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Characteristics of abusive organizations

There are characteristics that are suprisingly consistent across the entire spectrum of cult groups. The accounts of members of a bible-based cult are stikingly similar to what a former member of an eastern religion or psychotherapy cult might say.

It is important to us that people understand this concept: it is the behavior of a group that makes it a cult, not its philosophy, doctrine, or trappings. Some people (even some that are considered experts on cults) will say that if a group believes "A," then they are a cult. There are also those that say that if a group believes "B," then they cannot be a cult, because "B" is a valid doctrine or philosophy (at least in that person's opinion). In many cases, the behavior is in direct contradiction to the purported belief system of the group anyway, so an examination of the details of a group's stated beliefs doesn't help much.

Click on the links below for a detailed discussion of each characteristic. Many of these topics may overlap, some contain links to additional information, and some may ramble a bit. Thanks for your patience. :)


Constantly changing requirements
Members are kept off balance by continuous changes in the way day-to-day business is conducted. Done under the guise of improving efficiency or maintaining flexibility, it generally results in intensely painful crisis management.
"Black and white" thinking
Complex situations and concepts are often reduced to "catch phrase" simplicity in order to limit free thought.
Multiple levels of membership
Most groups have an inner, devoted core with secretive doctrines and/or practices, and an outer congregation that provides a good image to present to the rest of the world.
Deceptive recruiting or "staged" commitment
When joining a group, new converts are not told the 'whole story' concerning what will be expected of them as a member.
Excessive workload/activities
Members are kept as busy as possible, or at least prevented from spending much time alone.
Control/Oversight
Most groups expend lots of energy in making sure they know where members are and what they're up to. Often includes requiring constant communication or sending 'more experienced' members to 'check on' others.
Exclusive doctrine or special insight
The group has special knowledge of the scriptures, or a direct line to God (via the leader). As such, they are 'special' and often act accordingly.
Front Groups
Cults will often start businesses or community service organizations that perform one or more of the following functions: (1) Generate income, (2) Recruit new followers, (3) Improve the group's image in the community, (4) Provide employment for members so they can be more closely controlled.
Double Standards
The leadership is free to do things that are verboten for "regular" members. They receive special priviliges and benefits for no reason other than the fact that they are "in charge."