Questioning, doubt, critical thinking, and dissent are discouraged or even punished.
Mind-altering practices (such as meditation, chanting, speaking in tongues, denunciation sessions, frequent repetitious sessions inculcating the cult leaders' belief systems, and debilitating work routines) are used in excess to solidify loyalty to the group.
The leadership dictates, sometimes in great detail, aspects of daily life: how members should think, act, and feel, how they should dress, what they should eat.
The group is elitist, claiming a special, exalted status for itself, its leader(s) and members, as the sole depository of the complete truth. No other belief system is seen as legitimate or useful.
The group has a polarized us-versus-them mentality.
The group sees itself as persecuted because of its claim to be the only ones having the truth, and views any criticism from outside as evidence of persecution and thus confirmation of the group's truth.
The group fosters either-or, black-and-white views, right-or-wrong thinking, with no allowance for gray areas.
The leader is not accountable to any authorities or to the members.
The group teaches or implies that its supposedly exalted ends justify whatever means it deems necessary, which may result in members' participating in behaviors or activities they would have considered reprehensible or unethical before joining the group.
The leadership induces feelings of shame, guilt, and/or fear in order to influence and/or control members.
Members who have difficulties conforming to the group are made to feel that the problems are because of their own failings, and not because of any problems with the group.
Subservience to the leader or group leads members to cut ties with family and former friends, who are non-members, and to alter radically the personal goals and activities they had before joining the group.
The group expends great effort to bring in new members.
The group requires major financial commitment from its members as a test of loyalty to the group.
Members are expected to devote inordinate amounts of time to the group and group-related activities.
Members are encouraged or required to live and/or socialize only with other group members.
Members are encouraged to report to the leadership group members who are not conforming.
The group has an extensive system of rewards and punishments for controlling members' lives.
Leadership uses deception, both to the public and to its own members.
The group has special vocabulary, a kind of shorthand, or "buzz words" which substitute for actual rational analysis.
Leadership exerts control over information, discouraging members from getting information from non-group sources. Some important information is not available to new members, but only those who have proven their loyalty.
Members come to feel there can be no life outside the context of the group. They believe there is no other way to live, and often fear severe consequences if they leave (or even consider leaving) the group.