Cult basics: Characteristics of cults.



Following is a list of social, psychological, and interpersonal behavioral patterns that are common within cult settings. This list was developed by  Michael Landgone, Ph.D., a counseling psychologist, and ICSA’s Executive Director. Thank you Dr. Landgone.

1. The cultic group displays an excessive, zealous, unquestioning commitment to its leader, and regards his or her beliefs and practices to be the truth, the law, the way.

2. Questioning, doubt, and dissent are discouraged, and sometimes punished.

3. Mind-altering practices (e.g., meditation, chanting, speaking in tongues, denunciation sessions, debilitating work routines) are used in excess and serve to suppress doubts about the group and its leader(s).

4. The leader(s) dictate, sometimes to great detail, what and how members should think, act and feel.

5. The group is elitist, claiming a special, superior, or exalted status. They’re on a mission to save something, the world maybe.

6. Cultic groups have an “us-vs-them” mentality.

7. The leader is accountable to no one, to no human, to no governing authority.

8. The leaders teach—or imply by their actions—that the “noble end” justifies the means—whatever it takes for their truth to prevail (e.g. falsifying, lying, deceit).

9. The leadership creates feelings of shame and guilt in its members in order to manipulate and control them.

10. Subservience to the leader(s) often leads to cutting family ties, ties with friends, teachers, and to putting personal dreams or goals aside to become one of them, one of the elite.

11. The group is preoccupied with recruiting new members, or making more money.

12. Members give inordinate amounts of time to serving the group, the group’s god, or attending group-activities.

13. Members are encouraged or required to live with or to socialize with only group members. A lot of group members believe that there is no other way, there is no life outside the group. Mostly they’re afraid for themselves or for others on the inside if they should leave, or even think of leaving.