NXIVM used actual psychology to ‘fetishize vulnerability,’ manipulate

  • NXIVM, a intercourse cult lined up as a multi-level advertising firm, employed science-backed psychological strategies to govern members into intercourse, branding themselves, and sharing personal info.
  • In accordance with therapist Kelly Scott, the group strategy bolstered manipulative conduct and turned vulnerability into “forex.”
  • Chief Keith Raniere’s “exploration of which means” methodology additionally made folks ignore their pure trauma responses. 
  • Go to Insider’s homepage for extra tales.


HBO’s new docuseries “The Vow” has reignited curiosity within the alleged intercourse cult NXIVM, which chief Keith Raniere lined up as a multi-level advertising firm billed to assist folks attain their skilled targets.

“The Vow” recounts how Raniere, who was charged with intercourse trafficking and compelled labor in June 2019, and his shut circle, pushed science-backed psychological strategies to the acute, below the guise of self-help, with the intention to manipulate NXIVM followers.

In probably the most extreme instances, ladies have been recruited to NXIVM’s secret women-only group “DOS” (Latin for Dominus Obsequious Sororium, or “grasp over slave”), branded with Raniere’s initials, and requested to restrict their caloric consumption and/or have intercourse with Raniere. NXIVM additionally manipulated members into offering “collateral,” or personal info that could possibly be used as blackmail in the event that they deserted the group.

Raniere formed NXIVM’s self-help teachings, which he dubbed the “Government Success Program” (ESP), round the concept that an individual’s previous experiences have an effect on their present decision-making and the way they transfer by the world. Raniere stated individuals who caught with these psychological strategies could possibly be relieved of their emotional baggage and suppose extra freely.

In doing this, Raniere abused of a key hallmark of psychotherapy, in response to therapist Kelly Scott.

“A lot of remedy, at the least the way in which that I apply, is strictly that,” Scott instructed Insider. “It is taking a look at what introduced you into the door for remedy. What’s hurting proper now? What’s the issue? After which panning out and recognizing the cluster the info factors create, and understanding the origin of these patterns which might be inflicting so many issues in your life.”

Although useful when practiced in a secure area like a therapist’s workplace, Raniere in the end used members’ self-reflections and vulnerabilities to gaslight and abuse them later.

NXIVM leaders used a traditional remedy method

The commonest means NXIVM members would therapize their actions was by an EM, or “exploration of which means” — a time period Raniere created. 

Throughout an EM, a member and a high-ranking NXIVM trainer would sit in chairs, dealing with one another, whereas a gaggle of different members watched. The member would clarify an space of their life they have been having bother in, like feeling anxious a few job interview, and the trainer would ask inquiries to see if the nervousness was rooted in a selected reminiscence or sample of their previous.

“The Vow” reveals footage from a few of these periods, and when Scott watched them, they reminded her of a selected sort of remedy referred to as EMDR, or eye motion desensitization and reprocessing.

EMDR entails an individual recounting a traumatic occasion of their life to a therapist to allow them to higher course of it and transfer ahead.

Very similar to Raniere’s EM methodology, EMDR begins with a dangerous or unfavorable perception an individual has about themselves, like “I am unfit of affection,” and a therapist then helps them pinpoint a selected reminiscence that led to or bolstered that perception. Then, an EMDR affected person higher understands how their present behaviors are reflections of a perception they have been beforehand taught.

Different members watched EMs to create constructive reinforcement and ‘fetishize vulnerability’

EMDR is finished one-on-one, with a affected person talking confidentially to a therapist in an workplace.

However with Raniere’s EM methodology, a NXIVM member shared their weak and traumatic previous in entrance of a crowd. When Raniere or one other high-ranking member working an EM deemed the member had a breakthrough, the viewers clapped and cheered in celebration.

In accordance with Scott, this set-up deliberately creates constructive reinforcement, so members need to share much more weak info.

“The group is offering affect and strain on the particular person to show themselves. They’re getting constructive reinforcement once they do [expose themselves]. Persons are cheering, persons are smiling, persons are are reinforcing it,” Scott stated.

Vulnerability can result in useful psychological and emotional breakthroughs when expressed in a secure area, however Raniere’s strategies eliminated that secure area below the guise of accountability.

NXIVM taught members that in the event that they shared probably the most fragile elements of themselves with an viewers, everybody in that viewers might ensure that they would not fall again on their earlier unfavorable methods of considering and performing.

In actuality, this framework solely turned vulnerability right into a commodity or “extremely valued forex,” Scott stated.

“I feel there’s a means that group completely fetishizes vulnerability. Truly, the extra correct means of claiming that’s they fetishize exploitation,” she stated, including that the group mentality allowed increasingly folks to purchase into that system.

NXIVM taught members that pure trauma responses have been private faults

Within the fourth episode of “The Vow,” an nameless former member dubbed “Jane” who was a part of the women-only group DOS, recounted how she had a dissociative response when she had intercourse with Raniere.

In accordance with Scott, disassociation, or feeling exterior of your physique throughout a traumatic occasion, is a pure means people defend themselves from bodily, mentally, and emotionally scarring occasions.

Jane stated she felt pressured into intercourse, as a result of Raniere stated doing so would assist her face her fears and get nearer to her targets. However when she stated the expertise was unhelpful, DOS leaders chalked it as much as a psychological block she needed to work by with extra EMs.

“It is a means of dismantling folks’s self safety. It is wildly manipulative,” Scott stated.

Though Raniere used psychology-backed strategies, he appeared to weaponize them to gaslight members into ignoring their intuitions and bending to his each request. 

“The very fact [Raniere’s method] has some parts of very legitimate concept, that makes it so harmful as a result of it is one thing that feels cheap on the floor,” Scott stated.

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