How we change what others think, feel, believe and do
The term 'cult' brings to mind a range of different ideas, from Jim Jones' suicidal group to more peaceful groups of drop-outs who are just trying to avoid the pressures of the rat-race.
A best definition of a 'cult' for our purposes is simply a group of people with an authoritarian structure, such that the leader has total authority, cannot be questioned and is always right.
In simple spiritual or knowledge cults, absolute power only extends to ideas, where the leader takes the position of ultimate expert in intellectual discussions about life, the universe and everything. Thus, for example, in an academic discipline, a respected professor who has founded the field may be effectively unchallenged by others working in the field.
At the other extreme, the leader may be ceded total control over every aspect of their followers lives. This absolute power can, of course, corrupt absolutely. The cult literature generally focuses on this end of the spectrum, either from curiosity about how such things happen or with concern for those drawn into such situations.
There is thus a spectrum of what could be called cults, which can range from companies to families to street gangs to religious groups. What is generally called 'cults', however, are groups where members are subjected to a range of 'mind control' methods intended to attract, convert and subjugate their will to that of the leader and the group. Such groups often cause the families of its members great distress as they are rejected and alienated by their formerly loving children and siblings.
A further way of identifying such cults is that the are often quite Machiavellian in their methods. They will use harsh techniques, justifying their use by assertions (and maybe genuinely held beliefs) that they are saving their targets from damnation or worse. Many others view these methods as unethical. This difference in values leads to very strong emotions around their intent and methods.
Some indicators of destructive cults (which will, of course, be justified by cult members) include:
If you are in a group where some or all of these are true, then you may be in a destructive cult.
This site does not judge, evaluate or name such groups (see links to sites which do this). The methods of attraction, conversion and retention are, however of great interest. Thus, when we are discussing these matters, we simply talk about 'groups' rather than use the more emotive 'cults'.