psychology

The Cult Experience

Why Cults?

Why is it that we consciously or unconsciously associate ourselves with certain groups while mocking or distancing ourselves from others? Nerds, geeks, jocks, we all somehow belong to a group or stereo type. But why are cults associated with negativity whereas joining a political or religious group would be perfectly normal? More importantly why or what drives someone to join a cult even though they know the aftermath could be catastrophic?

What Are Cults?

A cult is a group with a strong social identity that tends to be exclusive in nature led by a charismatic leader. Along the way there have been some very dangerous, violent and just plain creepy cults such as Branch Davidian whose behaviour was clearly extreme.

When we see members of cults we see them as creeps or freaks, however, what we don’t understand is that they too were perfectly “normal” once but have now been “brainwashed” into believing that only what their leader believes is true and that anyone who is not part of the cult is a potential threat.

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One of the reasons why people join cults could be to find a place where they belong. Most people if not all tend to need to feel like they are a part of something. A place with people they can identify with. That would actually explain why cult members have such strong bonds towards their in-group (the group they belong to) while having such negative feelings towards their out-group (a related group they do not belong to).

Cult leaders typically tend to be charismatic and capable of coercive persuasion. This encourages strong in-group identification. Furthermore, according to obedience, we follow orders from an authority figure so even in a cult, cult members are more likely to blindly follow their leaders even if it means committing atrocities.

Another reason why people join cults could be due to dependency (the wish to be taken care of- to find a home, a parent). Teenagers and adults are not expected to usually behave this way but rather are expected to be autonomous. This covert dependency- the wish to have parents and the parallel wish to be admired, loved and sheltered by ones group- continues throughout life in everyone. This fantasy or dream can transform into a wise, strong and protective parent with whom we feel secure.

Your Thoughts

Have you ever been in a cult? Why do you think people join cults? What is the weirdest cult you’ve ever heard about or been in? Leave a comment below telling us what you think!


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