Where you can find Melissa:
***Editors note – timecode is off by about 3:30 minutes due to a technical error.***
[Jon Dabach] 04:34
All right. Awesome. Melissa, thank you so much for joining. You have an amazing kind of unique story that unique to me, I haven’t I haven’t met so many people who kind of have this history and, and a lot of people I’m sure listening are going to be fascinated. So today we’re talking about specifically high demand religions.
[Jon Dabach] 04:58
So before we even get into to leaving and all the different impacts it has on on your life and your relationships. Let’s define what a high demand religion is so that we can actually have a common language here.
[JMelissa Hannan] 05:14
Yeah, so a high demand religion or group. First of all, it’s kind of the PC way of saying a cult. But cult can be a really loaded word. And even I, myself don’t like to call my former group a cult a lot of the time just because it is such a loaded word. So high demand group or religion, this is a religion that is pretty authoritarian in nature.
[JMelissa Hannan] 05:42
Essentially, the structure is such that you as the member need to comply, obey change yourself in order to fit in with this broader community. You’re not being uplifted as much spiritually as fitting yourself into the box that they want you to fit into.
[Jon Dabach] 06:02
Got it? And is it only you said, you know, groups? It’s interesting, because I didn’t even think about it till we got on. Got on the show here. But are there other things outside of religion where this framework would fit?
[JMelissa Hannan] 06:16
Yeah, absolutely. One, one really common one are MLMs, or multi-level marketing schemes. Essentially, a pyramid scheme, an MLM is not a religion, but operates like these high demand groups where there’s a really strong culture, there is a lot of pressure to just do the thing without understanding it and this belief that you’re going to make money even though the, that’s not actually happening a lot of the time. Right,
[Jon Dabach] 06:46
Right. So that same kind of structure exists. In other places, I’m sure there’s even other ones. So anywhere, I guess, what’s the core? Let’s boil it down. So what the core aspects are, is the individual or your own individuality is kind of sacrifice for a supposedly bigger cause. And there’s a promise of something down the line that gets people to kind of join or buy into the mentality. Is that kind of the crux of it?
[JMelissa Hannan] 07:15
Yes. And religious groups in this way? They it’s really set up quite well for them, because what they can promise? Are all these amazing things in the afterlife, right? Yeah. So they actually can’t be held accountable whatsoever, at least with an MLM after a couple years, you can be like, actually, I’m spending more money than I’m making with the religion, the promises after you die. So Right. Yeah.
[Jon Dabach] 07:39
So it’s kind of Yeah, I could see that. So let’s talk about your own experience a little bit so you can kind of ground it and and we’ll go from there, because you do have an interesting background yourself.
[JMelissa Hannan] 07:53
Yeah, so I was born and raised in the church of Jesus Christ of Latter Day Saints, commonly referred to as the Mormon Church. Although Mormons these days would not want to be called Mormons, they have had a recent shift in their PR, their marketing, really, they
[Jon Dabach] 08:09
Don’t want to be called Mormons anymore. That’s new to me. What’s the reason they’re,
[JMelissa Hannan] 08:13
You know, it’s just a recent change with the newest prophet that they have a seems like a preference on that prophets part. He has just said that it’s a win for Satan, if you call them Mormons, that that’s a derogatory term. It’s a slur of some kind. And I think they’re just trying to move away from Mormon for whatever reason, but that’s what they are. And so I’m going to keep using that word. It’s my identity to
[Jon Dabach] 08:40
Sounds. Sounds like a plan for at least for this interview.
[JMelissa Hannan] 08:45
Yeah, so that was the religion that I was born and raised in. And I was a true believer, I was earnest in my belief. I was pretty good at goodie. And it wasn’t until I had a friend it was in high school was around 17. And I had an acquaintance that joined and then left the church within a year within about six months, even maybe. And so like, a good Mormon missionary, I reached out to check in, hey, what’s going on? How are you doing? I noticed you were in a church is everything okay?
[JMelissa Hannan] 09:19
And he just kind of flipped the script on me and was like, Look, I’m not going to get into it with you. I just don’t believe it anymore. If you want to find out about church history, you can just Google it. All the answers are there. I’m not going to try to convince you to leave. But all the information is there ready for you? And I decided, well, my testimony is strong enough to handle any anti Mormon literature that’s out there. So I googled it. And three hours later, I realized everything that I knew and believed moved about life, about this religion, about this community was all wrong. Like it was not wrong.
[JMelissa Hannan] 10:09
But it wasn’t true. It wasn’t what I thought it was. And it rattled everything it I didn’t know who I was, I didn’t know why I was on this planet. I didn’t know what happened when I die. I mean, we know that we really don’t know that even still. But when you go from knowing and Mormons, when you’re a Mormon, you know, you know, the church is true. You know that Joseph Smith is a prophet of God, you know, what’s going to happen when you die? You know, the rules? I didn’t know anything, and that was terrifying.
[Jon Dabach] 10:46
How old were you when this happened? 1717. That’s a pretty pivotal age for something for that kind of crisis of faith that kind of come up.
[JMelissa Hannan] 10:58
Yeah, it is. And looking back, I’m grateful. I’m grateful it happened at that age, because those teen years those are the years that naturally that we want to individuate and push back and figure out who we are. And as a good girl Mormon, I didn’t I didn’t do that in my teen years up to that point I just conformed obeyed. And so by leaving when I was 17, I did get the opportunity, maybe just slightly delayed. But I did get to start that process of who actually am I? Hmm,
[Jon Dabach] 11:33
Interesting. Well walk me through it. What happens then you’re 17, the internet exploded your brain, essentially, in three hours of time it undid 17 years of indoctrination. What happens next at that point? For you?
[JMelissa Hannan] 11:54
Well, then it’s what do I believe? And kind of like the Mormon origin story with Joseph Smith, looking around and trying to find the right church and then praying to God, but like, what’s the true church? And then God says, He’s the prophet. He actually has the right church, right?
[JMelissa Hannan] 12:14
I too, was like, okay, so if Mormonism isn’t right, what is right? And so I tried to try going to regular Christian church, I tried reading books on like Buddhism, I tried all sorts of things. Ultimately, I couldn’t, I couldn’t trust religion. Again, I couldn’t do that thing, where you suspend disbelief, and you just lead on faith. I couldn’t do that once. Once I was betrayed, I was betrayed by my church. I believed it wholeheartedly.
[JMelissa Hannan] 12:50
Sacrificed a lot for that organization. And I think it’s really common for people who’ve left the Mormon Church, for them to feel deeply betrayed and to not be able to engage in a religious space again, like that. So what ended up happening is I ended up joining an MLM classic coal topping behavior, and I became a vegan, which became 80% of my identity for the next three years.
[JMelissa Hannan] 13:18
Eventually, though, I think once I started college, and I started working towards my long term professional goals, that’s when I really started getting to know myself
[Jon Dabach] 13:33
Getting a firmer hold of things. And so what happened on a practical level, 17 years old, you’re living at home with your with both your parents with one of your parents. What’s the
[JMelissa Hannan] 13:42
Yeah, at that time, at that time, I was living with my mom, mom’s mom, and siblings, who were all Mormon. When I, when everything fell apart for me, things kind of came to a head with the family. And within a couple of weeks, I was living with my dad. Six hours away. My dad had left the church a few years prior, and so
[Jon Dabach] 14:10
So did you when your dad left the church? Was there any discussion of why was there any curiosity there? Or it really took this outsider who was more along your own age for you to question things?
[JMelissa Hannan] 14:24
Well, it definitely took Yeah that the latter definitely took that for me to finally see it for what it was. But when my dad did leave, he left not too long after my parents got divorced. And when I asked him about it, and this was devastating for me, because in Mormonism, you’re told that your family can be together forever for all of eternity, so long as you stay in the church, as long as you are sealed together in the Mormon temple through a specific ritual practice.
[JMelissa Hannan] 14:58
Only then are you together forever. So when my dad stopped believing, and he didn’t get to tell me exactly how he stopped believing, but he did. It devastated me, it felt to me that my eternal salvation was broken. In a lot of ways. It was really, really hard.
[Jon Dabach] 15:19
Wow. So you started living with your dad and then that’s when you started going to school and eventually passed the MLM and the and are you still vegan? Now? It sounds like you’re out of the MLM. But
[JMelissa Hannan] 15:32
Yeah, I left the MLM it only took me a few months for me to realize the cost benefit wasn’t working out in my favor. I was vegan for a few years. Yeah, and nothing against vegans. I think it’s a great people need to eat less meat, I think just for the planet. But yeah, it wasn’t it wasn’t good for me long term. So what was the question?
[Jon Dabach] 15:53
So past all that, then you found your footing, and you’re living with your dad, and then you decided to become a therapist. And now I assume you specialize in kind of dealing with people who have this kind of religious trauma? Yeah, what? And what? What’s the process like working with someone who leaves a high demand religion? And how far along in the in the process? Do you actually start working with them? Is it is it people who’d like just left and they’re looking for someone right away? Or is it like you where it takes a few years before they realize, hey, I have some stuff I need to unpack.
[JMelissa Hannan] 16:33
Um, you know, religious trauma is a really under recognized trauma. I think in the mental health field, I know when I was trying to be a therapist, religion and spirituality was only discussed in terms of its additive value is a strength and our clients lean on, on religion, spirituality to help them through difficult times, it really wasn’t a discussion that religious abuse, spiritual abuse happens and people can be harmed and betrayed by these institutions.
[JMelissa Hannan] 17:04
And so as I was in graduate school, trying to be a therapist, there was a certain point where I thought maybe I could just like make a group for other people who have left a high demand group, or a cult of some sort. And I could do that at the college just to get some experience hours.
[JMelissa Hannan] 17:19
And my supervisor actually encouraged me to make that my master’s thesis or project to do research about what is the impact on people and to create a group therapy curriculum. And that’s exactly what I did. So for my master’s project, I did all this research about Mormonism, and leaving it religious trauma, and how to heal. And it was honestly like a self-therapy for me like having the language for it, realizing, Oh, this is a big deal.
[JMelissa Hannan] 17:48
This is a big deal. For me, it wasn’t just in my head, it wasn’t just a silly, quirky thing that happened in my life, it was a big deal that I was raised in this high demand group and this religion that had one way to B. And then to have to leave it and to have to reconsider who I am meaning of life, it. It’s a big deal. And I think that’s what I want all my clients to be validated in, when they leave the church, they might feel really alone.
[JMelissa Hannan] 18:19
They might be the only person in their family that’s left, I was fortunate in that my dad had already left and I could lean on that a lot of people don’t have that. And so in the therapy, in my practice, what I find is that its people, individuals who have, through whatever means realize that the church isn’t for them.
[JMelissa Hannan] 18:42
And they need a space where they can just talk it out. They can they have a nonjudgmental space where their journey is understood and respected, not questioned or judged. And they can process the betrayal, heal any trauma, and discover who they really are.
[Jon Dabach] 19:08
And how do you work with them on a healing the trauma to use specific structures or modalities?
[JMelissa Hannan] 19:14
Mm hmm. Yeah, I’m really passionate about EMDR. So EMDR is a trauma therapy modality stands for eye movement desensitization and reprocessing. Quite a mouthful. Yeah. I love the acronym. Right. Right. Right, right. What’s amazing about EMDR is that a lot of times with trauma and traumatic memories. It doesn’t help to just say it to just say the traumatic story or narrative or even sometimes you can’t speak it.
[JMelissa Hannan] 19:50
Whenever you remember the trauma. Again, it’s like your mouth doesn’t work and you can’t get the words out. What’s so great about EMDR is that you don’t have to you speak it you can, it can be healing to have a compassionate witness know your trauma narrative. But you don’t have to. All you have to do, let’s demystify
[Jon Dabach] 20:11
It. I had another therapist who talked about EMDR. And I got some comments from people listening to Joe saying, well, what is it and you know, instead of just Googling it, let’s explain the theory behind it. Because there when you when you, when you hear the benefits of it, it almost sounds like magic. But let’s demystify that and kind of walk through what the process looks like working with someone who practices EMDR.
[Jon Dabach] 20:35
And what the philosophy behind it is, because I think it’s super interesting. I am not an EMDR practice practitioner, I would love to learn more about it myself. But I feel like I’m doing a disservice and not jumping a little bit deeper into how it actually works.
[JMelissa Hannan] 20:50
Yeah, so the underlying foundational assumption or knowledge or theory about how EMDR works, is that when we experience something traumatic, something that overwhelms our ability to cope and feels life threatening in some way, that memory is not encoded, like a normal memory, it doesn’t feel like when you recall it that it happened back then, and it’s over. When we recall it, instead it comes up like it’s happening now. And we can feel the same sensations in our body, we can have the same emotions, the same thoughts, it is like it’s happening again. And that’s just because of really,
[Jon Dabach] 21:34
You relive the trauma, essentially, every time it comes up in your mind.
[JMelissa Hannan] 21:38
That’s right. And in EMDR, there is an assumption that the trauma memory isn’t stored, like the regular memories. And what you do is you then in the therapy, you intentionally activate all the components of the memory, the any images, any sensations, thoughts, feelings, you just allow you’re your mind to hold it all. And then you add these eye movements to it. And you just see what your brain does with it.
[JMelissa Hannan] 22:06
They don’t know exactly why this works. But they say that it mimics REM sleep. So the sleep when you’re dreaming and your eyes are darting side to side, and your brain is processing all this material. And it’s really strange way. That’s what EMDR is doing. It’s just harnessing that natural ability of your brain to work through and doing it in a controlled setting in therapy.
[Jon Dabach] 22:28
And when you say the eyes moving, so what does this look like from an outsider’s point of view you’re sitting with someone across? Maybe they’re on a couch or a comfortable chair? Are you using lights to kind of trigger the eyes back and forth? Or are you tapping? As you ask them questions? What is it just on a basic physical level look like?
[JMelissa Hannan] 22:46
I’m glad you brought up tapping. Yeah, so the name is eye movement, desensitization and reprocessing. But what they’ve discovered is that it’s any type of what they call bilateral stimulation. So side to side stimulation, and that can be eye movements. And you can do that in person by having just a couple of fingers up, and then moving those fingers side to side in front of your clients. Field of vision tracking
[Jon Dabach] 23:09
The fingers. So almost like a hypnotist would do that. Movie. Yeah.
[JMelissa Hannan] 23:15
Yeah. But they could also you could be sitting somewhat close, not terribly close. And then you could as a therapist be tapping the outside of the client’s knees. And the client can then close their eyes and go into the membrane root process that way. Some people also really like auditory tone, so they can wear headphones, and the tones can go side to side that way. Yeah, that’s how it looks legit.
[Jon Dabach] 23:39
Talked about during either the tapping or the finger movements. Is there a process where you’re asking them about the trauma? Or is it free association? What is it? What happens at that point?
[JMelissa Hannan] 23:50
Well, we start with the with the trauma memory, we start with the most activating, distressing part of it, which is difficult. And then once the tapping or the eye movements start, then the brain just free associates in the client can just witness what your brain does with it. And the client is not talking. They are just observing. And then the therapist is trained to know when to take a break and ask just a brief like check in like what are you noticing right now and the client can give a quick headline about what’s going on the therapist will be trained to know what to do next to help guide that client towards healing.
[Jon Dabach] 24:25
Interesting. So it’s almost like it’s locked in if I can kind of rephrase in a way so that I can process it for myself. You have these traumatic moments in your life. Sometimes they’re very long and kind of hard moments and it has never been processed properly. So it’s stored in the body in a way where every time you think about it, you’re reliving the trauma as if you’re actually being abused or experiencing the physical harm or emotional harm you’re dealing with.
[Jon Dabach] 24:54
And so the EMDR philosophy is through these either tapping or eye movements or whatever Ever, you’re bringing up that trauma and allowing your brain to process it. So it no longer has that hold on you. Is that right? Am I kind of understanding it correctly?
[JMelissa Hannan] 25:10
That’s exactly right. I wish I could have said it as concisely and clear as you just did.
[Jon Dabach] 25:15
It’s okay. It’s,
[Jon Dabach] 25:16
That’s what these conversations are about, like, I tried to boil it down. And, and I’m, oftentimes I’m wrong, and I need correction. So I’d like to, I feel like if you can get things down to a sentence or two, sometimes it’s easier to hold on to it. Okay, so that’s great. So that’s the way that you express out some of the some of the trauma in addition to talk therapy, and providing a safe space. Let’s talk about how it actually affects somebody.
[Jon Dabach] 25:39
So someone is in a high demand group or a high demand religion? How does it affect their relationships? How does it affect somebody’s personal relationships with their family, with a potential romantic partner, after they’ve actually left?
[JMelissa Hannan] 25:54
The number one thing that I see in my practice with people who’ve left Mormonism is whether or not they have family or friends who are all in or not, if they’re the only one who’s left the church and everyone else is still in there really isolated. The thing about being raised Mormon is you’re not taught healthy boundaries. You’re not taught how to establish and maintain boundaries on the basis of what works for you. This is a high demand group.
[JMelissa Hannan] 26:28
This is one where you are always deferring to the authority, they tell you what is acceptable and what isn’t. So you’re not used to considering? What is it that I want? What am I comfortable with? What am I not comfortable with? So how does that affect relationships? Well, yeah. If you don’t know how to say no, or yes, in an informed way, that impacts all of your relationships. So really, a lot of the work with clients who’ve left any high demand group is really learning boundaries.
[Jon Dabach] 27:03
So it sounds it sounds like in terms of communication style, and even conflict style, someone from a high demand religion might have a higher propensity and likelihood to have a passive communication or, or conflict style. And if they’re with someone who is either aggressive or a little too assertive, they might get walked on and kind of relive some of that trauma. Is that an accurate kind of depiction there?
[JMelissa Hannan] 27:28
Yes, it is. And now I’m realizing what I’m saying is incomplete. And it’s in it’s a bias because I am a cisgender. Woman, and I’m realizing this is a Mormon woman thing, especially, is being more passive and to defer. Men in Mormonism are leaders, they are taught how to lead and it is assumed that men and they’re called priesthood holders are inherently the leaders of their families and of organizations.
[JMelissa Hannan] 27:59
And so men might not have as much difficulty tuning into themselves and knowing how to set boundaries. But are Mormon women, women who have left the church? That is definitely something to work on?
[Jon Dabach] 28:15
Well, your dad left the church he was obviously a cisgender. Male, was he or still is? Did you ever talk to him about it? Did you ever notice if he had the same struggles that you did? Or were they totally different? Or did it never come up? Did you guys just not talk about it?
[JMelissa Hannan] 28:29
No, if we’ve talked about it, I think what really worked in my dad’s favor, and this is true for actually anyone this is like an important thing to know, actually, what was really great for my dad is that he already had different areas of his life, that built up his identity and who he was being Mormon was not the number one piece of his identity. It wasn’t the only source of his identity. He was also a schoolteacher.
[JMelissa Hannan] 28:54
And he got a lot of fulfillment out of his career doing that. And he’s also he was a football coach, too. And that was a big part of his life and his identity. So when he leaves the church, it sounds like he doesn’t know who he is at all. He also knows himself to be a teacher, and a football coach, and he has other coach friends and other teacher friends. And so he isn’t completely adrift.
[Jon Dabach] 29:18
So his sense of individualism or individuality was a little bit healthier than some who leave where, especially if you I would assume if you leave young and you haven’t had a chance to establish a career or external relationships outside of the community, that’s obviously even much more difficult.
[Jon Dabach] 29:34
So that makes that makes a lot of sense. What would you say to someone who recently left a high demand religion, what’s important for them to know what’s important for them to understand how to move forward with their life?
[JMelissa Hannan] 29:47
Yeah, I think first of all, what I would want to say is, this is a big deal. Other people in your life might not get that whether they’re IT people who continue to remain in the group, they’re definitely probably not going to empathize with what you’re going through. But even like really well-meaning friends, family that have never been a part of the group, they also probably don’t understand what a big deal this is. How fundamentally your world has just changed. So what I’d want you to know is that this is a big deal. Take your time and be gentle with yourself and there is no rush.
[Jon Dabach] 30:34
No rush. That’s a good good piece of advice. Oftentimes, I find myself even when I’m talking to older clients who are in their 60s and 70s. I say, what’s the rush? You’ve gotten this far? And they go, yeah, because it’s a good point.
[JMelissa Hannan] 30:47
Yeah, if you’re in a rush will end up in an MLM, and vegan like me? So don’t do that.
[Jon Dabach] 30:52
Take your time. Fill the void, find one high demand thing, and replace it for another? Yeah, yeah. Have you ever done any research on how common that is?
[JMelissa Hannan] 31:02
Hopping from group to group?
[Jon Dabach] 31:05
Yeah. For people who leave a high demand group, how likely it is for them to join yet another one?
[JMelissa Hannan] 31:11
Well, I don’t have the stats. Oh, well, yeah. I don’t know the stats. Exactly. But I know that people are more predisposed to it. Okay, yeah.
[Jon Dabach] 31:23
Very cool. Well, if you are interested in working directly with Melissa, you can check her out at trust your inner compass.com. Is that right? Did
[Jon Dabach] 31:32
I say that? Right? That’s right.
[Jon Dabach] 31:35
Yeah, you can take a look at that website. She offers individual counseling sessions virtually all over California, I assume.
[JMelissa Hannan] 31:43
Yep. State of California. I work virtually with anyone in the state.
[Jon Dabach] 31:48
Awesome. Thank you so much for the work you do and the population, the underserved population that you’re targeting? I think it’s great that it’s something that can be spoken about more openly these days, because there are there are more people who are finding themselves leaving these groups.
[Jon Dabach] 32:05
And I see, especially with online, the fact that you brought up MLMs I mean, they kind of pop up and then disappear. It seems like every minute someone’s pushing some new thing and then they want you to sign up and then the shame of being caught up into it is difficult to deal with. And there’s the financial
[JMelissa Hannan] 32:21
Last year with cryptocurrency. Oh, that’s interesting.
[Jon Dabach] 32:25
I didn’t even think of crypto as an MLM. But it’s, it’s because it’s not but like, I could see that being in that high demand where Yeah, cuz everyone was, was in that boat. Everyone was you know, rah crypto. And when it had that big collapse, people were a bit embarrassed than a bit and there’s financial ruins for certain people. Yeah,
[JMelissa Hannan] 32:46
Right. Yeah. So more like the flavor is more like Ponzi scheme. But like, yeah, it’s the same thing. You believe in the thing you join. There’s like a lot of groupthink and then you’re betrayed and embarrassed and it’s that it keeps people from getting help. If you’ve been harmed by a movement, by a group by a relationship.
[JMelissa Hannan] 33:09
Please reach out to someone who can help you through it is not your fault that you were victimized and taking taken advantage of and you can heal, whether it be from a religion from a movement from a relationship. There is healing to be had.
[Jon Dabach] 33:27
Melissa, thank you so much. It’s been a pleasure. And I really appreciate your time and wisdom and guidance on the subject.
[JMelissa Hannan] 33:35
Thank you for having me.
[Jon Dabach] 33:36
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