In the modern era, many of us spend most of our time at home, subsisting on what we can get through tech and grocery chains. But in her new book, Forager: Field Notes on Surviving a Family Cult, Michelle Dowd proposes that we are all still foraging internally. Instead of gathering food, we gather what we need emotionally and intellectually. Following our dual appearance on The Megyn Kelly Show, she joined me on the Influence Continuum podcast to discuss how she reframed her harsh experiences to find joy and fulfillment.
In an increasingly polarized society, our country needs compassion and critical thinking more than ever. Isolation due to social media and the work of political demagogues can keep us from exploring alternate perspectives. Being taken in by these forces does not make you stupid or weak. However, resistance can reflect intelligence and strength of will. We learn about this strength in Denver Riggleman’s book The Breach: The Untold Story of the Investigation into January 6th. Denver joined us on the podcast to discuss the book, his career in the military and as a congressman, and how to battle black-and-white thinking in politics.
There are few people in the field of forensic psychology with the training, background, and experience of Dr. Steve Eichel. In 1975, almost a year before I was deprogrammed from the Moonies, he decided to do his dissertation research on my former cult. He has had a long distinguished career, serving as the President of the International Cultic Studies Association (ICSA), and remains an active member of their Board of Directors. He has been published extensively in the field and, as discussed in the interview, served as an expert witness on undue influence in many cases. I asked him about his experience working for the defense in the case of DC sniper Lee Boyd Malvo. Steve joined the podcast to discuss these experiences and his expertise in therapeutic hypnosis. He was one of the experts I interviewed in researching my last book. As many people know, I desire to see the law updated in the area of evaluating undue influence in its many forms, which caused me to do my doctoral dissertation on this subject.
Jen Senko’s experience with her father, Frank, hits close to home for many Americans today. Frank was a happy-go-lucky progressive Democrat when he came across a talk radio show hosted by Bob Grant. He started being more critical of Democrats and was somewhat combative about it. When he fully retired, he discovered Rush Limbaugh and listened to him for three hours daily. Then he started watching Fox News. At that point, his personality changed. He was always angry and couldn’t have discussions with his family anymore without them turning to politics.
Parental alienation is a highly destructive form of undue influence where one parent systematically manipulates a child to reject the other parent. This damaging form of child psychological abuse disrupts family dynamics and can leave lasting emotional scars on the child, potentially impacting their development, mental health, and future relationships. Often, children are not only alienated from their mother or father but the entire side of the family, traumatizing all who are related. The BITE Model of Authoritarian Control can be used to analyze any case.
This week, I published my monthly blog post in Psychology Today, discussing the case of Leslie Van Houten. She has been recommended for parole and hopefully will be released if the governor of California doesn’t veto her parole again. Van Houten was 19 when as a member of the Charles Manson cult, she was involved in the murders of innocent people. I mentioned that Manson had, while in prison himself, received Scientology “processing” and speculated that he might have learned a few control tactics from the larger cult to use in his own group.
In today’s digital age, disinformation, and propaganda can spread at alarming speeds, often inciting fear and confusion and causing instability within social, political, and religious circles. Suppose individuals are unaware of undue influence and the tactics used in information warfare, intentionally devised to instill distrust in our institutions. In that case, they can easily become entangled in harmful conspiracy theories.
Elizabeth Holmes was once the youngest female billionaire in the history of Wall Street. In 2003, she founded and, as CEO, ran a corporation called Theranos. Her company claimed to be able to help diagnose health issues from merely a pinprick of blood. The company raised over 700 million dollars in pursuit of this dream. Ultimately, …
This past March, I visited Utah at the request of psychologist John Dehlin and the Thrive Beyond Religion non-profit movement. It was a solid opportunity for me to learn more about the LDS organization and its impact on its members. My last trip to Utah was at the request of the Ex-Mormon Foundation in 2000 after my second book, Releasing the Bonds, was published. I became deeply interested in the Fundamentalist Latter-Day Saints (FLDS). Dr. Phil (the television show host) asked me to counsel, pro bono, two 15-year FLDS runaways who did not want to marry men in their sixties or older. FLDS sticks to the original Joseph Smith polygamous teachings. I agreed to help counsel them, and the show sent them to Boston. The resulting expose motivated the Attorneys General of Utah and Arizona to investigate Warren Jeffs, the so-called prophet, who is currently in jail but still influencing his true believers.
In my talk at the New York Society for Ethical Culture on the January 6 coup attempt, I stressed that the Capitol attack was not only the result of discord created by Donald Trump; it was also fueled by various authoritarian interests that have been systematically breaking down the separation of Church and State for decades. This alarming insurrection attempt also sparked the concern of seasoned Catholic journalist Mary Jo McConahay, who observed many individuals outside the Capitol wearing crucifixes or depictions of Jesus. The violent insurrection attempt propelled her to delve into the future trajectory of the Catholic Church and write her important book, Playing God: American Catholic Bishops and the Far Right.
The term ‘gaslight effect’ was introduced by Dr. Robin Stern in her 2007 book to describe the long-term consequences of persistent gaslighting, a subtle and often hidden form of emotional abuse. Gaslighting is a devastating form of undue influence. It occurs when an individual manipulates another person by distorting, twisting, and dismissing their experiences, making them question their memories, perceptions, and reality. Gaslighting can occur in a romantic relationship, among family members, in the workplace, within mind control cults as well as by politicians. As a result of enduring gaslighting, individuals experience constant self-doubt, difficulties making decisions, and feelings of instability. I was eager to learn from Robin about her work in this area, especially regarding what people can do to protect themselves from gaslighting.
The Seventh Day Adventist Church (SDA) is a widely recognized Christian organization with around 20 million members worldwide. However, many of its beliefs and practices align with my BITE Model of Authoritarian Control, which causes great concern. To gain more insight into this organization, I invited Dr. Steve Daily, a former pastor of the SDA, to share his valuable personal and professional experiences.