The Anatomy of a Cult: Why Is It So Hard to Leave?

By now, you’re aware that in this world, there is the eerie presence of cults. When you hear the word, you think of delusional Satanists or sacrificial lambs and bloody pentagons. There’s an image associated with the term, and it’s more or less used to paint a picture of something out of the ordinary.

The Anatomy of a Cult: Why Is It So Hard to Leave?
A scene from Midsommar, a 2019 film about a Scandinavian cult
Photo from Vogue

In reality, it’s not quite that simple.

Cults are essentially a group of people that are tied to one central belief or ideology. It sounds very much like religion, or a K-pop stan group. But what differentiates cults from “normal” groups like those are that religions, like Christianity, Islam, Buddhism and so on and so forth, have stood the test of time.

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The Children of God cult, a popular religious sect in the 60s through the 70s
Photo from Rolling Stone

Cults are often “self-destructive, oppressive, or anti-social” and would most likely be disbanded due to judgment from outsiders on their harmful practices. Famous cults like The Manson Family, Heaven’s Gate, and Peoples Temple didn’t last because of mass suicides and twisted beliefs that lead to abuse and murder.

Basically, there’s no way for cults to survive.

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Charles Manson, head of the Manson Family cult and leader of the Manson Family murders
Photo from Smithsonian Magazine

To put it into layman’s terms, imagine K-pop stans all of a sudden decided they had one supreme leader amongst themselves, and that supreme leader was into 1) threatening people to join the group, 2) recruiting members using unethical means, or 3) committing murder.

Sounds a bit extreme, doesn’t it?

But cults gain mass followings for a reason.

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Children of God worshippers in Germany
Photo from Esquire

The reason cults are so enticing to others is the same reason why people follow religion — there is a common belief. When you find community in a group of like-minded people, you feel accepted and heard.

You are no longer an “outsider”; you’re part of the “family”.

Cults tend to use dangerous terminology like “love”, “family”, and “community” to manipulate members into doing their bidding.

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The Children of God gathering
Photo from Esquire

When members start to realize that maybe the cult isn’t the healthiest environment for them and try to leave, cult leaders make it very difficult by asserting that the departing member is “turning their back” on “family”.  Sometimes, cult members don’t get to leave at all.

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The infamous Heaven’s Gate suicides in 1997
Photo from Timeline

It’s a cycle of mind control, gaslighting, and manipulation that mostly ends in tragedy.

Cult members who have successfully left the group detail instances of abuse, stress, and serious emotional trauma. Others have experienced denial, and have said that it can be hard to accept that the people who are there to “help” you, aren’t interested in genuinely helping you. They just want power.

Jim Jones, cult leader of the Peoples Temple who moved his entire congregation into Guyana
Photo from Insider

Cults are dangerous because of the sheer potential of what they can do for a group of people. When you join a cult, it can mean years of servitude and delusional ideals. It can mean the erasure of your sense of identity and the loss of everyone close to you.

While cults aren’t particularly all the rage anymore, they still exist. Some even say that MLMs, or pyramid schemes, are the modern-day versions of cults that seek to cut off members from close family and friends and immerse them in their own self-built world.

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2015 horror film The Invitation, which features a modern cult
Photo from Cinema 76

In any case, it’s better to just stick to your religion, your K-pop group, or whatever strikes your passions and beliefs. If you feel that things are getting a bit too weird in your “group”, it may be time to rethink what you’re doing there in the first place.


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