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Cults and Deprogramming

Cults are a widespread problem and cause tragedies. American cults may get many members among shy persons (Zimbardo 1977). A sect leader may promise a glorious future, maybe immortality through kriya too. It may look like a "win-win" deal, enriching, ennobling, empowering and so on, until many hard facts of everyday life strike.

Facts may be likened to ducks:

"When I see a bird that walks like a duck and swims like a duck and quacks like a duck, I call that bird a duck." - Richard James Cardinal Cushing (1895-1970)

Learn to identify the sectarian (cultist) and what sectarians do, and then you may help in some deprogramming activity too. A good diagnosis helps for prescribing a cure. Dr Philip G. Zimbardo hopes that

No one ever joins a "◦cult." People join interesting groups that promise to fulfill their pressing needs. They become "cults" when they are seen as deceptive, defective, dangerous, or as opposing basic values of their society.

A sect is a group adhering to a distinctive doctrine or to a leader. It may be regarded as religiously dissenting and extreme. A cult can be a small group of people marked by great devotion to a person, idea, object, movement, or work. There can be dogma set forth by its promulgator. Its religious beliefs may be regarded as spurious. [Merriam-Webster]

The words 'cult' and 'sect' many be interchangeable. However, the 'sect' could be tenser and unpleasant for free thinking. Christianity started as a very tense sect of Judaism, one may add for perspective.

Plotting sects and cults have many common characteristics. There are ways to deal with them; some of which are decent and fair too. Basically, to deal with them all right, just stay away from them. If not, there is a risk of ending up in recurrent troubles. And those who are able to realize and not repress their hovering cult member problems, may seem enigmatic to the "blinded", fooled flock of cult serfs. Well, there is that chance.

Members of the sect that get aware of frustrations of unfulfilled or dwarfed lives, may react differently. "There are basically three ways people leave a cult:

  • By intervention (exit counseling, deprogramming)
  • On their own decision (walkaways)
  • Through expulsion (castaways) [Wikipedia, s.v.. "cult"]."

Deprogramming of a Sectarian and Some of Its Problems

Some enter. Professor Margaret Singer tells that three million young American adults between the ages of 18 and 25 are or have been affiliated with cults. There are at least 250 different cults - depending on the definition used, as many as 2,500 cults can be identified. They fall into ten classes, Singer says. Neo-Christian-based cults; spiritualistic-based groups; Zen-based assemblies; Hindu-and eastern-based groups; political cults; and communal living groups are among them. (Cf. Singer 2003)

There is also much kidnapping in the States, and some victims of parental kidnapping may end up and "grow down" (get deranged deep within) in sects. Exact figures are hard to get. [WP, "Kidnapping in the United States"]

Not all cults are "too bad", or hard. Some are soft-spoken with a big stick hidden somewhere around too.

There are more than two types of persons who enter a cult. But for now: they consist of (a) those who are fooled into it by public facades - (b) and the rest.

Many sect-tamed may not get straight enough for ordinary living afterwards. There may be little a side-lined or bereaved father or mother may be able to do for offspring subjected to sects for long, or very violently.

A lesson to be learnt: The more helpless the sect victims get, the more easily they may be formed to suit the cult, as for example Patricia Hearst (1954-), now Patricia Hearst-Shaw, the granddaughter of American publishing magnate William Randolph Hearst. (WP, "Patty Hurst", cf. Brown 1963)

Some leave. Among those who leave a cult, some may be well off for it, others so-so, and still others badly hurt.

Listen to clarify if you can. In ex cultists there may linger underlying motives that twist and derange the overt ones. Persons who get drawn to a cult and accommodate to it, might as well get some tense, underlying motives fulfilled, depending on their character structure. Such a view is hardly alien to psychoanalytically oriented fellows.

After leaving a sect, people discuss it on the Internet. Some fight the cult they were members of, others gainsay them. Well-meaning former members can also help one another to seek therapists, and further.

There is much that needs to be considered or taken into account apart from this: "It's not easy to tell about one's broken faith, broken life orientations". It may be extremely stressful.

Lack of emphasis may help

Deprogramming may itself work as a form of corky mind control. Deprogramming is not an easy matter, and frequently needs follow-ups, because:

  1. The emotional ties in the organization (friends) are still very strong;
  2. Loneliness and disillusionment are strong factors causing a desire to go back to the cult;
  3. Lingering doubts about a new decision remain for a while;
  4. Confusion and disorientation about the future haunts former cult members.

[◦Wikipedia link] [FA, FB]

Deprogramming Understood Somewhat

Deprogramming can mean (1) the freeing of someone (often oneself) from any previously uncritically assimilated idea; and (2) intervening with the goal to persuade a person to leave a religious group regarded as spurious. Some variants of deprogramming may be illegal and dangerous. [◦WP, "Deprogramming"]

Deprogramming has proved somewhat successful with religious cult members. Depth of changes in attitude and point of view depend on the personality and motivation of the individual, and how supportive the environment shows up to be. [EB, "brainwashing"]

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First Recognise Them, Second, Leave

Here are some points aimed to back up a less cult-ridden existence.

LoTo communicate with cult members means "too bad" in lots of cases

Sound prevention is better than attempts at cure, and attempts set in too late. So turn to prevention of cultish mischief, rather than being late or too late to help far and wide. Young folks may benefit from getting stories told them from a tender age, for one thing. Good tales have a power to make robust, says the originator of Waldorf Education, Dr. Rudolf Steiner. Since shyness has been an increasing problems, the measures that Dr Philip G. Zimbardo describes in Shyness [Shd], offer some help too. Why is it so?

Cult groups make sure to instil fear in members. Both robust ideations and social training can help against it.

Deceptions of bad cults may include lying, withholding largely important information, or distorting information. Thus learning some basics of critical thinking or reasoning helps too.

"Power tends to corrupt and absolute power corrupts absolutely." [Lord Action] A corrup one is getting rotten within. It may take many years and lives before it shows up, though. That is my belief.

"Curiosity and overconfidence have been the downfall of many people, including myself." [Steve Hassan] Are there baits somewhere? Curiosity may be good, but it should be allied with propriety, and knowing one's boundaries. It is not curiosity that is the culprit here, but little cultivation of the right forms of it, as in the explorative sciences, or research. It is possible to cultivate curiosity! If confidence is a problem, measurements should be able to regulate it a lot.

Interestingly, many cult leaders have started out as victims of their cult. Authoritarian minds "stiffen" - gets rigid - in life orientations that are not very liberal, not very permissive for underlings. Fascist mentalities are authoritarian, maintain T. Adorno. (1950)

By preventing others from violating your individual rights - including the right to privacy -, they may soon find you aren't really interesting to them. It is a good tip, apart from "Just walk away."

Cult members may be seriously out of touch with history. Then, do what you can to remedy the matter.

Dietary changes also frequently occur with cult recruitment. If those are unhealthy changes - too bad! But literature on healthy diets abound.

Destructive cults and their members may fail to communicate likably, in part due to an overriding belief system, maintains Steven Hassan.

Recruiters may address the lonely as part of a strategy, Hassan also tells.

Some of the more extreme groups regulate the sex lives of members. There are too bad regulations, bad regulations and other sorts of regulations - cult invasions into one's private life are not welcome.

LoDecide to be cautious

An abrupt change of personality may make a brainwashed victim more distant to family and former friends. If family members say, "He's different! We don't know him anymore!" it may or may not bode well.

Still un-established religions may be held accountable for their actions. With large religions it may be more difficult.

What are common members expected to do once they join? Donate money and property? People should always retain their right to decide for themselves whether to remain in a group.

If you can, seek to research the group in question independently. Contact appropriate others to hear if they have any information on this group. It hurts little to be cautious like that.

There are good reasons to research whether a group of people is a destructive cult or not, but initially it may be wise to refrain from using ideology and theology against it unless such -logies go into the basis of the group.

LoIt may be OK to violate the hard Games of sectarians

Destructive groups try to cloak how their organisations really are.

Helping to "save" someone may be a rationalisation used to justify deceit or manipulation.

Bad cult leaders may have deep inferiority feelings or assist them in members.

People with the freedom and bravado to join a destructive group without overdue coercion, may not feel free to leave.

Further in bookstores and libraries there may be little material with objective accounts of what cults are and what they do and little to help them get out and live on.

If a group thinks it OK to violate its members' civil rights or Human Rights, then freedom is not greatly served. Further, a variety of psychosomatic illnesses may persist in former cult members.

Learning to be an educated consumer can help save your freedom of thought.

[Cf. Hassan 1990:96-111]


  1. To counteract sects, start early, as "The best time to plant fruit trees was years ago". Tell good tales to grandchildren who like a tale or two also.
  2. Decide to be cautious.
  3. It may also do some good to violate the hard Games of sectarians.

IN NUCE To counteract sects, you can prepare against them by apt fables and other sorts of tales, and if you much later tell about a sect very guardedly, that could do some good too.


Non-coercive ways to help exist. Exit-counsellors are using techniques from the mental health professions, and counselling ways.

To remember the good of a cult may be no hindrance. Nor is knowing that a destructive cult may change members for life.

One may be set on moving forward to a rewarding future.

[Cf. Hassan 1990, chap. 7]


Cult deprogramming, cults detection, sectarians at a glance, Self-Realization Fellowship, Literature  

Adorno, Theodor W., Else Frenkel-Brunswik, Daniel Levinson, and Nevitt Sanford. The Authoritarian Personality. New York: Harper and Brothers, 1950.

Altemeyer, Robert Anthony. The Authoritarians. Winnipeg: University of Manitoba, 2006. ⍽▢⍽ A much useful, free online work. Altemeyer, now a retired professor, produced the test and scale for "RWA" or Right-wing authoritarianism, did extensive research on authoritarianism, identifying the psychological makeup of authoritarian followers and authoritarian leaders. He sought to point out who the followers are, how they got that way, how they think, and why they are by turns so submissive and aggressive. He also collected data on authoritarianism among North American politicians. Altemeyer's work is extensively referenced in John W. Dean's 2006 book, Conservatives Without Conscience. Useful.

Brown, J. A. C. Techniques of Persuasion: From Propaganda to Brainwashing. Harmondworth: Penguin, 1963.

Hassan, Steven. Combatting Cult Mind Control. Rochester, VT: Park Street Press, 1990.

Lewis, James R. Cults. A Reference Handbook. 2nd ed. Santa Barbara, CA: ABC-CLIO, 2005.

Lifton, Robert Jay. Thought Reform and the Psychology of Totalism. Chapel Hill, NC: The University of North Carolina Press, 1989.

Martin, Walter, and Hank Hanegraaff, ed. The Kingdom of the Cults. Rev. ed. Minneapolis, MN: Bethany House, 1997.

Singer, Margaret Thaler. Cults in Our Midst: The Continuing Fight Against Their Hidden Menace. Rev. ed. San Francisco: Jossey-Bass, 2003.

Denise Winn. The Manipulated Mind: Brainwashing, Conditioning and Indoctrination. London: The Octagon Press, 1983.

Zimbardo, Philip G. Shyness: What It Is. What to Do about It. London: Addison-Wesley, 1977.

Zimbardo, Philip G. The Lucifer Effect: Understanding How Good People Turn Evil. New York: Random House, 2007.

Symbols, brackets, signs and text icons explained: (1) Text markers(2) Digesting.

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