Is it dangerous to join a cult?
Why are cults dangerous?
In extreme individual cases there have even been mass suicides or acts of terrorism caused by religious or ideological fanaticism. In addition to such sensational fanatical sectarians, there are many less conspicuous groups and a large gray area of spiritual, esoteric and more or less serious therapeutic offers “on the market”. Here, at least for individual people, dangers can lurk. Often these are small or just emerging movements and providers. That is why the public is not as well informed as it is about the Scientology organization, which is even monitored by the Office for the Protection of the Constitution.
There is no list of clearly good or bad religious communities or other "mysterious" offers. Nor can there be any patent remedies as to how one can protect oneself from the psychological tricks of various groups, or how one can "get" a member of a problematic "sect" out of it.
First of all, you should find out about the respective grouping. You can do this on the Internet, for example. Here you will find extensive self-portraits for many communities, organizations, companies and individual providers, but increasingly also critical presentations and assessments by specialist departments, former supporters, initiatives by those affected and the like. But you can also turn to special church representatives for the area of so-called “sects and psychogroups”. Your parish can certainly give you a telephone number for this. But also the youth welfare offices, educational counseling centers, etc. can help.
If you have already had problems with your child, you can get personal advice from these specialist centers.
How do I recognize problematic "sect" offers?
Suspicious characteristics of a problematic grouping or individual vendors:
1. Should parents give up their own opinion and does the "sect" dictate how children are to be brought up? Are the children even largely withdrawn from their parents and looked after by other “sect” members?
2. Are the children and young people shielded from the outside world and can hardly prepare themselves for an independent way of life as a result? Are they threatening to become outsiders?
3. Are age-appropriate methods and techniques used in children or adolescents (hard meditation, penance exercises, overwhelming training)?
4. Are individual child needs suppressed in order to win puppet-like “little adults” for the group?
5. Are children and young people emotionally, ideologically and materially exploited in favor of the “sect”? Or are they being neglected, perhaps because they are supposedly in the way of the "spiritual advancement" of adults?
6. Is the upbringing particularly strict or do you notice unusual punishments?
7. Is it used in education to instill fear and guilt (if the children are accused of sinfulness or karma guilt, or if evil forces, final judgment, condemnation and the like are threatened)?
8. Are children already being influenced in a targeted manner to perceive themselves and their surroundings from a worldly or divided point of view (special enemy images, end times, conspiracy theories, allegedly indubitable visions or revelations, etc.)?
9. Is there a totalitarian leadership structure in the “sect” and thus in the individual family, which overrides the child's right to self-determination?
10. Is the psychosexual development of children and adolescents disturbed by sexual hostility or, conversely, by particularly permissive attitudes and practices?
11. Does the role of women in the "sect" contradict the generally recognized status of women in our society in a blatant way? Does this mean that adolescents are missing a positive role model?
12. What is the significance of school education and professional prospects? Are these neglected or even hindered by the group for certain reasons?
13. Are preventive health and medical care restricted (dietary regulations, prohibition of doctors or medication, special understanding of illness, healing by faith, exorcism)?
How does “sect” dependence come about?
How does this hazard work?
Many people believe that only particularly unstable or immature people are susceptible to “sects”. The fact that completely inconspicuous people are also “caught” can have various personal reasons.
The outwardly hardly recognizable motives that can make “susceptible to sects” are above all the search for inclusion and belonging, the search for stability and clarity, the desire for personal enhancement, self-expansion or uniqueness as well as the search for the new.
In sudden crisis situations, these personal reasons can come to the fore or even appear for the first time.
Scientific studies have found out in the last few years that if you join or become a member of a so-called “sect or psycho group”, the mentioned needs, problems and fears of these people (perhaps only supposedly) with the offer of a certain community "fit together". They believe that there they have found their master or teacher, or that there - perhaps for the first time - they will experience a kind of real family, or that there all their questions and hopes will be answered and fulfilled. In many cases there is obviously also a satisfactory interaction for the parties involved, whether this is seen as “reasonable” by outsiders or not.
A main danger with really problematic "sects", "psycho groups" and similar providers is that the special needs and fears of people are abused for the purposes of recruitment and exploitation.
Above all, the approaches of the various “seducers” are to be criticized, how the soul of individuals or the interpersonal relationships of the followers are influenced without them noticing it themselves. In order to circumvent people's self-determination, such psychologically manipulative, effective persuasion techniques and strategies of mind control largely override self-confidence, “insight” and one's own will.
There are very complex ways in which the individual can be won over, made dependent and fanatized. How this "works" in individual personal cases and with regard to the respective grouping can only be clarified on the basis of precise information about the respective group and in connection with the history and situation of the (new) member.
How can I prevent my child from joining a problematic community later?
How do I protect my child from the influence of questionable charlatans?
On the one hand, you should prepare your child so that they will encounter a wide variety of religious, ideological, ideological, therapeutic and similar offers in life. How it will be dealt with later will depend on the relevant experiences your child has made up to that point. That means: about whether your child has learned to differentiate between appearance and reality, whether they can make a firm judgment with regard to vague assertions and promises that sound nice.
On the other hand, "conversions" and attachments to unusual groups and teachings are deeply emotional processes. Any theoretical knowledge that may exist about possible dangers may remain ineffective at the decisive moment.
Therefore it is the best protection against dubious "cult" offers if your child has been able to develop a stable personality. You can contribute to this if you offer your child a familiar environment in which they can find reliable caregivers who give them self-confidence and confidence in their possibilities. That show him how he can take his life into its own hands and help shape its own future. When your child has learned to live independently and to take responsibility for it, they will be able to resist attempts to take them over and deprive them of their right to self-determination.
Take the time to talk to your child, deal with them about worldviews, religious ideas, social values and norms. Provide your child with orientations that will give their life meaning.
If this enables your child to set clear ideas and goals for himself and his life, gain a positive attitude towards himself and his social environment and mature into a self-confident personality, there is a risk that he will seek support elsewhere or even in favor of one dubious redeemer himself gives up much less.
Bavarian State Youth Welfare Office, parents online
Created on August 25, 2008, last changed on September 12, 2013
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