Dr. Phil

Are you vulnerable to a cult-like group?



Rebecca Mussler



Are my children in a children in a cult?







Warning signs of cult influence


YouTube Clips





Cult Speech from Class

This fall, I was able to share my experience with cults with my class. There is my speech.

I was raised in a pseudo-religious cult in a small town in MS. It is a religion that sounds like they are teaching the truth, but it is twisted and taken out of context. In 1958, there was a man in his thirties, who was diagnosed with lung cancer. He was told he would not survive. He went home and made a deal with God. He said that if God would heal him, he would preach the truth. After a while, he went back to the doctor and was told he had a clean bill of health. He kept his promise. 

He started preaching under tents in the heat. People came from all over the county to see and hear his story. He would lay hands on people and pray a pray and they would be healed. People started giving their money to him, and they built a church. He had hundreds of followers. He preached that women had to dress with long dresses, long sleeves, long hair, and above all were not allowed to question anything. They were only allowed to have blind faith in the man of God. Women were taught to strive to be mothers and wives. Men were taught they were to provide for their families, some could be preachers, but they had to defer to the pastor. He had all control over what was being preached and who was preaching it. If anyone went against what he said, he would kick them out of the church. There were no second chances for those who questioned him. 

When I met him, they had built a multimillion-dollar church. I was eight years old, and he was in his seventies. I was just put in a foster home with my siblings, and he quickly became a grandfather figure to me. He had the biggest smile and would always give me a huge hug. He always knew who I was and gave me a peppermint. As a child who had went through something so traumatic, he became my lifeline. I followed his instructions and rules. His wife took me under her wing and was grooming me to be married to a pastor. I wrote bible studies and never questioned anything until I was 15. But that is how they get you to follow them. They get you interested when you are at a low point in your life, looking for somewhere to belong and something to believe in. They make you feel like they care about you more than anyone else. They courted you with tales of healings and even preformed healings at church. People who were sick would be ‘healed’. The pastor would get up in front of the church and prophesy or talk about things there was no way he could know about people’s private lives. He would call out those that had doubts and condemn them in front of everyone. That was when I asked myself how he could know all this stuff about people. 

I started noticing discrepancies in what was being taught, but anytime I questioned, I was silenced or made fun of. One time I asked a question in Sunday school, and the assistant pastor brushed it off saying that I had the gift of gabbing and would talk people to death. That was when I realized something was off. When I went off to college, my eyes were open. My friends would take me to their churches and it was different. People were not forced to comply to the rules and the rules were not subject to the whim of one man. When I brought my friends to my church, I was told they were bad, I was to not be friends with them, and to come home more. More specifically, I was told they were full of demons and that they would lead me astray. 

When I decided to leave the church, my family and everyone I knew shunned me. I haven’t spoken to my siblings in about six years. It was hard leaving them in that environment knowing the damage it can cause, but everyone has to make a decision that is best for them. As for my parents, they pretend I am dead. They took all my pictures down, they do not speak my names, and tell everyone that knew me how horrible I am to them. 

The sad part about this whole thing is that I lived in this environment for ten years. I was brainwashed, and I hate to say it. I was brainwashed to think that abusing power and terrifying people into submission was how someone really loved you. I was terrified of being humiliated in front of everyone I knew, so I followed the rules and kept my head down. I didn’t realize it at the time, but it conditioned me to seek out those that I ‘thought’ had good intentions and cared about me. Because of this, I have put myself in many dangerous situations of blindly trusting people. However, all that lead me to where I am today. My husband loves me and supports me in all I do. I look to him for guidance, but I don’t just take people’s word for things. I do a lot of research and keep my circle of friends small. 

For this reason, I feel that I am in a unique position to help people like me. Who put their faith in the wrong people and were abused by it. One of the things I would like to accomplish from this is working on my blog about cults. I just started it a few weeks ago, and I interview people who have been in cults about their experience. I want to see how they would be best helped. Then, hopefully, I can study a way to help them. I would like to have like a sanctuary for them to come to get help with ‘deprogramming’. A safe place for them to live to learn about the world and how it really works.  


Cults, Narcissism, and Stockholm Syndrome

This is an academic paper that I wrote for one of my classes this past spring.

Imagine a compound in the middle of the forest, with people bustling along to the pavilion in the middle of the grounds. They congregate there to hear God’s Word from God’s mouthpiece every Sunday. He stands in the front looking over his flock, that is separate from society. He speaks in an engaging manner and everyone nods to his points. The teacher answers to only God for what he says. He can teach whatever he wants, whatever God reveals to him. When he is finished speaking, everyone files in line for food. The community’s food. They all worked to collect it together. Their clothes are all the same. Their shoes are the same too. Their homes are too the same. No one is better than the other, except for the teacher. He is elevated higher than the rest. The feeling of belonging washes over them as they speak to their friends and neighbors. They are all happy to live here, this slice of heaven is a gift.  

According to modern society, the above paragraph describes a cult. When one thinks of a cult they think of people like Charles Manson, David Koresh, and Jim Jones’ devout followers. These are all dramatic examples of extremist groups who chose to follow their leaders into murder and death. However, today it is harder to spot a cult from afar. Today, the leaders are a little more devious in hiding in plain sight. They tweak their doctrine just barely out of the norm. At first it would seem like they are speaking the truth, but on further investigation, one would see that it was not truth, but lies. Their behavior is what sets them apart from the rest of us. In this paper, I will discuss what a cult is, the idea that cult leaders have Narcissism Personality Disorder, the cult members have Stockholm Syndrome, and the lasting effects, considering my own experience having grown up in a religious cult. 

First, a cult “is a religious movement whose beliefs differ from the majority around them (Shelley).”  This could be a very basic belief like believing in Jesus is God rather than the Trinity. Shelley goes on to explain that a cult is exclusive, secretive, and authoritarian. A cult is exclusive in the idea that anyone can join, but they must leave their former lives to participate. By this I mean, they must be willing to realistically and figuratively live a new life. The members have inner circles that only a few select can join. These few would be the inner circle. The idea is to make the individual isolated from others by having them believe that their teacher only teaches the truth and everyone else is wrong. They can also be isolated physically on a compound. “They are secretive because only the few know the truth and teach it (Shelley).” They are authoritarian due to their leader having all the answers. This leader has created a basis for his teachings and later can build on his ideas using scriptures to his own gain. This means teaching in a manner that allows the leader’s goals to be met. The leader makes exit hard and the members follow his example when one leaves. This could be shunning those who leave. There is no room for differences, the leader is correct, and that is final (Veinot). The leader rejects all ideas or claims new ideas are his own, even if someone else had them. 

Following the idea that the leader is correct, the leader usually demands admiration for his revelations. He usually holds himself in higher esteem than the members, because ‘God’ speaks directly to him. No one else holds this power as the leader chooses those closest to him and reveals his plans to them. He revels in his plans for greatness and nothing can stop him from accomplishing what he wants. According to the textbook, “Narcissistic Personality Disorder is generally grandiose, needs much admiration, and feels no empathy for others (Comer, 2016).” These people never get better and their needs grow worse with age if they do not seek treatment, which is a problem for those who are a narcissist, as they do not believe they are sick. According to A Primer on Narcissism and the Destructive Group Leader’s Personality, “Healthy narcissism is rendered pathological by abuse, and abuse, sadly, is a universal human behavior.” This means that everyone has some form of natural narcissism, but some abuse others to satisfy their innate desires to have more power, admiration, or whatever else that drives them. 

There are many ways that a cult leader can abuse this power. One example is by telling their followers that the Bible and God has told him that the group should be separate from the world. This can mean physically or mentally. In a physical sense, like Jim Jones, the leader can form a compound and control who goes in and out. He can control their contact with the outside world. He can even go as far to change people’s names (Weber). In a mental sense, he can just claim that everyone else is wrong and he, only, has the truth. When challenged, he could humiliate those who challenge him publicly.  He can call the members to give up outside relationships and only focus on each other for family and comfort. He can make them wear certain clothes and associate with certain people. The more extreme cults even limit what people eat. These are just a few ways he can gain power over his followers. 

On the other hand, for the follower, they are completely devoted to him and his goals. They take his plans seriously and work to achieve them. Their whole identity is wrapped up in who he is and his plans. They don’t mind being told what to wear, who to talk to, where to work, and what to eat. This means that they have even less to worry about in their daily lives. They are so devoted to their leader that many feel as if they can’t live without him. This devotion could easily be described as Stockholm Syndrome. Karamungikar states, “In psychology, there’s a concept called ‘Stockholm Syndrome’ where the hostages start liking their abusers and form a psychological alliance with them.” This means that the members accept the verbal, social, and emotional abuse that their leaders put them under, because they believe he won’t hurt them. When everyone else questions their leader, they stand by him defending him, even if he is wrong, even if it means their death. 

For my own example, I put forth the Pentecostal/ Apostolic Movement. No one knows exactly when it began, but it can be traced to Azusa Street in Los Angeles (Davis). It was there that one of the first preachers stood up and preached that the Trinity was wrong. That there was one God only. These preachers spread out and made their own churches with separate doctrines that would later be combined under United Pentecostal Movement. No one watched over the pastors nor was there a board that they had to answer to. Many just made up doctrine and rules as they went along. “It is also common for oneness ministers to claim revelations from God that are regarded by their followers as inspired (Davis)”. These inspirations, would later be called visions, that only the leader was privy to and he would share them with his flock. When he determined it was time. The followers would try to make these visions happen for their leader, because that was his dream. 

Within the Pentecostal/Apostolic movement, is another movement called the United Pentecostal Church. This is one I have the most experience with. They believe that to be redeemed, one must ‘speak in tongues’ (eaec.org). If a new member does not speak in tongues, they are not granted membership until they do. All members participate in speaking in tongues at church services. Then they baptize by water in ‘Jesus Name” only (Davis). There is no Father, Son, and Holy Ghost, there is only Jesus. Then there is the Holiness standard, where women wear long dresses with long, uncut hair. Men wear short cropped hair and their best attire. Children dressed as their parents, depending on gender. Most did not date outside of the church which lead to many people being related in more than one way. They did not go against the pastor. 

On any given Sunday, of my childhood, my family would be found at The Jesus Name Apostolic Church in Foxworth, MS. One could walk through the doors to a sight one could only see at a Pentecostal church. Men with short cropped hair and no beards shaking hands, while women had long hair and long dresses hugged family members. As the service starts, people would be crowded around the front of the church with hands in the air and tears running down their faces. Basking in the glow of their worship to their Lord and Savior. Some people may even jump or be gathered around someone in prayer.  Scanning the room, one can see that all ages are gathered in this spectacle. Then one’s eyes could be turned to the man who was in the middle of it all, an aging man with gray hair, with healing hands of prayer promising miracles to the downtrodden. 

Furthermore, the bishop of the Pentecostal church was named Marvin Terrell. When he was in his late twenties, early thirties, he claimed God had healed him from horrible lung cancer by giving Marvin a new lung. With new found faith, uncappable of keeping this blessing to himself, Marvin started a church. At first, he had only a few followers, but that did not keep him from preaching so hard that his shoes were full of sweat, as was his suit. Soon, they were building a gorgeous new church to hold all his followers. People came from states away to hear the man preach about God, faith, and obedience to his word, that was especially given to him.  

See, Marvin preached that he was God’s mouthpiece and that only he could tell his followers what the truth was. Anyone who went against his truth was the devil’s follower and evil. Marvin would interrupt preachers, preaching at his church to tell them they were teaching the wrong doctrine. Only his divine truth was correct for his sheep. The unbelievers were cast out of the church and Marvin continued his doctrine of Pentecostalism. Left unchecked by any overseers, Marvin created his own doctrine.  He preached fire and brimstone to those who did not follow him. Those who did, were covered by grace and had his love. 

On one hand, to his followers, Marvin was telling God’s truth. However, he was abusing his power. Women were forced to wear long skirts and long hair, to separate them from the world as his women were holy. The women didn’t mind following this rule, it kept them from trouble. However, the stricter Marvin taught, the harder they tried to follow the rules. I believe that this is Stockholm Syndrome at its finest. He would preach with a heavy hand and lead with a gentle way that made people trust and do as he said, because if they wanted to get to Heaven, they had to do as he said. 

When I reached eighteen, I realized that this was not the life I wanted. I brought a boyfriend to church to talk to the assistant pastor and they got into a fight over doctrine. I realized that what he was teaching was wrong and that I had grown up to give all my love and admiration Marvin, but he was just a narcissist trying to get power through putting people down. He thrived on the money that was given to him by the church and the attention his members gave him. He used the attention to try to build his church bigger and better than other churches around. He exploited the faith that was put in him and gave nothing but lies in return. Today, the lasting effects are still with me. I do not go to church. It is hard for me to believe what one man says that the truth is to him. I do not follow blindly like I did then, I ask questions. I do not wish to be taken advantage of like Marvin did to me. My family shuns me and acts like I am dead. I have no contact with them, nor do I desire to. 



“United Pentecostal.” European American Evangelistic Crusades. http://www.eaec.org/cults/unitedpentecostal.htm 

“The Personality Disorders.” MeadowHaven. http://www.meadowhaven.org/PersonalityDisorders.pdf 

Comer, R.J., (2016). Fundamentals of abnormal psychology. New York, NewYork: Worth Publishers. 

Davis, T. (2011). “The hidden cult of Oneness Pentecostalism.” Market Faith Ministries. http://www.marketfaith.org/the-hidden-cult-of-oneness-pentecostalism/    

Davis, T. “Oneness Pentecostalism.” North American Mission Board. https://www.namb.net/apologetics/oneness-pentecostalism  

Karamungikar, D. (2017). “Stockholm Syndrome, cults and God-men.” Medium. https://medium.com/@deepakkaramungikar/stockholm-syndrome-cults-and-godmen-c01249ffa5a7  

Navarro, J. (2012). “Dangerous Cult Leaders.” Psychology Today. https://www.psychologytoday.com/us/blog/spycatcher/201208/dangerous-cult-leaders  

Schodolski, V. & Haynes, D. (2003). “Captive girl’s actions hint at brainwashing.” Chicago Tribunne. http://articles.chicagotribune.com/2003-03-16/news/0303160269_1_elizabeth-smart-smart-family-home-brainwashing 

Shelley, M. “What’s a Cult?” Christianity Today International.https://www.christianitytoday.com/iyf/advice/faithqa/what-is-cult.html  

Veinot, D. (2001).”Defining a cult.” Christianity Today International. https://www.christianitytoday.com/iyf/2001/julaug/definition-of-cult.html  

Watters, R. “Profile of a cult leaders.” Swordandspirit.com. http://www.swordandspirit.com/library/writings/theology/writings_theology/cultleader.html  








Articles and Books about Cults

News Articles about Survivors










Impact on Children





Articles about Cults/Survivors being sued







Academic Articles/ Peer Reviewed Articles

Adolescence and their attraction to cults https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pubmed/9831888

Role of Psychiatry and the phenomenon of cults https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pubmed/519625

Cults and their attractions https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pubmed/?term=Cults+and+their+attractions

Personal Reflection Cults

Cults and Families https://skent.ualberta.ca/wp-content/uploads/2014/03/Cults-and-Families.pdf

Ivan Doress Kids in Cults













TV Shows and Movies about Cults


Wild Wild Country

Holy Hell

American Horror Story: Cult

The Invitation

Enlighten Us: The Rise and Fall of James Arthur Ray

The Galapagos Affair: Satan Came to Eden


Jesus Camp

American Experience: Ruby Ridge

Children of God

Unbreakable Kimmy Schmidt

My Scientology Movie

Welcome to Leith



The End of the World Cult


The Following

Jonestown: Paradise Lost


Amazon (Prime)

Big Love


Martha Marcy May Marlene

The Master

Split Image

The Thirsty Dead

The Son’s of Perdition

The Lost Key



The Path



Jonestown: The Life and Death of Peoples Temple


Sacred Lies

Independent Video Archive

Lord of the Universe


The City of the Dead


Holy Smoke


Messiah of Evil


Prophet’s Prey


Leah Remini: Scientology and the Aftermath Photos

Cults and Extreme Beliefs


People Magazine Investigates: Cults



(International) Church of Christ

Alexander and Thomas Campbell

*If any of these videos seem to be trying to get people to join them in their beliefs, I am not advocating joining them. I was just looking for source material for a discussion to understand who they are, how they get people to follow them, what they believe, and what happens when people try to leave.


Personal Experience

Seventh Day Adventist

Joseph Bates and Ellen G. White

*If any of these videos seem to be trying to get people to join them in their beliefs, I am not advocating joining them. I was just looking for source material for a discussion to understand who they are, how they get people to follow them, what they believe, and what happens when people try to leave.


Survivor Stories

Apostolic and Oneness Pentecostalism

Azusa Street Revival or Jesus-Only

*If any of these videos seem to be trying to get people to join them, I am not advocating joining them, I was just looking for source material for a discussion to understand who they are, how they get people to follow them, what they believe, and what happens when people try to leave.





This is how they get women to abide by certain rules.




The Church Service



Doctrine and Documentaries