You Are In a Spiritual Cult If...


You are in a spiritual cult or high-control group if:

There is opposition to critical thought,

And self-doubt is encouraged.

Leaders claim to have special insight and supreme knowledge.

The leadership is authoritarian, charismatic and narcissistic, 

Their events involve mind-altering practices.

Leaders are not accountable to other authorities.

But the leaders are held to a different set of moral standards than others

And the group as a whole is elitist

Slandering and dismissing members who leave

Outsiders or outsider groups are looked down on as unenlightened, ignorant, etc.

Members become increasingly isolated from former companions,

Members frequently experience feelings of shame, guilt, fear.

And show zealous commitment, loyalty and dependence upon their leaders.

They target the vulnerable with with idealistic goals.

Deception is normalised, and the ends always justify the means

Individual identity is eroded or erased.

  • The group uses thought-reform methods of indoctrination. The hallmark of this practice is the use of thought-terminating clichés and religious platitudes; general, vague and overused statements that may contain a grain of truth but which in reality, are only true in certain contexts or metaphorically speaking. When taken literally or misapplied they can be completely false and they express cheap sentiment rather than real concern or empathy with others. These clichés are repeated over and over again so that members don’t have to critically analyse complex issues. Indoctrination or “brainwashing” is the process by which a group like this slowly breaks down a person’s sense of identity and ability to think rationally and independently. If your serious questions are answered with clichés, you are probably in a high-control group or cult. 
  • Group leaders ignore or discourage questions, criticism and dissent. The group belittles critical-thinking and scepticism, making vigorous efforts to suppress it. Doubt or questions may even be punished in overt or subtle ways.
  • You are encouraged to doubt yourself and your own moral and/or intellectual ability to discern the truth and you are encouraged to rely increasingly on the leader’s teachings. You are encouraged to see them as having a much greater ability to discern the truth than you do.
  • You are told to doubt your doubts

  • Both cults and religions begin with a charismatic leader who claims some special or supreme knowledge, messages and/or insight from a supernatural, other-worldly source. They may call themselves a prophet, an enlightened teacher, a messenger, a messiah, or even claim to be divine. They may be peasants, nobles, politicians, CEOs, military officials, self-help gurus or from any other walk of life. 
    • The leader is unusually certain and dogmatic about this supposed knowledge, whether it originates with the leader him/herself, and is presented through his/her own preaching or writings, or whether it is revealed through the leader’s interpretation of existing scriptures, teachings and traditions.
  • Unlike leaders of groups belonging to major world religions, cult leaders tend to emphasize special doctrines outside the more widely agreed scriptures and traditions. Often these will be considered unorthodox, heretical and deviant by mainstream faith organisations because they cross certain boundaries, or undermine personal ownership.
  • Cult leaders increasingly claim knowledge outside their own experience and expertise.
    • Good leaders are modest about their knowledge and abilities, acknowledging those things that they do not know. They will only claim expertise in specific areas that they are trained and qualified in, and will defer to the greater knowledge of others in other areas. They will share their own doubts and struggles in discerning the truth and will make it clear that no one has special access to spiritual knowledge. There will be no formal or informal/unspoken spiritual hierarchy, where the leader/leaders are put on a pedestal as being more holy, spiritual or wise than others.

The leadership is authoritarian, charismatic and narcissistic…

  • There is disapproval from other members when you make fair criticism of the leaders or do not show as much admiration or reverence for the leaders as others do. 
  • As well as drama and theatrics, leaders use rhetorical skills in their speeches and preaching in order to circumvent people’s critical faculties, and persuade them to believe the group dogma.
  • In safe groups, the leaders will admit failings and mistakes, accept constructive criticism and seek advice. They will value dialogue and the free exchange of ideas and opinions, including where these relate to their own role and performance.
  • Arrogant leaders are stubborn. They don’t lose a discussion, argument, or debate. They have the last word and the final say. They respond to attacks with sharp retorts instead of graceful corrections.

Leaders are not accountable to other authorities

The group as a whole is elitist

  • Outsiders and external groups are looked down upon to some degree as inferior. The group and its leaders consider themselves to be holier, wiser, special, enlightened, righteous, elect and/or superior to those outside the group.
  • Group members believe themselves to be ‘called’ or ‘chosen’ for a special mission to save humanity by radically transforming individual lives and the entire world. The group believes it, and/or its message, is the sole solution to the world’s problems.
  • This elitism is maintained with subtle methods of exclusion based on unspoken prejudices, including passive aggression (indirect aggression) and micro-aggressions. There is often, in other words, a culture of bullying that would not necessarily be obvious to outsiders.
Safe groups do not consider themselves to be superior or special in relation to other groups and outsiders, nor do they have internal hierarchies in which some people are considered more holy, worthy or wise than others.

  • If former members speak out, they are dismissed as bitter, angry, dishonest, psychologically unstable, less enlightened, ignorant, etc.

Extra Characteristics of Full-Blown Cults

  • There is absolute authoritarianism without meaningful accountability. The leader is the ultimate authority and is always right. The group/leader is the exclusive means of knowing “truth” or receiving validation.
  • Most cult leaders set up their groups alone without consultation or collaboration with others. 
  • Hypocrisy: There is one rule for the leader and another for everyone else. If you are held to a different moral/ethical standards, you are in a cult.
    • In a safe group, the same rules and standards apply to all equally, including the leaders.  Leaders/enlightened individuals are not considered to be above or beyond moral/ethical guidelines.
  • When confronted, leaders do not confess but create justifications for their impropriety. They claim the end goals of the group justify their actions.
  • Loyal cult members will perform any amount of “mental gymnastics” to justify, deny or ignore the leader’s bad behaviour. It does not matter what the evidence or logic suggests, members always find ways to defend the leader and justify his/her misdeeds.


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