Escaping a cult – with special guest Dana Pharant

My last episode with Dana Pharant has so far been my most downloaded episode of the podcast series where we talked quite a bit about her experience as a dominatrix and how she brought those lessons into her brand, presentation style and business consulting. She’s an incredible woman who stands in her own personal power and truly owns the title of badass.
In a chat with Dana, I mentioned that I was looking for a guest who had the experience of being in and then leaving a cult. It so happened that Dana is such a person and she was more than happy to return for an episode of my ‘The Dark Side of Influence’ series.
The conversation is powerful and informative and I hope it gives insight to the covert ways in which cults operate and control their members and also hope and resources to anyone leaving a cult or religion behind or perhaps thinking of doing so.

You can find out more about Dana on her website and download a free copy of her book Badass Intuition here

Resources on cults and support:


Episode Transcript:

John 0:00
Welcome to speaking of influence with John Ball from present Each week we talk about presentation skills and public speaking and the tools of influence and persuasion with experts and incredible guests. Stay tuned and enjoy the show. Speaking of influence is uploaded and distributed to all major podcast networks through Buzzsprout. Buzzsprout is the simplest way to get your podcast started with tonnes of great resources for new podcasters. You could start your podcast today, follow the link in the show notes.

And I’m really happy to welcome back to the show super badass business performance consultant Dana Pharant. Dana, welcome back.

Dana 0:47
Thanks, John. It’s a pleasure to get to spend some more time with you.

John 0:51
Our last recording has been one of the most popular episodes so far of the podcast. I’m really grateful for that. This is going to be a bit of a detour from what we talked about last time, but we did advise people that this is the topic we’re going to come back for, right? Yes. And so this time we’re going to be discussing cults really and the dark side of influence and persuasion and really the mind control kind of side of things as well. It’s a very interesting area. And before we get into your experience, because you actually have experience of having been a part of a cult, which I haven’t, I’ve had, I had religious experiences, but I certainly never been in a cult so to speak. But I got interested in this from just doing a public speaking project in my Toastmasters, which is how this podcast started in the first place. And it’s one way you’re supposed to research an area that you don’t know much about. I’ve seen a few YouTube videos from some sceptical YouTubers, I guess that was about it was about cults. So one of them was talking particularly about Steve Hassan who has the Freedom of Mind website. So I started looking into that and decided it was as good a subject as any to do a talk about and then found out there was really all this stuff in there about the dark side of influence and persuasion that was so relevant to a lot of what I do and that I’m interested in. And I’ve been keen ever since then to speak to someone who actually has real-life experience with that. And when you offered to have that discussion with me, I knew you’d be the perfect person to have that chat. So, let’s get into it a bit and tell us your experience of having been a part of a cult.

Dana 2:35
Yeah. Okay. So I grew up Jehovah Witness, which is listed as what they call a mild cult. So, you know, they don’t have extremism, in that it’s not a commune that you’re living in, but it still fits all the classic qualifications of a cult in that they segregate. You’ve got your own special language you have, you know, some sort of Doomsday prophecy. And there’s something there to keep you kind of locked in. And of course, if you leave, then you’re not allowed to connect with the members who are there. So they do a lot to kind of control things. It’s just not taken to and to some of the extremes that are, say, like the, like I said, the columbines you the places where it’s like it’s complete lockdown. But yeah, it’s quite fascinating. You don’t realise when you’re in it, how controlling it is. But then when you leave and you really start to, you know, take a step back and it’s, it’s taken me a good 20 years to really untangle the pieces, maybe even a little bit more because I’ve really been touching on some pieces recently. Again, another layer, but the programming happens on a daily basis. So when I was growing up, we went to church three times a week. We had door knocking once a week and then we were required to do Bible study on our own once a week, that’s five days a week that you’re being inundated with these thoughts, beliefs, information. And then it’s persuasive in that you’re only associated with other people who are also in the same tribe in the same you know, they call it a religion, but it’s really a cold. And so everybody that you talk to is also inundated with these ideas. So you’re not getting any information from the outside, which leads that deeper programming of Yes, this is the way to think this is what I should be doing. And you end up you know, kind of following along, it’s like those sheep just kind of getting, you know, herded into the pen. So it’s fascinating.

John 4:43
It’s a bit like, a bit like the Dunning Kruger effect to some degree like you don’t know what you don’t know. And when everyone’s kind of saying the same thing. If you know what everyone else is talking about really well and you know, all the ins and outs of that, you’re going to seem like a super smart person who’s got it all. Together, but outside of that community, it could be a very different picture. And people might think that you’re very limited in what you actually know and what your experiences. Now I didn’t have that level of limitation in my thinking, but I can certainly relate to the idea of being part of a community where the same story is essentially shared all around. And that how much that reinforces the beliefs that are being spread. But at what point did you start to realise that that wasn’t really, maybe how everyone else was living their lives and that you were in it in something that you might not even have recognised as being a cult as being different to normal?

Dana 5:41
Yeah, and you know, that really starts when you hit school because you’re segregated. So when I grew up, at that time, they played the Lord’s and lord’s prayer and the national anthem. And, and so we were required by our call to stand In the hall, so as as a, you know, right as a six-year-old, I’m standing in the hall during the Lord’s Prayer on the national anthem, again, you know, symbolising that I am not part of this group. So I’m really segregated from, but it’s very, it’s also it also does a jarring piece for the individual of like, I’m so different. Why are they doing all of this? And I’m not, you know, every time we have art class, we’re drawing Santa faces and I can’t, I have to do something different. Always leaving it so that I am different. I’m being picked on, you know, the kids are bullying me. You know, all those typical things. Anytime you’re different. You’re going to get picked on that started it. But, you know, in the early ages, you don’t really it’s like, well, this is all I have I need to be doing. I need to be conforming. And you’re told from the beginning or tooled all the way along, that they have it wrong. And this is the whole us versus them kind of scenario that always gets set up in a call They have it wrong. And so you feel like you are the chosen special people that somehow you have it right and they have a wrong. But I think for me, by the time I reached my teens, that was where it was like, you know, my, my brain was starting to, you know, really get into gear and I’m really questioning things because things don’t line up. Some of the things that I question, they don’t have really great explanations, not for my liking. And that starts me kind of, you know, looking around at that point and checking out what else is going on.

John 7:33
Were there ever any times before that where you may be questioning, but in a more general way, maybe not having any suspicions but just asking questions that were not being appreciated, And like, you know, ‘stop asking those questions’  this is a problem.

Dana 7:49
I think the earliest I can remember doing that, like really pushing back. I mean, I remember having questions, but just like, Oh, well, it’s just you know, we just go to church a lot like I just brushed it off. And then I would say probably about 14 was when I really started to ask more questions. And at this point, you know, I’m really getting the picture of what’s expected of me is that I get married and have kids, this is the expectation and then I’m not to go to college, you know, I’m talking about, you know, careers with a career counsellor at school. And people at church are like, Why? You’re just gonna get married, like, you don’t need to go to college. And it’s, and that probably was the biggest jarring piece for me, because I do have ambition. I do have drive and I could see myself you know, going and doing something at that time, I thought I was going to climb the corporate ladder. That’s a whole other story. But you know, that piece where they were pushing back on my desire to be ambitious, that created a question in my mind.

John 8:56
And I can well understand that as well. But what points did you make As you know, a better question perhaps to ask is what were the sort of some of the things that you started to notice other than things like not being able to draw centre or Jehovah’s Witnesses celebrate birthdays as well as that right? So So what were some of the other restrictions that you have? And when did you start to become aware of maybe not so obvious restrictions?

Dana 9:23
Uh, so obvious restrictions are all of the holidays so Christmas Easter all quote-unquote, religious holidays, and then birthdays somehow get lumped in there I don’t know. worshipping yourself or something. I don’t know. They have some reason there, whatever. So basically, there’s really not much in the way of celebrations. Yeah. And you know, that’s very different from everyone else. The not so obvious ones, like I said, it is a subtle undertone of women being second class citizens. So things like within the Churchwomen were not allowed to lead any kind of meeting. And then there were they’re always like these mini services before we went door knocking so you have as many services. So through the week, there weren’t always men available to lead. So they had this rule that if a woman was to lead one of these services, she had put a hat on to leave, like, what does that do? And that was my question. It was like, What is that do like I got hired on like, somehow that makes me a good substitute. And so those funny little quirks really did, you know, cause a questioning in my mind

John 10:38
so a lot of religions have those kinds of things those silly little laws that maybe they don’t seem silly when you’re in the religion but to people outside they might have probably do for you. I guess that’s one of the things people associate the most with the Jehovah’s Witnesses the door knocking. Yes. Did so you did some of that you Go with your family or did you go?

Dana 11:04
Yeah, so it was mostly was my family growing up so I was required to start taking like taking the lead talking outdoors. I remember this at eight. And the very first door that I knocked out, I, you know, I’m up there, my knees are shaking and I’m like, Oh, really nervous and I knock on the door. The woman opens it realises who we are and slams the door in my face. And that was really like, it was also another eye-opening moment where you start to question like, what is it? But at that time, it’s just, you know, this piece that they justify by saying God’s chosen people will be persecuted. And it’s like, Look, see, it’s evidence that we are God’s chosen people because we’re being persecuted. It’s not having the fortitude and I mean, now I look out and I’m like, Well, of course, you’re persecuted call on people at nine o’clock on a Saturday after they’re hungover from a Friday night and drinking, Of course, they’re gonna be mad. You bug people enough, they’re gonna get mad at you. But you don’t see that when you’re in it.

John 12:09
Yeah, interestingly here in Spain, the door knocking is prohibited. People are not allowed to. So here, the Jehovah’s Witnesses will stand on the street with a store with a little stand with all their Watchtower magazines or whatever. Yeah, well, that now here and in Spanish here, of course, and they’ll be in groups of at least two or three. And you’ll see them all over the city really interesting because they’re not allowed to go door-knocking anymore. I think it was maybe regarded as too intrusive, and that it was a nuisance to people rather than any kind of benefit. So they’ve been stopped from doing it, which is quite a big restriction. I know I’m sure I must have had quite a significant impact on them because as you mentioned, they’re also not allowed to approach people in The street if it’s okay people go and speak to them and ask them but they can’t actually go up to people and witness or whatever they want whatever they call it. And that anything that’s the same in the UK and I’m sure it’s not the same in the US as well, but it would certainly be interesting if those kinds of laws were brought in other places too. But this is one of the things about it. I don’t personally understand what attracts people to those kinds of organisations and if they’re not already searching for something like that in the first place, or feeling that their life is empty and lacking a meaning that you grew up with that what do you think it was that kept you there?

Dana 13:44
Uh, well, just being you know, it’s a roof over my head is with my dad. He was very strict. And so it was my way or the highway like, as long as you’re under my roof, you’ll have to you have to keep going to come back to the PC. So why do people why do people Go. Why do people join? So of course,  I got to see over the years a number of people who ended up coming into the religion and consistently and this is what they talk about consistently. They are looking for the lost sheep. And this is true of all cults they look and prey on people who are in a weak spot or who are vulnerable who are down. I remember this one couple that he did that my parents brought into the religion and they were new immigrants. So didn’t have a lot of friends didn’t have community, were really missing that sense of you know, connection and friendship and they struggled with the English language. And you know, they came in and of course, when you are brought in, you are welcomed. It’s It is a very family connection community. It’s very tight. You know, if there’s anything that goes wrong, they’re there. They’re there to help you can pick up the phone, and there’ll be meals, they’ll come and help you, they’ll give you money, you know, to help you pay your rent if you’re down, not continual support, but they really do support one another. So for people who are feeling, you know, lost and alone, these kinds of organisations and codes become very appealing because it feels that fills that need and of course, a sense of community and belonging is one of our core needs as humans, that’s really prey on

John 15:31
That makes it makes a lot of sense. And I think that is the case with probably most if not all religions, and even further than religions, any kind of groupings where people choose to identify themselves and have that in them and as kind of mentality we see that in politics you that you’ve been in business to some degree There are even business cult, so I’ve been made aware of was a bit of a surprise to me. That that is very much that case of wanting to be cohesive that the power of the community is really strong. Everyone feels like they want to belong somewhere. And if you want to belong in that kind of group you have to go by the rules and at least looked like you’re playing a good game even if you don’t wholly believe in it right? But for you as soon as you were able to get out from home was that it was like you started moving away from that. Oh, yeah,

Dana 16:24
yeah, I knew I knew at 16 so at 16 I tried going all in I got baptised so in that religion you choose if you’re going to get baptised Didn’t you have to be at least I think 14 set minimum age but anyway, so I got baptised I’m like, Okay, I’m gonna spend that summer and I went you know, did the full out door-knocking I don’t know, something like four or five times a week kind of thing. And I thought I’m just gonna dive right in and you know in and hang out with the, you know, the kids that are really into it. And by the end of the summer, that had been kind of locked in that it was like, No, I really don’t. So at that point, I started planning in looking at Okay, how do I get out? I needed to finish high school and you know, plan, plan my escape, so to speak. Now I did have my, my mother, to move into her place, which was another interesting extreme of what I grew up in. But having that plan in place of saying, Okay, I’m moving out, it wasn’t a matter of, you know, being torn at all. I knew I needed to go, I just, I couldn’t stay, I was probably going to kill myself if I stayed So, so,

John 17:39
yeah, pretty repressive kind of environment. And now I see parallels with my story, certainly around the age of 14 to 16. I was like yourself trying to get very deeply into the religion that I was a part of, and a lot of that was that the cognitive dissonance that was going on in my head trying to hold that idea until you told by lots of people were questioning his backsliding that’s doubting that’s a lack of faith and all these things that really were making me think that I wasn’t being a very good Christian and had to work harder at it. And then around the age of 60, and I actually got asked to leave the church that I was in certainly the membership of the church I was in. Because in a Bible study group, I had dared to question the biblical truth of Adam and Eve as literal people. And that it might have actually been biblical myth and metaphor. That was enough to for one of the elders of the church to get completely angry about that, and insist on the rest of the leadership that I will be removed from the membership. Wow, yeah, so seems like a crazy thing. But that was a lot. Well, at the time, I still believed in it, but not the way that they wanted me to believe in it, and asking questions that were causing some problems. So I was given a nudge on my way. And I know upset my parents and a few other people in that community. But for me, it was the push, I needed to say, well, maybe this isn’t really where I belong. And I explored other religions thinking that religion still had answers for me, and eventually found my way to something that didn’t revolve any religion or even particularly spirituality, but it took a long time. I know from my experience, not having been part of a sect, but it messed me up quite a lot. Psychologically, there was a lot to deal with a lot to overcome, especially having been a young gay boy having to deal with all that inside the church. I can only imagine it must have been probably 10 times worse for you in a religious cult.

Dana 19:48
Yeah, it’s one of those things that you know, when you’re moving forward, you don’t realise how much it takes you don’t realise how hard it is because this It’s normal, you know, leaving that was normal. Yes, I understood that it was hard. But I don’t I didn’t grasp it at that time. When I look back now I’m like, Oh my goodness, like, that took a lot to just leave because I left my family. I left all my extended family, which was the entire congregation. And I had lifetime friends in there. I had to just walk away from everybody in order to choose what was good for me. And that’s the thing is, is, you know, to look at that now and think, wow, that’s some real good gumption on my part of that age to just walk away from everything. And I think the process of rewiring my brain over the years deprogramming myself has been rocky because I think at that time like we’re going back 30 years more than 30 years. Oh dear boy. 30 years after Java too much.

So, you know, there were not the support groups, you couldn’t go on the internet and just like Google, you know, ex Jehovah’s Witness groups and get the support. And people didn’t understand a lot about the programming. I don’t even think they had identified Jehovah Witness as a cult at that point. So there was a lot that I had to kind of figure out on my own, and Bumble along and so it’s really I would say, it’s really only been the last 10 years that I’ve been able to dig in and say, Okay, these, these are the rules that I grew up with. This is the crazy programming Now, how do we change it and get into the actual computer system and change the coding?

John 21:48
Yeah, I don’t know about you, but I even now find the stuff that crops up that comes from all all of that. And I think anything that you’ve been, to a degree programmed with as a child is probably going to Staying with you forever really,

to some degree I mean there are definitely things that you can do to manage it and actually say, but we’ve cropping back up again, of course, this pandemic has triggered for me flashbacks of the whole, you know, this constant fear of Armageddon, the fear of you know, the end of the day. And so, yeah, it was reading Steve Hassan’s blogs that that brought that I’m like, Oh my goodness, no wonder. So, you know, moving through that is been another layer another, you know, different aspect of it.

Right. I mean, Steve Hassan is interesting because he really does work. His mission is helping people to deprogram themselves he was eating ground, from the sense that people might have an understanding of what deprogramming was in some of the movies from around the 80s and 90s where kidnapping people out of the cult and, and kind of force them to face up to reality and he is very clear that he doesn’t think that that was actually a good way when it did work for him. But he didn’t think it was a psychologically good way to rip people out of that. But he was more in the education and empowering people to understand what they’re a part of and step out of that. But what makes it particularly interesting because I think you’re right, a lot of people don’t even know what a cult really is, or what makes something a cult. So what’s the difference between a religion and a cult? I didn’t know that for the longest time, I thought were really no, the religions been around longer, and it has more people. I thought that was the bigger difference. But there are so many more things. And I know Steve, Hassan isn’t the only person who has that kind of insight and information. But what he lays out in the bite model, which is like the behaviour control, the information control, thought control and the emotional control, all of that stuff, you can see it and he says no, the more of those things that from that model that you see. Then the more of a cult. It is So, you know, you said yours was a softer cult than some of the others his cult was the Moonies cult, which people probably think that have more of that association with what cults are actually like. And you see more of those elements of the bite model within there. What were perhaps some of the most obvious ones for you now that you’ve come across his work, and that the bite model, what are some of the big elements for you or for kind of control methods that you saw?

Dana 24:30
Segregation is a really big one. So keeping it very insular, you’re only allowed to associate with people within the organisation that creates a very, you know, that insular community you’re only you’re and the and the language, language is a really big one. So having your inside verbiage slang, you know, everybody’s got the lingo that they had the talk. And so that’s a way of actually segregating even within a lot of self-help. programmes there’s very much you don’t call it like stuff going on within those that’s a whole nother rant got sucked into one of those too. So you know those pieces having their own they have their own version of the Bible. And it’s you know, it’s twisted to fit what they want they you know, you’re discouraged from reading material outside of what they provide. It’s all about that control of where are you finding your information, the control in how many times a week you are supposed to be associating with each other. And, and you know, where you move how you move. The other thing that drives me crazy is the money aspect of it. Like this concept, and religion, in general, is really bad for imprinting people with this idea that, you know, don’t have too much. Okay, could you put $1 amount on that? Could you know, is it 30? Is it 50 is 100 How much is too much?

At least as much as Trump

Dana 26:02
Right. So there’s always this vague sense of I’m doing it wrong. Yeah, I’m coming in there. And so when you’re in, and really, it’s just that piece of brainwashing where you’re told something over and over and over again. The brain takes that in as being true.

John 26:20
Yeah, I can understand how the Joel Osteens and Joyce Meyers of this world is so appealing to people when they are you can have it or you can have all this money and you can have, we can be as rich as you want. And that’s very attractive to a lot of Christians who are thinking or people who want to at least think that Christians think, Okay, well, the church was said, You’re not supposed to have money. You’re not supposed to be rich. And he’s saying, No, God wants you to be rich. But once you have all of this, and is a cult in a different kind of way, maybe not so strong as a lot of other things, but it is near another variation on the theme and how that appeal, I think for a lot of people and crosses into a lot of personal development stuff as well, I find which, which disturbs me a little bit sometimes. However, that’s not so much what we’re here for today. But I am interested I read I was recommended a book not too long ago, and you may have come across it. It’s Tara Westover, his book Educated. Have you seen that coming? Yeah. So it’s on the bestsellers list, I think still at the moment, and she grew up in a Mormon, strict Mormon cult, and had to essentially educate herself and some of her family as well. And this is really about some of the problems that she hasn’t experienced growing up in that that they lived in the sticks. You know, they weren’t in a place where realised that anything was particularly abnormal until things got a bit older and she was able eventually to Educate herself but she talks about the whole journey of having to come out of that and how all the resistance that she encountered herself. I know with Jehovah’s Witnesses from limited experience and contact that I’ve had with that particular organisation, that the shunning part of it there, pushing people out of the community is a big part. And that’s the part of the control thing. You know, exile was the ultimate punishment. Right. And so what happened for you when you started to come out of it? Was that your experience as well?

Dana 28:34
Oh, absolutely. It was, yeah, everybody has varying degrees. They’ve used up the amount of that kind of XL torture, so to speak. So might when my mom left they chased her down, like physically chased her corner her like it was just it was really bad for me. I moved out And I just made myself unavailable. So they tried calling me but I just wouldn’t take the calls. I took one call. And they said some things they like we’d like to sit down, have a meeting with you, you know, come to them, like, really? I’m going to come back there. I know what happens. You know, you’re Oh, great. So here I am an 18-year-old girl, I’m going to sit down in a room full of eight to 10 old white men. And you’re going to ask me about my sex life? No, I don’t think so. That’s not okay. Like it’s just, it’s harassment. Like at the beginning, they harass you to try to get you to come back. And then they shun you and get everybody to not talk to you as a pressure to get you to come back. And for some people, it that works that that sense of like, Oh my god, I like I’ve just lost everything I need to get back to these people. And so they’ll come back and they’ll do their Penance and they’ll you know, they just like, you know, almost like kiss everybody’s ass to try To get back, and it’s crazy, it’s absolutely crazy-making like, they really do a lot to make you feel like you are insane and that you need them. And, and that’s where it really kind of goes really wonky.

John 30:15
It gets a bit more than that though, doesn’t it? I dated a guy who, his family, Jehovah’s Witnesses and he grew up with that as well. And he had no experience in the dating world. I mean, he was a virgin and everything when we first met, and I remember how challenging that was for him because he was going through the process of coming out to his family. And this was also around the time that his older brother and his wife had just had their first child and they cut him off. Yeah, they just pushed him out completely. And it was the thing of even his mother was contacting him secretly, his father was contacting him secretly, because they didn’t want each other to know that the content and because if it got back to the chairs, if one of the other reports that they too would be kicked out, they would be shunned as well, you weren’t allowed to have any kind of contact with someone who’s been shunned from, from the church. He never got to see his nieces or nephews, I don’t even remember what they were. And we didn’t date for all that long, but we eventually lost touch. And this is kind of interesting because it’s only just recently that I was on social media. And I saw a picture of a guy who was connected to him through someone else. So it was really very random. And it was a wedding photo of him and his late husband, the guy who would pan out killed himself. Oh, that looks just like my ex. And it looks a lot like him. And then I did a bit of digging and found out that two years before he had actually ended his life, wow. and ended up contacting his husband, his widow, and finding out as so delicately as I could what had happened and saying, Hey, you know, I used to date this guy. And, you know, we’d lost touch. And I was really sad to see this. And he said, essentially, it was that he’d never really gotten over all the stuff that had gone on with his family. But that was what had led him to that stage of ending his life, which, to me is horrific. I know, it’s tough. But I also know he was a sensitive guy, very caring, sensitive guy, and just have deeply that that has hurt him as much as he tried to normalise his life and deal with it and move on from it. But that was still a bad shattering over everything. So we can’t really underestimate just how damaging and harmful these kinds of societies can be. That, for me, was a horrible realisation you know, I knew he’d been messed up with that. And I was angry enough about that. But then to find out that it actually over time led him to take his own life that was absolutely heartbreaking. Yeah, but not unique.

Dana 33:17
Unfortunately, it’s really not. And I know, you know, from watching people over the years, people that I know, that leave, you know, they often end up in really bad situations, alcoholism, drug addiction, you know, in and out of bad marriages, I’ve seen some that are in and out of prison, that kind of thing runs quite rapid because they don’t have the skills and they don’t necessarily reach out for help because they’ve just come out of a cold. And so reaching out to something else for help seems a little scary and dangerous as well. So it’s really it is really sad, but, you know, hopefully, these days People coming out realise that there are way more resources available right there are more support structures now as I’ve seen, I’ve seen some of them what were the things that helped you most of all in dealing with this and recovering your life is it well, you know, I was in therapy right from the get-go. So I started out because I also had sexual abuse that had happened.

So I started going down that path of healing for that and that took me into various forms of counselling and therapy, and I and I kept looking, I’m like, there’s got to be something else. There’s got to be something else. You know, I see people out there who are happy. I would like to have that. How do I get on? So I tried, you know, groups get therapy, traditional counselling, psychotherapy. I went for ACA I even tried a for a while I thought maybe I’m an alcoholic because I was triggered. Quite a bit and you know went through all of those different things and then kept just kept trying to find I started looking at self help you know came across things like the EFT the Emotional Freedom Technique, tapping, you know that Tony Robbins stuff, you know, I dug into everything I was just constantly there’s got to be something I had this strange just draw that it was like there’s got to be something, there’s got to be something more than this. And so I just kept looking. And for me, the kink world was was really the big turning point. And I know we talked about this in the last episode, that was really the big turning point that unlocked some of those pieces from my body. And then from there, I was able to get traction with the other tools. And it’s just been snowballing and the tools that I have now are, you know, 100 times more effective than what we started with. So it’s that intrinsic motivation to want to find Something else it’d be constantly looking and asking questions.

John 36:03
Yeah. That’s, that’s fascinating. And it’s got me thinking along the lines of, again paralleling my own experience of that. But the hardest part for me, not in really in just overcoming that, but in growing up and finding myself was dealing with the shame aspect of things that I felt ashamed of who I was, I felt ashamed particularly of my sexuality, my thoughts about other guys and thinking that was been told for so many years. It’s not normal. It’s not natural. God doesn’t like it all this kind of stuff to hell for that. And that was a really, really hard thing to deal with. And even not just within the religion, I mean, for me at that age, and in the media, gay people were very vilified, particularly in the UK. I don’t really know what the US or Canadian press for life at that time, but I don’t think it was particularly positive either but The UK tabloids especially were hateful, absolutely hateful about gay people.

And so there’s a, there was a real fear that you knew that if people realised who you were and what you’re about that you wouldn’t just be Sunday, no one would come near you is like you were an absolute pariah in society. You may as well have been a leper in walking through the streets, no one would come near you. At least that’s what it felt like and that the communities that did exist were made to look so… to know what the right word is. They were made to look so depraved and so below where everyone else was that you wouldn’t want to be a part of that. How could you want to associate with them and this concept of that you could never be happy if that was the life that you chose for yourself. I can’t choose that for myself. I can’t never be happy. And I think the same thing isn’t exclusive to anyone who has issues. With their sexuality but I can well imagine how getting into something like the kink community could have helped to transform your own feelings and experience around sexuality and even just the back of self in general.

Dana 38:18
Yeah, it is a really great space to spend a bit of time in and then leave if to my opinion, because you know that first bit where you go in and you see people exploring really, you know, all kinds of different things, you know, you’ve got, you’ve got somebody who, you know, wears kitty cat ears and a tail all the time, like all 24 seven and then you know, there are other people who are, you know, the corsets are their thing and so they just, you know, they’re but you see people that are just expressing themselves, expressing what they love to do, being able to get information from them of why do you love Why is this you know, and for the most part, there is a fairly safe space for, you know, your kink is your kink and whatever you’re into is your kink, you know, I don’t have to, as my friend calls it ‘Ick your wow’, if that’s your thing. So it’s there’s real freedom in that, that you don’t necessarily get in other places. But I think,

John 39:25
again, this kind of community again, I mean, it is a community. You’re not being judged negatively as well.

Dana 39:32
Well, I hopefully you’re not being judged negatively. You know, that wasn’t always true. But yeah. But there’s there is a general consensus, especially when I got into it, there was, you know, there was kind of a community there were people that had been in for a long time. And so they kind of mentored others to, you know, make some space and create an opening that is like, Oh, well, rather than being shunning the other people like ask them, find out Like, what is that? What? Why do you like it? What, what works for you? So, so that’s very fascinating.

John 40:06
What’s interested me particularly about cults is that very often people think that they would never fall for it, they would never be brought into it that I would never believe. And I wouldn’t become wouldn’t ever become a Hare Krishna or a Jehovah’s Witness or whatever. And they don’t realise how these organisations go about recruiting people that it’s so clever. It’s more than just knocking on the doors, which you know, is what most people probably do slam the door, although I can remember as a young Christian lad who was convicted of my beliefs, trying to convert the Jehovah’s Witness while they’re trying to convert me on the doorstep, which was all very civilised, everything but now as I look back, okay, that was a bit weird, really. But I do think that people do. One of the things that makes people susceptible is thinking that they are being threatened that they would never fall for something like that are pulled into it. What do you know about some of the techniques that people use to bring people in?

Dana 41:13
And what was the Jehovah Witness in particular, I know that they’re really looking for the people who are easy to convert, they’re looking for those that are already feeling lost already feeling. You know, they’ve had a death they’ve they’ve had, you know, so there’s something leaving them susceptible, they’re not going to go after the person who’s really like, they would never go off to somebody like me at this point, you know, it’s like, I’m good or, or the person or you even, you know, trying to convince them of your religion. That’s not who they’re going to be continually knocking on the door. But basically, the technique is really um, one of wearing the person down. So if you continually knock on somebody’s door, and you continue to talk to them a little bit. And so to go back to this example, I can think of that couple that, you know, they were new immigrants. And you know, so the first contact, there’s, you know, there’s a little bit of communication, you know, hey, there’s somebody knocking at the door. They, of course, live out in the country in this old schoolhouses, great schoolhouse. And so they’re a little bit isolated. So now Oh, look, there’s somebody to talk to. And so the conversation starts and then you start visiting them once a week, which is starts that sense of community, and then you start having Bible studies with them. So before they’re even invited to the church, you’re indoctrinating them before you bring them into the fold. And in that process, you know, what’s happening behind the scenes is of course, that you’re checking out if they’re going to be a good fit. And you know, if they’re, you know, they’re receptive to the ideas and receptive to the ideas, and I think the Bible study part of it goes on for at least three months, maybe six months. It’s quite a long process then they’re invited into the church now at this point, they feel special because they’ve passed the test. Okay and here’s the thing with the dark psychology once you’ve had somebody go over some hoops to get into something if it’s been a bit difficult, there are more reluctant to get out. So even if once you’re in you kind of go, I don’t know. Then you start assessing like well, maybe it’s not so bad. And that cognitive dissonance kicks in where it’s like well, you know, it’s not that bad or you reason it’s like there’s more good than bad and you know, nothing is perfect and you reason with yourself to stay. And that’s really the big thing is they have that long process to get them into the actual church. Then they get to meet everybody else and now they’re welcomed in as one of the fold. Suddenly you feel special and we saw that I don’t know if you saw the Waco movie or the Netflix special.

John 44:00
I remember the Waco event

Dana 44:02
The Netflix special is actually pretty good in that, especially when you watch that piece because there’s one person that gets taken in, and it’s that same kind of thing, making him feel special, having him feel part of the community. And then he gets to a certain point where it’s like, okay, you can’t just visit his sister, we can’t just visit, you have to be all in or all out. And it’s at that moment when they’ve had a taste of that community in those early days before they really start questioning things. Then you get that commitment. You’re all in or you’re all out. And I think that’s very similar for most of the call is some variation of that.

John 44:38
Yeah. And, again, I come to Steve Hassan who talks about that the cult that he joined I think they used attractive young girls to help pull in young impressionable lads like himself, right, which Yeah, you’re gonna student at the time, but also particularly, he did talk in his book about how They will sometimes target quite intelligent people even be we think well wouldn’t go off to someone who’s kind of intelligent? Well, some of them will, because it’s a real big win for them. Nicole is someone who is regarded as well known or intelligent. I mean, look at Scientology, for example, psychology big for that. Yeah, a very, very strong example of that. And, and also one of those organisations that because it has such a foothold in the entertainment industry, you know, I’ve known people who’ve been trying to make it in that industry who have ended up on the fringes or getting into Scientology, because of the opportunities that that organisation can end up leading them into, but in the meantime, you still have to, even if you tell yourself, you’re just going through the motions, you’re still being indoctrinated, you’re still doing it you’re still complying with that kind of behaviour in that camp. No matter how strong you are, it’s going to have an effect is going to seep in In some ways, you say maybe stop rationalising and think actually, it’s not so bad, and I can deal with it. And Halo can do a lot for me, we have a good word for me, let’s go a bit deeper with this. Those are all these sort of inroads that are possible for you to get, especially if you’re surrounded by a tonne of other people who believe in the same things, or at least appear to believe the same things because no one’s gonna express any dissent in public in the group because it doesn’t well that’s it

Dana 46:28
right? If everybody is saying the same thing, you’re like, well, I can’t question this. I don’t want to be the only one. I mean, there’s been lots of scientific studies to show that nobody wants to be the only one to stand out against you know, whatever it is, even if it’s blatantly wrong. Nobody wants to be that only one. But as soon as there’s one other person, then people can can rally behind it starts to speak out. So you’re asking about that, you know, the people that are intelligent, it’s going to say that we all have moments where we are emotionally more sensitive, you know, down and vulnerable. And no matter how intelligent or wealthy or successful any of those things we can, we can all have times in our lives, where we feel like we need community where we feel like we need support. And if we don’t have that, that’s what also makes us vulnerable.

John 47:22
I think one thing that could be interesting is that people may be listening to this who have some relatives or maybe even have some associations with these kinds of organisations themselves and feel they don’t see anything too bad about it. And, you know, in those circumstances, I would encourage people to check out the past, or really just to go back and listen to, to what you’ve been saying about your experience. One of the things people should maybe watch out for most or question most doing, at least for themselves, to start getting maybe, at least just a bigger picture of where they’re at.

Dana 48:01
Um, I think if you’re involved with any kind of religion, organisation business, you know, Association, all those kinds of things start to look at how much are they willing to embrace others? How much are they willing to say, Okay, this is what we like. And you know, they’re okay if they like something else. It doesn’t make them wrong. The moment that any, you know, system organisation business makes everything else wrong in them, right? That’s a big red flag for me. And I see this in personal development worlds. I see this in businesses and in businesses love to create a cult environment, a culture, you know, you look at Click Funnels, Click Funnels as a culture, like it’s a cult. I mean, he says it it’s a decreasing culture. It is a cult following. Like, there is that aspect Because they get in there and then it’s like, this is the only thing is right and, and everything else is wrong and just you have to just be doing, you’re just, you know, one funnel away from two commas. Like, there’s all this kind of Mind Control stuff. So I would say, are they inclusive? Do they say okay, this is I love this, but if you’re doing something different, you know, fill your boots, if not start to have some questioning thoughts about it.

John 49:27
Yeah. What sort of resources are you aware of now but it might be helpful for anyone who’s had similar experiences to yourself.

Dana 49:39
Um, you know, there are a lot of support groups now. There’s there are free groups just like we’ve got al-anon and ACA there are support groups for people leaving and it can be cult specific. So I know that there are Jehovah’s Witness support groups that are available. Some of them are online. Some of them are in person. Go for a little time period, just to know that you’re not alone. You weren’t crazy, and then get out because those become an insular kind of substitute of the cult as well. But you know, that’s a good place to start and then seek out a good therapist or coach that works with people who, you know, understand programming and how cults work and how they operate and how to deprogram in a way that is safe and effective. Because just going in and ripping things out is not necessarily either sane or effective. It’s not kind.

John 50:37
Yeah, and I think that’s a really important point no, for whether it’s a cult or any, any kind of community-led organisation where you’ve been an integral part of that without much on the outside. If you just rip that one away, and you don’t have any kind of support structure. And besides that, you’re going to feel very lost and we need some kind of rank, but also your right not to replace one coat with another to go for something a bit more balanced. Now I just recently put out an article about what I see is the cult of positivity in personal development.

Dana 51:15
I just read that before we get on.

John 51:18
Yeah, and I think it’s, I think it’s very significant that there is levels of thought control. And that’s really what we’re talking about people who are trying to tell you what to think. And I’m very big on critical thinking actually helping people to think for themselves to have their own thoughts. I don’t think anybody has all the answers. I think we should take things and question them and test them out and see what really is true, at least for us and, and, and investigate things a bit more deeply and not just take other people’s words for and I do think there’s a lot of great resources around critical thinking and cognitive bias that people would do well to know. And I would love to see taught in schools as well, because I think I’ve found to open to these things, not just in terms of religion, but in politics, media and everywhere.

Dana 52:13
Doing all of those things. I mean, they all employ a type of brainwashing

John 52:20
and unseen influences

Dana 52:23
Yeah. The greatest example I think the greatest example is, you remember the Swiffer when Swiffer first came out in early 1990s? And I’ll never forget this because it was just it was on every single channel, every single commercial. It was his first commercial last commercial. It was like just bombarded you until finally, you catch it. I would catch myself. I’m like, Oh, I think I need a Swiffer. And I’m like, Yes. But because they did that massive, massive inundation that is very directly brainwashing through just constant bombardment.

John 52:59
Yeah. TV commercials essentially are there because they’re not there to generally make you aware of a product they’re there to have you have their product at top of mind so that if you think about soda or soft drink you’re gonna think Coca Cola if you think about product placement something you can change Are you going to think about Wrigley’s? If you think about cleaning products you’re gonna think about Mr Clean or something like that, you know, there’s that’s what they want. They want to be top of mind and people works and it works. And they get injured and it really does is some degree an invasion of your conscious mind? Because they’re in there. I can still remember advertising jingles from when I was a small child. That stuff stays in your head. It’s very clever.

Dana 53:47
Yes, very clever. Yeah.

John 53:50
It is interesting. There’s so much out there. And I remember finding a book called mind-control marketing by Mark Joyner if you’ve ever come across him And he’s an interesting guy and the book, it was a bit of an eye-opener for me. But it led me to other resources as well that I found interesting Robert Cialdini, his book on influence, which is critical reading for anybody, in my opinion. And there’s this whole hidden world of influence that most people have no idea is there, how it’s affecting them how things are interacting, that most of us are running on automatic and not even realising it and stopping to question it. And if there’s one thing that I care about, probably important, just about anything else, is getting people to stop and ask them questions and check things for themselves find out what’s really true for them. And some sometimes they get a bit stronger. Maybe put might push people away a bit, but I really love questioning mentality and I get a bit concerned when people don’t have that and when they’re not actually questioning things. But it is Germany what we get conditioned to now I don’t take up your whole day here. So so we wrap things up a little bit and I know the council probably wants to attend. So let’s start to wrap things up. We talked about some of the resources that are available to people. I also think it’s important to address how we treat people who may be part of these groups as well because now that they’re kidnapping them and deprogram them that isn’t necessarily the best way forward and scorning them in some those on the faces also may not be the best way. What do you think is the best way to interact with three people who are that may be involved in these sorts of cults or have some sort of association with them?

Dana 55:46
So if you want to influence somebody to get out of what you think is a cult, I would really invite you to think in terms of what is your long term game, and it is not an instant you can’t go to somebody and say oh, you’re part of a cult you should get out. Because the first thing that’s going to happen is people are going to do push back, they’re not going to want to think that they’re part of a cult, even if they are. And so I would suggest this piece of always dropping tiny little questions. So it’s not the big questions. It’s just tiny, little questions. So when they tell you about something that’s going on, if you can, you can reflect it back to them and say, Oh, you know, use their, their language, the last three words of what they say and say, Oh, you know, you’re doing that, you know, just this, this question and let them you know, expand on it, and dropping in like, wow, I don’t understand how that works. Because that’s, you know, this is, you know, this doesn’t line up with this and leaving them tiny little thoughts. So, you know, if we use the example that you have witnesses, it’s like, oh, you know, Armageddon is coming, and then we’re all going to be janitors for the next thousand years. Is that what you’re saying? Like But you have to just leave them one jarring piece for them to chew on. And it’s going to take possibly three years of doing these tiny little disruptions into their universe to get them to think about it. People are not going to be open to you just saying you’re part of the call, you should get out you’re being stupid because that’s gonna flare up all the cognitive distance and they’re gonna have to push back on you.

John 57:25
Yeah, I often think that similar kind of thing with religion. I know when I left religion in general that, that I tended to think that religious people were somehow stupid, sometime around. So hey, I believe this stuff was like, do I think I was stupid either. And I also know plenty of very intelligent people who have all sorts of beliefs that okay, well, maybe I need to learn to be a bit more respectful to people’s beliefs, but also, that you can ask questions if they’re able To the one thing I’ve generally discovered is you can’t help you can’t get an inroad someone if they don’t even want to have that discussion. However, if someone is trying to get you on board with their religion, you have every right to be asking them questions in return as well. Because…

Dana 58:16
yeah, yeah, you’ve gonna pick your battles and, and keep it small because I remember my sister questioning me one time. So I was involved in a personal development programme thing that, you know, became rather called, like, further up, you go in, it gets a little crazy. And at one point, my sister said, you know, it’s kind of starting to sound like a cult. And that’s all she said. And honestly, that niggled in the back of my brain. And then I started, you know, researching, and at that time, it was like, you know, I found all kinds of articles saying it’s a cult, it’s a cult, it’s called, and I’m like, oh, they’re just, they’re just mad because of, you know, blah, blah. But it stuck with me. And so when I started seeing things that showed signs of It being like that, that that little implant. And this is what I’m saying is like if you have somebody don’t discount the impact that that one question can make in somebody’s life,

John 59:11
plant the seeds? Absolutely I have I’ve heard stories from people before saying that there was someone who had said something to them maybe even 10 years before they had planted the seed that eventually led to them coming out of that particular belief system moving into something else, but the seeds have been planted that you might not see the results of the seed for the tree that you plant, but it will grow hopefully in the minds of the base where you planted it. And I do think it’s important to treat people with kindness and recognise that unless someone is trying to force their beliefs on you, for whatever reason we’re getting into Handmaid’s Tale territory and but then he is not a war. It’s, it isn’t an idea, a war of ideas to some degree, but the bigger wars going to be going on inside people’s heads with the cognitive dissonance. And that’s what they’re going to have to work out try and be kind to be recognised. It’s not because they’re stupid, it may just be because they’ve been misled. And it may just be because they haven’t really questioned things in that way before they’ve been busy. But in the community, where that’s all you hear, just to be a bit, kind of, and I think that’s a great idea. Just see if you can plant a little seed saving, get some opening that leaves something with them for them to go away and think about, but your job isn’t to take stripped them of their belief right then and there and pull it away from them. But if they want to engage a bit further in that you might be able to go a bit further with them and ask them some more questions. And let them ask you questions as well. And respect, where it can be bought in, is going to be a very useful tool to actually engage a bit more critical thinking And that’s what we’re going for, ultimately to help people engage their minds a bit more and see things for more of what they really are, rather than what they’ve been told they are. Yeah, let’s, let’s wrap things up there then. But it’s been a really interesting conversation. I’m so happy that you came and shared your experience of this weathers as well. I’m going to put links to some of the resources that we talked about in the show notes for this so people can go and check those out for themselves. Are there any other books or resources that you wanted to mention as we wrap things up?

Dana 1:01:36
my brains not clicking, but I can probably send you an email and see but get some pieces in there.

John 1:01:41
we’ll make sure that that all goes in as well. Thank you so much for your time. Once again, I really enjoyed the discussion and we’ll continue to stay in contact with you. I mean, you’re an incredible person and it’s been one hell of a journey. Right.

Dana 1:01:54
Thanks, John. I really do enjoy these conversations with you as well as you are a delight.

John 1:02:00
Thank you so much.

I hope you’ve enjoyed this episode. If you have, please make sure to like and subscribe and come back for more great episodes and chats with amazing people. If you think you’d be a good guest for the podcast or you know someone who would, or you think I’d be a good guest for your podcast, please feel free to get in touch. You can email me, john at present if you think I’d be a good speaker for your event, or you’d like to learn more about public speaking presentation skills, whether that’s online or in-person, creating online products and services, video content, having clarity, confidence and charisma in all doing that, then please shoot me an email or visit my website, present and I’ll see you there

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