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VOICE OVER: Tom Aglio WRITTEN BY: George Pacheco
These mind control techniques are shockingly powerful. For this video, we'll be analyzing the most commonly used methodologies utilized by those at the head of cults, techniques often employed to retain their positions of power and influence. Our countdown of mind control techniques used by cults includes Controlling the Environment and Narrative, Induced Dependency, Thought Reform, and more!

Mind Control Techniques Used By Cults

Welcome to WatchMojo, and today we’ll be discussing 10 Mind Control Techniques Used By Cults. For this video, we’ll be analyzing the most commonly used methodologies utilized by those at the head of cults, techniques often employed to retain their positions of power and influence. Were you aware of all these examples? Let us know in the comments.

Controlling the Environment and Narrative

The act of brainwashing, or mind control, is often at the center of any cult. Leaders of these groups need to ensure that the environment around them is controlled at all times, in order to ensure total submission by those following the cult. There have been historical examples of cult members that have been forced to give away all of their personal finances, presumably in order to facilitate a more focused devotion to that cult’s aims and goals. Furthermore, outright rejection of those forces hostile to the cult’s aims only works to further strengthen this aforementioned control over what’s going on within these cult hierarchies at all times.

Challenging Criticism

Our next topic ties heavily into the need to control, and it can usually be seen within those who have devoted their lives fully into that group’s confines and teachings. Here, all connection with the outside world and their former lives is shunned, oftentimes to the point of outright criticism or hostile confrontation. This feeling of paranoia and persecution is often associated with those who have been fully indoctrinated into their respective group’s culture and lifestyle.

Fear of Punishment

Another aspect of mind control that often comes up when discussing cults is fear of punishment and the system of punishment and reward. Cult leaders and those who assist them make it a priority to induce dependency upon their members. Free will and thought need to be abandoned, in order to better service the cult and its needs. Rewards are given to those who fall in line, while punishments are doled out to those who still lean into autonomous direction. Above it all is the need to keep the leader happy and content at all times, to address all personal behavior to further promote the cult’s well-being.

Induced Dependency

The mind control techniques utilized by cults are often interconnected in a very intentional manner. We’ve already mentioned how retaining a system of punishment, reward and fear keeps members in line, but how exactly do those members wind up so induced into a state of total dependency? There are many ways in which this is achieved, including something known colloquially as “love bombing.” This is when members of a cult are bombarded with feelings of acceptance and love, unlike any they likely have ever felt in their lives. Furthermore, these feelings of acceptance then tie into life within that cult, while acts of alienation are presented as being the product of the outside world. This ensures an insular dependence upon cult life.

Trance-Inducing Behavior

Lives for those within a cult system can often be regimented, and this is by design. Cults often employ ritual and certain types of behavior that are designed to promote a tranquil feeling, similar to that of a trance. These could include daily meditation rituals or even worship sessions similar to that of a church mass. In fact, critics of organized religion often point out certain similarities between how both certain church groups and cult groups operate. One outlier of this comparison, however, ties into our aforementioned discussion of punishment, whereby some cults will actively rebuke those who don’t commit fully to these hypnotic and trance-inducing rituals.

Selling a Lifestyle

The idea of “not knowing” one is in a cult until it’s too late often comes up when talking with ex-cult members. This is intentional and by design. It’s imperative for those in charge of promoting a cult to sell this sort of lifestyle in a positive and non-threatening way. This is done by systematically identifying those individuals that might succumb to the cult’s recruitment process. This could be done amorously, via the process known as “flirty fishing.” Other times, it could just be to encourage a friend or passing acquaintance to visit a group meeting or activity. Above all, it’s important to sell a cult’s lifestyle and culture in a manner that feels engaging, loving and positive.

Regimented Behavior

Life within a cult system can be a harrowing experience, sometimes with drastic repercussions to one’s physical health and well-being. We often think of group dances, singing and clapping as examples of the regimented behavior of cults, and this certainly has precedent. However, it’s also important to note how not all regimented behavior is created equal, and there’s often an even darker side to what’s expected of certain cult members. Deprivation of food, water and sleep is a proven mind-control technique, and it’s one that’s been employed often by cults over the years. It all ties, once again, into that delicate balance of punishment and reward, with total submission to the cult being the ultimate goal.


It’s important to distinguish the slang utilization of the term “gaslighting” against what actually goes on when one’s mental faculties are called into question while living under a cult. Jim Jones was a master manipulator of people who used gaslighting techniques to brainwash hundreds into following his orders at the Jonestown Compound in Guyana. For cult leaders, it’s imperative that everyone under them lose that autonomy of thought, that mental subservience is given to those atop the cult’s hierarchy. Cult members, as a result, are often assaulted with manipulative behavior that’s designed to undermine their perception of reality at all times.

Thought Reform

Just as gaslighting serves as a tool within the cult leader’s arsenal of weaponized, emotional manipulation, so too does thought reform come into play as a blanket catch-all for total control. Cult leaders direct the narrative, and utilize techniques such as visual or auditory propaganda to further reform and mold the thoughts of cult members. The condition of Stockholm Syndrome can then be initiated, specifically with regards to how cult members lose their sense of selves after living under a cult’s rules. This is the ultimate goal of the brainwashing techniques employed by cult leaders to ensure docile and obedient followers at all times.


This is probably the most important mind-control technique within a cult leader’s arsenal. Talk of isolation comes up again and again when researching life under a cult, an intrinsic link between those at the top, and those following their orders. Cult members are instructed to leave their former lives behind, to associate only with those individuals associated with the cult, and not to have any further contact with the outside world. This isolation results in total dependence upon the cult for guidance, and ensures that no dissenting voices will enter the group leader’s narrative. It’s perhaps the most dangerous technique at all, but also, sadly, the most effective.