Cults, often positioned as innocent and peaceful interest groups, are often attractive on the outside, but quite dangerous on the inside. Cult members are not distinguishable from everyday people, as they wear ordinary clothes, lead popular lifestyles and eat the same food as non-participants do. However, such groups have a destructive effect on personality, which consists, first and foremost, in the property of controlling participants’ mind and behavior.
The present paper utilizes critical articles and discusses the types of people, who are particularly exposed to the influence of cults. It argues that there are three main characteristics which can make a personal vulnerable: primarily, low awareness and poor ability to analyze the objective reality; secondly, difficult life situation and, finally, psychological sensitivity to group pressure , insecurity or low self-sufficiency. Primarily, cults most easily attract people, who fail to critically process the information that comes from various external sources.
For instance, Carolyn Gard talks about a group of young students, who joined the cult when traveling around the country. That was a period of vacation, so the men were feeling to great extent relaxed, due to the fact that pastime is commonly associated with freedom from any work, both physical and intellectual. On weekend, people tend to do whatever they wish and become a little self-indulgent, thus losing their caution and common sense. More briefly, it is common to free oneself from critically reflecting upon what is happening around in the pastime.
The same seemed to happen to the young people, who were viewing their life as entertainment during vacation and therefore engaged with objectively dangerous social contacts without awareness and with no motivation for developing it. Gard also notes that the characters of her story were emotionally affected by the cult leader: “I was mesmerized by his presence”, Adam says. “I spent 10 hours listening to him. At the end of the day, several of us held hands in a circle, and Ron told us we should come and live with him” (Gard, p. 18).
As one can assume, when the person switches off their critical thinking, emotions apparently begin to dominate over reason and as a result make a person more suggestible. Most stories about the involvement into cult activity, like those told by Gard and Fennell (Gard, p. 18; Fennell, p. 26) begin with emotional response to universal moral maxims such as mercy, peace and love. As a rule, such emotional response meets the barrier of sober reason, but if the person is not able or temporarily fails to consider the situation critically, their emotions are likely to turn into a fixation or an obsession.
In addition, people, who avoid critical reflections upon the reality might also have no individual life position and principles. Instead, their standpoint is imposed by society , and due to the failure to analyze it and develop a personal moral system, such people might still feel this position as “artificial”. As a result, it is easier to destroy the system of principles, dictated from outside, and convince the person to adopt a new one. Fennell observes that cult leaders are charismatic, strong and authoritative personalities (Fennell and Branswell, p.
48); in addition, they are normally well-educated and sophisticated enough to find their own explanations of global problems like disease or divorce and invent original ‘remedies” against them. Those individuals, who haven’t yet developed awareness of cause-and-effect relations in such issues on the basis of their own and others’ experience, are therefore more likely to accept the explanations and solutions, coming from outside, instead of doing hard mind work and developing full understanding of the specified troubles.
Secondly, it is important to pay attention to the kind of people, who are experiencing life hardships and are supposed to joggle multiple responsibilities and meet a number of challenges simultaneously. According to Fennell, “…cults often prey on people who are emotionally confused or distraught. In some cases, a person may accidentally come into contact with a cult following the death of a loved one, a broken marriage or a failed relationship” (Fennell,p. 27).
As one can assume, cults rely on strongly dissatisfied people and manipulate universal values, ostensible showing to their would-be-members a path to happiness and inner peace. Logically, if the person is discontent and feels empty, they logically seek relief, and due to the fact that they or some reasons do not find it, they follow the cults in attempt to obtain the desired happiness and fill emptiness. Given that life troubles lower self-esteem, the vulnerability to the psychological influence of cults is also associated with the person’s perceived powerlessness and defenselessness.
Instead of searching for constructive ways of dealing with the challenges, such people have a tendency to falling into despair and identifying their situation as a cul-de-sac. Cults, in turn, successfully capitalize on such philosophy by offering an original and alternative model of escaping traumatizing realities and taking a person to a utopian society (Fennell, p. 27; Fennell and Branswell, p. 48). It is also important to understand the emotional state of the people, experiencing serious problems with health, family or employment.
They are normally feeling rejected by society, lonely and helpless and place the blame for their troubles upon others. Cult leaders take into consideration this psychological phenomenon and nurture the idea of society as an evil or an aggressive monster that ruins its members’ hope and make them miserable. Moreover, due to the fact that cult leaders often announce to their disciples that this world is prone o collapse, each member is also empowered to take a role of a saver or a messiah.
Therefore, cult appears to its members a vast area of self-realization, if they did not manage to actualize themselves in a common field like career or family. Finally, the lack of independence and self-sufficiency is an important factor that contributes to the vulnerability to the lure of cults. The personality of such type demonstrates conformity throughout their life and feels insecure if they are not praised and positively reinforced by others. In this sense, cults are first presented to newcomers as a large and warm family (Gard, p. 19), based upon mutual support and allegedly genuine care of each member.
In this sense, Clavton and Marks write: “We are attracted to group that welcome us with open arms […] Members are attracted to the cult by friendship and a communal embrace” (Clavton and Marks, p. 4). Self sufficiency normally originates from the person’s ability to be a good cheerleader for themselves, this task is difficult given that it requires a constant inner dialogue, so some people do not manage with it and use others as the agents of emotional support.
The lack of independence results in the strongly pronounced need for identifying oneself with a certain group, and cults develop this identity quite soon owing to their strong “team spirit”. Importantly, people, dependent on group opinion, demonstrate high retention and become affiliates of cults for a long time. This can be explained by the fear of losing the source of encouragement and emotional warmth and being left alone.
In such case, cult appears to be a sort of addition,, which, as opposed to drugs and alcohol, is not a taboo and therefore causes no cognitive dissonance in the conforming personality. Thus, cults as “anti-societies” capitalize on rejecting the traditional models of social success and common mores and values. Such promotion system is designed primarily for those who do not critically approach the world around them and remain dependent on social pressure due to persistent psychological frustration that originates from life hardships.
As the number of people, discontent with their life, is always large, cults will continue to recruit new participants. Works cited Clayton, M. and Marks, A. “Why People Join ‘Spiritually Abusive’ Cults”. Christian Science Monitor, vol. 89, Issue 86 (1997), p. 4. Gard, C. “The Power and Peril of Cults”. Current Health, Volume 23, Issue 9 (March 1997), pp. 18-20. Fennell, T. “Nighmare Tales”. Maclean’s, Vol. 106, Issue 6 (1993), pp. 26-27. Fennell, T. and Branswell, B. “Doom Sects”. Maclean’s, Vol. 110, Issue 14 (1997), p. 48.