A common misconception about cults is that people who get, and stay, in are lacking intelligence and awareness.
Cults recruit people with certain interests and goals; usually those who are in a transition period, like a break up, or those who are seekers; looking for meaning and more conscious ways of living.
They get you in with a promise of fulfilment of what you are seeking. Over time they create a dependency that makes members who are deeply invested think that these things can only be found in the group.
First you buy into the things that are, at least on the surface, positive. The community (often full of lovely, interesting, altruistic people) the practices (often feel great and improve your life), the sense of purpose and belonging, the learning (often very useful things.)
As recruits buy in to the good things, they often start to dedicate free time to the group, eg volunteering, and show acceptance of the ideology; often through relationships with members and adopting group-sanctioned lifestyle choices.
This demonstrates a deeper level of commitment to the group ideology, and an openness to the more extreme activities.
In my group, within 6 months of starting Tantra classes I had begun a relationship with a senior teacher (student-teacher relationships=red flag).
I noticed that as soon as it was known that I was in this relationship and had begun volunteering, the attitudes and behaviour of the teachers and inner core towards me changed. I was now more ‘one of them’ and perceived as ‘open’ to their ideology.
In this culty insider-outsider dynamic you’ve already accepted certain semi-weird things, your boundaries and personal viewpoints are dissolving and becoming more similar to the boundaries and viewpoints of the group.
Once you’ve accepted a group’s teachings, guru or perspective as ‘right’, ‘the truth’ and better than your own intuition, you are set up to be manipulated.
Cults are often hierarchical and ‘advanced’ members looked up to. When someone is put on a pedestal they are infallible.
If their perspective is the absolute authority you will, over time, follow their ‘perfect’ advice and come to trust it over yourself as they are ‘spiritually superior’ and know best.
No one is spiritually superior to your direct intuition.