Beyond the Cult Curtain

Ep. 265 with Daniella Mestyanek Young

“Listen to everyone, but only pay attention to the naysayers who have done what you’re trying to do.”

Daniella Mestyanek Young

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Daniella Mestyanek Young is the author of UNCULTURED and a scholar of cults and extreme groups, and extremely bad leadership. Daniella was raised in the religious sex cult, The Children of God. She later served as an intelligence officer for the US Army, making the rank of Captain, and became one of the first women in US Army history to conduct deliberate ground combat operations when she volunteered to serve on a Female Engagement Team, and received the Presidential Volunteer Service Award. Daniella lives with her husband and daughter in Maryland, and holds a master’s degree in industrial and organizational psychology from the Harvard Extension School. Daniella is an organizational development speaker with the Macmillan Speaker’s Bureau, and you can see her TEDx talk here. In the vein of Educated and The Glass Castle, Daniella Mestyanek Young’s Uncultured is more than a memoir about an exceptional upbringing, but about a woman who, no matter the lack of tools given to her, is determined to overcome. Uncultured is “a propulsive memoir delivered in the honest tones of a woman who didn’t always think she’d live to tell her story,” (NYT) it’s a book which explores the dangers unleashed when harmful group mentality goes unrecognized, demonstrates the “dangers of blindly following leaders of any stripe” (Kirkus Review) and is emblematic of the many ways women have to contort themselves to survive.
Show Notes

A former cult member, Daniella delves deep into group dynamics, drawing from her past experiences. She highlights the red flags of cult behaviors and contrasts them with the hallmarks of genuine communities. Tune in for a compelling exploration of the fine line between coercion and authentic communities.

If you have any comments or questions about the Be It pod shoot us a message at [email protected]. Or leave a comment below!

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In this episode you will learn about:

  • Daniella’s personal transition from cult life to clarity.
  • The characteristics that define high control groups.
  • Techniques to identify underlying cult behaviors.
  • When and why to question self-proclaimed gurus.

Episode References/Links:


Daniella Mestyanek Young: Because, you know, I was sort of in your world of, you know, entrepreneurship, and how am I going to do this? And what am I going to do? Am I a speaker on my own author? Am I a teacher, and somebody told me, you know, I don’t know if there’s a market for your stories, because I don’t know if nice girls from Milwaukee who’ve never had anything bad happened to them can relate. And I just immediately went to I was like, first of all, I don’t think there is such a thing. As a girl who’s never had anything bad happened to her. I think all women can think back to being six years old and being afraid and wishing they had a fairy godmother to give them a different life.



Lesley Logan
Welcome to the Be It Till You See It podcast where we talk about taking messy action, knowing that perfect is boring. I’m Lesley Logan, Pilates instructor and fitness business coach. I’ve trained thousands of people around the world and the number one thing I see stopping people from achieving anything is self doubt. My friends, action brings clarity and it’s the antidote to fear. Each week, my guests will bring Bold, Executable, Intrinsic and Targeted steps that you can use to put yourself first and Be It Till You See It. It’s a practice, not a perfect. Let’s get started.

Lesley Logan 4:17
Okay, Be It babe. Today’s guest is a special I I’m always really interested on how communities are built, how we human behavior, why we do what we do. And of course, like, one of my hobbies is just like totally going into like what’s a cult and who learned about cults. And if you didn’t know that about me now you do become very in on it. And I came across this guest we have today her name is Daniella Mestyanek Young, I’m sorry, Daniella, we’re friends now and I fucked up your name. But I am obsessed with her in a good way not in a cult leader way not in a guru way, but just in like a way of like watching a woman go through what she has gone through in her life, and use it to help us all in a very healthy and honest way. And so, if you, you’ll hear in the interview she is she’s an author, she was second generation in the Children of God cult, she ended up in the military. And today, she is an author of the book on cultured, she is helping people understand like signs of a cult and also like really amazing stuff on like, how to create like, just a group. And you’ll hear why she says just a group in there. And I share this with you because I want you to be a seeker and we talk about seekers at this in this podcast, I want you to be someone who does strive for, you know, having what exactly what you want in this world. I also want you to be aware that that can be so easily taken from you by somebody who doesn’t have your best interests in mind. And so our guest today not only shares a lot about how she her story, her journey, she also gives us some amazing tips on like what to look out for in these groups. We have an amazing conversation. We ended the podcast I wish I just kept recording because so many other great things came up. So if my team can pull it out of the audio from my note taker, we’ll have that in the outtakes. So stay tuned to the end. But listen to this and and then go read her book. And take just take notice of it because I do think it will help you in your seeking journey. Be really aware of the people that are here on this planet to like really, truly lift you up and be the wind in your sails and the people who want to take what your drive is and use it for their goal. So at any rate, here is Daniella.


Lesley Logan 5:08
Hi, Be It babes. Okay, so I’m super excited because I heard today’s guest on a podcast a little bit culty. I’m constantly intrigued, and always making sure that I’m not in a cult or creating one. And when I heard this amazing woman you’re about to meet today, and her journey and her story. I was like, oh my god, like, what a Be It person like, be it till you see it all the way through? I can’t imagine going through any one of the things that she went through, let alone what all of that and then what she’s doing today. So today’s guest is Daniella Mestyanek Young. Thank you so much for being here. Can you tell everyone who you are and what you’re up to these days?

Daniella Mestyanek Young 7:28
Absolutely. So I’m Daniella I call myself a scholar of cults, extreme groups and extremely bad leadership. And I wrote a book called Uncultured, which is my memoir. So it’s a story of my life. Being born and raised two generations into the Children of God religious cults, I was my mom was born and raised in, and then what it took to leave that kind of put my life together in America outside the cults. And then, because I’m such a high demand, high control person, I end up in the US Army, and kind of breaking barriers, making a lot of history for women, but also realizing a lot of the parallels between the world I’m in and my womanhood and the sex cult that I grew up in, in my childhood. So it is a book ultimately about group behavior that is telling the reader you know what, the New York Times called a propulsive story, but it’s also kind of begging you to look at the parallels in your own lives. I say like all my readers to ask themselves the question what cults am I in?

Lesley Logan 8:34
Yeah, I think that the listener right now probably has a lot of questions. So first of all, you have to read her book, you can listen to her say on on Audible. It’s, it’s just phenomenally written. I heard when you were on a little bit culter. You mentioned the book Educated. And that is a book my husband and I loved, the way that she tells her story. And so I have to say like, you’re you tell a story in a way that you do take us along for the ride and it is interesting how you can find out first of all, I found myself seeing the repetitiveness from what the cult you grew up in to the military, but then also, when you can do that, then you can also see it in your own life, which is your goal and that’s I think the more we can do it, the easier it is for us to understand like how do we get ourselves here like you You were born into the cult that your family is but like, what were the steps that got me here? This cult that I may be in.

Daniella Mestyanek Young 9:31
Can I tell you first just like quick story about Educated from the perspective of Be It Till You See It? I you know, listen to Educated in 2018 and my first thought was literally, why didn’t I write that book first. And then I was like, No, that’s the model right? Like that’s the like she did a book and I can go write my book in the tradition of Educated and because Educated with such a massive book, pretty much everyone in the industry was like, You cannot compare your book to Educated. And I was like, I’m sorry. I know you mostly say that. But this is a true comparison. And now I have, you know, four years later, I published a book called Uncultured that on the cover says, in the vein of Educated and Glass Castle. Yeah, which were the two Jacks in the field, right. So I like this story just to tell people like, don’t let people tell you, you can’t also be something big, just like, go ahead and be it.

Lesley Logan 10:34
Ah, oh, my God. And we can just drop the mic there. I mean, I, first of all, I’d love you to share that, because one of my coaches that I’ve worked with, he is very much like, you should absolutely compare your thing to something that’s big, because people need to know what camp you go in. So like, this is like the American Idol for I’m gonna say knitting because Daniel is knitting. If you’re watching us on YouTube, I’m so impressed right now. So like, if people know if they can take your unique idea, because it’s your unique story, and you can put it in the camp of something that they know is successful, then his theory it actually works really well. So I think it’s so funny that people you can’t do it. It’s like, actually, you just fucking did it.

Daniella Mestyanek Young 11:16
Oh, and I, you know, I want to tell you another story here. Because, you know, I was sort of in your world of, you know, entrepreneurship, and how am I going to do this? And what am I going to do? Am I a speaker or my own author? Am I a teacher, and somebody told me, you know, I don’t know if there’s a market for your stories, because I don’t know if nice girls from Milwaukee who’ve never had anything bad happened to them can relate. And I just immediately went to I was like, first of all, I don’t think there is such a thing. As a girl who’s never had anything bad happened to her. I think all women can think back to being six years old and being afraid and wishing they had a fairy godmother to give them a different life. And that’s why Disney is a billion-dollar industry. And I use that a bit in my sales pitch, right? Which was like, Yes, I’m telling you this, like far out fantastic story. But I’m also telling you in a way, that’s like every woman’s story, because you’re seeing it through the eyes of this, this girl experiencing the extremes, you’re going to be seeing probably less extreme, but also toxic versions of that in your own life. Wow. Like, I really hope for.

Lesley Logan 12:33
I agree. And I think like also, yes, every woman everywhere, does need to maybe yours is the extreme. Maybe there’s other extreme, more extreme ones out there. I just gotta hope not. But like, the reality is, is that like, we can’t pretend that somewhere some girls are very safe. And they’re very fine, because they are eventually going to be out on a trip, they’re going to be somewhere. And also, I agree, I don’t know that there’s that there’s any person who hasn’t experienced something where they didn’t actually have the words for it. Like, even when you were a child, you didn’t have the words for what’s going on with you, you just had this inherent knowledge, like, this is probably not a good thing. And I don’t actually want to live this life.

Daniella Mestyanek Young 13:12
So, and that’s a big thing I’ve learned through writing my story. And I feel like with the proliferation of, you know, shiny, happy people being Amazon’s largest number one original right now, people look at my story as extreme. But the cult I was born and raised in was just kind of the ultimate conclusion of the Duggars, right, of so many of these families and groups in America. And this is why the next project I’m working on is a book called the Culting of America. But one of the things that I’ve learned from my readers, and my discussions with them is that, you know, for example, I have so much in common with some of woman who grew up Mormon, you know, or like that it doesn’t have to be a cult to have been a high control, high demand group environment that you were born and raised in that then influence your personality in all of these ways. You know, and going back to what you were saying earlier of like, when you’re born into it, but you still have to kind of go back through and be like, why was I in this room? This is the thing I found is that after our culture or high-demand religions, or groups, we have to ask ourselves, you know, why was I in that group? And then what impacts did it have on me? And so for me, asking, you know, on the one hand asking why I was in the military, that tells me a lot about where I was personally at the time, but why I was in a cult is because my grandfather joined a cult. So for me, understanding why I grew up in a cult was kind of like going back and understanding systems and understanding group behavior. It’s what led me to graduate school and setting Organizational Psychology around the same time I was writing Uncultured because really that’s because I was trying to

Lesley Logan 15:14
Thanks for the timeline of like, when did you? So? When did so actually I would have I want to just get the listener up to date because they haven’t read your book. You. You left the military when and then you started writing your book and going to college like, what what timeframe are we in because I’m looking at you and I’m like, I think I’m older than you. I don’t know how you live five lifetimes before in these many years, times I am still a Daniella.

Daniella Mestyanek Young 15:40
That’s funny. I put together a PowerPoint of photos for the book team helping me publish the book. And that’s exactly what they said, there are so many lives. I just turned 36 last month. So the timeline went, I got out of the army when I was 25. Sorry, not 25, 28. I got out of the Army in 2015. And I was pregnant with my daughter and I went to work for corporate America for a few years. And then was like, this is not for me, number of reasons. Got myself at first, just into entrepreneurship. I was like, I’m gonna start a team building company. And then I was like, oh, the problem with team building is people just think it’s take a fun activity for add alcohol, and call it a team. And so I really started right around the same time, I was deciding, I was not going to go back to a nine to five job, I started kind of self-study, I was like, I’m gonna make myself an expert in leadership and culture. And I started with this idea of like, you can’t spell culture without cult to you know, this comes from the same place, there are so many parallels in my life, you know, and, and all of these things are, are worked into the book. And then I was actually eyeing this program, this Harvard program for a master’s in Organizational Psychology, but I couldn’t make it across the country to Harvard. And then because of COVID, everything got turned virtual. So I jumped on that opportunity in mid-COVID. To go get a, an online degree at the same time everybody else was. So, use my veteran money to go back and do that. And here’s what worked out so cool with the timeline. So, you know, the book came out in September, I graduated. So in March, 20 years to the day of when I walked away from the cult with zero education, right, zero days in school, 20 years to the month, I was conferred the master’s degree from Harvard, and then graduation was on my birthday, 20 years later, Tom Hanks was the speaker. It was just, I got to like to dress up in all my Harvard Crimson. You know, Harvard’s my favorite cult, and then go to Harvard bookstore, and autograph my book they’re like, on my birthday in my regalia. So it’s actually kind of cool talking about this on this podcast, right? Because it really was this five-year journey for me of seven-year really, after the army, I don’t know what I’m going to be. And then I think I know what I’m going to be, but I don’t really know. But just still like following a path. And all of a sudden, everything just came together five years later. And now when I dropped my credentials, people are like, oh, wow. Like, yeah.

Lesley Logan 18:42
I’m sure that’s part of the cult of America that our credentials are what gets us into places and not like experience. But so, okay. (Daniella: Agree. Agree.)

Lesley Logan 18:54
Great. Thank you for that timeline. Because I just think that is really cool. So because we’re like, it’s so easy to like, read a book or read someone’s bio, and go, okay, she left the cult, got in the army, now she’s a Harvard grad. She wrote, it’s like, she wrote a book. It’s like, it’s actually for you as a 20-year journey from almost like book in, to book in and we’re like on a new series of books in your life, I feel like. So, I do want to like get a little definition for those people listening who may not be aware may not be like, like me watching anything that has to do with a cult to just make sure that I don’t when I’m like, shiny happy people watch that. The bow all the things, high controlled groups. Can you like give us a definition of like, what those things are? You said high controll and high. what was that?

Daniella Mestyanek Young 19:42
Yeah, high control, high demand group. (Lesley: Yes.) Um, so I have a, okay, I have a very specific definition of a cult. It’s maybe a little bit hard to follow because it’s 10 parts, which is why like, I like to have it in writing. If any of you have scenarios like TikTok, you can always find this 10-part list above my head and my videos. But I say our cult is a group that has, you know, a defined charismatic leader, although that might be changing because of (inaudible) whose members all believe in this single sacred assumption. So I say, you know, for the Children of God, the sacred assumption was that David Berg was a prophet of God or for NXIVM that Keith Raniere was the world’s smartest man. And as long as you’re under that sacred assumption, you can justify anything, but the sacred assumption fuels this transcendent mission, right, you have this huge mission that is so big, and so right, you’re going to go save the world in some way. And it’s going to require the self-sacrifice of the individual that’s a really important part of cults and high-demand groups are constantly asking the individual to sacrifice for the good of the group. This is why nonprofits can become cold, like very quickly. And then this group now at this stage of the journey, right, it starts to limit its members’ access to the outside world, it starts to have a distinguishable vernacular language that only holds meanings. And there’s quite a few ways cults weaponized language as well. And then it programs its members to hold an “us versus them” mentality. Now you’re at this pretty serious stage where it starts to exploit its members labor, have very high exit cost, and bring you into an ends justifies the means mentality. And with all of those things, I say like, congratulations, if you’ve hit 10 out of 10, Euro calls, even if nobody has diagnosed you as one. However, we can all probably look through that list, right and see that our groups are hitting a few, a few of these. And, you know, one of my arguments is that in a military unit, when you’re back home, you’re fine, you’re only five out of 10, or six out of 10. But as soon as you deploy or go away to training together, and you add this isolation, this us versus them mentality, these different things, you are going to have a cultic experience. And we can’t always just be like, Ah, it’s a call and leave the group. So I like this sort of formula here, because it tells us where to look for the toxic behavior. Yeah. For me, this is very similar to my job in the military in the army, which was I was an intelligence officer. So I was the expert on the bad guy, I was the expert on how every plan was going to go wrong. And but when I was in school, setting group behavior, people only wanted to talk about happy positive stuff and good groups and good leaders and values. And I’m like, but but here’s all the dangers, you know, and we’re seeing these companies like we were or LulaRoe, you know, just turned completely into cults. And nobody’s really seeing what’s going on. So I like to use that framework. And I tell people, you know, if it quacks like a cult, you know, where to start looking for the the harmful stuff.

Lesley Logan 23:17
I do, I appreciate you going into that framework and talking about that, because I do analysis that you brought up like we work and LuLaRoe those are like jobs that people bought into, like LuLaRoe, you paid into you really paid into joining that cult. But the women who started that that’s what they that’s what they thought they were joining to, they thought they were joining into creating a business for themselves that could make money and we work they thought they were like redesigning the way the workforce was and so it doesn’t have to be religious.

Daniella Mestyanek Young 23:47
And you know, there’s two things here like nobody ever joins a cult, right they join a group that is doing something that is like feeding their soul. But also you know, the listeners of Be It Till You See It are all going to be very susceptible to join in cults because that is what cults do is they give you these big missions. Remember we talked about. So any person who is seeking to like change their life or do things differently or has recognized that the systems and the way that the world is they don’t like it. Those are the people that are susceptible to join cults. And then we also don’t usually talk about when we do talk about Carlson society, we talk about why and how people join them and don’t see all of the red flags we don’t talk about is how much effort goes into recruiting people into disguising the red flags into walking you slowly into the cults until that coercive control is complete. And then you really are under you know, what’s what scholars like to call bounded choice, where you think you have free choice, you think you’re free to leave anytime But you actually are under the coercive control of a group.

Lesley Logan 25:03
Yeah, I so I love that you brought that up because I I do agree like I think anybody who’s like seeking information to change their life and has this like, and I actually don’t think it’s a bad thing to want something more in your life, I don’t think that’s what you’re saying either. But to be aware that like, because you are in such search of something bigger or something more than what you’re doing, you are susceptible. So can we talk a little bit about like, what the disguise can look like. So that if the if something quacks a little bit like that, that’s a cult.

Daniella Mestyanek Young 25:40
Yeah, yeah. So, you know, I’ll start with one that that I heard you throw out earlier, which was, well, we can’t be a cult because people are free to leave anytime, right? This is the number one thing that you’ve got from any group. And I’ve even people will literally say this to me with a straight face about the military. And I’m like, you think you’re free to leave the military? Anytime? Please explain that to me.

Lesley Logan 26:05
I don’t think so. I’ve not been in it but my family (inaudible).

Daniella Mestyanek Young 26:08
Right. So, I think there’s some, there’s a really important thing about that phrase, they’re free to leave any time, which is under coercive control. Not only is that phrase not true, that phrase is actually there to reinforce the dichotomy of there are two ways, my way or you’re gone. Right? So there’s no room for you to criticize anything here. And I, you know, of course, we saw this in the cults, but I saw this in the army all the time. And they say, you know, you signed up to be here, it’s a volunteer army. And I’m going, I’m just saying I don’t think all the soldiers need to be here at 3am for a movement that doesn’t start until noon. I’m not saying I don’t like my job, right, but they give you this all or nothing dichotomy, um, and then but in cults, when I say, you know, they say you’re free to leave anytime and saying that is actually part of disguising the fact that you aren’t free to leave because cults and coercive groups they know, they need to keep you you know, for isolated, busy, skinny, pregnant and tired. And if they do all of those things, you actually will not be free to leave, right? And you will have so many things keeping you in place. And so that, for example, is one of the ways of disguising, right? Like yeah, constantly reminding you, you’re free to leave constantly talking about how we’re not a cult and what the answer that we give to people is. Cults use these things called thought-stopping cliches, which is you know, it’s the first day of the rest of your life comes from a cult leader named sin Anon, you know, they’ll say trust the Prophet, they’ll say, keep sweet. Boy, boys will be boys is a good one, you know, or you knew what you signed up for and it’s intended to just shut down political complaints. And there’s a book that shows very well the way that the cults disguise all the red flags. It’s called Scarred by Sarah Edmondson who was from NXIVM, I’m actually reading it out loud on Tiktok while I’m knitting, so people can come there for snippet. But what she shows really well is that she’s not blindly joining a cult, she is having questions all along the way. But every time you have a question, there’s an answer. You know, and they have like, preempted this. And one of the ways I think we can see this with cult leaders is, you know, big, complicated societal questions have big complicated answers or don’t have answers. So anyone promising to solve a big complicated problem for you with a very simple solution? Is a comment, right? Like, is someone who is trying to coerce you?

Lesley Logan 29:06
Oh, I love this. So many tools for us all to use. And I remember, I was in college, I think I was just finishing college. I was prime for this to happen. Somebody invited me to a landmark meeting. And I went, I didn’t know what it was. And I like went. And of course, like they do a really good job, like, asking these great questions to get you to give information. And of course, like, I was having problems with a family member at the time. They’re like, Well, how long have you kept this problem around? It’s obviously serving you something good to keep this problem around. And I remember thinking, like, I can’t get rid of this family member. I’m a 19-year-old person who’s trying to pay college loans. What are you talking about? So I left and I never like I didn’t sign up. Also, it was too expensive. And I was like, You kid. Are you kidding? You missed my student loans or that I’m paying myself. Thank you. So I, but I remember this moment because I remember like, how close had I had the money, would I have joined it, maybe because they seem to have the answers. They seem to what they’re doing so fast when I’m teaching Pilates class and one of my clients is like, I’m gonna miss class this weekend, I’m going to this thing and I said, Okay, great. Have fun, you know. So she shows up for class on one of the days I said, and I said, Oh, I thought you’re gonna be here. She was like, I think it’s a really weird place. And so I’m just gonna be here. You guys, her phone did not stop ringing. They kept calling her to get her to come back. Because it was the last day all these things and I said, I’m just like, I’m just going to be honest. I think it’s really weird. I’ve never called the client multiple

Daniella Mestyanek Young 30:38
screen. Why haven’t you come back to class?

Lesley Logan 30:41
Like, that’s weird?

Daniella Mestyanek Young 30:49
Yeah, and Citrix our channel is is me just like helping people, like pull out and understand these little things, right? So even for example, you know, when we first started talking, and you said, you’re a Pilates instructor, and I said, Oh, is it a cult? And you laughed, right? That’s a very healthy response. Because I say like, if you wanted to fight me all of a sudden, or if you had all these justifications about why you weren’t a cult, that’s when I get very suspicious. The moment in my book, after I’ve left the cult word, I realized it was a cult, right, we spent hours drilling responses to why we aren’t a cult, right? Like, who does that? And so I even think it’s one of those things, you know, it’s one of my 10 commandments for good groups that aren’t cults is like, can you can you joke about your organization, which is also to say, can you critically look at your organization, right? Because your response was, you laughed, then you said, well, it can be a cult, and then you immediately started critically looking. Right. So that is, I would say, a healthy response to for a leader of an organization in an organization that might have some things that are culty. And some areas, you know, I’m sure he could come into your Pilates studio, and point out some things about group behavior that you may be unaware of that could turn toxic. But that doesn’t mean like you’re a cult. But real cults, of course, do not want to fix themselves, they do not want to, you know, dig into areas of behavior that could turn toxic. And so if you ask someone a question, like, Oh, could it be a cult, and their reaction is really negative, even though cult’s a negative word? Like, I usually see that as one of those interesting signs.

Lesley Logan 32:43
That’s so interesting. That’s so funny. One of the things that I did last year, I started a mentorship and I had, there’s like, 15 girls, and I had said, I don’t know if I’m gonna do it again, probably do it one time, let’s just see how it goes and see if I like the how much time it takes and the and the journey of it all. And at the end, I said, Yeah, ladies, you guys were so much fun. I’m gonna do it again. And they’re like, can we all apply again? Because then it’s just us? And I said, No, we’re actually you’re gonna get lots of people in. And we’re not going to isolate ourselves. In fact, all this has to get out there because I would love to change industry, but I can’t change it myself. I want, I want you all to be the people who change it. So we’re gonna write they’re not become a weird group who isolates themselves.

Daniella Mestyanek Young 33:26
And this is I think, this is so important in the kind of life coach industry, you know, and one of the reasons I went more traditional book route instead of and more degrees instead of life coach route was, I personally was like, this feels a little culty. Like, we’re trying to become gurus and just, you know, which is actually what charisma is, is you have authority based on your own qualities that are somehow above other people’s, you know, and so I I think that’s one of another one of the signs though, right? It’s like, I wrote a whole memoir, I we came on here to talk about my book, how little have we talked about me, and how much have we talked about the ideas right? With you with that group, right? They were trying to almost make you this guru. And you’re like, No, let’s not do that. Like let me just be help her along the way. And I think that’s an interesting, important distinction. And one of my favorite cult scholars, Dr. Janya Lalich, she just says point blank, she’s like, there are no gurus. Like do what you need to do for your religion for your spirituality. But just like there are no gurus, it’s always a danger sign. And you should always be questioning. And this was, you know, something that was said about Keith Raniere of NXIVM, which was very, very extreme. And it was all based on his claim, completely unsubstantiated that he was the smartest man alive and the thing that was said that was so insightful was any time a leader asks for your extra confidence in them, or promises you extra results, you should actually be asking extra questions or looking for extraordinary proof. Right? Because this is the thing that happens again and again, as people get lost in the charisma lost in the thought leadership lost in the guru-ness, and then they don’t question. And it doesn’t always mean it’s gonna turn toxic, but it often does.

Lesley Logan 35:34
Yeah, yeah, I thank you for saying that. I want to say to my ladies in that group, I don’t think you are trying to make us a cult. But I think you really enjoy the time. But I just wanted to use it as an example. Because I do think a lot of people listening create groups, and how easy we like, well, actually, yeah, let’s just make this the group that always goes and does this together. And then what you’re saying it doesn’t, it can’t, it’s just it can lead that way. So you know, and I think that’s important because especially people listening who do want to, to have a community of some kind, you know, knowing that you’re creating a community that it’s like, are you putting yourself at the top or like, is the community a whole that like, there’s the community of the whole, that’s the top and everyone’s kind of part of it, you know. So that’s why I really loved what you how you bring things up. Because it can be easy for the person’s like, well, I created this group, so I have to lead this group, and I have to do these things. And then all of a sudden, you put this pressure on yourself to be somebody, that that’s not why you might have created the group in the first place, or the community because everybody does want to belong to a group. And I think that that’s also the hard part of and I’m sure you’re talking about that in your next book. It’s like, people want to belong, people want to feel seen. So how do we create places? Where can people belong and feel seen without creating a toxic environment?

Daniella Mestyanek Young 36:47
Yeah, I mean, the drive for community is huge, you know, and when you were talking about with your group, how, like not doing repetitive things can be helpful. You know, I never thought about it this way. But I was like, but that’s a huge thing in military intelligence is you don’t set patterns because patterns are dangerous. Right? And so I think just that right, there is an interesting thing to look at. But how do we, how do we create positive groups? Right, and this is one of everyone’s big questions. Um, I’m actually ending my next book with a chapter it was going to be called good cults or groups, everyone asked about, but now we’re calling it Just Groups, though just groups, but also just groups, which is kind of, if you understand this idea of, it’s not a binary it’s a spectrum, right? So I like to say like, a group is not a cult, or not a cult, or toxic or not toxic, right? It’s not that simple, complicated issues have complicated answers. And so I, you know, want people to look at the spectrum of there’s 10 parts of a cult, you can have any or none or all of them. And then how do those influence you, but part of starting to look at groups as neither good nor bad, but a spectrum that I think really changes the answer of how we look at good groups, which is something I kind of say that in the end of Uncultured, which is the need to understand that our groups are just groups. And, you know, there’s this phrase out of individual psychology, which says, human beings are 99%, the same, but it’s that 1% of difference that causes all the world’s problems. And I feel like the DNA of groups very similar, right, like groups are 99% similar, and I’ve been in and studied a lot of them. But no matter. You know, the flip side of that is no matter how amazing you think your group is, and how hard you’re trying to build a good group, you’re also kind of only 1% away from the being the sex cult that traffics children. Right. And I think this is the most important thing we can do to build good groups is be on guard is talk about the negatives is never assume that our group is good. You know, one of my 10 commandments for good groups that are not called is thou shalt never champion last name. And it’s just this like us versus them mentality. But as humans, we have this propensity to believe that our group is the best because it is ours. Our family is the best because it is ours our way of life is the best our religion and on and on. And so anytime you are 100% sure of your position, you have blind spots, and then these coercive groups again that are out there that are recruiting that have agendas that are Trying to build these armies to create power, you know, they have much more of a chance of getting you than if you’re really much better at kind of living in the gray. And being like, you know, I have a great group I try really hard. But I want to look out for these things, you know, like, like, in your example, right? Another leader might be like this, these are really good girls, no women, nobody’s trying to turn this into a cult, like, we’re fine. I can be the leader. Whereas you are like, No, I’m always worried about whether I’m joining a cult or building a cult. So I’m going to be careful here, right? (Lesley: Yeah.) And this is something we see out of military intelligence as well that you almost don’t have to prepare for the exact scenario that you’re going to encounter. Because you almost never know what that is. But any level of preparation for like, a bad guy attack right for toxins coming in from the outside is going to make you more prepared for when it does go wrong. You know, and I think one of the biggest ways that people fall for these toxic groups or toxic gurus is just getting so isolated or so into it or so inundated with it, you know, you go to CrossFit every day, if your CrossFit box starts going wrong, how are you going to be able to tell? Right, if you don’t have enough exposure to enough other groups? Right, be able to see when they’re going wrong. See when the logic is going off?

Lesley Logan 41:36
Yeah, yeah, I thank you for sharing that. Because I think it is. It allows everybody to go okay, if I’m, like, if I’m stayin on guard, I’m asking questions, and I can consciously go into a group. And, and many groups can be just a group. And if I ever feel like I’m at a point where I cannot ask those questions, I cannot be critical. There’s my red flags to go. Okay. Then I like I’ve, I’ve leaned into the spectrum too far with this place, you know, so

Daniella Mestyanek Young 42:07
that’s 100% 100%. Correct.

Lesley Logan 42:10
Yeah. Yeah. And I, I feel like sometimes I get really on guard because I was raised. I was not raised in a, like a shiny happy people type cult. But my parents, my parents were very much in organized religions. However, they changed pretty much every year for a good several years. So I’m like, I’m like, did we stop going? Because like it was, my mom. The big joke was that we stopped going, we switched church just because of football. Because we’d stopped going every football season. I think my mom was too embarrassed to go back to that cult. We had a start a new one. That’s like

Daniella Mestyanek Young 42:50
It’s funny, though. But this is actually some of the advice that I give to people. Like if you’re trying to understand cults and coercive control, like read five different memoirs, right? Because once you read enough, where the details are completely different, you’ll start to realize that it’s a pattern. Yeah. Right. And it seems like that’s accidentally what your mom was doing. Because you had so many, whether, whether she realized it or whether you realize that right, you started to see these patterns and be like, oh, I get like what this is, you know, because you’re seeing so many different ways. And for me, I was reading about all of these different Christian cults. And so in my head, you know, 22 years old, the problem is Christianity. And then I read a memoir by a girl who grew up in Scientology, and it was exactly like, sounded exactly like my childhood and a bunch of similar themes. And that’s when I was like, oh, it’s that the essence of mind control and controlling other humans is, it’s like, it’s not only the same, it’s programmatic, so we can spot these markers as it’s happening, right?

Lesley Logan 44:02
Yeah. I’m glad that you brought that up. I love that you said five different ones because then you’re not able to go well, because I’m not in a Christian group that I’m not a cult. It’s like actually what you’re saying this programming can happen in any type of group. So And as we’re all trying to follow that journey like you followed your journey to become an author, whatever that is, if you’re listening wherever you’re going, all this is is to help you what I hope you’re getting out of this is I help you understand like science where maybe your your goal your ultimate idea of what you wanted has led you down to a path of like being part of some group that is not healthy for you and it’s actually not going to help you get to that next level.

Daniella Mestyanek Young 44:43
So the number one you know, the number one personality type that they say that is amongst people that join cults is being a seeker, you know, which I say if you’re if you like to read books, or you’re listening to this podcast, right, you’re probably a seeker, and something that cults and coercive groups and coercive leaders will do is weaponize your passions and weaponize your discontents. Right. So if you’re this person who’s doing exactly what I did, I’m dropping out of the business world, I’m gonna go seek for my own thing, I’m gonna be super passionate, I want to change the world, I have joined 1000 culty groups, you know, like, those things are the things that are qualities that make you this amazing human that makes you the person that can probably go achieve anything you want. But it also can be weaponized against you, you know, and General Stanley McChrystal, he has this really great concept of like, when we are looking at threats to our leadership or our groups, we don’t usually look at ourselves as one of the threats, right. So that I think is just one of those things, you know, that’s really important to kind of focus on and I always like to stay away from the words of good or bad, and none of this stuff is to scare anyone, it’s just literally to see, by looking at these extreme examples, we can find those parallels when they start, right. Yeah, when our group is on the international news with really bad bad stuff.

Lesley Logan 46:21
Yeah, yeah, it can happen in, in your, in your local gym, you know, Daniella, I feel like I could talk to you forever. I’ve also, because I’ve just been listening to your book, like, crazy to, to get to know you more, and what you’re up to, I’m excited to see where you go with all of this. Because the good part about being a seeker is that I do think that deal with all of your tools, you know, will probably educate all of us in bigger ways than we can ever be. And then those of us who are in leadership who are who want to lead the seekers in a safe, and just a group environment can learn so much more about how we can do that. So thank you. We’re gonna take a quick break.

Daniella Mestyanek Young 47:01
And thank you so much for listening to the audio. Because doing that was one of the hardest things ever.

Lesley Logan 47:08
I can’t even imagine because, like, I just how much stuff that I have to do. And my husband’s like, well, when you read it, it sounds like you’re reading and I’m like, Uh huh. I’m, well you want me to read this. So I’m reading. So, I can’t even imagine.

Daniella Mestyanek Young 47:25
Here’s the thing that I think your leaders will get a kick out of right? It was like doing that I had to record it straight through in five days, it felt like it was going to kill me it was so so so so hard. But I was a trained exploited actor from the age of birth by this cult, and I got to go use my own voice and my own voice acting abilities, which got me recommended in the New York Times to read this book about them for global distribution. So that was like, those moments of like, even though this is so hard, right, like I’m doing this to own my story to get it back into like, this is how I win, you know? So anyways, (inaudible)

Lesley Logan 48:06
So powerful like oh my God. Okay, where can people find you follow you work with you get your books get get notifications of your next book.

Daniella Mestyanek Young 48:16
So my website is you can find out all kinds of things about me there including sassy T-shirts, um, best bet is going to be follow me on TikTok at Daniella Mestyanek Young and we’re there all day all the time talking about cults and extreme groups and extremely bad leadership and ways it might show up in your life. And of course knitting. And, you know, the book is available anywhere you can buy books, and I hope that you all will both read the book and then come join one of our online conversations about it because we are all learning from each other.

Lesley Logan 48:54
Yeah, I agree. You’ve given us a lot. You got us tips and all these things, but I would love we like to end with like bold, executed intrinsic targeted steps because it’s one thing to be inspired. It’s another thing to like, have an action step you can take on what do you have for our listeners today?

Daniella Mestyanek Young 49:13
Okay, so everyone does vision exercises, but as an organizational psychologist, I feel like this is where I must go and I have a good one. Which is just because it’s for bold it’s for backwards planning, right? It’s just you imagine yourself when you’re 80 and then you go through all of your senses, right? So dream life, what are you seeing around you? What are you hearing? What are you smelling? What are you tasting? What are you feeling? And then how do you start to backwards plan your life so that you can get there? So that’s one that I really like cray because it really gets to the like we have one life to live it. What do we want out of it right? And how can we create those things? And then the other, I think, executable advice is like, when you figure out what you want to be, even if you don’t know what that is, yeah, you just know it’s something more or it’s in this direction. Like, everyone is going to give you advice. Listen to all of it. But if it’s negative advice, only listen to people who’ve done what you’re trying to do.

Lesley Logan 50:35
That’s so helpful.

Daniella Mestyanek Young 50:36
Yeah, like I had so many people tell me that what I was going for was impossible. And like, yeah, because nobody’s done what I’ve done before. So they couldn’t see it. But I could, but I had specific things like, oh, self-publish a book because nobody can reverse engineer a bestselling memoir. And I said to myself, well, has this person written the bestselling memoir? No. Okay. I’m gonna go find someone who has, you know, so I think we encounter this a lot in the world of seekers and what we’re trying to be and sharing our passions. And it is, it is so up and down, right? You’re gonna have moments that you think you screwed everything up, and then you’re gonna have moments that it’s all coming together. But if you just like, talk to everyone, keep your mind open. Listen to everyone, but only pay attention to the naysayers who have done what you’re trying to do. Yeah, yeah, who are not the naysayers were like, that’s the legitimate negative advice is learning from them. But so many other people are just saying telling you not to because they can’t see it.

Lesley Logan 51:46
Yeah, I agree with that. Like, I think, you know, when I started work for myself, everyone in my family who was giving me negative advice, oh, you’re not gonna move how you pay your bills, all this negative stuff. It’s like, Well, none of you have worked for yourself. So appreciate it. But like, that’s an easy filter versus like my my great uncle who has worked for himself. He’s like, that’s amazing. Do this one thing. It’s gonna be hard, but it’s like okay, it’s gonna be hard. He knows. And here’s something advice I can take him. I think that’s it, Daniella. Thank you so much. I also I love I love the vision of day but I also love that you put it through the filters of the senses that’s really uniquely different. So thank you for for that. Oh my god, this puppy is so cute. If you’re watching on YouTube, she’s been doing this entire time. I’m so impressed. I’ve knitted nothing in my life and her dog looks like a stuffed animal. So Daniella, thank you so much. Y’all. How are you going to use these tips in your life? What are you going to do with them next make sure you let Daniella know how this podcast made you feel tag her tag the Be It pod and share this with a friend who might needs to hear it that they’re the 10 signs in a cult and they don’t want to listen to you. So give them this podcast and until next time. Be it till you see it.

Lesley Logan
That’s all I’ve got for this episode of the Be It Till You See It podcast. One thing that would help both myself and future listeners is for you to rate this show and leave a review. And, follow or subscribe for free wherever you listen to podcasts. Also, make sure to introduce yourself over on IG at the @be_it_pod on Instagram. I would love to know more about you. Share this episode with whoever you think needs to hear it. Help us help others to BE IT TILL YOU SEE IT. Have an awesome day!

Lesley Logan
‘Be It Till You See It’ is a production of the ‘Bloom Podcast Network’.

Brad Crowell
It’s written, filmed and recorded by your host, Lesley Logan and me, Brad Crowell.

Lesley Logan
It is produced and edited by the epic team at Disenyo.

Brad Crowell
Our theme music is by Ali at APEX Production Music. And our branding by designer and artist, Gianfranco Cioffi.

Lesley Logan
Special thanks to Melissa Solomon for creating our visuals and Ximena Velasquez for our transcriptions.

Brad Crowell
Also to Angelina Herico for adding all the content to our website. And finally to Meridith Crowell for keeping us all on point and on time.

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