Cult: a group or movement exhibiting a great or excessive devotion or dedication to some person, idea, or thing and employing unethically manipulative (i.e., deceptive and indirect) techniques of persuasion and control designed to advance the goals of the group's leaders, to the actual or possible detriment of members, their families , or the community. So what is a destructive cult?From the American Psychiatric Association Task Force on Deceptive and Indirect Techniques of Persuasion and Control 1986.
What Are the Characteristics of a Destructive Cult?
Today's cults are highly sophisticated, utilizing modern technologies and various marketing and business schemes to recruit and retain new members. Cults are usually categorized as: Bible Based; Eastern Meditation; Satanist/Occult; Political/Terrorist; Psychitherapy/Human Potential; New-Age and Commercial.
Though there is a great deal of variation among cults, certain common themes are present in destructive cult groups:
- Mind Control (undue Influence): Manipulation by use of coercive persuasion or behavior modification techniques without informed consent.
- Charismatic Leadership: Claiming divinity or special knowledge and demanding un-questioning obedience with power and privilege. Leadership may consist of one individual or a small core of leaders.
- Deception: Recruiting and fundraising with hidden objectives and without full disclosure of the use of mind controlling techniques; and the use of "front groups."
- Exclusivity: Secretiveness or vagueness by followers regarding activities and beliefs.
- Alienation: Separation from family, friends and society, including a change in values and substitution of the cult as the new "family;" evidence of the subtle or abrupt personality changes.
- Exploitation: Can be financial, physical, or psychological; pressure to give money, to spend a great deal on courses or give excessively to special projects and to engage in inappropriate sexual activities, even child abuse.
- Totalitarian Worldview (we/they syndrome): Effecting dependence, promoting goals of the group over the individual and approving unethical behavior while claiming goodness.
What are "mind control" techniques?
Group Pressure and "Love Bombing" discourages doubts and reinforces the need to belong through use of child-like games, singing, hugging, touching, or flattery.
Isolation/Separation creates inability or lack of desire to verify information provided by the group with reality.
Thought-Stopping Techniques introduce recruit to meditating, chanting, and repetitious activities which, when used excessively induce a state of high suggestibility.
Fear and Guilt induced by eliciting confession to produce intimacy and to reveal fears and secrets, to create emotional vulnerability by over and covert threats, as well as alternation of punishment and reward.
Sleep Deprivation encouraged under the guise of spiritual exercises, necessary training, or urgent projects.
Inadequate Nutrition sometimes disguised as special diet to improve heath or advance spirituality, or as rituals requiring fasting.
Sensory Overload forces acceptance of complex new doctrine, goals, and definitions to replace old values by expecting recruit to assimilate masses of information quickly with little opportunity for critical examination.
NOTE: Not all of these features need to be present simultaneously for "mind control" to be operative.