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The Power + Control Wheel was created by the Domestic Abuse Intervention Project to demonstrate the power and control dynamics at play in abusive relationships. Each spoke of the wheel represents a different reason why a survivor might feel trapped in a relationship with their abuser.

This is our adapted version of the Power + Control Wheel to apply to abusive religious groups, spiritual groups, and cults. Additional explanations of each spoke are below. 

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  • Exclusion / Abandonment

    • Loss of community, cutting off contact, eternal isolation, damnation, etc.

  • Punishment (Discipline)

    • Public humiliation, demotion, physical harm, etc.

  • Outside Dangers

    • Outsider agendas, persecution, worldliness, etc.

  • Spiritual Dangers

    • Supernatural threats, doomsday prophecies, demons/evil spirits, etc.




  • Leader Authority

    • “Chosen” status, celebrity treatment, exemption from rules

  • Ultimate Truth Ideology

    • Sacred teachings, texts, and practices that can’t be questioned

  • Special Destiny

    • Divine/cosmic purpose for the group, power by association

  • Group Elitism

    • Honor of being included, superiority over outsiders



  • Pathologized Imperfection

    • Normal human behaviors and mistakes = deviant

    • Group language (ex. sinner, selfishness, pride, etc.)

  • Unrealistic Expectations

    • Spiritual standards, social expectations, rules for behavior

  • Public Humiliation

    • Confession, discipline, accountability

  • Celebration of Self-Abuse

    • Reinforces self-punishment and neglect (depicted as “holy”)

    • The villainization of self-care and confidence



  • Physical + Emotional Separation

    • Restricted access to outside supports and resources

    • Ex. community, family, healthcare, school, government systems, etc.

  • Insider/Outsider Language

    • Propaganda creating fear and hatred of outsiders, tribal mentality

    • Ex. claims of persecution, “they don’t understand us”

  • Censorship of Information

    • Restricted access to media and outside education

    • Rewriting history, spinning current events



  • Constant Contact

    • Frequent group meetings, check-ins, and little/no free time

    • Tightly monitored group communication

  • Denial of Privacy

    • No alone time, secrets, or private experiences

    • Forced confession and peer-policing (accountability)

  • Denial of Self-Trust

    • Fear of your own instincts, needs, and desires

    • Needing permission and approval for decision-making

    • No beliefs or opinions that don’t match group ideology



  • Minimizing + Invalidating Harm

    • Downplaying, gaslighting, claiming it was a misunderstanding

    • “It wasn’t that bad.”, “That never happened.”

  • Victim Blaming

    • Denying it was abuse by calling it discipline or correction

    • “This wouldn’t have happened if you’d….”, “It’s for your own good.”

  • Invoking the Greater Good

    • Excusing or covering up abuse to protect the group’s agenda

    • Forcing victims to forgive and reconcile to restore unity



  • Gender-Specific Expectations

    • Women: Submissive, modest, value comes from marriage + motherhood

    • Men: Masculine, strong, value comes from being a leader + provider

    • Explicit rules about marriage, leadership, and family structure

  • Limited Sexual Expression (Purity Culture)

    • Rules about sex, masturbation, monogamy, heterosexuality, etc.

  • Erasure + Villainization of Nonconformity

    • Refusal to legitimize LGBTQIA+ identities

    • Miseducation and fear-mongering (ex. feminism, the “gay agenda”, etc.)




  • Expected Investment

    • Donation of money, time, and resources to the group

    • Obligating to share possessions with the group

    • Required volunteer labor without compensation

  • Financial Dependence

    • Emphasis on trusting fully in the group’s/God’s provision

    • Control over savings, budgeting, investments, job types, etc.

    • Restrictions on women’s education and employment

  • Promised Prosperity

    • Promised rewards for loyalty to the group

    • Ex. MLMs, ”prosperity gospel”, promotions

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