Cultish groups that meet most but not all the criteria
Posted by: allalong ()
Date: December 21, 2019 02:25AM

Is there a place for me to discuss this?

I was in two cultish groups that met most of the criteria for a cult, and most of the criteria for being run by a cult leader. The only things I didn't experience was sexual and physical abuse in one cult. And the other cult that did me the most harm, I also didn't experience financial abuse.

But these two cultish groups did me a lot of harm nonetheless.

And I have no idea how to pick up my life again from here. The cult books out there do not fit what I went through, so I am very confused and feel lost. I am just now starting to be like myself again, but it is happening just over time.

But I'm scared to do any kind of self-care for my depression and anxiety, because stuff out there can still be cultish--whether it's Yoga, Meditation, Cross Fit, the Keto diet--stuff like that is big money and people can get obsessed with it and get brainwashed.

My experience:

First I was in a cultish group run by a medical doctor. Don't ask me who it was because I will not reveal his name. He's one of many medical doctors who wrote books using fear and one or two small research studies to back up his points and skew stuff toward his own biases. He follows what he preaches, but it is definitely extremely cult like. People leave their careers to volunteer or work for him for pennies. He runs his volunteers around ragged. I volunteered once and we had to ask if it was okay to go home after a strenuous 14 hour day. He appears very nice and gentle but behind the scenes he is as someone who knows him personally in town "a dictator". Her husband is a medical doctor and she told me he's not liked by his colleagues. He runs a very busy forum online where we all used to just parrot back what he said. He sells expensive supplements and stuff and uses fear to get people's buy in. Every waking moment where I wasn't working or sleeping, I was on his forum. I couldn't talk about anything else. I used to constantly say, "Dr. _____ says this" and "Dr. _____ says that".

I met up with one of his followers who I thought they were friends and he offered me a job. It was extremely frustrating because any conversation we'd have on the phone with my asking exactly what my job responsibilities would be and how much was the salary he was offering, he talked for hours on the phone in complete circles. He had other people talk to me on the phone and they, too, talked in complete circles. I did one project for him for free, and he had a very angry and uncalled for temper tantrum over disagreeing with one of the things I wrote where I quoted the doctor. If you met him, you'd think he was handsome, successful, smart, and just really into what the doctor preaches. But wow that was a sh*t show and I ended up not working for him. When he friended me on facebook, I saw that he was a part of the Man Kind Project. I did some digging and found that the medical doctor had written reviews on books of people who were part of the Man Kind Project. I don't he was himself--I could definitely not see him doing that sort of thing and he'd walk out of it--but it was weird nonetheless. Even volunteering for him I met very strange people.

The reason I stopped following this "soft cult" or whatever the term is, is because I got extremely physically sick from following the diet. I almost died. It's a diet that works well for many people--I witnessed it--but it was not right for me and he should've said so but didn't. But he wasn't my actual doctor but he knew me. Every single medical professional I met in the hospital told me gently but firmly to go back to eating the way I used to. I did immediately. But I never talked about my experience and I think I need to figure out how to and where to, because it wasn't a cult in a traditional term. I wish this forum had a section for things like this.

The second "soft cult" I was in, was a 12-step program on the fringes. It wasn't for drugs or alcohol, and in hindsight I don't even think it was an actual addiction but more of a poor coping mechanism, to deal with untreated OCD and depression/anxiety. Basically, my therapist at the time suggested I go to a 12 step group. The first one he suggested was not on the fringes. It was a normal type 12 step group. But someone there invited me to another 12 step meeting, and that one was on the fringe.

I read here that there aren't many groups on the fringe. I don't recall what year that post was written, but I will say that I know of many more groups on the fringe, especially if you live in certain parts of the country. They are well-known. Unfortunately they are definitely cult like.

I still have a lot of respect for the guy who ran mine. But it was definitely a cult. We didn't lose money and there wasn't sexual or physical abuse. But still it was a cult like group. People who never went there before either loved it or hated it. I had many new people come up to me afterwards telling me this group seemed like a cult. I used to always stick up for my group and explain how it wasn't a cult. But they used a lot of reverse psychology, probably unintentionally, to make it appear like it wasn't a cult. I don't even think the guy running it meant it to be a cult or wanted it to be like that. He wanted to help people. I have no bad feelings toward him.

But it was a cult because everyone who belonged parroted everything he said or the book we used said. We also all had that weird look in our eyes that I thought was a good healthy thing, but I realize now is a cult look. My life revolved around the teachings 24/7. I often quoted the book we used. I thought I was getting healthy and that this was good for me. The other thing is, I had a bad experience. I wasn't treated well and I was often yelled at, humiliated by the person working with me, laughed at, and stuff like that. There was a great deal of victim blaming. It did a huge deal of damage to me. I had to make amends to people who abused me, but thankfully this was the one and only time a therapist stepped in and said absolutely not. There were often power struggles between my therapist and sponsor. It was extremely confusing.

God was a huge part of my group. That's all we talked about. We could believe in any God, but in actuality it was really a Christian God but not in the way people were taught about. It was a different type of Christianity. I liked it. But it did me a great deal of harm. I became obsessed with every little tiny thing I did or said. I apologized for things that my sponsor would yell at me and make fun of me for apologizing for. But then other things she would yell at me for not apologizing for. I would ask for help, but then be admonished for asking for help. It was like they kick you when you're down and blamed you for it.

Many people in the group were in MLM's, Landmark, or followed Eckart Tolle, Katie Byron, Tony Robbins, Abraham Hicks, Joel Osteen, Marianne Williamson and ACIM, etc. The leader guy didn't. But still, there was a lot of that in the group. There was one woman who was in MLMs and listening to her talk--wow it's scary to remember. I didn't fall for any of it, but I watched her. She was one of those people who believes her own delusions.

I spent a number of years in this group and it's all I thought about every second of the day. We were supposed to. On the outside they said no you're supposed to work, take care of your family, only do this in the morning and at night and just pay attention throughout the day. But it got really messed up when I was told to bring God into each and every aspect of my day. I wonder what my therapist thought when I said that I was supposed to invite God into our session, even. I talked about God constantly. I started to read more books that other people in the group read, since our work was just a beginning "spiritual kindergarten".

We weren't allowed to think and were constantly told that our best thinking is what brought us there. We were supposed to ask God what to do and what to say for every single aspect of our lives because following our own minds screwed up our lives.

This was supposed to be about not doing our addiction anymore. That's what therapists are told 12 step meetings are like. But we never talked about our addictions only about the step work and God and we all thought our lives were absolutely perfect and wonderful and when we talked, that's what we said. I think we were all delusional on pink clouds, as they say. We had to work with others or else we'd relapse so I guess we had that fear. But I think we were all delusional thinking everything was now wonderful and we all we had to do was ask God to help us and ask Him what to do and say and bring Him into every single aspect of our live.

We were told to just be an example and people would hear us talk and see how spiritually well we were, and so they'd want to be like us. Again I don't know if it was intentional reverse psychology or intentional. I don't think it was intentional. It did help people.

There was a lot of fear based teaching from the getgo. We wouldn't get over our addiction unless we did EXACTLY what we were told to do. If we didn't do exactly what we were told to do, we were screamed at basically or told we didn't want recovery enough.

My group wasn't like this but I was told about some other fringe groups that people wash their sponsor's cars and run errands and have to ask their sponsor before they take a new job or start dating someone new. My group wasn't anything like that, our personal lives were our business, we could leave whenever we wanted, etc. But the God stuff moment by moment was pushed onto us to the point of sheer losing your own identity and personality and critical thinking.

I'm just now seeing in hindsight how my old personality is coming back and I'm happy to see it and I'm sure my spouse is too. I lost her in this process.

I don't blame my therapist for suggesting a 12 step program. But I am confused why they didn't confront me with the fact that I was in a fringe group that was cult like and I was obsessed with God. I even talked about it a lot in my therapy appointments. It was all I talked about for a few years.

I got out of it on my own, because something happened that finally snapped me out of it. My sponsor did something very emotionally abusive and sometimes unfortunately that is the hardest abuse to admit is going on, because it's not as obvious as sexual or physical abuse. She had been emotionally abusive from the start, as had the other sponsors, but this time it snapped me back into reality. I called her out on it and that was the end of it.

Where do I go from here? I have no motivation or drive to figure out how to get my life back and I'm still sort of like "what the heck was that?" For a couple of years, I was still on forums online spreading the message of our program's teachings, but I recall a point where my brain was like fighting between the stuff I was spewing from the program, and real life stuff. Then I got to a point where I stopped going on the forum entirely and the stuff finally left my brain.

I want to try to get my life back but I'm stuck and don't even know where to begin. I want to practice self care without getting obsessed or caught up in anything that resembles a cult. Because there's a lot of those sort of groups out there, I wish there was a place to discuss them.

I have some family members in a religious cult, so I'd rather not discuss my experience with family members.

Apologies if this was a bit rambling. I'm curious to hear feedback, opinions,nsuggestions, experience, etc.

Edited 7 time(s). Last edit at 12/21/2019 02:50AM by allalong.

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Re: Cultish groups that meet most but not all the criteria
Posted by: allalong ()
Date: December 21, 2019 03:00AM



Edited 1 time(s). Last edit at 12/21/2019 03:01AM by allalong.

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Re: Cultish groups that meet most but not all the criteria
Posted by: Resilient ()
Date: March 10, 2020 11:25PM

Allalong, I just replied to another post of yours, and I didn't realize the extent of your suffering. Rachel Bernstein has a great podcast and has helped many people to recover from cults and other systems of control. There are therapists who specialize in this work, and maybe you can gain some clarity or insight from some of her interviews. Possibly even reach out to her, or find a referral in your area?


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Re: Cultish groups that meet most but not all the criteria
Posted by: allalong ()
Date: March 11, 2020 09:58PM

It's okay. I'm putting it behind me. I was focusing too much on the negative experiences when I wrote my posts. They weren't cults in the true sense of the word. I'm focusing on the good that I did get out of them, because there was good stuff I learned and experienced that help me change and grow. I'm trying to focus on the strength I've gained from looking within versus following any guru or group. Thank you for the podcast recommendation. I will check that out. I appreciate your suggestions. I was able to work through my experiences in regular therapy, because my experience wasn't actual cults. It took time. Good old fashioned time. Maybe one day this listserv will have something for "soft cults" for us to discuss our experiences, because there are a lot of them out there. They don't do the same level of harm that cults do, but there are definitely similarities.

Edited 1 time(s). Last edit at 03/11/2020 09:59PM by allalong.

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Re: Cultish groups that meet most but not all the criteria
Posted by: Incultrecovery ()
Date: April 13, 2020 08:48PM

I am glad you got the help you needed and I don’t think there are soft cults - A cult is a cult - abuse is abuse and it’s not ok. I hope you don’t minimize your experience. I got help from a regular therapist. I don’t think one needs to be treated by a cult therapist per-say.....just someone who can help make the ptsd go away. Have a good life!!!!

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Re: Cultish groups that meet most but not all the criteria
Posted by: allalong ()
Date: May 05, 2020 11:49PM

Thank you! I am getting help from a regular therapist. She encourages me to take the positives out of what I got out of the group. I hope you have a good life, too!!

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Re: Cultish groups that meet most but not all the criteria
Posted by: corboy ()
Date: May 06, 2020 11:15PM

Allalong, this would be a great thread topic - soft cults.

I am very sorry to say that though 12 Step groups are not supposed to be cults
(The 12 Traditions were developed as a way to prevent this sort of thing), the set up is readily exploitable by power-trippers.

Sexual predators who hunt at 12 Step meetings are nicknamed 13th Steppers and new persons should be warned that these people exist.

Powerhungry people who create "soft cults" and who run cults and send folks out to recruit for cults pursue vulnerable people.

12 Step attendees are vulnerable. One of the most successful con artists I've seen targeted folks at a Codependants Anonymous meeting! Blood in the water and he was the shark.

New attendees *are* vulnerable. We show up at meetings because we are desperate, because a trusted friend advised us. Very many show up at meetings because they've been court-ordered.

Very many people are scared of AA because they do fear that it is a cult. Some have been in cults before finding 'the rooms"

People who are unsure of the God concept and or prefer to be atheists or agnostics are sincere in their recovery but can find AA meetings very difficult if they are in a part of the country where the majority belief system is a sincere but assertive Christianity. Many AAs report that they could only feel safe after moving to a part of the country where free thinkers meetings were available.

If there is just one AA meeting in one's area, or just one free thinkers meeting available, and that meeting is corrupted into a soft cult/hard cult trajectory, persons who depend on that meeting for recovery can feel trapped. Its hard to pull up roots and create a breakaway meeting because many addicts and alcoholics will tell you that we hate and fear change.

Only remedy here is summon up the desperate courage it took to find one's first meeting, exchange phone numbers and start a breakaway meeting and return to the 12 traditions. Easier said than done.

Many recovering addicts and alcoholics go through an authoritarian phase of black and white thinking, my way or the highway. Some are very aggressive proslytizers for the religion or belief system of their choice and equate it with AA, which they are not supposed to do.

But the fuckers do it anyway. They mean well, but do a hell of a lot of damage.

If these are the people a new attendee meets, he or she has every right to get scared and pissed off.

If a power hungry person becomes your sponsor and you do not know the rules that are supposed to protect you from sponsor exploitation, you're in a very bad place.

Many people new in recovery are physically and emotionally ill, in no condition to sign a binding legal contract and have been told to trust their sponsor, to take what they like and leave the rest.

This take what you like and leave the rest is a favorite seduction line for cult leaders and they've stolen it from the 12 Steps and 12 Traditions and the culture of "the rooms".

Thing is there is a difference between "the rooms" and what a cult leader does.

The safety mechanism for the 12 Step groups is that they are supposed to stick only to "conference approved" literature" and one is supposed to follow the 12 Steps and the 12 Traditions.

There is nothing else. If you take what you like and leave the rest, you know what "the rest" consists of, because it is in the books and you can learn about it later on, at your own pace. There are no elite, secret teachings.

In a cult, you are told to take what you like and leave the rest. But "leave the rest" includes denying your doubts, your awareness that there is a troubling inconsistency between what the leader teaches and how the leader and senior students actually behave. In cults the leader can change the rules at any time and can introduce new teachings. This is prohibited by the 12 Traditions.

I wish we had a way to educate each and every new member what should and should not happen at meetings and what a sponsor should never do to them. That would be a very big help.

Some members of cults can start what looks like an AA meeting or take one over. As it gets weird, genuine AA's leave, warn others and the group ends up being all or mostly cult members.

There's a meeting which I cannot call an AA meeting but is listed as an AA meeting. Rumor has it that they are actually into Transcendental Meditation. Once the meeting starts, you cannot leave. They are nicknamed "The Pod People".

It is also exploitable by people who
are recruiting for non 12 Step cult leaders.

I've been hit on twice in the rooms by cult recruiters.

First time was a woman who was recruiting for Byron Katie. Luckily I was already active on a thread exposing Byron Katie when this gal pounced on me after a meeting where I'd shared some heavy stuff and was sniveling into some Kleenex. Others later told me she'd put the make on them.

The second time, I was given a lift home after a meeting. The person told me she benefitted greatly from "chanting" -- and then tried to recruit me into Sokko Gakkai, though she did not say up front that this was what she was doing. She told me all about the chant and a few other things and because (ahem!) I was also active on the CEI message board discussion of Sokko Gakkai, I knew what she was trying to pull me into.

So...what happens to people who are in recovery and who are not neck-deep in the cult education movement?

Another glitch is that even if a person is not recruited into a cult via someone "in the rooms" he or she is told as part of the 12 Steps to find a connection to some kind of Higher Power.

While on this 11th Step quest, a person explores, goes to meditation groups, reads books, listens to videos and podcasts, has conversations with other seekers.

One guy ended up in a high demand cult listed here on Cult Education Institute, and was kicked out, ended up drinking again and in jail. He called his former AA sponsor for help.

Warning Signs That a !2 Step Meeting is Not a Meeting But a Group -- or Sponsor is Going Off the Rails

The 12 Traditions are the difference between a 12 Step meeting and a group that departs from the 12 Traditions while avoiding "pitfalls of money property and prestige**" (at best) inspired by the 12 Steps and (danger soft cult) deviates from the 12 Steps and (at worst cult alert!!) violates the 12 Traditions and exploits the 12 Steps -- and succumbs to the pitfalls of "money, property and prestige".

**prestige = reputation, marketing.

* You are invited to attend or start a group that is members only, word of mouth. There's a scent of secrecy involved. If you are advised not tell others that this so called meeting exists, smell a rat. Demand to know WHY the hush hush. If they cannot give you a good reason or disinvite you, you've got an answer right there. It is no longer a 12 Step meeting, but a group and a secretive one at that.

A meeting is but a group when its word of mouth and led by someone who claims special incontestable expertise and when it departs from the 12 Traditions.

Beware. Meetings are to be open to anyone who desires to stop drinking or drugging. Only exception are women only meetings, men only meetings, but even these are open to a designated category of person, not word of mouth.

* If a meeting gathers for purposes of recovery but to do meditation or study a particular religious tradition in relation to recovery, that can be great. However, the 12 Traditions should be used to ensure that leadership is on a rotating basis and that the entire group votes on finances, policies and notes are kept.

* The meeting turns into a group

* People have that wierd starry eyed look when mentioning certain persons, topics or literature

* You're nudged pressured to rely on a single teacher's literature and methods and that stuff takes over the group. The group becomes a recruitment pipeline for that teacher. Recruiters for other gurus begin sniffing around.

* You're pressured to follow a certain diet, exercise routine, chanting/meditation methods.

* The group or your sponsor have you on the defensive more and more and more. You're on the hot seat more and more.

* People get patronizingly laughed at more and more. Slowly you begin to fear getting laughed at. You join in that laughter more and more so you don't become the target. (RED FLAG!!!!)

* There's sudden edgy teasing, sexualized behavior, icky "jokes" "humor" that elicits laughter and you are made to feel too prudish, too sensitive too judgemental too bigoted if you do not join in. (RED FLAG!!)

* There are one or two people or the leader/sponsor subtly pushing the envelop keeping things off balance. BEWARE. This sort of unpredictable yet intimate environment is one of insecurity and you cannot learn and recover in such an environkment. It actually disables your autonomy and keeps you trapped. Its the early stages of abuse. RUN.

* There's gossip that is at the expense of friendships and close relationships.

* They suggest you have very special potential and need to meet this oh so special spiritual guide or therapist who will take you to the next level.

Ask yourself how many people they've told that to? Better yet ask them that!
Recovery is about finding our common human bond, not further inflaming terminal uniqueness.

* If you come into money due to a divorce or inheritance or a business triumph, you are treated differently, perhaps targeted for special talks and recruitment.

* They don't build up your outside relationships, they massage your minor discontents with these outside relationships until you find you depend only on your sponsor or on this group for all your social support and validation.

* They refer you to their approved doctor, yoga studio, nutritionist, therapist, guru, etc.

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