Over the past few years, various cult organizations have emerged and continue to attract substantial followings.
According to psychologists, cult recruiters specifically target vulnerable individuals who have experienced losses, such as the loss of a friend or lover, or those who find themselves in transitional periods upon returning home.
These recruiters entice potential recruits with promises of companionship, tranquility, and a sense of belonging.
They strategically frequent public spaces such as bus stations, libraries, airports, or any location where they anticipate encountering their prospective targets.
The recruits undergo a series of specialized programs designed to manipulate their emotions, thoughts, and behaviors under the guidance of the recruiters.
Following this indoctrination, individuals develop unwavering loyalty to the cult’s ideologies and exhibit deep allegiance to the cult leader.
Regrettably, historical instances have shown that individuals who become ensnared in cults become subject to emotional, financial, and sometimes even sexual exploitation.
These distressing consequences arise as a result of the indoctrination and manipulation by the cult leaders.
But why do individuals readily succumb to the allure of cults, despite the evident and detrimental aftermath that awaits them?
Read on to learn more about the various factors that drive individuals to join cults and the key characteristics that can help you identify whether a family member or friend is a follower.
Why Are People Drawn To Cults And Willingly Follow Their Leaders?
Multiple factors contribute to the attraction people feel toward cults, including:
I. Quest for Belonging
From a psychological standpoint, young individuals who join cults are often in a transitional phase of life.
In their pursuit of independence, they grapple with the desire for belonging, affection, and connection when they are away from home.
This longing for connection can lead to feelings of loneliness, making them susceptible and willing to do anything.
As cults promise to fulfill these needs, individuals are enticed to join, seeking a sense of belonging within a new “family” structure.
II. Vulnerability and Alienation
Life challenges can render certain individuals highly vulnerable, causing them to feel alienated from mainstream society.
They may be experiencing health crises, friendship difficulties, biased treatment, or immense career pressure.
These daunting experiences can leave individuals in a fragile state, making them susceptible to the influence of cults.
By joining such organizations, they are promised a better life through personal transformation and spiritual enlightenment.
III. Conflicting Information and Ideological Alignment
In some instances, individuals have been exposed to conflicting information or belief systems.
This exposure can lead them to question the value of existing cultures.
In their quest to reconcile these contradictory perspectives, they become influenced by and readily align with the ideology of the cult.
IV. Promises of a Better Life
Certain individuals are attracted to cults due to the promises of a superior existence.
Cults often present themselves as organizations that facilitate self-improvement and claim to make personal or professional dreams come true.
Individuals who are on a personal growth journey are captivated by these enticing promises.
Characteristics of Cult Followers
Many cult followers adhere strongly to the teachings of their cult leaders, which are often enforced through manipulative means.
The following are some of the most common characteristics of cult followers:
1. Unwavering Allegiance
One of the defining traits of a cult follower is the manifestation of unwavering allegiance and devotion to the cult and its leadership.
If you notice a family member has become extra faithful to the leader of a group, it could point out the possibility of him/her being a cult follower.
2. Willingness to Sacrifice for the Group
Cult followers also exhibit a resolute determination to go to any extent in order to make sacrifices for the group’s sake.
For instance, you may notice someone make large financial contributions to the group, cut ties with family and friends, starve or cut hair.
These sacrifices serve as an expression of their commitment to the group’s core values.
Such inclination to make sacrifices primarily stems from a profound belief in the group’s philosophies, which they are made to believe will ultimately lead to a greater good such as meeting their maker.
3. Social Withdrawal
When someone isolates themselves or becomes disconnected from mainstream society, their desire to join a cult stems from a longing to be a part of a new and unique family-like community where they feel a sense of belonging.
As they become more deeply involved in cult activities, it becomes evident that they distance themselves from their family and social relationships.
4. Obedience to the Cult Leader
Another key trait of cult followers is their steadfast obedience to the leaders.
They unquestioningly follow the leader’s commands and adhere faithfully to their doctrines and beliefs, even when the leader’s mistakes are apparent.
5. Justification of Contradictory Beliefs
Cult followers also tend to justify conflicting beliefs or values, ignoring evidence that contradicts their commitment and ongoing involvement in the cult.
They will rationalize the group’s values to prove their commitment and continued participation in the cult.
6. Suppression of Critical Thinking
Lack of critical thinking is another major characteristic behavior of cult followers.
They view their cult leaders as highly knowledgeable and accept their teachings unquestioningly.
Despite having education and a strong mind, they doubt their own abilities and lack critical thinking. The cult leader manipulates their behavior, thoughts, and emotions.
Some cult followers are also discouraged from pursuing education, healthcare, and social media.
Although they once recognized the significance of these aspects, they refrain from questioning them out of a belief that doing so is a sign of weakness.
7. Familial Isolation
Cult followers may also choose to isolate themselves from their loved ones.
Some are even coerced to cut off contact with their families. They are indoctrinated to believe that their families are evil, corrupt, and violent.
Going against this practice results in penalties imposed by the group.
8. Obsession with and Intense Proximity to the Leader
Another sign of being involved in a cult is when someone becomes intensely obsessed with and unusually close to the leader.
This close relationship brings noticeable changes in the person’s life and decision-making.
They develop a habit of constantly talking about the leader and show excessive care and strong defensiveness towards them.
9. Sudden Financial Distress
Suddenly experiencing financial distress after enjoying economic stability can also be an indicator that someone has joined a cult.
It is purported that cult leaders often encourage their adherents to make substantial monetary donations to the organization or to liquidate their assets and contribute the proceeds to the group.
10. Deviation from Known Religious Doctrines
Another sign of cultism is when an individual displays indications of disengagement from popular religious affiliations and expresses criticism towards them.
Such a person may voice opinions that contradict the principles outlined in the conventional teachings of their religions.
This is often the consequence of manipulation by the cult leader, who distorts various religious doctrines and misinterprets them for the members.
11. Manifestation of vulnerability
The manifestation of vulnerability can also serve as an indication of potential involvement in cultism.
When individuals face difficult circumstances such as illness, job loss, the loss of a loved one, or a lack of identity, they become more susceptible to the influence of cults.
Exploiting these vulnerabilities, cults offer solace, guidance, and a sense of belonging, enticing vulnerable individuals to join their ranks.
Recognizing and addressing these signs can help prevent individuals from falling victim to the detrimental consequences of cult involvement.
12. Perpetual Anger toward Others
Lastly, an individual may exhibit traits suggestive of being a cult follower if they consistently display anger towards others.
While this alone may not necessarily indicate involvement in a cult, the persistent anger, discontentment, and tendency to blame others may significantly increase their likelihood of joining extremist groups where they find gratification.
The act of joining cults can be a very dangerous affair due to the emotional manipulation exerted by their leaders upon their followers.
Even worse is the fact that as time progresses, it becomes increasingly challenging to reverse the mindset of these individuals, as they have become fully indoctrinated to unquestioningly embrace the group’s ideologies.
Familiarizing oneself with the aforementioned characteristics of individuals suspected of being cult followers enables careful assessment and the provision of necessary assistance, facilitating their escape from the devastating aftermath associated with such groups.