How Hard Is it to Get Out of a Sect?

February 4, 2020
Anyone is susceptible to joining a sect. In this article, learn about the strategies sects use to attract and indoctrinate their followers.

A cult or sect is a group where the leaders make use of psychological abuse. You can define psychological abuse as a systematic and continuous application of negative psychological strategies. Some examples of such strategies are pressure, control, manipulation, and coercion. The aim of these strategies is to dominate others and make them submit to the group’s rules and messages.

Thus, these abusive cults operate through manipulation, domination, control, exploitation, and coercion. Recently, there was a very famous case involving a person named Patricia Aguilar. She was captured by an abusive sect in Peru. She stayed with them for more than a year. The authorities found the young woman alone and caring for various minors. One of these was her own son. They found her in a house located in an area that the Peruvians considered a dangerous part of the jungle. All of them had been living in unsanitary conditions. The youngest of the group had received no schooling at all.

Patricia Aguilar was a victim of an abusive sect.

The psychological abuse of abusive sects

Cultists stay in these groups because they’re deceived. What typically happens is that the leader of the sect doesn’t ask for anything at first. They also tend to either give a lot or promise a lot. So by the time the group member wants to find out where they are, they’ve come to develop complete dependence on their group. Recovering their independence becomes an uphill battle on a very steep slope. According to Alvaro Rodriguez-Carballeira and his team, abusive sects exercise the following types of abuse:

  • Isolation. They isolate the subject psychologically, socially, and physically. What they intend to do through this isolation is to disconnect the person from the external world. They also want to make the person lose their social network. That way, they separate and unhitch the individual from the people close to them. The same goes for their values, past, and, as a result, their whole life story.
  • Information control and manipulation. The groups limit the novitiate’s access to media information and certain reading material. Additionally, they reinterpret external events. They also limit evidence that could give way to different interpretations. In the same way, the group supervises and controls the education of the children involved.

Increased control

  • Control over the individual’s life. They control the person’s activities, money, time, and emotional or sexual relationships. Furthermore, they supervise their behavior. On top of that, they control their mental and physical health so that they can weaken them. Their main goal is to have as much control as possible over the person. That’s when they start demanding things from them, as they’ll be in no position to deny themselves.
  • Emotional abuse. In order to gain more control over the person, the group attacks their feelings and emotions. For example. they might:
  • Indoctrination is a system of absolute and Manichean beliefs. That is to say, they discredit external ideas and inculcate a closed system of beliefs in the novices. They also make them believe they’ve been selected to be part of a group that’s in sole possession of the truth and is superior to the rest of the world.
  • The imposition of unique and extraordinary authority. The group imposes an absolute authority on the members. Thus, the followers must obey without question.

The characteristics of a follower of an abusive sect

Spanish authorities believe that are 150 such abusive sects in the country. Furthermore, they warn there could be even more. Sects are adaptable. They’re able to use technology in order to seek out victims that might be more prone to their influence. You have to understand that not all sects are massive in terms of size. Therefore, some are composed of just a few individuals.

People in a group therapy session.

On the other hand, it’s a mistake to say that a follower joins a sect because they’re weak or vulnerable. The followers aren’t necessarily psychologically weak. Nor are they dumb. These beliefs function as a defense mechanism that separates us from the people who’ve been victims of such influences.

In truth, anyone can be caught or attracted in troubled times during their life. It’s not necessarily that they’re vulnerable people. Rather, it’s more accurate to say these people are going through a difficult time and seek out support.

“80% of cultists score superior levels on technical studies,” Jose Miguel Cuevas tells us. There are lawyers, doctors, public officials, and marginalized people in their ranks. Abusive sects “Seek intelligent people who might be able to enrich the group. Few of them seek people who they don’t believe will be potentially beneficial”.

Rodríguez-Carballeira, Á., Saldaña, O., Almendros, C., Martín-Peña, J., Escartín, J., & Porrúa-García, C. (2015). Group psychological abuse: Taxonomy and severity of its components. The European Journal of Psychology Applied to Legal Context, 7, 31–39. doi:10.1016/j.ejpal.2014.11.001

Saldaña, O., Rodríguez-Carballeira, Á., Almendros, C., & Escartín, J. (2017). Development and validation of the Psychological Abuse Experienced in Groups Scale. The European Journal of Psychology Applied to Legal Context, 9(2), 57–64. doi:10.1016/j.ejpal.2017.01.002