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10 Ways MLMs Act like Cults

Is that brand new job and career offer really worth it? MLMs act like cults in every single way, and joining up can poison your career.

By Cato ConroyPublished 4 years ago 7 min read

I was 19 years old when it happened to me.

I was young, desperate for a job, and pretty much hard on luck. Then, a guy in a business suit offered me a job after hearing my difficulties in the job market. No, he wasn't a pimp—nor was he actually a businessman. He was a Multi Level Marketing representative.

The organization in question sold insurance, and I was glad to get a job. The way I figured it, finance was a very profitable sector, and any way I could get my foot in the door would be a good way to secure my future.

Soon enough, stuff started happening that got me to bail. I had to pay for my own education and supplies, which was fine. What wasn't fine was the constant pressure to spend more, and to work every hour of every day for the company.

I'm fine with putting in work to get a little cash back. The ting is, I still hadn't made a cent back after a month. After they kept pushing me to invite friends to work with me, I realized what was going on.

I was in a pyramid scheme, and it was labeled as an MLM—also known as a Multi Level Marketing company. And, I then realized that MLMs act like cults in order to retain their profitability. After it all clicked, I bolted.

If you don't believe that these companies act like cults, consider the following facts—and ask yourself whether your life and career is really worth putting on the line like that.

Just like cults, MLMs recruit by looking for weak people.

By weak, I mean people who are desperate and impressionable. Actually, anyone who has even an inkling of interest will be scooped up. They want as many recruits as possible, regardless of the recruit's talent.

In other words, to work for an MLM and "potentially make six figures," you just really need to be willing to sign on the bottom line and be able to breathe. Cults do the same, primarily because having a lot of followers is their main goal.

Most of the time MLMs will recruit the desperate and marginalized for a reason. More specifically, they will seek out people who they know can become dependent on them and who won't have much of a network to pull them away.

This leads to another pretty insidious way MLMs act like cults...

Like cults, MLMs dissuade you from speaking to people who aren’t involved.

I remember sitting in that office, hearing a speaker telling me that I “shouldn’t listen to naysayers,” and that anyone who didn’t encourage me to sell insurance was against me. Moreover, he emphasized that we should recruit anyone we could—and that those who refused to listen were not worth talking to.

Even though I wasn’t on the best terms with my family, I found it funny that he seemed so adamant about having me rely on the MLM for support. Believe it or not, cult leaders say similar things to their followers. Why? Because it helps them gain control.

There’s pressure to live a certain lifestyle, even though they swear it’s up to you on paper.

One of the reasons that a lot of people join MLMs is because they promise financial freedom and the chance to make money in your spare time. If you’ve ever been roped into an MLM scheme, though, you already know that’s far from the truth.

They claim that they offer financial freedom and time to work whenever, but when you actually are in the MLM, it’s anything but. They’ll shame you for not showing up to work every day, they’ll criticize your work ethic, and if you have any sort of priorities above them, you’ll get chewed out.

A lot of people who sign up for MLMs aren't looking for a full-time job; they want to be legit business owners who can enjoy a part-time income. Unfortunately, that's not what they'll find themselves in once they're joined up.

This bait and switch is a classic recruitment tactic used by cults, too. It’s food for thought, right?

You alone are not enough.

Sure, you might work for an MLM, but that’s not enough. Most MLMs won’t be happy if you somehow manage to sell their (often terrible) products. They will insist that you recruit friends and family.

Along with recruiting, they will also will typically expect you to shell out a lot of money for “add-ons” to your business. Things like business cards, business conventions, and yes, even your own advertising materials will be must haves.

Those who can’t afford these things are often encouraged to sell their property to make it happen. Those who are just “half in” are treated poorly until they start pitching in even more than they can feasibly afford without harming themselves.

Founders are often treated like royalty—and are never questioned.

If you want to look at ways MLMs act like cults, take a good look at how their founders are treated. Most founders will be treated like gods among men, just like they would be treated in a cult.

One thing you’ll never see in an MLM is a person who openly questions the founder to their face. What often happens in these cases is that they tend to fire the person who actually opened their mouths.

Incidentally, the silencing of dissenters tends to be a common way to establish control over the masses. It’s a form of negative reinforcement that warns people against speaking out, even if they already are starting to question what’s up.

If you actually point out the obvious, you’re shouted down and shamed.

True story, I saw a new recruit point out that the MLM suggested that people make more money by recruiting than sales—and that it seemed very fishy. The recruiters, who were doing a group interview at the time, shouted her down.

Everyone was so appalled by the behavior of the recruiters that no one dared speak out of line again. Thankfully, no one from that group decided to sign up.

This is a well-known cult behavior and was actually seen in the Peoples’ Temple suicide tapes, one of the scariest cults that committed mass murders. A woman who tried to argue against poisoning the children was shouted down by supporters until she was silenced. Coincidental? Not really.

One of the main tenets is recruiting family and friends.

Did you ever notice how many MLMs emphasize the importance of recruiting your family and friends? They might even offer incentives in the form of pay raises for every recruit you get. The pressure is real, isn't it?

MLMs act like cults in this way, too, because they know that you will exploit your connections with your friends and family for the benefit of the organization—if you're pressured enough. It's one of the recruitment tips from gang members, cult leaders, and MLM founders that work.

Most things that you prioritized before suddenly don't matter.

I remember hearing an MLM "guru" talk about how unimportant birthday parties and family get-togethers were. He would say that they would thank workers for making sure that they would have food on the table, and that they would be able to put them in college.

Whenever I would have a party to attend, I had to explain myself. Even then, no explanation was ever good enough to appease people at the MLM. It all boiled down to a "no excuses" attitude.

You're also pressured to lie to others.

Anyone who has ever sold Younique, Amway, Melaleuca, or any of the other major MLM products out there can tell you that the pressure to lie to others about your wealth is very, very high.

Heck, even going on an MLM seller's page will show you plenty of photos of parents who are allegedly "making it" and showing their rewards. Hint: It's all faked. This is, unfortunately, one of the things they don't tell you about MLM companies when you are desperate for a job.

You’re expected to have faith despite the obvious, glaring red flags.

After having worked for a month, attending meetings religiously, and still being unable to see a single cent of profit, I reached out to my higher up. I asked what the deal was. They insisted that I still needed to work harder and keep faith that things will get better.

Uh, no. I got sick of waiting and it was clear it was a shill. I was tired of drinking the Kool-Aid, and shockingly, that’s precisely what made me realize that MLMs act like cults. It wasn’t the peer pressure, it wasn’t the lying, it wasn’t the bait and switch.

It was, straight up, the fact that we were expected to have faith despite having zero reason why we should. Every hour I spent in that office was wasted. I *should* have been getting my career on track instead!


About the Creator

Cato Conroy

Cato Conroy is a Manhattan-based writer who yearns for a better world. He loves to write about politics, news reports, and interesting innovations that will impact the way we live.

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