& Mind Control
What is a Cult?
A cult is a group or movement exhibiting a great or
excessive devotion or dedication to some person, idea, or thing, and employing unethically
manipulative techniques of persuasion and control designed to advance the goals of the
groups leader, to the actual or possible detriment of members, their families, or
These groups tend to dictate, sometimes in great detail,
how members should think, act, and feel, claim a special exalted status for themselves
and/or their leader(s), and intensify their opposition to and alienation from society at
Because the capacity to exploit human beings is universal,
any group could become a cult. However, most mainstream, established groups have
accountability mechanisms that restrain the development of cultic subgroups.
How Many Cults Exist and How Many Members Do They Have?
Cult-education organizations have received
inquiries about more than 3,000 groups. Although the majority of groups are small, some
have tens of thousands of members. Experts estimate that five to ten million people have
been involved with cultic groups at one time or another.
What is Mind Control?
Mind control (also known as "brainwashing,"
"coercive persuasion," and "thought reform")
refers to a process in which a group or individual systematically uses unethically
manipulative methods to persuade others to conform to the wishes of the manipulator(s).
Such methods include the following:
extensive control of information in order to limit
alternatives from which members may make "choices"
intense indoctrination into a belief system that denigrates
independent critical thinking and considers the world outside the group to be threatening,
evil, or gravely in error an insistence that members distress-much of which may
consist of anxiety and guilt subtly induced by the group-can be relieved only by
conforming to the group
physical and/or psychological debilitation through
inadequate diet or fatigue the induction of dissociative (trance-like) states via the
misuse of meditation, chanting, speaking in tongues, and other exercises in which
attention is narrowed, suggestibility heightened, and independent critical thinking
alternation of harshness/threats and leniency/love in order
to effect compliance with the leaderships wishes isolation from social supports
pressured public confessions
Who Joins Cults and Why?
Contrary to a popular misconception that cult members
are "crazy," research and clinical evidence strongly suggests that most cult
members are relatively normal. They include the young, the middle-aged, elderly, the
wealthy, the poor, the educated, and the uneducated from every ethnic and religious
background. There is no easily identifiable type of person who joins cults.
How Do People Who Join Cults Change?
After converts commit themselves to a group, the
cults way of thinking, feeling, and acting becomes second nature, while important
aspects of their pre-cult personalities are suppressed or, in a sense, decay through
disuse. New converts at first frequently appear to be shell-shocked; they may appear
"spaced out," rigid and stereotyped in their responses, limited in their use of
language, impaired in their ability to think critically, and oddly distant in their
relationships with others. Intense cultic manipulations can trigger altered states of
consciousness in some people.
Why Do People Leave Cults?
People leave for a variety of reasons. After becoming
aware of hypocrisy and/or corruption within the cult, converts who have maintained an
element of independence and some connection with their old values may simply walk out.
Others may leave because they are weary of a routine of proselytizing and fund-raising.
Sometimes even the most dedicated members may feel so inadequate in the face of the
cults demands that they walk away because they feel like abject failures. Others may
renounce the cult after reconnecting to old values, goals, interests, or relationships,
resulting from visits with parents, talks with ex-members, or exit counseling.
Is Leaving a Cult Easy?
People who consider leaving a cult are usually
pressured to stay. Some ex-members say they spent months, even years, trying to garner the
strength to walk out. Some felt so intimidated they departed secretly.
Although many cult members eventually walk out on their
own, many, if not most, who leave cults on their own are psychologically harmed, often in
ways they do not understand. Some cult members never leave, and some of these are severely
harmed. There is no way to predict who will leave, who wont leave, or who will be
Adapted from: Cults Questions and Answers, by Micahel D. Langone, Ph.D.Copyright AFF, 1988