[Vision2020] Characteristics of a cult

Robert Dickow dickow at uidaho.edu
Mon Dec 10 08:49:15 PST 2007

Hi all, A minister friend of mine in England provided me with this rather
comprehensive list of characteristics of a cult (or ‘destructive group’ –
defined more generally). Does this stuff remind you of anything?


Bob Dickow, troublemaker



Characteristics of A Destructive Group

While not all groups exhibit all these traits, destructive groups will have
many of these characteristics and attitudes: 


 Authoritarian hierarchal control;  


 Black and white thinking: either or, we they, us them;  


 Centralized power structure;  


 Child abuse and neglect;  


 Competition with other members or with outsiders;  


 Conflicting opinions viewed as moral assaults and disloyalty;  


 Control of information within group environment;  


 Criticism of group, system or leaders is discouraged;  


 Different beliefs or ideas are perceived as threatening;  


 Discrimination (economic, emotional and psychological):  race, gender, age,
religion, politics;  


 Effusive praise and flattery for leaders;  


 Enemy making, a common enemy outside the group: other business groups,
other religions, other countries, other life styles, other 



 Fear (or feelings of guilt) about the prospect of leaving the group;  


 Feelings of superiority and exclusiveness;  


 Gender-based abuse in any form;  


 Group becomes like a family and is more important than individual's family
and outside friends;  


 Group has the "truth" (the answers) others don't;  


 Group (system) mission is more important than the individual;  


 Group's doctrine repeated over and over, lots of repetitious lectures and


 Group leader(s) are looked to for answers involving personal choices in


 Labeling: Dissenting members, other groups, and different belief systems
are given negative labels/names;  


 Large pay and power gaps between members and leaders;  


 Loaded language: the group has its own clichés, jargon and slogans that
become simplistic explanations for complex situations;  


 Missionary consciousness: converting others to group ideology, product,
beliefs, trying to persuade others to be like "us";  


 Need leader(s) permission for everything;  


 Overuse of plural pronouns: we, us, they, them;  


 Peer pressure: non group ideas receive icy silence, ridicule, or


 Propaganda used to persuade members and internalize group ideas;  


 Public humiliation or embarrassment in any form;  


 Public sharings, testimonials, confession, witnessing;  


 Scapegoating within or outside the group;  


 Secrecy between members or between different levels of a group's structure;


 Selfishness is putting yourself above the group;  


 Strict dress codes, everyone looks alike;  


 Suppressing legitimate feelings when they do not fit the group's mind set;


 The need to be like leaders or like others in the group;  


 There is always something to do, excessive business;  


 There is a group explanation for everything;  


 Thought control: there are "good" and "bad" thoughts;  


 Unquestioning obedience to authority.  




Emotional and Psychological Aftereffects from Membership in a Destructive


Note:  Aftereffects will vary depending on the specific type of group and
the length of time spent in the group.


 Feelings of guilt, shame, and self-blaming;  


Difficulty making decisions and simple choices.  Excessive doubt;  


 Short term memory loss;  


 Anxiety and panic attacks;  


 Depression and anger;  


 Loneliness and feelings of detachment and isolation from others;  


 Loss of self-esteem;  


 Lack of self-confidence;  


 Difficulty concentrating and focusing attention;  


 Inability to think critically and "uncritical passivity;"  


 Posttraumatic Stress:

    Flashbacks including images, thoughts, and perceptions.

    Recurrent nightmares or distressing dreams.

    Efforts to avoid places or people that arouse memories of the group.

    Significant diminished interest in important activities.

    Sense of a foreshortened or non-existent future.

    Irritability and angry outbursts.  


 Hyper critical of others, other ideas, other philosophies, other life


 Loss of a sense of self and identity;  


 Difficult or impossible to stop mental or other group ritualistic


 Feelings of emptiness and loss of a unique mission in life;  


 Disassociative episodes, floating, feeling spaced out;  


 Afraid to join other groups or make commitments;  


 Difficulty forming a new value system or philosophy toward life;  


 Nervous tics--often induced by meditative techniques used in the group;  


 Fear of the group;  


 Estrangement (also while in the group) from family and former friends;  


 Difficulty making and expressing opinions.  

-------------- next part --------------
An HTML attachment was scrubbed...
URL: http://mailman.fsr.com/pipermail/vision2020/attachments/20071210/28129825/attachment.html 

More information about the Vision2020 mailing list