I will answer this very simply, as there are very lengthy posts elsewhere that explain it much better. This is the method I used to figure out if I was in a cult when I was in the thick of being in ISKCON. It is called the BITE method.
BITE stands for Behavioural Control, Information Control, Time Control, and Emotional Control. Some of these are more self-explanatory than others, but it boils down to asking yourself simple questions and making simple observations. There are many more than the examples I provide but I will link a page on the BITE model at the end of my answer.
Is my physical reality being controlled? Do I have a set of expected duties and ways to react to events? Am I being sleep deprived? Do I have to wear certain clothes or hairstyles? Is my timetable strictly monitored and administered? The most easily identifiable one out of this category is: Am I being dictated where, how, and with whom to relate to?
ISKCON recommends most young devotees cut themselves off from family, have segregated sexes and controlled interactions between members of different divisions and between the sexes. We also had to chant 16 rounds (two and a half hours of chanting) every day. Tick.
Simplest question on Information Control explains much: Am I free to read, watch, listen to or otherwise absorb information, or am I only allowed to read literature from within the organization?
Of course there are varying degrees but in my experience of being within ISKCON, only Prabhupada’s books were allowed to be read. All else was materialistic pleasure and therefore frowned upon. Reading other religious material, e.g. the Bible, was only sanctioned if it was to be “dovetailed” (they love that word) with preaching the ISKCON message. I was told not to watch movies, television, or go on the internet either, though I knew some married couples that could go see movies “as long as it didn’t interfere with Krishna consciousness.” Tick.
Thought Control involves internalizing the cult’s “map of reality” as reality itself. If you are being asked to interpret world events or even world history through the lens of the cult’s doctrine, this is thought control. We often rationalized outsiders’ behaviours according to Prabhupada’s model, and said that wars occurred because of too much Raja-gun in the world and not enough love for the godhead. Tick.
Emotional Control involves the limiting of the range of emotions. Some emotions might be deemed wrong or sinful, such as being angry with a senior devotee for cutting you off or not allowing you to speak. A good question to ask in this one is, am I being made to feel worthless? With ISKCON we were told that humility equated to grandiose displays of calling ourselves “the most fallen,” especially when talking about Prabhupada or “to him” on his holy days, because this supposedly made us aware of the grace given to us. Fear and guilt applied in various ways make up the core of Emotional Control but also how you respond to things emotionally is controlled. In ISKCON falling in love with a woman would be almost a secret affair unless it was sanctioned as an arranged marriage, and even then, love for a woman is considered one of the worst material pleasures to indulge in.
I hope this helps. Here is a link to a list of other BITE model examples: Freedom of Mind – BITE Model. You can see through this list that the effects are far-reaching. Make no mistake. ISKCON indulges in all if not most of these examples, including the darker ones such as “withholding forgiveness” and “unethical use of confessional.” If you or a loved one is in ISKCON then I sincerely hope that you or they see their way through the control sooner or later.