The following text has been slightly edited for improved readability. “Lisa” has requested anonymity. She reports leading a wonderful life with a satisfying career. She describes her life as joyful, purposeful, and with much reason for deep gratitude. Seeing herself as absolutely a spiritual person, Lisa continues to grow her spiritual awareness in healthier and more authentic ways.
I am the kind of person who is curious about things – and, nowadays, when something piques my interest, I like to research it thoroughly and develop a deep understanding. One of these things which has recently intrigued me at this deep level is the subject of ‘cult organisations’, the psychology of recruitment, control of their members and the symptoms of trauma experienced by those who have broken free from such organisations.
Dangerous cult-like organisations are well reported in the media – well, the larger ones are anyhow. And reporting only happens when their rotten core, fabrications of lies and damaging abusive actions and conduct in relation to brainwashed members are discovered, exposed and reported in mainstream media – often delivered in the most sensationalised ways.
And for most people, that all seems so ‘out there’, completely distanced, and practically everybody believes that getting involved with a cult organisation absolutely would not, and could not, happen to them.
I have bad news…
If you are an intelligent, curious truth seeker who generally prefers to see the good in people, then you are EXACTLY the kind of person a cult leadership would like to recruit. In fact, they will utilise all of these beautiful traits as weapons against you in order to exploit you, secure your submission and extract power over you for their own personal gain – all whilst conjuring a smokescreen of deceit so that you remain ‘none the wiser’.
It is and they are.
I cannot express caution enough when I say that falling down the rabbit hole of becoming an unsuspecting ‘cult-member’ can happen much easier than you think. It’s not just the large organisations you hear about on a Netflix series, or a passing news item reported from another country – there are a whole host of much smaller organisations around the world who are operating potentially in your county, perhaps even in your home town or city – unnoticed and flying beneath the radar of local authorities, social services and the wider community.
Cults are highly adept at separating themselves and their brainwashed members from society and surrounding themselves with a cloak of secrecy under the façade of a benign ‘wholesome organisation’ (Spoiler alert – Pathgate Institute in Newcastle-upon-Tyne IS one such cult like organisation).
So, recently as I continued to research and learn more (some of my learnings I have outlined already above) I realised that the reason I was so interested in this specific obscure subject was because it resonated with an experience of my own which occurred over 20 years ago.
As a young woman (and I was/am intelligent, curious, a truth seeker and prefer to find the good in people by the way), I had the unfortunate experience of making acquaintance with a curious individual named ‘Sifu’ (as he was then calling himself) Peter Young (PY). My recognition of my experiences and memories of that meeting and surrounding events led me to a simple google search of PY and, to my dismay, instead of finding that he had disappeared into oblivion, I discovered that he has now grown his following and continues to harm others.
I know it is my duty to add my own testimony to this blog to provide further resources for potential, current or ex-members in an effort to reduce harm, and provide solidarity and understanding for people on a journey through healing and towards true freedom.
So, here is my account:
When I met PY I was in the process of a distressing divorce which was freeing me from an abusive marriage. I was extremely emotionally fragile and ‘lost’ at that time, and was introduced to PY by a work colleague (who was intelligent, curious and a truth seeker and preferred to find the good in people). My colleague was already an established (and most likely indoctrinated) student of PY, although I was not aware of this at the time. I do not doubt that my colleague truly believed PY could help me with healing and clarity and his actions in introducing me to PY were well-meaning, well-intentioned and from a place of care and concern.
He was also, however, deeply brainwashed.
Now usually, when there is someone a person knows, trusts and respects saying “this is going to be helpful for you”, people are probably going to be much less likely to question things – and so the introduction (and attempted indoctrination by PY) began.
When I consider my fragile emotional state at that time and a desire to find answers and an end of suffering to, let’s face it, a normal human response to the end of a marriage, I was wide open to anything that I deemed might be the right path to healing.
It’s worth noting here that my research indicates that my personal fragile situation and mindset are not unique in terms of potential targets for recruitment to cult organisations. A ‘broken’ person is generally looking for answers – a route out of feelings of discomfort – so how lucky we feel when someone who has been recommended by a trusted friend turns up and flouts boldly and confidently what looks to all intent and purpose like “the answer to all your suffering.”
Well, with PY I can confidently state I found neither healing nor clarity, and only a route into deeper suffering. During the time I knew him I discovered and witnessed guilt, confusion, manipulation, deceit, abuse and coercion, all delivered and inflicted intently on others and myself by PY’s own volition. I count myself now one of the ‘luckier’ ones since I did not spend much time with PY before I took the wise decision to cut ties with his teachings and acquaintance. The time between first meeting and me cutting ties with PY was only few months at most, however I cannot say that I wasn’t left without emotional wounds – this took time to heal.
Below is a summary of some of my experiences during this short time:
My first experience of PY was at one of his martial arts classes. Everyone there really seemed to respect this guy, it was obvious that he had the admiration and adulation of all of his students. They hung onto his every word, obeyed his every command and simply accepted all criticism. No backchat, no question, a complete acceptance that ‘Sifu’ (this is what everyone called him) was some kind of powerful and all-knowing leader.
It didn’t take long to see one of the reasons why he appeared so convincing to so many. Much of PY’s time in class was spent demonstrating his supposed ‘powers’ – his only apparent power was throwing his students arounds the room without touching them and using energy alone. What I now understand as a psychological conditioned unconscious response in his students, back then appeared to be a wondrous miracle unfolding before my young eyes. It’s easy to see how this peacock-like display of showing off was a competent attempt to convince and draw newer members into believing he was some kind of special being who we were fortunate to have met, and I’m sorry to say I fell for this too.
PY additionally boasted unashamedly about his skills, his amazing life, his wondrous powers and the stories about how he had affected people so profoundly. His adorning and regaling of tales only seemed to serve to feed his glassy-eyed students with more ‘evidence’ that we truly were in the presence of all-knowing wisdom.
Along with his grandiose stories of compassion and adoration, he would also ‘teach’. What he was teaching though, I don’t know – it was impossible to understand. It was confusing and elusive and my normally well-honed learning patterns were totally thrown off course as I struggled to join the dots and make the connections needed to make sense of anything PY said. In the midst of the situation, I explained this away as being ‘new to this’, or that the teachings for me ‘didn’t have the right foundation to build on yet’. My updated and rational understanding now is that he was talking complete nonsense, knowing his students would be unable to, or really struggle to make any real meaning. Students were left with a whole host of abstract notions bouncing around in their heads and, guess what? Did you know that people are more suggestible to indoctrination and brainwashing when they are in the vulnerable state of confusion? Yep – when the conscious mind is fully tasked, tied up in knots with a puzzle – the unconscious becomes available to listen – and every single persons’ unconscious in that room that evening was fully listening and open to the subtle and dangerous reprogramming orchestrated by PY himself. Of course, I understand this now, but that’s the benefit of hindsight isn’t it.
So, imagine being a newcomer, who had been told on trust that here was a place of possible healing and clarity. A whole group of people present clearly believe this guy is some kind of magical being, add in the illusory spectacle of full-grown men being hurled across the room by an unseen force emanating from this individual and, well, it’s not hard to see how a person can have a curiosity of wanting to know more. And even if there were any doubts at this point, one only needs to type ‘elevator experiment’ or ‘social conformity experiment’ into YouTube to witness for yourself how a person’s individual behaviours and thoughts quickly adapt and conform to that of the ‘group’. It’s all down to simple survival of a desire to fit in (because, as social creatures in prehistoric times, if we didn’t, we would die – our neurocircuitry really hasn’t evolved that much). Also, at the same time, my conscious thinking was ‘how could so many people be wrong?’
It’s also easy to see here how a person who is intelligent, curious, a truth seeker and prefers to assume the good in people would be happy to take a step deeper into this world. And I unfortunately seemingly wilfully did so – and returned many times in the following few months.
One thing that facilitated my decisions to return was a special attention I appeared to receive from PY – you might have read about ‘love bombing’? This is a strategy that malignant narcissists and cult leaders often use in order to hook in, create an illusory bond and gain trust of their victims. Someone literally goes out of their way to do everything they can to make you feel special, whether this is compliments, extra attention, gifts, or any act that superficially appears to be selfless. Add in his notoriety as the ‘wise one’, the ‘Sifu’ and the huge following of students and (brainwashed) ‘believers’ he had – for someone sitting within the emotional train wreck of a divorce process, this attention was welcome and I felt ‘special’ for the first time I could remember in a long while. It’s easy to see, isn’t it, how a person can become trustful and attached.
Now ‘love bombing’ does sound quite harmless doesn’t it? So what? Someone was nice to you… someone paid attention… you were made to feel special – that’s good isn’t it?
No, it’s not that simple – especially and specifically when this person is only exhibiting this behaviour in order to gain exclusive control over another person. It also didn’t take long before PY’s behaviour began to shift.
PY continued with the love bombing, but with less frequency or consistency, and began to increasingly add in cruel behaviours and cutting remarks which aimed to shatter my self-confidence, cause me to question my sense of self – my personality, my skills, my relationships, my identity, my beliefs, my values, my perceptions. Hey, I’m not perfect – nobody is, but PY takes pleasure in taking a wrecking ball to peoples own self-worth and watching it shatter. He had a ferocious temper, and it’s easy to see now why his students fear him – I feared him. Time spent with PY increasingly became an exhausting emotional rollercoaster of control where I was in a constant state of emotional flux and fear, never knowing which side of ‘Sifu’ would appear and forever second guessing myself and my own instincts and behaviours.
By this time my already broken emotional state before I had even met PY had been substantially increased. The personal attacks, the put downs, the criticism, the reminders of ‘how little I know’, the outbursts, the tempers and the utter stripping away of my own identity by this malicious individual left me exhausted, lacking in self-worth and in a deep state of confusion.
‘But it was okay because the love bombing continued, he had a devoted following (how could so many people be wrong) and he’s got these amazing ‘powers’ – he must be some kind of wise special being?’ (please read this last paragraph with a tone of irony or sarcasm.)
But of course, it wasn’t okay, because by now I was beginning to fall dangerously deep into the rabbit hole of his control, I was beginning to provide his perfect narcissistic supply and I could not see the light of truth because of the darkness and fear descending. It really is possible to degrade, terrorise and exhaust a person so much that they become submissive in a frighteningly short amount of time – unfortunately, from what I recall now – this dark skill is PY’s only ‘power’.
Throughout all of this, PY continually alluded to his heightened spiritual awareness and status with his grotesque boastful stories and displays of his so called ‘powers’. And to further add gloss to his well-constructed illusion, he would often point mundane things out in the environment and claim they were as a result of his ‘deep spirituality’. Now, I’m talking mundane things like the way pigeons were attracted to his windowsill rather than his neighbours, and the fact he would get up to answer the phone before it rang (it always made a clicking sound first by the way). In actuality, people are meaning making beings – to quote the late Joseph Campbell…
“Each of us has meaning and we bring it to life. It is a waste to be asking the question when you are the answer.”
PY made a meaning, and his brainwashed students simply accepted it as a ‘truth’, rather than for what it actually was – ‘a disturbed individuals warped magical thinking and ego’. It’s laughable looking back how taken in I was. Birds nest nowadays in the eaves of my own property, and not my neighbours. I don’t know why – but I’m not egotistical enough to believe or boast that that has anything to do with me – it just is as it is.
I did hear he claimed it stopped raining for a picnic once and started again after the picnic was over because of him. Really? Give me a break – we’re in England mate – the weather does that on a regular basis!
Just as a side note – the more I write here, the more I smile. PY’s ridiculousness is increasing in my perception – perhaps this is true for you too as you read this. Are you enjoying this journey of my testimony? As you read on, I wonder how much more hilarious and insignificant that little man can become for you.
Although this next event wasn’t hilarious at all. Imagine this…
Someone you believe you respect and whose opinion and word you hold in such high esteem to the exclusion of all others (probably because you’ve become isolated from all others who love and care for you as a result of this relationship by the way) publicly humiliates you in class one day. Shouts you down. Criticises you deeply. Makes you feel like you are worthless, wrong, unworthy of even being in their presence. And all this happens in front of a whole room of other people. Imagine you are emotionally distraught at this attack, isolated and alone at the loss of favour, suffering the personal pain of their words and you are sitting at the edge of the room uncontrollably sobbing.
Of course, it’s a room full of people, so there is going to be someone there to comfort you right?
What deeper levels of hell would you feel if the rest of your group were then instructed to ignore you, to not comfort you and to scorn you instead – and this instruction was given by the very person who inflicted this emotional wound in the first place. And they obeyed him!
If you’ve already made the connection between this scenario and school bullies you recall as a child – there is really no difference. The perpetrators in both scenarios are acting in a way which reflect their own deep self-loathing and pain inside. Simply put, PY is nothing more than a childish bully on a bigger scale – it’s probable that his damaged and frightened child self simply never healed or grew up and so continues to reside and command PY’s destructive behaviours from his aging mind and body.
And now here one of his victims, a young woman, sits at the edge of the room sobbing uncontrollably, isolated and denied comfort or solace.
How inhumane, how despicable, how wrong!
It was an inhuman situation.
It was despicable behaviour by PY.
It was wrong of students to obey him and not offer comfort.
I am ashamed to admit that I was one of those students. I am ashamed to admit I feared him too much. The memory of watching a young girl sob, lost in her misery, in need of comfort and not providing this has haunted me with guilt for years. I have returned to this memory and replayed it in my mind how it should have happened if I had had the strength – how I should have approached her, comforted her, and told her “come on, let’s go – you don’t deserve this” and we’d both walk out of the door with solidarity and no inclination to return.
Of course, it didn’t happen like this. I was too scared, and so was she. I imagine she wouldn’t have even left anyway and maybe even believed on some level that she deserved the punishment and suffering inflicted on her. I cannot express enough how easy it was to be emotionally paralysed with fear.
To add to this bizarre set of circumstances, remember that PY spoke much of Buddhism. He boasted once again of his depth of knowledge (and baffled his students attempting to pretend to ‘teach’ them this supposed ‘knowledge’). But it doesn’t take much knowledge about Buddhism to know that it is a gentle path with compassion at its core. Tell me, where is the compassion in deliberately and wilfully inflicting a deeply traumatic event on a young girl?
PY would most likely twist this around (he’s good at twisting things around and this is something useful to be aware of if you meet or already know him) as an act of compassion. From a psychological and rational point of view, and from a healthy perspective like yours and mine, it is simply a bullying act of coercive control and nothing more – but you already know this don’t you?
After class, PY would often invite students back to his home, including me. We would eat, and during and after eating PY would talk… and talk… and talk… (usually about himself or some other confusing nonsense). Nobody else talked, it’s like nobody felt they had anything useful, insightful or meaningful to add. (In fact, I’m sure they probably did, but were either by now seriously doubting their own critical thinking abilities, or were simply too afraid of being verbally attacked or publicly humiliated by PY). These were university students, neither ignorant nor stupid people by any stretch of the imagination. However, they remained silent.
Those mealtimes were a weird dynamic which I still find difficult to capture in words. Students seemed disconnected from each other and themselves. They were quiet, subservient and lacking in any joyfulness. There was a sense of total compliance, a glazed two dimensional-ness, young people apparently devoid of self-identity and stripped of personality. It was very much like they were in a trance.
I could not connect with any one of them on a real human level, nor did they appear to be able to connect with one another, and looking back now I believe this too was part of the plan. PY was able to convince his students that there was something special about him, and that wider society was not privy to their ‘secret’.
They felt special to have PY as their teacher. They were the chosen and fortunate ones.
This resulted in the students skewed perception of society, and seeding the beginnings and continuation of their alienation from it. What I also still find fascinating too is that, unlike most cults which rely on a sense of ‘family’ or ‘fellowship’, here there was none. We only need recall my story of the girl weeping and ostracised in class to realise that PY, instead, created a sense of mistrust and competition. He estranged each of his students from one another, and it seems that ‘divide and rule’ is simply another crudely unsophisticated tool utilised by this dangerous individual.
Now I come to the part I’ve been putting off addressing. This isn’t something I ever thought I would write about, never mind in a document for others to see. I was for a long time embarrassed and sickened by the events I am about to tell you, however, as I stated at the beginning, I know it is my duty to add my own testimony to this blog to help others. So here goes…
I was coerced and manipulated on several occasions into sexual intercourse by PY. He would engineer situations where we would be alone at his home. By now my broken and confused self, my worldview already dangerously skewed, my belief system in flux and fearful of PY (as all of his students were) meant I was in a perfect place to be manipulated and coerced into having sex with him.
It might to an outsider have initially, at brief glance, appeared consenting. I ask you to now, however, consider deeply the history of the events which unfolded and led to this point. I was silenced, fearful and felt unable to refuse his advances.
Sexual intercourse is NEVER consensual when it is obtained by fear, lies and manipulation.
So, thank you for reading this far. It was a long time ago and I am grateful that a combination of listening to my own intuition, an inability to connect on any human level with PY’s other students and the voice of another colleague who I confided in saying “this is not right, you need to break contact” prompted me to leave and never return. I held anger for some time, however time has brought me to a place of neutrality about the events that happened back then. I’m fortunate to have escaped so easily – and am aware others have endured years and, in some cases, decades of this abuse and control.
So, if you are looking for a teacher, and as a person should, researched and have now found yourself here; you know that now is the time to walk away and find what you seek from a different and more authentic source.
If you are a current member – I ask you to consider how PY distorts meaning in all that does not serve him. And as part of your programming, you may, too, find a distortive filter running inside you right now.
That filter is not yours – move beyond it and look deeper inside, and I mean really deep inside, where your wisdom, your intuition and the beauty of your humanness exists. I wonder how easily you can locate this now and re-familiarise yourself with this in the coming days, weeks and months. I don’t know if it will take you a week, a month or a little longer before you wake up to your own truth and discover the strength to follow the light to the place where you know you can breathe deeply again. Because to breathe life deeply into your true wisdom and authenticity – this is your first most important and significant step. May you find strength in your journey.
And surviving members who have already freed yourselves, you are true warriors. I know you may not yet sometimes feel truly free, and it may take some time for some of us. You have come this far my friend. Move beyond the grief, sit with and through anger, and you will in time find peacefulness, and possibly even forgiveness. We are now free to be the architect of the structures of our own lives, and these structures always naturally attract exactly the right balance of true perspectives, useful perceptions, wise thoughts and joyful feelings. So take a moment to simply stop, and look back at how much wisdom you have collected from that old experience which is well and truly in the past now, isn’t it.