The Psychodiversity of Cults


  • Author Bruce Wilson
  • Published April 10, 2021
  • Word count 481

The Psychodiversity of Cults

Bruce Wilson, PhD

On the most basic level, communication is comprised of sending a message and receiving a message, which are not necessarily congruent. After watching Cults Explained on Netflix, I was left with the feeling that cults are all about the message being sent by an authoritarian, charismatic, demigod type leader. This is helpful in that it purveys the outside-in or message sent, however seems to omit the inside-out or message received. I agree with Netflix that the message sent by the leader is overpowering and may be mind-controlling. My reservation about the completeness of this explanation is that it leaves out the diversity of why the message might be received.

“Look down at me and you see a fool,

Look up at me and you see a god,

Look straight at me and you see yourself.”

Charles Manson

Cult followers have their own reasons for being attracted to a cause. My first thought is that followers may be attracted to the idea of allegiance. Seeking purpose and meaning through commitment to a common goal is not just cultlike. Non-cultists also seek out environments that will provide stimulation and direction. Allegiance in a cult requires an additional commitment. One’s loyalty and commitment must be to the group and a self-chosen superior leader. This choice initiates a vulnerability to exploitation.

“I have borne allegiance to PRINCIPLES, rather than MEN.”

William C. Nell

A second inside-out, receptivity, component to being a cult member involves a strong need of belongingness. To be a part of something has exponential power in itself. It allows the individual to have support and colleagues in their likeminded pursuit. Belonging is also rewarded with a sense of acceptance. I am not alone! Emotion can be manufactured much easier in a group than in isolation.

“the opposite of belonging is fitting in” - Brene Brown

A third receptivity required of all cult members is an unwillingness to consider any ideas, or even facts, that are contraindicated to cult ideology. This closed, black and white, immutability ensures loyalty and commitment to the cause. No matter the logic, all ideas that challenge the parameters of the cult ideology are treated as illogical, unacceptable, and false.

“The only place opportunity cannot be found is in a closed-minded person.”

Robert Foster Bennett

In one of my earlier articles on psychodiversity, I discussed the value of having both an outside-in and an inside-out perspective. I mentioned the value of being psychodiverse. Ironically, in the cult world this diversity may only add fuel to the fire. The leader has power to influence and the follower has the potential to magnify this influence. Together the leader and follower create the synergy of a powerful cult presence. Like all communication, the power of the message is determined by both the sender and the receiver. The demigod has no filter. The receiver must!


Dr. Bruce Wilson is a psychologist with over 20 years experience. He enjoys sharing his ramblings with friends and colleagues. He is currently in private practice at Mind Health Care in Geelong, Australia. This article is solely his work.

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