Getting a brand spanking new pseudo-personality

Our sense of self, our personality, is always changing, responding to new ideas, our environment, and the people around us. At any given time, we take in new information and keep or discard it. We are exposed to new experiences and adapt, determining who we are in response to the world around us.

In a cult, members are forced to swallow a huge chunk of new information whole. By using deceit and fear, the cult leaders coerce members to believe in an “all or nothing” kind of situation - that salvation, enlightenment, and the fate of the world depends on its members not thinking this over critically, but jumping right in. New members are first blinded by people saying they want you, ”love bombing” you, making you feel special, and then get the harsh reality that any sort of independent thought (an act of disobedience) brings punishment. There's verbal or physical abuse, withholding affection, or extra chores that follow for talking back, voicing a concern, or when any part of the doctrine is questioned. Typically, members adjust their behavior to avoid negative confrontations, because of the pressure to remain part of the group, rather than walking away from an unhealthy situation. 

"This process … of transformation involves a reorganization of the person’s inner identity or sense of self. Typically it occurs through a mixture of emotional appeals, rituals, instruction,
self-examination, confession, and rejection, all in a context that deftly combines stress and harmony. Most often guilt, shame, and anxiety are integral to this process. Responding to the demands can be exhausting and stressful, for it requires repeated acts of self-renunciation; at the same time, the person experiences relief at having “found the answer,” which is associated with a kind of personal freedom." Lalich 2004


Cult leaders play on insecurities. Members are quickly told their former self is bad, of the world, and simply not good enough.  We all have areas of our lives about which we are unsure (only a psychopath does not acknowledge flaws in him or herself). By forcing all members to share intimate details of their pasts, cult leaders gather ammunition to play on members’ insecurities.

Cult members are asked to embrace their new identity as part of the cult, often referred to by psychologists as a pseudo-personality. It essentially overlays the members true personality, not quite replacing it, just squishing it. The more a person embraces the new identity in the cult,
the more at peace he/she might feel. If the member continues wishing for their old life, thinking about the hobbies they enjoyed, a relationship they were not quite ready to give up or any attribute from their "former self," they experience internal friction and possible punishment from the group.

What to do with the pseudo-personality after leaving the cult? See post-cult personality



Critical Thinking


On her website, Dr. Janja Lalich has a list on Questioning Crediblity:


"Are your questions answered directly? Are you told time and again to listen to your heart and not your head? Are you told that you are too new, too uninformed, too nosy, and so on, and shouldn’t be asking such questions? Are you expected to take what’s said on faith and criticized if you challenge that approach and ask for more?" 








Edgar Schein's three-step process to changing the personality:

I.    Unfreezing
II.   Changing
III.  Refreezing

Read more at Decision Making Confidence.

Pseudo-personalities are often modeled after the group leader and are not meant to incorporate empathy, true love, or ethics. After all, the leader is most likely a psychopath.