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

Challenge What You Believe


Our convictions can only be as strong as the questions we ask.

I’ve been in places where questions got me shamed, assaulted, and destroyed. Our platforms of social media, church, politics, and campuses might seem open-minded and willing to dialogue, but if you move against the status quo, you’re likely to be called a heretic, sinner, apostate, or ridiculous. Most places will stomp out dissension and cancel you if you mess up a single time. We can play the game of “we are a safe place,” but conflict always shows our true selves.

I’ve been guilty of this, too. I don’t like asking uncomfortable questions, or being challenged with ideas I’ve never heard, or assuming that my precious ideas are too narrow and naive, when really my own ideas have never evolved. I’ve shut down disagreeable opinions not because the content was unsound, but because I was comfortable where I was. God forgive me for covering my ears to a better version of life.

If you’re in a place that won’t ask questions and always reject what you ask, then 1) you might be called to shake the status quo, or 2) it’s time to leave.

I want beliefs that have been strengthened by skepticism, that have gone through the crucible of confrontation, experience, and a choir that doesn’t always echo each other. I want truth that will keep me through darkness. I need a faith full of doubt to make it through the hardest valley. I want resilience born of grit and growth.

— J.S.