Totalism – all-encompassing nature of the beast, blocking out all alternate relationships or beliefs, locking daylight out of the picture. An “ism” is a total overview or ideology pretending to have found the key and only explanation for all the mysteries of the world. The ideology supplies all the answers to all possible questions. A cult is a group with an ideology led by a charismatic leader with extreme views, beliefs, and behaviours. They have been brainwashed, “cleansing of the brain “, using methods to indoctrinate or neutralize opponents of the regime and converts the enthusiastic supporters.

The alternation between assault and leniency, threat and apparent safety within an isolating environment, used for coercive persuasion. The leader drives the whole system’s structure, beliefs, and processes, which reflect the leader’s persona, with two core characteristics of charisma and authoritarianism. The group is always built up of the patient or follower zero, who love and idealize the leader’s charisma and attribute magical qualities even when the leader uses fear, threats, and terror as forms of control.  They may threaten to end the relationship, induce fears of impending doom and catastrophes, psychical abuse, or remove sleep, food, and silence.  The leader wants to create a guaranteed set of attachments to others, controlled via disorganised attachments, purging any disloyal followers (scapegoats).

This ultimately opens the follower or cult member to political, sexual, and financial exploitations.

The Structure

The initial relationship developed with client “zero” is propagated throughout the group, dominated by the leader by, isolating members and controlling access to the outside world, negating any influence or unwarranted contact. The groups demand full-time commitment; the group is your only social interaction and circle, where all emotional and physical energies must be a devotee and engaged in the group maintenance, ideology, and adherence. The alternating “love and hate” sequences limit any escape hatches, as the induced confusion nulls an attempt to leave. The group is discouraged from making emotional bonds or ties amongst themselves, only with the dominant leader. A closed, sealing system of indoctrination and conformity, tight and dense, with interchangeable ties instigated via triangulation.  Only a small core of people, lieutenants, manage the intercommunication and distribution of information—a bureaucracy with changeable rules and beliefs based on the whims and moods of the leader. The closed hierarchal, fluid and fluctuating is established to stop alternative power bases from being formed, keeping the lieutenants insecure and uncertain, as promotions and demotions to higher/lower ranks keep them unstable and seeking approval.

Front groups work on the outsides of the onion, the public, and the media face of the group used for propaganda and recruitment, fundraising, and publicity. An inner secretive layer controls the front groups (party political officials and players) and uses social therapy groups via the arts and education. These are the “transmission belts” of the group to influence the outside world for recruits and more followers. The followers are discouraged to self-reflect and look at the reality of their situation of confinement within the group. The leader is the only truth, the holder of the sacred word and information, and controls the boundaries.


  1. Fixed and glued in an anxious dependency on the group
  2. Constant fear-arousal via threats and intimidation makes the follower seek proximity and closeness to the group in an attempt to attain comfort and certainty.
  3. Seeking contact with the source of the threat causes cognitive collapse or disassociation within the follower, with the inability to think clearly about the trap they have been ensnared in.
  4. The follower, in turn, relies more on the group for comfort, approval, and the idea of safety.

The leader can take advantage of the cognitive collapse and confusion, where they can now introject their own agenda and beliefs created by the vacuum they induced. The follower, deployed agent, becomes hyper-obedient and hyper-credulous. The follower has new beliefs, attitudes, and behaviours different from their pre-existing ones. The desired hope for the community and comradeship has been replaced by isolation from the outside world. The redid adherence to rules and behaviours, shielding them from their own self, identity, and ability to think clearly. They believe anything and do anything the leader dictates and must be loyal and useful to the group to warrant the resources, attention, and approval the leader gives to them. The leader is seen as a benevolent safe haven, as they isolate followers from other safe havens to alleviate any fears within the follower.

The disorganised attachment is created by fear of the environment or signals of one’s vulnerability being at risk, becoming hypervigilant against potential threats in the parental house. The follower/child will seek other safe havens for protection (safe havens) to maintain proximity and contact. The attachment system is deactivated if there is a sense of felt security or a secure base. The child should be able to experience a level of comfort to calm fearful responses or frustrations, not smothering or aggressive behaviours to fulfil the parent’s needs and emotions.

  1. Preoccupied attachment – never fully comforted to gain closeness with the attachment figure. Over clingy due to separation anxiety and failure to effectively use figures as a secure base to explore and self-activate.  Unsure of responses, always on alert means they have no time to explore and continue to seek dysfunctional attachment (19% population)
  2. Dismissing – the parents reject and neglect the child, the child avoids seeking any attachment and gives up, surrenders at any attempt to reach comfort under stress, developing angry and aggressive behaviours. (23% population)

The disorganised person shows signs of confusion, fear, freezing with strange movements and behaviours, and “fright without any solution “. The attachment figure is the haven as well as the threat, comfort, and fear within the same figure. This creates an aggressive and fearful relationship with peers. Disassociation of cognitive processing in the frontal cortex, with the central nervous system and brain stem recording the sensory information of the situation. The alternating fear and comfort split off the emotional system from the cognitive one. The right side of the brain (emotional) can’t communicate with the left side (cognition). Thoughts and feelings are disassociated from each other.


The use of propaganda encourages distance between the group and us, giving political and ideological rationale to break ties with family, friends, and peers. A set of lies brought forward by a group to present itself as acceptable or even attractive, the wooing functions. The ideology instigated and believed by the front groups is used to separate the weak from the chaff, dividing and conquering. As the follower is separated from the outside world, they are gradually broken down, losing a sense of reality and identity, loss of common sense, and taking on new damaging ideas and behaviours.

With no visible critical thinking, they are put under peripheral emotional stress, using persuasion cues, rigid decision-making, time constraints, and weak arguments with strong distractions, creating high emotional arousal. Extreme obedience to authority is normally recruited during a life blip, where they are excessively vulnerable to influence, Isolation, fragmentation, and removal of social networks.

The social isolation and atomisation lead to the follower /seeker desperate to join up with others.


instigated with the aid of a continuous chaperone of other group members/friends, who can monitor every move, idea, or behaviour and report back to the leader. The chaperone will give you the support and guidance you are desperate to ease your anxiety. Many cults isolate you from your former identity by changing your name, appearance, and daily routines. I.e. Military boot camp. Unable to share doubts, complaints or articulate any distress felt within the group.

Fright without Solution.

The idea is to create intense levels of stimulus and arousal via fatigue, noise, and hunger, creating intense levels of stress and discomfort and sleep deprivation, reducing cognitive resources, being unable to decipher causes and effects, and taking effective actions. The follower cannot resolve the threat or fear, and the fear becomes terror, an attachment of “fright” without a solution, like symptoms of complex PTSD. Small benevolent gestures by the group, caring and concerning, the group will protect you and save you from threats. The relief of stress and pressure are greeted with gratitude, with the follower feeling guilty for any thoughts of rebellion or leaving the group. This keeps the follower :

  • Strong emotional ties to the group
  • In disorganised attachment with impaired cognitive thinking, I am confused, disassociated, disorientated with time-lapses, and memory loss.

The disorganised bond increases levels of cortisol as they approach the fear of proximity to the attachment figure in the hope of gaining security and comfort without rejection or abandonment. The high cortisol increases anxiety with the attachment system continually activated, and both closed for the ability for future exploration. The absence of alternative attachment figures keeps the follower hyperarousal, constantly seeking comfort and merger from any available source and never achieving it. The acts of kindness maintain and reinforce the positive feedback loop of the group, holding out promises, keeping alive the safe haven image, and salvation. In a continual approach and flee mechanism, a passive defeat with learned helplessness, disengaged from the outside world, means

  • Unable to act on one’s behalf and best interests
  • Impaired ability to adjust/adapt properly or take defensive actions to protect their interests.
  • Unable to feel or register affects, emotions, or pain disassociated from their self and body

The disorganised bond is a chronic trauma, failure to establish the prefrontal cortex functioning, unable to master emotional regulation and response to threats. Unable to tolerate or act on instincts and signals from their bodies leaves them defenceless to external threats and the social environment. A passive disassociation and relational dynamic are developed to preserve psychic survival, consenting to parental and group demands, which means a failure to integrate consciousness, ego functions, identity, and perceptions. Detached from their body and their critical thought process, they are unable to determine cause and effect, and recognise where the threat is coming from, becoming beholden and enslaved to the parent or group leader.” we will do your thinking for you “ in exchange for the imagined safe, secure base. The child /follower chooses attachment and survival over cognition, sacrificing their true self for managing extreme anxiety and fears of annihilation.

The authoritarian personality and disorganised attachment are generated by having a dominant father and punitive mother, collaborating in the destruction of the child’s self-identity. An upbringing of threats, coercion, withdrawal, and rejection culminating in love and a means to induce conformity and obedience. The leader’s psychopathology sets the structures of the group, needing to control them through indoctrination and propaganda, confirming attachment with alternating love and terror. The child/follower is insecure, dependent, fearful and hostile, lacking flexibility in thinking, only able to see beyond their own viewpoint, lacking in empathy, and becoming abusers and bullies themselves. Running from and running too, caught in continuous limbo between love and fear, isolated and attached to the leader of the group (mother).

  • Fear they arouse in the follower (running from)
  • A haven of safety they have created based on crumbs of love and acts of kindness (running too)
  • Removing all alternate and competing safe havens from the reach of the child/follower (father absent)

The leader is normally icy in demeanour, has shallow affects, lack empathy and insight, has no remorse or guilt, has a superficial charm and is egocentric. Deceitful, manipulative, grandiose, and callous in all interpersonal relationships, unable to mentalise, imagine, be creative and self-reflect. All activities in the prefrontal cortex (consciousness and insight) are deactivated, where people become objects to be acted upon and used for their needs and gratification. The leader suffers from intense abandonment anxiety, is fearful of being alone, and needs guaranteed attachments where they can merge and not separate. The group normally comprises several layers of an onion skin, inner and outer circles, given access to information by the hierarchal structure where the leader dominates. The inner and outer layers make the leader hard to penetrate, shrouded in secrecy, protecting him from follower revolt and external threats and exposure. The cult aims to offer followers everything they need, such as schools, health care, therapy, etc.

Sequence of indoctrination

  1. Establish group as presumed safe haven.
  2. Create fear and threats to arouse attachment behaviours and attitudes in followers.
  3. Eliminating or weakening alternative attachments, other safe havens
  4. Create material, emotional and financial dependency on the group
  5. Cognitive isolation, denying access to alternate sources of information via censorship and taboos.

Secret and lies

Ideologies attempt to separate or prevent the integration of feelings and thinking, sensory and cognitive processing. They cognise everything and sense nothing or vice versa. Unable to trust their instincts and sense perceptions, they destroy any sense of reality. This creates a cognitive vacuum allowing the leader /parent to occupy and introduce control of their ideology and demands. They prevent the process of sharing thoughts and feelings with other members of the group, where small group meetings and rituals provide the environment to disclose any apprehensions. Each layer of the onion is privy to different information and secrets, lacking any concrete contact with the inner circles and leader, with nothing discussed in great depth or detail. The lack of elaboration and thinking means the implicit, unconscious attitudes are changed, rather than the explicit conscious attitudes that can defend, articulate, and support defences. Implicit attitudes are not stored in the cognitive left brain, but in the right brain, emotionally based implicit memory, unable to communicate with each other.

The right brain is open to short-term persuasion with short-term memory; hence easier to give up once removed from the indoctrinating environment. Memories have not been mobilised or processed and are not stored in an orderly, coherent narrative but remain unprocessed and intrusive, still alive and experienced as happening in the present moment. They have high potency and immediacy that can be overwhelming and intrusive. Explicit memory is processed with a conscious subjective experience of remembering the event in the frontal lobe and neocortex.

Explicit memory is impaired in the disorganised attached individual, who creates images and unreal fantasies of the event and life as an escape mechanism. Focus and disassociation of the trauma lead to encoding in implicit memory, the older, more primitive areas of the brain. The implicit memory is intact and includes intrusive demands such as impulses to flee and bodily sensations with intrusive images related to the original trauma. They experience cognitive lapses in time, space, and memory, as they believe the trauma is happening now and an immediate threat, leading to extreme behavioural responses to relieve the anxiety—continued discrepancies between thinking and feeling, Submission to those above with complete authoritarianism to those below.

The dismissing (avoidant) child tends to bully the preoccupied (ambivalent) child.

When removed from the cult, there are three distinct responses to the threatening situation.

  1. Obviously confused – most frequent response, one can recognise affects and need to reconsider the ideology, flexible and open to deactivate from it.
  2. The apparent convert – making newspaper headlines, enthusiastically supporting the cult, brainwashed with a preoccupied attachment to the leader
  3. Apparent resistors – denouncing cruelties and abuse of cult practices but denying the emotional and psychological impact it has on them. Battles against one authoritarian system by attaching to another

The follower or child who eventually leaves the cult or narcissistic family must consider

  • The fear of leaving, the loss of all the people in the group, their job, house, finances, and other sustaining elements of life, having to re-establish all basics of life once removed from the group, and having to make new friends and social networks.
  • The fear of retribution, threats of silencing and physical abuse, real and present dangers
  • The existential element ”The speechless terror “ of the trauma the disorganised attachment bond presents on separation.Intense separation anxiety, the terror of aloneness, total loss of meaning, fear of relational and cognitive nothingness cast into the void of the unknown (abandonment depression). The loss of the available safe haven, loss of identity, beliefs, and perceptions can’t be established until a new identity is created, which can take several years. The dispensing of existence, being versus nothingness, a fear of extinction and annihilation.

Walking into the black abyss is terrifying, with no place of safety, and no one to turn to, where the outside world is perceived as a life-threatening experience and vacuum.  The follower /child will experience intense negative emotional flooding of the unconscious realms of the shadow, previously split off by the leader of the group.

Attachment theory

  1. Dismissing – the attachments not affecting them, give short answers with an idealised description of parents who are not supported by specific memories and experiences. Dismissing negative aspects of the group/parents and stating their own personal strengths due to the attachment.
  2. Secure base – autonomous values and beliefs with functional relationships and experiences. Fluent, non-contradictory with objective evaluations.
  3. Preoccupied – attention solely on the group /parent, oscillating between good and bad evaluations, unable to merge the opposites. Unable to untangle and remove the group from their own thought processes, beliefs, and ideas.
  4. Unresolved/disorganised – relational trauma unsolved in adult life, disoriented in reasoning, discourse, thought, and behavioural reactions.
Stein, A.(2016) Terror, Love and Brainwashing: Attachment in Cults and Totalitarian Systems, Routledge Publishing