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Cult Psychology

Date: 10/04/23

Author Name: Sareem Athar

Qualifications: BA (Psychology, Mass Communication & Journalism, Literature), MSc(Clinical Psychology), Diploma in Child Psychology.

Designation: Former Admin Head, ACRO Mental Health & Wellness.

Word count: 780

Reading time: 7 Minutes

Reviewed & edited by: Aishwarya Krishna Priya, Mariyam Mohammed & Ayesha Begum.

The Dark World of Mind Control and Manipulation

The small town of Millwood seemed like any other town in the United States. It had its local diner, its quaint library, and its annual pumpkin festival. However, beneath the surface, there was something sinister lurking - a cult that had taken hold of the community (1,2).

The cult was led by a charismatic figure known as "The Prophet" (3). He had a way of speaking that drew people in and convinced them to join his cause (4). The Prophet promised them a better life, a life of fulfillment and purpose, and his followers believed him (5). They gave up their jobs, their homes, and their families to follow him (6).

At first, the townspeople didn't think much of The Prophet and his followers. They assumed it was just another eccentric group of people. Additionally, as the cult grew in numbers, the townspeople became increasingly worried (7,8). They noticed that the cult members would only associate with each other, that they would hold secretive meetings, and that they seemed to be preparing for something big (9).

As rumors began to spread about the cult's true intentions, a group of concerned citizens decided to investigate. They found evidence of brainwashing techniques, psychological manipulation, and even instances of abuse (10,11). They knew they had to act fast to save their community from the cult's grip.

The townspeople began to organize themselves, sharing their findings with others who were also concerned. They contacted the authorities and local media outlets to raise awareness (13-16). As they delved deeper into the cult's inner workings, they realized that they were dealing with a dangerous group that would stop at nothing to protect their leader and their cause (17,18).

The Prophet had built a fortress around himself and his closest followers, and they were heavily armed. The townspeople knew they couldn't fight the cult head-on, so they had to come up with a different plan. They decided to infiltrate the cult and gather evidence from within (19-24).

They came up with a strategy to overcome the cult's brainwashing tactics and restore members to reason using their understanding of psychology (25). They began to work with former cult members, helping them to overcome the trauma they had experienced while under The Prophet's control (26).

Eventually, the townspeople were able to gather enough evidence to bring The Prophet and his top lieutenants to justice (27). The cult was disbanded, and the townspeople were left to pick up the pieces of their shattered community (28).

The Millwood saga serves as a warning about the perils of cult psychology. Despite how alluring a charismatic leader may seem, it's crucial to keep in mind that no one person has all the answers (29,30). We must never stop being watchful and dubious of those who profess to have all the answers, and we must never lose sight of the importance of community in keeping us safe.

As a society, we frequently discover ourselves enthralled by the ominous and perilous realms that lie on the periphery of human experience (31,32). Cult psychology is one of the most sinister of these worlds, where the craft of mind control and manipulation is finely tuned. In this world, charismatic leaders take advantage of the weak, persuading them to give up their individuality and blindly follow their teaching (33). People frequently suffer devastating effects as a result, losing all sense of reality and occasionally even their lives (34).

Over the years, cult psychology has been extensively researched, with researchers looking at everything from cult leaders' methods to the characteristics of people who are most susceptible to their influence. Studies have revealed that particular characteristics, such as a need for belonging and a desire for personal development, can make people more prone to cult indoctrination (35).

Furthermore, employing mind-controlling strategies like seclusion, sleep deprivation, and public humiliation can erode a person's sense of self and increase their propensity to believe the cult leader's teachings (36).

Some people are fortunate enough to escape cults and eventually reclaim their lives, but others are less fortunate. The notorious Heaven's Gate cult, which committed mass suicide in 1997 (37), is one example of a cult that has been known to engage in violent and dangerous activities in extreme situations. It serves as a chilling reminder of the control vulnerable people can fall under the control of cult psychology (38).

In order to protect ourselves from the risks posed by cult psychology, society must exercise constant vigilance. We can help safeguard ourselves and those around us from falling prey to their influence by educating ourselves about the strategies employed by cult leaders and identifying the warning signs of potential cults. We can work toward a safer and more informed society with continued study and comprehension of this sinister and unsettling area of human behaviour (39).


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(9)Lloyd, A. B. (1989). Psychology and society in the ancient Egyptian cult of the dead. In J. P. Allen (Ed.), Religion and Philosophy in Ancient Egypt (pp. 117–133). Yale Egyptological Seminar, Dept. Of Near Eastern Languages and Civilizations, the Graduate School, Yale University.

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(11)Collins, G. (1982, March 15). The psychology of the cult experience. The New York Times. Retrieved from

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(19) Salande JD, Perkins DR. An Object Relations Approach to Cult Membership. American Journal of Psychotherapy. 2011 Oct;65(4):381–91.

(20) Aronoff J, Lynn SJ, Malinoski P. Are cultic environments psychologically harmful? Clinical Psychology Review. 2000 Jan;20(1):91–111.

(21) Freckelton I. “Cults”, calamities and psychological consequences. Psychiatry, Psychology and Law. 1998 Apr;5(1):1–46.

(22) S. Alexander Haslam, Reicher S, Platow MJ. The Old Psychology of Leadership: Great Men and the Cult of Personality. 2010 Sep 13;27–46.

(23) Lunde DT, Sigal HA. Psychiatric testimony in “cult” litigation. The Bulletin of the American Academy of Psychiatry and the Law [Internet]. 1987 [cited 2023 Jun 21];15(2):205–10. Available from:

(24) Gordon JS. The Cult Phenomenon and the Psychotherapeutic Response. Journal of the American Academy of Psychoanalysis. 1983 Oct;11(4):603–15.

(25) SPERO MH. Psychotherapeutic Procedure with Religious Cult Devotees. The Journal of Nervous and Mental Disease. 1982 Jun;170(6):332–44.

(26) Good BJ. Culture, diagnosis and comorbidity. Culture, Medicine and Psychiatry [Internet]. 1992 Dec [cited 2019 Dec 8];16(4):427–46. Available from:

(27) Koss JD. Therapeutic Aspects of Puerto Rican Cult Practices†. Psychiatry. 1975 May;38(2):160–71.

(28) Clark JG. [Destructive cult conversion]. Praxis Der Kinderpsychologie Und Kinderpsychiatrie [Internet]. 1983 [cited 2023 Jun 21];(24):95–107. Available from:

(29) Three faces of culture-bound syndromes: Their implications for cross-cultural research. Culture, Medicine and Psychiatry. 1978 Sep;2(3):207–8.

(30) Hardcastle G. The cult of experiment: The Psychological Round Table, 1936–1941. History of Psychology. 2000;3(4):344–70.

(31) Henderson DJ. Exorcism, possession, and the Dracula cult: a synopsis of object-relations psychology. Bulletin of the Menninger Clinic [Internet]. 1976 Nov 1 [cited 2023 June 21];40(6):603–28. Available from:

(32) Gaines AD. Breaking a Tradition; the 2016 Honoree. Culture, Medicine, and Psychiatry. 2015 Nov 7;39(4):583–3.

(33) Alarcón RD, Foulks EF. Personality disorders and culture: contemporary clinical views (Part A). Cultural Diversity and Mental Health [Internet]. 1995;1(1):3–17. Available from:

(34) Kriegman D, Solomon L. Cult Groups and the Narcissistic Personality: The Offer to Heal Defects in the Self. International Journal of Group Psychotherapy. 1985 Apr;35(2):239–61.

(35) Ross C. Treatment strategies for programming and ritual abuse. Journal of Trauma & Dissociation. 2017 Mar 20;18(3):454–64.

(36) Patsdaughter CA, Christensen MH, Kelley BR, Masters JA, Ndiwane AN. Meeting folks where they are: collecting data from ethnic groups in the community. Journal of Cultural Diversity [Internet]. 2001 [cited 2023 June 21];8(4):122–7. Available from:

(37) Urban HB. The Cult of Ecstasy: Tantrism, the New Age, and the Spiritual Logic of Late Capitalism. History of Religions. 2000 Feb;39(3):268–304.

(38) The Psychology of Cults | [Internet]. 2020. Available from:

(39) Curtis JM, Curtis MJ. Factors related to susceptibility and recruitment by cults. Psychological reports [Internet]. 1993;73(2):451–60. Available from:


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