It so happens that I was raised as a member of high control religion; that’s the latest politically correct term for a mind-control cult. For most people, the mention of the word cult automatically has a religious context but, having escaped from one, I had good reason to investigate more thoroughly and discovered that cults don’t have to be religious in nature. In fact we often refer to a popular movement or person as having a “cult following”.
Consider these factors that can be used to identify a cult:
- There is a leader or group of leaders who have no meaningful accountability. Questioning of the leadership is not allowed. Their authority is absolute. In a religious context, this may be reinforced by the belief that only they receive guidance directly from God.
- There is a system of indoctrination (the cult will usually call it something less contentious like “education”) that results in thought reform or brainwashing. A cult will present this process in a positive light, explaining that the individual is shedding their old self / their sinful nature and developing a new personality, an improved version of themselves. The reality is that the authentic self is squashed in favour of a compliant member of the group who will act in a way that benefits the group, even when that is damaging to them as an individual.
- There is control of information. The leader(s) will directly state or at least imply that sources of information outside the group are not to be trusted. Independent research is discouraged or forbidden and former members of the group, especially, are labelled as dangerous. Anything they say is to be treated with suspicion.
- There is exploitation of the members of the group for the benefit of the leader(s) and those in their inner circle. Ordinary members of the group are expected to donate their money and / or time and energy in the form of volunteer labour to achieve the goals of the group. Meanwhile leaders enjoy a lifestyle that is more comfortable than that of many of those who donate.
When you isolate these identifying traits from the context of religion, it becomes clear that a cult can exist in many other contexts. A business leader might run their company along the lines of a cult, assuming absolute authority, surrounding themselves with willing “yes” men or women, dismissing anyone who dares to question, and cultivating a culture of loyalty to the company above all else. Some families share a similar dynamic with a strong family leader exerting influence over a traditional nuclear family or even an extended family. Even the relationship between a couple might fall into the definition if one partner dominates the other, seeking to control how they spend their time, who they meet with or talk to.
All of these scenarios share something else in common; they are very difficult to leave. Cults of all varieties tend to isolate the individual from other potential sources of support so that they become more and more reliant on the cult. They also promote the ideas that (a) the individual member has little or no worth without the group and / or its leader(s) and (b) the consequences of leaving the group will be catastrophic to the individual. Both of these things make it difficult for an individual to leave even if they have become disillusioned or no longer have faith in the leadership. It’s common for an individual leaving such a group to feel terrified and without support or direction, perhaps even confused as to their true identity.
Having been through the process myself, I can assure you that it does get better with time. The seeds of fear that a cult has sown in your mind can only germinate if you give them fertile soil. There are plenty of sources of help for survivors of cult brainwashing in its many guises. I am more than happy to use my training as a psychotherapist and solution focused clinical hypnotherapist alongside my personal experience to help you take back control of your life.