Over the last four decades, I have met and worked with many former members of the Kundalini Yoga cult founded by Yogi Bhajan. He set up numerous profit and non-profit entities, including the Healthy, Happy, Holy Organization (3HO), the Kundalini Research Institute, Sikh Dharma International, the multibillion-dollar companies Yogi Tea and Akal Security and the Siri Singh Sahib Corporation overlooking them all.
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.
Jehovah’s Witnesses (JWs) are well-known for their door-to-door solicitation and distributing literature, such as their Watchtower and AWAKE! magazines. However, most people do not know of the authoritarian BITE Model policies that affect JWs. Consequently, former JW elder Isaac Carmignani, a friend and colleague, shares critically important facts about this religious organization.
Carmignani was raised a Jehovah’s Witness (JW) and was baptized at age 11. As a child, he experienced severe corporal punishment, a well-known cult practice. From 1995 to 2006, he was an elder in the JW organization; however, in 2007, Carmignani formally disassociated himself. He disagreed with their interpretation of the Bible and the belief that only JWs were good Christians while all other Christians were evil. In fact, a member was not allowed to enter any church other than a Kingdom Hall; the name JWs call their meeting places.
In the past months, I have been working on two chapters on “The Dark Side of Hypnosis” for a forthcoming International Handbook of Clinical Hypnosis. I asked law professor emeritus Alan Scheflin to work with me as well as Jon Atack. Scheflin focused on one chapter on the U.S. government mind control program MKUltra and George Estabrooks. I focused on authoritarian cult leaders like Ron Hubbard of Scientology infamy and others. For anyone interested in Scientology or the topic of cults, I recommend Atack’s paper Never Believe a Hypnotist. It is of interest that Hubbard used those very words. Hubbard was a hypnotist.
Working with people in cults or who have escaped them requires much empathy, compassion, and knowledge. Rachel Bernstein has all those and more, which she’s used for the last 30 years in her work in cult intervention and re-acclimation.
Bernstein is a Licensed Marriage and Family Therapist (LMFT) from Los Angeles, California. She serves on the advisory board of the International Cultic Studies Association and has worked with the Department of Justice, providing support to cult victims who testify against their perpetrators. Bernstein and her father have known and worked together for decades now.
Law Professor Alan W. Scheflin coined the phrase The Myth of the Unmalleable Mind which is the basic belief that we are in control of our own minds and cannot be unfairly influenced outside of our awareness. This is a comforting thought; however, history has shown that this “comforting thought” is a myth. Most readers of this book have come to this understanding the hard way.
On January 20th, 2023, Larry Ray was sentenced to 60 years in prison for racketeering conspiracy, violent crime in aid of racketeering, extortion, sex trafficking, forced labor, tax evasion, and money laundering offenses. Daniel Barban Levin escaped the cult and used writing to process his mind control experience. He also wanted to do something to help his friends, who were still psychologically imprisoned. His memoir, Slonim Woods 9, published in 2021, was a revealing and poetic description of his time in a mind control cult. Former members sometimes utilize writing as a device to release painful experiences through journaling, poetry, and novels. I loved listening to this book.
Leaving a cult or another situation of undue influence is a truly heroic feat. Unfortunately, however, the experience of being in a cult can leave former members with many long-term effects, including radical personality change, psychological and relationship problems, and difficulties in their daily lives. It takes time and often the experience of a therapist trained in cult recovery to get beyond the mentality that authoritarian cults indoctrinate into their members.
When we think of cults, we think of being recruited into them. It’s easy to forget some people are born into them like my guest today, Frances Peters, who was born and raised in the Jehovah’s Witnesses before leaving in 2004 with her husband and two children. As soon as she realized how controlling and harmful the group was, she decided to leave. Since then, she’s been researching the workings of undue influence and what people can do to (re)gain their identity. She experienced how challenging it is to become a thriver instead of remaining a victim of institutionalized undue influence.