Why Cults are So Effective

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Why Cults are So Effective

It was found through research that most people who join cults don’t have any underlying psychological conditions / Photo by Grywnn via Wikimedia Commons


We have heard of chilling stories about communities that seemingly sold their lives to the whims of a fanatical leader. These cults are frightening, yet they continue on and even garner new members.

Why would someone ever submit themselves to joining these dangerous and radical groups?


What is a Cult?

A cult, by definition, is a group of people that gather and organize around a strong personality or authority figure. They expand influence among people in order to gain money and power from their members. However, cults will often try to gain the psychological control of their members through various means.

The main difference between cults and established religions and altruistic groups is that while the latter is focused on the ultimate goal of empowering their members and bettering their lives, cults will be focused on serving only the goals of the leader, and this can often be shrouded in altruistic and wholesome guises. Cults also often employ complete authoritarian control to subdue their followers.


Emotional Manipulation

Why would anyone actually join a cult? According to The Conversation, emotional comfort is one of the foremost reasons that people join a cult. As a species, human beings are social creatures that have formed communities and groups since time immemorial. We do so in order to reap the benefits from the group, as well as to have a support system during trying times. People will often try to seek comfort and security by joining groups that promise these things to them.

These human traits are not weaknesses but are a form of adaptation that allows people to better deal with internal struggles. However, cult leaders have learned how to take advantage of people’s anxieties and fears. They make large promises that cover all aspects of life and will virtually erase any insecurity that people have. These can be anything from perfect health, constant peace of mind, continuous financial security, and even a never-ending life. Of course, all of these are highly unattainable, and most cult leaders have no intention of delivering on their promises.


Cult Techniques

But cult leaders don’t just stop at that. Once they have found people who are willing to listen, they begin to use effective techniques that use behavioral mind control to sever their members’ ties to other people outside of the cult and keep them tied to the group. Many of these methods are known by various names, such as brainwashing, mind control, and thought reform. These are used to ensure that the person will only come to the cult for reassurance and support.

By deepening their member’s insecurities, cults encourage them to rely only on the group. The members then begin to feel more psychologically isolated than they had before and become overwhelmed by negative feelings that they have no option but to stay with the cult.

Once the cult has a grip firmly held on a new member, it strips that person of their former identity and gives them a new one. Oftentimes, this is not by the express consent of the person. This can allow leaders to have complete psychological control over their subjects to the point that unspeakable evils can be committed in their name. Some of the most notorious of these incidents involving large cults include the Jonestown Massacre in 1978 and the Heaven’s Gate suicides that occurred in 1997. The former was a mass suicide led by Jim Jones, while the latter happened when Marshall Applewhite and 39 of his members overdosed on a combination of vodka and phenobarbital. He made them believe that by doing so, they would be transported to a spaceship flying behind the Hale-Bopp comet.


Problem and Solution

It was found through research that most people who join cults don’t have any underlying psychological conditions. In fact, most of them are regular people. Only a third will have some depressive symptoms, and only about 5% of those will have very serious psychological issues that should be clinically addressed. Cults will prefer to find intellectual and influential members as they can contribute money and influence for the cult’s causes. They will often seek those in situational circumstances that will make them more vulnerable to considering the cult’s ideas. And those listening will often be enticed by the “quick and easy” solutions offered by these cults, as stated by WorkingPsychology.com.

Human beings are social creatures that have formed communities and groups since time immemorial / Photo by Ashley N. Avecilla via Minot


Everyone can be susceptible to the siren song of a cult under the right conditions. In order to avoid being swayed and caught in these destructive groups, psychologists encourage people to seek reason-based and rational solutions for their problems. Of course, this is easier said than done, as sentimental remedies will often look more enticing than an answer that requires a considerable amount of effort.

The saying goes that if something seems too good to be true, then it probably is. People should be vigilant when hearing about an automatic cure-all or an incredible dogma that will make all your worries disappear, as these could be the workings of a cult.




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