A free online magazine on and around coercive control.
In this issue: Cults and coercion, coercive control, coercive persuasion, indoctrination and cultic abuse.


Editor's Notes

5 Min looks at how coercion in some selfhelp

groups mirrors domestic abuse.

The CCChat Interview

6 Dr Alexandra Stein talks about domestic

abuse and cults.

Robert Lifton

21 We take a look at the 'Eight Criteria for

Thought Reform'.

The CCChat Interview

25 Christian Szurko talks about indoctrination

and manipulative destructive influence.

Lenore Walker

37 We take a look at the Cycle of Abuse

The CCChat Interview

41 Janja Lalich talks about the high arousal

techniques used in cults and also self-help

and New Age groups.

Lived Experience

51 Sexual coercion by an unethical and

manipulative New Age healer

Making The Invisible Visible

Editor's Notes

About The Editor

Min Grob started

Conference on

Coercive Control in

June 2015, following

the end of a

relationship that was

both coercive and


Since then there have

been 6 national

conferences as well as

smaller events, and

this magazine, CCChat

has been going since


Min’s interest lies in

recognising coercive

control in its initial

stages, understanding

how to identify the ‘red

flags’ of abusive

behaviour before

someone becomes

more invested in the

relationship, as that is

when it will be much

more difficult to leave.

Min is also a public

speaker and speaks on

both her personal

experience of coercive

control as well as more

generally of abuse that

is hidden in plain sight.

Let's Grow The


To contact Min:


"People don't understand

how we got into this situation"

Why write about cults? What connects coercive control in an intimate

relationship to being in a cult? As it happens quite a lot. A few years

ago I remember Lisa Aronson Fontes, the author of Invisible Chains:

Overcoming Coercive Control in your Intimate Relationship likening

coercive control to being 'in a cult of one' and that has always stuck

with me. Many of what I now know to be manipulative and coercive

behaviours were experienced outside of a relationship, in various selfhelp

groups and New Age modalities which had practices that felt

deeply uncomfortable but, at the time, I could not put words to the

unease I felt, as I was unaware of the many ways in which a person

could be exploited.

Now that my awareness has grown and the more I understand, the

more I am of the view that it isn't enough to look at coercion and

control in a relationship or a family setting and then disregard it

elsewhere. Those behaviours are wrong, regardless of where they


I've often found it incredibly helpful to explain coercive control in terms

of being in a cult when someone is struggling to understand, as many

do, how someone can subjugate and undermine a person without any

use of force, or can imprison a person in a room where the doors

aren't locked.

I'm hoping you can learn as much as me from these insightful

interviews with these amazing interviewees.

Min x

Making The Invisible Visible

Dr. Alexandra Stein



Stein, Ph.D. is a writer and educator specializing in the

social psychology of ideological extremism and other dangerous

social relationships. She is the author of the upcoming second

edition of Terror, Love and Brainwashing: Attachment in cults

and totalitarian systems.

M: I’ve been wanting to talk to you for so long and here we are, finally! I know you have a new

edition of your book out soon and there’s so much I want to talk to you about, but first I’m going

to ask, when it comes to cults, what should we be talking about?

A: An important issue with cults in the UK is the lack of legal recourse and the lack of legal

sanctions. I work with a charity ‘The Family Survival Trust’ which works with people affected by

cults which is campaigning to have the coercive control law expanded, as it is limited to where

the perpetrator and the victim are in an intimate or family relationship, and the question we have

is that if this pattern of behaviours is now illegal in an intimate or family relationship, why does it

remain legal within a group or an organisation?

M: That’s a good point and also very relevant at the moment as the impacts of coercion are

slowly starting to be more widely understood.

A: We see this in all kinds of groups ranging from terrorist groups, to a wide variety of religious,

self-help therapy, commercial, political, you name it, any kind – yoga, wellness, sport groups

which in some cases can exhibit these same patterns of behaviours but where there is very

little recourse for people and also where society allows these groups to continue with these

coercive behaviours. We know how dangerous they are because the victims are typically unable

to advocate for their own safety. They may not be able to acknowledge they are being coerced,

because that is part of the pattern of coercion. We need something with teeth, and I think the

coercive control law is a very good place to start because it is addressing the same human

interactions that we see in controlling domestic violence, relational control and in groups and

cults that engage in that so I think this is a really important issue to bring out -- hence it’s not

random that you’re doing this issue and talking to me and other experts in the field. It’s because

we are dealing with the same problem.

M: I know that there are people within the domestic abuse field who are reluctant to have the law

extend out to include non-intimate relationships as the concern is that it could be watering down

the law and domestic abuse as a crime. I’m interested to hear your views on that.

A: My thought on that is what happens in cults and so forth is actually, in an interesting way, it

kind of becomes domestic abuse. Let me explain that.

Making The Invisible Visible

A: Cults end up controlling all of a person’s

world. My work is particularly relevant in this.

The key thing of how cults gain their control is

by controlling people’s personal relationships,

so cults will pretty much always cut you off from

relationships that aren’t within the cult and even

within the cult they will control your

relationships, for instance, I was in what we

can more or less call an arranged marriage.

People are put into arranged relationships,

people are broken up from existing

relationships, if they get too close, their

relationships with their children are controlled

and, in essence, the only relationship they

really have, that becomes the intimate

relationship, is that with the group or the leader

so it is controlling people in their domestic life.

money so they may not see or be subject to the

control but once you start to get into the inner

world of the cult, and you are really a

consolidated cult member, that’s where we

really see these controlling behaviours and

they are intimate and involve family and

children. I am working now with a lot of children

who grew up in cults and their stories are

horrifying, their parents don’t have the right to

make the decisions about their own children.

The late Margaret Singer, a cult expert, said

that in a cult there’s always a third party in the

room, in the relationship between the parent

and the child, and that third party, the cult

leader, does not have the child’s interests at

heart – or the parents’ interests for that matter,

they have just their own interest.

" What’s hard, when you’re talking about cults

is that cults are layered,

like the layers of an onion."

I am very sympathetic to and care a lot for the

domestic abuse movement, and I think it’s

important we understand each other’s

experiences and what is fundamental in cults is

that control of personal life and your personal

boundaries, so I don’t see there’s a watering

down though I can see one could see it that

way and I’m interested in listening to people’s

concerns about that. I don’t want to dismiss


M: There’s also always an element of sexual

coercion so that’s another similarity.

A: Exactly, it becomes intimate with enforced

sexual behaviours or enforced celibacy you

wouldn’t normally engage in. All cults have

control of other people’s sexual

relationships. What’s hard, when you’re talking

about cults is that cults are layered, like the

layers of an onion, so people on the outside

may only be attending the yoga class or giving

It would be wonderful to have a conversation,

and I would certainly be open to that, from

people within the domestic abuse movement,

to discuss our mutual interest and our concerns

about hesitations but I think potentially we

could support each other and have a stronger


M: I agree. It's a nonsense to have a law that

criminalises a pattern of behaviour within one

context, but completely overlooks it in another.

It should be criminal regardless of the setting.

A: These are human to human behaviours. It's

just one has a larger structure than the family

structure or it's got some more layers on top of

it, the orders might be coming from higher up

than just the person in the household and if you

don't look at that, you end up getting the wrong

perpetrator. So you may have a cult, for

instance, that says it is okay to beat children

with a stick from when they're six or twelve

Making The Invisible Visible

months old, such as the Twelve Tribes group.

Now if you prosecute the parent for child

abuse, that's all well and good but actually the

parent is also a victim in that because they're

not doing it because they necessarily want to

do it, they're doing it because that's what the

cult tells them to do and there will be

repercussions if they disobey. The first article I

ever wrote was called ‘Mothers in Cults’

because I had been a mother in a cult myself

and I didn't even know how to write an

academic article at that time. I wasn't

academic, I was just a recovering cult member,

but I interviewed six mothers who had been in

cults and they had done things, in terms of the

relationship with their child, that they really

regretted, that were awful, but they did it

because the same way a mother in a

A: Yeah, so, you know, I don't want to say

they're exactly the same, but they are close

enough and I think it's really useful to look at

them together otherwise, we can have a law

that looks exactly like the coercive control law

that says all the same things that law says,

except it says it for groups and organisations

and that just seems redundant.

What we're talking about and what's important

about the coercive control law, as we know, is

that it's not about physical violence, physical

violence may be an element, but that is not

what’s central, which is the psychological

manipulation and that's what those of us who

deal with cults, also deal with as a central


“The supposedly safe person is also the one causing you fear and

threat and if you are isolated in that relationship your whole world

is reduced to the world of the perpetrator.”

domestically controlling relationship might do

things to her children that she doesn't want to

do, there's no escape from that system. She

can't find a way out and she has, in my view, a

fear-driven dissociation and is unable both

cognitively or practically to think or find her way

out. She has no escape hatch. Often the very

same thing is happening in cults - it's the same

dynamic - although there are differences, I

don't want to say it's exactly the same. In a cult

you will have a strong belief system, an

ideology - what we call the absolute or total

ideology that can be whatever it is, whether it's

religious, political, wellness or selfimprovement,

there are zillions of types of

belief system, whereas, in a domestic

relationship, the way I look at it is that the belief

system is going to be more to do with “Do you

love me enough?” if you see what I mean?

M: Like the 'my needs need to be met' kind of


This fear-driven ability to psychologically

manipulate people so that they can no longer

protect themselves or their loved ones, and it's

done by isolating people, same as in domestic

abuse. It's done by making the perpetrator

appear to be the only safe place. The

supposedly safe person is also the one causing

you fear and threat and if you are isolated in

that relationship your whole world is reduced to

the world of the perpetrator. When one is made

fearful, in that situation, there is a tendency to

turn to the human being who you feel is a safe

person, which is the person who's frightening

you and that is the dynamic.

That is so dangerous, because that causes, as

I'm sure you know, a trauma bond, which I also

refer to as a disorganised attachment bond.

When one has trauma, chronic relational

trauma, which we see in both domestic abuse

and cults - that can cause dissociation, which is

a kind of freeze response in the brain.

Making The Invisible Visible

It's a cognitive freeze, so that a person cannot

think their way out of that system, or that

relationship and even if they could, there are

often many practical barriers to escape. Often

you can't even get to the practical barriers

because of the dissociation which leads to you

to be unable to think clearly about the situation

and you have no other place to turn, no other


That's a real effect and is referred to as

brainwashing. Some people like that word,

some people don't, but we can also call it

coercive control. The coercive control is

happening, both in the feelings, and in the

cognitive, reasoned thinking part of the brain of

the person affected.

attachment theory we call being in a situation of

fright without solution. So, if you're in an

earthquake, and you're trapped under the

rubble of a house, you're going to have trauma

and that's going to be fright without solution

until, if you're lucky, somebody digs you out

and then you come out and can then deal with

that trauma at some later date. In relational

trauma, it's an ongoing chronic state of that

feeling of “I'm trapped there's nothing I can do.”

So if a person feels that there's no useful action

they can take to escape the fear, then you're

going to get this trauma bond. I'm not saying it

always happens, we're human beings, not

mechanical things and in fact, one thing we

know from some useful scholarship about

prisoners of war and the Chinese re-education

camps from the work of Robert Lifton and other

" when people say “why doesn't she leave?”

It’s because she's been made to feel the outside world is no help."

It's an emotional and cognitive effect so when

people say “why doesn't she leave?” It’s

because she's been made to feel the outside

world is no help. There's no way out and the

same is true in cults. When people can leave

it's often because someone is able to reach

them and help them feel there is a safe

alternative and then they can feel there's a way

out, they can reengage their useful brain

processes, and they can find a way out, even

though that way as we also know may

sometimes come with a high risk.

M: Does trauma bonding happen automatically

or does it only happen in certain sort of

situations and, if so, what might those

circumstances be?

A: I’m not quite sure by what you mean by

automatically but when it does happen, it

happens as a result of a person being isolated,

it happens when they're fearful, and it's what in

people - Judith Herman is also very good on

this - is that if people understand how the

trauma bond works, if they have prior

knowledge, they can sort of protect

themselves, they can focus on their internal

resources and notice what's happening.

It's when we don't understand how it works that

we are most subject to it, and given that we

don't teach our children anything about this,

you know how bullying works, how terrorist

recruitment works, how coercive control works,

you know, this should be being taught at all

levels in the educational system. It's very

teachable and we are starting to do it in terms

of domestic relationships and we're starting to

see it in the media as well - watch out if your

boyfriend is isolating you from your friends,


Making The Invisible Visible

People are starting to pick that up, which is

wonderful but I think it could be much more

systematic and widespread as public health

education, but we need to explain that that's

exactly the same as in a group - are you in a

church is that starting to isolate you from your

friends and family? is it controlling your

personal relationships? Is that all you do? Is it

telling you what job to have? Is it controlling

your finances?

We can teach this and not just in terms of

personal relationships, but in terms of group

relationships, and so going back to your

question, we know that people who have prior

knowledge about these controlling mechanisms

are more resilient and resistant to the control.

I'm very happy to report he was able to get out

and get most of his family out subsequently.

These are very predictable systems once you

start understanding how they work, and the

same as a controlling spouse. On one level it's

quite predictable - we know what they do - they

isolate, they control. That's what they do. I'm

not saying it's easy because it's absolutely

terrifying leaving a coercively controlling

relationship or group but it gives you an

understanding. And the same for recovery

because often, when people come out, they've

internalised a lot of the messages they've

gotten in the cult or the relationship that they're

bad or they're weak or that it's their fault and so

for recovery it's very helpful to also understand

those dynamics.

"These are very predictable systems

once you start understanding how they work."

For instance, it will be hard to get me

entrapped now because I am very aware of

what the warning signs are.

M: So, if people understand how the trauma

bond works, it's almost like having insurance ,

so that they don't get sucked in to these cults

but what about if you are already trauma

bonded when you read up about it afterwards,

can that also help or not?

A: It helps. I have a good example because I

recently worked with somebody who was in a

current situation of entrapment - an adult who

had grown up in this group but fortunately had

not been cut off from the internet and had been

able to look up some things and discovered the

literature on cults and started thinking, “Is this

what it is? Is this what my family has been in,

that I got born into?” Through that

understanding he was able to then reach out,

secretly, of course, and get help on the outside.

It's also very helpful to talk to other people

who've been in a similar relationship, similar

situation, because then you really see the

similarity of the behaviours of the perpetrator

and you realise that it's not you. The charity I

work with, The Family Survival Trust, runs a

support group for ex-cult members, and people

from a wide variety of different groups find their

experience remarkably similar, because they're

predictable, it's predictable what's happened to

people who've experienced that.

M: That’s certainly what I’ve noticed, my own

experience is of self-help groups where,

looking back, I was being groomed and it felt

very similar to the love bombing in a controlling

relationship but also how they try to get

personal information from you- about your

childhood, about your relationships and

insecurities - how to get all your most intimate

details out of you and then use them against


Making The Invisible Visible

A: That's one of Lifton’s eight criteria - the cult

of confession. That certainly happened with

me. In Cambodia the Khmer Rouge, who were

a hideously genocidal group - they were

responsible for the murder of a third of the

Cambodian population in the 70’s - they had a

questionnaire which could have been the

questionnaire from the cult I was in. It was

extraordinary to see, and it was very much

about what you're saying, what is your

background? Tell us about all your personal

relationships, what were your feelings about

those relationships? Who did you love?

It's fascinating once you look at this from a

perspective of the perpetrator cutting off your

other close trusting relationships; they have to

do that because if they didn't, you could go to

I mean we're all experiencing this in COVID,

right? This is so awful, so you call a friend and

you comfort each other. That's happening at a

biochemical level where we're balancing the

extreme cortisol spikes that we're feeling with

what we call endogenous opioids from a

calming friend or family member, or we may do

it for ourselves, it's this calming opposite of the

cortisol spikes that we get from fear, but if

you're not able to get that calming, or not

enough of that calm, what happens is the

cortisol will just rise and rise and rise and you

kind of break at a certain point and you just

can't cope anymore. I remember this

happening to me when I was just, I got so

confused during the recruitment process and

by the experience and I was so tired, I didn't

know what was happening.

“ They've got power over you

and you're no longer able to think

because the stress is just too much.”

that other loved and trusted person and that's

your escape hatch. They always have to do

that, they can't let you have a full and rich

emotional life with other people. The system

doesn't work if they let you have that so they

cut you off, they isolate you and then that

keeps you in this closed loop of threat, what

Zablocki calls an alternation of assault and

leniency and we know that happens in

domestic abuse, don’t we?

M: Yeah. It’s shockingly similar.

A: You know, you go in as yourself, a person

with agency, then you get isolated in the

system, then you get this ongoing fear and

stress coming your way from the group or the

perpetrator and at a certain point, it's too much,

you're not finding any relief, normally when

we're feeling fear or stress the way we cope

with it is we generally go to another person.

I had a bad feeling about what was happening

but I couldn't describe it, I had no language and

I was far away from anyone I knew, except for

cult members and I remember just thinking, I

think I'm going crazy. It was very frightening, I

didn't want to go crazy. I thought, I must commit

more to the group and that will make me feel

better and that's when I, so to speak, signed on

the dotted line. So, I think the breaking is that

fright without solution where you're actually

entering that dissociated state because the

stress has become beyond what our bodies

can cope with, because we've been cut off from

any normal ways we might cope with stress, so

at some point we just give up. That's that deer

in the headlights moment, the freeze moment.

It's just going to be easier if I just accept what

they're saying. They're right, I am a bad person

and I must listen to what they're saying, they

know what to do. I don't know what to do. I'll

just go with this.

Making The Invisible Visible

M: That’s all very familiar.

A: That's where you're having the dissociation

and the trauma bonding, because now, they're

the right ones, they've got power over you and

you're no longer able to think because the

stress is just too much. There's a particular

region of the brain that is turning off in trauma

and that's dissociation, when you freeze and

give in. I've talked about the alternation of

assault and leniency and, this is from Judith

Herman's wonderful book, what she calls “the

capricious granting of small indulgences”, so

they're stressing you, stressing you, stressing

you and then occasionally, giving you a little pat

on the back, or the bunch of flowers or ‘ I'm

sorry I hit you last night, darling’.

M: The way you’ve described it is really

impactful and visceral. I think a lot of people

reading this will have a much clearer

understanding of what trauma bonding is.

You named your book ‘Terror, Love and

Brainwashing’ which I think is such a brilliant

title. What made you call it that and what's the

book about?

A: Well I think it's everything I've been saying,

you know, the terror is that chronic feeding in of

stress by the perpetrator. The love, really

should in a way be in quotes because it's not

real love. It's that capricious granting of small

indulgences, or it's the charisma, the initial love

bombing. I mean, if a person is only horrible or

if a group is only horrible, you'd go away at the

first glance, but it's the “love” part that draws

“These are fear driven systems.

That is what is at their core.”

You know, it’s classic, and you're so grateful for

that and it strengthens the trauma bond,

because then you think: they do care about me,

they do love me, this is the right place to be.

This is the organisation – or relationship - I

should be in. But they never give you enough

comfort. In a healthy relationship, you can calm

down adequately from all the stress, and they

also let you go, you know, a good friend will

listen to you say I'm totally stressed I can't

stand it anymore, but they're not going to hang

on to you. You’ll say goodbye and then go on

with your life. And maybe connect later to them

on another issue, or to get comfort again. But

they also let you go, whereas in a trauma bond

relationship they won't give you enough

comfort, just enough to keep you hooked and

they're hanging on to you, but not enough for

you to have independence, to go off

independently and continue life as an

independent autonomous person with agency.

people in. When I say “love” I'm using that in a

very loose sense, it is charisma, it is attraction,

it is whatever. But the terror comes first,

because these are fear driven systems. That is

what is at their core and if you use those two

things like Zablocki said, the alternation of

assault and leniency is another way of saying

terror and love, right? You can create a

brainwashed aka coercively controlled person.

So, in my book I'm trying to break down the

central dynamic and I'm trying to show how it

works, how they isolate you and how they

engulf you within their own system, how the

structure does that, and how this comes from

the leader’s personality. I talk about how they

are charismatic and authoritarian, so they're

like a charismatic bully, but they have to have

both those elements. Donald Trump is a classic

example of that.

Making The Invisible Visible

And coming from the leader’s personality the

system is created which include these

attributes of love and terror, right? It really

stems from the leaders personality, they had an

unhappy childhood, I'm sure they were abused

in childhood, and then they get to act out on

everyone else. I then trace how that works in

the structures they create, which are isolating

structures. The belief systems they create are

also isolating in that, you know, if you don't

believe what we think we're not going to talk to

you. It's very us and them.

There's a lot to be said about how the belief

systems support this. I try to carry it all the way

through, to try to explain how cults and, for that

matter, totalitarian states work and I'm trying to

link it also to domestic abuse because I'm

such as sleep deprivation and so forth, and

help prevent people escaping, like control of

finances, and so forth and that's what

scholarship is, right? We build on and around

other scholars’ work. No one can explain

everything with everything so my focus is on

the control of people's trusted loving


M: That's really fascinating. Who is the book

aimed at?

A: I made a best effort to make it readable, so

that it wasn't just an academic book. I wanted it

to be helpful to people who had experienced

coercive control and I'd love it if educators read

it and use it and legislators, you know,

lawmakers or governmental folks would read it.

“This is a fundamental dynamic in human relationships and it can

happen on any scale. One person to one person all the way up to a

totalitarian state, such as Hitler's Germany, Pol Pot's Cambodia."

saying this is a fundamental dynamic in human

relationships and it can happen on any scale.

One person to one person all the way up to a

totalitarian state, such as Hitler's Germany, Pol

Pot's Cambodia, the Kims’ North Korea and so

forth. We can trace the way the structures work

and the way the belief systems work to show

that and the way people's personal lives are

controlled. There's many other elements of that

control which I think Janja Lalich and other cult

scholars deal with very well and I haven't dealt

with them so much because other people have.

So, all of the things like sleep deprivation,

group influence, social modelling. Some of the

things Janja talks about- systems of influence

and systems of control- all of those I also agree

with, I just put a sharp focus on the control of

personal relationships because once you

control those, people have no escape hatch

and then you kind of have them, and you can

supplement that with these other things that

also help the dissociation,

A lot of my readers aren't academics, I've

worked with a lot of ex cult members who've

found me because they read the book so I think

it is readable. It is a dense read and it's not a

happy read because it's basically all about

trauma. I don't think there isn’t a person who

either has experienced this or knows someone

fairly close to them who has experienced it.

You know, the thing about cults right now is

what domestic abuse was 40 years ago. I'm old

enough to remember where there was nothing

but stereotypes about domestic violence - the

drunken Irish, you know, after the husbands

came home drunk from the pub. You know, that

was the stereotype. But some of my peers

were working in the very first women's shelters

that got set up in squats in London and, you

know, that's my generation.

Making The Invisible Visible

There was a movement, a women's movement

that brought that abuse out of its hidden place

within the home and now we have a law, we

have education about it. We've got a long way

to go but it's come out of the shadows as an

issue. Cults are still 40 years behind, it's still a

hidden issue. I cannot tell you the number of

times I run into people where I'm giving a

lecture and they say, “Oh wow I realised I've

been in a cult” or “I was in a cult and I didn't

know that's what it was”, as they've not had a

language for it because it's been a hidden

issue. When I speak about it nearly everyone,

or at least a large proportion of people go:

“Wow you know, yeah, my brother was in

something I always thought it was funny” or “I

was in something”, you know, they start to be

able to name this thing.

M: Also multi- level marketing.

A: Absolutely, absolutely. I did an interview for

the BBC, ‘Ellie Undercover’ a series on BBC

Three and she did a wonderful really intelligent

piece of work on that. Yeah, those are going

rampant. I'm sure they're really taking off now

that everyone's sitting at home with nothing but

their internet, so that's definitely an area of


M: It’s so important that people understand


A: That’s the value of education. There needs

to be more public health based preventive

education, because we can learn to identify

these dynamics and protect

“we have a hidden epidemic of cults and also cults are very

secretive so they're not out there advertising themselves.”

So we have a hidden epidemic of cults and

also cults are very secretive so they're not out

there advertising themselves. There are certain

ones I'm very worried about right now in the

UK, the wellness area, there's a lot of stuff

happening under the guise of wellness, and

then a lot of Pentecostal cults are targeting

especially minority communities - and I feel

they're being a little bit ignored because you

know it's a lot of young black kids or

communities that tend to have less of a voice.

But there's heavy recruitment going on in those

communities, and that worries me, and I want

to be somebody who's speaking about that and

saying, you know, we need to be concerned

about that. The most recent one being SPAC

Nation where there was some publicity but

there are many others like that group or


The 2nd Edition of

Terror, Love and

Brainwashing: Attachment in

Cults and Totalitarian


will be released on

March 18th 2021.

Available on

Making The Invisible Visible

For more information on

Alexandra Stein Ph.D.

Books by Alexandra Stein:

Terror, Love and Brainwashing:

Attachment in cults and totalitarian


Inside Out: A Memoir of Entering

and Breaking Out of a Minneapolis

Political Cult

Secrets of the Multi-Level

Millionaires: Ellie Undercover -


Available on BBC iPlayer

Making The Invisible Visible

Robert J Lifton

Robert Jay Lifton is an American psychiatrist and author, known for his work on the

psychological causes and effects of wars and political violence, as well as for

his theory of thought reform.

Robert J Lifton began to interview American

servicemen who had been prisoners of war

during the Korean War in 1953. His 1961 book

Thought Reform and the Psychology of

Totalism: A Study of "Brainwashing" in China,

which was based on this research, was a study

of coercive techniques used in the People's

Republic of China. He described this process

as "thought reform" or "brainwashing".

In the book, Lifton outlined eight criteria for

thought reform:

Milieu Control.

This involves the control of information and

communication both within the environment

and, ultimately, within the individual, resulting in

a significant degree of isolation from society at


Mystical Manipulation.

The manipulation of experiences that appears

spontaneous but is, in fact, planned and

orchestrated by the group or its leaders to

demonstrate divine authority, spiritual

advancement, or some exceptional talent or

insight that sets the leader and/or group apart

from humanity, and that allows a

reinterpretation of historical events, scripture,

and other experiences. Coincidences are

interpreted as omens or prophecies.

Demand for Purity.

The world is viewed as black and white and the

members are constantly exhorted to conform to

the ideology of the group and strive for

perfection. The induction of guilt and/or shame

is a powerful control device used here.


Sins, as defined by the group, are to be

confessed either to a personal monitor or

publicly to the group. There is no

confidentiality; members' "sins," "attitudes," and

"faults" are discussed and exploited by the


Making The Invisible Visible

Sacred Science.

The group's doctrine or ideology is considered

to be the ultimate Truth, beyond all questioning

or dispute. Truth is not to be found outside the

group. The leader, as the spokesperson for

God or all humanity, is likewise above


Loading the Language.

The group interprets or uses words and

phrases in new ways so that often the outside

world does not understand. This jargon

consists of thought-terminating clichés, which

serve to alter members' thought processes to

conform to the group's way of thinking.

Doctrine over person.

Members' personal experiences are

subordinated to the sacred science and any

contrary experiences must be denied or

reinterpreted to fit the ideology of the group.

Dispensing of existence.

The group has the prerogative to decide who

has the right to exist and who does not. This is

usually not literal but means that those in the

outside world are not saved,unenlightened,

unconscious, and must be converted to the

group's ideology. If they do not join the group or

are critical of the group, then they must be

rejected by the members. Thus, the outside

world loses all credibility. In conjunction, should

any member leave the group, he or she must

be rejected also.

source: Wikipedia

Making The Invisible Visible

Christian Szurko



Szurko been helping emerging members and exmembers

of totalist groups since 1973. He founded DialogCentre

UK, (a charity since 2000) in 1984. It works to undo harm caused

by destructive belief systems and aims to educate the public

about manipulative influence.

M: Thank you so much for agreeing to be interviewed. I always enjoy talking to you, I learn so

much. Here is my first question: Is there a difference between indoctrination, coercion and

undue influence?

C: What a great question. I'll start by saying undue influence is primarily a legal term from

contract law. It's long been recognised that it is possible to influence someone in such a way,

that they make a contract to their own disadvantage, not because they wish to disadvantage

themselves but because they've been persuaded by unusual circumstances.

The classic example would be if a carer was looking after an elderly person, talked them into

disinheriting their family and giving all their money to the carer, that would not be a normal

situation unless the family was really dysfunctional and the carer was this amazing person,

which of course is the impression that's always intended. In most cases what you're looking at

is undue influence. I'm going to put that to one side for a moment. I might get back to it and I

might not, that leaves us with coercive control versus indoctrination and I suppose the

distinction that has to be made is that indoctrination usually refers to bringing somebody into a

school of thought, or a body of thought, so that they are being confronted with an authority from

outside of the relationship. You go to your Rabbi or you go to your priest, your Imam or some

New Age guru or whatever and although your relationship is with them, they are representing

an authority beyond themselves, or they claim to be and on the basis of that, your obedience to

them is required of you.

Indoctrination can be as innocent as teaching someone how something works, in the grander

scheme of things. When you join the armed forces, in a sense you're indoctrinated, you go to

higher education and in a sense you're indoctrinated because you learn within that framework.

You are learning certain disciplines and skills which will enable you to understand what you're

doing and those skills may not be suitable outside of that particular school so whether it's

psychology or chemistry or biology or physics or mathematics or whatever it is, you're learning

a system of knowledge which is peculiar to that system, to your body of thought and you're

learning to think in those terms.

Making The Invisible Visible

There’s that wonderful joke about the three

men on a train driving along into the

countryside and they see some sheep and

most of them are white and one of them is

black, and the engineer says, 'Oh look, sheep.'

The chemist, supposedly says, 'well, we see

some sheep, and a black one', and the

mathematician says, 'well, what we see is

some sheep that are white on the side we can

see, and one that is black on the side that we

can see.' That kind of teasing out teaches you

a way of thought, which then carries over to

more general things. Mathematicians, do see

the world differently from, say, a historian or

literature professor and that's natural so that's a

kind of indoctrination too but I think what you're

addressing is whether the indoctrination is

damaging and I guess that's my area of

M: That's really interesting, when you’re locked

in a room for 30 years, you don't come out with

the outlook on life as somebody who has grown

up outside. When you gave your talk at the

Conference on Coercive Control at Goldsmiths,

you said something which actually was at the

time just blew my mind, but I've actually

forgotten what it was. It was something about a

table and how you can manipulate someone's

thoughts. Do you remember what it was?

C: One particular thing that I use as an

illustration about altering a person's internal

reality, when I feel confident that I won’t frighten

people half to death is what I call the difference

between reality with a capital 'R' and reality

with a small 'r'.

“Mathematicians, do see the world differently from, say,

a historian or literature professor and that's natural”

concern as well and where that differs from

coercive control and my understanding is that

the focus of power rests with the abuser so

even when someone is using something else to

control somebody, it's really all about him or

her. So there was a fellow in South London

some time ago, Comrade Bala, who was

running his own little thing which started out as

a kind of a Maoist extremist political thing and

before long it turned into this thing where he

had supernatural powers and he had a satellite

in the sky watching people in case they tried to

escape the house and it included all sorts of

spiritual knowledge, but really it was about him.

He kept his daughter in the room for 30 years

and in her case, I suppose you could say this is

where indoctrination and coercive control

overlap because he was pretending to

indoctrinate when in fact he was controlling. I

don't know if that quite answers your question

but the overlap is important.

Reality with a capital 'R' is the stuff that doesn't

change just because I believe, or don't believe

it's true. So, I have a desk in front of me. No

matter how much I wish I could walk straight

ahead I can't, because there's a desk right in

front of me and I have to walk around it. I may

have also used the example of not walking

through doors. What you’re thinking of is the

way we alter somebody's internal reality and

how once a person's internal reality has been

mutated, they will act according to their internal

reality because we all tend to act according to

what we believe is really true. The example I

use, and you'll remember why I'm careful with it

when I tell it to you, is that if I were presented

to you as some guru with great wisdom, and I

persuaded you over a period of time that I had

unique knowledge that Earth was being

invaded by invisible spiders and these invisible

spiders could hide themselves anywhere but

they had to come out once a day, at a certain

time of day, to feed on human blood.

Making The Invisible Visible

They only came out for five minutes in each 24

hours and, if they found you and fed on your

blood, you would die a horrible death but the

spiders have a weakness, they can't stand loud

piercing noises and they can't climb vertical

objects. If I could persuade you of that, I could

control your behaviour same as if I'm in a room

with you and holding a gun to your head and

say stand on the table and scream. You might

do it while I'm standing there pointing a gun at

you, but once I leave the room, you're naturally

not going to stand on the table again, if I’m not

there holding the gun, but if I persuade you of

these invisible spiders and this horrible death, I

don't have to be in the room with you ever

again because I've changed your internal

reality and in your world, in the world you really

live in, the only way to save your life is to stand

It's not like some special whammy that one

person puts on another, it is the misuse of

legitimate communication. You go to school,

and you're being influenced, you're learning

that two and two equals four and not 18. You

are learning that there are certain commutable


This is how reality works. If you want to be

friends with reality, you have to let reality be

reality and accommodate it in your daily life. If

you try to walk through walls, you will get hurt,

repeatedly. If you try to fly out of a window you

will get hurt, maybe only once if you're high

enough, but it'll be the last time, so reality

makes certain requirements of us and within it

we have to accept its rules.

“If I could persuade you of that, I could control your behaviour

same as if I'm in a room with you and holding a gun to your head.”

on the table and scream for five minutes at the

same time the next day and every day from

then on. If you're a nice person and so many

people who join an abusive group are nice

people, you're going to try and save as many

people you know as possible so you're going to

try and persuade them to stand on the table

and scream for five minutes the same time

every day.

M: That's really interesting and also really


C: One of the things I try and get people to

realise is that practically nothing that goes

wrong, happens in a vacuum. Practically

everything that goes wrong, is a version of

what would normally go right, if that makes

sense. So, destructive manipulation is almost

entirely the illegitimate use of legitimate means

of communication.

We're doing that all the time, it's a perfectly

normal thing to teach your child to walk, to

teach a child not to run with scissors, you teach

them not to touch the hot stove, all those things

and that's influence, but it's not harmful

influence because you're teaching the child to

live in reality, the child won't get hurt if he

remembers, not to do certain things and will

actually grow up to be a functional adult.

Manipulative destructive influence occurs when

we teach people something not so they

function better in society, but so that we can

control them better. Bala teaching all these

weird things about himself wasn't him teaching

them how to stay safe, he was teaching them

how to please him, how to obey him. It was all

about him. If you suspend your disbelief, for a

moment and just listen to him I suspect that

most of what he says would just sound the

same as an arithmetic teacher teaching

addition and subtraction or a history teacher,

explaining the Battle of Waterloo.

Making The Invisible Visible

What made the difference is that he used the

legitimate mechanisms of communication that

we all use 1,000 times a day to teach people

things that were only going to serve him, so

you have to be afraid of outsiders, you can't

talk to these people, you can't have any

friends, can't leave the house unless he gave

permission, you have to report back whatever

you've done - all these other things that he

would have indoctrinated them with. If we want

to call it indoctrination that would have been

solely for the purpose of making him the centre

of their reality.

M: Can I just ask you a question? This is

something that I really struggle to get my head


I'm just wondering how much gaslighting needs

to occur, for people to doubt their own

intelligence, their own reality and just go along

with it, if that makes sense.

C: That makes sense. It more than makes


M: Ah, good because I think I’ve just confused


C: We have an old fairy tale that reminds us of

this and it's the Emperor's New Clothes. This

is, this is what you were talking about the fact is

that we all are afraid of looking stupid if we say

“I don’t know what you’re talking about”, so we

just let all this nonsense waft over us and waft

it does, until we no longer feel that we dare

"The inflation of a problem into crisis is a great way to manipulate

somebody, if you can make them experience some kind of relief. "

I will listen to people talk, or I will read

something and although I understand the

meaning of each of the words, I can’t make any

sense of what is meant when they are joined

up together and I really can’t make out what it

is that that person or piece of writing is trying to

say. The reason I'm saying this is because I've

been watching documentaries on the NXIVM

cult and listening to Keith Raniere speak, and

what comes out of his mouth is complete

rubbish but he’s managed to convince so many

people that it’s really deep and profound.

I bring this up because it’s not uncommon for a

New Age-y type of spiritual situation, where

people talk the language of personal growth

and self-improvement and I haven't understood

any of it, but everyone else is nodding and I've

been too embarrassed to admit that I just didn't

know what the heck they're talking about.

speak up at all because every second that we

allow a person to talk nonsense without

challenge is another second where it gets

harder and harder to challenge. I think of it as a

version of procrastination. The longer I

procrastinate at any task, the harder it is to

make myself do that task, but when it's

something like this, where your reputation is

invested, your ego is invested, your public face

is invested in not looking stupid, it gets even

worse because now, speaking up and saying

you don’t understand does two things: One, it

exposes you to ridicule if the idea is really easy

and any reasonable manipulator will endeavour

to make it look like that and two, the person is

likely to just waft the audience with even more

BS , it’s like listening to a perpetual Boris

Johnson where the words come tumbling out,

but attempting to make sense out of them is

another story altogether and somewhere,

somebody has to stand up and say the

Emperor is naked, but nobody wants to do that

Making The Invisible Visible

and if they do, the rest of the group will turn on

them. It’s very difficult and gets more difficult

along the way, if it doesn’t happen. Gaslighting,

in a situation like that becomes almost a group

task or group project, because every single

person there is invested in whatever nonsense

they're hearing being true.

M: I've certainly been in many situations where

I wanted to speak up but didn’t.

C: You may remember that on the talk that I

gave, that you were referring to earlier, that one

of the ways of controlling somebody's internal

reality is to alter their state of consciousness.

It's most common with things like certain kinds

of guided visualisations and meditations and

the use of indirect hypnosis and things like that.

They are telling you that the real essence of all

your problems is x and the real solution to all

your problems is y. That may sound like hokum

until somebody does something to you, which

makes you feel great. You feel great and why

do you feel great? I feel great, because this

person came at me and said your problem is x

my solution is y and look at me, I feel great

everything's solved so it must be true and that

acts as a confirmation it manipulates and

exploits, what we think we need. It causes us to

reinterpret what we've just heard and how we

fit into what we've just heard, and it shifts us

away from our previous point of view, to say,

Gosh, there must be more to this, and look all

these other people are experiencing something


"Gaslighting, in a situation like that becomes almost a group task

or group project, because every single person there is invested in

whatever nonsense they're hearing being true."

You can also create what I call an inflated crisis

which is then followed by an easy resolution,

which gives you this amazing rush of being

competent, of being healed, of being sorted out

and of being okay again. And all of this comes

to a head in the person.

M: I’ve definitely experienced that. Being in a

group where you’ve been asked to think about

something that you find really upsetting and

then whoever it is tries to ‘fix’ it with some kind

of meditation or chanting to remove the

memory or the trauma or whatever they are

trying to heal you from.

C: All of this comes to a head in the person as

they experience an adrenaline rush and they’re

also getting serotonin, all the good things are

happening in the body and you think “Wow, I

feel great.” And that sense of feeling great acts

as a confirmation that the setting in which you

were made to feel great is telling you the truth.

So that's further confirmation I'm not only

experiencing it myself and I'm seeing all these

other people having an experience just like me.

There was one derivation from Scientology that

used to do this much more simply, they were

just called weekend seminars and at one of

their seminars they had people lay on the floor

and visualise what they were most frightened of

and they would induce terror in them. Then

they would bring them around to realise that

however terrified they were, everybody else is

terrified too, and therefore there is no terror

because everybody else is tiptoeing around

everything else and so and so they induce this

false sense that there's nothing to be afraid of.

The exhilaration of feeling fearless was

sufficient for many people to confirm, for them,

that this really worked, this stuff really really

worked and I’m going to get all my friends and

family into this.

Making The Invisible Visible

That kind of manipulation of our personal

experience, the inflation of a problem into

crisis, is a great way to manipulate somebody if

you can make them experience some kind of


M: Yeah, that makes sense. So basically, so

what these techniques are doing. Let me see if

I've got this right, so what these techniques are

doing is they're inducing a kind of a fight or

flight state, with adrenaline and cortisol and

what have you and then what they do is they

flood your body with endorphins and serotonin

to act as a soothing mechanism if you like.

C: And along with it comes a sense of victory a

sense of achievement that’s being interpreted

in real time.

It could be absolutely anything, it can be a hug

- a legitimate form of communication, but a hug

can be used to manipulate a person and the

same with complimenting you to make you feel

really good.

M: Yes, I’ve certainly been in situations where

I’ve been complimented on my aura and, if only

I spend a substantial amount of money, I would

be able to harness certain powers or step on

an ascension pathway that few would ever be

on, because I had an amazing aura, and

apparently I was a higher vibrational being. I

couldn’t see my aura and was just expected to

take their word for it. There's something very

hierarchical and unpleasant about it.

"Destructive manipulation is largely if not entirely the illegitimate

use of legitimate means of communication."

You see, you didn't even believe this worked,

and it worked anyway. And look how good you

are at doing it, even though you didn't

understand but you were able to make it work.

Depending on which group it is and how good

the leader is and how good the people under

the leader are, that can be twisted and twisted

and twisted in different ways to make it seem

like, gosh, this is the best thing ever.

M: That actually makes perfect sense and it

makes me think of how a legitimate therapist

could misuse that to get the same effect.

C: Okay, before we go into that let me just point

out what you just said there, that legitimate

therapies can be misused in the same way, this

takes me right back to the basic principle I laid

down in the beginning here that destructive

manipulation is largely if not entirely the

illegitimate use of legitimate means of


C: But the point is that you see complimenting

a person as not a bad thing. It's a perfectly

legitimate form of communication, but once

again, it can be twisted to manipulate, so I just

wanted to bring us back to that because that

principle helps to remember that I don't have to

be looking out for somebody to do some

special whammy to me, in order for me to be

facing somebody who might be trying to

manipulate me. I get a phone call from

somebody who claims that they're from some

company and they're going to say ordinary

sounding things to me they're not going to talk

to me about weird stuff. They're not going to try

and hypnotise me, they're not going to try and

do any magic to me. They're going to use

ordinary words, ordinary sentences to lie to me

and to take my money and to get my bank

account number, and so on and so on and so

on. The fact remains that we don't need to use

special things to influence each other, we

influence each other all the time.

Making The Invisible Visible

M: That's such an important thing to be aware


C: We all have our vulnerabilities, we all have

our gullibility areas and if you take the right

person at the right situation in their life, to the

right form of exploitation, they will have a very

strong likelihood of being exploited, that’s just

human nature and the important thing is not to

imagine that we can ever get to a point where

we are invulnerable, but to get to the point

where we recognise that we are vulnerable and

take care.

M: I think the only reason I'm not in Scientology

right now is because I couldn't afford the book.

You laugh, but I am really gullible and I know


and that's a perfectly natural thing to do, it’s

when it’s interfered with that it can become a

problem or it can become a good thing. For

example, if I'm reading a novel, and it’s a really

well written novel, the likelihood is that my

immediate surroundings will fade into the

background and I’ll almost forget where I am. I

may lose track of time and suddenly be

surprised when I've got to turn the light on

because I physically can't see the page of the

book right now, because three hours have

passed and it’s dark. Most people can

remember a time where they’ve had that

experience happen. Now people watch movies

and you can become lost and forget, oh my

goodness, is it that time already? Those are

examples of altered states of consciousness,

different levels of sleep, likewise.

"If you take the right person at the right situation in their life,

to the right form of exploitation,

they will have a very strong likelihood of being exploited."

M: So here's a question, can you tell if you're

being hypnotised?

C: Well, that’s a big question for a lot of

reasons. There’s still so much controversy over

exactly what hypnosis is. There are still people

who insist that it doesn’t really exist and then

there is the question of, if it exists, what exactly

is it? I tend to think in terms of the pragmatic

observation of it, rather than how I observe it,

or can anyone observe it on a neurological

scan of the brain or anything like that, although

I'm sure that will prove to be interesting, if it

works and becomes decisive, I'd be interested

to see it.

I tend to prefer, for that reason, to think of

altered states of consciousness because again,

an altered state of consciousness is something

that happens, it's probably best to say, really,

that we are constantly altering our state of

consciousness according to what we're doing

On the practical side, it is possible for other

people to influence the way our attention is

focused, or the way it is withdrawn from

something. It's possible to alter our state of

consciousness and that's what hypnosis does,

just like that's what guided visualisation does,

just like that's what meditation is. It alters our

state of consciousness, making us sensitive to

different things and making us ignore different


That's a normal process and we can do it all by

ourselves or someone can interfere in it for

good purposes, like when you go to a dentist

and he uses a mild form of hypnosis so you

don't feel pain. It can be done, people even like

to do to themselves or it can be used for

entertainment, we watch someone like Derren

Brown hypnotise somebody and you realise

that we can do some quite penetrating things

with hypnosis and it can be done in other


Making The Invisible Visible

I know people who would say where is the line

between hypnosis, guided visualisation, guided

meditation, group meditation, where are the

lines between all those things? I have to say

there's not a clear line between them, maybe

they'll turn out to be just different perspectives,

maybe meditation is a special way of

hypnotising ourselves. I can't come down on it,

one side or the other. What I come down on is

whether someone is using it to make me less

able to function in reality, then it’s harmful.

That's how I would look at that. I don't know if

that even answers your question?

For more information on Christian Szurko and

DialogCentre, please go to

The DialogCentre UK is a non-denominational

Christian organization serving people

regardless of their religious orientation. They

offer assistance to the members and exmembers

of abusive religious, political and

philosophical groups, and to their family and


M: It’s gone beyond answering the question

because it’s made me think and you’ve made it

really relatable to a lot of things. I always enjoy

our talks,thank you so much.

Making The Invisible Visible

Dr Lenore Walker

Cycle of Violence

Dr Lenore E Walker is

an American

psychologist who

founded the Domestic

Violence Institute to

research family


She documented the

cycle of abuse and is

the author of The

Battered Woman, for

which she won the

Distinguished Media

Award in 1979.

She was inducted into

the Colorado Women's

Hall of Fame in 1987

Also by Lenore Walker:

The Battered Woman

Terrifying Love: Why

Battered Women Kill

and How Society


Abused Women and

Survivor Therapy: A

Practical Guide For The





Walker developed the cycle of

abuse in 1979 to explain patterns of

behaviour in an abusive relationship.

and to describe the recurring patterns

of calm, violence, and reconciliation

within an abusive relationship

For her research, Walker interviewed 1,500 women

who had been subject to domestic violence and found

that there was a similar pattern of abuse. She originally

used the term "the battering cycle" and "battered

woman syndrome" to describe what she found

and proposed that the cycle of abuse described the

controlling patriarchal behavior of men who felt entitled

to abuse their wives to maintain control over them. It

has since been called the 'cycle of abuse' because the

cycle doesn't always lead to physical violence and has

been observed in both men and women, both straight

and same-sex relationships as well as outside of

intimate relationships.

There are four phases to the cycle which repeats until

there is either an intervention or the survivor gets out

of the relationship.This phase doesn’t necessarily have

a specific duration. It can last for weeks, months, or

years before it goes around again, often intensifying

with time.

1: Tension building

Stress builds from the pressures of daily life, like

conflict over children, financial problems,

unemployment, or catastrophic events, like floods, war

or, as now, in a pandemic. During this period, the

abuser feels ignored, threatened, annoyed or wronged.

The feeling lasts on average several minutes to hours,

although it may last as long as several months. To

prevent violence, the victim may try to reduce the

tension by becoming compliant and nurturing.

Alternatively, the victim may provoke the abuser to

break the tension and get the abuse over with.

Making The Invisible Visible

'The Cycle of Abuse' by Lenore Walker

2: Incident

During this stage outbursts of abuse

occur which may be verbal,physical

and psychological. The release of

energy reduces the tension. The

abuser may feel or express that the

victim "had it coming" to them.

3: Reconciliation

The perpetrator may begin to feel

remorse, guilt, or fear that their partner

will leave or call the police. This phase

is characterized by affection, apology,

or, alternatively, ignoring or denying

the incident occured. This perpetrator

will often promise that it will never

happen again, or that they will do their

best to change. Most shower the

survivor with love and affection or may

use self-harm or threats of suicide to

gain sympathy to prevent the survivor

from leaving the relationship.

4: Calm

This is the honeymoon/reconciliation

phase where the relationship is

relatively calm and peaceful. During

this period the abuser may agree to

counselling, ask for forgiveness, and

create a normal atmosphere. The

perpetrator may buy presents, help

more with the house and children and

sex is often passionate. Over time, the

tension starts to build up and the cycle

is repeated.

Making The Invisible Visible

Dr. Janja Lalich



Lalich is Professor Emerita of Sociology and author of several books. She

has written and lectured extensively, has advised the international intelligence

community on extremism and indoctrination, and has served as consultant and

expert witness in civil and criminal cases.

"Those New Age self-help programmes, or even leadership training

programmes in the business world, are rampant with the same kind of

techniques that are used in cults"

M: What made you decide to go into this direction?

J: I was in a cult myself in the ‘70s and ‘80s. I was 30 years old when I joined, and I was in for

about ten and a half years. I already had my bachelor's degree. When I got out of the cult, after

a number of years, once I got my head screwed on right again, I went to grad school and got

my PhD and taught sociology at one of the California State Universities. I retired several years

ago. Even before I went to grad school, I had several books about cults and recovery published

and was giving talks and going to conferences. In the end, it's become my life's work trying to

basically educate the public about cults and the harm of these groups.

M: I recently watched the documentary Seduced about the NXIVM cult and you were one of the

experts featured. The part of Seduced that probably had the biggest impact on me was actually

something you said. It’s about 20 minutes in, in the first episode, and you said: “The practice of

EM’s, where they would have people think back to some traumatic experience in their life and

relive it, is very scary, because the people in leadership are not professional therapists.” That

really struck a chord with me, because this idea of opening up a traumatic event and going

really deeply into it, is something I see a lot of in the self- help arena.

J: Yes, absolutely. Those New Age self- help programmes, or even leadership training

programmes in the business world, are rampant with the same kind of techniques that are used

in cults, and one of them is getting people to open up, usually in front of many other people and

share very personal traumatic things. That's very dangerous and can have absolutely

devastating effects for the individual.

Making The Invisible Visible

M: It doesn’t surprise me that you say that. I've

experienced similar on more than one occasion

and maybe you could explain this so it makes

sense, because I don't really understand, but

when you are expected to open up about

something really traumatic and so you end up

in tears, they always seem to offer some quick

fix solution and the participants invariably end

up saying, “Oh, it's so powerful.” I just don't

think it's powerful at all. I just think it's really


J: We call those high-arousal techniques. They

get the person emotionally aroused, hyped up

either in happiness or in sadness and so, when

they're in that state, they're obviously much

more vulnerable and much more easily


Everybody wants their problem solved right

away and so it fits right in with that culture,

which started back in the 1970s with the selftransformational

programmes at that time and

what was called humanistic psychology and

encounter groups, which opened up this whole

field. It's very complex, and it's unfortunate,

because so many people are drawn into.

M: I have to admit I've been drawn into it more

than once. They seem to draw you in with

flattery, you know, you're so amazing, I can see

your aura, you've got such a wonderful aura,

such a high vibration, you are on the ascension

path, and you don't even know it. It’s all come

and join my group, buy a shedload of crystals

and you will be an Ascended Master and

change the world.

"They get the person emotionally aroused, hyped up either in happiness or

in sadness and so, when they're in that state, they're obviously much more

vulnerable and much more easily manipulated."

Especially if these are in group settings, then

you have the whole effect of the peer pressure,

where people are cheering and clapping or

crying along with you, or whatever it might be,

which intensifies the experience and then they

offer you some kind of pablum statement or

solution and the person thinks “Oh my God,

this has just been transformational.” Part of the

problem is that these effects don't last and

that's why people keep going back to these

sessions because they want to feel that high

again and they want to have that reinforcement

again. So they keep going back for more and

more and more and that's how these outfits

make their money, obviously; but it's very, very

dangerous because it's practising a form of

therapy without a licence. No therapy should be

like that. We can put it in that category of

messing with people's minds. We see so much

of that today, at least in American society

because it's very much a quick fix society.

It's so similar to the love bombing of being in an

intimate relationship where there is coercive

control or, you know, being with narcissist. It is

so so similar.

J: Yes, exactly. I was just going to say it's what

we call “love bombing” and then it's the back

and forth of that. One moment you're

wonderful, in the next moment you're a piece of

crap, right? It's that punishment/ reward


M: Is that what you'd call trauma bonding,

where you are put you on a pedestal and then

kicked off it?

J: I think that's definitely one form of trauma

bonding and we see it in so many different

contexts, and certainly in domestic

relationships, that's been one of the hallmarks

for years.

Making The Invisible Visible

" Those terms are used in a way that control you and bind you

further to the group or the relationship."

M: You're my soul mate or you’re not my soul

mate, you're my twin flame, you're so much

more than a soul mate. I had that experience of

someone trying to convince me into believing I

was his twin flame. I wasn’t really buying it so

he sent me to all these various spiritual

practitioners, hoping they would tell me that I

was his twin flame and they all said he wasn’t

my twin flame, it was somebody else, and he

immediately called them all charlatans!

J: That's funny. It's not funny, but it's funny. You

know there's a group called Twin Flames.

M: I found out yesterday, which is why I

suddenly thought of that.

J: It's a quite damaging group, in my opinion. A

reporter in Canada did a big article on them

and then they tried to sue her. I was quoted in

the article and they sent me threatening emails.

They are all internet based, as far as I know.

M: Going back to Seduced, you talked about

Keith Raniere taking feminist terms and giving

them new meanings and using something

that's familiar to people but using it in a way

that's actually tearing them down. Could you

expand on that, as I think it is a really important

point. Why they do it, and also how to

recognise what they're doing, if that's possible?

J: I don't know if you're familiar with the work of

Robert Lifton. He is a psychiatrist who did the

first books on what he called “thought reform,”

or brainwashing. He studied the thought reform

programme in Communist China after Mao

became the leader and Lifton studied Korean

War veterans who’d been in prison camps.

Making The Invisible Visible

He has eight factors that, for him, signify what

he calls a “totalist environment” and one of

them is this concept called “loading the

language.” That is where they may take regular

terms and change the meaning or they may

create new terminology that just has meaning

within that group, or within that relationship,

and then those terms are used in a way that

control you and bind you further to the group or

the relationship, because only you know what

you're talking about, right? You and the others

in this group. It's a form of control because

when you hear these terms, this loaded

language, you automatically know what it

means and so, in a sense, it shuts down your

critical thinking.

concepts and beliefs but can’t really explain it,

because they themselves don’t understand it.

J: I worked a lot with Dr Margaret Singer, who

was a clinical psychologist, and for many years

was the foremost expert on cults and coercion.

When you see these leaders, these

authoritarian figures spouting off their

nonsense she would call it “trance talk.” It’s a

way of putting those of you who are sitting

there listening to this into a sort of trance,

because you really don't know what they're

saying and again, it's a way to shut down the

person’s critical thinking capabilities. It's like

you're in a daze listening to this stuff and

everybody's nodding and, in reality, it’s a rather

subtle way of controlling.

"They’ve become so ingrained in that cult world. It's a part of

creating that closed system, what I call the “Self-Sealing System”

You don't have to think about what is being

said, you just know immediately what it means

and then you know how to behave in

accordance with whatever those words are. It's

another very subtle form of the influence and

control in these kinds of abusive relationships

or abusive groups. I've worked with people and

sometimes when they come out of a group and

it's like they're not even speaking English and

they don't even realise it. They don't even

realise that they're using these words that

make no sense to anybody else. They’ve

become so ingrained in that cult world. It's a

part of creating that closed system, what I call

the “Self-Sealing System”, where you're

enclosed in this toxic environment.

M: That really does make sense. I've often

wondered why some groups use a very

esoteric language that I’m sure most people

are too embarrassed to admit they don't

understand, so they end up parroting the

M: What kind of a person becomes a cult


J: I think what we've seen over the decades is

that most of them are narcissists. They are ego

driven. Many of them have some form of

psychopathy, and they're individuals who want

to have power and want to control. They often

come across as very charming, but their

behaviour is also very erratic so that you never

know who’s going to turn up: is it the nice guy

or the monster? This keeps you on pins and

needles and in an anxious state. Their

motivations are primarily power and then,

within that, it may be whatever that person's

particular proclivities are, whether it's sex or

money or just plain power. Sex or money are

often involved. Cult leaders can be men or

women. The majority have been men but

certainly we've seen women cult leaders.

Making The Invisible Visible

It's all about them, about the follower being

completely devoted and being completely loyal

and serving that person's needs.

M: What kind of a person is susceptible to

being indoctrinated into a cult?

J: Any kind of person.

I would never have joined a meditation cult

because I can't sit still that long so that would

never have appealed to me. So the message

has to appeal to the person. And often it's at a

time when that individual may be vulnerable for

some reason or another. Being vulnerable is

not a disability, it's not a mental illness, it's not

something necessarily negative. It's something

we all experience many, many times in our

lives. You can be vulnerable if it's a rainy day,

you can be vulnerable if your dog just died, you

can be vulnerable if you just got a divorce, you

can be vulnerable if you've just moved to a new

town or graduated college or whatever it might

be. So, if in that moment, you come across

something on the internet or a flyer on a

bulletin board or your best friend invites you to

something, some kind of workshop or session.

at that moment you'll take that step because

that vulnerability actually creates a kind of

openness, that you're willing to find something

that's going to be an answer to whatever it is

you're worrying about at that moment. So there

really is no personality type that I've seen, and

it's both men and women who can be drawn

into cults. And people of all ages. In fact, today,

it's generally people who are older.

What kind of a person is susceptible to being

indoctrinated into a cult?

Janja: Any kind of person.

There is no one personality type. If there's any

common denominator, I would say it's idealism,

people who want to make a better world or

want to be better themselves or have better

family relations or whatever it might be; but it's

people who have some kind of idealism and

who then hear a message that resonates with

them. It has to be something that appeals to

you. I always use the example that I was in a

political cult and we were going to make

revolution, we were going to change the world.

That's what I was interested in.

Back in the ’70s, it was primarily young people

who were getting recruited into cults. That was,

more or less, the case back then with the Jesus

movement and the different groups that were

around at the end of the hippie era. Today it's

much more people in their late 20s, 30s and

40s because I think cults have learnt that they

want people who already have skills, who

already have money, who already have the

ability to lend legitimacy to the group and run

the group's businesses and bring in their

contacts. The queries that I get are from people

who are worried about their brother or sister,

their aunt or their spouse.

Making The Invisible Visible

It's not so much about young people anymore,

not that they aren't also getting recruited into

cults, but I don't think, at this point, it's the


M: Oh wow, I wouldn't have expected that at


J: In a sense, so many of these groups have

mainstreamed in that they've entered into

mainstream society, you know, all this New Age

stuff – talking to dead people and Ascended

Masters and all that – became very common

and everybody was buying crystals and there

were TV shows about ghosts and talking to

dead people. It became very normalised and

then it's gotten completely entrenched into the

business world.

J: Essentially in a cult, in some way or another,

the indoctrination is going to break down your

personal boundaries. The whole idea is to take

you apart and create a new you – a cult you.

So, in one way or another, they're going to strip

you of your personal boundaries and your

safety mechanisms in regards to relationships.

You have to completely open yourself up. It

may not be in the way that Raniere did it; but

there will be some way that that happens so

that the person loses their sense of self and

takes on what we call the cult persona, which is

why people who were friends or family often

recognise that somebody has really changed

and they're not the same person they were

before because they literally are not the same

person anymore.

"The whole idea is to take you apart and create

a new you – a cult you."

I think that's why we're seeing older individuals.

I don't mean people in their 70s and 80s, but

middle- aged people getting more and more

into these kinds of groups.

M: That makes sense. I became more

interested in my 40s, it was definitely a midlife

thing. Half of my life had gone and it hadn’t

gone the way I'd wanted it to and I was looking

for new meaning for the next half of my life.

Another thing I've noticed, both with how

Raniere behaved but also what I’ve seen

personally, is that lack of respect for someone's

personal space, always up close and personal

with the hugging, the touching or just standing

too close. With Raniere, it was the kissing on

the lips. Is breaching someone's personal

space a common thing to look out for?

M: Is there any advice you could give on what

to watch out for, if somebody was interested in

joining an empowerment group, New Age

group or anything. Is there any advice you

could give for what red flags to watch out for?

J: I think one of the red flags is being asked to

sign a waiver. With many of these groups, they

asked you to sign a waiver saying if something

happens to you, you won't hold them

accountable. If you're being asked to sign a

waiver like that, there must be something

wrong or the potential for something to go

wrong, so that should make you think twice.

Also, if you're feeling a lot of pressure, you're

constantly being pressured to go to the next

thing or sign up for the next thing, the kind of

pressure telling you this has to happen now, I

think that's definitely a signal. Trying to take up

all of your time so that you don't have time to

see the people you saw before, or do the things

you like to do, so you give up hobbies

Making The Invisible Visible

something you really don't know much about, I

think it's so important to just slow down and do

your research and be a good consumer.

M: If somebody were to find themselves in a

group that that they wanted to leave, what

steps could they take to get out safely?

J: That will depend on the group. I'd say most

groups aren't going to go after you, but some

groups do. The group I was in went after

people if they left and brought them back, put

them on trial and things like that. But, in most

cases, you can hopefully just walk away. It may

mean acknowledging that you were wrong to

make that choice or it may mean that you lose

money or lose friends or, in some cases, you

may even lose contact with family members

who may also be involved in the group.

or whatever it might be because they're eating

up more and more of your time is another red

flag. Also, not answering your questions. One

thing that is very typical, especially in the

beginning of recruitment, is you'll have

questions, but they don't ever really answer

them and your question gets turned back on

you. They'll often say you haven't seen enough

yet, you don't know enough yet, ask us that

question later, but later you aren't even going to

remember what the question was. So they're

definitely not answering in a straightforward

way. If they're not sharing with you, being

transparent about where the money goes, how

the money is spent, that kind of thing.

I think the most important thing for people is to

slow down, not jump right into something and

to do your research, just like you would do if

you were buying a house or buying a car.

There's so much information online these days

by people who have been in these groups or

participated in these programmes, and they've

written about it, so you can see what the

criticisms are. I think that's very important

because, once you sign your life away in that

way, which may not feel like signing your life

away, but you're giving yourself over to

I think the most important thing, if someone

does leave, is to find support systems to help

you through whatever recovery you may need.

Try to find books to read about recovery. Try to

find therapists who are familiar with the

aftereffects of cult membership. If you can find

a support group of other people who've been in

cults, these support groups are extremely

helpful because people see that they're not the

only one who got duped in a certain way. So, if

you're ready to leave, quietly make a plan and

then do it.

M: Would you say, if you're ready to leave, to

leave on your own or try and find somebody

else to leave with you?

J: That can be very tricky because in a lot of

groups that person will report you to the

leadership. Then they'll just do a whole

campaign to keep you in. So I'd say, in most

cases, it's probably more practical to leave on

your own and then, hopefully your leaving will

inspire other people to leave. I think the

Raniere case was a very important precedent,

a very important legal case that hopefully can

have an impact on other ones.

Making The Invisible Visible

Dr. Lalich can be reached via her website:

Books by Dr Lalich:

Bounded Choice: True Believers and

Charismatic Cults Take Back Your Life:

Recovering from Cults and Abusive


Escaping Utopia: Growing Up in a Cult,

Getting Out, and Starting Over is coauthored

with Karla McLaren, M.Ed.

Why Do People Join Cults is a TED-ED talk

with Dr Lalich .

There is a transcript available in 23 languages


Making The Invisible Visible

The techniques used by cult leaders to coerce, control and

groom are very similar to the tactics

used by domestic abusers.

These techniques are also employed by unscrupulous

therapists and 'New Age' healers who gravitate towards

women who have just come out of a relationship.

This is Melissa's* story

*names have been changed.


Making The Invisible Visible

He looked straight into my eyes and told

me that, for the treatment to work fully, I

would need to have sex with someone

other than my ex.

“ He told me of his 'service work'...all of his free meditation groups

which he insisted would help lift up the

vibration of humanity.”

I met Theo* at a Mind Body Spirit Festival. He

was offering Angel card readings and having

just read a book by Doreen Virtue about

angels, I was interested to know more. I can't

really remember much of what he said as the

venue was loud and the acoustics were bad.

He was very softly spoken, so I struggled to

hear. I noticed he had a habit of holding his

hands together, palms touching, in the prayer

position, it gave him an air of humility and

made me slightly less uncomfortable that he

was sitting very close to me. I was so close I

could feel the warmth of his breath which I did

find unnerving, but he seemed so gentle and

patient that, after the reading, I took his card

and left.

I had come to the festival with some girlfriends

who were really into 'New Age' stuff like tarot,

crystals and card readings, and they raved

about the event, how it had energised them,

how 'deep' it was and how it had raised their

vibrations but, at that point, I was still

undecided about the whole experience.

Not long after, I found out that my boyfriend of

four years had cheated with more than one

woman and the betrayal devastated me.

Having reached 'rock bottom', I remembered I

still had Theo's card and rang him to book a

'Crystal Healing' treatment. I couldn't really tell

you much about the session as I dozed off. He

had told me to fight off any urge to fall asleep

and suppress any urge to cough or sneeze but

I hadn't slept in several days, was exhausted

and could not stay awake.

At the begining of the 'treatment' he had asked

me to fill in a comprehensive form that asked

all kinds of questions about my personal life,

my medical history, even questions such as

whether or not I had had an abortion. Looking

back, I remember feeling uncomfortable but I

was desperate to stop feeling this aching grief

so I put all feelings of doubt aside to fill it in.

When he asked me what I was looking for, with

the treatment, I told him that I wanted to stop

feeling so devastated.

After the session, Theo suggested I choose

some crystals which would help continue the

work that he started. He had identified some

negative energy in me and told me to be

guided by my intuition as it would know which

crystals to choose to address that.

Making The Invisible Visible

On his suggestion I make another appoinment

so he could 'cut the cords' between me and my

ex. He told me that, at some level, he and I

were still attached and that it was preventing

me from healing and moving on and that a

'cutting the cord' exercise would sever the

connection between me and my ex boyfriend.

I didn't really understand what he meant. It was

all very 'far out' for me, but I had slept and so I

reasoned to myself that it was worth booking

another session just for the sleep.

The next time I arrived at his shop, he told me

he had some time as he had a cancellation and

so, if I could spare the time, we could have a

cup of tea and have a chat as knowing a little

more about me would enable him to give me a

much better 'treatment'. At the time I thought it

was incredibly generous of him to give me his

time and not charge me and interpreted it as

his commitment towards helping others.

This was further confirmed when he told me all

about his 'service work' that is, all of his free

meditation groups which he insisted would help

lift up the vibration of humanity and create a

kinder and more loving world. He was so soft

spoken, as he sat there on the floor with his

legs crossed, his mismatched socks and his

hands held in the prayer position, that I felt able

to open up to him quite easily.

By the time I had drunk all my tea, I had told

him all about my relationship break up and, in

turn, he told me how, in all of his past

relationships, he had been cheated on. I

remember thinking, at the time, of how unlucky

he was and that I should be grateful that I had

only had one relationship where someone had

been unfaithful. I felt real sympathy for Theo

and I tried to imagine what it must be like to

have every person you have been romantically

linked with cheat on you. I thought he was very

brave to be so open and honest and put

himself in such a vulnerable position by telling

a total stranger something so personal.

Making The Invisible Visible

I asked Theo if he had ever cheated and he

told me, in great detail, that he hadn't but his

ex-wives had thought he had because he was

always surrounded by women who were also

always phoning him. He assured me that he

would never have cheated on his wives but

they didn't understand that his work involved

coming into contact with a lot of women as

there were few men in his field of work and the

ones that were there were only there to meet

women, so women trusted HIM because he

was married and he wasn't a creep. He told me

he was helping the women on their journey on

the 'Ascension Path' and that it was his

obligation to maintain a soul connection with

each of them. At the time I had NO IDEA of just

what a red flag that was.

I didn't know what that meant but he proceeded

to tell me about my various past lives. What

struck me was how gruesome it was. In one

past life, my hand had been chopped off for

stealing bread for my family, in another, I had

been killed by a ruler who had feared my

healing power. I had also been buried alive,

witnessed my soulmate and children being

murdered and been cast out of society.The only

positive thing that came out of looking at my

past lives was that I had been a powerful

healer. Everything else was a mass of violence,

betrayal and despair. I was incredibly upset, felt

as though my whole existence was doomed

and broke down in tears but, I had already

been at Theo's shop for several hours and

needed to get home so I left in great distress.

"He told me he was helping the women on their journey on the

'Ascension Path' and that it was his obligation to maintain a soul

connection with each of them."

As Theo spoke, I too was starting to feel a

connection. He was trusting me with his

personal information and I was flattered that he

felt comfortable enough with me that he could

open up like this. His experiences also seemed

to put my troubles into perspective and made

me feel guity for seeming so selfish and only

thinking of myself when others had it far far


The second ‘ treatment ‘ was very different to

the first. He kept telling me to 'stay in the

moment' as he chanted out strange names that

he later told me were 'Ascended Masters'. He

also held a quartz pendulum over me to

'dowse'. When the session ended, it suddenly

got very dark. Theo told me that he had been

repairing some tears in my 'etheric field'.

The next day, Theo rang me to ask how I was.

He told me that I had an extraordinary soul and

an exceptionally high vibration and that once I

had learnt my past-life lessons, I would have a

magical life full of abundance and joy. I had

spent the night crying as I had felt so low so

this was good to hear. It was certainly better

than what I had envisaged for myself.

Determined to stop my past life from repeating

itself, I booked a third session with Theo.This

time, when I arrived at his shop, Theo was with

another woman. He introduced me to her as his

friend and told her about my exceptionally high

vibration and my potential to be a great healer.

She was really excited and promptly told me

that I had a wonderful aura, before hugging me

and telling me how blessed she was to have

met me. She then hugged Theo, who then

hugged me. To an outsider, it must have looked

as though we had known each other for years.

Making The Invisible Visible

A few days later, Theo rang me to say a crystal

had come into the shop and he felt that I would

be drawn to it. I went to take a look. It was a

beautiful geode and cost £470. I told him that it

was way too much but he told me to take it

home and connect with it, saying I could bring it

back, if I didn't want it. He told me that once I

had taken the crystal home, I would not want to

be without it and that money was not an issue

as he saw a life of abundance for me. I was

taken aback by his generosity and asked him if

he was worried that I would steal it. He told me

he had seen inside my soul and that we had

connected on a spiritual level and so it was 'all


For this 'treatment', Theo told me I needed to

learn certain 'karmic lessons' or else I would

always end with someone who would cheat on

me. He once again he told me of the many

women who had cheated on him and how he

understood my pain. I felt a huge surge of

warmth towards him and wanted to hug him but


I felt so guilty about having this hugely

expensive item entrusted to me that the next

day I paid him money I had put aside for my

rent. Looking back, I now realise that was the

point at which he "owned" me. I had invested a

huge amount of money I could not afford into

something that I now could not afford to fail.

It reminded me of all those pyramid schemes

selling water filters and the like, where an initial

investment was needed to travel up the rung,

but I put that thought to one side.

“The next day I paid him money I had put aside for my rent.

Looking back, I now realise that was the point at which he "owned" me.”

I once again lay down on the massage table as

Theo talked about chakras and energy points

whilst placing several crystals on me. He then

pulled out a velvet pouch and pulled out a rose

quartz phallus. He told me it would help heal

any sexual hang-ups that could be responsible

for me making poor relationship choices, before

placing the phallus on my pubic bone.

Theo told me that, if I was comfortable, I could

place the crystal phallus inside my underwear

but I wasn't. We continued the 'treatment' with

him once again calling on the 'Ascended


I pushed the thought away. I was on this earth

to heal people, it was my higher calling. If it

didn't work out, I could always sell the geode to

someone else and get my money back, I

reasoned, it was a win/win.

Theo sent me lots of texts and I noticed that he

had a very particular style of corresdponding.

Certain words would always be in capital

letters, words like: Healing, Love, Blessings,

Light, Energy, Higher Self, Universe.

Making The Invisible Visible

Theo asked me if I had any questions so he

made a cup of tea and we talked, as we ate the

left over sandwiches. At one point, Theo got up

and asked if I wanted a 'Bud'. I automatically

assumed he meant a beer so I accepted but,

he returned carrying a joint. It was my first time

smoking cannabis and I became woozy and

giggly. Theo told me how cannabis helps

people connect with their 'Higher Self'. He

suggested we meditate.

I soon noticed that he also talked like that,

using the inflections in his voice to denote

some kind of deeper spiritual meaning. He got

me to sign up to one of his crystal healing

courses. Yet more money, but I was on the train

and it hadn’t yet arrived at my destination. The

course would be held over a weekend.

With my new-found knowledge of the

properties of the crystals, I was keen to choose

the stones.He showed me another crystal

phallus and told me that the best way to break

my bonds with my ex and stop me being drawn

to bad relationships was to use it in my

meditation. I giggled, out of embarrassment but

was also very relaxed and so I allowed him to

lead me to his massage couch. Once again, he

placed the crystal on my pubic bone. I was

much more uninhibited than before, so placed it

inside my underwear. What followed next

seems vague. Maybe because it was the first

time I was stoned, I don’t know, but he looked

straight into my eyes and told me that, for the

treatment to work fully, I would need to have

sex with someone other than my ex.

“He also told me that the best way to break my bonds with my ex

and stop me being drawn to bad relationships

was to use the rose quartz crystal phallus.”

The night before the course, Theo rang to tell

me how much he was looking forward to

teaching and working with me. He suggested

that I place the geode at the foot of my bed in

order to absorb the healing energy in

preparation for the next day.

As soon as I arrived at his shop,Theo told me

he had 2 cancellations, so I was his only client.

I offered to go home, but he insisted on

teaching me so that I would be ready to work

with him sooner. The first day ended at around

5.00. It was interesting but intense as much of

what he said was new to me.

I remember laughingly telling him I wasn’t in the

mood to trawl the streets looking for someone

to have sex with me. At that point, he kissed

me. We ended up having sex and I stayed the


The following day was the second day of the

healing course and we spent it smoking weed,

looking at crystals and having sex. It was the

start of a relationship that would last several

weeks.Theo told me I was his 'soul mate', his

'twin flame'. He knew as soon as he saw me.

He saw a future for us, working together to

raise the vibration of the universe.

Making The Invisible Visible

My training consisted of working in Theo's

shop. He wanted me to get accustomed to the

various energies emitted by the different

crystals and it seemed like a good way of

increasing my knowledge, except, that he

never paid me. At the time, I was happy to work

for free. We were in a relationship, I reasoned,

and it had never entered my thoughts that he

could be exploiting me. It never occured to me

until afterwards.

I now realise that even though we were

supposedly in a relationship, he was still

charging me retail for the crystals. Four and a

half times more than he was paying for them.

Looking back, I was never paid for any work I

did and he always encouraged me to spend

money I did not have on crystals I did not


The relationship, if I can call it that, ended

suddenly. I was at the supermarket one day

and a woman came up to me asking if I was

Theo's latest conquest. Taken aback by her

manner, I lied and said 'no'. The woman told

me she was glad as he had a reputation of

drawing in women who were divorced or single

by telling them they were natural healers who,

with his guidance, could develop their gift. She

told me that he would get them to work in his

shop for free.

I asked her how she knew and she told me that

she had been one of the women, and so had

her daughter. I felt sick to the stomach and

stupid, really, really stupid.

I made my excuses to leave.

Theo never heard from me again.

Making The Invisible Visible

Since meeting that woman, I have come across

several other women who have shared a

similar experience and it has left me highly

sceptical of the 'New Age' scene. Theo, and he

is by far not the only one, surrounds himself

with groups of women who all seem to believe

he is some kind of 'Higher Vibrational Being'.

Many have also worked in his shop or attended

festivals with him whilst he has plied them with

free crystals and drugs. Being surrounded by

all these women also gives a false impression

to other women that he is trustworthy and safe.

I now realise he is a sexual predator who preys

on women looking for answers to a better life,

who are looking for their soulmate or to ease

their pain. He reminds me of an esoteric Pied

Piper, using shiny stones to lure his prey and

the more I think about it, the more convinced I

am that Theo sees himself as some kind of cult

leader, albeit on a much more provincial scale.

He even talks the language of cults:







All designed to draw in women looking for


With Theo, there is also an obsession with

phallic objects like the crystals and wands and,

what worries me most, is how the recently

bereaved, victims of abuse and rape, the newly

divorced, newly single or terminally ill will

invariably come into contact with him and there

is nothing to stop Theo and other unscrupulous

and exploitative people like him. How many

people has he offered a joint to, before telling

them that the best way of ridding themselves of

the ties of past relationships is to have sex with

someone else? And that someone else is him?

It worries me that preys on the vulnerable.

It worries me a lot.

* names have been changed

Making The Invisible Visible

Red Flags of manipulative or unethical psychics,

healers or spiritual teachers.

* They flatter you by claiming you have some

unique gift.

* You are expected to part with often quite

substantial sums, to develop that gift.

* They can blow hot or cold. Really attentive

one minute and distant and dismissive the next.

This is to ensure you become trauma bonded

to them.

* There is often a need to change your habits

and diet which can leave you disoriented and


* They very quickly introduce you to other

people who put them on a pedestal, to

convince you they are more special than they

really are.

* They discourage opinion.This is reinforced by

the fact that everyone in their group has exactly

the same beliefs.

* They disparage and will undermine the

credibility of any other healers or teachers who

are performing similar work.

* They seek out survivors who are desperate to


* They are not afraid to look into your eyes and

claim they can see into your soul.

* They purposely push the boundaries to guage

your reaction.

* They claim to have some kind of connection

with you.

Making The Invisible Visible

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