I lost over 13 years of my life in the destructive cult, Universal Knowledge (formerly known as Life Integration Programmes), run by cult leader Natasha Lakaev (now a registered Psychologist with AHPRA, Australia) from the age of 21 to 35 and escaped with my three children in January, 2010.
I say 'escape', because I was threatened that if I left, my children would be taken from me.
I was brainwashed into believing that Natasha Lakaev was a reincarnation of Jesus Christ and one of "12 on the Intergalactic Council of the Universe". She prophesied that the world would end in an Armageddon scenario on 11:11:11 (later 12:12:12) and that there would be few survivors apart from herself and her group and that we and our children would only survive if we remained with her.
This may seem odd and bizarre and you may think that I must have been crazy to believe in such nonsense. However, I consider myself to be a normal, everyday person who is intelligent, and yet I found myself in this situation.
From a young age, every week at Mass in the Catholic Church I was told: "Jesus will come again". Predictions of apocalyptic events that would result in the extinction of humanity, a collapse of civilisation, or the destruction of the planet have been made since at least the beginning of the Common Era. Christian predictions refer to events like the Rapture, the Last Judgment, and the Second Coming of Christ. 1
When a persuasive and manipulative character presented herself as 'Jesus' and preached that the world as we know it would end, these concepts did not seem so far-fetched in my mind.
People do not 'join' cults. Individuals or families in vulnerable stages of their lives are recruited via manipulative methods to become involved with a seemingly legitimate group.
Cultic extremist ideology can manifest via any of the following and more:
a one-on-one relationship
new religious movements
New Age spiritual groups
personal development companies
leisure activities or at leisure centres eg. yoga or a gym.
Cult leaders generally display the traits of a charismatic Narcissist, with Antisocial, Borderline, Histrionic or Paranoid Personality Disorders, therefore it is very easy for unsuspecting bystanders to be susceptible to their deception and coercive persuasion.
RETENTION OF MEMBERS
Cults use Mind Control techniques to retain their followers including:
physical exhaustion through mindless activity and overwork
long hours of indoctrination
shaming, humiliation and shunning
threat of harm
physical violence, and
proselytising an ‘end of the world’ Armageddon ideology.
Members are separated from their family and friends and social support network. Before they realise what is happening, the group's indoctrination is ingrained in their psyche through sophisticated thought reform.
Cult members are then trapped in a 'prison' with or without walls, until they 'wake up'; are expelled/ex-communicated; are de-programmed or de-radicalised via intervention; or get to a point where their current circumstances are so bad that losing their salvation or the prospect of death, is a better alternative (as was the case with myself).
Myself and scores of others were abused by Natasha Lakaev, who used mind control to yield power, money and glorification within a high demand group.
Cults can be a breeding ground for criminal activities including fraud, tax evasion, Modern Slavery and Human Trafficking.
I wish to help educate family and friends of current and former cult members, so that they are better able to understand the process of mind control and support their loved ones through recovery.
I hope that sharing my story, personal insights and triumphs, will also help support fellow ex-cult members and prevent others from becoming involved in these dangerous groups.
DEFINITION OF A CULT
The definition of a “destructive cult” by Michael D. Langone Ph.D., Counselling Psychologist, former Executive Director of the International Cultic Studies Association (ICSA), and Author of Recovery from Cults: Help for Victims of Psychological and Spiritual Abuse (1993) is:
“A group or movement that, to a significant degree:
Exhibits great or excessive devotion or dedication to some person, idea, or thing;
Uses a thought reform program to persuade, control, and socialize members;
Systematically induces states of psychological dependency in members;
Exploits members to advance the leadership’s goals, and causes psychological harm to members, their families, and the community.”
CULTS IN AUSTRALIA AND WHERE TO FIND SUPPORT
Cult Information and Family Support (CIFS) estimates there could be around 1000 cults in Australia.
CIFS has supported individuals and families for more than 20 years from over 200 cults - these are only the groups that have been reported.
Cults are prolific. In today's world of increased isolation, a lack of a sense of meaning and belonging, and due to the widespread reach and influence of the internet, it is not unusual to have a family member or friend who has been involved in a cult or to know someone who does.
For contact details of CIFS and other support organisations in Australia, the US, UK, Canada and France, please see the 'Support' page on this website.
THE CULT EFFECT
A gripping account of the brutal impact of spiritual and violent extremism.
Carli McConkey was 21 years old when she happened upon New Age guru, Natasha Lakaev, and her personal development company, Life Integration Programmes, at the Mind Body Spirit Festival in Sydney, Australia in 1996.
What at first appeared professional and promising, became a vehicle for psychological and physical abuse.
Over the next thirteen years, Carli lost her freedom…her mind…and her family.
This book demonstrates the gradual and insidious process of mind control, gives insights into the period of recovery after escape, and shows how determination and strength can overcome adversity.
Available at selected bookstores:
An absorbing and informative account of an abusive Australian cult that needs to be read.
The Cult Effect is an honest, grounded and, more often than not, terrifying recounting of a young woman's 13 year journey spent within an organisation that sought to brainwash and mind control its followers into giving their finances, labour and selves to its leader. You really get a sense of 'seeing behind the curtain' here with this account being from within the circle that is more often than not only seen from the outside.
The result is a self-reflective telling of a story that explains how young people can be tricked into organisations and made to stay in them against their will. We see that these people are not at all gullible or easily fooled. It is the cults themselves that are clever enough to twist people until they don't know which way is up.
I admit I found it hard to put this book down. It's a credit to the book that such a distressing read can be so engagingly written and yet still retain its objectivity despite how deeply the author was entwined with the events. The statement at the front that truth often is stranger than fiction certainly holds its own here...
Henry Boffin (Goodreads)
THE EIGHT CHARACTERISTICS OF CULTS By Robert J. Lifton
The purposeful limitation of all forms of communication with the outside world. A closed system with rigid boundaries. Communication with the inner self is also controlled, i.e. what is acceptable to think and feel. Control over diet, sleep cycles.
Teaching that the group has been specially chosen to carry out a divine purpose and the recruit has been selected to play a special role in fulfilling that purpose. Uncritical faith and trust is expected.
The Sacred Science:
The mission of the group is considered sacred…not to be questioned. The group purports to have a body of airtight evidence to support its claims.
The Demand for Purity:
Since the Word, Idea, Mission of the group is sacred and pure, anything contaminating it must be eradicated. Anything done in the name of purity is considered moral and just, no matter how deceptive.
An expectation of baring one’s innermost thoughts and feelings in order to purge oneself of doubts and impurities. Since the leader and Mission are perfect, anything that goes wrong is the fault of the member. Confession rituals pervade the group’s atmosphere.
Loading the Language:
Thought-stopping clichés and jargon that compress the most complex of human problems into brief, highly reductive, definitive sounding phrases, which are easily memorised and easily expressed.
Doctrine over Person:
Convincing the subject that the group and its doctrine take precedence over any individual in the group or any other teaching from outside it. Individual boundaries are obliterated.
Dispensing of Existence:
Teaching that all those who disagree with the philosophy of the group are doomed. Use of splitting, we/they, taken to extremes.
Modified from Andres, R & Lane, J. (1989) Cults and Consequences. Los Angeles: Commission on Cults and Missionaries.