The following post examines cult leader tactics as shown by the villains on Once Upon a Time. Plots and characters up through the conclusion of season five are included so consider this your spoiler warning.
Cults are a form of abusive relationship. Like intimate partner abusers, cult leaders really on many deceptive and isolating tactics to better control and abuse their victim. There is growing public awareness about the signs of an abusive romance, but other exploitative relationships are not as discussed. Once Upon a Time showcases many cult leader tactics in the actions of their villains, in a variety of non romantic relationships.
Four tactics I want to examine today are love bombing, isolation, complicity, and story crafting.
Love bombing is bombarding a potential recruit with positive attention. This may be done by several people or just one. The recruit is told how wonderful they are, how glad the group is to have them, and how they matter. It’s a high like no other to be at the center of love bombing. For that brief shining moment, you matter the most.
But it’s all a bait and switch. Once your love is secured in neurochemical response to this experience, the cult and leader need you to feel not very special at all. Validation becomes your addiction, and your dealer leader gets stingier on the supply and keeps upping the price.
Prince James and Jacqueline “Jack” use love bombing on the giant Anton. They promise him he belongs in their kingdom, that his happiness is all they desire, and that they are his friends. But it’s all a ruse to steal his treasure, and they betray his kindness with violence and theft. Cults do exactly this, and it’s just as cruel in the real world.
Peter Pan uses this tactic when recruiting his Lost Boys. He enchants a pipe so that only children who feel lost and unloved can be lured by its siren song. Dancing together as he plays, they feel joy and belonging. Once he brings them to Neverland, he makes them do his bidding and prevents them from ever leaving.
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