What’s the Attraction?

It can be challenging to understand how an adult becomes part of a cult. When one is exposed to the infamous cults like ‘Jonestown’ and ‘Heaven’s Gate’ it can seem incredulous to an outsider that anyone would want to belong to such a group.

So what attracts a member to a cult and why do some people get hooked and others not?

Some of the things that might attract a person to a group may include: doctrine, religious salvation, spiritual enlightenment, healing potential, human potential and global restoration. Or perhaps it’s the environment the cult offers or the lifestyle and promises of a better future and happiness. Or more controversially it can sometimes be the personality of the leader itself that can be the strongest draw.

There are many things that can initially attract a potential member to a cult and although research would suggest that those between 18-25 are more susceptible, people in their thirties, forties and fifties are also being attracted and recruited.  With the growth of the internet and social media, it has also become possible for cults to attract those that haven’t even reached adulthood.

It is important to understand the situational elements that can have a powerful effect on a person’s susceptibility to cult recruitment. There is evidence that a year prior to entry it is common for there to have been an event that destabilises the individual. Events such as a relationship breakdown, moving, a death of a loved one, a job change, leaving home for the first time to go to University etc. All these situational elements can be a precursor to the emotional and mental state that can leave a person vulnerable to being drawn to the promise of belonging to a group that offers a better future.

For some people it is bad luck that they are exposed to a cult during a period when they are vulnerable; for others they might be actively and consciously seeking ‘something’ and during this search they are captured.

Cults will use literature, social media and websites, personal recruiters, advertisements, social cooperatives, churches, health food stores, non-profit organisations and other means to attract and recruit potential members.

Because there is limited cultural awareness of such issues (although this is slowly changing), many people really have no idea of the insidious nature of these groups and how they touch all parts of our social networks.

Outside of the situational elements, there can be some traits that make a person more vulnerable to becoming part of a group that behaves as an abusive system.  These can include:

  • A deep need to belong and have purpose and meaning
  • Gullibility and idealism
  • Unawareness of human pathology and manipulation
  • Susceptibility to trance-like states
  •  A desire for spiritual meaning
  • Difficulty in saying no

For a person to become a fully fledged member of a cult once attracted, there needs to be a successful recruitment and indoctrination period.  People that have the above traits are more likely to be put through the recruitment and indoctrination process, compared to someone who is assertive and questioning. It is during this initial process that possible members are assessed.

Many make the mistake of believing that somehow people make a choice to enter a cult.  No-one can make an informed choice if they are being tricked and deceived. People do not join cults they join an organisation that promotes global peace, a meditation centre, a money making workshop, a church, a yoga class, a lecture about spiritual enlightenment, to name but a few.

Once a member has been attracted to the group, cults use a very seductive and powerful persuasion process.  They utilise intense techniques that disable a person from making rational decisions.  It’s only when a member is fully involved that they get exposed to the hidden agendas of the cult and its leadership.  At this point, many are already passionately committed.

When one understands the recruitment process that cults use it becomes easier to see how it is possible for people to get trapped in abusive groups.  The packaging of the cult is what people first get attracted to; if it was clear what was really at the heart of the cult, in this initial stage, it is doubtful that anyone would ever join such an organisation.

Ex-members in recovery may sometimes feel a great deal of shame that they were ever part of a cult.  By understanding the different contributing factors that attract, indoctrinate and hold hostage a member it can be easier to feel compassion rather than blame.

Part of recovery includes education on how cults work.  Once the mechanics have been exposed ex-members can really start to heal the complex range of feelings that the journey uncovers.  This education transforms baffled thoughts into a coherent narrative and helps ex-members see it was not their fault.

It is critical that a person in recovery comes to understand the nature of what they were part of.  All cults use the same techniques and these can be easily assessed by a trained professional.

These techniques come in three main types: alienation, dissociative and emotional arousal. Each cult will differ in the ratio and combination they utilise.  All cults, without exception, use intense psychological indoctrination.

The attraction to a destructive group can have many contributing factors. What starts off as being an innocent life experience, can quickly become a horror story that can last for many years.

Cults are everywhere and it is vitally important that people are made aware of how they attract and recruit.  Through this awareness, we can find ways in which to protect ourselves and our loved ones.

For cult recovery support please visit:


2 thoughts on “What’s the Attraction?

  1. I sure appreciate the light shed here – upon a depth of issue you touch, with admirable purpose (and precision) – “The insidious nature of these groups and how they touch all parts of our social networks.” I feel that is such an important perspective to gather – yet almost unrealized in general. As you put it so well, “many people really have no idea.” And thus a stage of raising awareness – has to come before other possibilities arise (like doing anything that – does any good, or even more – doesn’t “only make things worse”).

    Perhaps the ‘darkest’ comes in sequence (nature’s order) “just before the dawn.” i write from a regional stronghold of Scientology, Tampa Bay area (especially city of Clearwater) – upon only just finding out this morning, local stories in the news – a surprise overnight development – with a gasp of startled relief:

    “Clearwater votes to buy aquarium land, effectively blocking Church of Scientology’s bid” (April 20, 2017).

    Amid downward economic trend recent years with local business dwindling under hardship – official interest in ‘revitalizing the downtown’ (renovation, restore property value) centered on this ‘aquarium district’ on the skids – a strip of vacant properties, all cost no benefit to a city slowly going broke. If only someone would buy it up and rescue the city from its budgetary woes!

    To the friendly neighborhood Big Cult presence, richly heeled with its high profile names and faces, celebrity poster children (Hollywood endorsements etc) – the district up for sale glittered like a ‘golden opportunity.’ In a real-life Milton Bradley MONOPOLY board game – Scientology has been slowly steadily staking out and increasing its territorial control and power here, buying up more and more property, declaring it tax-exempt (“We’re a Church”).

    With this Clearwater aquarium district deal – cult reps were courting city officials in private meetings behind closed doors (public not invited, may not attend). Reports mentioned drawing board plans of the shining citadel Scientology had in mind (just trying to help a city down on its luck). And for good measure ‘meet and greet’ Hollywood stars in attendance, photo ops – cited in reportage, ominously.

    With sounds of tongue-wagging excitement (reflecting such a lack of basic clue, vital awareness AWOL) – as if “finally” the city might be able “to turn a corner” – I was braced for the worst. Some locals it seemed were cheering the possibility “our fair city” in distress would ‘bailed out’ i.e. take the bait – with another local district falling under rule of the cult – er, “the Church.”

    This real-life cult caper to get hold of that property – now foiled by the city itself buying the land (as I read only this morning) – is eerily familiar from fiction. It’s almost exactly like the scenario in the film SEVEN FACES OF DR LAO. It opens in a town (“Abalone” I recall) in distress. And a rich cigar-chewing slicker comes along offering “a deal they can’t refuse” – to buy them out, lock stock and barrel. Explains to the local newspaper he’s “a philanthropist” – giving the townies a way out of their trouble – a chance to go somewhere else and start over.

    As he put privately (when the townies aren’t around): “Man is a base creature – wave a little money in people’s face – they’ll snap at it every time.” What the struggling locals don’t know – that he does – is, a railroad route to Abalone is in planning stages – that will enable business to thrive, prosper (as he secretly intends).

    But to everyone’s surprise in the finale – by their own town hall vote, they don’t fall for it. They decide to to tough it out – in effect thwarting the con. All this unfolds amid a mysterious visit to the town, seemingly unrelated to any of the crisis – of a traveling circus (way unconventional) – run by the inscrutable Dr. Lao. Of whom – after the surprise vote – one townie remarks:

    “I don’t know what’s gone on here or how. But – I think we all owe a debt of gratitude to a mysterious Chinese fakir.”

    Incredible, the extent to which this cultic stuff is incubating and hatching out in our contemporary world – under our noses. The depth and darkness of this business spawning and proliferating under societal conditions so conducive – to me seems a matter not just of case files facts and circumstances, but – awareness as to the horizon of human concern – needing illumination. But I really admire and applaud and appreciate how you squarely go to the meat of issue, and the marrow of substance – a light on the horizon so profoundly needed in our thoroughly modern-to-postmodern societal context – one of massively “limited cultural awareness.”

    One small victory from my region this morning, for the light side of the human force – somehow a victory over the cultic dark (in my region of Florida) – that sure had its crosshairs drawn on a juicy piece of local property – but now, that caper seems to have been crushed, crisis averted. I wonder if some Chinese circus proprietor paid them a visit, or – maybe they just saw the movie the night before the vote. That’s how it happens – in the movie. The townies witness a little video mini-epic (“The Fall of Woldercan”). And by its sheer moral force and ‘reality power’ – that’s what snaps them out of their off-alert state of lower awareness – to the deeper more issue-laden human reality of what they’re about to do – and responsibility they bear.

    So stay the course, use the force – trust your feelings and beware of darkness – also of light in fact. Not because its no better – as the dark’s always ‘educating’ us, or trying to – just wanting to help out (of course) – for our own sake, and its ‘only thinking of us (If we don’t believe that – all we gotta do is ask, and it’ll kindly ‘affirm’). Rather – beware the light side or what seems to be, simply because – in a world of such treachery and nuanced hazards of inward being – not everything is what is seems, or my try to seem. And we both know what the dark side’s favorite disguise is – what it loves wrapping itself in and radiantly pretending to be … Merely a matter of ‘not all that glitters’ being gold – in a world with things also like iron pyrite, fool’s gold – which can also be put to certain use, apparently.

    A toast across the pond and may the force be with you today over there – as it is here.


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