Is Your Current Mentality Making You Cult-Bait? How to Identify If You Are Being Brainwashed And Manipulated

Is Your Current Mentality Making You Cult-Bait? How to Identify If You Are Being Brainwashed And Manipulated

One way I nurture my curiosity is by exploring random documentaries. Recently, I stumbled upon one about a cult that promised to  introduce you to your soul mate called "Twin Flame". It left me baffled by the extent to which people can be drawn into these groups and convinced to conform and change their identities. 

I know, I know ... this is not a new finding. Numerous Netflix series highlight elements cults employ to retain membership.


What makes an individual (with seemingly cohesive thought processes) get engulfed by the ideologies of a cult? Why are they ready to mutilate themselves, cut off from family, harm others and even take  their own lives (if needed)?


A retrospective study found that individuals who joined cults experienced Anxiety (51.6%), Mood Disorders (45.2%) , substance abuse, and eating disorders (12.9%) in the year before joining. Their reasons for joining ranged from a need for personal development and life dissatisfaction or being on a spiritual quest.


The study also highlighted key characteristics of the cults:

  • Feeling like you are part of a special group of individuals, superior to those “normies” outside.
  • Threats or intimidation of member’s physical and/or psychological well- being by the cult leader, setting a precedent for every member who may try to question the ideologies of the cult or tries to leave.
  • Encouragement for  members to cut ties with their social environment.
  • Antisocial discourse i.e talking about going against the current social norm and giving off an idea that by doing so one is being radically different from the general population.
  • Proposing a special and alternative way of life that is not part of the norm.
  • Most importantly having a charismatic cult leader with a personality that demonstrates empathy and power. 

Charismatic leaders are a hallmark of cults. They project an air of authority, often claiming special knowledge or a divine connection.  Combine that with bizarre beliefs that defy logic (think alien ancestry or finding your "twin flame"),a demand for blind obedience through rituals, and you have a recipe for “manipulation”.  Isolation from loved ones further tightens the cult's grip.


So, if they are so terrible, why are they so irresistible? 


 It’s  because cults offer something we all crave – a sense of belonging.  They create a community where you feel heard, valued, and even "special." This taps into our natural desire for purpose and acceptance.  For those experiencing isolation due to mental health struggles or discordant families, a cult can feel like a one-stop shop for happiness and a stable community.


Let's be honest, the word "cult" has negative connotations. Not all groups with strong beliefs are inherently bad.   Fan clubs, self-help groups or even movie fandoms have elements of community and shared passion but they aren’t inherently bad or harmful.


The problem arises when your identity becomes intertwined with the cult's,  leading to “introjection” - you become one with the cult, unknowingly taking on its beliefs and behaviours.
Cults promote this in many ways. They instil self-doubt in individuals, honouring only the leader’s perspective and ostracising any members who express opposing ideas. This creates a situation where questioning the group becomes synonymous with questioning yourself. Cult leaders gaslight individuals who leave or express doubts, causing other members of the group to overthink their own thoughts before vocalising them. This causes an internal disconnect of an individual’s introspective process.When we add the isolation from former social groups and families, it creates a dangerous echo chamber of the cult leader’s thoughts and ideals, no matter how uncomfortable or out of the ordinary it is. This makes people afraid to speak up even if they have strong feelings. They are forced to silence their natural sense of caution and doubt, burying  their inner screams that something's wrong.


The cult mindset is eerily similar to an abusive relationship.  Both involve a gradual loss of freedom, pressure to conform, and a fear of speaking up.  There's a constant push to ignore doubts, fueled by moments of "good times"- the love bombing and initial honeymoon period with relationships and cults  keeps one hoping things will improve.


Whether it is a cult or an abusive relationship, when you’re in too deep, it can be disorienting. You may hyper focus on the time, money, and emotions invested, and be afraid to admit  that it might be harmful in the larger scheme of things.Escaping a cult (or an abusive relationship) is not only about introspection and critical thought about beliefs;it’s about recognizing the fear and defensiveness surrounding them. 


Breaking free of this dynamic can be difficult, here is how you can start - 

  • Listen to your feelings. When you hear opposing viewpoints, what emotions arise? Are you afraid of being wrong, or losing something important? Understanding these feelings can be the first step to challenging them.
  • Is secrecy a part of the dynamic? Hiding things adds stress and is a red flag. Ask yourself why you're keeping things secret.
  • What needs are they fulfilling? Often, defensiveness comes from fearing the loss of something the group/relationship provides. Identify those needs and explore ways to meet them healthily outside the group.
  • Shame is a common feeling, but don't let it stop you. Anyone can be drawn into a controlling situation. It's okay to seek help.
  • Talk about your doubts and vulnerabilities. Reach out to trusted friends and family outside the group.
  • Question isolation. Strong social connections are crucial. Think about how cutting off loved ones affects your well-being.

Cults have been around for a long time.While some can be fun, some can be scary. We don’t need to live in fear of them, but we can be cautious. Being aware and recognizing the subtleties of what is happening to you can help to protect you.  


  1. Kropveld, E. (n.d.). Governments and Cults [Reference]. International Cultic Studies Association. Retrieved April 24, 2024, from ICSA Home:
  2. (2024, February 15). How Being in a Cult Can Affect Your Mental Health. Retrieved April 24, 2024, from
  3. Rousselet, M., Duretete, O., Hourdouin, J.B., & Grall-Bronnec, M. (2017, November). Cult membership: What factors contribute to joining or leaving? Psychiatry Research, 257, 27-33. Retrieved July 22, 2023, from
  4. Petric, D. (2018, September). Gaslighting and the knot theory of mind. Research Gate. Retrieved July 22, 2023, from
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Meet the Author

Zena Yarde


Zena's not one for idle chit-chat, often taking things a bit too seriously (is there even another way?). She's fully dedicated to her cats (or let's say she's a bit of a crazy cat lady), enjoys the simple things, family time, sunsets, the ocean, a good nap, observing plants and people (in the non-creepy way), and the occasional solitude.

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