Signs of a Cult or Controlling Religious Organization

God-Like Leader – The leader of cultic organizations tend to be charismatic and narcissistic. The leader is usually very good at selling the benefits of joining the group. They may promise the blessings of God and refer to life in their organization as the Promised Land. The leaders actions are always justified by the group. An understanding exists that no one is to question the leaders motives. The boundaries between the role of God and the role of the leader are increasingly blurred.


Isolation from world – Cultic groups exist around the idea that they are safer in the group than outside of the group. Most groups operate by what Sociologist call an Us-Them Theory. This means that all those outside of the group are considered less-than and all those in the group are considered greater-than. Those in the group are to not participate in behaviors of the world but dedicate themselves to the group/leader/God. In order to save those on the outside, they must be recruited to the group. All happenings outside of the group are considered insignificant. Fear is a major component isolating individuals from trying things that have been deemed sinful.  Fear of disappointing God (the group’s idea of who God is), disappointing the leader, and committing sin reinforcing the isolation.


System of Reward and Punishment – As one follow the rules of the group they are promoted in the group. As they do not meet the group standards they are stripped of privileged. In some groups promotion is teaching new classes or being in charge of new group projects. Since members are isolated from main-stream society, they begin to feel that all they have is the group and devote themselves to following the rules and pleasing the leader.


Control – As the group enforces the system of rewards and punishments, promises the members a wonderful life if they follow him, and isolates the followers for society, their lives become very controlled. Each decision is dictated by what the group, leader, and God (meaning the group’s portrayal of God) would think of the situation. Followers receiving validation through the group’s belief system and no other process of discovery is acceptable or credible.


Language – Verbiage develops inside the group relevant to the group’s beliefs. The longer an individual functions in the group, the less they feel able to communicate with the outside world.


Defamation of past members – Those who chose not to stay in the group are looked down upon in group – no matter how close they once were. Those still in group are encouraged to cease all contact with those who have left. The ex-members may referenced as “out of the will of God” or “back-slidden”.


Hierarchy of Leadership – As individuals are promoted within the group, they take on more responsibility and are more closely watched. They are often instructed to only receive counselor from those who hold leadership positions in the group as the leader knows that those in the highest positions will report all information back to the leader. This is a way of keeping tabs on members. Those in lower levels of the group  are more able to maintain higher functioning relationships as they are not as closely watched.


Blogs from Amanda on this topic:

Defining + Finding Purpose After Abuse

My First Blog >> Deciding to Heal

Recovering Emotionally After Leaving a Cult

Life in a Cult to the Life of My Dreams

Leaving a Cult Taught me How to Follow My Heart