High demand religions that are already successful at monetizing their membership have found a great way to ensure their profits continue: By planting triggers in their follower’s private life, that get triggered often enough that guarantees the members keep coming back, and paying.

The Guilt Cycle

In Mithryn’s new book “I Should Start A Cult” he introduces the concept of a Guilt Cycle. The Guilt Cycle creates a powerful codependent relationship between the member and the cult.

Here’s how Mithryn playfully explains the concept to striving young cult leaders:

“You cannot begin with shame and guilt, instead first sell to the individuals that the perfect self they can imagine is an actual reality. That in some unreachable sphere, such as after death, an alternate dimensions, or in the “ethereal plane” that perfect-self they envision exists. Once they buy into that unmeasurable, uninvestigatable idea, you can literally sell them any amount of shame for not matching their potential. Every screw-up sounds like a cash register as they mail you dollars to wipe away the feelings attached to very normal human behaviors.”

Here is how the guilt cycle concept works for Masturbation and Sex:

Masturbation – The reaction after having an orgasm includes two chemicals. Dopamine and Oxytocin20. When Oxytocin floods in after sex, there is a natural guilt/shame feeling. Natural shame can be leveraged in order to make individuals feel as though they need to clean themselves, and that is something you can offer. Whether that comes in a bottle, a flogging or a “confession” to someone with a title, the point is that they are doing it because you told them. And after they will feel better, which makes you a good person. It’s guaranteed that the reaction will end, and so will the guilt but that doesn’t mean you can’t capitalize on that cycle in the mean time.. People will naturally assume that what you told them to do ended the guilt and praise you as a master leader.”

Sex – Similar to masturbation, but you get two for the price of one. Two guilt cycles, with two individuals praising you.” (I Should Start A Cult)

By turning normal human behaviors into “sin”, cults can create guilt where none ever existed, and then hold the keys to their believer’s salvation by promising relief from guilt through their exclusive channels, potions, or methods. And once relief is experienced, the guilt is converted into devotion, gratitude and a deeper addiction to the cult.

Mithryn explains that cults have a tendency to take normal human emotions and social behaviors to an extreme level — they do not introduce anything new, but rather hack into the biological and cultural vulnerabilities we already have — to gain control over large groups of people.

In this case, they essentially cash in on our guilt. Over and over again in an endless cycle with the cult coming out on top.

Have you experienced a similar form of “Guilt Cycle” manipulation in your favorite (or not so favorite) organization? I’d love to hear your story in the comments!

For more thoughtful and humorous goodies on how cults work, check out Mithryn’s book: