Cult is a word that likely elicits a scene where people are gathered in a dark, candle-lit room chanting satanic calls and performing blood rituals. However, cult tactics are present in a number of sects of major religions and multi-level marketing schemes.
According to psychologist and former cult member Steven Hassan, many of these organizations could be considered cults or cult-like. Consider Hassan’s BITE model of cult tactics. BITE stands for behaviour control, information control, thought control and emotional control.
A variety of behaviours and tactics can fall under the BITE model, and a group may use a combination of these methods to entice members. Cults and cult-like groups often have financial control and social influence over their members. This control can be both mentally and physically harmful and creates barriers that make it difficult to escape the group.
University students are curious and idealistic and still trying to find where they belong in the world. Therefore, they can be particularly vulnerable to cults and their tactics. Here are some tactics used by cults and cultlike groups to attract and trap potential new members. Learning them could help you identify groups that may only seem to have your best interests in mind.
According to the BITE model, when a member first approaches a potential convert, they appear overly nice in order to lower the guard of the person they are trying to recruit. Oftentimes, a recruiting member of the group attempts to form a friendship with and give high praise to the potential member for doing things that comply with the group’s teachings as a way of indoctrinating them.
The recruiting member’s goal is to make recruits feel wanted and accepted in the community. However, once a potential member refuses to join, the group member will completely cut ties with them. If the recruit does join, the high praise is soon followed up with harsh criticism for anything that goes against their doctrine.
Good and bad dichotomy
Cults often create an environment wherein followers are discouraged from critically analyzing the organization. If you question the leader and their teachings, you are considered a fake follower and could be ostracized by the group. This fear-based tactic enforces a black-and-white dichotomy of thinking, silencing members into compliance.
The ‘us versus them’ mentality
Members of a cult-like group are often taught that everything inside the group is good and everything outside it is evil or full of lies. This prevents members from even considering outside perspectives since they believe them to be inherently incorrect.
Furthermore, this leaves members locked in a cycle of confirmation bias. Any good is thought to be brought on by the group and its practices. If ever something bad happens, it’s because you are being corrupted by the outside world.
Because of the “us versus them” mentality, outsiders are often depicted as evil, worldly or corrupted. Therefore, the members are encouraged to associate only with other members. This may include avoiding family members and friends that don’t also join the group. This helps to isolate the recruit.
If an individual were to leave the group, they would be characterized as corrupted in some way, and they would be identified as worldly like other outsiders. They would most likely be shunned and would subsequently lose contact with their entire social circle, including family members.
In short, many cult tactics may seem well intentioned and subtle at first, but before long, you may find you’ve dug yourself into a hole too deep to escape. So be wary of any group that seems too good to be true or appears to offer a bigger truth while discouraging critical thinking and the exploration of different perspectives. This is a huge red flag.
Any group that wants to find a new truth will learn and grow as new information becomes available and criticisms are brought forward. Any real revelation should stand up to criticism over time. Any group that has your best interests at heart won’t shut you down at the first sign of struggle or questioning and will work towards building you up without first tearing you down.
Photo: Creative Commons / Supplied