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Breaking free from gurus, cults, idealogies, self-help leaders with Professor Debbie Haski-Leventhal

What happens when you realise you have been raised in a cult at 19 years old, and your gurus have been abusive in every way: spiritual, mental, physical, sexual and financial?


This is Debbie Haski-Leventhal, Professor of Management at Macquarie University story of resilience and what is took to break free and rebuild her life. She joins me on a powerful episode of the Thriving Minds podcast #93:




How do you break free and how do you rebuild your life when everything you knew before is gone and abandons you?

Her family were some of the first people lulled into the Kabbalah centre, the one now famous because of Madonna and Gywneth Paltrow.


In a 2013 interview with Harper’s Bazaar, Madonna opened up about her life at the time and what led her to the practice.
“At 35, I was divorced and looking for love in all the wrong places. I decided that I needed to be more than a girl with gold teeth and gangster boyfriends. More than a sexual provocateur imploring girls not to go for second-best baby,” she admitted. “I began to search for meaning and a real sense of purpose in life. I wanted to be a mother, but I realized that just because I was a freedom fighter didn’t mean I was qualified to raise a child. I decided I needed to have a spiritual life. That’s when I discovered Kabbalah.”

This is the story that is for all of us that are vulnerable and suffering in search of answers, and from absent parents, leading us to gurus, religions, or people that are happy to holdpower over others. Debbie watched first hand, how power and money changed the founders of the Center from their original intentions of doing good.


The first red flag:

If you are not allowed to question anything- then you know that you are in the wrong place


The second red flag:

If you are asked for money.


The third red flag. You are feeling vulnerable and trauma and overcoming adversity.

"The Kabbalah Center does its level best to control its members, telling them what to wear, where to go, what to tweet on Twitter, what to post on Instagram and Facebook, what career decisions to make (that turn out disastrous because they don't know what they are doing and are severely mentally ill), who to date, who not to date, who to talk to and who not to talk to, regarding love and friendships.


They take steps to isolate members from their family, friends and business associates not involved in the cult, in an effort to manipulate them without interference from unbiased people who care about them and will tell them the truth - you're being lied to, deceived, manipulated and taken advantage of. The sad part is Kabbalah Center members such as the Bergs, Madonna and Jay-Z, wreck the lives, relationships and careers of those that get involved with them, who don't realize it until it's too late. They are altering the course of people's lives for the worst and it's sick. What kind of people meddle in other people's lives to these extremes. It's unhealthy and not normal"


A short minute on Google, to anything guru-like and cult-like and the word fraud or lawsuit is the other place to see what is behind closed doors.

For example an article written by Anna Merlan for Vice showed up federal court records showing that Berg, his brother Michael, his mother Karen, the Kabbalah Centre itself, and a constellation of related entities are the defendants in an explosive civil lawsuit first filed in New York in July 2019 by seven core former Kabbalah devotees. The plaintiffs were part of a group of special spiritual workers within the organization known as “chevre.”


The suit lays bare several long-running controversies at the Centre. Members of the previous chevre—one of whom once served as a spokesperson for the Centre—accuse the organization of being little more than a personal enrichment scheme for the Bergs themselves. The plaintiffs, the suit claims, were led to believe “that they would be spiritual workers who were to help enlighten humanity to the teachings of the Kabbalah. In reality, the individuals who control the Centre–the Bergs–“operate a cult that preys upon those seeking to improve the world through the performance of good works.” It also claims that the Centre’s “ultimate objective” is “to raise revenue and solicit donations that benefit the Individual Defendants and their families.”



Dr Debbie Haski-Leventhal's story is about child abuse, emotional and financial abuse. This is not just a story about religious cults. This is about all cults, gurus that abound themselves on people's suffering.


We talk about how to know if you are in a cult, whether it is a workplace, political party, self help gurus and anyone that denies you access to "special knowledge" that makes you feel less.


We discuss how she overcame 18 years of brain washing to restart her life. Her latest book is called "Meaningfulness" and gives the tools to work your way back to find purpose in life beyond cults and anything that reduces your ability to question or flourish.


After leaving the Kabbalah Center she moved to Jerusalem to study philosophy at the Hebrew University where she also studied a Master’s in Management of not-for-profits and a PhD.

She migrated to Sydney, Australia in 2008, worked at the Centre for Social Impact and in 2011 moved to Macquarie University.


Dr Debbie Haski-Leventhal invites you to " BREAK FREE" by finding "Meaningfulness in your own life". You are perfect and enough. She tells us on the podcast how she did it.


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