Cult/Totalist Recruitment Warning Signs
Isolation : Engulfment : Fear
Isolation : Engulfment : Fear
- The group/person has the Total and Only answer. Only they have the right line, will make the revolution, solve your problems, empower you, make you loved, rich, effective, holy, etc.
- Attempts to isolate you from existing close relationships (friends/family) and the outside world
- Extreme, immediate and/or inappropriate friendliness or attention.
- Promises of perfection if only you adhere to their program
- Your “gut-feeling” tells you something is wrong. Trust this, and try to analyze it.
- The group creates conditions of extreme stress, threat or fear (emotional and/or physical)
- Not answering questions, or turning them back on the questioner.
- Inappropriate personal boundaries
- Loaded language: strange language or jargon you initially can’t understand. Canned, repetitive phrases.
- A hard sell for further commitment, programs or contact. If you resist, you’re selfish, ungodly, “bourgeois”, don’t believe in yourself, etc.
- Encouragement to cut ties with family or friends, unless you can recruit them.
- Secrecy, inappropriate “confidentiality”.
- Lack of privacy - constantly with group members, constantly busy with group activities.
- Ends justifies the means. It’s OK to lie to others in the name of the Cause, God, for success, etc.
- Challenging your fundamental identity: Your strengths are criticized as your weaknesses.
- Once you’re in, heavy pressure to stay in.
- Those who do leave are shunned. They become the enemy, or objects of pity.
- No criticism allowed of the group or leader. The group/leader is always right.
- Deception: what you thought you’d get on joining or attending an activity turns out to be something else.
8 Criteria for Totalism
From Robert Jay Lifton’s (1961) Thought Reform and the Psychology of Totalism
1. Milieu control. Control of environment, communication and information, isolating the person from outside world and from his or her own inner dialog. May include sleep, diet, schedule, living situation, etc.
2. Mystical Manipulation. Deception is justified for the ‘higher purpose’ of the group. Certain experiences appear spontaneous to awe the recruit or cult member.
3. Demand For Purity. The world is viewed as black and white (us vs. them) and group members are constantly pushed to strive for perfection. Guilt and shame become powerful control devices.
4. The Cult Of Confession. Real or imagined ‘sins’ are to be confessed to the group. Boundaries of personal privacy are confused.
5. The Sacred Science. The group’s doctrine (total ideology) is seen as the ‘Ultimate Truth’. No questions of this ‘Truth’ (and therefore, the group and leader) are allowed. Inhibits individual thought, imagination, creativity.
6. Loading The Language. Use of jargon internal to - and only understandable by - the group. Constricting the language constricts people’s capacity for independent thinking.
7. Doctrine Over Person. One’s personal experience is subordinated to the ‘Truth’ of the group. Contrary experiences are shoe-horned to fit the needs of the doctrine. The person’s sense of integrity is lost.
8. Dispensing Of Existence. The group determines who has the right to exist and who doesn’t. Us vs. Them. Non-believers are considered ‘evil’ or non-people.