March 16, 2014

Signs of an Unhealthy Group

"When you meet the friendliest people you have ever known, who introduce you to the most loving group of people you've ever encountered, and you find the leader to be the most inspired, caring, compassionate and understanding person you've ever met... and all of this sounds too good to be true, it probably is too good to be true! Don't give up your education, your hopes and ambitions, to follow a rainbow."

Jeanne Mills, Former member of the People's Temple, 1978

For most UNH students, joining organizations is a great way to explore new and interesting ideas and activities. Every group that seeks recognition from the University must pledge in writing that they consider student development, citizenship, and safety of top importance. Also, every group must permit members to disassociate at any time, and abide by the anti-hazing policy. This helps to establish a basic trust that enhances learning and creates experiences for positive personal growth.
There are times when students form groups through their connections with other students at the University and remain outside of the common mission and values of this community. People in such groups might have characteristics that you may want to observe before considering an invitation to join.

Leaders may be...
  • The friendliest people you have ever met.
  • Too interested in what you like to do.
  • People who think you are wonderful and know you have connections, influence, or financial resources.
  • People who have all the answers.
  • Hiding a greater "truth" from you until a more "appropriate" time. (Estabrooks, 1999)

Signs to look for that mark destructive organizations are...
  • A Totalitarian worldview: A group that approves of unethical behavior while claiming goodness and promotes the goals of the group over the individual.
  • Exploitation: There is pressure to give money, to spend a great deal of money on special projects. Exploitation can be financial, physical, or psychological.
  • Alienation: Separation from family, friends, and society, a change in values and substitution of the group as the new "family".
  • Exclusivity: Secretiveness or vagueness by followers regarding activities and beliefs; recruiting and fund-raising with hidden objectives and without full disclosure; use of "front groups".

If you have questions or concerns about these types of groups, there are many people with whom you can talk.


Michele Holt-Shannon Assistant Director of Student Life
Dr. Anne Lawing Senior Assistant Vice President of Student Affairs

Resource: ACUI International Conference presentation "Desperately Seeking Community: The Appeal of Cult Leadership", Mindy Griffith, University of Arizona. March 6, 2000, New York, NY.