I Accidentally Joined a Cult: How a Cult Got Me and the Warning Signs

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I was part of a cult once. There was one warning sign that I missed—and I don’t want you to miss it. It’s not as easy to spot as you think. I never thought I’d fall for something like that. When we think of cults, it seems obvious: they take your money, they isolate you, they talk about aliens or conspiracies, they make you wear pajamas. But this one was way different. It took me a long time to recognize I was being tricked and brainwashed. Because I was a people-pleaser, it was even harder to speak up. If you’re at a church or workplace or student body or nonprofit or group that doesn’t allow for questions: you have to question if that’s a healthy place. The places I’m most worried about are not the weird ones, but the charming ones that get along too well. (In my book, I talk about how we can easily fall for hidden narratives, groupthink, and persuasive speech, and ways to proof ourselves. Link in my bio.) #redflag #warning #church #religion #cult #peoplepleasing #accountability #accountable #groupthink #wisdom #jspark #thevoiceswecarry #booklaunch #checksandbalances #mentalhealth #speakup #disagreement #danger #help #warningsigns #leaders #leadership #skepticism #skeptical #justice #awareness

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I was part of a cult once. There was one warning sign that I missed—and I don’t want you to miss it. It’s not as easy to spot as you think.

I never thought I’d fall for something like that. When we think of cults, it seems obvious: they take your money, they isolate you, they talk about aliens or conspiracies, they make you wear pajamas. But this one was way different. It took me a long time to recognize I was being tricked and brainwashed. Because I was a people-pleaser, it was even harder to speak up.

If you’re at a church or workplace or student body or nonprofit or group that doesn’t allow for questions: you have to question if that’s a healthy place. The places I’m most worried about are not the weird ones, but the charming ones that get along too well.

In my book, I talk about how we can easily fall for hidden narratives, groupthink, and persuasive speech, and ways to proof ourselves.

Grab my book here: The Voices We Carry: Finding Your One True Voice in a World of Clamor and Noise

I’m a People-Pleaser: On Ennegrams, Romanticized Outcomes, and Codependency


In a recent live video, I answered the question, “What’s your enneagram?” I talk about being a giver and how it overlaps with people-pleasing. I share a hospital story about all these ideas at play: how people-pleasing can end in disappointment, especially with those who reject our giving.

My book The Voices We Carry also discusses people-pleasing, why we do it, and how to navigate it.

Grab my book here: The Voices We Carry: Finding Your One True Voice in a World of Clamor and Noise


[Patient details altered to maintain privacy.]

Book Launch: The Voices We Carry


Happy day, friends! My book The Voices We Carry is officially released.

The Voices We Carry is about wrestling with our voices, such as self-doubt, people-pleasing, trauma, grief, and family dynamics, and finding our own voice in world of mixed messages. I talk about my hospital chaplaincy, what I learned from patients at the edge of life and death, and giving a voice to those who have been silenced—those like you and me.

The month of May is also Mental Health Awareness Month and Asian Pacific American Heritage Month. My book talks about the challenges of both. I believe that the more we can share our stories and make room for our many voices, the better we become.

God bless and much love to you, friends. Thank you for allowing me to speak into your life, faith, and journey.
— J.S.


The Voices We Carry is published by Northfield of Moody Publishers.

#MentalHealthAwarenessMonth
#AsianPacificAmericanHeritageMonth


What Am I About


Towards the end, when my then girlfriend came home later and later and stopped picking up my calls, I’d get in my beat-down Corolla and try to find her. Windows open, stomach twisting, December air pouring in: I have to find her.

What would I do, though, if I did?
Storm in and madly declare my love? Fight the other guy? Rant and sob and flail as they stare?
How exactly does this scene end?

I drive everywhere. Hotels, theaters, restaurants, subdivisions, complexes. I ball up my fists and strike my own forehead, stay awake, stay alert, mad that I only have two eyes, mad at myself for doing this.

At a complex, I find her car. With the Columbus State sticker. I wait. The sun comes up, a wax smear. A door opens. I think it’s her. She’s with someone. They kiss, I think. I knew it. All this time. I get out of there. I end up in a hospital.

It’s embarrassing to remember this story. I learned the hard way that it’s possible to get so attached to someone that you want to die, that you can’t imagine going on. You can become sick enough in your stomach over another person that your very life is coiled with theirs. And to plant a soul in something so collapsible leads to a life that is untenable.

There’s a codependency so overwhelming that you wait for the other person’s every text, flinch at their every move, hang on their every word, cater to their every whim. It’s a panicked, mindless, gut-squeezing desperation, a constant seasick cramp that craves a look, the nod, their attention.

On the surface, it probably looked like I really loved The Girl from Columbus State. But my over-attachment made me controlling, manipulative, overbearing—and really, I drove her away. It was as much her decision as it was mine. I blame myself.

I learned that I can only love others when I enter into their lives with a surplus, and not to steal their worth for my own. That requires knowing who I am, to know what I’m really about.
I had to ask myself:
Who am I without you?
What are my non-negotiables?
What am I called to contribute?
What am I made to do? To be?
What am I about?
— J.S.

I Care Too Much What Other People Think About Me


undefeatedx asked a question:

how do i stop caring about what people think about me?? 😦

Hey dear friend, I really wrestle with this, too. I’ve discovered in therapy that I’m a people-pleaser, even codependent, and I often have this crazy conspiracy in my head of small-town backroom rumors, where everyone I know secretly dislikes me and laughs about me in some seedy, poorly lit poker room.

A few things about how to deal with what others think about you:

Continue reading “I Care Too Much What Other People Think About Me”