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Cults have become a phenomenon in our world today. Each year "hundreds of Canadians join some of the 3,000 unorthodox religions of one type or another" (Fernell, Branswell, 189) all across North America. Like every organization, club or even in the common work place there is usually a person who is a figure of authority or other wise know as a "leader" and with every leader there are always rules and objectives that each and every member has to do and follow. The common psychological profile and objective of a cult leader is usually based upon power, control, domination and subjugation. Many cult leaders use forms of mind control such as thought-reform, brainwashing and hypnosis. The effects of these mind controlling techniques often mentally scar people and it is very hard to re-gain control of what use to be their “normal” personality, way of thinking and life.
Unselfishness, kindness, gentleness and compassion should be a basic living principle, not just an ideal. When individuals claim to be “spiritually developed and put themselves in the role of a master or prophet” (Hassen, 01) cult members “become so subservient to their leader that they even tolerate murder” (Fennel, 185). Destructive cults want to have control and power over people and want to expand their temporal power and usually do it to make money. Leaders exist to serve totalistic dictators, not to serve the people and desire to rule through power, not with the power of love. Charismatic leaders often stray into temptation to exploit their power over others in many dangerous ways. The cult leader often relies almost entirely on rules, procedures, aggression, denial and mimicry to hide their lack of people skills. Cult leaders are able to exert a hold over people for a variety of reasons. The members sometimes feel they belong to a group or "family" because they feel secure and have a new way of thinking and believing the "real" way the world is or should be and as “the leader’s actions become more bizarre, so do the cult’s members” (Fennel, 186).
Many people are thought to believe that the only type of people to become influenced or brain washed into joining a cult are those that are insecure, lonely and nieve. However, the people cult leaders actually strive for are the bright, intelligent people whom usually have 2-3 years of college or university education. Cult leaders and other members “often prey on people who are emotionally confused or distraught . . . they can offer wealth or the perfect relationship” (Fennel, 186). Once a cult leader and its members have targeted a person or group of people the targets are disempowered such that they often become dependent on the leader to allow them to get through each “day without their life being made hell” (Hassen, 02). Once someone has been recruited into a cult the leader often begins to deteriorate the way the person thinks and acts. Leaders often end up controlling the way the members think and control their emotions and feelings. The leaders achieve this by “manipulating and narrowing the range of a persons feelings . . . by the use of excessive guilt, social guilt, and excessive use of fear . . .” (Hassen, 02). After this kind of treatment is embedded into someone’s mind the person whom is under mind control can not visualize a positive fulfilled future without being in the group or cult. Members become sensitive to the tactic that illegitimate leader use by turning their questions and comments around and use them to blame members into obedience. Some cult leaders become so obsessed with their ideas and thoughts that they can end up controlling things like what members should eat, wear for clothing and whom members can and can not associate with. When leaders are called to account for the way they have chosen to behave the cult leader instinctively denies everything and anything that may have brought up the question in the first place. Quickly follows the denial with an aggressive “counter attack” of criticism or allegation often based on distortion or “fabrication”. Lying, deception, duplicity, hypocrisy and blame are the “hallmarks of this stage . . . the purpose is to avoid answering the question” (Hassen 03) and thus avoiding responsibility for their actions. Leaders often end up keeping their members so busy they can not think or act for them selves any longer.
Clinical research has identified specific cult related emotional problems which ex-members must deal and cope with during their re-entry into society. “Among them, uncritical passivity and the fear of the cult itself . . .” (Singer, 01). Leaving a cult is like experiencing the death of a close relative or a broken relationship. The feeling is often described as “like having been betrayed by someone whom you were in love. . . you feel you were simply used” (Singer, 01). Ex-cult members simply want nothing more then to get on with life while others have a real desire to understand, negate and fully integrate their experiences. The rate of recovery usually depends on several factors such as how “emotionally developed and psychologically healthy the person was even before being recruited . . . how severe the dissociate state(s) was in the cult . . .” (Hassen, 05). Types of experiences within the cult, such as sexual, nutritional, physical, emotional, psychic and ritual abuse. There are many different, useful ways to help a person with their recovery. Individual or group counseling, medical attention, housing and welfare services, legal services, custody services and support and acceptance from family members and friends are all useful and helpful techniques to help the ex-cult member help get their life back and going. Everyone and anyone connected in anyway to the ex-member can be helpful, and even the brief encounters at a party or on a bus ride can be supportive. Supporting is listening and empathizing with the ex-member with out the offering of unsolicited options. Simply being there is one of the best ways anyone can help.
The hunger for spiritual guidance and religious truth is usually what drives people into exploring many of the different existing religions all over North America and in other parts of the world. Many problems tend to arise when the leaders of these cultic groups proclaim themselves to be living embodiments of this truth. The many great dangers of cults lie in the leap one must take from embracing religious truth, to worshipping a person claiming to be this so called “truth”. The danger of these cults increase rapidly when the person promises salvation, redemption or perfection in exchange for money, goods and services. Once a person begins giving in to the leader and the rest of the cult members, the stronger their grasp becomes upon the person and the harder it becomes to leave the group. Victims (ex-cult members) “can and should be helped with both the induced and pre-existing aspects of their problem, at the appropriate points in treatment” (Clifford, Goldberg p 03).