Mary Kay and Cult Thinking

How cults exercise control over the way their members think… and how Mary Kay might be similar.

Cult expert Steven Hassan, author of Combating Cult Mind Control, provides lots of information about cults. He is a former cult member as well as a certified counselor.

Cults exercise four distinct types of control over their members:

  1. Behavior control
  2. Information control
  3. Thought control
  4. Emotional control

Behavior control can include controlling basic activities of people, including what they eat, where they sleep, where they work, rituals they engage in, etc. Cults have strict schedules for their members, and there is always an activity going on. Every cult has its own custom behaviors and rituals. Behavior control can even become powerful enough that members participate in their own punishment and believe that they deserve it.

Mary Kay connection:

  • Directors and up are required to wear the same suit (including an approved blouse and closed toe shoes). Yet they all believe it is a privilege for them to wear it. Lower levels also wear “uniforms.” These include “Red Jackets” (we’ve all heard of red jacket purgatory), shirts in black or white (depending upon level), and black skirts.
  • There are constantly events going on in Mary Kay. I have seen Directors have as many as 4 meetings a week (attendance is usually dependent upon your level within the unit). There are also debuts and NSD events/lectures, in addition to the official company events such as Seminar, Career Conference, and Leadership Conference. All of these are done to keep the consultants “in front of” the MK opportunity and all it has to offer (i.e. Keep them motivated and reaching for the “dream.”)
  • The punishment in Mary Kay is quite subtle. It is so subtle that many will deny it ever happens. There are stories of people holding rubber chickens or wearing a dunce cap for saying something negative. Most women went along with those shaming rituals because of their fear of retribution or shunning by other members or the sales directors. Oftentimes, they agree that they deserve to hold the chicken, so to speak, because they know they shouldn’t have said anything negative in the first place

Information control focuses on denying a person necessary information to make a sound judgment. Cult members are trapped because they are denied access to critical information that would help them evaluate their situation. Psychological chains can be just as strong as physical chains. Cult members become unable to process any critical information given to them.

Mary Kay connection:

  • Many would like to see this blog taken down. They don’t like what we do here. We tell the truth to those who need the information to make a sound decision about Mary Kay. Does MK deny information? Yes! Directors don’t present the $200 level during inventory talks. They don’t offer this site for some information from the “other side.” They don’t tell recruits to seek input from their husbands. You get the idea.
  • If you placed “negative” information in front of a Mary Kay consultant, would she be able to process it for use in her MK decisions, or would be become agitated and maybe hateful in her defense of MK? One only needs to read the posts on this site from MK consultants to know the answer.

Thought control uses the indoctrination of members so that they manipulate their own thought processes. The ideology of the cult is accepted and internalized as “the truth.” All new information received by the person is filtered through these beliefs. Thought control may also include “thought stopping” techniques. This is accomplished by doing things such as chanting, meditating, singing, or concentrated praying. These techniques stop members from thinking about reality, and instead, they are focused on positive thoughts about the group.

Mary Kay connection:

  • Many Mary Kay consultants take what their directors or NSDs say as gospel. They fervently defend deceptive statements like “Mary Kay is the #1 selling brand” and “Mary Kay is taught at Harvard.”
  • Directors hold up large commission checks and tout their larger-than-life lifestyle that was funded by those checks. The same directors never disclose the expenses associated with acquiring those commission checks. The unit members accept the “truth” that that the almighty commission check is easily attainable (they can do it too) and there is no concern over the sacrifices or expenses connected with the check.
  • Mary Kay is famous for its lingo, and I’m sure many have heard numerous quotes and sayings, either those of Mary Kay Ash herself or someone up the food chain. These sayings are mostly what consultants hear when they go to those events, instead of any kind of real information. Just a few: “You have to show up, to go up.” “Short term sacrifice, for long term gain.” “Slow is hard, fast is easy.” We could probably fill a book with these!
  • Consultants are trained from the beginning NOT to speak negatively about MK or their MK experience. Any question about Mary Kay should be answered with the word “great.” This is the only acceptable answer, even if you have had a bad week.

Emotional control is used to manipulate a person’s range of feelings. Guilt and fear are used heavily to maintain control. Cult members do not recognize the control exercised through guilt. Fear is used by cults to create an enemy (us versus them). The fear of punishment is also used to manipulate members who may not feel they are good enough. Cults also instill panic at the thought of leaving the group. Members cannot even imagine a life outside of the group.

Mary Kay connection:

  • To see how much emotional control there is in Mary Kay, replace the word “cult” in the above paragraph with “unit” (as in MK unit). How many of us STILL blame ourselves for “failing” at MK? Many. And there are even more of us out there that just aren’t sure if we really tried hard enough?
  • Directors and up are trained to use inventory as a means of guilt manipulation. If you’re not making money in MK, then it’s because you don’t have enough inventory! If you had a “full store” you would HAVE TO sell and then you would make money! You will never be SERIOUS about your MK business unless you stock a “full store”. How many have bought into the $600 level of Inventory and felt “guilt” about not having the $1,800 or $3,600 level?
  • How many here have already confessed ill feelings about the very thought of telling their director or recruiter about wanting to leave MK because of the guilt they will feel? This guilt didn’t happen by accident; it has been instilled since day one in MK.
  • The outside enemy in Mary Kay includes your family, friends, parents, husband, or anyone who speaks even remotely negative about MK. You can also be your own enemy in MK. You are NOT to speak of your negative experiences in MK. Do you have a husband who is not in favor of taking out a loan for your $4000 inventory? He’s unsupportive. Is your mom worried because you put $2,000 on your first credit card out of college? She’s not being supportive either. Is your best friend skeptical of the MK opportunity and about the claims of big money? She’s just jealous and doesn’t have what you have to succeed. You must alienate yourself from all negative forces to be in good graces with MK. (In other words, you must alienate yourself from anyone who cares enough to tell you the truth.)
  • No, there really isn’t a physical gun held to your head, but rather a psychological one! Everything in MK is emotional… they bring you in because you have a “need.” Recruiters are trained to find the need of each woman and emphasize how Mary Kay will fit that need. The recruit is elated. She wants more money for her family, and MK can provide it. So you sign up, you’re excited, you brag to everyone, you can’t wait to get started. Your business kit comes in the mail… it’s like Christmas! The next day you have your first “career” meeting with your Director where she is about to tell you how to be everything you ever wanted to be with MK… and what does she give you? The inventory talk. No gun. Just her and your decision to make your dreams come true or not. Again, no gun.

One more comment about thought control, which can be so subtle. The victim doesn’t know who is the enemy because the enemy seems like their best friend who only has their best interests at heart.

Was your director or recruiter your best friend? Did she say things like “love and belief” and talk about how much she “loves” you? In the same email or conversation, did she also “encourage” you to put in a Star Order? Maybe for the sake of the “team”? Didn’t you want to help your director earn a pink Cadillac? After all, she spent so much time helping you, encouraging you, lifting you up, providing spiritual motivation for you? So you order more inventory, even if you don’t really need it. You don’t have much on your books, but she’s your friend and she deserves that car.

Many completely overlook the debt that is encouraged in Mary Kay, the alienation from family and spouses, the indoctrination by repetitive events, etc. Because they desperately want to help their “friend.”

A group does not have to be religious to be cultic in behavior. Beware, especially if you are bright, intelligent, and idealistic. The most likely person to be caught up in cult behavior is the one who says “It won’t happen to me. I won’t fall for it. I’m too smart.”


  1. Ms. Lady

    You just demonstrated how every job is a cult. The hospital I work at has us wearing the same uniform department they dictate how we are to act, when we can eat, the hours we work, reprimanded for poor performance… You get the picture.

    1. TRACY

      Hardly. A normal job is…. a normal job. They don’t try to control your thoughts and your actions outside of work. (And you get a paycheck, but I digress.) The MLM doesn’t really allow non-working hours, and wants to control all of that.

      Having working hours, rules of conduct on the job, and a required uniform hardly makes a job a cult.

      You also miss an important distinction about the uniforms. In real jobs, uniforms distinguish those who work at a business to the public, and may signify different jobs that matter. In Mary Kay, the “uniform” serves no other purpose than to manipulate those in the cult. In other words, they are of no benefit to the general public, and don’t really matter when it comes to the levels… unless of course you consider that the manufactured levels are used to bilk women into putting money into the cult for some fake value.

    2. Char

      I presume you are compensated for every hour you work there, and they cover the supplies used during your duties.

      Or, do you pay them for the privilege to be part of the staff, bring you own supplies, and buy the stinky hospital soap to use at home, all out of your own pocket?

    3. BestDecision

      But, you aren’t lied to or else the Board of Directors or government would eventually shut the place down. Ever heard of Joint Commission?

      We were lied to from the first to the last days of our time with MK, preyed upon for our weaknesses instead of our strengths (versus hiring a nurse who scored lowest on her exams because you want to “enrich” her life), and spent more money than you’d ever spend working for a hospital.

    4. Were you lied to by the HR person as you applied for your job?
      Is their a leader at your hospital that is not accountable to any one?
      Do you and your co-workers regard the leader’s belief system, ideology, and practices as infallible?
      Were you required to make a purchase in order to get your job?
      Are you required to buy a certain amount of the hospital’s product every month in order to keep your job?
      Are you required to recruit other employees if you want a promotion at your job?
      Are you allowed to make suggestions for changes in, or criticize, your job’s duties without fear of punishment?
      Do you feel that leaving your job makes you a failure, or horrible things will happen to you?

      If your answers to these questions are “No”, then your job is NOT a cult.

    5. I’m sorry but the analogy of your ‘healthcare (or any real job at a similar) provider’ + rules and operating philosophies, does not a cult make. Check your dictionary.

      One compensates you for having abilities and flexibility to work the hours to earn that – which comes with every profession, including the oldest one. It has been number one role women with no truly marketable skills to make at least 70,000.00 or just one that fits your limited skill set, you still end up with
      a ) salary b) communication re: what is expected of every candidate being critiqued to be hired at ‘real economy’, in what used to be the USA

      b) have the right to refuse the work and or the employee that was just last hired, which, we as a company are gambling, their base salary, benefits (even if that just taking the taxes out and treating you like at least a participant in your shared journey / not the victim),

      At the formerly fabulous, now just a solid cult, MK you have an ‘business owner/ Follower’: your employer xyz Vendor chose to be your’ ‘Keeper’/ aka, in MK as, what? employer? and,
      you pay the freight for training in a non-existent sales science which would promote unity in the community, instead of drop to the basement on pricing that could not sustain a good weekend out once a month, but, certainly not an income stream you’ve earned by being a valuable employee of any skill set within an organization.

      You, the MK Millionaire’sh set, who will be gleefully handed every excuse your ‘relatives’ may or may not be behind you in the dream, you didn’t realize you set yourself up for complete douche baggery partner to drag you and your roving, pink blood thirsty, to make a kill at home base

      In the real world of ‘working girls’, we bring up the obvious,
      C, cash, community, credibility on a resume’ that certainly wouldn’t get you a job at the gas station as a clerk, even they have benefits.
      IN the MK Pink Blood at Any Cost, you have,

      c) they can fire you if you suck at your job and its well defined objectives for working there, they fire whiners, and even winners of plastic crowns made of every person in that former ‘individual’. Shifting Criteria on Keepers’ keeps Followers guessing on the next chess move. Fun culture, I’m sure, but, let’s looksie at the Facts Follower.

      You could from a real employers’ perspective, take this argument and give you a reason; it’s not real world if it includes xy and z.
      Stop whinging about getting paid.

      Cause those 2000 ‘new jobs’ are really just recently vacated by those that would work for nothing and only take pay to send home to _____ country to feed a family of say 14+ plus all the others who risked their lives to make REAL Money to send it home to their ‘real families’.

      Realize, MK and every other MLM wants you to pay their freight; once you stop doing that, guess how quickly the bottom drops out of supporting you, you, probably Their Words (not mine/ but possibly lipped out to future, Real employers, that the reason you really came to them, and they tried to train, the ‘sad, fat, lazy, lay persons who really couldn’t find a ‘real’ job anywhere else, but through our gloriously generous sales programs only work when we have the right people’.

      (selling to the leftover stupid relatives that try to give you money and will take any amount off your shelf at full price to end this cannibalism of real faith and real FAMILIES that will be there long after Ashes ashes don’t even bring a tear to anyone’s eyes; they aren’t ready to laugh yet. See you next year. If Seminar isn’t cancelled. Thanks you lazy women who f’d up a great concept with your honesty. Period

      You are hunting for vulnerable folks – who are truly so desperate that they will give you their last 2,000 peso’s to get some of your crap that was most likely packaged and glamorously by Chinese / Mexican? / CHILDREN – so you may make yourself feel great, about your New You.

      Please try to chose a less rich burdensome belief system to get on with your life; you’ll need, truly, shock therapy to your brain. It’s so tainted you can’t see how foolish you sound. God Bless – and I truly mean that. I’ve seen too many lives ruined to hide behind a fake identity. My Sister is an NSD and I wouldn’t walk across the room to make her feel better at my Father’s death bed. She’s gone too far. GET OUT.

  2. Char

    My doorbell rang and I wasn’t expecting a visitor – kind of like a Jehovah’s Witness would do. It was a lady from the neighborhood newly pimping MK.

    I told her absolutely not and suggested she read PT. She said her internet was not working. I asked her several weeks later if she had had a chance to read up on MK, and it still wasn’t working. LIAR!

    1. MLM Radar

      Internet not working? Then how does she process her MK orders?

      Or is she saying that she’s not earning enough money selling MK to afford internet service? (Which is probably true, if she ever adds up the numbers.)

      You should ask whether she uses an iPhone or an Android. If she says yes to either, you’ve got her. Both of those phones require data plans, meaning she has internet access.


      Still, she may be one of those rare birds who uses a prepaid phone that can only call and text, which once again only says her MK profits are illusions. But even in that event, does she not have access to the public library?

      Still Busted!

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