Jul 07 2008

What are the characteristics of a Cult?

Cults…I talk a lot about the YFZ Ranch and the FLDS, but what are some of the characteristics of a cult?

  • mind control…use of bizarre religious or secular ideas to enforce the obedience of followers
  • emotional disclosure…participants are encouraged to disclose private, emotionally important information…while the leaders do not share emotional information with the larger group
  • recruitment…participants are encouraged/expected to go out and recruit others to join the cult organization using deceptive and manipulative tactics
  • restriction from all outside ideas and influences ( no radio, television, computer/internet, newspapers)
  • Claims that the outside world is evil and will lead to the death or damnation of anyone who betrays the cult
  • Participants are manipulated to believe that they can not survive without all the cult offers them
  • leaders are a few men who directly benefit from the cult by abuse, manipulation, threat of harm, sexual control of women and intricate financial arrangements


In Carolyn Jessop’s experience, the FLDS used very manipulative religious ideas to threaten her and others. They were taught that in order to avoid eternal damnation and get to heaven, they needed to “obey” the prophet and later their husbands.

Also, having more children increased a wife’s status and importance within their polygamist family and� overall ploygamist community.
A key belief was that the husband/father was the priesthead of the family and the women and children only got to heaven through their obedience and devotion to him.

This led to patterns of abuse for Carolyn and her children and perhaps many more women and children.

Apparently, several hundred boys were terminated from the community and forced to leave without any support.

Religious, business, political, terrorist…there are many examples of the types of cults existing in the world…

If you know of an organization that uses deceptive mind control and aggressive recruitment for new members where only a few at the top benefit from the work of the members, it may not qualify as a cult.

However, it’s a good idea to check it out more fully before devoting a lot of time, energy and money to it’s organizational goals.

One response so far

One Response to “What are the characteristics of a Cult?”

  1. Cathy Nelsonon 02 Mar 2009 at 4:23 pm

    Great info! I was a member of jehovah’s witnesses from aged 17 to 43 (up to over a decade ago!) Robert Lifton’s work “Thought Reform and the Psychology of Totalism” was invaluable to me as far as educating myself re “high-control groups”. Also, watching the movie 1984 was helpful.

    thanks for this article

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