Undue influence is any act of persuasion that overcomes the free will and judgment of another person. People can be unduly influenced by deception, flattery, trickery, coercion, hypnosis, and other techniques. In addition to religious cults, there are psychotherapy cults, political cults, commercial cults, terrorist organizations, and trafficking rings. There are also personality cults, particularly if one person exerts undue influence over another (or a small group of people, such as in a family).
There are groups which combine all or some of these elements, especially when the group is large and has a variety of “fronts” or other entities.
What is a Destructive Cult? Meaning of the Term
A destructive cult is a pyramid-shaped authoritarian regime with a person or group of people that have dictatorial control. It uses deception to recruit new members and does not tell them what the group is, what the group actually believes, and what will be expected of them if they become members. It also uses undue influence to keep people dependent, obedient, and loyal.
Assessing Whether Organizations Exert Undue Influence
You can use the BITE Model to help you assess the level of control that a group exerts over its members. You can also ask any of the questions below. Vague, evasive, deceptive, or manipulative answers are a huge red flag! Give yourself the time and space to investigate and think about any groups you are considering.
Do independent research before you make any commitments. Don’t only rely on the recruiter’s information, and don’t let anyone put extreme pressure on you to make quick, impulsive, or uninformed decisions.
Ask these questions before joining any group!
Benign cult groups are any group of people who have a set of beliefs and rituals that are non-mainstream. As long as people are freely able to join with informed consent (which includes full and honest disclosure of the group’s doctrine and practices), and can choose to disaffiliate without shunning, fear, or harassment, then it is not a destructive cult.
To learn more read Combating Cult Mind Control which explores cult psychology, curing the mind control virus, how to protect people you care about and strategies for recovery.
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