undesirable weakness. When the self-esteem is low it is easier to keep recruits engaged and this can be achieved in a number of ways, some of them are so subtle that you would not even recognize if it was being done to you. Believe it or not!
Guilt is one of the most powerful tools in a cult’s arson of mind control techniques. Guilt is a powerful emotion and leaders know just how to create guilt in their followers and use it to their advantage.
Let’s take a greed cult as an example. This is a type of cult where the focus is on selling and making money and they usually use books, courses, videos, and tapes – all of which promise to help the individual live a successful life. The truth is that the only people getting rich off these schemes are the cult leaders themselves. If a recruit isn’t selling enough the leader will often use guilt and shame to spur them on, saying things like “Maybe the reason you aren’t selling is because your faith isn’t strong enough.”
5. Charismatic Leaders
You can’t have a cult without a strong, charismatic leader that’s for sure. These types of people often come from backgrounds where being influenced was key and they pull people into their worlds by offering to solve problems and provide structure.
Cult members are completely devoted to their leaders and in turn their ideas. They are above question, no matter what they may say or ask people to do. They expect their followers to do their bidding without question and they are not accountable to any other person. Cult members follow them mainly out of fear because the leader has the power to exclude them from the group and because their entire lives revolve around the group this is a very scary prospect for the followers.
4. Control Access To Information
In order to make good decisions, you are encouraged to consider all the information available to you. This makes sense because the more you know about something the better equipped you are to make an informed and responsible decision. Cults don’t want you making these types of decisions and that’s why they use information control to keep your options limited.
Dangerous cults will tell their followers to immediately discard any information that does not agree with the group’s teachings. They control what the recruit sees, hears, and reads because they don’t want them thinking for themselves and possibly breaking free from control.
By filtering information by limiting access to books or computers and providing only approved material a cult leader takes away the recruit’s ability to make informed decisions. Instead, they rely solely on the leader for information.
3. The Walls Have Ears
Cults need to control their believers and the one way that they do this is by having a strong reporting structure. Members are often encouraged to be on the look – out for other believers who appear to be having disparaging thoughts and ideas about the group beliefs and report these incidents to the leadership so that they can “help” the member.
In an environment such as this, no one can be trusted. Even close friends might report on each other because they believe that doing so is a way of assisting. Of course, nothing could be further from the truth. The real reason that this is encouraged is because it helps keep people in fear of going against the cult and constantly suspicious of each other.
2. Character Assassination
Character assassination is another clever way that cults keep the morale and self-esteem of their followers as low as possible. By attacking someone’s character using exaggeration, lying or manipulating the facts they tarnish their self-image and destroy their self-confidence.
This is often used as a form of attack especially when a person begins to question the group or its actions. For example, a follower may not agree with the leader, but instead of basing their argument on fact or reason the leader will retaliate by debasing the character of follower. They will accuse the follower of being the real problem saying things like “Who do you think you are to question my judgment?” or “You must be jealous to try and hurt me this way. Don’t you care how you are hurting those around you?”
1. Time Control
Cults want people to be as busy as possible so they make sure that their lives are filled with group related activities. This serves a number of purposes; it keeps people too tired to truly consider their involvement, it keeps the group operational, and it helps to further cement belief in the group’s purpose.
Members are kept on a constant diet of cult related dogma through compulsory meetings, chores, activities, services, and recruitment drives. All of these are designed to control how a member spends their time because someone with too much time on their hands may start to question the group and its motives and no cult will tolerate that. This is another way to control a person’s environment and it’s key to drawing people into cults and keeping them there.
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