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The psychology of sects: investigating their mental traps

The psychology of sects: investigating their mental traps

July 19, 2024

The study of sects is one of the most interesting fields of study within the branch of social psychology. But ... what is the psychology of the sects?

The case of Charles Manson

In the late 1960s, an Ohio musician named Charles Manson established himself as a guru in San Francisco during the "Summer of Love," a festival and concentration hippie. His aspirations were to be famous and millionaire, and he soon got his first group of followers, who formed a sect called "The Manson Family".

Soon they all went to live on a ranch where Manson instructed them about what he called Helter Skelter (term taken from the song with the same name of the Beatles ), a supposed racial war between blacks and whites that was approaching.

In the sect there used to be five women for every man, and they performed weekly psychedelic orgies with marijuana, peyote, LSD and rapes to minors included. Manson saw to it that his followers lost their sexual taboos, inducing them into behaviors related to homosexuality, anal sex, etc.

Charles Manson never came to kill anyone with his own hands, but his acolytes are attributed several murders , including that of Sharon Tate, the then woman of Roman Polanski .

This introduction leads us to ask several questions. What leads someone to enter a sect and bring obedience to extremes such as murder? What happens within the sects? What is the psychological profile of its leaders?

The sects and their mental traps

The sects are complex groups, formed by a hierarchical and pyramidal structure, led by a charismatic guru who demands a devotion and dedication of exploitative type that usually end up leading to emotional, social or economic damage to people.

Psychological profile of the leader of a sect

The psychological profile of a sect guru is highly complex . These are people with great abilities to seduce and entangle the participants of the group, so that among their personal characteristics is loquacity, lip and a high degree of social skills. Sect leaders are capricious, tyrannical and even despotic, and end up verbally, physically or sexually abusing their members.

They can not bear to question their authority and seek to parasitize their members to extract all their resources. They move by narcissism and the need to control others to achieve their own ends.

They are fed by excessive egos and shape the world according to their own vision , manipulating the individuals. They are specialists in capturing the weaknesses of people to provide them with what they need and thus attract them even more to them.

At what time a person decides to enter a sect?

Entry into these groups tends to occur smoothly and progressively . Through a process of seduction, people are enthralled with promises. Normally this point coincides with a moment of personal crisis of the individual that increases their vulnerability and their need to find "magical" or "divine" solutions to their problems.

Also vulnerable are people with a strong degree of loneliness or an existential crisis that prevents them from finding meaning in their lives.

What happens within the sects?

Within the sects worldly tactics of social influence are employed , taken to an extreme neither permissible nor ethical.

The ideology imparted by the leader is the only valid one, and any hint of doubt that appears in the mind of the adept will be annulled through verbal abuse, humiliation, humiliation or ridicule. It is interesting for the individual to bend his personality and end up obeying all the indications of the leader. There is therefore an emotional destabilization in the members.

The secrecy

Inside the sects there is a lot of secrecy . What happens inside can not be counted out under any circumstances. In addition, members are made to believe themselves lucky to know such secrets, and play with the feeling of exclusivity. Acolytes must feel important and fortunate to receive such information.

The ultimate goals of the sects

Cults do not always look for sex or money. Most of them are seeking the power and control of the mind of the members. Money comes later, once the will has been controlled.

The individual believes that the donations he makes are voluntary, he is not aware of the previous brain washing to which he has been subjected .

Basic characteristics of sects

According to the British sociologist Bryan Wilson , some characteristics common to all sects would be the following:

  • People join voluntarily , although it can be induced.
  • Membership may be submitted for examination by the authorities of the group.
  • There may be a small elite of people to which they are assigned "secret knowledge" or special abilities that can be reached by going "climbing" within the group.
  • There is a pretense of exclusivity , so it is sanctioned to whoever contravenes the doctrine, the moral or organizational precepts of the group.
  • You aspire to perfection personal.

Dangers of entering a sect

Usually people do not realize the danger about where they are getting until they are already inside. Membership in a sect can entail serious damage in various areas of the life of the followers.

The main consequences are the following:

  • Isolation of the individuals of the world in general and of their family or personal relationships in particular.
  • Control of all information what comes to them
  • A fatalistic and demonizing discourse is installed of the world and of people who are not part of the sect, so it is likely that individuals develop strong feelings of fear and distrust of life.
  • Loss of ability to think critically , since democracy does not exist in any of the links of the hierarchy nor are questions or suggestions allowed.
  • Mental destabilization Of the members.
  • Exorbitant nature of financial demands .
  • Attacks against physical integrity .
  • Unrest of public order.

As in the case we talked about at the beginning of Charles Manson, people are so emotionally and financially involved that they can commit crimes simply by obeying the leader's instructions . And is that the human being can do unimaginable things because someone tells them to do them.

To know more

There are two theories that explain the behavior of the adepts within the sects:

  • The work of Solomon Asch and his theory of conformism, which describes the relationship between the reference group and the individual person. A subject who has neither the knowledge nor the ability to make decisions (as is the case of those accepted to the sects) will transfer decision making to the group and its hierarchy. The group will be the model of behavior of the person .
  • The theory of the reification of Stanley Milgram, which states that The essence of obedience consists in the fact that a person looks at himself as an instrument that realizes the wishes of other people , and therefore does not consider itself responsible for their actions. It is the foundation, for example, of military respect for authority, where soldiers will obey and execute instructions issued by superiors with an understanding that responsibility falls on the latter.

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