Escaping a cult: physically, mentally, and emotionally (with Daniella Mestyanek Young)

Clearer Thinking with Spencer Greenberg

Nov 8 2023 • 1 hr 17 mins

Read the full transcript here.

How do the experiences of children born into cults differ from members who join as adults? Why do some cults that grow out of western evangelical Christianity — which is notoriously obsessed with purity culture — often flip the script about sex and turn promiscuity into a virtue? How does age affect the ease with which one internalizes cult programming? To what extent do cult members approve of sexual abuses committed the name of religion? What sort of tactics do cult leaders employ to keep members from leaving? In what ways are militaries like cults? Why has the US military been so slow to fix its culture of rape and abuse of women? What are "thought-stopping" clichés? What defines a cult? What are the often unseen or less tangible consequences of leaving a cult? What sins are considered unforgivable in a cult? What are some examples of cult-like groups that don't necessarily meet every single criterion for cult-ness?

Daniella Mestyanek Young was born a third-generation member of the infamous Children of God religious cult. She grew up being trafficked around the world before escaping that life and moving to America at age 15. She put herself through high school and graduated as college valedictorian before commissioning into the US Army as an intelligence officer. She deployed twice to Afghanistan (in 2011 and 2014) and became a member of one of the Army's first Female Engagement Teams (an experiment that put women into deliberate ground combat for the first time in Army history and eventually led to the repeal of the sexist combat ban and the gender desegregation of the entire US military). She is a proud daughter of the 101st (the unit featured in Band of Brothers), a recipient of the Presidential Volunteer Service Award from President Obama, and is currently pursuing a Master of Arts in Organizational Psychology at the Harvard Extension School where she focuses her research on group behavior, social norms, culture, extremism, leadership demagoguery, and cults. Learn more about her at her website, uncultureyourself.com.

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