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The Last Four Years Through the Eyes of a Cult Survivor

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Editor's Note

This story reflects an individual’s experience and is not an endorsement from The Mighty. We believe in sharing a variety of perspectives from our community.

If you have experienced emotional abuse, the following post could be potentially triggering. You can contact the Crisis Text Line by texting “START” to 741741.

Since January 20, I’ve been able to breathe and sleep a little easier. I had no clue how much I was being impacted by the politics of the last four years, until it was over. And now that it is, through safe spaces, safe people and of course my therapist, I can really begin to process the last four years as the re-traumatization it was for me.

About seven years ago, fresh out of graduate school, I had begun my spiritual journey. It in fact had begun long before 2014, I just didn’t know it had. I was active in a beautiful, spiritual healing group where I learned reiki and all about energy healing. I was aware of this “stuff” previously, but now it all made sense. We are all energy. We are made of “star dust.” We can transfer positive energy to heal others. I was on fire!

At this time, I discovered Kundalini and Hatha yoga, meditation, as well as Kirtan. In fact, 2014 was the birth year of the current Kirtan band I’m a part of, The Kirtan Bliss Band. I was wide open to the world of possibilities and cosmic energy. This was also the year I met the “Enlightened Master,” whom within a year named herself, Guru Muktinandi.

I won’t go into the details of what happened while I was with the so-called “Master,” but I will give a bit of psycho-education on cults, Trump and how intellectual people can easily become prey for the malignant narcissist.

1. Vulnerability

Essentially all cult survivors share a component of vulnerability. In my case, I was in transition, just discovering my flavor of spirituality. I was also fresh in my field with a wide-open mind. There was also the promise of power, which was appealing since I was a newbie therapist and unsure of just about everything. The guru spoke, “You will be the Master’s Mind Mechanic Perception Shifter, and one day inherit the meditation center we build together,” and I believed. Trump followers were also vulnerable. The Republican Party was reeling from eight (wonderful, in my opinion) years of a Democratic president. Anyone who wasn’t a Democrat would win their vote. But here’s the hook, Trump spread the good news of the “prosperity gospel” that commands, “Make America Great Again.”

2. Destabilization

In almost all cases, there is a destabilization aspect, being placed in an uncertainty that is uncomfortable and sparks some fear. For me, the belief was this is the only person in the world who understands me and my experiences. She did this through listening to my words and watching my expressions and micro-expressions. If she is the only person who gets and can intuit my thoughts and feelings, she must be magical and mystical and she is the only person I can trust.

But what about everyone else?

Trump does this by challenging the status quo. This inherently isn’t a bad thing, but once you have a group of individuals questioning everything, you create a crack you can fill with whatever you want. If you say anything enough, with certain confidence, in the right cadence, it magically becomes truth.

3. Grooming

This is the phase where intelligent people often lose their footing. This is the point when you hear a survivor’s story, you think, “How could they believe this shit?” In my experience, it came in the form of love bombing. I was told, multiple times a day through Facebook messenger and text messages, I was brilliant and such an advanced meditator, that I manifested the Master.

Quotes from Buddha, Shiva, Lincoln, you name it were offered as evidence. There was no point at which I was not in communication with her. She told me how beautiful I was, and made sure I knew she had never been with a female-bodied person. She convinced me to trust, and once I did, I shared my trauma narrative. By this point, I was already filing paperwork to build the ashram she desired and making plans to leave everything — sign my vehicle over to the “organization,” live with her as her personal assistant and join many others in devotion to her. She could have asked me to do anything, even storm the Capitol building and force the Senate to overturn the electoral college votes. After all, Trump did tell his followers to “fight and walk down Pennsylvania Ave to the Capitol.”

4. Four components

There are four components of control that also occur in cults: Behavior control, information control, thought control and emotional control. For me, some of these happened over the grooming period, as I was flattered and became more and more trusting. I was told my then current, beautiful, spiritual group was nothing more than a circus of marionettes. This is blazed in my mind because I challenged her, and at that time, I was unaware of the meaning of marionette. I just knew I felt defensive because I loved my friends and colleagues.

She followed up my defensive reaction that perhaps I was just a marionette as well, or a “sheeple.” I was instructed to choose between enlightenment (as if it were a place or destination) and the life I was living. I selflessly chose enlightenment, which meant I stopped playing Kirtan music, unless I was creating chant about the Master. I viewed, listened and read only what she wanted me to. I worked to “earn my keep.” I cooked, cleaned and was the local, nonprofit therapist who worked for a fee that was paid directly to her.

I was not allowed to talk with anyone without her being present, me sitting at her feet (on the guru’s seat), with the phone on speaker so she knew what I was saying and who was saying what to me. She was aware my mother pleaded for me to come home, to pay my student loans, car insurance, etc. This meant my mom now was a threat, along with virtually everyone else, and communication virtually stopped. The Master had access to all my social media accounts and could demand access to my computer at any time — I was only an advertisement for the nonprofit and the mouthpiece of the guru.

Remember during the grooming process, I trusted enough to share my trauma narrative? In a means to control me, I was told and convinced none of it ever happened. Or, she would reinforce some parts when she could twist things to her benefit. For example, “You want this, remember you like this, and you deserve it.” And it worked, I believed her, all of me believed her. In an attempt to reinforce dependence, she kicked me out and had me convinced I was an elder abuser, that Adult Protective Services (APS) would come after me and I was going to lose my therapy license and possibly go to jail. She directed me, with $50 to go to a nearby ashram. But something clicked, and I came home. And haven’t been back.

I left in 2016, but the bond wasn’t severed yet. I had a series (three) of transient ischemic attacks/mini-strokes (TIAs). She told me this was due to my disobedience. I looked to her to heal me, and she turned her back on me. The process of “love bombing,” me being vulnerable, then being angry, cycled for another solid year, until I could cut ties completely. Half of America is not there yet. Half of America is still hoping Trump will be back and all the promises (most of which were never fulfilled) will come true, and “America Will Be Great Again!”

The truth is, we are all on the cusp of awakening and healing from four years of narcissistic abuse, in my opinion. This nation has been governed by control in every way. Behavior, because it’s OK to storm the Capitol in my name. Information, because any news source that’s not reporting what I want to hear is “fake news.” Thought, because if you aren’t thinking the way I think you should, you are wrong; anyone different is wrong. Emotional, because we are weak if there is an emotional display, as well as statements that hint at how you are expected to feel (for example, “This should make you angry, right?”).

The last four years have been intense for me. Everything related to Trump, the following, the memes, the election, my friends’ opinions of grandeur … all of it was quite overwhelming because of my previous trauma. Many cult survivors have lived in a constant trauma response since 2016. We have watched our collective country become indoctrinated with venom and then spew it to those of us who could see it for what it is.

Healing comes with acknowledgement and the understanding this is not what we chose. We followed what we believed to be true, even if it wasn’t. Just like the QAnon Shaman requesting and believing he would be pardoned, I believed the Master would scoop me up and apologize for the pain I endured at her expense. From my experience, it never happens that way with a malignant narcissist.

Getty image by bagotaj

Originally published: March 14, 2021
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