Photo of Dr Janja Lalich

Dr Janja Lalich: When Self Help Turns Cult

Dr Janja Lalich is the author of Take Back Your Life: Recovering from Cults and Abusive Relationships

Dr Janja Lalich is a researcher, author, and educator specializing in cults and extremist groups, with a particular focus on charismatic relationships, political and other social movements, ideology and social control, and issues of gender and sexuality. She is Professor Emerita of Sociology at California State University, Chico.

Take Back Your Life is a the number one book used by former cult members and their friends and families to better understand cult experiences and their consequences. It has been recently released as an audiobook.

I first became aware of Janja early 2020 on the small screen. She was the cult expert in an episode of William Shatner’s The UnXplained on History Channel which I participated in. Listen to learn how THAT went, and some pointed conversation about the intersection of self help and cults.

Conversation highlights:

  • Janja shares her journey from being a member of a political cult in the 70s and 80s to doing a doctoral dissertation comparing the cult she was in to the Heaven’s Gate cult.
  • Janja and Laura discuss Deadly Cults, The UnXplained episode they are in, and why media projects aren’t always what we expect them to be.
  • Janja identifies mechanisms of influence and control used in self help training programs that are the same as used in cults.
  • Red flags and warning signs of cult dynamics.
  • Why cults have to appear to be good on the surface.
  • The cycle of and consequences of high arousal techniques, demand expectations, and the self fulfilling prophecy.
  • The Secret and the Law of Attraction as a dressed up, well-marketed self fulfilling prophecy.
  • The illusion of choice: when you think you have agency, but your free will becomes altered by the morality and values of a leader.
  • Things you need to know about your self help leader.
  • Cults in the age of the internet groups.
  • A basic explanation of the internet and social media algorithms.
  • Why “You create your own reality” functions better as a developmental stage than a way of life.
  • Why there’s a lack of empathy for cult survivors.
  • How family, friends and colleagues can better support their loved ones during and after leaving a cult dynamic.
  • What a former member of a cult or cult dynamic can expect to experience after leaving.
  • What to look for in a therapist. (Spoiler: There are often challenges. It happened to me, and I promise you, it’s better to know this up front so you can take charge of the situation and not incur more psychological damage. LT)
  • Janja closes with a memorable quote for the Free Your Inner Guru archives…

There are no gurus other than your inner guru.

Dr Janja Lalich, Free Your Inner Guru Podcast, Episode 87

Mentioned in this episode:

Janja’s Books:

Article: Free Your Inner Guru Origin Story

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Conspirituality Podcast with Matthew Remski, Derek Beres and Julian Walker

A Little Bit Culty Podcast with Sarah Edmonson and Nippy Ames

Connect with Janja online:

Photo credit: Image courtesy of Starz’s docuseries Seduced: Inside the NXIVM Cult

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