• Nicole Sherwin

The Psychology Of Cult Indoctrination

Why people surrender their identities and children and are willing to die for exploitative sociopaths and paedophiles, aka their leaders.

WHY? Source: Esquire

This segment is from the podcast episode, 'Cults. Listen below where you get your pods:

Why the fuck would you join a cult?’ ‘Why didn’t you just say no?’ 'Why didn’t you just leave?'


Detective Nicole Olivia Benson has investigated and I’m here to tell you why the fuck people join cults, why the surrender their identities, why they’re willing to hand over their children to be molested and why they’re willing to die for the leaders of their groups.


The answer to why people join cults is actually really simple. No psychology degree required. According to Tom Bisset of the Baltimore Sun, it’s because "They’re looking for love and acceptance and because they want answers to the personal problems in their lives.” In the Netflix documentary Explained, they also suggest that there are several steps of indoctrination to a cult and that you’re most vulnerable when you’re going through a transition or a crossroads. Cults really play by a get 'em when they’re down mentality, because like the rest of their operation, it’s super ethical. Bisset also says that, “Unlike most people who find socially acceptable solutions to their problems, these emotionally scarred individuals are willing to go beyond the bounds of normalcy in order to meet their deeply felt needs.”

Okay, but surely when the cult tells you they’re going to physically brand you and asks for you to sign over your first born child to the 80 year old cult leader with eleven wives you’d start to think there’s something fishy going on?

"Ok, I'm in." Source: GiPHY


Firstly, cult leaders themselves and charismatic AF. They’re the Jehovah Witness door salesmen who would 100% get themselves into your house and convert you. Even if you think you’ve got a solid bullshit detector, they can still get you, with mind control. Which apparently is not someone controlling you with their mind, which very much confused me, but it’s more psychological coercion. The cult leaders basically break down the person you think you are and then rebuild you in alignment with their doctrine. It’s brainwashing, it's psychological coercion, and I bet you’re feeling smug, thinking you still wouldn’t fall for it.


I definitely was a non-believer, but in Explained, it is suggested that if you’re good at mind control, you can break even the most intelligent people if given the opportunity. Additionally, in the documentary Seduced: Inside the NXVIUM Cult, they also suggest that cults don't prey on the stupid, they prey on the most intelligent, socially connected people. Nobody is safe.

G2G. Source: GiPHY


Then you’ve got the additional steps to indoctrination that really ensure your commitment. The cult ensures you’re alienated or disaffected from the dominant culture. It’s imperative the member is cut off from anyone who could tell them how to cooked the cult is. No books, TV and definitely no family. The only relationship you need is the one with your leader. Nobody else matters. A cult is a closed reality where every input is designed to reinforce their doctrine and you lose your ability to critically analyse.

Exploitation is also key to cults. In the NXVIUM case, it was money and sex, and in probably every other cult you’ve ever heard of there’s kiddy fiddling. Yuck. You might be a shell of a human while you’re inside the cult, but you don’t necessarily lose your spidey senses. You still know when something truly fucked up is happening, but more often than not people don’t speak out because another element of the indoctrination process is peer pressure. If everyone in the room is persuasively arguing the genius of Dan as Gossip Girl, it’s hard to speak up otherwise.


Again, I definitely was like, I’m no sheep. But, there’s this experiment they show in Explained when they ask candidates to match the two lines that are the same length on a piece of paper. It’s clearly one and three for example. And the first three people who are dummies say one and two. So everyone else does the same thing! That’s just something simple with people who haven’t been starved, sleep deprived and brainwashed for years. So you can see how people lose their identity and voice.

NXVIUM former 'grandmaster' and all round piece of sh*t, Kieth Raniere. Source: NY Times.


In any cult, the leader is a malignant, sociopathic, narcissist and you’re truly indoctrinated into a cult when you are willing to die for them. There is nobody else as important. According to Bisset, “Cult members are willing to die for their leaders because they have come to believe that their own redemption is tied to the group and the leader.”


The good news is that most people do leave cults by around the time they’re 35, so if you were considering it, you’ve probably still got enough time for a solid stint.


Thirsty for more? Listen to a new podcast episode every Tuesday.

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