Not all who question feminism are lost.

I’m technically a feminist by the generally understood connotation of the word, and I can appreciate the rhetorical necessity of labels when discussing ideas, so when people call me a feminist they’re not really wrong, but I don’t call myself a feminist anymore — for many reasons! some semantic, some personal, some philosophical, but they’re all good reasons that I’ve put a lot of thought into, that much I can assure you — but if I can be honest with you, I resent that people think “Are you a feminist?” is a simple Yes-or-No question, because that assumption in itself betrays an overly simplistic approach to what I think is (or, what should be) an enormous, complex, ever-evolving conversation, which is one of the many reasons I avoid the label —  and, if I can be even more honest with you, I’m rather critical of feminism both as a concept and as a movement — but I’m not anti-feminist or ex-feminist or anything like that — it’s just that I have so many questions about feminism that no feminist person or text has ever sufficiently answered for me, and hardly anyone will engage me in the conversation in the first place — and I’m sorry, I know I’m rambling, it’s just that I have to do all this hemming and hawing, because when you say you don’t call yourself a feminist or that you’re critical of feminism — even if you’re very well-read on the subject and deeply-involved in feminist activism — many feminists immediately assume the worst about you — or, they assume you’re assuming the worst of them — so then there’s a lot of knee-jerk conclusion-drawing and character-judging that happens, and I get put on the defensive after saying, like, six words total  and it just sucks, you know? So I avoid these conversations altogether — not because I’m afraid to be judged or can’t defend my opinion, but because…

Oh, fuck it. It’s because most of the people who ask where I currently stand on feminism don’t ask in good faith, and, quite frankly, are neither linguistically nor philosophically equipped for a conversation of this nature, and I prefer to reserve my energy for those who can actually handle my questions. Said plainly: I do not owe anyone an explanation for each and every thought that crosses my mind, and if I ever did feel compelled to discuss my ideas at length, I would only discuss them with someone who could match me in intellectual and conversational rigor. The list of people who can do that with me is very short, and does not include you. 


So this blog post probably won’t be an explanation of where I currently stand on feminism. Instead, it’s going to be like most of my UnMinding posts: a scathing review of ideology in action.

Oh, but you don’t like it when I do that. You think I owe you a conversation.

fights-internet-vs-reality-gifIt’s a hazard of the Internet, I know. If you state an opinion you’re obligated to defend it, directly and thoroughly, to each and every person who responds to you. If you don’t answer every comment by every person, you’re clearly incapable of engaging with your critics! You must not have any defense at all! You’re just a big mean blockhead who can’t admit to being wrong!

Only slightly better than being accused of being a know-it-all, is the assumption that I’m a typical juvenile sociologist of the Tumblr variety. If you look up any keywords along the lines of “not a feminist” you’ll find countless neon-haired tweens ranting I’m not a feminist because I’m not a victim! or I’m not a feminist because I like men!
Dude. These arguments are elementary as fuh-huh-huck. My reasons for disidentifying from feminism are far more sophisticated and developed than that. So it’s kind of insulting to be lumped together with reactionary anti-feminists. Me, the coiner of “pedophile culture” and writer of articles like this and this and this and this? Me, reduce all of feminism to “man-hating” or “playing the victim”? Um, I think the fuck not.

And my favorite character judgment of all, is when people play the cultist card on me. My cultic childhood has been used as a conversation-ending explanation for pretty much every controversial politic I’ve ever expressed (see the Reddit thread I linked at the beginning of this post). MRAs use it against me. Feminists use it against me. Vegans use it against me. They all think they’ve figured it out. Like, gotcha!  I know why you hate this group! It’s because you’re paranoid that everything is a cult! All your criticisms are invalid! I win!
Never mind that this is an ad hominem attack and therefore pointless. It’s also just plain illogical. Yes, it would be disingenuous to claim that my upbringing doesn’t inform my worldview, because it does. But whose doesn’t? And why do people feel entitled to weaponize my trauma against me, as if my past has any bearing on the coherence or validity of the words I’m saying? I’ve said it before on this blog, and I’ll say it again: The ideologues who use my cultic background to dismiss my critiques aren’t actually making a point; they’re deflecting by questioning my sanity because that’s more comfortable than questioning their own.


We’re about 900 words into this blog post, and I still haven’t revealed my opinion on feminism. Let’s see how long I can hold out.

Are you getting impatient? Good. Why? Are you surprised to find that ideas take time to express? Does anyone really expect me, one single woman in one single blog post, to outline every definition of feminism and, point-by-point, critique each one’s ideas and arguments? It would take a book. Several books, actually. To explain where I currently stand. And if there’s one thing I hate about the socialmediafication of political discourse, it’s that. Everyone’s expected to reduce broad, broad ideas into catchy slogans ready for instant sharing. “Transwomen are women!” “Porn kills love!” You know what I’m talking about. We offer up these bite-size meme politics as a signal to others of what we believe. We’re rarely expressing nuanced political stances. What we’re usually-actually doing is letting people know how good and correct we are. One slip-up and you’re a TERF, or a whorephobe, or a handmaiden, or some other synonym for “wrong and evil.” Labels and political slogans are used as substitutes for the lengthy, arduous process of getting to know people and determining their morale based on their actions rather than their words (eww, social interactions, gross!). By the time I say “I don’t identify with feminism,” I have already been thrown in THE PROBLEMATIC TRASH CAN. Never mind all the work I’ve done for women (or the money and energy I’ve given to various feminist causes). Nope, wrong, in the trash I go.

This is precisely what happened to Laci Green. She had only vaguely hinted that she’s questioning feminism, and people immediately started threatening and internet-screaming at her (oh, and drawing conclusions about whether her MRA boyfriend had ‘put those ideas in her head’ — there we go again with the misogynist assumption that the only reason a woman would question feminism is if she’s trying to please a man). They didn’t even wait for her to elaborate before assuming she was wrong and, moreover, worthy of punishment. Laci is only one example. It happens so routinely to (female) critics of feminism that it’s essentially a spectator bloodsport. And we are expected to have entire public debates in this hostile, idea-killing environment?

I’m not even high-profile (anymore) but I still see people rabidly discussing me in obscure pockets of the internet, drawing wild conclusions about what goes on in the privacy of my head. People who have never had a conversation with me, or who have only read that one blog post I wrote about radfems, or who have only read people’s interpretations of that blog post & not the post itself, seem so damn certain that they not only know what I mean when I say “I don’t identify with feminism,’ but also that they know why I say it… and then, once they’ve established (if only to themselves) that I’m stupid/cultic/paranoid/a handmaiden/ignorant/selfish/privileged about feminism, they feel entitled to criticize me accordingly. Gods, they don’t even know what they’re criticizing yet! But it doesn’t matter. They’re angry at me, for things I did not and would never say. The wildfire has begun blazing. And you know what? I don’t care much to extinguish it. Let them burn themselves out. 


This is my long-winded way of saying that I refuse to participate in the “I swear I’m still a good person!” dance choreographed by ideologues. To do so would be antithetical to everything I’ve learned in my cult recovery. Surprise! I pulled the cult card! Because women are individuals with distinct lives and experiences! There are billions of women on this planet, meaning there are billions of potential ways that feminism can be defined, approached, discussed and enacted. I am but one of these many women, and I bring a particular, rare perspective to the table: I am an ex-cultist, which has led me to be critical of ideological identification. When I say that, most people check out immediately (by dismissing all my ideas as byproducts of my past, as I described earlier). But what I work so hard to make people understand, is that all perspectives matter, e s p e c i a l  l y  when you’re taking on a project as ambitious as organizing a political movement on behalf of 52% of the entire human population. Yes, of course, let’s just throw a blanket over the whole earth, then feign shock when we later find some holes in that blanket. Because that makes sense.

I know I said I wouldn’t reveal where I stand on feminism, but I will at least hint at it with this:
In most debates about feminism, people tend to take a few major (& predictable) angles: Some are primarily concerned with the cultural impact of feminism (asdfghjkl; men can’t be masculine anymore!). Some take issue with the fact that feminism focuses on women (asdfghjkl; that’s not equality!) For some, the main objective is, apparently, to be perfect (asdfghjkl; radfems aren’t real feminists! libfems aren’t real feminists! I AM THE REAL FEMINIST!!!) Some even debate whether feminism is necessary, because they don’t believe male pattern violence is even a thing (yikes). This is just a small sampling of the typical arguments one encounters when people debate feminism: what it is, whether it’s necessary, who defines it, what to prioritize, who to prioritize, and what to do.

Trust me, I am far beyond any of those angles.
Those are boring.
I’m bored.

When I do discuss feminism with the handful of friends I trust enough to share my perspective with, I don’t even bother with those exhausted points outlined above. My foremost questions about feminism are of the philosophical variety. One of the most gratifying conversations I’ve yet had about the issue of feminist ideological identification … was with a non-feminist, white, male, philosopher. Surprise again! Working class trans women of color don’t have a monopoly on sociopolitical discourse or on good ideas! Sometimes white guys say valuable things! CrAzY, right?! I kn0w!!!!! xD

But we don’t like that whole pesky task of humanizing the people we discuss ideas with.
We just put them in the “wrong” box. Shut them up.
And if I say “I don’t fit in this box” I’m immediately placed in a different box — the “wrong in a different way” box.

If I criticize porn, libfems put me in the “radfem” box. If I criticize class analysis, radfems put me in the “libfem” box. If I say I’m critical of all of it, they put me in the “MRA” box. And gods know the MRAs don’t want me at all! When I try to find refuge with the non-/ex-feminists, I find myself surrounded by overt misogynists who think I hate women too. There is this never-ending, aggravating push-pull of people trying to claim me, people trying to convince me I belong with (to?) them, people who approach me as though they already know everything and I just need to submit to their ideological authority, people who assume the only reason I might not identify with them is if I don’t understand how right they are, people who never entertain the possibility that I might have something to teach them, people who do not come to mutually learn, but who come to fight, and to conquer.

My actual point is that I don’t want to be in any of the boxes, because none of the feminist boxes out there describe my specific view on feminism. I’ve yet to find anyone who discusses feminism quite the way I do in my head. (And that’s not self-flattery. It’s just true. Might I have to pioneer this? — Okay I literally just shuddered at that thought. Never mind.)

On principle, I am critical of ideology and identification therewith. All of it. No exceptions. Because I am an ex-cultist, and also a woman, and both of these things matter. I am aware of the need for a women’s movement, but I am also far more attuned of the mechanisms of ideology than the average person, and I think my perspective could actually improve feminism, if anyone was open to constructive criticism. But instead, my presence in feminist circles rubs people the wrong way, because even as I agree that some sort of women’s movement is necessary, I also criticize identification with feminism, and over time it has been made abundantly clear to me that my unique perspective is unwelcome. When I have a question or critique, I must either refer to the sacred feminist texts written by our infallible feminist foremothers, or be fucking quiet. I may not write texts of my own. Fancy that ~ Even as a woman, I may not make suggestions about what I think could make women’s lives better. Feminism is for all women, until you stop being a woman in a way that is convenient and polite and accommodating, whereupon feminism is no longer for you. Trash.

trash fire


We are 2300 words into this blog post, and you still don’t know where I stand on feminism.

Okay. I’ve dragged this on enough. Here it is:

I don’t stand anywhere on feminism. Because I am not in the business of drawing conclusions or making definitive statements anymore. Personally, I have found that actively avoiding static labels has made me more self-interrogating, more ready to change my mind when presented with compelling information, more open to disagreements… less cultic basically. Yes, this choice is absolutely a facet of my cult recovery, and I am not embarrassed to say that. I’ve made the choice to actively refuse convenient labels, to forfeit the comfort of the echo chamber, to give up the gratifying feeling of having an army of people to repeat everything I say. I do this, to hold myself accountable for my beliefs, moment to moment. It’s tireless work on a lonely path. In short: I have consciously chosen to reside in the grey area, in all things, including feminism. I’ll write more about this in future posts. 

So we’re done discussing that, for now. But one question remains to be discussed:

Am I a feminist?

Well… I don’t think that’s for me to say.

I would like to live in a world where people would become acquainted with me and observe my treatment of women, before such things were determined. A world where “feminist” means something, has to be earned, can’t just be claimed by anybody. A world where one actually had to prove, with observable action and quantifiable impact, that one cares about womankind. A world where my decision to unlabel myself a “feminist” was not as controversial as, say, the kinds of physical, sexual, verbal and psychological abuses that transpire between women in self-proclaimed feminist circles.

I unlabeled myself to protect myself from being claimed like some pawn in a chess game of ideas. I unlabeled myself as a litmus test of who’s ready to engage with someone who poses a threat to their comfortable echo chamber. I unlabeled myself as a challenge to everyone I encounter, to please judge me by what I do, not merely by what I say. I unlabeled myself to see who my real friends areAnd it worked. Now, lo and behold, I am happier than I’ve ever been. I’ve set new boundaries in response to everything I’ve learned from my lifelong recovery experiment, if you will.

I can hear them already. So predictable.
TL;DR – the dumb cultist can’t handle typical group dynamics so she runs away from all of it. Figures.

To which I say:
Oh, so you can’t see through my ex-cultist lens, therefore I’m seeing wrong. Figures.

Like, listen: if you can’t recognize that not all women are the same — that there is no feminist blanket big enough to cover all women, because every woman is a unique individual with a distinct set of experiences and thoughts — then maybe it’s not that woman who needs to be schooled on feminism. Mmmmmaybe it’s you.

Just an idea.





Why do so many cults promote vegetarianism?

Quick recap: I was a vegetarian for 6 years (vegan for 5 of those years) and have since returned to eating meat. I am also a lifelong cultist. Though my vegetarianism and cultism were two separate struggles, I believe the two informed each other.

My intention in writing this post is to illustrate how manipulative cult leaders can (and often do) take advantage of their followers’ virtues and empathy. I am also going to explain why I think food restriction is often a major component of thought reform.

My theory is that some cult leader, looooooong long ago, figured out that vegetarians were easier to psychologically manipulate than non-vegetarians — and if I’m correct, this would explain why vegetarianism is peddled as an ideal way of life in many cults to this day (not naming names).

On principle, I do not label groups/movements as cults. I might say there are cultic characteristics to them, or that they make high demands of their members, or have toxic group dynamics… but I won’t straight-up call them cults. Partly because of liability issues, and partly because I’ve found it counterproductive to cult discourse. The word “cult” is highly stigmatized and tends to put people on the defensive, making reasonable conversation close to impossible. So when I refer to “vegetarian cults” from this point onward in this post, you fill in the blanks.

(One more thing: I’ll be using vegxn as a catch-all for both vegetarian and vegan.)


I’ll get the difficult stuff out of the way first:


I know, I know. Vegxns hate being reminded that their lifestyle choice is a high-maintenance one. But the fact is, vegxns are at a higher risk of numerous nutrient deficiencies than non-vegxns. As a diet, vegxnism requires more forethought, careful planning and mindfulness than a standard diet that includes meat. It’s possible we’ll have supplements and meat substitutes in the future that will allow for a lower-maintenance vegxn lifestyle — but for now, vegxnism is high-maintenance relative to non-vegxnism.

9de7a2dc255b04afde7cf5e00e54b1b8On to my point: Vegxns aren’t at risk for just any deficiency, but for very specific deficiencies of nutrients and minerals that assist in brain function.

You know, the brain? That organ responsible for critical thought and logic and reason? The organ that suffers the most damage when someone’s victimized by a cult? Yeah, that thing.

Most common nutrient deficiencies in vegxns:

  1. B-12
  2. creatine
  3. iron
  4. protein
  5. omega-3 fatty acids
  6. zinc
  7. calcium
  8. taurine
  9. vitamin D3

Notice the hyperlinks I added? Check them out. Each of these deficiencies impact brain function in the following ways:

  • brain fog (poor focus, lack of mental clarity)
  • fatigue
  • depression
  • anxiety
  • poor memory
  • emotional dysfunction
  • dementia (long-term)

^ If I was a predatory leader, this is exactly the diet I’d want my followers to adopt. A diet that negatively impacts mental clarity, memory storage and mood is perfect for grooming someone into ideological submission.

I can already hear the vegxns defending themselves. I take supplements! I get regular blood tests! My brain is fine!!!

Okay, cool. I’m not talking about you, then. Notice how I said these symptoms come about from poorly planned vegxn diets. And remember, we’re talking about vegxn cults.

Cult members are prevented from making the majority of their own decisions, regarding everything from what they wear, to what words they can say, to how much sleep they get, etc. In many of the nameless vegetarian cults I’m alluding to, adherents are discouraged from taking supplements or from choosing their own meals, so their vegxnism is poorly planned by virtue of their being in the cult. They are encouraged instead to take an all-natural approach (meaning no supplements or meat substitutes), because “nature provides everything you need.” Some cults go as far as to convince adherents that nutrient absorption directly correlates with one’s degree of enlightenment — so if you aren’t able to obtain the proper amount of B-12, iron and calcium from a 1-month water fast, it’s only because you’re an unenlightened sinner. Now go meditate for 5 hours.


If it seems like I’m just hating on anyone’s lifestyle for no reason, please keep in mind that Jack Norris, the founder of Vegan Outreach, a registered dietician, and a vegan of over 20 years, says the following:

Many vegans believe that a vegan diet is the most natural and, therefore, the healthiest, and so everyone should stop harming animals and live an Eden-like existence. I understand the appeal of this, but the evidence that humans evolved as vegans is simply not there, not to mention the important fact that what is “natural” is not necessarily what is the healthiest.

I have my reservations about veganism ever since it tore my body (and bank account) to shreds. But if you truly believe that vegxnism is a diet you should adhere to, then supplement! Don’t let any leaders of any groups talk you out of proper supplementation! Your health is important, loveling.

Here’s another reason I think vegxnism is so popular in many cults:

Public Relations

It is often argued that vegxnism is a moral baseline — meaning, one cannot claim to be compassionate and empathetic unless they abstain from consuming animal products. If this is true, then it follows that vegetarianism is a necessary part of an enlightened lifestyle.


Now, once it has been established that vegxnism is inherently enlightened, the cult can — and does — use this as a shield from criticism of their more questionable activities. Example: “Guru would NEVER rape his followers! He’s too kind and compassionate to do that! He wouldn’t even hurt a fly!”

If you think I’m exaggerating, consider the fact that I once (very briefly) worked for a storefront of a cultic yoga school (again: not naming names…). The leaders have been accused of a wide score of egregious abuses by many former students. And what’s the #1 defense their loyal followers make? “They would never do that — they’re vegans!!!”

When vegxnism is defined as the most compassionate lifestyle choice a person can make, predatory personalities can use it as so-called proof of their kindness — and their victims have a harder time being believed when they try to speak out about being abused.

And finally:


This final point applies to more than just vegxnism. All cults feature some high degree of lifestyle restriction, whether regarding sexual activity, interpersonal activity, dietary choices, or a combination of the above. Why is this the case?

Well, high-demand lifestyle restrictions in cults –

  1.  force uniformity on group members, which decimates one’s independence and Selfhood
  2.  encourage competition and purity-policing between members
  3.  create impossible standards of behavior in members that the leader can point to as “evidence” of a follower’s inadequacy (as a power-play)
  4. exhaust members by creating an overwhelming amount of rules to follow, which become obsessions that leave little mental space to think of much else
  5. reinforce social isolation

A bit of emphasis on that last one:

One characteristic of all high-demand groups is that they encourage social isolation from “non-members.” When your life is ruled by a cult, that’s socially isolating enough as it is! Add special dietary restrictions to the mix, and then it’s even harder for you to socialize with people outside of the group.

Like I said earlier: if I was a cult leader, these are precisely the kinds of conditions I’d want to create in my followers’ lives, to make it harder for them to leave me and my cult.


So there’s my theory about why vegxnism is so popular in many cults, particularly of the New Age / Eastern philosophy variety.

This is not to say that vegxnism is innately cultic or dangerous. Your lifestyle and health choices are ultimately up to you. It’s when vegxnism is used as a barometer of your worth or enlightenment, that there’s reason for concern. If your friendships are contingent upon your dietary choices, it might be time to re-evaluate your current situation. If you choose to be vegxn, be sure that your choice isn’t swayed by an authority figure or group, and that you’re free to change your mind if you want to.

Happy eating (and unminding)! ♥



A Wolf Indeed


The first time I was the target of a smear campaign, it was one hell of a painful learning experience. My partner (at the time) and I were questioning the bigotry in the local Animal Rights activism scene. There was blatant racism, sexism, classism, and more — worst of all, it was coming from leaders of major organizations, who had far-reaching influence on how people perceived veganism. So we did what we thought was the right thing to do: we called out the unacceptable behavior, thinking people simply needed their bigotry pointed out to them — we gave them the benefit of the doubt that they were oblivious, not bigots. Then people started acting funny around us. Conversations got awkward. People avoided us. We didn’t know why, until one lady sheepishly came forward and informed us that a prominent local leader was writing vicious emails about us, accusing us of trying to “divide” the animal rights movement with our “distracting” social justice concerns. She showed us the emails, which had been seen by potentially thousands of people (he was using his position as a board member of a local AR group to access their email subscription list). He called us names and even blatantly lied about certain incidents that never happened. Now it was clear. People were falling for his lies about us, and choosing his side, without bothering to ask for our side of things or even call this leader out on his inappropriate, antagonistic behavior.

We didn’t know what to do. This man had been our friend, or so we thought. He’d never made his concerns known to us. We never had the chance to talk and smooth things over. This all seemed terribly unfair. How could so many people not realize that we had good intentions, while he was actually the one who was trying to divide the movement by forcing them to take sides?

Hurt, confused, and desperate to clear our names, we (rather frantically, and with justifiable anger) posted the emails online in an attempt to hold him accountable, gave our side of things, and waited. Naively, we expected our “friends” to see the truth and stand up for us.

Quite the opposite happened.

outcast-singleness-homosexual-churchIt was ugly. SO ugly. We were accused of being antagonistic, aggressive and petty, among other things. They excused the leader’s behavior and framed us as though we had started the problem by calling him out. Standing up for ourselves made us the abusers, apparently. It was absolutely crazy-making. We ended up having to abandon every local animal rights group entirely — by the end of this fiasco, there was no longer a single group whose events and demos we felt safe to attend. All of our so-called friends had fallen for this leader’s fabricated version of reality.

That was only the first of many similar incidents. It’s starting to feel like a curse at this point. I can’t seem to escape the interest of power-seeking personalities who abuse their positions of authority in order to turn masses of people against me. I have been smeared by many narcissists, and also by members of many of my former groups and subcultures — Pentecostals, vegans, libfems, radfems, etc. It always seems to go like this:

I make a friend. We see eye-to-eye on most things and get along great. Then one day, there’s a single disagreement. Just ONE. That’s all it takes. Then suddenly, they’re running around smearing my reputation at every opportunity that presents itself, getting the first word in before anyone can hear my side of things, twisting the true events in a way that makes them look great and makes me look awful, taking quotes out of context and pointing out my history of abuse as a means of questioning my sanity and trustworthiness. They are relentless, obsessive and just plain mean. And they don’t just smear me in a gossipy way. No, they play dirty. So fucking dirty. They do really reallyyyy underhanded shit… like what happened this past week:

I was the subject of a blog post wherein many accusations were made about me. The writer, a former Facebook acquaintance, got pissed off at me for disagreeing with her and her friend during a Facebook debate — that was literally it. So she wrote a blog wherein she accused me of lying about my childhood abuse to gain fans. That wouldn’t have stung me so much, if the writer of this blog hadn’t crossed the line the way she did. She not only wrote this mean-spirited blog, but she also posted it in the cult-critical Facebook group that I met her in, knowing that this group is one of the few safe spaces I have available to me as a cult survivor. By the time I saw it, there were plenty of comments supporting her fabricated version of things. I later found out that she’s not only an administrator of this group, but that she mislead other administrators about the nature of the blog in order to get permission to post it (because personal attacks are against the group’s rules). Everything about her actions was premeditated, vengeful, calculated and malicious, and she was clearly using her authority in the group to get away with this smear campaign.

Time and experience has taught me not to react emotionally or hastily when someone targets me this way. So I took a few deep breaths. Waited a few hours. And then I made a calm, level-headed post in the group, pointing out that a personal attack had been made against me, which was clearly against the group rules. Instead of complaining, getting defensive, or trying to get people to see things my way, I simply asked the group admins how they planned to address this breach of the rules.
Thankfully the group admins were very receptive when I told them my side of things, and they apologized sincerely for their oversight. The vicious post was removed, and the writer reprimanded for her abuse of authority as an administrator. The situation was handled very well, compared to how it usually goes. I think my calmness had something to do with why I was believed this time.

2Every time this kind of smear campaign happens, my instinct is to fight like hell. I want to get emotional. I want to shout from rooftops: “NO, that is NOT what happened! They’re LITERALLY MAKING SHIT UP! I’m not the abusive one, it’s THEM! I’m not the one forcing people to pick sides! I’m not the one trying to ruin their reputation! THEY’RE the one using narcissistic tactics to get power!!! How are people not seeing this?!?!

But if you say these things out loud, you look like the manipulator. If you react with a justified degree of anger, you look like the aggressor. Just as they set you up to look. People tend to bend to the louder, stronger personality — the one who Controls The Narrative and triangulates groups with force, swiftness and cunning.

I’ve learned the hard way to keep my mouth shut and stay calm when this happens. Let them say what they want about me. It sucks — I mean, it really fucking sucks. Nobody likes being insulted, especially in front of an audience, and on the Internet where everything lasts forever. And it’s absolutely maddening to be put in a position where standing up for yourself “confirms” everything they claimed about you. But the right people — the justice-minded people, the mature people — will always come to you to ask for your side of things. Those gossip-loving drama vultures who take sides with the Smear Campaigners, on the other hand? They’re probably not the kind of people you want in your life anyway. So why bother trying to convince them of your truth, if they’re so quick to turn their back on you when you need them?

Before I continue: Here’s a post I keep coming back to in times like these. It’s so validating.

“When healthy people feel upset about something, they may get angry. But toxic people don’t just get mad – they seethe – and wage a devious smear campaign. One of the clearest indicators you’ve got a mentally unstable person on your hands is smear campaigning. Smear campaigners carefully and strategically use lies, exaggerations, suspicions and false accusations to try destroying your credibility. They hide behind a cloak of upstanding heroism and feigned innocence in an attempt to make as many people as possible think their efforts are based not on their vindictiveness, but on upstanding concern….

Lies will be sprinkled in to try making their audience fear, prejudge and rebuke you for the supposed evil you’ve perpetrated against this innocent lamb (or a vulnerable, well-respected person). You didn’t ask for your boundaries to be respected — you are a vicious animal who attacked them, and you’ve supposedly attacked others, so everyone needs to “be careful” of you if they want to be “safe”. Everyone should stand up on behalf of this good person by shutting you out and standing up against your “abuse”….

Popular lies of the smear campaigner include statements and insinuations that you are mentally ill, incompetent, untrustworthy or unreasonable. The smear campaigner does this so that if your legitimate upset shows, the observer will attribute it to irrationality, ill intent or instability, and not to your normal upset at having been badly mistreated.”

Just read the whole damn thing, it’s great.


Now what’s this about wolves?


Well, the funny thing is, in the blog post I vaguely alluded to above, the writer called me a “wolf in sheep’s clothing. ” I know what that phrase is supposed to mean —- a predator pretending to be innocent and trustworthy (ironic, considering that’s exactly what she’s doing), but I laughed at it. Because coincidentally, I do consider myself a wolf in situations like these — just not in the way wolves are generally perceived. Wolves are demonized as barbaric, monstrous terror-machines. They’re the Big Bad in many classic fairy tales. But I see them differently.

And I think my perspective on wolves might be useful to those of you who also repeatedly find yourself targeted by narcissist-style smear campaigns — as cult survivors, most of us are far too familiar with the horror of a scorned narcissist coming after us when we challenge them, and the pain of having entire groups turn against us in the blink of an eye.

So here. I’m turning this headache into a teaching moment, instead of letting myself feel victimized.

Story time!

I had an emotionally abusive roommate when I first moved to Queens 3 years ago. When we moved in, we were very close friends — but that quickly changed. She would take constant digs at my self-esteem at the most unexpected and opportune times. We’d be having a normal conversation, whether one-on-one or in a group, and she’d randomly hurl an insult at me, then go on with the conversation while I froze, red in the face, too bewildered to respond. Other times, though, she’d be so sweet and likeable. I couldn’t make sense of her hot-and-cold nature, so I assumed the problem was with me. Over time, I noticed that there actually was a predictability to her behavior — she was only verbally abusive when I was doing well and she wasn’t. If a date cancelled plans with her, she’d disparage my boyfriend later that day. If she was late to pay the rent because of financial struggles, she’d make a comment about how immature she thought I was.

Little jabs. A jab here. A jab there. Subtle, quick, and persistent.  It was a clear case of someone feeling insecure and needing to cut someone else down to feel better about themselves. She was a classic bully.




I had zero self-esteem at the time, and my anxiety was off the charts because of the recent death of my best friend. So I couldn’t muster the courage to stand up to her. Instead, I’d hide in my room and avoid her as much as possible. She was aware that her actions had this effect on me, and took advantage of my submissiveness to her by using and stealing my things. When I did attempt to stick up for myself, my attempts were laughable. I’d always end up stammering and apologizing, because she was intimidating.

Over time, I got sick of being pushed around this way. But I knew I wasn’t ready to stand up to her yet. If I was going to confront her, I needed to be certain that I wouldn’t hesitate, stutter, back down or get scared. So for a long time, I waited, and pondered how to proceed. All the while, she continued to make her hurtful little remarks. Little jab, little jab, little jab.

It was around this time that I saw this video:

In the comments, somebody explained:

“This coyote was not playing or being “bold.” This is how they hunt prey that is larger than them. The coyote knows full well that there is no chance of it taking something down as large as a human. Notice how it comes in for a bite and then instantly jumps back many times.”

The coyote knows he is small and weaker than his target. He is insecure. That’s why he takes little jabs. To weaken and confuse his prey with persistent, quick and small movements.
Like my roommate.

Which made me wonder: If this is how an insecure predator like a coyote tries to take down a target, how does an apex predator like a wolf handle the same situation? (Interesting to note: “coyotes are only apex predators when larger predators such as the gray wolf … are absent.” – Wikipedia)

There’s lots of info out there about how wolves hunt, but I’ll summarize what’s relevant to the point I’m making: Wolves spend a lot of time thinking before they go after their target. They strategize. They adapt their plans based on the weather, their surroundings, and other factors. They use discernment to determine the best plan of action before they act — so when they finally make their move, they are more likely to be successful. They don’t engage in the insecure, frantic dance of the coyote. No. Wolves are patient, because they know their strength and skill, and they trust themselves to carry through.

After learning all this, I decided that if my roommate was going to behave like a coyote, I was going to behave like a wolf.

Long story short, it worked.

I waited until the time was right. Until I felt confident and sure of myself. Then, about a year into living with her, I finally confronted her. Everything I’d ever wanted to say to her, came out. LOUDLY. I did not falter, or back down, or shrink myself for her. Not anymore. I was done with being her target. I made her take responsibility for every hurtful and awful thing she’d ever said to me, and I made her own up to stealing my food and using my property without permission.

She was absolutely and utterly blindsided — so much so, that the next day she sat me and our other roommate down, and announced that she’d be moving out. She also (of her own accord) admitted to everything she’d ever stolen, and volunteered to pay us back for all of it.

Just like that. All it took was one strategic move on my part, and the mistreatment stopped dead in its tracks — with recompense to boot.


I see these Smear Campaigners the way I see my former roommate. They feel small and insecure, so they compensate with persistent aggression — taking small, quick jabs, tiny bites, leaving tiny subtle injuries, constantly, for long stretches of time. Their objective is to use a sort of obsessive persistence to exhaust and weaken a target who they know is bigger and stronger than them.

My solution is to also acknowledge that I am bigger and stronger than them.

It’s tempting to join in their frantic dance, to defend myself from every accusation, to rebut them point-by-point and salvage my reputation from the scrutinizing eyes of their duped audience. But to sink to their level would be to cheat myself out of my own power. Their insecure actions betray their own self-perception. Why match their actions and disempower myself in doing so?

As much as these situations hurt, ultimately I know that have nothing to fear when Smear Campaigners come after me, with their attempts to weaken and confuse me. I trust my instincts to restore peace and order to my life when these trickster coyotes attempt to throw everything into disarray, and I refuse to engage in their frantic little routine.

I promise myself to be calm, patient and quiet, and to only take action when the time is right.

I promise myself, now and forever, to always be a wolf when dealing with coyotes.


What a distressing week! Y’all are probably aware by now that I’m producing my first stage play, GYNX, Off-Broadway in August. (Yay!) Before we can start production, though, we’ve gotta raise the funds. And if you’ve never lead a crowdfunding venture, then let me tell you: it’s like taking on a second full-time job as a gambler, which is stressful as f*ck.

I know I’m supposed to maintain a facade of optimism to *encourage donations* or whatever, but… that’s just not who I am. My entire body of work is about emotional honesty. I always strive to be 100% real with you guys, and that’s not about to change, even temporarily, over an IndieGoGo campaign.

So here’s my heart again:   Lots of negative emotions have come up this week as a direct result of trying to stay on top of this theatrical production, and — surprise, surprise! — most of this stress can be traced back to my “trophy childhood.”

In case you need a recap:

church.jpgI grew up in a cultic Pentecostal church as the goddaughter of the (very charismatic, domineering) Pastor. At age 5, they discovered my singing talent. In the 13 years that followed, they exploited my talent to accrue donations for the church — and they even got other local churches to exploit me as well. From age 5 to 18, my life was a nonstop series of rehearsals and performances that I did not want to do. I was under immense pressure to please hundreds of people. When I became a serious source of income for my church, they began planting grandiose ideas in my head, that I was this “Chosen One” who was specially anointed by God to save people’s lives with my singing voice. And if I ever refused to sing, the consequence would be eternal hellfire.

Understand me: I didn’t know I was being exploited. How could I have? I was a kid with no vocabulary to express my discomfort and no power to set boundaries; I was trapped in a cult environment, with no access to other perspectives & therefore no concept of what a healthy childhood would have looked like; and in that entire time period, not one person ever asked if I actually wanted to sing or not. Why the hell would they? The feelings of children don’t matter — even less so when that child is a girl.

It all culminated into feeling…. cursed, if you will, to feel like I’m under constant surveillance, yet completely invisible, for the rest of my life. There’s one particularly painful memory that illustrates what I mean.

(Oh boy. I actually haven’t told anyone this until now. May or may not be a bit misty-eyed right now…)


My dad had a friend who mixed tracks in his home studio. So he asked this friend (don’t recall the name, so let’s randomly name him Dennis) to make a karaoke track for me to sing to. Up until then, I had either been singing all my songs with a live (clumsy) band, a cappella, or over a CD track. So Dennis made the karaoke track and put it on a CD for me. But then he insisted on coming to our church to see me sing.

This was the first time someone from outside the church ever came to see me perform. Singing in front of my congregation was already nerve-wracking, but now there was a new judge among them. Somehow, it mattered even more what he’d think of my performance. Would he notice how anxious I looked? Would my terrified posture raise red flags in his head? Would he be the one to finally say something on my behalf? Would my cult finally be exposed for using me?

public-speakingDennis found himself a seat right in the middle of the crowd: 5 pews away from me, smack dab in the center. His eye contact was so intense. I still remember how difficult it was to perform that particular night, his critical gaze magnified by thick square glasses, his arms crossed over his chest as if to say, Impress me.

They turned on his karaoke track and I sang like usual: Stone still, except for my hand fidgeting with my bracelet. Staring at the wall so I wouldn’t have to see anyone’s eyes on me. Knees trembling. Taking calculated breaths between lyrics so I could hold the longer notes, trying to push from my stomach instead of my chest so no one would hear my voice shaking. Scared.


When it was over, Dennis didn’t say anything to me. He just left. So a few days later, I asked my Dad if Dennis had said anything.
Dad said that Dennis said, “She’s too stiff. She needs to work on that.”
That was it. That was all he had to say.
A fresh sense of helplessness washed over me.

I had no words to communicate my reluctance to accept the role of child entertainer — because explicitly saying NO to “God’s will” was out of the question. I had to find creative ways to say no. I faked a “sore throat” very often (but they still made me sing, those fuckers. So I eventually stopped bothering to fake sick). I always fervently hoped that my body language would say “no” clearly enough for me. That somebody would notice my shakiness, my eyes like a deer caught in headlights, my demure posture….

But in 13 years, nobody noticed. Not even this outsider named Dennis. He will never know how much I was counting on him that day — to be an objective eye, a neutral observer who might be able to see past all the smoke and mirrors of my cult. It was like I needed him to be a life raft but he turned out to be an anchor, securing me even more firmly to this fate. I could not swim away, but only try to stay afloat, tethered to one spot… and it was only a matter of time before I drowned.


In the first post I wrote about my trophy childhood, I made a small list of a few ways it impacts me to this day. Since writing that post, I’ve recognized even more of the after effects:

  1. I don’t emote when I sing. That’s actually the #1 criticism I get about my singing. My voice itself is very emotional, but my face stays blank, & my eyes go empty. I have tried many times, in the privacy of my room, to make facial expressions in the mirror while singing. Sad, happy, anything. But my face won’t move. The interesting part is that I have a WILDLY expressive face in everyday life, but as soon as I go into singing mode, some part of me completely shuts down and can’t let any emotions show. I believe this is a deeply ingrained defense mechanism I adopted to protect myself from the constant scrutiny of an audience.
  2. I am petrified of being watched while singing. Or even humming. I’m fine with people watching my singing videos, but even then, I have to position the camera at some clever angle that excludes my eyes or entire face.
  3. Even when singing alone, I feel like I’m under surveillance and can’t fully enjoy the act. It’s like there’s this looming threat of existential punishment if I hit a flat note or forget a lyric.

It breaks my heart to say this, but for all the reasons outlined above, I stopped singing about 4 years ago. I’m still a performer in that I enjoy spoken word, acting, and public speaking. But singing? Forget it.

People who once knew me as a singer often ask why I stopped making music. How do I tell them?
“I can’t sing anymore because the cult stole whatever pleasure I could have experienced from the act of singing by turning it into a matter of life and death“?
“I can’t sing because the fate of my soul depends on whether I do it well, and that’s too much pressure”?
“I can’t sing because what’s the point of singing when nobody actually hears you saying no with your entire body”?

You must be wondering how this has anything to do with the play I’m producing.

Well, the most obvious connection is that The Stage is central to both my trophy childhood and this current creative endeavor.

yaa1My first experience of The Stage was 13 years of helplessness, having no boundaries or agency at all, not even getting to choose what songs I’d sing.
Over time, I’ve (slowly, carefully) explored different ways of relating to The Stage. I’ve consensually starred in musicals and plays — which was far better than being forced to show-pony as a kid. And of my own accord, I’ve performed at open mics and given presentations and speeches — which are even more autonomous than starring in theatrical productions, because I get to choose my own words.

But there’s something so wonderfully and terrifyingly new about this particular undertaking of being a playwright and producer: this time, I’m behind the scenes.

By writing and producing GYNX, I’ve essentially found a way to reclaim The Stage without. being. on. it.

As the playwright, the entire script is what I want it to be. Every word was chosen with care, every character crafted with intention, every plot point weaved with purpose. I drafted GYNX 12 times already, and I still have the agency to change it again if I please. When the show premieres, I’ll have the joy of watching from the crowd as my words and my ideas are brought to life… by other people. So while there’s still some slight pressure to entertain a crowd, I won’t have 100 pairs of eyes on me while doing so. This will be a different kind of pressure, and I actually look forward to seeing how it will feel.

And as the producer, I’m not a dictator about it, but I do maintain a high level of creative input regarding production and casting. I chose the director (who also chose me, of course), and from there we’re choosing the remaining production team together. I’m consciously looking for people who demonstrate an ability to collaborate, so that I know my opinions will be heard and considered. Not dismissed, not ignored. Most importantly, as one of the people who’s “in charge” of this production (god, it’s so weird to say that — I have a strong aversion to any sort of leadership position, but that’s a cult recovery blog for another day…), I can’t be forced or pressured to do anything I don’t want to do.

This is all a very far cry from the helplessness of my cash-cow-childhood. From the lines that are recited, to the production team we assemble, to the aesthetic, sensory and auditory experience we create… I’ll have agency unlike any I’ve had before.


The final thing I want to touch on before concluding this post, is the question of readiness.

For cult survivors—particularly lifelong cultists, like myself—independence can be terrifying. It’s something I’ve written about before. When you’ve been conditioned in your developmental years to be submissive and compliant, that’s a very hard thing to break out of in adulthood. I’m much better now at asserting myself and identifying my own desires (instead of letting someone else’s desires become mine), but as with any self-improvement endeavor, there’s still a ways to go.

So producing GYNX is not only the most agency I’ve ever had in my relationship to The Stage…

…it’s also a test. It’s a question.

Am I ready?

When I started this post by saying this was a distressing week, I meant it was extremely challenging, physically and emotionally. I won’t bore you with the details of what exactly makes being a producer so stressful. I’ll just tell you that I cried. A lot. I questioned myself. I had to make some major decisions, especially regarding money, that forced me to re-evaluate my values. How much do I believe in my art? What price am I willing to pay in order to reclaim The Stage?  During one particularly tearful phone call, I sobbed to my best friend, “If this is what I want, why is it making me feel so awful?”

Now I know the answer to that. It hurts precisely because it’s what I want. It’s what ***I*** want. Not what someone else told me to want. I am unearthing years and years and years of repressed desires, unmet needs, unexplored ideas. It hurts because I am facing every fear instilled in me from an exploited childhood, head-on, for the first time.

There are barriers that I’ve built up over time to protect myself from The Stage, but now those same barriers hinder me from reclaiming it. Beyond the barriers, so much beauty awaits me. Autonomy, self-exploration, self-expression, the joy of performance and art-making that the cult stole from me. It’s all there. On The Stage. I am faced with the choice to stay limited by the barriers, or to knock them down, scared as I am, and take back what was always meant to be mine.


Am I ready?




Finally, finally,




What is Psychological Abuse? Here are Some Examples


Abuse in general is rather misunderstood by society. Even with things like physical and sexual abuse, which tend to leave tangible, visible evidence behind, there remain misconceptions about the conditions that led to the abuse. Why didn’t she just leave him? Why was she wearing that short skirt?

If physical damage is still not enough to convince people that an abuse victim is indeed a victim, imagine how much more difficult it is to explain “invisible” abuses to people!

I happen to be a survivor of physical, emotional and psychological abuse. Though every victim has the right to “rank” their abuse in order from least damaging to most damaging, I personally don’t feel that any one of the abuses I’ve endured was any more bearable than the others. They were each damaging in unique ways, not in “better” or “worse” ways. My friend Roman, though, was very adamant that his experience of psychological abuse by his mother was worse than any physical damage done to him by his father.

It can be difficult for a non-survivor to imagine how anyone would feel more damaged from words than from a bad touch. But I’ll do my best to explain what I think he would have said. More on that later.

Oh, and before I get into it: Thus far, I have avoided detailing certain methods of psychological abuse, out of fear that some sicko out there will find my writing “inspirational,” then go ahead and try these methods on their victim. This is always a possibility when writing about abuse of any sort. But I guess I can’t stop those types of creeps by not writing about psychological abuse. Might as well speak the truth, and hope that the number of people who learn something makes the risk worth it.

So here goes:

Choose One to Kill:
A baby cow or your pet bunny

I had a friend in college. Let’s call her Dee. Dee was an ethical vegan, and hadn’t eaten any animal products for 9 years by the time the following incident happened:

One day I was walking through the halls and saw her sitting in the skywalk, staring into space. She, looked, pale. Our mutual friend (let’s call him Victor) was sitting next to her, apparently trying to calm her down. I ran up and asked what was wrong. She said she had diarrhea and was dehydrated. I asked what had  made her sick, and she said, “Milk.”

The story unfolded from there. The night before, her mother had placed a glass of milk on the kitchen counter and told her, “If you don’t drink this entire glass of milk, I’m going to kill your bunny.” But Dee was opposed to drinking milk, because the process of milk production requires the torture and untimely death of baby cows (see: veal).

frazier-bunny-rabbits-1200Dee tried to explain this to her mother, who took great joy in forcing her daughter to choose between killing a cow and killing a bunny. Then Dee tried to tell her mom she would drink it later, hoping that by stalling she could find a way out of it. But her mother demanded that she drink the entire glass, right then and there, in front of her. With every passing moment, her mother became more angry and threatening.

So Dee, terrified for her bunny (whom she loved dearly), drank the glass of milk.

That’s when her mother blind-sided her with another threat: Even though Dee had drunk the milk as ordered, she might still come home the next day to find her bunny gone.

Now here we were, Victor and I, trying to make our friend feel better. Surely her mother wouldn’t actually kill her bunny, right? But Dee wasn’t easily convinced. Even if her mother wasn’t murderous, she might still be cruel enough to give the bunny away to someone, or let it loose in the streets.
We tried to understand her choices. Couldn’t she have stayed home to keep an eye on her bunny?
No, Dee said. Her mother had once hired a private eye to keep tabs on her, so if Dee ever skipped school, her mother would find out.
Well, we suggested, couldn’t she call the cops on her mother for threatening violence and stalking her?
No, Dee said, because without any proof, the cops wouldn’t necessarily be able to intervene — and getting them involved, she feared, would only make her mother more conniving.

Now, as Dee sat there looking pale and helpless, it slowly became clear to us what a twisted situation this was. Her mother didn’t physically assault her, but all the same, the damage was done. Now Dee was miserably ill, and every minute that tick-tocked by was another minute that could mean the death of her beloved animal companion. If she got home and found her bunny dead or gone, she would never forgive herself for going to school that day. But if she got home and her bunny was okay, she still had to go to school the next day, and the next, and the next… she couldn’t just stay home and guard her bunny forever. Her mother knew this, and was counting on Dee to eventually let her guard down.

stalkinghcThat day, there was nothing we could do. In the months after that, we came to witness more horrifying examples of Dee’s mother being psychologically abusive. Finally one night, I found myself in a position to “kidnap” Dee to my place, to keep her safe from her parents until she could figure out her next move. She stayed up all night, gripped by panic and unable to sleep. Every time I woke up and looked across the room, she was checking her phone obsessively and staring out of my window, convinced that her parents would somehow find out where I lived and come to take her back.

The next day, she temporarily moved in with another friend, even further from her parents than where I lived. Eventually, she made an appeal to our college’s housing office. They determined that her situation was dire and gave her one of the emergency dorm rooms. With distance and time, she was eventually able to develop enough self-esteem and courage to set boundaries against her parents. Their attempts to control and terrorize her became progressively less severe. Thankfully, to the best of my knowledge, she — and her bunny — have been safe ever since.


Sadly, some cases of psychological abuse are not as obvious, and because of their subtlety, such emergency aid is not available to the victims. Take Roman, for example…

Hunger is a sin

Roman was raised by a fundamentalist Christian mother who twisted Bible verses to torment her children. Of all the fucked-up ideas she planted in their heads, the worst by far was this: hunger is a sin.

evilSomehow, she was able to take Bible verses out of context and conclude that craving food was actually a sign that one was demon-possessed. Only sinful people (read: people unlovable-by-God)  became demon-possessed. The only way to rid oneself of these hunger-demons was to forego food in favor of worshiping God. In other words: associate starvation with God’s love.

And starve them she did. Roman once showed me a picture of himself and his siblings from back then. They were frighteningly thin. But because they were pre-pubescent, it was easy for their mother to convince concerned onlookers that her children were “just picky eaters” or “hadn’t filled out yet.” Due to malnutrition in his developmental years, Roman retained a child-like body even into his adulthood, which his mother used as “proof” that her children were just “naturally small” rather than malnourished.

Predictably, Roman’s childhood conditioning resulted in a life-long battle with eating disorders. I never saw him well. He was trapped in a revolving door of treatment programs. I watched him stumble from therapist to therapist, doctor to doctor, never finding one that could cure him. It was a multi-layered problem: a chronic eating disorder, and the underlying belief which had caused the eating disorder. So not only did Roman have to deal with ignorant doctors who believed eating disorders were a “diet” or a “choice,” but he also had to deal with people accusing him of lying about the abuse. Of all the doctors he visited in his life — and there were many — he never found even one who believed him about the abuse. Mothers don’t do that to their children, they’d say. For this reason, all the doctors could do was fatten him up. They couldn’t make him un-afraid of eating, of Hell, of God. More accurately, they never bothered to try.

Had Roman simply been physically abused (starved) without the accompanying psychological abuse (being taught that hunger is a sin), he may have healed as soon as he got away from his mother. He might have been eager to eat food and gain weight, with no one around to control him anymore. However, by infiltrating his psyche with self-policing terror, his mother caused insurmountable damage. With the terror still directing his thoughts, the agency of living independently meant nothing.

Now do you see why someone like Roman would say that psychological abuse can be worse than physical abuse?


The above examples were rather extreme, as my friends Dee and Roman were physically damaged as an added layer to their psychological abuse. But for me, no experience of psychological abuse ever crossed into physical territory.

I’ve already written about how I was forced to sing for money as a child. In order to keep me under their control, my church groomed me to believe I was The Chosen One, and they even went as far as to orchestrate fake spiritual experiences in order to get more money out of me. While that may sound cool and movie-like, it wasn’t. At all. Please read the full story. Similar to Roman, the adults in my life implanted twisted Bible verses in my head that continue to affect my thoughts and actions to this day. That’s one way psychological abuse can happen.

But then there’s what Arachne did.

Quick recap: I was in a one-on-one cult at age 17. My guru was my best friend’s cousin, Arachne. She played countless mind games over the course of a year; by the end of it, I was convinced that she had the supernatural abilities to monitor my thoughts, watch my every move, and kill me just by thinking of killing me. It took years to un-brainwash myself enough to stop living in total fear of her.

How did she make me believe all that bullshit? By playing countless mind games, simultaneously. She was relentless, skilled, and inexhaustible. Not a moment went by in our conversations when she wasn’t toying with my head in one way or another. Even when I could see through her bullshit, her refusal to let me end the conversation weakened my mental boundaries. Most of the time, she got me to agree with her just by tiring me out, not by making any sense.

I’ll describe one of her games:

Your voice sounds different

Arachne spent a few months of our relationship trying to convince me that I had multiple personalities. And she almost succeeded. Of all her mind games, it was the only one that didn’t completely work — which, if course, made her furious. Here’s how she would do it:

When talking on the phone with her, she would interrupt me to ask, “Did you notice that?”  “Notice what?”  “Your voice just changed.”  “What do you mean?”  “You sounded like an entirely different person just now.”  “I did?”  “Yes, you did. I heard you.”  “Oh. That’s weird.”  “No, it’s not just weird, it’s really bad.”  “How is it bad?”  “It’s a sign that your consciousness is splitting.”  “No it’s not.”  “Yes it is. You didn’t even notice that your voice changed. You went into a different consciousness, that’s why you can’t remember.”  “Are you sure you aren’t just hearing things?”  “No, it’s definitely you. I’ve noticed it a few times before, but I was waiting for you to do it again so I could point it out.”

38735_414852627469_685632469_5131375_6593737_nShe would use anything and everything as “evidence” that I had multiple personalities. If I forgot something she’d said, it was ‘because I’d been splitting’ and ‘couldn’t access those memories now’. If a friend had a dream about me, it was a sign that ‘pieces of my consciousness were developing minds of their own and pretending to be me in the astral planes’.  Even the fact that I write under a pen name, or let people call me by a nickname, earned me hours and hours of criticism for ‘being inauthentic’ and ‘splitting myself into separate people’.

It was fucking insane, you guys.

Even though I never fully accepted that I had split personalities, there were many moments where I started to wonder if she was right. I questioned my sanity, big-time. Was I forgetting things? Was I talking in different voices? If I was, were people noticing? Did I look crazy? Would my friends tell me if I was acting like different people? Could I trust them??? (And on, and on, and on…)

(Side note: If you ever wondered why I hate the misuse of the word “gaslighting” — well, this is why. You haven’t been gaslighted until you’ve had someone persistently, and calculatingly, plant false memories in your mind.)

And remember: the example I described above was only a single cog in Arachne’s complex mind-grinding machine. Every individual mind game was part of a larger crusade to dislodge my perception and install hers in its place. I was a hopeless, traumatized, easily frightened, dissociative, paranoid mess by the time she was through with me. Even long after she cut me off, I still felt her watching me, listening to my thoughts, warning me not to be too alive. And she did it all without laying a finger on me.

Now, back to the original question:

What is psychological abuse?

If you’ll notice, I haven’t defined it yet. Instead, I gave you three examples of it. Have you noticed any patterns?

Per Wikipedia:

Psychological abuse …. is a form of abuse, characterized by a person subjecting, or exposing, another person to behavior that may result in psychological trauma, including anxiety, chronic depression, or post-traumatic stress disorder.

Dee, Roman and I were irreparably damaged by our respective experiences of psychological abuse. Dee and I are functioning now, though residual trauma still impacts our everyday lives. But Roman, sadly, did not survive what was done to him. For his abuser, the object was to infiltrate him with an idea that would ultimately eat him alive from the inside out. And it worked.

So to anyone out there who still thinks non-physical abuse isn’t real or valid, please: reconsider your stance. People do, in fact, die from it. I know I always say “Roman took his own life,” but honestly? Sometimes I think it would be more accurate to say that his mother took it from him.


Also, on a closing note:
Most resources on the matter use “psychological abuse” and “emotional abuse” interchangeably, but I personally think they should be distinguished from each other. I say this because, as a cult survivor, the words “emotional abuse” do not describe even .001% of what Arachne did to my brain — and I’m sure Roman and Dee would agree that the term is unfit to describe our experiences. Sure, my emotions and self-esteem were harmed too, vicariously. But Arachne’s ultimate goal was much more sick and twisted than that. She wasn’t simply trying to hurt my self-esteem — she was trying to annihilate my consciousness. And in Dee’s and Roman’s cases, I’d even say that their abuse bordered on torture.

But that’s a rant for another day, I suppose.


Thanks for reading, lovelings.

On Spiritual “Gifts” that Come with a Price Tag

I’ve been thinking about the problem of exchanging spiritual teachings or practices for money. You know what I’m talking about. The $5,000 yoga retreats, $250 chakra cleanses, $500 medium sessions, $1,000 light-healing appointments….

Don’t get me wrong; I understand that there are unavoidable expenses when one chooses to make a practice out of their healing ability. One needs to rent office space and pay for all associated utilities… pay for materials (like acupuncture needles and yoga mats)… pay their staff (bookkeeper, events organizer, etc.)…. It costs to be alive. I get that.

But that’s not my issue. My issue is when spiritual teachers claim that their gift is God-given, or bestowed by the Universe, or something. They’ve been anointed, they claim. They’ve been called! They’ve been chosen! And they always have a justification for why they charge a fee before “sharing” their “gifts.”  I’m a human too! I have bills to pay! We all have to struggle in this world!

But I’m not buying it.

Because think about it.

If the Universe (or God, or Spirit, or whatever you prefer to call it) gives you some sort of spiritual gift…. and it’s your divine purpose to use that gift to help people…. then why would that same Universe/God/Spirit put you in a position where your gift was the only way you could make money?



The way I see it, if you accept the premise that the ability to practice your divinely-imparted purpose in life is contingent upon whether people pay you for it, then you must also accept that

  1. the Universe/God/Spirit only wants to help & heal people who can afford it,
  2. that God’s will is still subject to the whims of our human economy,
  3. that the Universe can give you this amazing ability but it can’t meet your financial needs, and
  4. that we can change people but we can’t change the economy. That we can have f#cking super-powers in a one-on-one context, but we are completely powerless beyond that.

I do not see how the above premises are compatible with the concept of a divinely-ordained spiritual talent. For that reason, I’ve drawn the following conclusions:

  • If it is truly a divine gift, it should be able to circumvent ordinary circumstances and human-imposed limits
  • If it is truly a divine gift, it should be available and accessible to everyone — especially people who can’t afford it!
  • If it is truly a divine gift, you’d probably be called to practice it with disadvantaged populations  (Isn’t it interesting how most spiritual “masters,” “teachers” and “healers” have a largely white, upper-class client base?)
  • If it is truly a divine gift, the Universe should provide you with a way to heal others without harming yourself (by, say, going into debt or starving)

So if you’re unable to give your spiritual gift to others without receiving something in return, then (A) it’s not a gift, and (B) it’s not divine.

Why not say “I like doing this healing thing and I happen to be good at it, but I’m not in a position where I can do it without charging people”?
Go ahead, be a healer.  Just stop calling yourself divine. I’m pretty sure God’s will isn’t subject to capitalism. If you want to help people, that’s great — but it’s not necessarily mystically ordained, and it doesn’t automatically make you a Lightworker or Starseed or Indigo Child or whatever. It’s okay to be an ordinary person who enjoys helping people but also has to pay bills.

Basically what I’m saying is: watch that ego trap, it’s a real doozy.



All of that said, when striving to make spiritual exchanges less egotistical, it’s not enough to simply remove money from the equation.

For example, my cult leader Arachne imposed a spiritual experience on me that literally saved my life. No money was exchanged. However, I became indebted to her in other ways. She wasn’t seeking money, but she was seeking power and control.
Friends have shared similar stories about being “spiritually blindsided,” “spiritually dominated” and otherwise deceived, even in contexts where money was never involved.

So what makes a spiritual gift, a gift?

Meaning: Under what circumstances is it actually beneficial for someone to share their spiritual gifts with you — whether that means sharing an intuitive dream they had about you, or using touch to heal your pain, or manipulating your energy field?

In my experiences with spiritual healers (and I’ve had plenty, both good and bad), I’ve come to find some key differences between the harmful ones versus the helpful ones. Hint: it has very little to do with how much they charge.


Harmful spiritual healers:

  • brag about how enlightened or advanced they are
  • expect/demand recognition for their talents
  • will try to heal you without your permission. They do not bother to obtain your informed consent.
  • show off their abilities. They use their gift to stroke their own ego.
  • leverage their “intuition” to control others’ lives (for example: If they don’t like your new boyfriend, they’ll say “My intuition told me you should break up with him.”)
  • don’t believe you are capable of helping yourself, and that you must completely surrender to them
  • patronize you for attempting to use your own spiritual gifts. They feel a need to stay above you.
  • assume that if it works for them, it must work for everyone
  • lambast other spiritual healers. They refuse to consider that other people may be as gifted as they perceive themselves to be.
  • are impatient about the process
  • blame you (or anyone but themselves) when the healing doesn’t work
  • still practice when they’re stressed, sick or angry — they don’t care how their bad mood will impact you as their patient
  • discourage you from taking medications or using any sort of tool (like a cane or hearing aid).


Helpful spiritual healers

  • are honest about who they are, their credentials and training, and their level of experience in their field
  • do not boast or brag about their gift. In some cases, you may have to find out about them “by accident” because they believe in letting the universe orchestrate their affairs.
  • will explain what they’re going to do and ask whether you’re ready and willing. They give you a chance to make an informed decision, and allow you to change your mind at any moment, even during the process.
  • will only use their gifts on you if you ask first, if you give them permission, or if it’s extremely urgent (such as a matter of life or death)
  • are happy to teach you their methods so that you can learn to heal yourself and become self-sufficient
  • recognize that they must meet you where you are, and will never patronize you for not ‘being at their level’
  • recognize that different things work for different people. Maybe reiki isn’t helpful to you. Let’s try something else, then!
  • are comfortable referring you to other healers, books, resources, etc. They don’t feel the need to “claim” and be your singular source of information.
  • are patient and understanding. They take the time to listen and fully understand your problem before proposing a solution, and they do not rush the process.
  • are accountable to some sort of authority. They acknowledge their limits and apologize when they mess up.
  • will be honest about their state of mind. If they are in a bad mood, they will let you know that they aren’t in the right headspace to work with you right now.


Sometimes a healer has qualities from both lists, so they have some maturing to do. Sometimes a person is well-intentioned but in the wrong field. Sometimes a bad healer can seem like they’re good for you. There’s a lot to consider when choosing a healer, just as there’s a lot to consider before choosing a doctor or school.


As for me personally, I find that the most healing experiences are the ones that happen synchronistically. In other words, it’s more often when I’m not looking for a healer (because I trust that everything is going to be okay, somehow, someway) that I cross paths with one. My good experiences with healers are always preceded by receptivity and consent, whereas the bad experiences are preceded by my own desperation, vulnerability and disempowerment.

But I don’t know. Maybe that’s just me. 😉

How about you all? What have you learned from your experience(s) with spiritual healers? Leave a comment below!

“You’re a feminist because I said so!” (also known as Coercive Conversion)


(This article has been cross-posted to Medium)

Coercive conversion is when members of groups/ideologies label non-members as members, regardless of whether the non-member is comfortable being labeled.

The ideology that is probably best known for doing this, is liberal feminism.

When you Google the term “you’re a feminist” this is the first result. It’s a “comedy” song, passive-aggressively entitled “Sorry Babe, You’re a Feminist.”

The video opens with quotes from female celebrities clearly stating their rhetorical boundaries regarding the feminist label. And what does this singer, Katie Goodman, do? Oh, completely disregards those women’s boundaries and calls them feminists anyway, of course! Like any Good Feminist™ would!

Some gems from this song include:

You must not know what feminism means

Right — because women who don’t want to be labeled are obviously ignorant. There is no other possible explanation.


You’re “not a feminist” — and you know who else isn’t? Boko Haram. Rush Limbaugh. The Taliban. [So] you might wanna call yourself a feminist.

(see: the logical fallacy reductio ad Hitlerum)

And the whole second verse of the song implies that modern-day women are morally obligated to be feminists because historical feminists died for our rights. Which sounds a lot like….


If you think I’m just cherry-picking, I’ve got more examples of this phenomenon:

f3 - emma watson instyle

Emma Watson, #HeForShe ambassador, for InStyle:

“Men think it’s a women’s word. But what it means is that you believe in equality, and if you stand for equality, then you’re a feminist. Sorry to tell you. You’re a feminist. You’re a feminist. That’s it.”

Read: “You’re a feminist because I said so!”

(Also, what’s with the “sorry not sorry” tone in these headlines? Can you say “passive aggressive”?)

Okay, one more:

f2 - dailycollegiate

Wow, that’s…. not domineering at all.

An illuminating quote from the article, by Suzannah Weiss:

In case there’s still any doubt left, Pulptastic created a quiz to tell you if you’re a feminist, and it only has one question: “Do you believe women and men should have the same political, economic, cultural, personal, and social rights?” Indeed, no matter what dictionary you ask, feminism boils down to gender equality: says it’s “the doctrine advocating social, political, and all other rights of women equal to those of men.” And Merriam-Webster calls feminism “the belief that men and women should have equal rights and opportunities.” Yet there seems to be a misunderstanding about this — because 82 percent of people believe “men and women should be social, political, and economic equals,” yet only 20 percent call themselves feminists.

Did it ever occur to this writer that the dictionary is not the final authority on a word’s meaning? A word’s etymology, connotation and cultural context can all contribute to one’s personal comfort level with that word.

If that’s not complex enough for you, there are words within the dictionary definition of feminism that have disputed meanings, such as “equality,” “rights,” “doctrine” and even “advocating.” So someone might consider themselves a feminist who doesn’t believe in equality. Likewise, someone might stand for equality but prefer the term egalitarian or humanist. None of these perspectives are wholly invalid, so to forcibly label someone based on the assumption that they don’t have a good enough reason for avoiding the label, is disingenuous, if not downright controlling.

What is the purpose/function of coercive conversion?

Groups that practice coercive conversion may do so for the following reasons:

  1. To make their movement appear larger (and by consequence, more powerful) than it actually is
  2. To set the stage for future games of True Scotsman, No True Scotsman

Since #1 is pretty self-explanatory, let’s skip ahead to exploring #2:

By pre-emptively defining feminism as something positive-sounding, feminists later have a means to disassociate from anyone who makes their group look bad. This is called a No True Scotsman.

The No True Scotsman (NTS) fallacy is a logical fallacy that occurs when a debater defines a group such that every groupmember posses some quality. For example, it is common to argue that “all members of [my religion] are fundamentally good”, and then to abandon all bad individuals as “not true [my-religion]-people”…. Before argument, someone preemptively defines some group such that the group definitionally must be entirely “good” or entirely “bad”. However, this definition was created arbitrarily for this defensive purpose, rather than based on the actual qualities of the group.[4]

– RationalWiki. Read the whole article, it’s great.

By oversimplifying feminism and defining it as fundamentally good, the feminists in question here are avoiding more nuanced, and necessary, discussions that would actually be far more beneficial to women everywhere. What does it mean to belong to, and/or represent, a movement? Who gets to decide what the movement is all about? And who gets to decide who-gets-to-decide?


How it backfires

Notice, in the examples listed above, women who go around forcing the “feminist” label on people en masse fall back on the same exhausted buzzword: EEK-WALL-IT-EE. Based on this fact alone, I’d venture that these women probably aren’t aware that there are countless schools of feminist thought — if they were, would they really be so likely to parrot the same ideas? Somehow, all these different women arrived at the singular conclusion that there is One True Feminism, it is a synonym for EQUALITY, and that’s it. Forget history, forget nuance, forget diversity. It’s simple. SO simple, in fact, that they have anointed themselves with the authority to decide what Is Feminist and Is Not Feminist.

This problem of oversimplifying a globally diverse idea leads to further sub-problems, like…

atrophying integrity. If all someone has to do to qualify as a Feminist is ~believe~ in eek-walliddy,  then feminism means absolutely nothing. Observe: “It’s a real shame that women are trafficked, raped, beaten and murdered at such high rates. But I BELIEVE they should be treated better! I think positive thoughts at the problem instead of actually doing anything to change it! There, I’ve done my part.”
I personally think feminism should be a title that is earned, not arbitrarily claimed as a personality descriptor. This can’t be policed by any singular authority, but it’s something to keep in mind if you consider yourself a feminist. What actions do you take to help women?

rapists under the feminist umbrella. Again, if acquiring the feminist label only requires a belief in equality, then anyone can claim to believe in equality while practicing otherwise. And plenty of misogynists do this. Any good predator will tell you that hiding behind a positive, charitable-looking label makes you look more trustworthy, which makes potential prey flock to you. It’s why so many abusive people seek leadership positions in churches and social justice movements. I’ve written more about the problem of misogynistic male “feminists” here.
What I want to know is why any feminist would be so eager to slap the feminist label on masses of strangers, knowing that this practice ultimately works against women? In general, bonding with strangers strictly based on shared beliefs is dangerous. Beliefs can be, and often are, faked.


Before closing, I’ll take a second to acknowledge that the “f-word” as is often called, is very misunderstood. Demonized, in fact. Perhaps this is what drives so many feminists to go around aggressively convincing people that they’re Actually Feminists Though. It’s a PR move. I understand, I really do!

But… I can’t help but wonder how things might be different if all of us were less concerned with being feminists in title, and more concerned with being feminists in practice.


A gift for you…

Hello, dearest dearlings! I’ve got a surprise for you 🙂

03/30 (next week) will mark 3 years since I released my first poetry collection, Wolves and Other Nightmares, about my experience of surviving and healing from a one-on-one cultic relationship.

The book was sort of an accident. When I originally decided to write a collection of poetry, I never intended to write about my trauma, nor did I intend to be so raw and vulnerable. But as the writing process unfolded, it became clear that I needed to share my truth. Not just for my own catharsis, but for the benefit of others who were enduring the same nightmare. Though I was scared, I decided to release the book.

In the 3 years since releasing Wolves, I’ve been reminded by readers, over and over again, that my decision was not in vain. Some people said they’d been waiting years for a book like this to exist. Others say they never knew they needed such a book. Like me, they had been totally lost and confused in the wake of their trauma, because they didn’t know there was a name (“one-on-one cult”) for their experiences. Reading my book, they tell me, validated their trauma for the first time.

The heartfelt correspondences I’ve received over the years have been both harrowing and inspiring, and they’re the reason I decided to continue writing about cult recovery here on this blog. It was a huge emotional risk to tell my story, but I’m so glad I did, because it gave people permission to tell their stories, too. This is how we heal. Together.

To celebrate the 3-year anniversary of the day I first dared to share my story with the world, and as a thank you to those who follow my cult recovery blog, here’s a discount code you can use to get $3 off a copy of my book on CreateSpace:

Wolves and Other Nightmares


May you find healing in its pages ❤

 – Alicen

(P.S. Here are some reviews of my book, if you’re curious.)

The Weirdest Triggers

It’s commonly understood that a “trigger” is a stimulus that provokes an extreme traumatic response in a person. Say, for instance: the sound of breaking glass might trigger a flashback of a car accident. Or the smell of gasoline might trigger someone’s traumatic memory of a house fire.
But for some of us, triggers are a bit more, uh…. weird…. than that.


For years after my cult leader Arachne cut contact with me, I became highly prone to dissociation. At first, I thought the dissociations were random, and that I was at the mercy of their unpredictable nature, so I didn’t try to stop the episodes from happening. It took me years to realize there is a pattern to my dissociations; I’ll give you two examples:

  1. I sometimes dissociate if, in conversation, I am allowed to talk for more than a minute straight.
  2. I sometimes dissociate if someone asks me multiple questions, one after the other, rapid fire. (“How are you? What’s going on in your life? How’s the writing? How’s your boyfriend? Did you eat? Do you want to grab lunch with me?” – BAM! I’m gone.)

Then, after seeing the pattern, it took some more time to figure out why those particular scenarios made me start “floating.” I was able to trace them both back to Arachne:

  1. In Arachne’s one-on-one cult, talking for more than a minute meant I was going to get punished. Expressing my own opinions was a no-no. The only reason Arachne would ever let me talk for a long time, was if she was getting ready to shoot down what I had just said, play a mind game on me, or gaslight me (“No, that’s not what you said – this is what you actually said…”). I eventually learned to stop talking and let her talk instead, because the feeling of talking for too long made me anxious.
  2. One of Arachne’s favorite mind-games to play on me, was what some thought reform experts call “Scrambling.” Scrambling is when someone asks you a long list of questions, aggressively and quickly. You become disoriented from trying to process all the questions at once, and that makes you more impressionable. So then, when they tell you what they think the “right” answers to the questions are, you’re more likely to accept their answers. It’s a tactic often used by salesmen and interrogators. (By the way, please don’t do this to anyone; it’s fucked up.)

Another example of a weird trigger: a fellow cult survivor once told me that, even decades after living on an ashram, he still has difficulty sitting in the audience as someone speaks from a stage. He said it mentally transports him back to the days of the cult, where the followers sat obediently in the audience while the guru pontificated from the podium. The dynamic of sitting below someone while they spoke down to him, “triggers” a mild sensory flashback. He may not feel that his life is being threatened – so it’s not traumatic necessarily – but it can still feel scary and dehumanizing.

I suspect that many cult survivors out there have similar Weird Triggers. Not quite traumatic, but not harmless either. Not quite terrifying, but also not safe. And many of us may never realize what’s happening to us, or take it seriously, precisely because the word “trigger” has become close to meaningless.

Thanks to the likes of347H(1) Tumblr dot com, “trigger warnings” have been overused to the point where the concept is hardly taken seriously anymore. “Trigger” has now come to mean “anything that makes me mildly uncomfortable” (see trigger warning: Julie Bindel).

People with an agenda have exploited the concept of triggers in the interest of accruing personal and political power. For instance, liberal college students routinely get events canceled and Professors fired over “triggering” political disagreements.  Are they really triggered? Probably not. Most sensible people can see right through their act: They leverage the rhetoric of victimhood to their advantage, weaponize their questionable “trauma,” and use this farce to get what they want – all the while crying about how they never get what they want. Mm-hmm. Right.

(Many think pieces have already been written about this phenomenon of liberal wolf-crying, so instead of reinventing the wheel, I’ll direct you to some of those: one, two.)

So now, it seems as though the general public has come to understand triggers in extreme terms: either you’re a Vietnam veteran with LEGITIMATE trauma who is TRIGGERED by fireworks…. or you’re just another Tumblr-radicalized liberal who can’t handle it when someone doesn’t immediately assume that your pronouns are xie/xir/xirself.

This weaponizing of triggers doesn’t only impact how the general public perceives post-traumatic stress. It also impacts how survivors perceive their own trauma! In other words, the term “trigger” has been polarized to the point where people with legitimate trauma don’t recognize that they have legitimate trauma. Or, some do recognize it – but are afraid to admit it, even to themselves. I have heard many, many, MANY trauma survivors express inhibition about describing themselves as “triggered” for fear of being accused of misusing the word.

Can we bring some nuance back to this conversation, please?

Let’s start with this: if you’re reading this right now, and you find yourself resonating with the Weird Triggers I’m describing, then please don’t ignore that inner voice. You know yourself better than anyone else does.

5343795629_f822051208_oSecond, remember that trauma has a function: it’s your brain’s attempt to keep you safe. And just like the function of pain (as I explained in my last post), triggers exist to help you, not to hurt you. After surviving trauma, your brain analyzes the events and comes up with red flags to make sure that trauma never happens to you again. It’s a survival mechanism. When you’re triggered, that’s your brain and body letting you know that something in your environment feels similar to the trauma you experienced, which could mean you’re in danger, so you need to be extra careful moving forward.

The good news is that triggers can be managed, but first you need to acknowledge & validate that you’ve been traumatized, and then you need to trace your traumatic responses back to their source. If you can’t figure out the source, triggers will help you find it. Think of them as a bread crumb trail.

Now here’s the thing about Weird Triggers: the source of the triggers may be more difficult to discern. Based on my experience and observations of other people, I’ve concluded that this is because traditional triggers (loud noises, the smell of gasoline,etc.) tend to result from violent and/or short-term trauma.  Weird Triggers, on the other hand, seem  to result from long-term, complex trauma.

Complex Past Traumatic Stress Disorder, or C-PTSD, is a relatively new, and controversial, diagnosis. Some people argue that it’s just a politically correct label for Borderline Personality Disorder (which I would gladly debate them on). And because C-PTSD was only recently included in the DSM, many survivors of long-term abuse (myself included) have resorted to self-diagnosing this disorder. This prevalence of self diagnosis by non-medical professionals has led to a lot of confusion about what C-PTSD really is,  which has subsequently contributed to the diagnosis not being taken seriously.

But hopefully my audience is still willing to hear my input on this topic. With unusual experiences like cultic abuse, people like me have a very limited range of terms to use when analyzing our experiences. In all my years of firsthand experience and secondhand research, I have found C-PTSD to be the most accurate descriptor of how cultic abuse shaped me as a person. I do not use the word lightly, and I do welcome critiques and feedback on my usage thereof.

All of that said, let’s do a quick comparison of the two. This comparison is in no way complete or definitive, given that I am not medical professional or an authority on the subject, so I strongly encourage you to continue researching the topic beyond this limited blog post, before drawing any conclusions about these disorders.  Here are some good starting points: 1, 2, 3



tends to result from exposure to short-term trauma (like accidents or physical attacks), torture, and physical or sexual assault

tends to result from long-term trauma, such as chronic abuse (including verbal and spiritual abuse), imprisonment, and prolonged crisis situations

Danger is immediate and severe (attempted or complete rapes, and attempted murders, fall into this category)

Danger may not be immediate or severe, but target is led to believe that it is, usually with threats, or with displays of violence not directed at the target (such as the abuser smashing plates when angry)

tends to produce overt traumatic responses, such as panic attacks and flashbacks

tends to produce covert traumatic responses, such as dissociation, submissive behavior, and self injurious impulses

Keep in mind that these experiences can overlap. For instance, you might be a survivor of abuse that is life-threatening and long-term; as a result, you may develop a score of triggers that range from overt to covert. I’ll stress this again: please continue your research on this topic, and don’t let my blog post be the end of your learning!

Back to Weird Triggers:
As I said earlier, there are certain social contexts that make me mentally retrogress into the state of helplessness I felt when being abused by my cult leader. Was I in immediate danger back then? Technically, no. But my abuser made me believe that I was, so, my brain responded accordingly to that threat by ensuring that I feel “triggered” (read: I feel unsafe) in any scenario that feels similar to the abuse. That means even mundane conversations can be triggering, unbeknownst to the person I’m speaking with.

My trauma impacts my everyday life. My triggers are not cards that I pull when a conversation gets uncomfortably political. They’re not cards at all! I hate that metaphor. Post-trauma life is not a game. And even if it was, it would not be a game that I could win.


Society at large is only recently beginning to acknowledge trauma in mainstream discourse. The discourse is, unfortunately, being hijacked by self-interested political entities. But I feel a strong conviction to establish rhetorical boundaries around what triggers are. Whether our triggers are extreme or mundane, our experiences are valid and important. I refuse to allow anyone to downplay the way trauma impacts my everyday life, and I encourage my fellow survivors to be unapologetic as well. The discourse rightfully belongs to survivors of trauma. Let’s keep making our voices heard!