The Simple Steps Cults Use To Recruit Everyday People Into A Life Of Absolute Control

Anyone can be drawn into a cult, no matter how immune they think they are. 

Cults use carefully refined techniques of manipulation and coercion to target people when they are most vulnerable. These people can be recent school leavers, university students, travellers or people who have suffered a recent bereavement or death in the family.

Basically, anyone who is in a period of transition.

"They will look for some dissatisfaction in your life and then they will present how the group will fill that need in your life," registered counsellor Tore Klevjer, who has with lived cult experience, told 10 daily.

They operate by controlling every single aspect of an individual's life. These aspects can be described with the so-called BITE model -- the total control of Behaviour, Information, Time, Emotion and Environment.

Members of Charles Manson's 'The Family' cult. Image: AAP.

"When we control even one of these aspects of a person’s life we have quite a bit of control. A cult will target all of these. They target every aspect of a person and pretty much anyone can be swept away if they are in a vulnerable position," Klevjer said.

There are trademark steps cults use to recruit new members.

  1. Invite a possible member to an event where they 'pitch' how they can fill the vulnerability in their life
  2. Shower them with praise so they feel they belong. Some professionals call this 'love-bombing'
  3. Offer the new member something they crave -- like answers to life's big questions, wealth etc
  4. Shut down dissent by explaining that the member will not be able to get the thing they crave if they don't follow the group's doctrines
  5. Establish guilt by shaming the member. 'Good' behaviour is rewarded and 'bad' behaviour is punished
  6. All BITE aspects are controlled making it hard for a person to leave

READ MORE: The Body Modifying 'Cult' Blamed For The Death Of Aussie 'Gentle Giant'

READ MORE: Jonestown Massacre: Surviving The Peoples Temple Cult

"If you imagine the smallest cult like a domestic abuse situation and the largest cult being a dictatorship, a regime like Nazi Germany or North Korea they all operate in a similar way," Klevjer said.

Claire Ashman, 48, grew up in an ultrareligious sect in Melbourne and then moved with her then husband to The Order of St Charbel community in Nowra, NSW. During her time there, she gave birth to nine children.

Ashman left the cult 12 years ago at the age of 36, after she was evicted for questioning the group's beliefs. As a result, she was faced with the challenge of finding her own identity while raising eight children as a single parent.

Claire Ashman grew up in an unltrareligous cult. Image: Claire Ashman.

"Basically for 30 years I was taught what to say, how to think, how to act, what to dress … until I threw it all off and it takes you years to do that," Ashman told 10 daily. 

After years of control, Ashman became exhausted by a life filled with sacrifice and no gain. As a religious cult, members were told every action was an offering to God.

"I had to offer everything as a sacrifice, even hanging out the clothes. You’ve got to say 'I offer this pegging out of the clothes as a sacrifice' or, 'I offer my cooking as a sacrifice,'" Ashman said.

"I was exhausted because it seemed like offering all of my actions as a sacrifice, my whole life seemed to be a sacrifice and it wasn’t getting any better."

When Ashman and her children were evicted, she struggled with anger and humiliation as she tired to assimilate into regular society.

"Initially, I was humiliated, I was embarrassed where we had come from,," she said.

"I didn't know what to say. I didn’t want to be looked upon as stupid."

For Klevjer, his experience in a cult motivated him to help others coming out of them.

Claire, her second husband and her eight children. Image: Claire Ashman.

"A lot of people come out of a group feeling like they are stupid ...things like boundaries of relationships are messed up in the group," Klevjer said. 

"Then you have to try and find a way to for back into society again. It is much bigger than some people give it credit for."

"People don’t know they are in the cult until they leave ... you don’t realise how much you are going to be controlled."

According to host of Zealot podcast and author Jo Thornely, the development of the internet has bought an interesting element to the cult world.

"You can actually have a cult without a compound now. You can have an international cult of people in their lounge rooms now. Instead of going into a compound to isolate themselves ... they are already in their bedrooms or their basement staring at the computer," Thornely told 10 daily.

"It surprised me how transferable the techniques that cult leaders use are prevalent in the workplace for example."

"It is really hard to nail down a definition."

Scientology has characteristics of a cult. Image: Getty Images.

For Ashman, her survival means she is able to use her experience to help other women leave cults and ensure her children, especially her five daughters, live a free life.

"I really value my freedom and the fact that I think for myself and that I am free to believe whatever I want," Ashman said.

"But it’s not just for me though, it’s for my kids and ultimately my daughters. It is so, so important to me that my daughters didn’t live like I did ... I want them to be free. I want them to be independent, be financially free.

"I want them to be dreamers, doers, thinkers."

If you or someone you know is in immediate danger, dial 000. If you need help and advice, call 1800Respect on 1800 737 732, or Lifeline on 13 11 14. A range of domestic and family violence resources based around the country can be found here.

If you need help transitioning out of a cult or an abusive situation you can contact Cult Information Family Support here

Featured Image: Getty Images. 

Contact Siobhan at skenna@networkten.com.au