Health

How to Tell If Someone You Know Is in a Cult

May 21st 2016

By:
Alex Mierjeski

Have a friend or family member who's been acting strange lately? Have they been making strange friends, cultivating rigid new beliefs, and hanging on the words of a beloved leader?

Well, they could just be that they're following the 2016 election too closely.

But, there's also a chance that they've joined a cult.

If that's the case, cult specialist, author, and director of the Cult Education Institute Rick Ross, wants to help.

ATTN: asked Ross to lay out some crucial warning signs to watch for if you suspect someone you know is involved with a dangerous cult — a distinction he said met three criteria. Ross highlighted the work of psychiatrist and author Robert Lifton, who, in a 1981 Harvard Mental Health Letter paper, determined that cults have:

  • "A charismatic leader who increasingly becomes an object of worship as the general principles that may have originally sustained the group lose their power."
  • "A process I call coercive persuasion or thought reform," (brainwashing).
  • "Economic, sexual, and other exploitation of group members by the leader and the ruling coterie."

Sound familiar? If so, here are some of the things that, according to Ross, could indicate an unhealthy blossoming relationship with a cult.

1. Extreme obsessiveness with a group or leader

If someone you know is becoming increasingly overwhelmed with a group or leader, it could be time to intervene. Especially, Ross warned, if that obsession is "to the exclusion of friends or family, and to the detriment of their employment, education," or other other facets of their life.

2. Any criticism or questioning is characterized as persecution

Ross explained that people who have trouble finding fault with their group — or take any outside questioning or criticism as persecution — might be in a little too deep. "We all know that if you belong to a gym, a club, a church — you can think of negative things about it," he said. "Not this constant singsong of total positivity."

3. Reliance on the group or leader for value judgments and thoughts.

Incessant "checking in" with, or having to "clear" outside activities with a person's group or leader is probably a bad sign. Watch for increasing dependency on or hyperactivity within the group, Ross said. "They don't think outside of the box, and the group determines the parameters of the box," he said.

4. There is no legitimate reason to leave, and former followers are always wrong in leaving, negative or even evil

People in cults have a hard time finding a good reason to leave, and often shunned for doing so. Ross said to be mindful of those who are wholly resistant to the idea of becoming detached from a group or leader — and who criticize those that do leave. "In a cult group, there is no legitimate reason to leave," Ross said.