Here is a very good way to tell whether a relationship or group fits the definition of abusive/cultic:
Whether there is 'a structure for airing and addressing conflict' and without fear of future consequences if one says something that is disliked by the leader or the leaders entourage.
One term that can be used to describe such groups are “radicalized expressions of religious commitment,” Dinges said. Characteristics include having a distinct boundary between it and others; being demanding of members; being galvanized around a charismatic personality; and having an intensified sense of mission.
Like Miller, Dinges says determining whether such groups are dangerous is subjective. Among the factors to weigh is whether they make it emotionally impossible to leave, whether they maintain members’ dignity, the amount of freedom they give members and whether there is a structure for airing and addressing conflict.
Sometimes that happens because a group engages in false recruitment activities, he said. Other times it’s because people jump into situations without thoroughly understanding them.
“You have to educate yourself and, in a sense, know yourself. Trust your intuition.”
Ron Enroth, a professor of sociology at Westmont College in California, says all the spiritually abusive groups he has studied share common characteristics. They’re so similar that when he talks to ex-members and starts hearing details of their stories, “I almost feel like saying, ‘Stop, let me tell you the rest of the story.’ ”
One feature of such groups, Enroth said, is control-oriented leadership. Communication with outsiders is limited and questioning isn’t allowed inside the group.
Sometimes the control extends into intimate areas of followers’ lives, he said. In such cases, members are expected to ask permission to take vacations or switch jobs. Lifestyle rigidity is also common, with some groups having an almost unfathomable list of rules. One he studied outlawed striped running shoes because they supposedly were connected to homosexuality, he said. Another forbid members to use the word “pregnant.” Instead they were commanded to say a woman was “with child.”
Such groups are also spiritual elitists, Enroth said. They use arrogant or high-minded terms to describe themselves and often have disparaging descriptions for other churches, he said.
“They present themselves as the model Christian church or the model Christian organization...and say they provide unparalleled fellowship and superior spirituality,” Enroth said.
In addition, such groups are usually paranoid and perceive any criticism as persecution, Enroth said. They paint people who leave as defectors and say attacks against them are ultimately the work of Satan.
“By describing criticism as slander, they can almost be shielded from criticism,” Enroth said.
Enroth believes the number of spiritually abusive groups is growing due to a spike in the number of independent churches in evangelical and fundamentalist circles. People like them because they are less formal and less hierarchical than traditional churches, he said.
But with that independence also comes the potential for trouble, he said.
“They are, in a sense, spiritual Lone Rangers,” Enroth said. “That’s where the potential for sliding off the cliff comes into play.”
It's the seeker or student that creates or enables a cult, or even makes a cult out of something that is not
This is classic blame the seeker/make excuses for the powerholder argumentation.
One, in many cases, a seeker is not told completely and up front what life in the group will actually be like or how difficult it may be to leave.
Many offer free workshops are classes and do not tell visitors up front that later on, after you join you will have to go short on sleep, get yelled at and be forbidden to reply, or that a leader will play favorites or change the rules in such a way as to keep people anxious.
Or that a group may be lying about its history, or that the leadership are keeping secrets about favoritism, how money is spent or mis-spent.
All too often the guru has 100% power zero accountability for how they use power and money, and if anything goes wrong, all blame is put, not on the powerholder who sets the tone of the group--but on the seeker, the underling.
Blame the seeker, excuse the abusive leader is the mantra. An entire cottage industry of making excuses for gurus and slurring seekers seems to exist. A guru may throw tantrums like a two year old and be excused.
A seeker who looks for justice will be accused of being infantile in having unrealistic expections.
Read the characteristics of a cult by Robert J Lifton. Note that these focus on what the group and its leader do, and the kind of social context and pressure that is created.