If you’ve recently watched “The Vow” or “Seduced: Inside the NXIVM Cult” — you were probably just as fascinated as I was to see how the malevolent tentacles of Keith Raniere had latched themselves on to young, successful actresses.
But, despite the fascination, cult phenomena impacting Hollywood — and in particular, actors or actresses, is nothing new.
In 1969, members of The Manson Family murdered actress Sharon Tate at 10050 Cielo Drive in the Benedict Canyon section of Los Angeles.
Although Sharon Tate was a non-participant target, the cult had been founded by a failed musician who deeply resented the Hollywood establishment and managed to establish a “commune” on an abandoned Hollywood film set.
In a more modern context, The Church of Scientology (an almost 70-year-old Los Angeles institution) has become fairly synonymous with constructing the careers of high profile Hollywood actors and actresses, only to see some of them revolt against the institution and expose their cult-like infrastructure.
The NXIVM cult managed to recruit both working actresses, as well as the offspring of Hollywood royalty, including Allison Mack, Kristin Kreuk, Sarah Edmondson, Nicki Clyne, Grace Park — and more notably, India Oxenberg, the daughter of famed “Dynasty” star, Catherine Oxenberg.
So what exactly is the correlation between actors and cults?
If you’ve ever been to Los Angeles and experienced the inner-workings of the Hollywood “audition scene” — you might have a firsthand account of the type of narcissistic insecurity that exists amongst many aspiring actors.
Although I am not suggesting that every actor who is manipulated into joining a cult is a narcissist, I am suggesting, as a Psychotherapist, that cult leaders and recruiters look for ambitious, insecure, and philosophically absent candidates that have a deep desire to be loved by an audience.
Cult leaders look for individuals that they can gradually program with their subverted curriculum — who don’t have the insight, worldliness, or self-esteem required to sense a manipulative tactic.
Aspiring actors are the perfect target for cult recruitment, as many young actors making their way through the New York or Los Angeles market have isolated themselves from their families — and may have even revolted against their familial traditions of religion or faith.
Sentiments of desperate ambition, a need for attention and the desire to “belong to a new family” — are emotional red flags that cult recruiters can almost smell like a blood-hound.
When one compiles all of these factors into a cohesive, working profile — similar to what we would see within a job description — we begin to understand how cult recruiters utilize an almost “human resources” type of construct to find vulnerable and susceptible victims.
In the case of India Oxenberg, it seemed she was much more rooted in her upbringing and significantly less focused on a career as a performer.
However, her early introduction to Eastern Philosophies and The Self-Help movement (as described by her loving and protective Mother), appears to have created a “philosophically permissive” mindset — one which ultimately resulted in a chronic failure of her “real-world” risk assessment skills.
Luckily for India Oxenberg, her brave, courageous and unrelenting Mother served as a protective factor, who was not only able to save the day but was also able to bring down the entire criminal NXIVM empire, while subsequently saving her daughter.
As mentioned previously, lack of risk assessment skills is a wildly important factor in what might cause someone to remain an active member of an abusive cult, as any underlying reservations or fears are easily rationalized by the simplest of manipulative explanations.
“Collateralization” — a fairly new term coined by the NXIVM cult, is another, more binding reason why someone might not leave an abusive cult — out of fear that they may be blackmailed, sued or publicly destroyed for their defection.
As a New Yorker, I can tell you that my constructively jaded cynicism is something I view as a protective factor in the case of cults.
I come from an anchored, Italian-Catholic family, have experienced the world in many formal and informal capacities — and have a very sensitive “bullshit meter” that only another New Yorker could fully understand.
My aforementioned “meter” also easily saved me from multiple “Multi-Level Marketing” schemes during my college years, within a period where I desperately needed to find a way to make a living.
Interestingly, pyramid schemes and MLMC’s utilize the same programmatic infrastructure and recruitment objectives that cults are notorious for.
For example, famed “Law of Attraction” Guru, Esther Hicks (who has developed a major cult following) got her start by selling “Amway” products.
And yes, I was also an actor at one point in my life, who despite my Roman Catholic spirituality, fell into the “Esther Hicks” trap for a while (although I never attended a conference).
This was also within a period where I had turned my back on my faith, as I felt deeply rejected by the Catholic church for being gay.
Just like any good manipulative venture, Esther would give you “just enough information” on how to be successful, without divulging core spiritual and universal principles that would be of genuine use.
Through doing this, you found yourself buying more CDs, books, tapes, and media — similar to how NXIVM kept growing and drawing in more and more members with each year via their personal growth facade.
In the 1950s, my Grandfather was a Pool-Hustler in Brooklyn.
He would let his opponents win just until the end of the game when he would suddenly beat them and leave them hungry for more.
This, of course, would consistently draw his opponents back for another round, as they felt they had come too close to victory to not give it another try.
Sound familiar? It should — it’s the oldest hustler maneuver in the book.
Cults always purport, in some form or another, that they have “life-changing insight” to offer you — which is intentionally segmented in such a way, that you keep coming back for more while falling deeper down the rabbit hole.
The idea here (relative to this article) is that hungry, ambitious, isolated and philosophically under-developed actors and actresses with poor risk assessment skills and a lack of healthy cynicism — are a match made in heaven for the abusive cult recruiter.
And although cults utilize an ominous, insidious and gradual method of indoctrination — strengthening those risk assessment skills as part of your own psycho-therapeutic health routine, can be an invaluable part of preserving your well-being, if you are a young and green actor or actress, trying to “make it” in a major city like Los Angeles.
Hampton Psychotherapy is a Clinical Psychotherapy practice located in New York.