Book Review - An Everyday Cult: Conversation with the Author
Book Review - An Everyday Cult by Gerette Bulglion: Conversation With the Author
By Elizabeth Burchard
Rootstock Publishing (an imprint of Multicultural Media, Inc., 2021. ISBN: 978-1-57869-055-8 (paperback); ISBN: 978-1-57869-056-5 (eBook). $14.99 (paperback); $3.99 (Kindle). 218 pages.
Gerette Buglion's insightful and evocative memoir, An Everyday Cult, invites the reader both to witness and to endure the intimacies of her painful but ultimately uplifting journey as she survives 18 years of mind control and abuse in a high-demand group in New England. As a fellow cult survivor, I read her memoir with great interest. Despite obvious differences in circumstances (my group was smaller and disbanded a decade before Gerette left hers), I found uncanny parallels between our experiences, particularly the seduction, suffering, personal sacrifice, and a multitude of coercive-control tactics.
The author’s style is unique. To educate the reader, she periodically suspends the narrative to identify, elucidate, and normalize the unfolding strategies of manipulation and subjugation. Through sharing her story as a microcosm of contemporary, macro-social dynamics, the author exhorts us to overcome shame, ignorance, and inertia to challenge the rampant and multifarious strongholds of coercive control plaguing our world today. During an interview, Gerette shared her passion for education and empowerment.
EB: Gerette, first, thank you for your candid and courageous work. It must have been quite a challenge to put it together so soon after leaving your group.
GB: Yes; actually, it was 5 years in the making. For me, writing was both cathartic and healing. It helped me cope with some difficult PTSD symptoms. In a way, I now feel like a pioneer among survivors, as many I’ve known have hidden if not buried the experience due to feeling stigmatized. Ultimately, publishing my book is a labor of love.
EB: How did you choose your title, An Everyday Cult?
GB: The hallmark of the everyday cult is not overt force, but subtle psychological and social pressure—the use of invalidation and humiliation as tools of control. I want people to see that subjugation by a manipulative individual can happen to anyone, particularly in a moment of vulnerability. I want them to realize that these types of relationships are all around us, from domestic abuse to groups of thousands. My point is two-sided—anyone can fall victim, and anyone can abuse a position of power.
EB: What personal factors do you think contributed to your attraction to Guru Doug’s1 doctrine?
GB: Before I met Doug, I was a Waldorf teacher. I believe the polarized thinking that was inherent in that ideology primed me for Doug’s form of logic. Several of my friends were involved, so I was curious. Also, Doug’s authoritarian grip was familiar; it reminded me of my father. They even had a similar build.
EB: I reacted strongly to the “strangling”2 tactic. What was that like for you?
GB: I wasn’t hurt physically, but it was almost unbearable emotionally. In general, his humiliation was constant. Doug singled me out more than the others, maybe because he sensed my authentic, rebellious nature underneath—the warrior spirit that ultimately got me out of there.
EB: It seems counterintuitive that you devoted two decades to the Center for Transformational Learning (CTL) and Doug’s mission while being consistently robbed of financial means, family time, and your dignity, to name a few. Why did you continue to sacrifice so much instead of leaving?
GB: To an outsider, it doesn’t make sense; but striving and desperation for a breakthrough to enlightenment 24/7—an unreachable goal always just outside your grasp—is as compelling as any addiction. Worse, my peers seemed to have gotten it; so I believed I had no choice but to keep trying harder. When you’re caught in that, everything else becomes secondary. Also, there’s denial, rationalizations, magical thinking, and so on. A great many mental and emotional components make up your wall of defense against acknowledging what is truly happening.
EB: It sounds like you were the proverbial hamster on a wheel. So what made you leave?
GB: It was time for me to wake up, and there was a sequence of events. First, several leaders left all at once. That put cracks in my sense of security in the solid foundation of CTL I had relied on. It inspired my first doubts. The trauma of losing my brother and sharing that loss with my family—a profound connection with others outside CTL who meant the world to me… Doug's demands were black vs. white. The choice was CTL or family. I realized that I had neglected my husband and children. I finally woke up to Doug’s cruelty and self-serving nature. Simply put, it was the power of love that ultimately broke the spell.
EB: Your memoir has a unique format—narrative interlaced with academic explication. What made you choose that style?
GB: I inserted the educational pieces hoping they might resonate and inspire reflection on the reader’s own experiences. Also, to learn to recognize red flags… My story is a warning, and I hope it will help people avoid falling prey to high-demand groups and other exploitative relationships.
EB: Have you found similarities between your story and other cult testimonies?
GB: Absolutely! More commonalities than differences: indoctrination; slow, methodical coercion; being stripped of autonomy; decisions made through the lens of doctrine; dehumanization as a way of controlling people; financial abuse; flooding with obligations; addiction. These are just a few.
EB: What have you learned from the experience, and how has it affected your worldview?
GB: I am deeply grateful for my life today. Surviving the experience was life-affirming. Rather than chasing an impossible state of perfection, groveling and striving for approval, I truly feel that I am enough just the way I am. I feel present and conscious of the beauty around me. The experience formed me into a cult geek. I have become an educator. I take working with survivors seriously.
EB: Tell me more about your media outreaches: #iGotOut, igotout.org, and “Writing to Reckon.”
GB: #iGotOut was initiated by myself and four collaborators—all cult survivors. It is committed to providing a platform for people to share their stories for education, healing, and prevention. We are active on Instagram, Twitter, and Facebook. My website, igotout.org, is a source of information, connection, and support. “Writing to Reckon” is a 1.5-hour, free, small-group confidential class to help people write their #iGotOut statements. I also teach a weekly writing class on Zoom. We have students from all over the world. Telling our stories opens up creativity and connects us with reality.
EB: You call on people to “speak in a unified voice that may support human evolution.” Tell me more.
GB: Referencing Robert Jay Lifton’s …Protean Self…, I believe that in the current trend of human evolution we are waking up to the abuse of power. We need to ignite a foundational passion for recognizing the universal in coercive experiences. To fend it [coercion] off, people must utilize discernment for what is not obvious. Hope for humanity lies in developing critical thinking and the courage to speak out. I think cultic dynamics should be part of every high school’s curriculum, and I am personally working toward this goal with some of the school districts in my state.
EB: If you were able to go back in time to the young woman who became involved, what would you do differently?
GB: I would want her fighting spirit to prevail, to say, “What the hell are you talking about?”
EB: Do you have a final word for your readers?
GB: People hiding in shame and guilt, thinking, “How could I have let this happen to me?” are missing an opportunity to shed light on other similar abuses. What would it be like if more of us spoke up? Personally, I want to see the destigmatization of cultic abuse so that the discussion can be a kitchen-table conversation rather than hidden by shame.
EB: Thank you, Gerette, for the time you devote to consciousness-raising. I think your book is a must-read teaching tool for former members, families who have lost loved ones, and individuals seeking education on cultic dynamics and relationships.
 The names of the leader and the group in the book and here are pseudonyms.
 The guru’s process to initiate “a breakthrough.” Gerette was assigned a “watchdog partner” who would place his hands around her neck in a strangling position (without pressure) each time she failed to keep up with the guru’s teachings. This happened multiple times as a public spectacle and was profoundly humiliating to the author.
About the Author
Elizabeth R. Burchard, LSW, is a psychotherapist in Northern New Jersey. She holds a BA in Biochemistry from Swarthmore College and an MSW from Fordham University. Elizabeth provides counseling for anxiety, depression, trauma, marital and family challenges, and domestic abuse. Based on her personal experience in a small New Age cult (published in 2017 as The Cult Next Door: A Manhattan Memoir), she also presents professionally on coercive control in one-on-one, family, and cultic group settings. Her article “Domestic Violence in a Fabricated Family” appeared in ICSA Today 11.2. thecultnextdoor.com; email@example.com