When you hear the word “cult,” chances are the image that comes to mind is an eccentric religious organization of some kind. To a certain degree, this can be excused. The word cult had historically been applied to civic and religious movements and is still used in that sense.
The cult you are probably thinking of is an organization that recruits members through influence and deception for power or financial gain. Although many cults are corrupt religious organizations, they can also be dubious self-help groups, pyramid schemes and rogue multilevel marketing organizations, or extremist political factions.
Although they often utilize many of the indoctrination tactics used by more legitimate organizations, albeit more intensely, five elements must be all be present to make cults stand out as dangerous. The presence of all five sets them apart from monastic orders, army boot camps, and the like.
-They must sever ties with family, friends, and other organizations, which leads to dependence on the cult.
-They must demand unquestioning loyalty to the rules laid out by the organization, no matter how arbitrary or pointless.
-They must demand long, grueling hours of tedious work.
-They must somehow make money from the members. Anyone familiar with scams knows how this goes.
-They must make leaving the group difficult or unattractive.
Another pervasive myth of destructive cult organizations is that “you have to be a gullible wacko to be in them.” Many cult members are neurotypical and come from average families, with only a small percentage of them having any kind of mental illness, which can be a liability for the cult as it expands. And despite personal differences, peer pressure almost guarantees that the cult’s members would act the same way.
Cults can be quite easy for many confused, lonely, or emotionally distressed individuals to enter, but simultaneous be very difficult to leave. Learning the red flags of a potentially exploitative organization, whether it be a church group, company, or political movement, goes a long way in avoiding being sucked into a cult.