Cults have long captured the public imagination, inspiring fascination, fear, and curiosity in equal measure. This interest has led to the prevalence of disinformation around cults with one of the most widespread being they mainly target and succeed in ensnaring poor people. Let’s set the record straight on cults, particularly regarding the tactics they use and the fact that anyone can find themselves trapped in one. Understanding this doesn’t just make you extra vigilant, it also makes you more compassionate and respectful when you talk about victims.
Anyone, even you can join a cult
No one joins a cult
No one joins a cult. Everyone joins a group of like-minded individuals interested in something they’re interested in. You’re not joining a cult, you’re joining what looks to be a really great group that you can dedicate yourself to for the greater good or self-improvement. It could also be in pursuit of spiritual growth, but cults are not always religious in nature. If you have ever sought to improve yourself and your life in some way, you are as susceptible as the next person to joining a cult.
Humans are social creatures who crave connection, community and belonging. They offer belonging and purpose for people who feel isolated and disconnected from society. In our increasingly atomized society in which community is steadily destroyed by capitalist ethos, the number of lonely people is steadily rising. People are lonelier than ever before which means we are all more susceptible than ever before.
Manipulation and lies
Inevitably when a cult is exposed, people being to say, ‘could never be me’, forgetting that everyone is susceptible to manipulation and lies. Cults often use deceptive tactics to recruit new members including presenting a false image of themselves or their leader. These tactics can be effective on anyone regardless of intelligence, education, background, or wealth.
Cults target people when they are most vulnerable when they’re dealing with major life changes like moving to a new city, starting college, or going through some type of loss. No one is exempt from the upheaval that life occasionally throws your way. Cults explore this emotional vulnerability offering a sense of community or support as you go through a rough patch. It can happen to anyone if you come across the cult at the wrong time.
Curiosity and search for answers
Life is confusing and uncertain. Too much of it doesn’t make sense and is virtually unknown. Human beings don’t sit well with uncertainty and so we go seeking answers to life’s biggest questions. This is where cults come in, they have the answers. There’s cut ideology and answers to everything which can offer a sense of stability in a chaotic, painful world. People are also just curious which means they can be intrigued by the unusual beliefs or practices of a cult. Curiosity can lead them to investigate and if they wander upon a cult with effective manipulation tactics, they can end up ensnared.
The myth of the gullible cult member is too pervasive which leaves people with a false sense of security. The idea that only stupid, poor people get caught is not just false but it’s also evidence of the disdain capitalist society continues to heap on the poor. Those suffering because of the oppression and exploitation capitalist society visits on them. It also leads to victim-blaming which can make it difficult for people to seek help if they ever find themselves caught up in one. It also absolves cult leaders of blame and instead focuses on condemning and disparaging the victims.
People who end up caught up in cults are so diverse as to have nothing in common beyond the fact that they got caught up in one. They come from all walks of life including professionals, highly educated individuals, wealthy people, and religious and non-religious people. What they have in common is the similarity of the manipulative tactics that were used to trap them and keep them stuck in whatever cult they were in.
Understanding that it can happen to anyone can make people more vigilant, which can help decrease their potential risk of being deceived. It also creates an environment that supports victims and is prepared to support them.
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