67. How Cults Prey on Women and Their Finances with Dr. Janja Lalich

January 24, 2023

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The following article may contain affiliate links or sponsored content. This doesn’t cost you anything, and shopping or using our affiliate partners is a way to support our mission. I will never work with a brand or showcase a product that I don’t personally use or believe in.

What do you think of when you hear the word “cult”?

Maybe you think of one of the many nefarious organizations that have been fodder for documentaries over the last few years. Maybe a well-known guru or even a religious sect. 

What we do know is that cults are more common than we think –– and even though you may not be subject to the same level of abuse as you see in the news, you’d be surprised at the organizations you might know that are considered cults.

Unfortunately, these seemingly innocent cults often prey directly on women and other marginalized groups and their finances. So how can we recognize this behavior before we’re caught up?

Tori is joined today by Dr. Janja Lalich, researcher, author, and educator specializing in extremist groups. She not only escaped a cult in her youth but dedicated her life to helping others get out and providing resources to former members on the other side of these organizations. 

What you’ll learn:

  • What constitutes an organization as a cult?

  • How cult leaders use manipulation to keep people from leaving

  • What you can do to help someone you know who may be involved in a cult

Dr. Lalich’s Links:


Meet Dr. Janja Lalich

Janja Lalich, Ph.D. is a researcher, author, and educator specializing in cults and extremist groups, with a particular focus on charismatic relationships, political and other social movements, ideology and social control, and issues of gender and sexuality. She has been a consultant to educational, mental health, business, media, and legal professionals, as well as having worked with current members, former members, and families of members of controversial groups.


[00:00:00] Tori Dunlap: Hello, Financial Feminist. Welcome back. Welcome back, welcome back. We do have a very, very fascinating kind of juicy episode for you today. We hope you loved our first few episodes of the year. We have an incredible lineup over the next few months that we’re currently recording, and I think you’re gonna be as obsessed as we are with our guests in 2023.

[00:00:19] If you’re enjoying the show, a little housekeeping, you know the drill, subscribe, maybe leave us a review. It helps us continue to bring content like today’s show to you completely for free. Let’s get into it. We’re fucking talking about cults today. Yes, cults. So why do an episode about cults on Financial Feminist?

[00:00:35] Well, first of all, as we learned in the multi-level marketing episode we did with Jane Marie in season one, still the most popular episode of the show we’ve ever done. There are so many nefarious organizations that operate within this like cultish framework, and they overwhelmingly prey on women, and they prey on women’s.

[00:00:57] and really their safety and their stability. So we brought in an expert to talk about how to recognize these organizations and how to help people in your life who may fall victim to them. The best part and the most interesting part about our expert today is that they are not just studying and an expert on cults, but they were in a cult.

[00:01:15] Themselves. Janja Lalich PhD is a researcher, author, and educator specializing in cults and extremist groups with a particular focus on charismatic relationships, political and other social movements, ideology and social control, and issues of gender and sexuality. She has been a consultant to educational, mental health, business, media and legal professionals, as well as having worked with current members, former members and families of members of controversial groups.

[00:01:41] This interview is incredibly fascinating, but as you may. Have already figured out. We’re gonna talk about some heavy topics today, so a quick content warning. We’re gonna discuss death and assault in this episode, so if you’re like, Nope, I’m good, we’ll see you next week. Without further ado, let’s go ahead and get into it.

[00:01:59] And now a word from our sponsors.

[00:02:17] Dr. Janja Lalich: Where in the world are you? I’m in, uh, the Bay Area, across the bay from San Francisco.

[00:02:22] Tori Dunlap: You have that beautiful skylight behind you. I’m very jealous. We were talking.

[00:02:25] Dr. Janja Lalich: Yeah. Yeah. I live in a, actually, I live in a senior community and it’s like, and there’s like 10,000 homes and it’s like a national park. Like every day I see deer and little Bambis, and I mean, it’s just beautiful here, and so quiet.

[00:02:42] Oh

[00:02:42] Tori Dunlap: dear. You gotta fawn over those deer . Exactly. That’s my, that’s my pun for today, . Um, we’re so excited to have you. If you could give us a little bit of background on you and your experience. What brought you to working in this field? What was the inspiration or the, the motivation behind wanting to do this kind of work?

[00:03:03] Sure. Um,

[00:03:04] Dr. Janja Lalich: well, the reason I got into this field is because I, myself was in a cult. In the seventies and eighties, I was 30 years old when I joined, so I had already, you know, gone to college, had a Fulbright Fellowship, lived in Europe for a number of years. It’s not like I was some naive kid. Um, but I ended up getting recruited into a political cult, um, that.

[00:03:29] You know, supposedly we were gonna fight for social justice and get rid of racism and sexism and all those things. That sounded wonderful. Of course, I didn’t know it was a cult. I didn’t even really know what I was joining when I joined, or that we had a leader or anything. But anyway, it ended up. 10 plus years of my life and it was very, very restrictive.

[00:03:48] I was always in top leadership, so I knew a lot of the stuff that went on behind the scenes, and so it was not a, not a pleasant experience. And because I was in leadership, I’ve heard a lot of people. and in the end we all got out, which is really unusual. We’ve finally had our revolution and we overthrew the leader and we dissolved the organization

[00:04:13] So there we were a hundred plus people, uh, free. And so I moved to New York to get away from San Francisco and I got a job in publishing because, One of my jobs in the cult was to build us a publishing house. And, um, luckily I found a really great therapist who understood about cult trauma. And so once I, I felt more like a normal person again, so to speak.

[00:04:39] I, I started, uh, going to conferences and speaking out and. You know, doing some interviews and I wrote my first book, which is, uh, take Back Your Life. It’s a recovery book. The main reason I started speaking a lot was because when I got out, which was the mid eighties, everything was just about religious cults, and so one of the first things I had to do was sort of prove to myself that.

[00:05:04] I was in a cult because it wasn’t religious. And then I thought it was really important to let people know there were other kinds of cults besides religious cults. Not every cult is religious. Um, as we know now. There’s many, many, many different kinds. And then after 10 years, I finally made the decision to go to graduate school, which, um, my mentor, Dr.

[00:05:26] Margaret Singer, uh, encouraged me. She was sort of the preeminent cult expert at that time. She was a clinical psychologist, um, at uc, Berkeley. Uh, so I got my PhD and then I got the professorship, um, teaching sociology. And during that time I was still doing cult education and working with survivors and families, but obviously I had a very big teaching load, so I wasn.

[00:05:51] doing this full-time. So that’s how I got here. And then in, in 2019, I retired from the university and I thought, you know, I’m retiring and I moved to this lovely community, and then the pandemic hit and my emails exploded. And so I’ve been busier than ever, ever since. Um, and I actually really love it. I, I feel like it’s important work and I love helping people.

[00:06:15] And so here I am, .

[00:06:18] Tori Dunlap: That’s amazing. I, I think about, Your experience of specifically being in a cult. Can you talk more about the sort of experience of, of, of course, getting into it, but what were the warning signs? What did you see as, as the, the, you know, the red flags that were happening that got you to the point where you’re like, oh, this is, this is uncomfortable, this is not, this is not safe.

[00:06:44] Dr. Janja Lalich: Right. Well, you know, there were red flags all along, which I. Recognized, but I ignored because even in the beginning, while I was being recruited, and, and partly I ignored them because the few people I knew, I had made some new friends in San Francisco
, they were joining. So everybody I knew was joining. It was a very common thing at that time in the seventies, uh, for people on the left.

[00:07:10] And so early on when I had questions about things or I thought something was weird, I, I just kinda shoved it aside. But as time went on in particular because. We were such a harsh group. And also our leader was a woman. Uh, she actually had, was a former sociology professor, but she was a severe alcoholic and a narcissist and um, very abusive.

[00:07:36] And because I was in the inner circle, I was around her a lot and. We used to have to like spend holidays with her and stuff, and it was really grim. I mean, she would get drunk and we’d have to sing House of the Rising Sun, which was her favorite song, and we’d have to make up a verse. And if she didn’t like the verse, she’d hit you.

[00:07:55] And you know, she’d threaten the men to have to go upstairs and have sex with her. And these sessions were just hideous. and finally I couldn’t take it anymore. I thought, I thought, I don’t care if I lose leadership, I don’t care. I’m not gonna, I’m gonna make up some excuse and I’m not gonna go to those anymore.

[00:08:12] And so I would say, oh, my back is out and I can’t drive up there, or whatever. That was, that was kind of the first thing. And then also just recognizing how, how shattered people were. I mean, we recruited many people with doctorate degrees. We had lawyers, we had doctors, we had highly skilled people. and they were just turning into the zombies, so to speak.

[00:08:35] I mean, everybody was just so tamped down and there, and there was absolutely not a shred of democracy. And, and that troubled me more and more. The final blow for me was my mother got, my mother was back in Milwaukee and I’d always been very close with her. and I learned that she was in the hospital. So I borrowed money and I flew there and it turned out that she had a, a brain tumor, a glioblastoma, which is the worst kind of brain tumor.

[00:09:03] And so they operated and, and they said, well, we can operate, but it’ll grow right back, and she’ll probably have four to six months to live. So I stayed there as long as I could, and every day my cult leadership called me, when are you coming back? When are you coming back? You know? And I was staying. My aunt, who was my mom’s youngest sister.

[00:09:21] And finally, I, I, they were about to release her from the hospital and she had nowhere to go. So I called my leadership and I said, look, my mom doesn’t have that long to live. I’d like to ask for a leave of absence and stay here un, you know, until she passes. And, uh, she said, well, I’ll have to ask, you know, the Grand Puba.

[00:09:41] So then she called me back the next day and she said, oh, we have a great idea. Bring your mom to San F. and like a good dedicated militant. I said, okay, so here’s my mom who was a, you know, little Serbian lady, very involved in her church who I don’t think maybe twice had been outside of Milwaukee. So I went back, one of my roommates moved out.

[00:10:05] I got the house already. Um, I got her a walker and all that stuff. My aunt flew her. . And so there she was living with me in this house with other cult members. And of course, every day I had to go to work at six in the morning and I’d get home at 11 at night and I never saw her. And so I again talked to my leadership and I said, look, I never, you told me to bring my mom, but I never see her and she isn’t gonna be around that long.

[00:10:29] So, so they said, oh, okay. You can have a half an hour every day to have dinner with. I mean at some point they decided that um, she should work for the organization. So someone would pick her up and take her to one of our front group offices. And I guess she did filing or I don’t know what, um, everybody loved her.

[00:10:49] She was such a sweet woman. Um, so then I wasn’t really seeing her again cuz I worked at a different facility and then, And this is hard for me to talk about still. I came home one night about 11 o’clock, and I looked in her room and she was dead on the floor and I was just torn. I was just devastated. I mean, I just got down on the floor and I just cried and cried and cried and I mean, she was all alone in her last moment.

[00:11:19] Uh, so I called my best friend who came over, and then I called my leadership. and I said, you know, my, my, my mom just died and uh, I’m gonna have the body flown home for the funeral. And on the other end of the line, she said to me in this very stern voice, well, you’re not going to the funeral, are you? And I just clicked and I thought, here I am.

[00:11:45] working seven days a week, 20 hours a day, month after month, year after year, supposedly building this better world. And if this is the better world we’re building, then I’m told I can’t go to my own mother’s funeral who just died in my house. Well, there’s something wrong here. I. So I borrowed money again.

[00:12:04] I went home. I planned the whole funeral. I have no memory of it. Afterwards, we had a big dinner, which is the Serbian tradition, and, and you know, her sisters came and everybody, old neighbors, everybody. And halfway through I got up and left to get a red eye back to San Francisco and I was just, Like numb.

[00:12:24] I, like I said, I don’t even remember anything about her funeral or anything. I flew back and I was met at the airport and told to report the next morning to such and such a building, and the next day they sat me up in kind of one of those director chairs and all the other leadership were in front of me, about 40 people.

[00:12:45] And I was criticized for putting my mother ahead of the revolution, and that was an Absolut. Oblating moment for me. I didn’t think to myself, oh, this is a cult. I just thought, this is really wrong. But I couldn’t figure out how to leave. I was terrified to leave. I had no money. I had nowhere to go. I knew they’d come after me because they did come after people and I knew a lot cuz I was in the inner circle.

[00:13:11] And so for five more years I lived. As a numb, uh, broken person. I went to my job every day, you know, my party job. I would get in my car and I would just wish that I would be killed in a car accident cuz I couldn’t see how else to get out. It was, it was just a excruciating time for me. Um, but then, like I said, because of circumstances and so many of us who’d been there from the beginning were so burned out, we had that little revolution and we freed ourselves.

[00:13:48] But the effect on me, I mean, I was in bad shape and. I still feel like I never got to grieve my mother in a way. I grieve her every day. So that’s what happened. That’s what got me out. You know, I got out psychologically, but I, I was still trapped. I didn’t get out physically until we all got out.

[00:14:15] Tori Dunlap: I don’t know what to say. I am, uh, so sorry for your loss, both your loss of your mother, but it sounds it’s gonna make me cry, but also it sounds like the loss of years of your life of, of, um, period of grieving, of your identity. Um, thank you for being vulnerable and sharing that. Just I think that’s, Worst part of all of it, right, is you get to the point where you realize that you, in your, in your grappling of identity, that you’ve
lost yourself as a person.

[00:14:52] You’ve lost everything that. Means anything to you, but also you’ve lost yourself.

[00:14:58] Dr. Janja Lalich: Exactly, exactly. Because that’s what cults do. They attack the self. So you,

[00:15:03] Tori Dunlap: you talked about like how hard it was to get out and even you, you said the word fi, you know, you said the phrase five years after and I, my heart just sank again.

[00:15:12] What about cults or these organizations? I, I imagine it’s the, you know, the threat of violence or the threat of, again, like who am I beyond this organization? Probably a sunk cost fallacy of like, I’ve put this much into it. Like, how do I move on? What makes it so difficult to, to leave?

[00:15:32] Dr. Janja Lalich: Well, I, you know, I have, I have a, um, A framework and a theory and a concept that to help explain that and how I understand it and, um, if people are interested, it, it’s, it actually was my dissertation and it’s now sort of in a user friendly version in my book, bounded Choice.

[00:15:52] Um, but the way I see it is, When we join these organizations, we’re usually at some vulnerable point in our lives. We get convinced, uh, through the, initially the love bombing and then through the indoctrination, however that happens, and it’s different in, in different groups. It’s, it might be bible studies, some kind of courses.

[00:16:13] It might be, you know, working together, whatever. But through the indoctrination, Which is essentially, as I was saying, attacking the self so that you, you no longer trust yourself and you know, and you learn that you can only trust the leader because people will turn each other in, people will spy on each other, people will report on each other, et cetera, et cetera.

[00:16:35] So that over time, and this doesn’t happen to everybody, but over time, especially if you have any kind of long-term experience, Become so fully indoctrinated that by living in this, um, what I call a self-sealing system, this, this social system that’s closed in on itself and you have no other reality checks.

[00:16:57] And you could be living like we were living in the middle of San Francisco. It’s not like we were on some compound out in, you know, Nevada or something. But you become in a way, sort of a microcosm of the. . And at that point you have what, what Robert Lifton, who was the first person to really study, uh, thought reform and totalism, what he describes as personal closure.

[00:17:22] Just as the group and the, and the reality you’re in is closed in on itself. You become closed in on yourself and, and you’re, you’re not, Able to entertain any other ideas that are counter to what you’ve been indoctrinated to believe at that point, uh, you’re in this state of mind that I call bounded choice.

[00:17:43] So what happens then is. That you, yes, you have decisions to make that are usually inconsequential in relation to the group. Small decisions. Sure. You get to make small decisions, but any substantial decision like, dare I criticize the leader, or should I question what we’re doing? Or should I think about leaving?

[00:18:06] You cannot. Entertain those thoughts because to do so means giving up your life. It means giving up everything that you now belong to and everything you believe in, and giving up your whole world, which is very, very, very difficult for people to do. And so, especially if you have no resources on the outside, say you, perhaps you were born or raised in a group, it’s the only thing you know, you’re, not only do you use that, lose that physical world, but you also lose whatever promise of salvation you’re being offered.

[00:18:42] And that’s frightening, right? Because you’ve been led to believe in that, that this person can give you that. That bounded reality and that bounded choice, which is an illusion of choice, uh, is in, in my opinion, what keeps us trapped there.

[00:19:00] Tori Dunlap: I would love to even go back because I’m thinking to myself, like, how do I define a cult?

[00:19:06] Is it, you know, a leader? Is it a certain, cuz you said it’s of course not just religious and we know this now, there’s tons of cults out there that we’ve heard about in, in recent years that have nothing to do with religion. Define a

[00:19:17] Dr. Janja Lalich: cult for us. Sure. So for me, there, there are four aspects, um, that I look for.

[00:19:25] One is the leader who we sometimes describe as charismatic, but who’s essentially an authoritarian. Usually malignant narcissist. Um, we grant them charisma because, you know, somehow that’s, that’s sort of the social relationship we’re trapped in. We think, oh, this is God, or this is some great guru or whatever, right?

[00:19:48] We thought our leader was the next, you know, Vladimir Lennon. So, you know, uh, so there’s the charismatic authoritarian leader. Then there’s. What I call the transcendent ideology. And so this is a belief system, which as we are saying, does not need to be religious, but it’s a belief system that offers you everything.

[00:20:11] It offers you the answer to the past, the present, and the future. And it’s an all or nothing belief system. When it’s an all or nothing belief system, that means it’s that the ends justify the means. . And once you have an ends justify the means philosophy, that means anything goes, and that’s where the danger lies.

[00:20:31] And then third and fourth, you have what I call systems, uh, not in a mechanical way, but social systems of influence and systems of control. Now the systems of control, again, are gonna vary in every group, but these are the, the overt rules and regulations. You know, maybe what you wear, what you eat, where you can live.

[00:20:53] You know, things like the obvious rules and regulations. The systems of influence are much more subtle. Those are the social psychological techniques that are used that prey on your emotion. To get you to break down and be rebuilt as they want you to build, so they will prey on love and shame and fear and whatever, right?

[00:21:15] They know all the buttons to push, and so those social psychological influences. are what helps to sort, I don’t, I don’t like to use mechanical language, but helps to, let’s say, deepen the indoctrination and make it work. Uh, so those are the, those are the four aspects that I look for in a cult,

[00:21:36] Tori Dunlap: how do you determine what is a cult versus like a legitimate organization?

[00:21:42] Because like I, I grew up Catholic. Part of me is like, this is a legitimate organization and part of me is like, hmm, .

[00:21:49] Dr. Janja Lalich: No, the Catholic Church is a legitimate organization, although it’s on the lower end of the scale, . So for me, a legitimate organization, whether it’s a, a religion, a, a political activist group, a whatever, a business organization, First of all, you have checks and balances.

[00:22:12] You’re able to challenge and question leadership. You have transparency, like, you know where the money comes from, you know where the money goes, right? Uh, you’re able to criticize leadership. Um, you’re able to. , if you leave, you’re not shunned and you’re not made into some kind of monster enemy. There aren’t, you know, threats to, to, to your livelihood or to your being or to your, you know, your functions in the world.

[00:22:40] I mean, so many people in cultic groups, especially the ones now that are involved in coaching, which is one of my big bugaboos right now, you know, the, they’re in some kind of coaching cult where they build a. Clientele. And then if they leave, they lose everything. They lose that license to be a coach.

[00:23:00] They lose all the clients, their badmouth among everybody. So a legitimate organization is gonna be, you know, democratic. It’s, it’s, it’s going to allow you to, uh, do all those things I just mentioned. and some, you know, some groups are more strict than others. Certainly the Catholic church for example, it took forever for the priest abuse to be, you know, see the light of day.

[00:23:26] Especially with religion or probably with most organizations, uh, you know, a decent organization will give you guidelines to live by, right? Be good to your neighbor, whatever. If someone moves into the neighborhood, take them a box of cookies, I don’t know. Right? But they don’t come and check up on you that you’re actually doing that, right?

[00:23:45] So the Catholic church might tell you don’t use contraception, but you know, but the priest isn’t coming into your bedroom hopefully and seeing if you’re using contraception. So that, that’s the difference, uh, that level of intrusion into your daily life. , you mentioned

[00:24:02] Tori Dunlap: coaching. Can we talk about that?

[00:24:04] Dr. Janja Lalich: No, sure.

[00:24:05] What,

[00:24:07] Tori Dunlap: what kind of coaching? What are we defining? Because technically, like I do coaching, right? I’m a money coach. I help people pay off debt or I help people save money. I don’t run a cult. Uh, so like, let’s talk about coaching. Tell me a bit more about that.

[00:24:20] Dr. Janja Lalich: Sure. So, I think because of, it’s a development, it’s sort of a historical development that came out of the new age movement, right?

[00:24:28] If we go back and look at the new age movement of the seventies, um, where there, there was all this kind of pop psychology and these different programs that were being offered and these, uh, self-awareness trainings and what we call the large group awareness trainings, um, like est and. And life, you know, lifespring in these various ones.

[00:24:53] All of that were were saying that whole new age phenomenon was saying to people, we can offer you a quick fix. You don’t need to do traditional therapy for your problems. Just come and do our workshop for $5,000. Right. Or whatever. And, and. Spend this long weekend with us or whatever it might be. And so this idea of a quick fix sort of became very prevalent in our society and, and, and people sort of claiming that they can help you and make you more self-aware or make you better in your career or help you make money or whatever.

[00:25:29] And so the, the, the multi-level market. Programs enter in at this phase as well. And so you’ve got these people who have absolutely no credentials whatsoever. Maybe they know how to talk in a glib way, but you know, they’re not trained therapists or whatever. And so you are, you are being subjected to whatever their program is, and in some cases they’re tearing you apart and they don’t know how to put you back together.

[00:25:54] And so there’s a lot of psychological harm. So today, Because all of this seeped into the business world, to a large degree. Um, and so many companies were paying for their, uh, staff to go to these trainings, these retreats out in the desert in Nevada, wherever, right? That then evolved into the coaching world.

[00:26:17] where yes, there are legitimate coaches. I mean, I used a writing coach to, to start my memoir, you know, she was fantastic. She didn’t abuse me. She didn’t try to own me . Right? But there are so many people now, and because it’s such an unregulated industry, It’s like hypnotism in many states. I mean, anybody can hang a sign on their door and say, I’m a hypnotist.

[00:26:40] Well, today, anybody can hang a sign on their door or on the internet and say, Hey, I’m a coach. I’m a marketing coach, I’m a writing coach. I’m a lifestyle coach. I’m a career co. You know, whatever. I’m a money coach like you, and there’s just so much room for abuse because people are. Wanting that quick fix, and they’re wanting to believe there’s someone who can give them the answer.

[00:27:03] And, and, and that’s where it, it goes awry and people become certainly financially exploited and often, uh, exploited in other ways.

[00:27:21] Tori Dunlap: And I know from our research talking about MLMs that the vast majority of people who get involved in in multi-level marketing companies are marginalized members. So women, huge demographic of women, people of color. And I, we know from our research on Colts, it’s about 70% of cult members are women. Why does that happen?

[00:27:42] Like how are women specifically targeted by cults or cult leaders and what maybe makes a cult more appealing to a woman? Or, or how, how are, yeah. Again, how are they targeted in a way that men aren’t?

[00:27:55] Dr. Janja Lalich: Well, I, you know, I think even though there’s been vast improvement in women’s status in our society, I believe that women are, are still seen as inferior and.

[00:28:11] Many families, women are not as well regarded as, say they’re brothers, if they have brothers. Um, and so women grow up without having the same sort of capacity to. Catch on to when they’re being scammed or when they’re being gas lit. Right. Um, so they become easy targets. Even the strong, I mean, I was l I was a tough cookie.

[00:28:37] I was like not a naive young kid, and I, I got bamboozled. Right. I mean, it, it, it really is something that can happen to anybody. And I think that women in particular, um, are. Are sort of groomed to believe that they need to improve themselves, that they’re, you know, that they’re not perfect yet. Whether it’s physically, whether it’s weight wise, you know, whatever it might be.

[00:29:04] Whether it’s their skills, their presentation, their way they speak. You know, women are, women are supposed to improve themselves, right? So that they’re. Acceptable to some man to marry and have babies with or ultimately Right. And I, I think even though that sounds old fashioned, I think that’s still very, a very.

[00:29:24] Prevalent, uh, perspective in our country. And so I think that’s what helps to make women vulnerable. And, and cult leaders are smart. I mean, they’re, they’re clever manipulative people and so they know who to target. They know where the, you know, where the
soft money, so to speak. Um, and I, and I, I

[00:29:46] Tori Dunlap: think. . We also saw from our research that it’s not, there’s this misconception that it’s people who are, um, you know, less intelligent and, and it’s people, I mean, obviously talking to you, so intelligent, right?

[00:29:57] Like the stats show that it’s people of actually above average intelligence. It’s, it’s people who, yeah. Who are very smart, who are educated, who it’s, it’s

[00:30:08] Dr. Janja Lalich: who don’t have previous psychological conditions who are Yeah. Uh, , and, you know, that’s the, the sort of myth I think that’s still out there, that it’s, you know, stupid, weird, crazy people who get into cults, you know, people who wanna be let around by the nose and, and that’s not who cults look for.

[00:30:25] I mean, cults look for high functioning individuals. They, they, as I said earlier, they don’t, they’re not there to take care of you. I mean, if, if in many cases if someone ends up in a cult and they’re not functioning well, the cult gets rid of them. I mean, That’s very common phenomena. So the, the cults want people who can run their businesses, who can bring in money, who can connect them with people that lends them legitimacy.

[00:30:51] Like the Dai Lama, you know, Nexium paid, you know, what did they do? They paid him a million or 2 million to come and. Put his arm around Keith Rainier. I mean, come on. I, and what does that say about the Dai Lama? To tell you the truth. So, you know, in my opinion, there are no gurus. But anyway, , so, um, yeah, the cult cults look for high functioning individuals in most cases.

[00:31:16] And because that’s who’s, that’s who’s gonna help them do what they wanna do and provide leadership and recruit and all of that. So it’s a. myth, um, that, you know, we’re, that it’s just weak people who are being targeted. Not at all.

[00:31:34] Tori Dunlap: I’ve brought up nex i m you’ve brought up nex i m for folks who haven’t heard of he, Nexium m I mean, there’s so many documentaries.

[00:31:41] There’s, there’s been so much discussion about them and infamously, uh, I think they were some of the worst. Maybe not the worst, you could probably tell me, but, uh, perpetuators of sexual violence and literally physically branding women, literally taking a brand and marking their skin and burning their skin.

[00:32:02] There’s that element of sexual abuse that happens in a lot of these organizations, especially to women. Why does this happen? Why is it kind of accepted at some point by members?

[00:32:14] Dr. Janja Lalich: So whatever a cult does, whatever the practices of the cult are, are going to emanate from the proclivities of the leader. and given that, uh, now there are female leaders, no doubt about that.

[00:32:29] Um, but, but given that the leaders are narcissists and they’re all about power and money and sex are two ways to wield that power over other people. And so we see enormous amounts of sexual abuse of women. Of men in some cases, and certainly of children. It just, it boggles the mind. It’s heartbreaking.

[00:32:58] And so I think that, that, again, it’s a cult leader. See, uh, what’s gonna work and by, by abusing someone sexually, that goes to the deepest part of that person. One, once you’re able to abuse someone sexually, you’ve pretty much got ’em right. I mean, this is also reflective in, in human trafficking and sex trafficking.

[00:33:22] It’s the same phenomena. So you’ve got this person who supposedly loves you or is granting you some special. Enlightenment or whatever, um, by having this sexual encounter, and it often becomes very abusive. It also, in terms of the second part of your question, it becomes normalized, right? This is what, what cults are able to do.

[00:33:47] The behavior that in any other context would be unacceptable. Becomes acceptable because they will find some little strand of their ideology or philosophy to. Support it to say this is necessary. Right? That’s where I think it gets very confusing for outsiders. It’s like, why in the world did she go along with that?

[00:34:09] She went along with that because she was indoctrinated to think that was of some value to her.

[00:34:15] Tori Dunlap: Well, and from my knowledge too, it typically happens much later in a cult member’s journey. Right? It’s not like week two they’re being asked no to. Right. It’s it’s, or they’re, they’re being told or sexually abused.

[00:34:28] Right. It’s happening after you’re so in it that it just, it, yeah. It feels more

[00:34:34] Dr. Janja Lalich: normalized, right. In many cases, yes. That’s. . That’s true. Yeah.

[00:34:40] Tori Dunlap: And I also think of nex i m, cuz again, this is probably the cult I know the most about, is that they had what they called collateral, right? You would send. You would send naked photos of yourself to the leader.

[00:34:52] You would, um, say nasty things about friends or family that they would then keep as their way of basically threatening you, of saying, if you go out, if you leave A and b, if you tell anybody, we are going to expose you. And again, you were talking about control, right? It’s the, it’s the control aspect to the point where you don’t feel like you do have an option

[00:35:12] Dr. Janja Lalich: to leave.

[00:35:13] Right? And that’s what really nailed him in the court, um, was, you know, when when we talk about consent, you can hardly talk about consent when you’re being blackmailed. Um, and so that was a, a very powerful factor in the trial of re. ,

[00:35:29] Tori Dunlap: I’m obviously the person who has watched all these next DM documentaries and you know, there’s so many, there’s so many documentaries, there’s so much news coverage of a lot of these cults.

[00:35:38] Is this helpful? Is it helpful to, to watch a documentary about a cult to produce a documentary about a cult? I mean is I imagine, of course I’ve learned a lot in talking to you, but like there is this certain, I was gonna say romanticization, but that sounds so ridiculous. But there is this like, Intrigue or voyeurism that I know I feel about something like a cult where I am so interested in learning more.

[00:36:03] Is that helpful?

[00:36:04] Dr. Janja Lalich: Well, I, I think there’s so many different aspects to this, so I, uh, for someone like you, yes, it’s helpful because you have a, uh, an honest interest in it. For, for many viewers, it might reinforce, Self-protective belief that those people are so stupid, this could never happen to me. So it really depends a lot on how the production is done, and fortunately, recently, There have been some very good, uh, documentaries and podcasts, um, that I think really are helping educate the public.

[00:36:39] You know, earlier it was, uh, so much of the media
coverage was, was all about sensational, about the sex or the suicides or the this or the that, and it was, and it, it, and they didn’t explain anything. Um, but a good in-depth documentary that. Preferably experts explaining what the hell’s going on. Uh, this is one of the criticisms of, um, the, the second season of the vow, which I just finished.

[00:37:08] I don’t know if you’ve seen it, but the, this is about nex i m and, but they didn’t use any experts. So you have, you know, six sessions of. The second in command, blathering on and on, but you don’t have anybody explaining what the hell’s going on. So when you look at comments, people are posting on Instagram or Twitter, you know, sort of your average viewer.

[00:37:30] Uh, you see that some people are really falling for her bullshit, pardon my French. Um, because they’re not seeing through what she’s actually doing or who she actually is. And so that’s you. Not as, I think as effective, not, I don’t wanna criticize Johan or the team that made the vowel, but I think that has been one of the critiques of this last season, this second season.

[00:37:54] So I think it, it’s really up to the production team. That they do their homework ahead of time, and if they don’t use experts in the, in the show that they at least consult and do their homework and know what, know what they’re doing and not abuse survivors. Uh, there have been instances where, , uh, podcast teams or documentary teams have really abused survivors by getting their stories and not having, you know, not providing the kind of resources or help that they might, because it’s very triggering.

[00:38:25] It’s very triggering to tell your story. I mean, when I talked earlier about my mom, I mean, I was tearing up, you know, and, and it’s been 30 some years, right? So it, it, that stuff stays with you and, and especially if you’re interview. People who are freshly out. That’s dangerous territory. It’s, it’s, it’s very volatile, you know, it’s very hot territory to mess around in without providing help that they may need if they get too triggered, you know, do they have, um, you know, someone, they’re ready to work with them and get them through that.

[00:38:56] So, so yeah, I think it’s a, a little bit of a sticky wicket. Although I, I have been pleased, I have been pleased by some of the documentaries. One of, one of my favorites lately was, um, keep Sweet Prey and Obey about the, uh, fundamentalist Latter Day Saints. I don’t know if you watched that one, but I thought that was a, an excellent documentary.

[00:39:18] Add it to the list, but mostly I don’t watch them. . I can tell you, I do this all day and at night I watch British Mysteries, . It’s just like, I need to chill out, you know, . So

[00:39:31] Tori Dunlap: if somebody listening is, is getting to the end of this episode and they’re like, wow, sounds like I’m in a cult, or someone I know is in a cult.

[00:39:40] What resources exist to help people leave?

[00:39:45] Dr. Janja Lalich: Well, that’s a, that’s a good question. . Um, you know, again, one of my pet peeves is that as a society, we don’t have resources. We don’t have community resources for cult survivors. Um, you know, it took 25 some years of. Fighting to get domestic violence shelters. And we need something like that for cult survivors because there are thousands, and especially for those who are born and raised in cults, because that’s very traumatic.

[00:40:14] When they leave. When they leave, especially if they leave on their own and they’re, and there’s nothing out there. And sometimes they don’t even know their real name, you know, and they don’t know where to go and they end up on the streets and it’s tragic. So obviously, um, having. National available resources is important and, um, I’m proud to say that I, I have just, I’ve been doing this work for 30 some years, but I’ve just started a nonprofit, uh, called the Knowledge Center on Colson Coercion.

[00:40:44] And we do, we will be, uh, starting in, in the. The new year, um, will be continuing with Zoom recovery courses, uh, for survivors. We’ll have, uh, discussion groups, uh, for survivors, for people born in cults for families because families also need people to talk to and just share their experiences. So we have a variety of programs that we’ll be starting, um, with our nonprofit.

[00:41:10] and you know, there’s a few other people offering courses or some kinds of resources, and obviously there’s my book, take Back Your Life, which is really kind of a classic at this point. And unfortunately at the moment is out of print and I’m revising it and updating it. So hopefully after the first of the year it’ll be available again.

[00:41:31] So there are resources, but people have to look and, and just peck around until they find something or ask people. The sad thing is that there are, there’s a limited number of therapists who really understand. Cult After Effects and, and really understand how to work with cult survivors. And so one of the things we do as well is offer trainings for therapists where they get CE credits, um, and we provide them with, you know, tools and skills and resources for working with.

[00:42:05] Cult survivor clients or narcissistic survivors or, um, also the, the troubled teen industry, which I don’t know if you’re aware of, but those are those awful boarding schools and wilderness programs and there’s a lot of abuse that happens there.

[00:42:20] Tori Dunlap: And we’ll link both of those resources in our show notes.

[00:42:23] Yep. That’s, it’s, it’s unfortunate we, yeah. Again, we talked to a domestic violence expert. We talked to, you know, MLMs. It’s just so interesting of, you know, you often ask that question of what support is out there. It’s like, there’s some, but of course not enough. Like always the answer is some, but not enough.

[00:42:45] My last question for you, what organizations are cult-ish or are cults that may surprise the average listener? So we talked about multi-level marketing companies. What other organizations or companies can you think of that the average person would not probably immediately recognize as a cult, but exemplifies traits of

[00:43:06] Dr. Janja Lalich: AOC cult?

[00:43:08] Well, there are a number of therapy cults. Uh, I’ve had, I’ve had many, a fair number of participants in, in the courses we did in the past year and a half who came out of therapy cults. There are certainly martial arts cults, uh, which people may not think about that. Um, and other kind, and certainly the, well, the wellness industry, I think people are pretty aware of that.

[00:43:34] Really. There’s every kind of cult. I, I mean, I keep saying if you’re into chocolate cookies, I’ll find you a chocolate chip cookie cult. You know, I mean, there’s, there’s just every imaginable, I mean, I, I have a, a, a former participant in my courses who’s kind of now a colleague of mine who was in a dog training.

[00:43:53] Called, uh, it was a dog training company. I mean, so, you know, and when she first came to me, I’m like, a, what? You know, . So even I get surprised at times. Um, but there really is, you really hav
e to look out for those red flags when you’re signing over to anything. And certainly if you’re being asked to sign a waiver, like if you’re signing up for something and they ask you to sign a waiver saying they’re not responsible, if something happens to you, run the other way.

[00:44:21] because obviously something is gonna happen to you or has happened to other people, otherwise they wouldn’t have the waiver. So people need to kind of be good consumers when they’re out there looking for something to purchase or join or latch onto. And you know, ki I, I always say, you know, use your good judgment like you would when you’re buying a car.

[00:44:41] You never buy the first car, you see, right? So look around. Talk to critics. Look on the end, there’s a lot of information on the internet. There’s a lot of cults on the internet, but there’s also a lot of really good information, so do your research before you jump in. Thank you

[00:44:56] Tori Dunlap: for being here. Thank you for your vulnerability.

[00:44:59] Thank you for your work. I so respect and appreciate that. Unfortunately, something terrible happened to you, but you took it and made it your motivation to, to help other people and, um, that is that. What we need. Where can people find you? Where can people consume your resources? Where should we send people to?

[00:45:18] Dr. Janja Lalich: Well, certainly there’s my website, which is janich.com. It’s J A N J A L A L I C h.com, where a lot of my writing is there and, and some of the other things I’ve done as well as other resources. I have a reading. Things like that. And then the knowledge center.org, we just have a temporary website at this point where people can sign into our mailing list so that they’ll get our announcements and hopefully within a month or so we’ll have our sort of full-blown website.

[00:45:48] But, you know, that takes time.

[00:45:49] Tori Dunlap: It’ll probably be up by the time this comes out. So that’ll be great for people.

[00:45:52] Dr. Janja Lalich: Oh, great. Yeah. Great. Yeah, so, um, yeah, that’s, that’s, that’s where I

[00:45:57] Tori Dunlap: am. Amazing. Thank you. Thank you for being here. Thank you for,

[00:46:01] Dr. Janja Lalich: Great. Thank you for having me. I know it took a while to get this finally scheduled, so , I thank

[00:46:07] Tori Dunlap: you for your patience.

Tori Dunlap

Tori Dunlap is an internationally-recognized money and career expert. After saving $100,000 at age 25, Tori quit her corporate job in marketing and founded Her First $100K to fight financial inequality by giving women actionable resources to better their money. She has helped over one million women negotiate salary, pay off debt, build savings, and invest.

Tori’s work has been featured on Good Morning America, the New York Times, BBC, TIME, PEOPLE, CNN, New York Magazine, Forbes, CNBC, BuzzFeed, and more.

With a dedicated following of almost 250,000 on Instagram and more than 1.6 million on TikTok —and multiple instances of her story going viral—Tori’s unique take on financial advice has made her the go-to voice for ambitious millennial women. CNBC called Tori “the voice of financial confidence for women.”

An honors graduate of the University of Portland, Tori currently lives in Seattle, where she enjoys eating fried chicken, going to barre classes, and attempting to naturally work John Mulaney bits into conversation.

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