Most definitions of cult revolve around religions and religious groups , though in general, they just require a misplaced or excessive admiration for a particular person or thing.
There are plenty of situations that don’t technically qualify, but we’re not the FBI here, and we know when we get that icky feeling in our gut.
Here are 18 things that make our brains scream cult, even if it’s not.
18. They WILL tell you about it.
The Holy Church of CrossFit.
17. That’s definitely suspicious behavior.
Maybe 10-12 years ago I went to an alumni event for a friend’s college and sat next to a guy who worked for Salesforce. I know this because that’s how he introduced himself.
When I asked what SF was, because it was the early days, he was visibly shocked and just said “I work for Salesforce. Everybody wants to work for Salesforce”.
Still not quite sure what it does, despite being surrounded by SF offices, but whenever I see an employee walk around with a SF-logo’d backpack or hoodie, I whisper “everybody wants to work for Salesforce.”
16. Do you want to start your own?
I’m a member of the not quite as well known Church of Orangetheory. If you ask us about proper rowing technique, we’ll all start chanting at you. “Legs, core, arms; arms, core, legs!” “Rowing is 60% leg drive!” “Power, patience, patience!”
When I first joined 2.5 years ago, I came home with my little folder of information and coupons to local businesses, a tote bag, a car magnet, and the heart rate monitor, and said to my husband, “I think I just joined a cult.”
15. I mean they smell nice, but they’re not saving anyone’s life.
We get it, you’re a single mom and you want to work from home, but damn you guys sure drank the KoolAid.
14. No aberrations allowed.
Curly Girl Method groups.
Flat iron: jail. Hair dye: jail. Sulfates: you right to jail. Silicones: right to jail, right away. No deep conditioning: believe it or not, jail. We have the best hair in the world because of jail.
13. Lots of these in the stay-at-home Mom world.
Beachbody especially the “coaches.”
12. Unless it’s Bayside.
School spirit. I can understand it for university, but not for high school or below, which I didn’t have a choice in attending. I went there because it was the school I ended up being sent to, ergo I should be proud of it? I don’t get it.
Also forced school songs that talk about “being a part of the school forever”
11. They really want you to buy what they’re selling.
The Herbalife organization. They were charged with being a pyramid scheme, but they still operate in a similar way. There are several people I grew up with who became hooked on it, and they definitely act like they’re in a cult.
10. I think it needs to be.
AA. I am in AA. I like AA. It saved my life. But it is cultish a lot of the time.
AA is great. If you let it become your new addiction it will be pretty cult like. Some people forget we got sober so we could function in normal society.
9. When you lose friendships, it’s time to take a look.
I’ve had to stop talking to a friend because her bf sells CBD through an mlm.
She makes a sh%t ton of money training and selling horses and is a big name in her profession. Why she lets him do this shit, I do not know.
8. Blind devotion.
I have lived in Pennsylvania my entire life, and it would be hard to convince me that Penn State is not a cult. If you listen to people who have graduated Penn State you’d know.
No other college is as good as Penn State. No other college has sports like Penn State. No other colleges teach subjects like Penn State. No other college has a building like Penn State. No other college allows their students to use the library like Penn State.
No other college lets their students use the bathrooms like Penn State. No other college has a roof that stops rain like Penn State. No other college allows students to walk down the sidewalk like Penn State.
If any other college has anything, you bet your ass Penn State has it at least twice as good. I hate college pride, and Penn State gets the most of it in my area.
7. I have a family.
Some workplaces. The ones that push the “we’re all family here” attitude especially.
I worked in a place that tried to convince the employees we were a “family”. They basically meant that they would abuse you and expect you to take it, because “family”.
They actively discourage current employees from socializing with former employees. If an employee left because he was fired, it was because he was a bad example to the others and had to be excised from the group.
If an employee left because he got fed up and quit, it was because he was a bad apple anyway but they had not legitimate reason to fire him yet. Either way, that former employee is no longer “one of us” and should be avoided at all costs. (One employee was chastised for “liking” too many of a former employee’s FB posts.)
6. Everyone deserves to get paid.
Working for a nonprofit. They tend to refer to employees as a “family” working for a cause, which wouldn’t be culty on its own…but they definitely use it to manipulate employees to work themselves half to death & set a culture where boundaries are thought of as not being invested in the mission.
They also use your passion for the mission to justify working you harder/paying you less. Don’t get me wrong, I absolutely love my job and what I get to do. But I’m old enough to see what’s been done to me over the years.
The rotating door of young employees who are worked to burnout and replaced though, I feel bad for. It’s a hard lesson to learn.
5. Very creepy.
MLMs but especially Mary Kay. I went to a convention once as the guest of a consultant because she was trying to get me to join. It was very stepford.
Also, she didn’t tell me you were expected to dress up so I showed up in jeans and a hoodie.
My “friend” gave me the line and asked me if I’d be willing to be a “practice model” while someone gave me a “makeover.” It ended up being an hours-long award ceremony where the women wept over how MK changed their lives and made them successful business people.
They thought my eyes watering from all the yawning was tears of joy and tried to recruit me. Never did end up getting my makeup done that night, I snuck out as soon as I could.
4. This makes me sick to MY stomach.
Eating disorders and any pro-eating disorder sites. Those who have an eating disorder often view their disorder as their “best friend” giving them names like Ana and Mia. And then there are those sites to make it worse.
They treat eating disorders like they are sacred and often post “rules” in a cultish way. One site I used to visit in my dark days even had the ’10 commandments of ana’ now if that doesn’t sound cultish idk what does.
Don’t even make me start about the “weight loss coaches” on there.
3. Don’t sign on the dotted line.
Please sign here that you’ve seen Debbie Stobbleman and find her to be happy, healthy, and alive.
2. Suddenly, it’s everywhere.
Seriously. My dad hasn’t stopped talking about his since getting it a year ago and went so far as to buy me one for Xmas this year. Which is super generous and my fat ass will totally benefit, but feels like I’m being indoctrinated into something.
The instructors are really intense and say culty things. I think the idea is to physically torture you to the point that you don’t notice you’re being programmed to spread Peloton gospel to anyone who will listen. I’ve been so bored that joining a cult where I get hotter sounds ok though.
1. It’s a whole vibe.
I just went through at least two dozen top replies and shocked Burning Man isn’t listed.
Y’all—burners are fucking weird.
Source? I was one/am one who has critical thoughts about how things work yet have found ideas are only cool if you’re popular.
All of these things give me the creeps!
What else would you add to this list? Tell us in the comments!