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Basics of Cult Psychology. A Clinical and Forensic Psychology Podcast Episode.

Basics of Cult Psychology

Cult psychology draws on so many great areas of psychology from clinical psychology to social psychology and more. Also cult psychology is critical to learn about because not only is it extremely interesting but it helps us to recognise and protect ourselves against cultic influence. So let’s learn more about the basics of cult psychology.

This episode has been sponsored by Cult Psychology: A Guide To The Personality, Social Psychology, Cognitive and Forensic Psychology of Cults. Available from all major eBook retailers and you can order the paperback and hardback copies from Amazon, your local bookstore and local library, if you request it.

Basics of Cult Psychology: Extract From Cult Psychology (COPYRIGHT 2022 Connor Whiteley)

As much as we all want to dive into ‘proper’ cult psychology, we really need to learn the basics first. And unlike a lot of psychology basics, the basics of cult psychology are very fun and worth a read.

But first, why is it important to learn about cult psychology?

Personally, I would love everyone to learn about cult psychology because by learning about cults, how they work and how to defend ourselves. This can help us keep ourselves, friends and family safe from cultic influence.

Vulnerability and Recruitment:

When it comes to cults, there is a very sad truth. No one joins a cult willingly. No one willingly chooses to give up their freedom and replace their lives with a superior leader that controls them.

Instead people are recruited into cults.

Now I understand if you’re a bit confused by the distinction (I know I was at first). But the difference between willingly joining and being recruited by a cult is there’s a lack of informed consent.

Another way to illustrate my point would be to imagine yourself wanting to join a cooking club. You love cooking, you love making friends and this cooking club doesn’t try to influence you or control you. Then it’s likely you’ll willingly want to join it.

However, if this cooking club tries to influence you, use manipulation tactics and start brainwashing you. Then you aren’t going to willingly join that. Instead you’re been manipulated and recruited to join the cooking club.

As the treasurer for my university’s baking society in 2020/21 that was a very scary idea.

So, how are people recruited by cults?

It mainly comes down to vulnerabilities due to a cult can easily learn someone’s vulnerabilities and use them against them. As well as sadly everyone has different individual vulnerabilities. No one is perfect and this brings me back to the important point about learning cult psychology and tactics. Therefore, in case anyone tries to use these tactics and vulnerabilities against us. We can hopefully recognise and deal with the situation.

Some of these vulnerabilities are situational and others are internal. For example, the death of a loved one, moving to a new country, area or city, being on the Autism Spectrum, high hypnotisability and having strong active imagination are all vulnerabilities.

Interestingly, if a person makes excessive use of hypnosis, medication, drugs and other activities. Then this can actually induce an altered state of consciousness.

Overall, all these vulnerabilities increase a person’s susceptibility to being recruited into a cult. And sadly chances are if someone does have a lot of these vulnerabilities then it is rather likely they will be recruited into a cult given the chance.

Unless the person has strong critical thinking, media literacy and a good supportive social network around them to keep them grounded.

In addition, what media literacy means is a person’s ability to critically analyse, thinking and evaluate the source of the information.

Example of Media Literacy

Personally, I’m not afraid of making myself sound like a snob (I’m a very normal person in real life) but this is why I only read and trust two or three media outlets in the UK. As well as I don’t read tabloids and they’re very manipulative and I don’t trust their reports.

Mainly because there was one article in a British Tabloid in 2021 trying to get people shocked and horrified that a woman spent £6,000 a month on living bills. At first, I agree that seems a lot and no one should spend that much money, surely?

Then I evaluated what the tabloid was saying and it mentioned the woman paid so much a month for a professional subscription. Just like psychologists, doctors and lawyers have to.

Overall, my point is this tabloid wanted to make people annoyed and shocked for no reason. Because this woman was almost certainly a high flying professional on at least £50,000 a month so to her and her partner £6,000 is probably not a lot.

Other Risks:

In addition, to the risks above, there are a number of risks that can increase a person’s vulnerability to recruitment by a cult. For instance:

· Trauma

· Phobias

· Alcohol or drug problems

· Learning or communication disorders

· Unresolved sexual issues

A quick note on these other risk factors is trauma, learning or communication disorders and unresolved sexual issues can possibly all relate to a person’s want for support and community. As well as sadly if a person is isolated and doesn’t have a good social support network then a cult with all those members can seem rather tempting.

Furthermore, in more recent years, there has been new risk factors that we’ll look in various

ways later in the book. Thus, some 21st century risk factors are:

· Internet addiction

· Lack of touch, social distancing and isolation

· COVID-19 pandemic

· Severe economic disruption

· Increased time online

Overall, if a person is in a vulnerable state then they can fall for one of these many techniques and be recruited into a cult.

What Is a Cult?

After talking about the various vulnerabilities people have and how cults recruit people into their ranks. We need to define what is a cult?

I want to say up front that the word cult shouldn’t be used lightly because as we’ll see in a moment cults can have horrific consequences to the members. As well as a group shouldn’t be called a cult because of its unorthodox beliefs.

For example, a new branch of a religion that believes in a more liberal approach to the religious teachings isn’t necessarily a cult. Simply because of its unorthodox beliefs.

What a cult is, is it’s usually authoritarian in nature and it’s led by a person who has complete or almost complete control over its followers. And this all comes down to influence.

Cult Influence and Control

To be able to control a person, a cult must influence them and recruit them into the group. With the aim being the cult influence is designed to replace a person’s identity with a new one.

Now, this is done in a lot of different ways and some of these tactics we will look at in the book.

However, each type of cult has different ways of acting and conducting themselves. Some types of cults are:

· Political

· Religious

· Large group awareness training

· Self-help

· Multilevel marketing

· Commercial

· Conspiracy theory

· Labour/ sex trafficking

· Mini-cult (family/ one-on-one)

Building upon this, different cults do things differently. For example a political cult focuses on influencing people through political means and drawing on their political beliefs. Whereas a self-help cult would draw on a person’s desires for self-improvement and to better themselves.

Moreover, one of the biggest problems with trying to recognise influence is we’re being influenced every single day and we’re use to it. I talk more about persuasion and social influence in my Social Psychology book. But we’re constantly being exposed to influence, and this can make it difficult to detect.

Here’s some examples of sources of influences in everyday life:

· Business

· Psychotherapy

· Politics

· Religion

· Educating

· Media

· Relationship

· Parenting

Nonetheless, I do need to say influence can be positive and helpful. As seen in psychotherapy, educating and parenting. But influence can be detrimental too. For instance in some parenting, relationships and religion.

I really hope you enjoyed today’s psychology podcast episode.

If you want to learn more, please check out:

Cult Psychology: A Guide To The Personality, Social Psychology, Cognitive and Forensic Psychology of Cults. Available from all major eBook retailers and you can order the paperback and hardback copies from Amazon, your local bookstore and local library, if you request it.

Have a great day!

Cult Psychology Reference:

Whiteley, C (2022) Cult Psychology: A Guide To The Personality, Social Psychology, Cognitive and Forensic Psychology of Cults, CGD Publishing, England

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