I left a religious cult a little over a year ago, the details of which I wrote about in this article. Many others left the cult throughout the year following my departure. Most left because of changes in the religious doctrine, namely the cult leader rejecting Jesus Christ as messiah after preaching salvation through Him for years. Others left due to abuse from the cult leader and his meddling in their families and personal affairs. Many of those leaving sought out other groups of the same or similar faiths. I participated in one of these groups for a short time and was shocked to see what was happening.

The group quickly began implementing many of the same toxic traits as the previous cult. What really shocked me however, was that many of the people joining the new group were completely on board with these traits, enthusiastically embracing them, even though they had caused them so much trouble in the previous group. Some of these included:

  • Self-appointed leaders/teachers with no credentials
  • Self-appointed counselors with no credentials
  • Aggressive and vocal judging of others for not correctly following doctrine
  • Leadership determining who is permitted in the group and who is not
  • Condemning and shunning those who chose to leave the group
  • Framing abuse of others as “love”
  • Us-Versus-Them mentality towards people not in the group
  • Leadership dictated/pressured group members on how to live their lives, including:
    • How and where to worship
    • With whom to associate
    • Selection of partners
    • Parenting
    • Daily schedule
  • Leadership determining the correct interpretation of the Bible
  • Differing opinions not allowed
  • Black-and-White thinking; No room for gray areas, the unknown, or personal preferences
  • Slandering non-conforming members behind their backs to marginalize them

Six of the eight of Lifton’s criteria for thought control were already met here to some extent. See the original cult article for greater detail about these criteria.

  • Milieu Control – attempts to isolate members from people who might present different doctrines or pull them away from the group. These were the leader’s words to one member. We warned you about having contact with people outside our group and including us in their issues.
  • Demand for Purity – members must conform to the leader’s doctrines. The leader’s teachings were central to the group as the correct way to walk with God. Those who did not conform were passive-aggressively pressured.
  • Confession – not quite there yet, but the group called out individuals for violations of doctrine.
  • Sacred Science – the leader’s doctrines, interpretations, and teachings were considered superior to others. Whereas the previous cult leader claimed to have hidden knowledge of the Old Testament, the new leader claimed to have the knowledge of how to correctly practice biblical doctrine in every day life.
  • Doctrine over Person – member’s must live their lives according to the leader’s teachings and doctrines.
  • Dispensing of Existence – leader decided who could join. Some people were denied access. Other people were pressured to attend. Those who left or refused to attend were shunned.

Implementation of 6 out of 8 of the criteria for thought control shows that this group, while still in its infancy, is a high-control group. It is well on its way to becoming a cult.

The implementation of these criteria was through the standard passive-aggressive pattern of:

Suggestions Subtle Guilting Triangulation Direct Guilting and Shaming Slander and Condemnation

The group leadership would begin by suggesting how a member should think and act. If the member did not fall into line, there would be subtle guilting. Things like, I noticed you have been missing some of the teachings. If subtle guilting did not work, they would triangulate against the member, enlisting mutual acquaintances to try to pressure them into conforming. I’m worried about so-and-so. He seems to be turning his back on God. If triangulation failed, then direct guilting and shaming would begin. I can’t believe you would turn on me after all I’ve done for you. At this point, the member had to choose whether to conform or depart. Departing resulted in the former member being slandered and vilified behind his back, thereby marginalizing him as a person and ensuring remaining group members broke ties with him. These tactics are described in this article on religious narcissism.

All these things “blossomed” almost overnight into a smaller group that closely mirrored the original cult. People who had previously been hurt or marginalized by the first cult, were some of the most enthusiastic supporters. It seemed as though the only issues they had with the first cult, was that they had not been in charge of it or held elevated positions therein. They even seemed aggressive, jumping in and telling others what they were doing wrong, questioning how they lived their lives, and framing it as “loving your neighbor” by telling them the “hard truths.” It was like watching the sophomores hazing a new crop of frat boys. It began to resemble a dog pile onto whomever was deemed to be violating religious doctrine at the moment. Ironically, they would often comment about how glad they were to have left the first oppressive group, all the while implementing many of the same oppressive policies. When I brought up the cult similarities to the group leadership, I was told I was wrong and then (I discovered later) vilified and slandered behind my back. I left the group at that point. So did several others.

Why would people enthusiastically embrace another cultic group right after leaving one? I do not have a definitive answer, but I believe some of it is because of the authoritative structure religion provides. People pursing religious faith are already open to being part of such a structure and obeying the authority. The most important thing to them is that they belong to a group. They care more about being a valued member than whether abuse or control is present within the group. This presents fertile ground that lends itself to spinning up another cult in short order. The authoritative structure has a different appeal to various groups of people, and can make them coalesce into a group for at least a period of time.

  • Malignant leaders – they see the authoritative structure as a means of controlling and using other people. They often initially portray themselves as warm, welcoming, caring and tolerant. However, that is just the love bombing stage before they assume control of the group or individual. Religious narcissists, con artists, and even psychopaths can fall into this category.
  • People wanting to rise in spiritual stature – these people usually mean well and earnestly want to become more spiritual. The structure provides them with a tangible path to advancement, without needing to determine whether the structure is valid or good. They are sometimes used and manipulated by malignant leaders to champion causes and be their enforcers.
  • Lost sheep – these people need someone to tell them what to do along every step of their spiritual walk. They do not want to think about anything, just follow. A rigid and visible structure provides them with a feeling of security that they are following something correctly. They are easy prey for cultic groups.
  • Enthusiastic new believers – they have not seen enough yet to know the difference between truth and fiction. The authoritative structure can be attractive to them, especially after coming from a lukewarm, wishy-washy church. They believe they have finally found answers. Sadly, many of them turn away from God entirely after they are burned by such a group.
  • Seekers – people who are looking for the truth, or at least something that works for them. The current group is simply their latest research. They have the best chance of breaking free.

Concluding this missive, I will state that this pattern of cult-hopping that I personally witnessed is both disturbing and disappointing. It seems to occur irrespective of people’s intelligence or experience. It almost appears as though these people have an innate desire to obey and be controlled. I know that is not true however, because I once stood where they stand, firmly believing that I was acting of my own free will while a narcissistic religious puppet master pulled the strings. Few, if any, people desire to be controlled. Most desire to belong and thrive. Malignant people prey upon and exploit this. Everyone has their own point at which they realize what is going on and choose not to engage in it anymore. Sadly, some never realize it and remain trapped their entire lives. It is frustrating for me, someone who has gone through this before and recognizes it, to have my warnings disregarded or even be attacked for voicing them. I have chosen to excuse myself from religious groups for this reason. The associated stress and dangers far outweigh what little effect I might have.

My standard disclaimer applies here. I am a believer and follower of the God of Israel. This writing does not represent or imply being against Him or His commandments. However, I am not a believer or follower of people who twist the Word of God to control and manipulate others towards their own desires.

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Toxic amnesia is a tactic where the perpetrator pretends to not remember abuse, betrayals, lies, and other hurtful and dysfunctional behaviors they've engaged in. Its a form of gaslighting. Its purpose is to make you doubt your perceptions and memories.

Narcissistic rage can be triggered by various situations, such as criticism, perceived rejection, or being ignored. The reaction is often extreme and disproportionate to the event or comment, as the narcissist's fragile ego struggles to cope with the perceived attack on their self-image.

Triangulation is when a toxic or manipulative person, often a person with strong narcissistic traits, brings a third person into their relationship in order to remain in control. There will be limited or no communication between the two triangulated individuals except through the manipulator. It may appear in different forms, but all are about divide and conquer, or playing people against each other.

The action or practice of lavishing someone with attention or affection, especially in order to influence or manipulate them.

Cognitive dissonance refers to a situation involving conflicting attitudes, beliefs, or behaviors. This produces a feeling of mental discomfort leading to an alteration in one of the attitudes, beliefs, or behaviors to reduce the discomfort and restore balance.

To gaslight someone means to manipulate another person into doubting their own perceptions, experiences or understanding of events. ~ American Psychological Association

Because their sense of self is determined by what others think of them, narcissists use relationships for self-enhancement. Everyone must feed them. In addition, they seek validation and attention in their public and professional life. Other people are used as objects in order to provide their supply. For example, they may need constant compliments or applause, more status and money, or may check their appearance in the mirror several times a day. ~ Psychology Today

Fraud that targets people belonging to a particular community or group, typically that in which someone pretends to be a member of the group in order to gain the trust of others.

Second Attack
First Attack
Initial Dispositions
ZSU 23-4
TOW Missile
T55 Tank
SA7
M113
M48 Tank
Hawker Hunter
BTR-50
BM21 Stalin Organ
Howitzer
AT7 Anti-Tank Missile
AT3 Sagger Anti-Tank Missile
120mm Mortar
AT4 Anti-Tank Missile

Moreover if your brother sins against you, go and tell him his fault between you and him alone. If he hears you, you have gained your brother. But if he will not hear, take with you one or two more, that ‘by the mouth of two or three witnesses every word may be established.’ And if he refuses to hear them, tell it to the church. But if he refuses even to hear the church, let him be to you like a heathen and a tax collector.

A religious leader uses valid verses or concepts from the Bible about following and obeying God to generate enthusiasm in people, then misdirects that obedience to himself as a representative of God. The group believes they are following and obeying God, but in reality are obeying the leader.

A fictional, exaggerated version of an opposing viewpoint, especially one that is intentionally created to be easy to dismiss or argue against and to make one's own argument seem stronger. Straw man arguments can be made unintentionally, but most are made on purpose to make the other side seem evil, incompetent, or extremist.

The religious leader distracts members from mentally registering what he is doing.  Screaming praise to God when something he proclaimed does not come to pass.  Acting like a bad thing is really a good thing.  Just keep talking and talking and talking, while ignoring that nothing is happening. It is the same thing politicians have done successfully for years.

The leader calls members flattering adjectives or nouns, like righteous, holy, or saint.  These are often vague and difficult to define, so the member feels the leader’s superior knowledge has recognized something good in them.  Conversely, if the leader later withdraws this praise, the member is eager to toe the line to recover it.

Manipulation of a person or group's emotions in order to make them believe something is factual (or false) in the absence of any evidence. The manipulator tries to draw on the recipient's inward feelings such as fear, pity, or joy with the goal of convincing them that the statements being presented are true or false.

Essentially a black-and-white worldview with the leader as the ultimate moral arbiter. This creates an atmosphere of guilt and shame, where punishment and humiliation are expected. It also sets up an environment wherein members spy and report on one another. Through submission to the guilt-inducing and impossible demand for purity, members lose their moral bearing.

The use of jargon internal to (and only understandable by) the group. Constricting language constricts the person. Capacities for thinking and feeling are significantly reduced. Imagination is no longer a part of life experiences, and the mind atrophies from disuse.

The process whereby the group becomes the ultimate arbiter and all nonbelievers become so-called evil or non-people. If these non-people cannot be recruited, then they can be punished or even killed. This process creates an us-versus-them mentality that breeds fear in followers who learn that life depends on a willingness to obey. This is when individuals merge with the group’s belief.