Compare these patterns to the situation you were in (or in which you, a family member, or friend is currently involved). This list may help you determine if there is cause for concern. Bear in mind that this list is not meant to be a definitive checklist to determine if a specific group is a cult or “cult-like.” This is not so much a diagnostic instrument as it is an analytical tool.
1. The group displays excessively zealous and unquestioning commitment to its leader and (whether he is alive or dead) regards his belief system, ideology, and practices as the “truth,” as law.
2. Questioning, doubt, and dissent are discouraged or even punished.
3. Mind-altering practices (such as denunciation sessions) are used in excess and serve to suppress doubts about the group and its leader(s).
4. The leadership dictates, sometimes in detail, how members should think, act, and feel. (examples can be: what to wear, what to watch, what to believe, who to associate with)
5. The group is elitist, claiming a special, exalted status for itself, its leader(s) and members (for example, the leader is on a special mission to save humanity.)
6. The group has a polarized “us-versus-them” mentality, which may cause conflict with the wider society.
7. The leader is not accountable to any authorities
8. The group teaches or implies that its supposedly exalted ends justify whatever means it deems necessary. This may result in members' participating in behaviors or activities they would have considered reprehensible or unethical before joining the group.
9. The leadership induces feelings of shame and/or guilt/or pity to influence and/or control members. Often, this is done through peer pressure and subtle forms of persuasion.
10. Subservience to the leader or group requires members to cut ties with family and friends, and radically alter the personal goals and activities they had before joining the group.
11. The group is preoccupied with bringing in new members.
12. The group is preoccupied with making money.
13. Members are expected to devote inordinate amounts of time to the group and group-related activities.
14. Members are encouraged or required to live and/or socialize only with other group members.
15. The most loyal members feel there can be no life outside the context of the group. They believe there is no other way to be, and often fear reprisals to themselves or others if they leave (or even consider leaving) the group.
Take Back Your Life: Recovering from Cults and Abusive Relationships by Janja Lalich and Madeleine Tobias (Berkeley: Bay Tree Publishing, 2006
Janja Lalich, Ph.D. & Michael D. Langone, Ph.D