Ten Common Cult Traits

Every once in a while, I’ll turn a comment into a post because I feel the story, especially entertaining (see Y2K), or content especially valuable, or both. I was shocked when I started reading academic literature on cults; “school”, also known as The Study”, had every, single cultic hallmark. I thought to myself, “How could I have missed this???”

Unfortunately, we don’t typically get educated on how to spot a con-job. Recently a contributor posted these ten warning signs of a potentially unsafe group/leader. It is in the spirit of education/self empowerment that I highlight them. You have all had your own experiences of “school”, i.e. “The Study” and can determine for yourself whether they remind you of a certain “secret esoteric mystery school” or “study”:

1. Absolute authoritarianism without meaningful accountability.
2. No tolerance for questions or critical inquiry.
3. No meaningful financial disclosure regarding budget, expenses such as an independently audited financial statement.
4. Unreasonable fear about the outside world, such as impending catastrophe, evil conspiracies and persecutions.
5. There is no legitimate reason to leave, former followers are always wrong in leaving, negative or even evil.
6. Former members often relate the same stories of abuse and reflect a similar pattern of grievances.
7. There are records, books, news articles, or television programs that document the abuses of the group/leader.
8. Followers feel they can never be “good enough”.
9. The group/leader is always right.
10. The group/leader is the exclusive means of knowing “truth” or receiving validation, no other process of discovery is really acceptable or credible.

For more information on identifying cults, visit the Cult Education Institute, Warning Signs page.

9 thoughts on “Ten Common Cult Traits

  1. Long Time Gone says:

    This is a great list! May I offer one amendment, in that there will often be a public ‘exception which proves the rule’. For example, a person who expresses the desire to leave will publicly be told that that is the right choice for them, or someone who questions will be hailed as a brave soul (and possibly torn down in the future over some unrelated action or inner quality). Or they may be lauded for several years before the inevitable Fall before which Pride goeth and everyone feasteth upon. I’ve seen all of these things enacted and for the years I was convincing myself to stay in the group. my mental pro and con list (oh no – ‘keeping accounts’! well, yes, we all weigh the advantages and disadvantages of our situations all the time) often would say, well, so and so did this and it was OK, or so and so almost gave up and then got everything she had been wanting, or so and so asked about the finances and was kicked out, on and on so that it was best to stay silent and not attract attention unless one were one of the combative types.

  2. Zsa Zsa says:

    I found another list (via Michael Langone):
    NOTE: MY COMMENTS ARE IN CAPS TO DISTINGUISH THEM FROM THE ITEMS ON THE LIST.

    The group displays excessively zealous and unquestioning commitment to its leader and (whether he is alive or dead) regards his belief system, ideology, and practices as the Truth, as law.
    SHARON KNOWS BEST.
    THINK: THIS IS A SUGGESTION NOT AN INSTRUCTION BUT WOE TO YOU IF YOU DO NOT DO IT.

    Questioning, doubt, and dissent are discouraged or even punished.

    Mind-altering practices (such as meditation, chanting, speaking in tongues, denunciation sessions, and debilitating work routines) are used in excess and serve to suppress doubts about the group and its leader(s). THINK: BODYWORK, CR, RETREATS, CHRISTMAS CLASSES, 5 WEEK AIMS
    DENUNCIATION SESSIONS – OH YES.

    The leadership dictates, sometimes in great detail, how members should think, act, and feel (for example, members must get permission to date, change jobs, marry—or leaders prescribe what types of clothes to wear, where to live, whether or not to have children, how to discipline children, and so forth).
    THINK: NO TV, WORK AND MONEY GROUP, DON’T GO ON FACEBOOK, DON’T SURF THE WEB, GET MARRIED, WEAR CLOTHES LIKE SHARON’S…

    The group is elitist, claiming a special, exalted status for itself, its leader(s) and members (for example, the leader is considered the Messiah, a special being, an avatar—or the group and/or the leader is on a special mission to save humanity).
    THINK: I AM ON A MISSION FROM GOD

    The group has a polarized us-versus-them mentality, which may cause conflict with the wider society.

    The leader is not accountable to any authorities (unlike, for example, teachers, military commanders or ministers, priests, monks, and rabbis of mainstream religious denominations).
    SHARON DOES NOT EXACTLY TAK ORDERS FROM ANYONE.

    The group teaches or implies that its supposedly exalted ends justify whatever means it deems necessary. This may result in members’ participating in behaviors or activities they would have considered reprehensible or unethical before joining the group (for example, lying to family or friends, or collecting money for bogus charities). THINK: CLEVER INSINCERITY, MONEY FOR ORPHANS IN GEORGIA (BOGUS CHARITY), SHARON’S RETIREMENT ACCOUNT…

    The leadership induces feelings of shame and/or guilt in order to influence and/or control members. Often, this is done through peer pressure and subtle forms of persuasion.

    Subservience to the leader or group requires members to cut ties with family and friends, and radically alter the personal goals and activities they had before joining the group.

    The group is preoccupied with bringing in new members.
    THINK: THIRD LINE OF WORK

    The group is preoccupied with making money.
    THINK: TUITION, MAINTENANCE, AND DON’T BRING ANYONE TO SCHOOL UNLESS THEY MAKE AT LEAST $60,000 PER YEAR

    Members are expected to devote inordinate amounts of time to the group and group-related activities.
    THINK: AIMS, THIRD LINE OF WORK, CLASSES TWICE A WEEK, CR

    Members are encouraged or required to live and/or socialize only with other group members.
    WELL, THIS IS TRUE BUT ONLY WHEN YOU GET INTO THE “INNER CIRCLE” OF SPECIAL ASSHOLES OR HAVE A SCHOOL ARRANGED MARRIAGE.

    The most loyal members (the “true believers”) feel there can be no life outside the context of the group. They believe there is no other way to be, and often fear reprisals to themselves or others if they leave (or even consider leaving) the group.
    THINK: IF YOU LEAVE SCHOOL YOUR LIFE WILL TURN TO SHIT.

    I AM SURE EVERYONE CAN FILL IN THEIR OWN EXAMPLES…

  3. BestFootForward says:

    Hi All, very true, very true…..one thing better though is to verify One’s Own Truth…..the polar opposite of the so called ‘teaching’..
    For me, ironically, blessedly, and seeming miraculously, that with Real Help….my depression, suicidal thoughts, and job difficulties – All are GONE!!
    AFTER LEAVING THIS FAKE SCHOOL….
    SO, I have Verified for Myself….that One Can Indeed GIVE UP ONE’s UNNECESSARY SUFFERING!!!
    HAPPY, JOYOUS AND FREE AT LAST!!
    HALLELUJAH!!

  4. BestFootForward, Congratulations!!! Isn’t that the biggest irony, though. I found that when I began trusting my instincts, following my inner moral compass, verified my truth, it all proved this “teaching” to be a bunch of lies. I also overcame depression and no longer have the financial and employment struggles — ironically, those ended within a month of leaving “school”, aka. “the study. So, I again congratulate you on your freedom, your “school/thestudy”-free life. May you breathe in every moment and live them to the fullest! Afterall, someone once told me, the best revenge is to live well. This is especially true when one has been told, essentially, If you don’t follow instruction, your life will go to shit. And you discover that when you let go of the external instruction and turn inward for guidance, you let go of all that shit. Ha! I wish you well!!!

  5. Patterson says:

    Two million thanks to whoever posted that printed list. I discovered it early on and it saved me from further entanglement with this filthy dirty group. At the time, the group didn’t appear to fit the descriptions on that list– I just hadn’t been there long enough– but the accompanying material and websites made clear that this was indeed the group in question, and just how frankly evil they were.
    Evil: not an overstatement. I define it here as:
    1. Lying to people about what they’re really getting involved in
    2. Seeking to destroy another’s free will.
    3. Seeking to enslave/degrade others, mentally, emotionally and/or physically
    4. Living as a parasite off those whom you’ve enslaved.

    And yes, Sustainers (or whatever you call yourselves now), you’re engaged in evil, every single time you meet with your “sustainee” and perpetuate the lies. No “following orders” excuse here. No “I was a victim too” excuse here. You know the truth and turn your head.

    Evil: it’s not just for Robert and Sharon.

    I used to watch Carol B. remove these flyers postedoin the coffee shop message board. It gave me great pleasure to post another after she’d left the building. I realize you and others try to be kind in your comments, GSR, but I found her to be ugly, even repulsive.

    Clever Insincerity, Radical Honesty, don’t you love the irony of these cult terms? They do anything but tell you the radical honesty about what they really are. It’s so blatant, it’s laughable. Recognize the signs?

    • Irony – yep. How many times have I tried to articulate that this group is steeped in irony; everything they claim to be, is the polar opposite of what they are: they claim to seek truth, while spreading deception justified as “clever insincerity. They claim a path to freedom, while snapping on psychological shackles. They claim to be “shedding light”, while requiring a shady darkness – necessary to “protect the ideas”. They claim to be “protecting ideas” that are freely available; thus the claim to exclusive access proves to be a weird subverting of the very ideas they claim to protect … oh, it’s endless!

      As for Carol B, perhaps I’ve tried to be kind to her … I’m not sure. I don’t have a lot of sympathy for Carol B, given the amount of bullshit she slung in my direction — of course, at the time I was in my cult coma and believed that she was “helping me”. Yay for cult comas!

  6. BestFootForward says:

    One specific sign that made me reel back in horror was a so called teacher throwing himself against the wall and banging the wall with his fists in response to people not obeying him! He clearly confused this action to that of a real man, and later bragged about it to his teacher….

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