A model introductory talk developed by ICSA’s NYC Educational Outreach Committee. For permission to reprint, contact firstname.lastname@example.org – 239-514-3081 (icsahome.com).
When friends or family of a cult-involved person first express their concerns about what is happening to their loved one, they almost always say that they have noticed a change in personality and/or behavior. Conversion, which entails significant personality change, is the essence of cult indoctrination. It is about inducing changes that diminish followers’ ability to think critically about the group and increase their compliance with group/leader demands.
Cult leaders manipulate followers to idolize the leaders and to devalue, or make inferior, the followers’ own unique subjectivity and individuality. The indoctrinated cult member is induced to believe that she wants to discard her old self and replace it with a different, better self— ostensibly one that is purer or more evolved—but actually one that the cult leader will recognize and approve of. Followers come to base their sense of self entirely on the leader’s approval.
The successful leader persuades the follower to objectify himself. Idolizing the leader, the follower forsakes his own subjectivity to become the most perfect possible object of the leader’s desires, for the leader’s use—a servant willing to do the leader’s bidding, no matter what is asked. The leader creates a community in which followers are always looking up, toward him. Relationships in the group are based on mutual adoration of the leader, not on actual relatedness.
As a result of this conversion process and the demands of the cult environment, members may abandon academic, vocational, or avocational pursuits, distance themselves from family, give up money and possessions, neglect their health and family obligations, and struggle with feelings of guilt, inadequacy, or failure.