If you’re a subscriber or follow me on any of my social media channels, you’ll know that one subject I discuss frequently is toxic work environments. If you haven’t yet noticed, there are eerie parallels between cults and toxic work environments or toxic bosses.

While one may seem extreme and the other relatively mundane, the underlying mechanisms share striking similarities.

In today’s article, I’m again delving into the unsettling world where manipulation, control, and toxicity reign supreme and discussing the striking similarities between cults and toxicity in the workplace.

To watch the extended YouTube version, click here.

Charismatic Leaders

Cults often revolve around charismatic leaders who possess an aura of authority and charm.

Similarly, toxic work environments can be perpetuated by bosses with magnetic personalities who use their charm to manipulate and control their employees.

Both types of leaders often employ charisma to mask toxic behaviour, luring unwitting individuals into their web of influence.

Manipulative Tactics

Both cult leaders and toxic bosses are adept at manipulation. They use various tactics to maintain control over their followers or employees.

Gaslighting, a technique commonly associated with cults, is also prevalent in toxic work environments. I’ve talked at length in another video about gaslighting in the workplace and how to combat it. You can watch it here.

Another highly effective manipulation tactic often used, especially by covert narcissists, is DARVO, Deny, Attack and Reverse Victim and Offender.

This is a technique where, if confronted about their behaviour, a narcissist will deny they’ve done anything wrong, launch a counterattack on their victim and present themselves as the true victim.

As a result of these prevalent types of behaviour, employees or cult members may find themselves doubting their perceptions or reality due to constant manipulation and psychological warfare. This can be highly damaging, and the after-effects can be long-lasting, with the victim even questioning their sanity.

Isolation and Dependency

Cults thrive on isolating members from external influences to maintain control. They will actively separate their members from their friends and families, making it impossible for them to make contact. If they do, they may suffer extreme consequences with threats that they will be banished from the group.

I’ve talked about how rejection or abandonment (which is what banishment is) affects the same part of the brain as physical pain. So, most people will do anything to avoid it and comply with even the most severe isolation.

To be honest, it’s one of the first things a cult will do: separate people from what they know. It makes the indoctrination far easier to complete when there’s no family member or friend expressing their concerns.

Similarly, toxic work environments foster a sense of isolation among employees, cutting them off from support networks and fostering dependency on the leader or other team members.

This isolation makes it easier for cult leaders or bosses to exert influence and control over their followers or employees.

I definitely see this in narcissistic bullying. The narcissist will even isolate the individual from the rest of the team, making them feel alone and unworthy of being part of the wider group.

As a result, they begin to question their ability, skills and experience. Their confidence, self-worth and self-esteem become eroded to the point that they believe they’re useless and would be unable to get a job elsewhere, especially at the same level and with equal pay.

Exploitation and Abuse

Both cults and toxic work environments often involve exploitation and abuse.

In cults, this may manifest as physical, emotional, financial, or sexual abuse inflicted upon members by the leader or other members.

In toxic work environments, exploitation can take the form of overwork, harassment, or unfair treatment by the boss, management or other team members.

Employees may feel powerless to speak out against such abuse due to fear of retaliation or being ostracised.

Groupthink and Conformity

Cults rely on groupthink and conformity to maintain cohesion among members. Dissent is discouraged, and individuals are pressured to adhere to the group’s beliefs and practices unquestioningly.

Similarly, toxic work environments promote a culture of conformity, where employees are expected to toe the line and suppress dissenting opinions.

This stifles creativity and innovation, leading to stagnation within the organisation.

Financial Exploitation

In cults, members are often financially exploited and coerced into donating large sums of money to the organisation or leader under the guise of spiritual enlightenment or salvation.

Similarly, toxic work environments may engage in financial exploitation, such as withholding wages, imposing arbitrary fines, or pressuring employees to make unnecessary purchases.

They may also require employees to:

  • Work excessive hours with no extra pay or time off in lieu

  • Pay for their own uniforms or protective equipment necessary for Health and safety reasons

  • Pay for and but not receive reimbursement for travel expenses when on company business

I’ve seen all of these in my previous 20-year HR career.

This financial exploitation further entrenches individuals in a toxic environment, making it difficult for them to break free.

Psychological Impact

Both cults and toxic work environments can have severe psychological impacts on their victims.

Individuals may experience anxiety, depression, PTSD, and other mental health issues as a result of the manipulation, abuse, and trauma they endure.

Breaking free from such environments requires immense courage and support, as individuals may struggle with guilt, shame, and worthlessness.

Education is critical. Unless you know about narcissistic abuse, most victims believe it’s them that’s the problem, and it can severely impact their lives and leave long-lasting psychological scars.

One of the main reasons I publish so much content on this topic is to raise awareness. I hope you’ll help me by liking, commenting, subscribing, and sharing my content to get this information out to as many people as possible.

The Wrap-Up

In conclusion, the parallels between cult dynamics and toxic work environments or bosses are undeniable.

Both involve charismatic leaders manipulating and exploiting their followers or employees for personal gain.

They rely on tactics such as isolation, dependency, and abuse to maintain control and suppress dissent, AND they all follow the Narcissistic Abuse Cycle.

Recognising these parallels is crucial for identifying and addressing toxic behaviour in all its forms, whether it occurs within the confines of a cult or a workplace.

By shedding light on these insidious dynamics, we can strive to create healthier and more respectful environments where individuals can thrive free from manipulation and coercion.

What Next?

In the extended YouTube version of this article, I also discuss how The Narcissistic Cycle of Abuse is used in both cult and work environments to control victims. Again, you can watch it here.

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As always, thanks for your continued support.

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