Aesthetic Realism is a cult
Who they are, how they operate • Written by former members

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Recovering from Aesthetic Realism

How to deal with the after effects

Last update:  May 2012

Anyone who's spent any time in a mind-control cult will be impacted psychologically by the experience, and AR is no different.  This shouldn't be a surprise: The purpose of a cult is to get its members to believe that the group is the most important thing in the world, and to do that they have to get inside your head.  They weaken your ego, so they can induce powerful feelings of guilt.  You get criticized a lot.  And any time you question the group at all, they tell you it's because of a personal failing inside yourself.  Anything bad that happens is your fault.  If they're successful then you wind up blaming yourself for things even if the group leaders don't.  That kind of experience is incredibly damaging.

Could anyone come out of that experience and not be affected by it?!

Maybe you think that now that you see your group for the cult it was, everything's better now.  If so, then great.  But for a lot of people, simply knowing that their group was in fact a cult isn't enough to erase the damage.  Your mind can know that you have nothing to feel guilty about, but that doesn't necessarily mean you won't feel it anyway.  You can't choose your feelings.

Here are a couple of (non-cult) examples.  My mom took me to see Willy Wonka & the Chocolate Factory when I was three years old.  There's a scene where a little girl eats some purple candy she wasn't supposed to, and she balloons up to be ten times her normal size.  That scene freaked me out and I started crying and screaming, and my mother had to take me out of the theater.  Years later when I was in high school I saw the movie again, and when that scene came around, I wasn't scared, but my stomach knotted itself anyway and I certainly felt uncomfortable.  Even though I knew I had nothing to fear, I felt it anyway.  As another example, there's something from my childhood which I know wasn't my fault, but to this day I still have dreams about it.

Margaret Singer, who pioneered research into destructive cults, came up with some characteristics of post-cult trauma syndrome.  Here's a partial list:

  • fear of going insane
  • confusion about right and wrong
  • sexual conflicts
  • unwarranted guilt
  • spontaneous crying
  • sense of loss
  • panic disproportionate to one's circumstances
  • depression & suicidal thoughts
  • fear that not obeying the cult's wishes will result in God's wrath or loss of salvation [or in AR, the ability to know the truth and to be happy]
  • alienation from family, friends
  • sense of isolation, loneliness due to being surrounded by people who have no basis for understanding cult life
  • fear of evil spirits taking over one's life outside the cult
  • scrupulosity, excessive rigidity about rules of minor importance

She supplemented with some other effects that ex-members often experience:

  • simplistic black-white thinking
  • disassociation (spacing out)
  • difficulty concentrating
  • incapacity to make decisions
  • mental confusion
  • low self-esteem
  • dread of running into a current cult-member by mistake
  • loss of a sense of how to carry out simple tasks
  • dread of being cursed or condemned by the cult
  • difficulty managing time
  • trouble holding down a job   (see Singer's complete list)

Cult experts recognize that people who leave cults have special challenges for getting over their experience.  Most counselors and therapists aren't equipped to help ex-cult members in this way.  If you seek counseling, it's crucial to choose a counselor who has specific training and experience in helping ex-cult members.  Here's a list of some resources:


Counselors & Therapists (rates per session as of Jan. 2017)


Conferences & Workshops

  • ICSA: "After the Cult: Recovery Workshop for Former Group Members"
  • ICSA: Workshop for those born into cults ("Second-Generation Adults: Surviving and Moving On After a High Demand Group Experience")

Live-in programs

Community (discuss with other recoveress)


  •  Steve Hassan (10-17-10)  One of the most well-known experts on cults talks about how he got into the Moonies, and then out.
  •  Recovery from Cults (Margaret Singer, 1991)
Aesthetic Realism at a Glance


The Aesthetic Realism Foundation




Eli Siegel, poet & art/literary critic.
Committed suicide in 1978.


To get the world to realize that Eli Siegel was the greatest person who ever lived, and that Aesthetic Realism is the most important knowledge, ever.


We have a tendency to look down on others to make ourselves seem superior by comparison (contempt).  Every single problem in the world (including homosexuality) is the result of contempt.  By studying AR, we can learn to purge our contempt so the world will be perfect.  Also, beauty comes from the contrast of opposites.


New York City (SoHo)


About 66, as of 4/22, as ~23 teachers + ~43 teachers-in-training.  (In 2009 it was ~77 (33+44), and ~29 regular students.  You could consider them members, but I'm not including them in the total.)  Anyway, with only ~66 committed members, much for world domination.

All members call themselves "students", even the leaders/teachers.  Advanced members who teach others are called "consultants".
StatusIn serious decline.
They might have ten years left.

Method of study

Public seminars/lectures at their headquarters (in lower Manhattan), group classes, and individual consultations (three consultants vs. one student) (usually in-person, but also remote).

Cult aspects

  • Fanatical devotion to their leader/founder
  • Belief that they have the one true answer to universal happiness
  • Ultimate purpose is to recruit new members
  • Feeling that they are being persecuted
  • Wild, paranoid reactions to criticism
  • Non-communication (or at least very limited communication) with those who have left the group, and family members who refuse to join
  • Odd, specialized language.

  • More about cult aspects...
The best bits:  Cult aspects of ARDream to NightmareA journalist infiltratesAll the articles

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©2004-2023 Michael Bluejay    moc.tluCkroYweN@rotide   Media/Interview requests • (512) 402-4364