Lessons Learned from Manipulation

There are times in our lives when we believe someone is who they claim to be. We tend to focus on the positive aspects of people, which causes us to miss warnings signs. These are three instances in which I encountered this, as well as the lessons I learned.


The Online Writing Collective

I was thrilled when I was invited to join a writing collective in November 2022. The organizer used a rotating writing schedule. There were six of us who were invited. Each of us would write one article per month.

During a Zoom call, I enjoyed talking with fellow cult survivors. We collaborated on the site’s name, URL, and hosting platform. I offered to assist because I have a strong background in WordPress. Then I eagerly began building the site, designing the logo, and publishing the “Coming Soon” page.

I created a group Google Drive and we all started adding our biographies. I planned out the structure of my first post. Everything was in draft mode. We were all beginning to build and add or remove information and draft posts at our own, consistent pace.

Then, out of the blue in January 2023, I received a message from the founder of the anti-cult writing collective essentially telling me that they were concerned about me being a part of their group because I have artistic mind mapping cards and did art therapy readings with them. They were concerned about how others might view us writing about cults because of this.

“Huh? Isn’t this an Anti-Cult Collective?” I wondered. This means that people can be themselves, right, such as by being religious. There are many religious anti-cultists. Was I being passive aggressively kicked out of a writing group because of my art?

I was a little taken aback. How could someone claiming to be a podcaster highlighting cult survivors and our healing journeys criticize my creativity?

So I went over the development of my art therapy card deck in great detail with her. For example, the cards are based on artistic pieces that I created while writing my memoir, “Cult Child.” I went on to explain the psychology behind the art therapy deck of cards and the insight I had gained into how the brain processes and interprets art.

My art card system is based on mind mapping, with one card serving as the node and the other cards serving as the mapping cards. As a result, I also discussed some of the fascinating biology behind the card development, including what I learned from “The Body Keeps the Score” by Bessel van der Kolk. This book was extremely helpful in my personal trauma healing journey and gave me a deeper understanding about the science of trauma in the body.

I explained that I had studied DNA and how it works, as well as taking Genomics 101 and 102 at the HudsonAlpha Institute of Biotechnology. I explained that my use of the number 7 in my card system was a metaphor for our bodies’ seven layers of skin and how deep trauma is stored in our DNA, part of the study of epigenetics.

The founder of the collective then labeled the discussion of DNA and trauma in the body as pseudoscience. That’s when I realized this person thought they knew more than accredited psychologists and even medical doctors. Bessel van der Kolk, according to the founder, was divisive. I went ahead and looked into it. Five years ago he sued the company that contracted him because they withheld $2 million of his income from him. In return they fired Scientology style attacks against him.

He was also mentioned in articles about the Satanic Panic era, which appears to be ongoing. He claims in these articles that trauma memories that return to a trauma victim, often years later, are almost always true. I realized he had done some deep research after reading his perspective on how trauma survivors remember trauma. Because so many of the things he wrote mimicked how memories have surfaced for me over the years.

The creator of this collective writing blog, who lacks a psychiatric degree and has never been a member of a cult, had just insulted my intelligence. Here we were, walking on the edge of the “false memory” nonsense once more. False memories do not exist in my opinion. Only those who have been coached to say what they are saying exist. They could be children who have received coaching from their parents or caregivers. Some may be adults who have been influenced by therapists. Abusers may also use “false memory” to get away with their crimes.

A pedophile, for example, may only abuse one of his or her children, and when the child recalls the abuse later in life, he or she is accused of having a false memory since none of the other children were abused. As a result, the term “false memory” is a catch-all that fails to adequately represent what lies beneath it.

The writing collective creator then changed their strategy, saying they would abandon their own project and walk away from it. They insisted that they were not kicking me out, but that instead they would no longer be a part of the project they created. I’d finally had enough of the bullshit and told them I was done with it.

I sent an email to the collective, expressing my displeasure with the behavior over what had occurred. I felt it should be left up to the founder to explain her own actions. The silence of the other cult survivors in the collective screamed very loudly at me.

I was being judged as a survivor based on the opinion of someone who knew little about me and seemed to care even less about accepting me as a person. When I realized they had never visited my website, I had an “aha” moment. My art cards had been there for a long time, even before I was invited to be a guest on their podcast. They hadn’t even bothered to look into who I was before inviting me to the writing collective.

The passive-aggressive manner in which I was responded to was simply “culty” in nature. I was swept back to the last time I’d been involved with the “anti-cult” world.


Abusers and Those Who Remain Silent

I attended a conference in Santa Fe, New Mexico a few years ago. I shared a room with the daughter of one of the organization’s executives. I booked the room in my name so that I could keep track of my own finances and manage the semantics of my stay there.

In the times we spent alone in the room I learned information that astounded me. The stories of abuse that were shared broke my heart. I heard a lot of things, including about people who were aware of many abusive problems around them and did nothing about it. I saw the darkness that exists within these people who pose as valiant saviors of cult survivors.

There are numerous stories I could tell about cultish behavior that occurred at this anti-cult conference, such as the executive who simply showed up and entered the room I shared with the adult daughter at will without any respect for my privacy. They then tried to dictate my schedule as if I were their daughter as well.

The final straw came when the executive came into the room and informed me that we would all be checking out early and driving to Albuquerque to stay at a Motel 6 in order to catch our flights home the next day. They actually canceled my hotel reservation.

I had planned an extra day in Santa Fe. I knew no one would be on the art walk on Sunday, so I could walk it almost alone. I was looking forward to this day and had already scheduled a shuttle back to the airport for Monday. I couldn’t believe the executive thought they could shorten my trip and book me a room at a Motel 6 without even asking.

The daughter on the other bed was silent as her father stood in my hotel room. I picked up the phone and called the front desk, which apologized for the error and corrected the original reservation. As I was speaking to the receptionist, the executive walked out of my room. The daughter then got up and left our shared hotel room, having been summoned to the executive’s suite, as she had been several times during the stay. The executive refused to let her have any personal freedom.

When she came back it was late, and I was almost asleep. We spoke briefly as she went to bed since the executive had told her to report at 7 a.m. with her bags packed in the morning. She had checked out by the time I woke up the next morning. I went downstairs to eat breakfast. I attempted to greet her as she worked behind the book table. She didn’t say much to me. Then I realized she’d unfriended me on Facebook. Her face was dejected. I was sickened that an adult was being abused and controlled by someone who claimed to care about ending coercive control. He was a controlling and manipulative individual.

I still think of her and hope she is doing well.

When I got home from Santa Fe, I sent an email to a couple of people I’d been working with on the association’s art board. I informed them that I could no longer be ethically associated with their organization after learning how abusive one of their executives was. I got the standard “We’re sorry you feel that way” gaslighting email reply. I never attended another conference and will never attend another.

Cults continue to exist and children are abused because people turn a blind eye. They will not take a stand. Too many people are more concerned with their personal clout. It reminded me of growing up in a cult where the victims didn’t matter, and the leaders were always in competition to be closest to god. I was horrified to learn that these were the type of people in charge of anti-cult narratives and organizations.

Fast forward to January 2023, and the writing collective situation where I was experiencing the same emotions as I watched someone judge me for my art, my creativity, and the way I move and heal. The insults to who I am as a person were more visible than ever.

With my eyes open, I was saddened to learn the truth about what this person represents. The passive aggression and abuse displayed by many in the anti-cult world is disturbing, because they present themselves as good therapists and caring people while gossiping, judging, and crawling all over each other for power. The worst part is that their actions have a negative impact on survivors. Their brand of anti-cult community is in itself quite cultish in behavior.


A Social Media Encounter

On social media, I recently noticed a ramp up of the MLM-style branding. People are joining social media platforms and adding titles like “doctor,” “expert,” or “professional” to their names without any proof. Given what we have learned about the NXIVM MLM cult, I caution everyone to beware.

The vast majority of these people have courses that they encourage their followers to buy. They extol the virtues of becoming an expert at “this” and winning at “that.” They try to get you to buy their courses in order to help you grow your social media presence. Through their courses, seminars, retreats, and books, they increase the pressure on you to continue becoming the best of the best.

In the last year I met someone who had been a long-time member of the MLM Landmark community. They had infiltrated the world of mental health communities on social media. They complained to me about their identities being stolen and that people were impersonating them and copying them. They complained because a coach they hired told them they weren’t friends. I reassured them by explaining how I approached projects with ethics and loyalty unless something changed the dynamic.

As time passed, I became aware of some concerning red flags. First, the MLM seller’s life stories began to change, becoming more similar to the hard truths of trauma survivors. Then, suddenly, they were an expert in all things cult, per their made-up website review, which they accredited to me. Nonetheless, the review was something I would never have thought, said, written, or approved for their website.

They use an AI bot system to grow their social media accounts, with other accounts working toward the goals: social media growth and phishing people. These accounts all point back to the purchase of their courses and media packages. I found it odd that they complained about being stolen from when they mined and stole other people’s original writing using an app called TweetHunter. This individual radiated deep hypocrisies and manipulative behaviors.

I started digging in. I looked up who they claimed to be and noticed a pattern of their self-branding. There was a WordPress website that had sporadic posts for a year or two. Links that led to links. I read a professional looking review on a PR website, where anyone can pay to brand themselves on the internet. There was no proof that they were who they said they were. They didn’t have any professional licenses that could be checked.

I dug into the courses they were affiliated with. Some of the topics had books with more than 300 pages and and videos to go with them. The course purchased to examine was common sense information, obviously farmed from the internet with little originality. I counted the number of individuals who had fallen for the grift. I noted that the MLM schemer used their social media accounts to create reviews on the courses. They went as far as creating a few reviews from identifiable community established accounts to legitimize the courses.

I wondered if the people showing a review were even aware of the reviews. I certainly was caught off guard when I saw my profile image attached to their false, self-serving narrative.

Additionally, this individual’s behavior was more interested in making money than someone who was invested in helping others heal. The person’s behavior was harmful. They were extremely passive aggressive and gaslighting. They made public mistakes, during which I was jokingly blamed. This individual would have gained more by being real, and owning their chaotic lack of organization. Most people are very understanding.

Faking it until you make it is a dangerous game, especially when you spend it stealing and monetizing other people’s ideas. Imitation is not the best form of flattery. It is the worst form of unoriginality.

Good people in the wellness, coaching, and mental health communities recognize the importance of asking for verification and the act of victim shaming as a red flag. Thus, the more we associated, the more I realized this individual was toxic to my mental health and time management.

After witnessing some exchanges and reading messages sent to me, I also disliked the way this individual spoke to other people. The same manipulation tactics emerged in the conversations. The entitlement was unprofessional and shocking. The more I saw, the more I stepped away until I was completely disconnected from them.

When this individual realized we were seeing their true colors, they began rebranding themselves. They also quickly wiped themselves from the internet. They took down their YouTube channel and their websites. Their PR article disappeared. Luckily, I saved it all for future investigative writing.

The craze of hustle culture that rose while everyone was locked down during COVID, seemed like a programmed strategy that preyed upon people being isolated. Hustle culture is detrimental for mental health, and should be avoided.

Be mindful of certain platforms like Discord and the Circle app where these types of individuals will create funnel communities. The ultimate goal of these communities is to get you to pay for membership, buy the courses, and ultimately place you in a never ending wheel.

You are on a wheel beneath this pyramid.

You will never be Alice. You will never be in the top 5, the top 25 or even the top 125. You will be led to believe that you can be, though. You will be love bombed and told how amazing you are, and how your value will lead you to great success. It will not. You are a slave to the wheel.


Vetting is the process of ensuring that someone is who they claim to be. I pay close attention to many aspects of online profiles. Is there a link to a branded website where you can find out who they are?

For example, in my bio, I state that I am a cult survivor, that I promote healing through creativity, and that I am a child abuse advocate. I have a branded website you can click and read about my experiences which directly correlate with what I talk about.

If you want to understand more about branding, I recommend checking out Rachel Thompson. She is the owner of BadRedhead Media and authored a powerful author branding book. To understand what to look for in vetting someone, learn what branding looks like.

Once you learn what branding is supposed to look like, then study what fake branding looks like. The case of George Santos is an example. He lied about graduating from college and made false claims about working for Goldman Sachs. He claimed to own 13 properties before admitting that he was not a landlord.

The internet is rife with unethical behavior, from people who completely adopt other people’s stories and personas and personal ideas, to those who take pieces of their own lives and skew them to fit a narrative.

Before You Give Anyone Money

Before giving your money over to someone, ask them for references. References are people you can have a conversation with. You should ask professional questions such as:

  • What was the project you worked on together?
  • How did you become connected with them?
  • Did you finish the project? If not, why?
  • Would you work with them again?
  • Would you recommend them?
  • Is there anything I should know to make working with them a positive experience?

There are public sites like WhitePages, or BeenVerified that are available to all citizens to do a background search. Remember that how you use the information you obtain is extremely important when doing this. Do not use it for malice or harassment in any way. This is against the law. Do not put it on the internet. This is also prohibited.

When you use a background checking system to vet someone, you are required to check a box indicating your acceptance of the terms of service. Read this language carefully. You will be held liable if you violate the TOS. Do not use people’s information in malicious ways. Leave children alone. Don’t dox people, which is phishing for private information with the sole intent of harming them.

We usually end up collaborating with people we met through community channels. Be prepared to ask them questions. If they become agitated because you are vetting them, that could be a red flag. I don’t mind if people inquire about me. They ought to. Due diligence can help us avoid many potentially harmful people and situations that are not a good fit for us.


Own your story. If people wanted you to write warmly about them, they should have behaved better.

Anne Lamatt

As with all adverse experiences, I sat in contemplation and asked myself, “What lesson can I learn from these situations?” They all had one element in common. I didn’t check out any of the people in the scenarios before I worked with them.

In case one, had I asked around beforehand, my self protection boundaries would have been reinforced. After learning about this person’s bad behavior from others who had dealt with them, I realized I would have politely turned down the founder’s invitation, had I known beforehand, what I learned about their behavior after the fact.

In the second case, it is unlikely that I would have learned the truth about that executive. I was fortunate to step into the inner circle, which opened up a deeper view into the organization. I appreciated the experience of exposing the truth about the lack of ethics in many of the board members before I became too deeply ingrained into their artistic division.

In the third case, I came to understand that what allowed this person to float through our longstanding community for as long as they did was a culture of silence. For fear of being shunned, no one shared their private and adverse interactions with the individual. When we all finally opened up and shared, we came to understand how important it was to use our voices and vet people who enter our circles to collaborate.

As a result of what I’ve learned, I’m aware that one can never completely protect themselves from having trust broken by how someone behaves. These moments will always exist. What’s most important is how I choose to process the disappointment.

There is always hurt wrapped up in betrayal when you find out someone is not a good person at their core. There is a new wounding that takes place when we are treated poorly, shunned, or reminded of our own childhood where the same abusive behaviors existed. In the course of life, bruises will occur. They heal, and I use them to grow and become even wiser.

When dealing with someone who has broken your trust, you may feel nervous, have a racing heart, be angry, have a knot in your stomach, or even be disgusted. At this point in the relationship, your distrust has most likely grown so strong that you are afraid to show vulnerability.

You put your trust in someone else to do the right thing. You believe in the person’s integrity and strength. A sense of safety is provided by trust, which is essential for an effective team.

We should cut ties with people who are unethical, abusive, and manipulative. We have the right to speak up about it and not be silenced. We have a responsibility to be open and safe in our communities. We must also speak up for one another when we see a fellow member being treated unfairly.

I leave you with this comical quote that came across my feed. I don’t know who the author was, but it certainly is timely.

When I die, I want everyone with whom I worked on group projects to be my pallbearers so they can let me down one last time.

Editor: Lisa LaMarr