What’s the difference between a destructive cult and a benign cult?
A destructive cult is a pyramid-shaped authoritarian regime with a person or group of people that have dictatorial control. It uses deception to recruit new members and does not tell them what the group is, what the group actually believes, and what will be expected of them if they become members. It also uses mind control techniques to keep people dependent, obedient, and loyal.
BITE Model is our way of understanding the phenomenon. Dr. Robert Jay Lifton has his Eight Criteria for Thought Reform. Dr. Margaret Singer has her Six Conditions for understanding destructive cults, which typically seek to “clone” recruits in the image of the cult leader, rather than respect and encourage their individuality, creativity and self-will.
cult groups are any group of people who have a set of beliefs and rituals that are non-mainstream. As long as people are freely able to choose to join with full disclosure of the group’s doctrine and practices, and can choose to disaffiliate without fear or harassment, then it is not a destructive cult.
There are destructive groups that are clearly anti-social. They teach hate and encourage criminal activity. A case by case evaluation must be made to determine if a particular group is using elements of the BITE Model to recruit and control people.
Am I in a destructive cult?
Being in control of your own mind includes: being in touch with your feelings, having the ability to question and think analytically, having the freedom to act independently, and being able to look at issues from multiple perspectives. Use the BITE Model to evaluate your own situation.
If you have been involved with a person or group for a long time, can you have time away to take a vacation, visit friends or family, or just be by yourself? Are you irrationally afraid to really evaluate for yourself any critical information, including speaking with ex-members? Do you have the access to this “negative” information? If you are reading this on our web site, then you should be able to find out what former members and critics have to say about a specific group. Then you can evaluate the information for yourself, and make your own independent decisions.
Are all cults equally bad?
No, there are definitely wide variations among different organizations. For example: Aum Shinrikyo and ISIS/Daesh have committed horrific acts of violence and terror against the public. This is extreme when compared with large group “training” programs which use hypnotic techniques to get you to believe the leader is the “messiah” and which inculcates the membership to recruit all of their families and friends.
Individual experiences also vary within the same organization based on how the individual conforms to the norms of the group. For example, a lesbian teen in a homophobic church will be subject to a different degree of undue influence than a straight man who is married with children in the same church.