One of the most disturbing experiences of my life has been watching a close friend drink the Kool-Aid (in large doses) of an MLM cult.
I use the word “cult” with purpose as the psychology behind the brainwashing and the behavioral changes in an MLM member and cult members are exactly the same.
The tactics used to recruit members are despicable, and they prey on and target the vulnerable: women, single, middle-aged, lonely, suffering from a recent trauma, or chronically ill individuals.
The MLM cults promise empowerment, freedom from chronic conditions, fast money, and a community of like-minded individuals.
Members are encouraged to lose contact with anyone in their life who isn’t being supportive—to block and delete people who ask questions—and to eat, drink, breathe, and sleep the company. They are encouraged to dismiss any negative thoughts and to only have positive ones. Scientology much?
Members are encouraged to stockpile products (at great personal expense) and to actively engage in conference Zooms daily under the guise of a sales education. But it’s really a way to make certain the member is checking in daily and not succumbing to any outsider influence. Their recruitment tactics involve having distributors share their, oftentimes, traumatic sob stories with the happy ending of “this product changed my life.”
Members start using buzz phrases like boss babe, self-employed, business owner, community, or entrepreneur to actively entice the exact demographic hardest hit during the pandemic—desperate, often lonely, women with low self-esteem looking to find a way to feed their families from home.
The self-esteem factor is a big one here, now that the Kool-Aid has been knocked back, because these women are encouraged to seek their self-worth from social media likes, from the MLM cult community, and from their guru/CEO mentions—and it works.
Members need to recruit distributors in order to make money (a quick Google of pyramid schemes will describe how this works) and therefore friends and family members are targeted first.
And this is where it gets traumatic.
Initially, you’re selling, you’re making a little extra cash, and the MLM will make certain that you’re promoted to one of their levels; however, as time goes on, nobody is making the promised cash flow. Getting back your initial investment becomes the driving force behind the 24/7 social media posts and desperate pleas.
Any money earned just about covers the product you have to buy each month for yourself (because by now you believe that this product is actually the best product in the world, despite the pseudoscience, and the fact that you can purchase the same ingredient products in retail for a fraction of the cost). Each month you have to pay a fee to the MLM for the privilege of calling yourself a social media marketer, yet you don’t have a dedicated business page, and your excruciating and incessant product posts are on your personal page disturbing the newsfeeds of anyone you’re close to.
If you own a legitimate business and you own the product you are selling, why are you paying a fee to advertise that on social media? Bizarre much?
So what happens is this: your friends and family start losing money too because you have recruited the most vulnerable people in your circle.
Resentment kicks in.
Before you know it, you haven’t just lost all of your money but all of your real relationships too, along with your self-worth as you still continue to make the cringingly awful, embarrassing social media pleas daily because you’ve got a garage full of stock you need to shift and, to save face, you push deeper and fall further.
So what does the MLM cult do when you find yourself in this position? It blames you.
You’re told that you obviously need more training and you should attend an in-person conference. These conferences make the guru/CEO a lot of money each year and, of course, you need in-person training and motivational speeches.
Watching this is disturbing because that’s all you can do. Watch. If you say anything or point out a floor in the business model you will be ostracized. However, if you don’t say anything or ask how the business is going or purchase a product, you will be deemed an unsupportive person and again, be ostracized.
It’s a no-win situation for the witnesses.
The hope is that you’ll be there to catch the person, once they wake up or get deprogrammed, but the chances are that they will have cut you off by then and, therefore, be too embarrassed to reach out.
Only the people at the top of the pyramid are laughing all the way to the bank.
These cults make the pyramid toppers an obscene amount of money because, quite simply, if you drop out there’s always another vulnerable person right behind you willing to drink the Kool-Aid.
Initially, the members are euphoric (that word may be an understatement) that their lives suddenly have meaning, a purpose, or that they are involved in a supportive, like-minded community. They feel great for the first time, in a long time, and their seeking of self-esteem from the outside world/other people is paying off. They become Stepford-like. A quick Google of the term “hunbot” will sum this up nicely for you.
Disturbing to witness is also an understatement.
I’ve had at least five messages this week alone from concerned acquaintances that have seen my MLM friend’s recent posts.
I’ve been asked how this happened, why this happened, how could I let it happen?
How did this happen? Vulnerable prey.
Why did this happen? Years of unhappiness, trauma, and the promise of a way out.
How did I let it happen? I can assure you I had no hand in this, and I am not guilty by association.
I genuinely believed this friend to be far too intelligent to fall prey to an MLM.
I’ve been distraught watching this go down. I’ve shed tears and felt hopeless to help.
It’s a brainwashed cult when there are psychologists designated to deprogramming MLM cult members.
There’s so little I can do except write this post and hope that the next person who has a friend who even so much as mentions the term MLM, shakes their said friend and stops it before it starts.
Pyramid schemes are illegal, which is why MLM’s change their names, under the guise of rebranding, every few years to escape lawsuits.
It’s an awful scheme and has gained quite the momentum during the pandemic, which is one of the most morally reprehensible side effects of this thing.
To the women who finally feel like they’re enough because an MLM cult is now in control of their self-esteem:
You were always enough, sister, and you’ll never ever really believe that until you realize that your self-worth comes from within.
If any part of your self-esteem has to come from external influences, then you’ll never be able to turn that Stepford smile, those manic eyes, and that one singular maintained expression on your face into real joy. Never.
I see you, I weep for you, and I’m here for you when you wake up.
Until then, all I can do is hope that it doesn’t take too long before you do.