A cult is defined as a social group or a social movement under one charismatic leader. It maintains a belief system, which includes a transformation of a group member. Members of the group have a high level of commitment to the leader, members, and beliefs (Lalich). An additional definition to consider is from the American Journal of Psychotherapy:
…groups that often exploit members psychologically and/or financially, typically by making members comply with leadership’s demands through certain types of psychological manipulation, popularly called mind control, and through the inculcation of deep-seated anxious dependency on the group and its leaders (Salande, and Perkins 382).
To consider a social group as a cult, it must meet certain criteria. According to Robert Jay Lifton a professor of Psychiatry at Harvard University, there are three criterions a group must possess to be considered a cult. First, the leader of the cult is worshipped and is more important than the beliefs. Thought reform must take place usually by confessions from group members and criticism of members by the leader. The third criterion is that there must be heavy exploitation of group members by the leader or other members in authoritative positions. Exploitation most commonly is of a sexual or economic nature (“I Escaped A Cult: Episode 1”). According to the American Journal of Psychotherapy, another criterion is; cults often operate under a premise that the world is bad and the cult is good (Salande, and Perkins 382). If these criteria are met, then a group may be considered a cult.
Cults are different from other groups. According to the American Journal of Psychotherapy, two factors distinguish how cults are different from other social groups. First, the methods that cults use include coercion, threats, physical and verbal abuse, manipulation, isolation, separation from family and friends, and forfeiting personal finances. The second factor is the outcome. People in cults often come out of the group in a worse position than when they first joined the cult. They could be worse off financially, psychologically, or relationally to give a few examples. More times than not, people in groups that are not considered cults do not produce the effects listed above. Instead, members of these groups report that they improve as a person in some way (Salande, and Perkins 382, 383). Cults can be differentiated from other groups because of the methods that cults use, and the effect that cults can have on its members.
Cults can be classified as destructive, considering the methods used and how membership affects individuals. According to the International Cultic Studies Association or ICSA, cults can be considered destructive to its members. Reports form former cult member’s reveals that they have trouble trusting others, problems forming and maintaining relationships, and feel disconnected with the world. In addition, former cult members report being diagnosed with depression and Post...