Deception, dependency and dread are the three steps in the cult recruitment and conversion process.
The stages were first described as debility, dependency and dread (Farber, Harlow & West, 1957), and later adapted by cult expert, Michael Langone, who replaced ‘debility’ with ‘deception’ (Langone, 1991). Universal Medicine exploits all four Ds. Many ‘students’ are in a state of debilitation when introduced to the group. Physical, mental or emotional debility make customers more vulnerable and less able to defend themselves from invasion.
Serge has styled himself as a ‘healer’ and initially comes across as confident, gentle and concerned. He seems sympathetic and self assured, and knowledgeable of spirituality and healing. His motive, however, is to recruit followers to his scheme of personal deification and profit.
Benhayon establishes trust via his easy, charming, and seemingly caring manner. However, his healing claims are bogus and misleading. His Esoteric healing practices and ‘gentle breath meditation’ are for the most part comforting and relaxing and induce states of dissociation (psychic numbing, trancelike or altered states of consciousness). Such states compromise students’ critical faculties and increase suggestibility. From there he implants his belief system via his lectures, books and audio, which students read and listen to repeatedly. His lecture technique and invented jargon are designed to keep students confused and mystified.
To the group, Benhayon presents himself as an enlightened ‘fifth degree initiate’ and distinguished reincarnate of Leonardo da Vinci and others. Followers see him as an enlightened master and increasingly seek his guidance in their decision making. He persuades students to attend workshops, courses and presentations, telling them they need to continue Esoteric healing sessions conducted by practitioners he has trained, to ‘clear’ disease causing energies and entities.
Workshop recruits are drawn into deepening commitment and eventual dependency. Students become hooked on the blissful states they experience during the hands on healing sessions. The group also practices love bombing – bombarding recruits with flattery, which is most appealing to those unused to personal popularity or who are already self centred and emotionally immature. It reinforces any narcissistic tendencies. Confessional practices help group bonding, but erode personal boundaries and privacy.
Benhayon’s ‘philosophy’ is highly ambiguous. He talks of gentleness and love, yet graphically portrays the world outside Universal Medicine as evil and hostile. Students are taught to loathe their own bodies. According to Benhayon their bodies are weak and impure vehicles – the ‘carnal expression’ of Esoterically incorrect choices, and traumas from past lives. He teaches that the body ultimately obstructs the ‘light of the soul’ and that healing is has nothing to do with improving health and wellbeing. Benhayon preaches that adherence to his ‘self-loving choices’ are the only avenue for escaping the world’s horrors, and disease and suffering in future reincarnations. Because his ‘philosophy’ is imposed rather than discussed, and questioning is discouraged, students become increasingly indoctrinated and less autonomous in their thinking.
Loved ones and acquaintances report that UM students become dogged, secretive and humourless, or develop an odd sense of humour closely related to Benhayon’s. Behaviours and personal expression become group motivated and uniform. They commonly break familiar relationships and change their lifestyles by adopting different sleeping, dietary, exercise routines prescribed by Benhayon. Students spend hours every day immersed in Universal Medicine, studying the teachings, helping to generate social media propaganda, and taking part in healings and meetings or interactions with other students. Benhayon’s voice and worldview permeates every aspect of their lives, from their daily habits, posture and body awareness, to attitudes to parenting, relationships and intimacy. Followers’ personalities commonly become polarized and extremist, judgemental toward the world outside Universal Medicine, yet uncritical of Serge and the group. Emotionally, they appear detached to the feelings of those around them, yet they are highly defensive toward criticism of UM.
Dependency is reinforced by fear. Benhayon induces fear of everything he deems to be ‘pranic’ or non Esoteric. Followers are pressured to reject anyone outside the group who is not willing to join his Way of the Livingness. They live in irrational fear of gluten, dairy, alcohol, sex and anyone who indulges in them, believing that those things can cause disease and misfortune for themselves and their loved ones.
Benhayon alludes to traumas or misdeeds from students’ pasts or past lives and how the ‘energy’ of those is still impacting them. They come to dread the possibility of tortures that could extend through many future reincarnations. Students are also threatened with rape by supernatural entities if they stray from the path – for example if they come into contact with someone whose had a glass of wine. Parents are told their transgressions can bring about the same fate for their children.
UM’s oppressive worldview keeps students emotionally fragile. They cling fearfully to the dogma, the repetitive rituals and regimes, the community and the guru himself. They are caught in a double bind. The lifestyle causes them difficulties with their health, finances and relationships, however, they believe it will damage their ‘karma’ if they reject it and worse problems will ensue.
It takes courage to escape UM’s suffocating world view and the bonds formed with essentially good but tragically deceived fellow followers. We’ve been hearing accounts of students coming out of Universal Medicine who feel embarrassed about their involvement and not realizing what was being done to them. However, Benhayon’s methods are comprehensive. They’re designed to penetrate over time so that the student, who genuinely believes the fifth degree teacher to be a serene and enlightened healer, and his philosophy to be one of love, compassion and gentleness, is unaware they’re being manipulated. The onset of suggestibility and paranoia is insidious. Many followers were open minded and trusting – which in normal environments and among conscientious human beings is not a fault. Benhayon has cynically exploited the good nature of most of his followers and mobilized a selected hierarchy of them to help him achieve his ends. A trusting nature can be a great personal asset, but under the influence of a narcissistic and dishonest persuader like Benhayon, it’s extremely hazardous.
Explanation of UM’s conversion process and Benhayon’s thought reform methods should go some way to explaining the striking personality changes witnessed by loved ones. While it’s always healthy to examine one’s role and responsibility in relationship breakdowns, Benhayon has been a critical factor in relationship ruptures that might have otherwise been avoided. It might help some loved ones to know that the rejection they have suffered is less personal reason than they think.
Other posts in this thought reforme series explore Benhayon’s deceptions, particularly in light of my own experience, and a more detailed analysis of the regime Serge uses to perpetuate dissociative states and enforce dependency and dread.
References from Tobias, M.L. & Lalich, J. 1994, Captive Hearts Captive Minds; Freedom and Recovery from Cults and Abusive Relationships, Hunter House, Alameda.
Universal Medicine is Habit Forming, Part 2: Dissociation & Deception – face to face with Serge
Part 3: Healing as a front for deception, manipulation & control
Part 4: Dependency & Dread – a day in the life
This fills in all the gaps for me regarding my partner.Everything fits perfectly.
Dobbsie, you're a Zappa fan! http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=UOxKff4I7uoNow stop making me trip out, I have posts to write.
VenusYou have highlighted a very pertinent point that is overlooked by those not of the group, and that is Serge's style. He is very smooth, and very believable, and it is the key to his success. From where the students sit we are 'utterly ridiculous' in our claims because we sound shrill and adversarial. Serge on the other hand works his magic in a butter-won't-melt-in-his-mouth catch-phrased panache, waving his wand and sprinkling them with fairy dust that settles on them and induces them into a metaphoric group hug.His fantastic world holds them fascinated like a child fixated on pretty lights afraid to look away should a monster jumps out of the shadows. Their posts, carefully extinguishing real discussion, abound with mutual congratulations, sharing of 'insights' and affirmation of 'love' and how grand Serge and the work is, as if by doing so the monsters of truth will be kept at bay and the baubles will keep shining unabated. It's a marvelous gossamer thread of subtle yet bold deceptions that he holds them in. Our objections are like voices calling from afar so even the words are not clearly understood. But, thankless as it is, we shall keep trying.Good work Venus.
Yes, his manner is essential to the effectiveness of the deception. I'll have the next post up late tonight or early tomorrow if it kills me. Turning out to be a very detailed analysis of the deception, so taking longer than I thought. And thanks.
Really well thought out and accurate depiction of his practices. I hope followers are reading and can gently question themselves as to the reasons they are staying with him. You are doing something really worthwhile.
Thank you for this article and the rest of the site. You're obviously putting a lot of time in researching and writing, and it is much appreciated.Keep up the good work!
I believe that members feel like they have a handle on truths that other people don't have which gives them some moral right to treat others poorly. From Deborah McInnes's recent post on the cult website-"We become so good at fitting in and not disturbing others in the belief that this is being a good friend to them. Why is it that we stop short of challenging behaviours we know are not right from our family and friends, and why are we not enquiring about what is really going on for people? There appears to be so much falsity in society – the polite “How are you?” when really we don’t want to know. The other person feels this and gives the same polite response back: “Very well” or “Good”, when often this is far from their reality. Have you ever had the experience of hearing someone say they are “Great” when you can see they aren’t doing well and are barely coping?Have you ever had the experience of taking some of the shine off what you are saying in case the other person feels worse? It doesn’t make a lot of sense. We seem to have become good at giving the responses we believe others want to hear rather than saying it as it truly is"Um. Maybe we're not interested in telling random people how we feel? Being self obsessed is not a prerequisite for self discovery. Speaking your truth is admirable when the moment it is right, but often it is just you saying how you feel with blithe disregard for others who may feel different. As a philosophy, that is verging on stupid and the results I think have spoken for themselves.What is interesting, is that in reality none of the group members are at all interested in what other people are feeling. If you attempt to tell them how you feel or what concerns you, you are labelled as 'not working on yourself/loveless/a liar/some childish names' because it doesn't agree with what they want to believe. I think that I am one of the few people that have openly challenged the behavior of people in Universal Medicine and the result is to be called names, vilified and ignored by people who claim to be all about 'love'. In fact, how I (or you as a non-member) 'feel' and especially what I think is totally irrelevant to cult members. What takes precedence is how they feel, and they are prepared to do or say anything to protect that. UM members and group are vigilant in not allowing discussion on how we, as non members, feel about the group and what we feel it is doing to us. Just try talking with one of them or posting on their blogs. It won't happen.What a one side "truth" UM is. I would also love to see someone write something that sounded like they thought of it themselves, rather than a reprisal of one of Serge's workshops. Maybe the argument would sound a little more convincing if it didn't have Serge written all over it. And this is why we continue to be concerned.