In My Experience: 6 Earmarks of A Cult

Signs of a cult*

If you’ve heard my story, you know that my husband and I came out of a cult years ago. So when I talk about a cult it isn’t theory or supposition. It’s from my experience and subsequent years of therapy, counseling and research to overcome the devastation that occurred in my life and soul and family. Cult behavior and the resulting pain marks a soul. Once that happens, you never forget. I don’t walk in the shadow of it, but I react when I hear the word.

Please understand I do not use that word lightly. Just because a group holds different beliefs than I do, does not make them a cult. <- Read that again, please. 


And for the love of Jesus, stop labeling groups as cults just because they hold differing views than you.

Cults are dangerous.

Cults want to kill hope, steal family affections, and destroy everything that doesn’t benefit and support their beliefs and ways.


1. How do they treat you when you leave? 

Leaving a cult is costly. The thing that has, by design, become your life is now the very thing you must abandon.

When someone leaves the group, it opens a crack that others might escape through. The fix is to excommunicate, vilify and defame the escapees. Friends become enemies.

When my husband and I left we received a flood of  unsigned letters that called us names, told us we were headed to hell and were taking our kids with us — and pages and pages of scripture twisted to fit the agenda. 

We burned them all. 

2. How do they treat you when you disagree? 

Disagreement has the potential to undermine the power-hold cult leaders must have to maintain control. They see questions as a sign of rebellion.

There is no room for “agreeing to disagree” because every person who doesn’t fall in line with the groupthink is a threat. Any deviation or questioning of directives is grounds for punishment which often involves removal from a position or public humiliation.

My husband had questions and asked them of a leader. Instead of answering his questions, he was told if we gave more money he would understand and stop doubting. 

That was the beginning of the end for us. 


3. Do they tear down families or build them up? 

The “group” is above everything else. 

They want the nuclear family weakened because a connected family threatens their hold and lies. Members must deny family needs and elevate the needs of the leaders and the group above everything else. They require members to sever all relationships as the cult replaces family and friends.

Leaders’ children are off-loaded onto other individuals, the responsibility of raising them left to caretakers. 


4. Do they require or forbid things? Do they want to control what you listen to, where you go, who you spend time with? 

The principal goal of cultic leadership is control. They do this by bullying, deriding, and gaslighting people into submission. Abuse is rampant, and the subsequent scars are often lifelong. 

They hold leaders up as untouchable and the ultimate authority of everything that happens. They require members to submit to the leaders’ positions, teachings, and philosophies without question. 

Let me be clear: just because someone holds different beliefs from yours does not make them a cult. Disagreement doesn’t equal cult.


5. Do they allow and encourage independent thought, actions, or decisions? 

Questions, suggestions, or critical inquiry are forbidden, and seen as a threat and rebellion. They view disagreement as defying God. Leadership often frame what they are unfamiliar or disagree with as evil or demonic. 

Hearing from God is for the elite leadership, and what they hear usurps all other authority. Everything rises and falls on this arrogant and dangerous point.

They view autonomy and independent thought or action as rebellion because it threatens the leadership’s control and power. Rules are enforced through a tattletale environment and all members are expected to report on the activities and movements of other members.


6. Are they humble servants or arrogant controllers? 

Cults are, by definition, isolated, self-entitled, and self-centered groups because the leaders are narcissistic, arrogant, and abusive.

Leaders have no trouble mocking other leaders, tearing down other groups, and calling anyone they disagree with evil or threatening. They defame, mock, and slander all other groups and leaders. They present their cult as the only true “church” claiming they alone have the complete truth. Therefore, they are God’s chosen.

Leaders expect the members to serve, laud and worship them. They hold members to different, stricter requirements than themselves.

They only associate with those who hold the same beliefs and practices and see all outsiders as a threat, inferior, unenlightened and even evil. 



*Warning: use caution when placing that label because when we misuse it, we sap a little of its power to identify those groups that are truly dangerous. 




For the love of Jesus, stop calling groups that hold different theology or doctrine than you a cult. Cults are dangerous. Cults want to kill hope, steal family affections, and destroy everything not benefitting their beliefs and ways.

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