Why Do People Join Destructive Cults?

 A Convergence of Life’s Motions 

This is the first post for my new website, www.cultrelease.com.  My other website, www.scientologyrecovery.com, is directed towards ex-members and their families who were abused by Scientology.  This website is for anyone who has been traumatized or whose loved ones have been lost to a cult. Outwardly each cult seems to be different. They have different religious or spiritual basis; however, the factors that go into “brainwashing” new people are the same for all destructive cults. There are universal recruitment and mind control techniques that change a normal citizen into a true believer. The stereotypical viewpoint that only the “weak minded” become cult members is far from the truth. The sophisticated recruiter actually targets the intelligent and strong willed. Once the willful type of person becomes a true believer he or she advances the cult’s purposes with a righteousness, clarity, and dedication that the weaker or less intelligent does not possess.


Destructive cult recruiters operate very similarly to sexual predators. The below factors come into play:

  1. Grooming: The predator grooms the potential victim by making them feel special. They honor them with gifts and treats and delight in them. They talk to them with focused attention and show genuine interest, whereas their parents or friends might not.
  2. Physical touch: Touching creates intimacy. At first the touching seems normal, but as time goes by the predator advances his touching to the victim’s private parts. Subtle lines get crossed.  Alarms go off in the victim, but are overcome by the predator with gentle persuasion and subtle withdrawal of attention. A predator is not the same as a rapist who assaults violently and usually only once, it is a different pathology. A predator wants to keep the victim under his influence for years or decades.
  3. Sharing of secrets: The sharing of intimate details about each other’s lives creates a special bond. The predator creates an “us.” The victim no longer feels so lonely. A sexual predator can spot people who are not marked by love. The predator targets outcasts, rebels, the weak and handicapped. Cults do the same, but their main targets are people whose lives are in a state of flux or in some sort of ruin. Cult recruiters also share intimacies to bond. Then they let the prospect know that the cult can handle their problems.  The group uses “love bombing” and offers a new family-like situation to deepen intimacy.
  4.  ­Threats and implanting phobias: Should the victim seek to leave or reveal the abuse, the predator withholds privilege and gifts and then escalates to threatening the victim or their family with physical harm or death. Destructive cults target the soul and the heart of their victims, not the body. They use threats of eternal death which entraps the soul of the person. In Christian cults members are told if they drop out they will go to hell and that all of their ancestors will join them – past, present, and future.  Eastern cults believe in past lives and rebirth, so they install a phobia about betweenlives and rebirth. You will be trapped in the between life continuum” and your spiritual eternity is at stake if you don’t do the next level…. Most cults predict physical death, cancer and other atrocities if you leave or violate the cult.

Both cults and predators use privilege, but they use different rewards. Cults promote elitism,exclusivity, supernatural powers, and sacred secrets that only the special few can know. Pedophiles and cult recruiters both cross a line at some point. With the sexual predator it might be a slight indiscreet touch, then the next time a touch to a private part. Cult recruiters cross the line on one’s belief system. The recruiter is trying to shift your reality to the cult’s point of view. One example in eastern cults is that you are told that God is the infinite, is not named or isn’t important whatsoever. A Christian starting out in that cult may not be actively pursuing a Christian walk, but has to have a paradigm shift of some sort to accept the new reality. It can be subtle, but in any case an alarm usually goes off in the person’s mind. But, the good feelings that exist due to grooming, sharing intimacies, and privilege belay the warning signs. The person becomes a willing participant. Once the phobias and threats are set firmly in place, it is too late to leave.

The cult salesperson or registrar creates urgency to get the person to sign up right away.

The book,The Brainwashing Manual  states, “In rearranging loyalties we must have command of their values. In the animal the first loyalty is to himself. This is destroyed by demonstrating errors in him.” A recruiter will find the person’s ruin or why they have hit bottom and then point out and isolate the person’s life errors. If the person accepts the findings, a severely dangerous shift in psyche can occur. The essential components of mind control begin. The person’s own identity is evaluated and his identity can be thrown off center;, renouncing your old life makes it possible for the recruiter to create a new cult identity. Besides being based on predatory techniques, destructive cult recruitment is based upon everyday human tendencies used to elicit compliance, such as authority guaranteeing credibility, agreement and conformity – “Everyone is doing it!” The main thing they rely on is once the first Yes is given it gets harder and harder for the new member to say No.

Destructive cults build upon initial small commitments which progresses into bigger ones. The first approaches are simple and often involve little money. “Come in and enjoy a free  lecture.” Then the new member is offered an intermediate course, “It’s not that much money, just $500.” Then, “Your next step is the 4 Day ‘Secret of the Master Seminar’ for only $3000. It’s usually $5000, but for you…”  After that you are asked to join staff or meet the master, “For a donation of only $30,000, you can put it on your credit card or we’ll help you re-finance your house if you like….”

Who Joins a Destructive Cult?

There is a difference between a cult and a destructive cult. A destructive cult takes a totalitarian control over the member’s life, finances, marriage, divorce, pregnancies, mind, body and soul. Cults deal with afterlife and eternitya destructive cult implants more scary and foreboding phobias, exerts pressure such as imprisonment if you desire to leave, shuns or disconnects from you if you do leave, and if you speak out publicly against the group, the ex-member will be hounded and their secrets are often made public.

There isn’t a certain type of person who joins a cult. It has more to do with vulnerability and times of uncertain change. Cult expert, Margaret Singer, writes,

“Everyone is influenced and persuaded daily in various ways, but the vulnerability to influence varies. The ability to fend off persuaders is reduced when one is rushed, stressed, uncertain, lonely, indifferent, uninformed, distracted, or fatigued. Also affecting vulnerability are the status and power of the persuader. No one type of person is prone to become involved with cults.

About two-thirds of those studied have been normal young people induced to join groups in periods of personal crisis; broken romance or failures to get the job or college of their choice. Vulnerable, the young person affiliates with a cult offering promises of unconditional love, new mental (or spiritual) powers, and social utopia. Since modern cults are persistent and often deceptive in their recruiting, many prospective group members have no accurate knowledge of the cult and almost no understanding of what eventually will be expected of them as long-term members.” 

Cults are active in colleges targeting the young for the most part, but today people in their late twenties and older are also being recruited. A lot of inquiries to cult information resources are now coming from people in their 30s to 50s. Most experts agree that whether the joiner is young or old, certain predisposing factors may facilitate attraction to a cult, the success of recruitment and indoctrination efforts, and the length and depth of involvement.

These factors include:

1. A desire to belong

2. Unassertiveness (the inability to say no or express criticism or doubt)

3. Gullibility (impaired capacity to question critically what one is told, observes, thinks, and so forth)

4. Low tolerance for ambiguity (need for absolute answers, impatience to obtain answers)

5. Cultural disillusionment (alienation, dissatisfaction with the status quo)

6. Idealism

7. Susceptibility to trance-like states (in some cases, perhaps, due to prior drug experiences)

8. A lack of self-confidence

9. A desire for spiritual meaning

10. Ignorance of how groups can manipulate individuals 

At any age if a person is confused, in a personal crisis, or simply in a life transition, he may become attracted to or drawn in by a cult’s appeal; new in town, lost a job, financial woes, recently divorced, a friend or family member has just died, need for a career change, or feeling depressed. The anxious feelings experienced at such times make a person vulnerable, whether that person is 20 or 70 years old. If a vulnerable person happens to cross paths with a cult advertisement or personal recruiter putting forth even a mildly interesting offer, then that ad will pay for itself and that recruiter will stand a good chance of making his mark.

According to cult expert Michael Langone, “Conversion to cults is not truly a matter of choice. Vulnerabilities do not merely ‘lead’ individuals to a particular group. The group manipulates these vulnerabilities and deceives prospects in order to persuade them to join and, ultimately, renounce their old lives.” (Ref: Michael Langone, Cults: Questions and Answers, 6, Weston Mass; American Family Foundation 1988)

People who join cults are not stupid, weird, crazy, weak-willed, or neurotic. Most cult members are of above average intelligence, well adjusted, adaptable, and idealistic. In relatively few cases there is a history of pre-existing mental disorders. Anyone is capable of being recruited (or seduced) into a cult if his personal and circumstances make him prone to it. Cult recruitment is not mysterious. It is similar to the seduction and persuasion used by lovers and advertisers. But when you are vulnerable it is the most effective. However, depending on the degree of deception, seduction, and manipulation involved, the resultant attachment to the cult and the new belief system can be very powerful.



Excellence: Mastery Achieved

girl jumping.jpg IBy: Glenn Samuels

Director, Online Academy

Some people are born naturally gifted in certain areas. No one had to teach the track superstar, Carl Lewis how to be fast, he was just born that way. The Bible talks about the gifts of the Spirit; prophesy, healing, miraculous powers, wisdom, and faith. Other gifts include teaching, service, and counseling. But, no one gifted or not, is exempt from the hard work necessary to achieve mastery. The great composer, Beethoven, wrote hundreds of musical scores before he turned twenty-one. Jimi Hendrix, the first rock guitar virtuoso, practiced and played his instrument nearly all night and day as did the famous jazz saxophonist John Coltrane.

An often unknown fact is that every person of renown had a mentor. The Proverbs say having a mentor is wise and you are a fool if you don’t have one; “As iron sharpens iron, so one person sharpens another” (Proverb 21), and “Whoever walks with the wise becomes wise, but the companion of fools will suffer harm” (Proverb 13). A great track coach can help a gifted runner gain a step or two. Gaining a step or two in today’s world means a lot. Choosing a mentor is a key decision. No one wishes to learn from a fool. It is essential to achieve excellence by finding a wise mentor who is gifted in teaching and is very experienced in the practice you wish to learn. The greatest pianist of the second half of the Twentieth Century, Glenn Gould, had a mentor who taught him how to hit the piano keys in a distinct striking manner. That style lead to Gould’s fame and acclaimed aggressive articulate style of play. Who would think that there was a different way to strike a piano key? Alberto Guerrero did. He changed the way the piano was played after 300 years! A good mentor brings special insights into a subject and wisdom others simply do not have.

Discipline and practice are key factors to attain mastery. There is a “10,000-hour rule” originated by K. Anders Ericsson, a Swedish psychologist. It is a popular rule of thumb to help one achieve excellence. The author who popularized this theory, Malcolm Gladwell, writes that the Beatles performed for over 10,000 hours in Germany and small clubs before they broke through. Bill Gates states that he spent his 10,000 hours on a computer starting at the age of 13. Gladwell explains that reaching the 10,000-hour rule, which he considers the key to success in any field, is simply a matter of practicing a specific task that can be accomplished with 20 hours of work a week for 10 years. Gladwell also notes that he himself took exactly 10 years to meet the 10,000-hour rule, during his tenures at The American Spectator and his more recent job at The Washington Post as a writer. Drive and discipline are essential to success as well as being gifted. And, as above, the fact that no one makes it without help and instruction, “No one—not rock stars, not professional athletes, not software billionaires, and not even geniuses—ever makes it alone,” writes Gladwell.

The great bassist, Stanley Clarke, cites that people born of privilege often do not have the drive to succeed. When I asked him why a very gifted musician never “made it,” he asked me if our mutual friend came from wealth. He did. And more often than not Stanley was correct in his assessment. In this case the artist came from a coddled life. He did not have enough desire and drive to make it. It is a documented fact from a five-year study by Dr. Karl Alexander at Johns Hopkins University that those who go to summer school and work through vacations achieve more than those socio-economically privileged who are off summers taking it easy. It is not a necessity to be poor to succeed, but drive, discipline and teamwork are.

The great basketball star Michael Jordan was often scolded by his coaches that there is no “i” in team. His retort was that there is an “i” in win. They are both right, it takes a team, but it also takes talent to succeed and lead. Jordan was first known as a “dunker,” then he worked very hard on every aspect of his game and became the league’s Most Valuable Player and Defensive Player of the Year many times. Even he had to work hard to become complete.

I suggest that if you are working in a field that you have no talent or gift in and struggle that it is a good idea to consider a change. Talent is essential to succeed, then hard work; it is that plain and simple.

My grandfather used to say, “Walk like you mean it.” Walk, work, and live with intent. Don’t do anything half-assed. If you wish to attain mastery, walk like you mean it and walk a lot of miles with a guide at first to help you avoid the blind spots, the bumps and grinds in the road.

The On-line Academy has room for five more qualified students to train under the direction of Glenn Samuels.

Contact: glennsamuels@gmail.com




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