17 Signs You’re in a Cult (Or Just Working For Corporate America)

You’d know if you were in a cult, right? Wrong. That’s the thing about cults. Most people don’t realize they’re in one until they’re deeply entrenched and dependent on a social system that is harming, not helping, them.

One recent pop culture example: The Vow, a provocative HBO documentary about NXIVM, an Albany-based organization that was known for its ESP program. “ESP?” you say. “As in: extrasensory perception? Obviously a cult.” Nope. It stood for Executive Success Programs, and it was billed as a program that used business and communication tools to foster self-improvement. And it sucked in a lot of smart, sensitive people (many of them from the entertainment industry) who seemed to be doing just fine according to the average person’s standards.

NXIVM’s founder, Keith Raniere, had a background in business – and pyramid schemes. So it’s not surprising that he structured NXIVM like a company – with multiple brands and a board of directors. It seemed almost like a corporation – until one of the offshoots, called DOS, put female members on starvation diets, separated them into “masters” and “slaves,” and took them to secluded sheds to sear the flesh of their pelvises with Raniere’s initials.

Obviously, no one would have willingly signed up for this. That’s the thing about cults (or, as they’re more mildly know, “high-control groups”) – they start off seemingly innocent, then devolve into something sinister. So this got us thinking: how would you know you’re in a cult? There are some telltale signs. They’re also suspiciously similar to traits common to corporate America. Either way, if you’re in either of these environments, you better consider getting out – fast.

Cover Photo: A24

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