When the majority think of a “cult” they tend to focus more on religious orders. A cult can develop when a group of any kind is formed such as: “friends”, a performance group, a spiritual group etc.
You could happily be a member of a particular group and not realize you are gradually becoming more under the control of a particular person.
I found this article informative as it shows the type of personality to look out for in any group where there is a leader:
“Cult members are “focused on a living leader to whom members seem to display excessively zealous, unquestioning commitment.” The leader is a strong-willed, domineering character who rules the group with tight control. He lets it be known in subtle ways that he is in charge of the movement. He makes the plans, he orchestrates the movements of the group or groups (sometimes he exercises his sway over several groups). He dispatches the workers, assigns their chores, etc.
Questioning, doubt, and dissent are discouraged,” and there can be pressure or social punishment when there is disagreement with the “boss.” Those who disagree are made to feel as though they are stupid or inept. They are brainwashed with the notion that they do not have the knowledge or experience to question the leader. Younger people are particularly vulnerable to the leader’s gift of gab, and his feigned expertise. No matter how radical the leader becomes in his decisions or actions, the cult members will not criticize him. Even if there should be mild disagreement, no specific expressions are voiced. The members reason that though he may be mistaken in some of his judgments, yet the overall good he accomplishes outweighs any minor flaws.
Members are taught to “rationalize” the conduct of the leader in matters they have always “considered unethical before,” under the guise that the “end justifies the means.”
The cult leader always takes the major credit for the movement’s accomplishments. Members become psychologically dependent upon him. “What would we ever do without our leader?,” is the cult mentality.
The cult leader generates within his members “a polarized” mentality. His people evolve an us-versus-them outlook. Little by little, he criticizes other groups with which his members might tend to associate, undermining confidence in them, attempting to discredit anyone who could have influence over his flock.
An abusive person seeks to isolate the victim and make them a carbon copy of themselves by dismissing any criticism or dissent and demanding that followers or partners think like them and offer support for unacceptable acts under the guise that it benefits the group. An inability to accommodate difference and rage at those who challenge or question unethical conduct is also used to make members tow the party line and mirror the values of the leader as good despite the reality that the consequences are often harmful to the followers.
Such people and groups are dangerous as they prey on the vulnerable to build personal assets and a faulty sense of strength and power by dominating and crushing all opponents as weak. Thinking that people can know people better than they know themselves has been the basis of analysis; however, many analysts have blind spots and react with rage to justified criticism by their patients who challenge their interpretation as projection or wrong.
Beware any leader whose ego blocks him or her from being responsible for mistakes or unacceptable behaviour and instead tries to blame the victim for daring to point out his weakness or mistake. Be wary of any group that exploits its members and makes false promises or claims power or knowledge while behaving like a mad or bad man.”
If you find this behaviour in a group of people you associate with it would be wise to extricate yourself (even though this will be difficult) before any serious damage is done.
Psychology of Cults