Episode 26

Published on:

20th Jan 2023

Yes, We'll Say "Pyramid Scheme": The Psych Tactics and Damage of MLMs, with Roberta Blevins

My, we can already smell the angry emails.

But this is worth it. We have seen MLMs damage finances, and relationships, and lives-- and we thought it was time to get real about the psychological principles involved in trapping people into them, and shaming them into remaining silent when they're harmed.

We went straight to the source, having a no-holds-barred conversation with Roberta Blevins, former LuLaRoe success story turned anti-MLM advocate. You may have seen her on the hit documentary LulaRich, or heard her podcast "Life After MLM." Join us for an enlightening, compassionate, and often funny conversation with someone who's been in the trenches and emerged as an expert advocating for real change, knowing all the MLM secrets. There's pain, wisdom, and quite a lot of courage in today's episode.

Follow Baggage Check on Instagram @baggagecheckpodcast and get sneak peeks of upcoming episodes, give your take on guests and show topics, gawk at the very good boy Buster the Dog, and send us your questions!

Here's more on Dr. Andrea Bonior and her book Detox Your Thoughts.

Here's more on this podcast, which somehow you already found (thank you!)

Credits: Beautiful cover art by Danielle Merity, exquisitely lounge-y original music by Jordan Cooper


Roberta Blevins: Enough people told me I was stupid when I left. There were people on the outside that were like, you're stupid for joining. And there were people on the inside who were like, you're stupid for leaving. I knew it was so much bigger than what I was. I think people don't understand that not everybody is the same and not everybody has the same life experience. And all it takes is being vulnerable. My father died, y'all, ten days before my wedding. I walked down the aisle with his ashes. Okay? I was in a place where anything could help me, I will do it.

Dr. Andrea Bonior: Today we are talking about the psychological tactics of pyramid schemes and how MLMs-- multilevel marketing companies-- often shame people into silence. We're going straight to the source, talking with Roberta Blevins, who was near the top of the crumbling, toxic pyramid of LuLaRoe and who now advocates against MLMs. If you or someone you know feels trapped in an MLM, please don't miss today's Baggage Check.

Welcome, everyone. It's good to have you here today. I'm Dr. Andrea Bonior and this is Baggage Check: Mental Health Talk and Advice, with new episodes every Tuesday and Friday. Baggage Check is not a show about luggage or travel. Incidentally, it’s also not a show about whether if you keep painting a room enough times, it will get noticeably smaller.

Okay, let's get going. We have got quite the episode for you today. It may be our longest one yet, but this conversation is worth it. Some of you will think this conversation stinks and you'll email me angrily about it, but I urge you to have an open mind. We're talking about multilevel marketing today, otherwise known as MLMs. And here's where I get sued. Anyone want to help me out with that? A ton of MLMs, maybe even like almost every single one of them…. are pyramid schemes. Pyramid schemes, of course, are fundamentally unstable and scammy business setups where you are supposed to recruit people to sell a product and all of you are trying to get customers, but really you are the customer because you have to pay to get involved. And you make such little commission on selling the actual product that you're desperate to recruit more people under you, and eventually the whole thing collapses. So my guest today is Roberta Blevins, an anti MLM advocate who has a podcast called Life After MLM and who's appeared on various programs like the documentary LulaRich about the downfall of the leggings MLM LuLaRoe.

She was near the top of the pyramid, folks, so she saw the inside of what goes on in some of these companies. And honestly, it's even uglier than you may think. Let me tell you, this was an absolutely fascinating conversation to me. Roberta knows so much from her personal experience and also her advocacy, and it was eye opening. We talk about the tactics MLMs use. We talk about the similarities to cults. We talk about taking advantage of vulnerable people and the psychological warfare that they use to entrap even people who usually know better. We tell you what you can do if you're trapped or if you're worried about somebody else, and how you can help join the fight against this exploitation. And honestly, Roberta is hilarious. And it was simultaneously great fun and also a bit disheartening to go on this ride with her. So take a listen and tell me what you think. Except for those of you who want to send me scary notes signed by lawyers, I'm not encouraging that quite as much.

Dr. Andrea Bonior: So, Roberta, I admire your work so much in terms of what you're doing, and I'm so glad to have you here today. Thanks so much for joining us. Welcome to the show.

Roberta Blevins: I am so excited to be here. Thank you for having me. I love being able to talk to new audiences and open the minds of people that maybe have no idea what I do or have never even heard of this space at all.

Dr. Andrea Bonior: Yeah. So I think this will be a great introduction. So, just to start out, I know some people have probably seen you in some of the documentaries about MLMs. I believe I saw you in LulaRich, probably it was when I first had seen you. Why don't you tell us even how this story began for you and how you came to be involved in this, first of all, as an actual player in the game, before you even got to be an advocate to truth telling about it.

t wasn't until my dad died in:

Dr. Andrea Bonior: Because she really provided some of that credibility. Absolutely. Somebody that you know and love.

Roberta Blevins: And I was like, my cousin would never do anything shady. She would never do anything scammy. Maybe this one isn't scammy. And from the moment I joined, I felt weird because the, um, MLM that I joined was this company called it Works Global. And I thought one the name was the stupidest name ever. And when people are like, oh, what do you sell? I'm like, It works. And it's like they're like, oh, that's so clever. And I'm like it's not, though. It's, like, kind of weird. I don't know why a company would, like, name itself that I started to realize very quickly that I was selling the same exact thing as everyone else. And this was sort of like a pyramid scheme kind of thing. And I was like, this is a scam. I don't want a replicated website. I don't want to sell diet supplements. At the time, it was a fat wraps, the crazy, rap thing that everybody was going off on. And I was like, uh, I faked before and after Photos because I didn't have the results that I wanted to. These are things that we all do. These are all things that I've admitted and come clean about. And I remember taking a picture and then sucking it in and sort of standing up straighter to take the after the next day and doing those things. And also, like, don't forget to suck it in. Don't forget to wear tighter clothes. There's tricks, right? And I was seeing them firsthand, and because it was like, well, this is what you have to do, it didn't seem scammy. I was like, oh, I guess this is what you do in this industry. I guess this is how it is. Because there wasn't anybody like me going, no, this is not how it is. This is not how this works. This is not what business is. There was nobody at that a time that I had found that was saying anything like that. So, uh, I ended up leaving on my own. A year later LuLaRoe comes into the picture. And again, I'm working from home, stay at home mom kind of thing. I would work in the evenings when my ex w would get home. And it was just a lot of work. It was like, a lot of work. And I was also working out of town. And it was like juggling. I was the kind of person where my husband's like, hey, paycheck to paycheck. We need to get groceries. And I was like, let me post on Facebook and see which one of my clients needs a haircut. I could probably make some money go grocery shopping today. It was that sort of desperation. And I think a lot of people live that. And it's a scary place to be. And so, uh, I knew that I could always make money when I needed to. But the problem was, being a hairstylist took me out of the house. It took me out of being there on school days or field trips, anything that I wanted to be, because I would go on the weekends. I would drive up to La. And I would do here in La. Over the weekends, and I would miss all the really fun stuff. And so I was like, I can't do this anymore. I need to find something to just replace the La. Income, what I make in three days in La. I just need to find something that I can supplement to replace that. And at the same time that I was feeling that, I was feeling lost, I still was feeling lost because my dad I still hadn't sort of gone into the mental health aspects of what had actually happened and how it was projecting and processing everything. And LuLaRoe came, and it was like a friend who was like, these leggings are amazing. And I was like, I can never find a thick pair of leggings that are like, stay up and are cute and don't fade super fast. And she goes, you got to try them. And she sent me a pair. And I put them on, and they were hideous. They were like ridiculous. Flowers I would never wear outside. And I was like, these are so comfy. I'm going to look for a pair that I would actually wear outside. And so I went on the hunt for the black leggings. It's like, what you do, right? Uh, I've never experienced anything in my entire life where I could not find a pair of black leggings. I was like, this is wild. What? I would join all these Facebook groups to try to snag these leggings. And in those moments, I'm watching this going, these women are selling $1,000 in leggings a night. I could do this. This is so easy. I sold leggings. I didn't understand anything about this business model. It didn't look anything like it works. It was very different. And I was like, I can do this. It took some convincing from my husband, like, a long time, uh, months and months. I was put in contact with some people who were local here in California and San Diego. So that if I had questions about taxes or laws or anything like that, I was talking to somebody who was local. I got put in touch with these people, and really, like, weekly they would check in. Hey, as your husband, does he need more, uh, time? Can my husband talk to him? Does he want to see some financial documents? I can send him my bank statements. What's going to get him comfortable with you joining this program? And I was like, I don't know. I don't know. And I think I was just mopey. And I think he just gave in because he was just like, she's so mopey. She just wants to sell Leggings. Like I don't know why. What a weird dream that I was like, my life is over if I don't have to sell Leggings from my couch. And he was like, look, if you're going to do it, just go get your own bank account. Go get your own everything, and keep it completely separate of our family funds. And do this and treat it like a real business and do this to what you're going to do. And I mean, I was like, okay. And I ran into the bank and got it all handled within 24 hours. And I had signed everything and then was in the waiting list to join LuLaRoe. It took about six weeks. There was a massive influx of people who were joining at that time. If you've seen LuLaRich, they talk about Mario Lopez being at this event. And I was already considered joining at that time. And they're like, oh, you would have been able to come. It was so great. And I was like, oh, I missed out. I have to join immediately. And there was this huge influx. So there was a six week wait. I get in while I'm in. They call it the queue, which is just the line. While I'm in it, I've got people reaching out to me going, oh, you're joining LuLaRoe? Because we are then told, tell everyone you're going to be a retailer, that it's coming. Six weeks. Six weeks. My inventory. You can't wait, join my group, whatever. Make it like, FOMO amazing. You have to get in here, right? And my friend goes, I was thinking about i, uh, was looking into that. Do you want to do it together? And I was like, I've already signed up. She goes, well, can I sign up underneath you? I said, I think so. I don't know. I literally am still waiting. I haven't gotten anything. And she joined underneath me while I was in the queue. I had no, no idea what I was doing. I had someone underneath me before I ever joined LuLaRoe.

Dr. Andrea Bonior: Which probably seemed like such a success early on. Oh my goodness, I'm not even in yet and I've already got somebody downstream from me.

k the last one I got was like:

Dr. Andrea Bonior: Yeah.

Roberta Blevins: Yeah. So, you know, then a multitude of things happened. But that's essentially my very that's the nutshell version. If you want the whole thing, there's a couple of documentaries about it. Yes.

Dr. Andrea Bonior: And I will say the LuLaRich documentary is riveting. But what strikes me that is so sad, actually, is that here's a situation where for once, an MLM actually was told, hey, you have to give some refunds. And of course, they totally botched that, as you said, and you didn't have the shipping labels yet, you didn't get it or whatever. And so that totally went wrong. There are so many MLMs, the vast majority, where the people are not having any even any faulty opportunity for refunds. They have no opportunity for refunds whatsoever. And I think what's so striking is some of these psychological principles. It even started with this notion of when you were first in the queue. And I'm thinking we call it the scarcity principle. Right? Not everybody can get in yet. You have to wait your turn. So this must be something valuable. This must be something very, very special if you have to wait to get in. I mean, I think part of what is so fascinating to me about MLMs is they really know how to exploit human psychology. They are experts. The leadership of these companies are experts in how to do that. And it starts with that first notion, this is something really cool. And our product is unique. These are really quality types of leggings. Which is ironic, because in my understanding, what led to the buyback is that the quality was basically tissue paper. In the beginning, you're thinking, these leggings do feel different. This is something quality. And it's worth it to me to spend time and energy trying to find black versions of these leggings because the fabric is so unique. And all of this, it starts to kind of hook you in. And it does feel like something that I'm either part of or I'm not. And I've got to make this investment to be part of it.

Roberta Blevins: Absolutely. There's so much us versus them within MLM, and you see that again in high domain groups like Cults or piece of relationships. And yeah, there was so much scarcity marketing FOMO. In fact, when you joined the queue in LuLaRoe, you got put into a Facebook group called the Q Club. And it was a it was, uh, a club. It was all the people in the queue when you left. You would leave when you joined, like, I'm going to go and uh, it was a Q club. And it was this Facebook group of everybody going, this is what you're going to need. You're going to need racks and you're going to need hangers. And I like this brand. And what brand do you like? And what printer should I get into? You like this one? And what about this? And it was really just a place where people could just sunk, like, just sink more money into LuLaRoe, but not LuLaRoe, just their business to get them even more, uh, tied to this, uh, that's called the Sunk Cost fallacy. And so that happens a lot in MLM, where before you're even joining this MLM, you are buying all of the stuff for it. I got a desk because I didn't have a desk. And I was like, I'm going to need a desk for my computer so I can sit and do shipping. I bought a desk and I bought like, a bookcase to store my leggings in. And I bought a shipping printer and all the labels and all the packages. And I went on USPS and I ordered all of the boxes. And, um, it's all free. But I ordered, like I put myself on like, an auto ship. Like, send me a box once a month. I'm going to be doing this. Like, this is going to be crazy. And, uh, it's being fueled by everybody else in the group. Well, I just did it because this and this and this. And there's no reality whatsoever. It's just a bunch of really excited people who are all popped up on dopamine, encouraging each other like, oh, did you get this? This is great. This is going to be the best. Everybody's saying that this is going to save you time because you're going to be selling so much. You're going to need the thermal printer. That's like $400. It's going to save you so much time. It's going to save you so much time. It's going to be so much and you're just spending money. So even at that point when you're like, maybe I don't want to join LuLaRoe, you're like, I'm thousand dollars in already and I haven't even joined.

Dr. Andrea Bonior: And that's where that sunk cost fallacy comes in. Because the idea is, well, I got to recoup that investment by digging myself into a deeper hole, right?

Roberta Blevins: I can't lose that $1,000 I just invested. I got to get my inventory and at least try to make my money back, right?

Dr. Andrea Bonior: Never mind that's going to lose me another $5,000. But at the time, I think that I'm saving that Sunk Cost of $1,000. Of course it's already sunk. That's the problem. You hit on something so striking to me right there, the idea that it is exciting. People weren't saying, oh shoot, I have to spend $400 on a printer. They're saying, oh, I'm going to need a printer because I'm going to be making so many sales that I'm going to be printing these things out left and right. And this is my investment in my business. And this feels good. And I'm, um, in this community of people who are exciting. And I think I've seen people get trapped by I think they expect, well, if this is a scam, I would not be excited to participate. But instead, this is an investment in myself. And this is passionate for me. It is really fun to look at printers. It is really fun to rearrange my whole house to hold inventory. This is really, really exciting. And if it's really, really exciting, then it can't be bad. It can't be going somewhere negatively.

Roberta Blevins: Right?

Dr. Andrea Bonior: That's another aspect of the trap.

Roberta Blevins: Absolutely. And the funny thing was, is we sold out Amazon on those printers. Like, you could not get those printers. Yeah, people were on waitlist to get them. It was just a stupid little tiny thermal printer. I mean, it was great. The shipping labels, I get it. I got one. And it worked out great. Uh, but it was wild that we're standing in line being like, does anybody they know when the printer is going to be back in stock? Or people making posts like, printers are back in stock on Amazon. Grab it here if you want it. And everyone is using their Amazon affiliate links. And nobody's telling anybody that that's what it is. And people are making all kinds of money because there's, uh, so much shady chef stuff going on in this group. Uh, there are people in there because there was a legging shortage. I think they mentioned that. LuLaRich there was a legging shortage. I don't believe it was real. But there was, quote, a legging shortage for a while. And you could not get leggings. And so what people were doing is they were going into these groups and they were begging. They were like, look, I'm onboarding in a week. I was one of the people that couldn't get leggings when I joined. I couldn't get any leggings. Does anybody have any extra leggings that I can buy from you? So I'm not getting brand new leggings that no one has picked through yet. I'm getting leggings from someone who's had multiple sales with them. And I'm like, oh yeah, just send me a mix. Don't even worry about it. So this person who doesn't know me from anyone is like, she's going to give me $100 to send her however many leggings that was like, sight unseen. Okay, I got the ugly stuff. But I had no choice. I had no choice. I didn't have leggings, which was the entire reason to join LuLaRoe in the first place. I didn't care about selling dresses and skirts and shirts and pants and all these other I just wanted to sell leggings, the stretchy leggings, the mom pants. I wanted that. I didn't want jeans or anything. And I didn't really have a choice. There. Was no way to join without buying all this other clothes. And then in that, I'm like, well, now I'm going to have to get racks and all this stuff. And it was never really what we signed up for. And I also felt like there's this thing where I talk about dangling the golden carrot a lot on my podcast where they're like, saying, just anybody who can just do this, you can qualify. And there were so many times where I would get stuck in that cycle of like, oh, there's an event coming up that I'm going to have to qualify to get to. I've got to do this for three months, and I would qualify. And I'm like, sweet. When they make the announcement of who's going to get invited, I know I'm going to qualify. And then they would be like, well, unfortunately, this year we had a lot of people. And so this particular tier, the one I was in, isn't invited this year. And I'm like so I busted my to go to this event, like the Mario Lopez type event. And they bumped it and they were like, no, anybody at this level can't go. Like, you're going to have to level to the next level to be able to go. And these events are training events, right? So why does the top of the pyramid need to know what they're already you know what I mean? Like, I would feel, uh, the people that are going to these training events should have been lower level people. But again, it was all like, this hierarchy and this cult, this control of like, don't you want to be here with us? Don't you want to be a part of this? Don't you want to wear the best clothes and hang out with the most popular people? Dean was all about exalting people to the top to be like, look at how amazing she had nicknames for all of us. You wanted to be on stage. You wanted to be the person that was on the calls and the events and to be someone who was someone. And there were a lot of stipulations and regulations that went around with being that someone that was not privy to anybody who was vying for the spot. You didn't know to be that person on stage, that you had to be a size medium. And if you weren't a size medium, then you could go to Tijuana because we have a hookup, and you can just get weight loss surgery to become a size medium. And then you can go on and then you can go on the stage. And then there were again, this is a legend did, because it didn't happen to me, but it did happen to my friend backstage having the jitters and being handed out things like Xanax, like, oh, here, just take a Xanax. It'll help you on stage. To people that don't take Xanax or not prescribe Xanax, don't have a doctor saying, hey, Xanax is okay for you to take. And they're passing these things around. And there, uh, were so many things allegedly did not happen to me, but I've heard multiple stories of that happening. So take whatever with a grain of salt. But that's the kind of stuff that would happen. And I didn't sign up for that. I wanted to sell leggings on my couch so I didn't have to drive to La once a month. So I wasn't going to miss my daughter's Christmas recital or whatever. That's what it was. And I became a completely different person. I became so focused on wanting to be that person on stage, wanting to be that person that was put in the top that was so important that everybody cared about. Like, I became a completely different person. It wasn't anything that I recognized. I was like, who am I? Looking back on it now, I say, who am I? In the moment, I was like, you don't understand who I am. It's just very strange situation, uh, where I was a total slave to dopamine addiction and serotonin addiction. Like, I was completely addicted and manipulated by my own chemicals to maintain this level of fraud, essentially.

Dr. Andrea Bonior: Well, they created that aspiration in you. At least they cultivated it so much. I mean, everything that you describe is so cult like, because it's this mindset. If only you work a little bit harder, if only you do this a little bit more, you're going to be even more belonging. You're going to be one of us. You can aspire to this and this notion that it says something about you as a person. You're going to be able to get up on that stage. You have achieved, I think what MLMs, and I'm sure you see this all the time, what they all seem to have in common is that it's very much this ethos of if you try hard enough and you have the character, you're going to be able to succeed. Never mind the entire business model basically falls apart because you're recruiting your own competition and nobody's making any money. But your character is what's going to get you ahead. And I'm thinking about all the ways that in order to make you want more, they have to break you down. They have to make you feel like you're not enough quite yet. You're enough. In some ways, actually, you're never enough. Good job on this. But, uh, if you really want to be enough, then you'll do this. And like you said, there's these little hits of dopamine. Oh, I did get a bonus. And let the listeners be clear. Most people are not getting anywhere near a monthly bonus. Most people are writing monthly checks, uh, and having monthly charges. But those little bits of positive reinforcement, OOH, you're doing something right. It's not quite sufficient yet, but it could be because you show signs of being something special.

Roberta Blevins: Absolutely. It's a total meritocracy. It's bootstrap culture. It's hustle culture. It's boss babe culture. It doesn't allow for any breaks, mental health or physical. If you get sick, you work through it. One of the cornerstones of, um, MLM is, like, you can work wherever you want. You have all this freedom of your your time. And I'm like, I don't want to work on vacation. I don't want, uh, to do that. I want to relax and enjoy. I don't want to have to do that. I want to work when I want to work. And then when I'm done, I go, okay, I'm going to put this away. And you don't get to have that in MLM, because if something doesn't go right, well, they ask, well, what did you do last night? You're like, Well, I went to bed. Well, see, I stayed up and I booked three parties. And if you would have stayed up and booked three parties, we probably wouldn't be having this conversation. And so it's a lot of, like, you're not doing enough. If there's any fault and there's anything that goes wrong, it's you. What did you do wrong? Which, again, if you look into any cults, that's a, uh, cornerstone of Scientology, too. Like, look inside. You, uh, must have willed this. You must have run someone over with your car in a past life to be getting this. Now, it's the same, uh, not as extreme, but it is the same kind of emotional abuse.

Dr. Andrea Bonior: Yeah, you don't want this enough. Which is so ironic because I think a lot of people who are attracted to MLMs do have an entrepreneurial spirit, are hardworking, are juggling many tasks. I mean, obviously, you are a very hard working person, and we see that right now. My goodness, everything that you're doing in terms of being an activist about this. And yet it's almost like because the business model is so doomed to fail, they just have a party line of, um, well, it's still your fault that this didn't work. And they're saying that to people who are trying so hard and who went into this precisely because they thought if they worked hard enough, they could succeed. Because they thought this would be something that can fit into my life with children. And I can, quote, unquote, work from anywhere. Well, now it turns out I'm working from everywhere. And it's not working because the business model is inherently broken. But it must be that. I just need to pay an extra amount to have this inventory or this printer or lose these many hours of sleep. And if I do that, then I'll book one extra party, and then I'll finally be rising in the ranks and we'll get some attention. It's so heartbreaking because it's gasolating at some level, right? It's the higher level folks gasolating the lower level folks to think that they are inherently flawed. And so what they're really selling at that point is the idea that you have to work even harder because there's something wrong with you.

Roberta Blevins: Yeah. Uh, absolutely. It's wild to me, because I see it all the time that people put all this effort and energy into the MLM, and if they fail, it's their fault. But if they succeed, it's the MLM that did it. It's not them. So even when you succeed, it's not your success. It's because you listen to your upline who listened to their upline. Who this is how it works. And you did what we said. And see, I told you messaging 100 person would eventually get you someone to join. It's not real. It's not real. And the other thing is, they like to say it's a level playing field. Like, everybody can join. Anyone can surpass anybody. Anybody can rank up and join, but it's not a level playing field. I've been near the top. I was not at the top, but I was near the top, and it was not level at all. There were people that had private phone numbers to the warehouse who could call and say, you know what? That one print is selling like crazy. Can we get 200 more? And they would overnight it to them. So how is that fair? I don't have a number, so I can sell that. I can do that. These were the top sellers. And these top sellers would break regular rules. They would go against PMP. They would be, uh, abhorrent and rude to customers. They would do ridiculous things and act in ways that you were like, People can see you right. And Lula Rose would excuse it all because they made them a lot of money. And I'm like, you don't get to abuse people and let these people abuse people and say, oh, they're so wonderful, and put them on the webinars and have them speak at events, and then these other people. It was insane. I hate to use that word, because it can be ableist, but it really was ah. From a mental health standpoint. I'm standing there going, I'm being gaslit. This isn't fair. This isn't real. This is not what's happening. You're telling people this. I know what's happening. You don't get to lie to people. Like, what? I was watching it happen with my own eyes, and my cognitive bias was like, Something is up. It's not a level playing field. There are so many things that go beyond behind the scenes in the industry of MLM that is so much more than just like, Betty Sue deciding to spend $99 on a kit to sell whatever. There are lifers that are in. There are companies that will get indicted, will be forced to close down, and they will regroup, rebrand, and reopen. A month or two a year later, once the lawsuit is like, the cooling off period is done, and they can get back in and start another MLM, and start another scam and start another pyramid scheme and start another cult and keep going. Keith Ranieri, who started next to him, he was part of Amy first. And then he started his own MLM because he realized the only way to make money in an MLM M was actually to own one. And his MLM was shut down for being a pyramids game. And he was barred from ever participating in an MLM ever again. And yet he still was able to open two more, and one of them was NXIVM. And he is now in prison for operating a sex cult and sex trafficking of minors. Okay? This man is a scammer. The government was like, you don't get to participate in MLMs anymore. And he still was able to do it because he used Nancy Salzman's name instead of his own. He was never on any of the paperwork, but he ran it as the vanguard. And this is what happens in MLMs. It happens all the time. This is what I see. And I'm like, then he went to this MLM, then he went to this MLM, then he went to this scam, and now he's in prison. It happens constantly. There was an episode I just did, and one of my listeners was like, this guy's still at it. And she sent me a link to something that this dude was doing last year.

Dr. Andrea Bonior: Oh, good grief.

Roberta Blevins: Still scamming people. Uh, just like, these people are serial scammers. I've been telling stories on the podcast and calling them the Scam Fathers and telling the history of these people because they are so connected. I tell these history stories, and all of a sudden, there's this name again. There's this name again. Oh, he's the founder of this MLM that turned into this MLM. It's connected to amway. And Amway is the reason these are legal. Wow. It's all connected. It is so insidious and it is so bad. And people don't understand. They think it's just like, oh, I just joined a company. I just wanted to sell lipstick. But I guess I found out a little sales lady. And I was like, no. You are participating in a legal pyramid scheme in which the MLM industry is $178,000,000,000 industry. It is, like, a massive number. It is more than the NFL, Hollywood, and the music industry combined. MLM. Wow.

Dr. Andrea Bonior: And that is not in the hands of the people at the bottom of, um, the pyramid. What I'm thinking as I listen to this is these guys or some women that are at the top of the pyramid or starting the companies go from company to company, from scam to scam. And a lot of the survivors and victims do too, because that whole internalized blame, like, what was my fault? I didn't succeed at Ah LuLaRoe, but if I regroup and, um, do it with this other product now, I'm going to sell these essential oils and I'm going to be okay because it was my fault before. And also, the shame and silence is what keeps people. I would love to think that everybody who's been burned by bees comes out, and if not starting a podcast like you, they are able to say, you know what? That model is flawed. I, uh, regret doing it. I'm not doing something like that again. But I'm imagining a lot of folks go from one to the other because they have internalized the blame and they're ashamed. They don't want to say, oh, the reason why you don't see me posting about this anymore is because actually, I lost $7,000 on this. But I'm secretly blaming myself and thinking it's my fault. And so I'm not going to speak up against these companies because I think it's my fault. But maybe I now have $7,000 in the hole. But maybe when this next opportunity comes along, I mean, it seems like it happened to you to some extent, right? You got a weird feeling about it works, but that didn't necessarily translate into being skeptical about LuLaRoe, right?

Roberta Blevins: Yeah, it looked different. There's a reason that MLMs look different from each other. There's a reason they sell different things. Some have websites, some don't. Some do party plans, some don't. Some are a binary comp plan, some aren't. And they look different. But at the end of the day, they're exactly the same. And they only look different to trick you. And they've sort of made the joke before of that kid in the neighborhood that changes Halloween costumes and goes trick or treating again. It's that kid. He's changing his costume in your driveway and coming back up and taking more candy. It's the same thing. It's over and over and over again. It's very, uh, systemic. It's built to fail. And by failing, you are succeeding the system, because it is built to fail. 99.7% of people, when all is said and done, will lose money in an MLM.

Dr. Andrea Bonior: 99.7. I mean, people need to really think about what that number means. You know, it means, what, three out of a thousand people will make money? And that’s if my math is right in that.

Roberta Blevins: And the MLM and all of the top women or men, uh, although MLM is about 75% women, so it's mostly women. But all of the top people at the top of the pyramids, they're flaunting their cars, they're flaunting their Lewis, they're flaunting their lake houses, they're flaunting their trips that they win or the trips they can afford to go on because of all of this. And everyone's like, oh, my gosh, I want to be just like Becky. Becky has everything. Becky is so great, but everyone is worshiping the same person. There's not a million Becky's. There's one there's one Becky at the very, very top of the pyramid. And so 99.7% of people are going to lose trying to become Becky. Unfortunately. Gambling, uh, gambling, taking $100 bills, sticking in a slot machine in Vegas. It's only a 95% loss rate. So you actually have a better chance of making your money back in Vegas than joining an MLM. And in a legal pyramid scheme, the ones that they say, oh, those are illegal, like the secret sister gift exchanges or like pyramid schemes that are not protected by the government because that's literally the only difference. Those have a 90.7% success rate. So you have a 9% better chance of being in an illegal one than the one that is protected by the government. And the government knows this, and the government knows these numbers, and they see these numbers and they make excuses for these numbers. And numbers don't lie, but people do. And so these MLMs will be like, well, that's not what that number means. There's a lot of people that join that just join for the discount. So those numbers are skewed. And I was like, it's really, really bad. It's just horrible. And I think if people really were to look at those numbers and say, only this amount of people actually make money and then actually what they make, you can go on to any income disclosure. If an MLM doesn't have one, that's a red flag. But you can search any MLM's name and then search IDs or income disclosure statement and hopefully it pops up. A lot of times you have to go to Google Images to find them. But look at what people are making and the percentage of people that are making it's like always 92 to 96 or so at the top of this little chart that are making nothing. And then as you go down the chart, it it's a pyramid. It gets the numbers get bigger and bigger and bigger and bigger and bigger, and you're seeing these people are making six figures, hundreds of thousands of dollars a month, but you look and it's like two people in the company are doing this, right?

Dr. Andrea Bonior: But that's where that aspirational part comes in. Because there's a part of me that says I could be that. I could be that person.

Roberta Blevins: I'm a hard worker. I'm not average. I'm a hard worker. I, uh, know this and I'm good at this and I'm great at marketing and I love lipstick and this is going to be easy. I'm a rock star. No one wants to believe that they're average. No one wants to believe that they're going fail. No one wants to believe that this is a scam. No one wants to believe that they're wrong. And it's really, really hard to admit that. I will say there's an entire community of people that have admitted it, and you're not alone at all. But it's really, really hard to admit that and to admit that you were part of something and that you got sucked into something and that it was harmful. But it's not your fault. They are designed this way. And if you were to take one person and say, I'm going to teach you how to join this MLM. And all you have to do is get five people. That's all you got to do, right? You get five people and then teach them how to get five people. Who doesn't know five people? It's like, you can do this on Christmas dinner. Ask five people, and then they can ask five people. So doing that successfully, and that means everyone joins, everyone gets five people, everyone moves on, which, like, will never happen in a million years. But if it were to happen perfectly and this is just one MLM, not all not the entire industry, just one MLM. If you join and get five people to join five people to get five people five people after 14 levels, you will run out of people on Earth. Yeah.

Dr. Andrea Bonior: That's the way that exponential growth works, isn't it? Yeah.

's not. Because we said it in:

Dr. Andrea Bonior: And that's where there's strength in numbers for people to really speak out loudly. And even if you haven't told your family how much you regret it, and even if you are embarrassed and won't post on Facebook that you're done selling that stuff. You could tell your story to the FTC and be part of a sea change, hopefully. I mean, I'm cynical about it, judging by how much the government has shown some inaction on this, but part of what strikes me is when you're talking about the judgment, judgment, judgment. Oh, why would you do that in the first place? And I see some of that cynicism among people who understand the Scam level, and then they blame the victim. And I think so much of it is really not understanding how much psychological warfare is going on. I mean, these are the same tactics that political candidates use, that cult leaders use, that drug dealers use, that abusive partners use. I mean, these are well known psychological principles that work on many, many people. Uh, intelligence having nothing to do with it. We want to belong. We want to feel like there's hope. We want to have a sense of purpose. We want to care for our families and be able to maneuver that somehow while still earning income. All of these things. And then they're exploited with literally, psychological warfare as I see it. So I would urge anyone listening right now who says, MLM, they're so horrible and it's so dumb, and I can't believe how many people get involved in it. Let's think of the mechanism by which this happens and stop blaming the survivors. Because the more that we blame the survivors of these situations and the victims of these situations, the less we are able to hear their stories and have them speak out and actually recognize how this works. Because people are vulnerable to this in large, large numbers. I mean, I know it's the cliche about, oh, here's a high school friend sending me a direct message. Must be she's getting ready to sell something. But I also try to think, okay, what's going on for this person right now? Is she a lonely, stay at home parent who feels like she's not contributing income? Has she just had some sort of loss where she's trying to find a purpose? Is she regretful that her career isn't turning out the way it was, and she thinks maybe this is a way of flexing her entrepreneurial muscle? Is she under the pressure of her sister who is so desperate to be able to recoup her investment that she's pressuring her for six months?

Roberta Blevins: Absolutely.

Dr. Andrea Bonior: All of these are very real human pressures that I see. And I think empathy, we have to have empathy because otherwise this problem is going to still stay so silent and shameful and under wraps. But one thing maybe we can empower people with. I'm curious to hear your take on let's say somebody recognizes, yes, pyramid scheme is bad. MLM. Some of them are pyramid schemes, some of them are not. And I know some of these, um, MLMs specifically devote parts of their websites to saying, here's why. We're not a pyramid scheme? Despite literally being a pyramid and a scheme for you to get people under you to sell stuff, what are the first steps in trying to recognize HM? Is what I'm getting involved in something of a scam? Is what I'm getting involved in an MLM that is a shady pyramid scheme. And I don't even know enough to say MLMs. Are they pretty much all pyramid schemes? I know most of them would say not.

Roberta Blevins: I would say yes.

Dr. Andrea Bonior: Are there some? Okay, it's a relief to hear you say that. And again, I'm not some, um, business expert about the structure, but part of me is saying, okay, multilevel marketing. And I'll make sure when I go back and do the intro to the show that we define MLM as multilevel marketing. By definition, if those levels involve recruiting people under you who are going to recruit, and isn't something of the definition still to having to do with the fact that are you going to be making money selling products or are you also going to be making money selling the idea of someone selling products? Right.

Roberta Blevins: That's always the excuse, right? Like, well, we have a product, so we're not a pyramid scheme. Because pyramid schemes don't have a product, but the product is just sort of like a loophole. So instead of exchanging money, you're exchanging money for products and then products for money. And so the product is just like a loophole. Still a pyramid scheme. It still works exact same way. If there's an emphasis on recruiting, which there is, then it's a pyramid scheme. Uh, another red flag for you. If you're looking into something, just ask say, Is this a pyramid scheme? Like, literally, just do it, right? Just say it. And what they say will be very telling because someone if you went to Target and you were getting a job at Target, and you're like, oh, by the way, Target, is this a pyramid scheme? I'm sorry, what? They would be like, that's hilarious. No, obviously this is a corporation. Uh, but if you ask an MLM a really quick question, is this a pyramid scheme? You will get a diatribe of why it is not a pyramid scheme. Why pyramid schemes are illegal. Why I would never do anything illegal. How dare you think that I would ever do anything illegal or put my family at risk in any sort of illegal situation. Pyramid schemes are illegal. And I don't want this negativity. And I'm going to block you now. And you will see, literally, there is only one kind of business that teaches you what to say when someone asks you if you're a pyramid scheme. And it's pyramid schemes.

Dr. Andrea Bonior: It's so funny, but it's so true, right? It brings to mind Shakespeare and Milady doth protest too much. If there is a company line that is 20 bullet points long about why you are not a pyramid scheme, that means enough people have been noting the fact that you definitely resemble a pyramid scheme very, very strongly.

Roberta Blevins: A lot of times they have it on their FAQ on their website, so they don't even have to ask anyone. It'll be like, Is this a pyramid scheme? And they will be like, go, I think somebody else plays for me. And I'm like, if you have to have this huge disclaimer of why you're not technically a pyramid scheme and why this is totally legal and totally fine, then you're a pyramid scheme. That is the basic, most red flag that's just like slapping you in the face. Right? That's the first one, I think, yeah. Uh, the second one is going to be the emphasis on recruiting, because you cannot make money, really. Um, you can make money. You might be able to buy your coffee for the month, you might be able to pay one bill. Right?

Dr. Andrea Bonior: Yeah.

Roberta Blevins: But you are not making substantial money in an MLM with only selling product. I have been a hairstylist for a long time. The commission that I made in the salon was anywhere, depending on my position, from like, 40% to 75%. The commissions on MLM products for sale is like 10%, 15%, 13%, 16%, and it goes up. Oh, well, you hit this rank. Well, now you unlock two more percentages. Now you make 17% on commission. You can unlock, um, up to 35% commission. And I'm like, that's still not great commission. And when you look at who you have to be to make the 35% commission on sales, you've got to be at the top of the mirror mid. So there's a lot of things like that. When you look at these comp plans and IDS's, that you can look and go, this doesn't make any sense, I have to be here. A lot of times they're like, well, it's not about recruiting, anyone can join. But if you look at their compensation plan, people above the first or second rank, you have to have people underneath you to even be able to hit those ranks. You have to have one, two, three people, and that means you have to recruit. And a lot of times they won't say that you have to have a certain amount of people, but they'll say that you have to have a certain amount of PV or GV, which is like personal volume, group volume, they're all different. It's intentionally confusing to keep people from asking questions. Like I guess I just don't understand. I'll just keep quiet because I want everybody to know I'm stupid because everyone's saying how easy it is, and I guess I'm just the dumb one. So people keep quiet because of that as well. But you look at this and you realize that while you're in an MLM that the percentage of sales is so low that to make any real money, you have to have a team, because you need that bonus. Right? And then this is where this is this phenomenon that I've only seen in abusive situations. The victim becomes the perpetrator and then pulls more people in because the last ones in will never make any money. The last person recruited the bottom of the pyramids game, they're not going to make any money, right?

Dr. Andrea Bonior: Because desperation starts to set in, right? It's like, I wouldn't normally hit my friends up so hard to join this, but oh my God, I am down $5,000 and I have Christmas gifts to Bob, right?

Roberta Blevins: And there's a lot of times what will happen is people that are even you've got a friend. Everybody's got a friend that's got the car or is like super high up, and she's going on all the trips. You see it on social media. She's super high up. It's all over her Facebook, uh, promoter with laval or whatever it is. Everybody listening has someone like that, right? If you go and you look and again, you're not really going to know. But the lifestyle that they're posting on social media most likely is not real. And most likely it is all FOMO and for show, fake it till you make it. Because unfortunately, you have to look successful for people to want to be underneath you and to stick around. So you have to continue to fake it to your make it. And a lot of times you might have a bonus check, right? You might have, like, we'll say, like a $6,000 bonus check, which is a pretty good bonus check. You're like, oh, I really need that money. I really need that money. Got a bunch of bills to pay. That $6,000 would be really great. But I've been so busy with all these other things, and my business has been suffering, and it's totally my fault because I haven't all the reasons that people give, right? And my business has been suffering, and so I haven't been able to make the sales. And I have two days until the end of the month, and I need to sell $1,000 worth of clothes or $1,000 worth of lipstick or I need $1,000 in sales. So mhm what I'm going to do, because I can't leave that $6,000 on the table, I'm going to spend $1,000. And instead of getting a $6,000 bonus, it'll just recoup. And it'll be a $5,000 bonus. But I'm not going to lose that $5,000 because I really need that money. So I am now going to spend an additional $1,000 and buy lipstick, leggings dresses, protein powder, drink mixes, makeup kits, whatever it is, to hit those numbers to qualify to get that bonus. Bonus. And you've got all these boxes. Where do they go? They go in your garage. They go in your garage and you can't sell it. Maybe you give them away as presents. Maybe you give them away as gifts for Christmas. If you have a lot of MLM friends that are just, like, giving away tons of MLM gifts, it's probably because they have way too much inventory and no money. So again, um, giving this stuff out also another thing that's really, really unfortunate. The expiration date on MLM products is notoriously low. So things expire very quick. So then you have to purchase it. Again. You are the true customer. Absolutely. 100% from the get go. You are the true customer. And people don't understand that. And that's where the pyramid scheme comes in, right?

Dr. Andrea Bonior: Yes. That is so key.

Roberta Blevins: No real business is like, if you're an accountant, they're like, you haven't done enough taxes. You haven't filled enough tax forms. You haven't filed people's taxes. You need to file ten more taxes before we pay you. And you're like, oh my God, I'll just fake ten tax forms. That's not happening anywhere else. Yeah, I mean, people might be faking things in other industries, but not to the level that is being faked in, um, MLM. And if you are listening to this and going, oh my God, I'm a teacher, it's just like this. Or, oh my God, I work in healthcare, and it's just like this. Whatever. Yeah, those are those culty, high demand vibes. It's probably not an MLM, especially if it's a corporation, but it might be culty. And so even looking into that and being aware of the red flags and what's happening to you in those situations because they feel the same, because they all have the same sort of coercive, high demand control, even in work. Like, you're going to have to work overtime. You're going to have to come in on your day off. It's a lot of that. And again, it goes right into that hustle culture and that boss babe culture. And we've allowed it to happen because we're like, oh yeah, I'll do that. I'll work there. Uh, I'll come in on my day off. I'll cover for so and so, whatever. I don't know who needs to stop for it to stop. Um, but I feel like we all just need to collectively stop setting ourselves on fire to keep other people warm and just be like, sorry, I don't get paid for this. I'm not coming in. I'm not doing this. I'm not struggling. I'm not hustling. I'm not no, because it's not okay. It's not normal. And I see it in so many other industries, but it's really, really ripe in MLM. The hustle culture of I'll do anything to make it. Even if I'm living in a van down by the river and having to get government assistance. Because everything I'm putting into my when people hear about, like, I put everything into my small business to get here, that's not what that is. There's such a difference between an actual, real small business and having the passion for what you're doing and bending over backwards and literally killing yourself for someone else who doesn't care about you at all. And I've never really seen that anywhere. Uh, aside from, like, cults, high demand gurus, uh, MLMs, some religions I don't want to be offensive, but there's a lot of religions like that as well. Gurus, lifestyle gurus. Sometimes gyms can be real culty like this too. And so it's just really important for people to understand what the red flags are so they can kind of dissect them and go, well, this is kind of like a culture red flag, but m sort of the environment versus like, oh, this is a scam.

Dr. Andrea Bonior: Oh, I mean, that's such an important point that there's this parallel, I think, in some industries in terms of you got to give everything to this job, and there's no you in terms of home life versus work life. And of course, with the pandemic, it's even worse because it's blurred so many of us that are working more from home. It's completely obliterated any kind of ability to say, no, this is my time off. But I think it's also such an important distinction, at least the jobs where you're getting paid for your time. Not to say those can't be horrible and abusive and occult like, but what strikes me so much about MLMs is people very early get into a situation where they are getting used to the fact that they are not getting paid at all for their time. And lots of people in sales might not get paid until a commission comes, but that's different than when the whole thing that you're selling is trying to sell someone else on selling the product, right?

Roberta Blevins: And there's the distinction, right? Like me as a podcaster who works with advertisers. I'm not trying to get other podcasters to work with those advertisers so that I get more ad space with that advertisement. You know what I mean? It's a transaction between the two of us. We do it at the end. They're not harassing me, I'm not harassing them. It is a transaction. The end. You asked for something, I delivered.

Dr. Andrea Bonior: Right? Well, it's like what you said about the exponential growth, right? In the way the whole shape of the pyramid is you are recruiting your competition and customers run out, right? At some point, if somebody's got four friends selling LuLaRoe, guess what? It doesn't matter who's downstream, who's upstream, whatever. You're getting less of the pie. What other business are we recruiting? Our own competition. That does not make any sense.

Roberta Blevins: Right?

Dr. Andrea Bonior: That doesn't make any sense. And yet that is the fundamental idea behind MLMs, because it's not about the product, like you said. It seems like it's about the product because this fabric, at least for a brief moment in time, is good fabric before it goes totally south and people scratches are showing because the seam has ripped. Right? But for this brief moment of time, it seems like the fabric is what this is all about. No, it was never about the fabric. It was about you having to hit up your friends in order for them to make the investment in this company.

Roberta Blevins: Right.

Dr. Andrea Bonior: And it's so sad because I think, uh, it doesn't seem to be and maybe you can tell me I'm wrong on this. I hope so. But it doesn't seem to be getting better. It seems like these folks are sort of jumping around in terms of the tops of these organizations. They're finding new ways to brand themselves. They're finding new ways to manipulate. They're using social media in different ways. No doubt. In the old days of Mary Kay and Amway, people weren't having their phone in their pocket, where the next thing they know, somebody is sending them a direct message that they haven't heard from in a while and saying, oh, let's catch up over coffee, or that kind of thing. And now it's just everywhere. I don't know. Are, uh, there signs of hope? I see a lot of signs of hope in what you're doing and spreading the word and building communities where people can share their stories and where you can be an activist and you can lobby and we can try to have the government do something about this. But I also, it feels like, still see an onslaught of people on social media. And I'm sure with the pandemic, in some ways, this grew. Right. Traditional jobs maybe dried up for a little while, and people who had been waiting tables and people who did have part time jobs in this industry, or people who did service types of jobs that relied on human to human contact. And then all of a sudden, people aren't going to those stores anymore, and they were laid off. Of course they're going to want to turn to an MLM M because they need something to pay the bills, right?

Roberta Blevins: Absolutely.

Dr. Andrea Bonior: Where are we with this? Are there signs of hope?

Roberta Blevins: Well, in:

Dr. Andrea Bonior: Another preying on vulnerabilities, I will say a whole another type of vulnerability. Oh, you're sick with long COVID. Well, have I got the product for you!

Roberta Blevins: Yeah, absolutely. And so there was a lot of that. And the FTC ended up sending letters out to a lot of these MLMs saying, we're watching you and we'll be finding you. Those are health claims, and you cannot do that. That is illegal, and we will take you down. And so the FTC, I think also, uh, uh, there are a few good eggs in the FTC I will say, uh, I've met a couple of people who are really great and are doing this charge and trying to make things happen. Unfortunately, there's like, a lot of bureaucratic red tape because it is the government. And the person pulling the strings at the top of the pyramid of the government, like, is super pro MLM anyway. So there's governmental lobbies and there's caucuses that protect MLMs. It's called the DSA. The Direct Sellers Association. I call it big pyramid. And they've got offices on K Street along with everybody else. They protect MLM. And so it's not just me or the anti MLM community going, these are bad. We have government officials pushing back and saying, no, they're great, uh, and an entire industry to fight. So I've talked to so many of the OGS. Uh, they've come on my show and we've talked about these things and it's kind of split down the middle.

Dr. Andrea Bonior: Just to clarify, OGs….

Roberta Blevins: OGS, like Robert Fitzpatrick, who is, uh, the pyramid scheme alert, he wrote a book called Ponzi namics that I think is the MLM Bible. It's fantastic. Uh, Doug Brooks, who is a lawyer who has worked with a lot of MLM and franchise type law and business involved in many MLM cases. And then, uh, we also have Bill Keith, who is a professor of business in New Jersey. And so these are guys that have been around for a long time who have been fighting the good fight. We're in this big email thread and things come out like the FTC, and we work together on the back end. And some of them are like, they're pyramid schemes. They'll never change unless the government is willing to come out and admit that these are pyramid schemes. Like, nothing will really ever change legally. Anytime you come up with a new rule, there's a new loophole to get around it. Um, and that's essentially what's been happening for the last 45 years or so, unfortunately. So there are definitely people that are like, it's never going to change. And there are other people that are like, we're hopeful. We're hopeful it'll change. And I'm sort of somewhere in the middle. I understand that you need more than hope and you need more than to give up and say it's not going to change. I'm somewhere in the middle, and I believe that. Having conversations about things, telling real, true stories from people who have just these wild experiences. And here's the thing. I watched a Scientology show and was like, oh my God, I'm in a cult. Like, I was not a Scientologist. I did not experience the abuse that these people experienced. But it was close enough that I was like, oh my God, something similar to that happened to me. And so really keeping your eyes open when you get that uncomfortable feeling of cognitive dissonance, when you're like, but she said 99.7, but my friend has a car, like, right great. Awesome. How many people went broke helping your friend get her car? Like, there's that bottom of the iceberg that's not showing that people are not seeing it's, 99.7% of them. So it's it's a very dangerous place. And I think as long as there's awareness and that we're talking about this and we're taking the fear and the stigma away, which is like, my whole thing is remove the stigma and be like, we all failed. It's okay. You failed, so you succeeded. Welcome to the club. It's so nice to have you and to let people know that it's okay. It's okay. And it's okay if you're still in an MLM. And it's okay if you're going, oh, my God, I think I'm part of this. And how do I get out? It's okay. It's absolutely okay. I'm never, ever, ever going to make people feel bad about doing what they thought was the best for them. And the moment I have women that message me and say, I love your podcast, I listen all the time. That feels so cringey listening, because everything you talk about, I've done, but I can't leave my MLM yet. Like, my husband I retired my husband, which is the thing they say all of the money comes from my MLM. I'm in the tippety tippity top of this one or that one. But, um, I'm listening, and I can't follow you on social media because everyone will know. But I'm listening. And I'm watching. And thank you. And I'm slowly working my way out. My husband went back to work. We're doing this. We're going to whatever. And they're slowly working on the back end. And we also have to understand that that woman who's telling me I'm not going to recruit anymore, I'm just going to maintain. I'm just going to help people, and I'm going to slowly make my way out. Like, she's trying, and she's doing her best, and I don't want people to tell her she's stupid or dumb or what a loser you are, or you're part of the problem, because she's actively trying to be better. And that is the only something that I require from people. Just be better than who you were the day before. Just if you learn something and it happens all the time. I use language. I love language, and I'll use things I grew up in. The are words that you're not allowed to say anymore, and they're offensive. And I will stop myself and actively learn go. We don't use that phrase, or we don't do that, or whatever it is, and actively be better. It's not hard to actively be better. It comes with, oh, crap, I've been doing this. Oh, crap. Uh, but you're not a bad person for saying I was doing a bad thing and I want to be better. And yeah, uh, it's a beautiful community. No one is here to make you feel bad about it. Listen to the show. Commiserate laugh. Shoot me an email if you have questions. Getting out of these things are hard. There's no five step process. I wish I could say, oh, this is how you're doing it super easy. What you have to do is you have to wait for your friend, your family member, the person you love, the person you care about that you're watching Spiral. You have to wait for that crack. And if you are always kind to them and you just say, um, no thank you, I'm not interested. Not I don't want to be a part of your pirate's game. Brenda, you can't do that, right? If you really genuinely love this person, you need to say, no, thank you. I don't want any or no, thank you. Uh, but be supportive. Be supportive. Don't shut them off because they're going to need a lifeline when it's time to leave, and they will remember that you were not that friend that made them feel like and they'll say, yes, you know what, Roberta? I'm going to ask Roberta because she's always been understanding and she's always been kind. And that's where when that crack comes in and that light comes in, that's when you plant that seed and you just ask questions. You don't accuse them of anything. You say, have you had done a profit and loss statement? I'm curious. Do you know how much money you've made? Well, I don't know if I got these checks and this and, you know, we should sit down into a profit and loss and see maybe you're in the green, maybe you're not. Um, but sitting down and doing that in a very, like, non confrontational way, not like we're going to see how much you've lost. I'm just curious. I'm m just curious. What aren't you curious? Let's just see. And then making decisions when you find out the facts, numbers don't lie. You might be going, well, I'm getting a $1,000 check every month. And you're like, but you're spending 900 to get it. You're only making $100, and you're working 80 hours a week or a month, whatever it is, for $100 or whatever, you do that math, too. You look and you go, okay, yeah, this is how many hours I worked. This is how much money I made. If you made money and you do that math and you go, oh, my God, I've done the math, it's less than prison wages. It's like, $0.25 an hour. It's really disgusting. And that's was I gave everybody the benefit of that out, and I did, uh, 20 hours a week as a part time job, and it was still less than prison labor. And so I think a lot of people don't see that, right? They only see the green. They don't see what's going out. They don't check those things. And, um, like I said, there's no one way to get people out of an MLM or a cult or whatever. But to be supportive and to not be judgmental, to be the one friend that people are like. You can talk to her. She's not going to make you feel bad. She might ask you some tough questions. She might make you feel a little but she's not going to make you feel like about it. Right. And I always say if we don't laugh, we cry. So we try to keep it lighthearted and we try to keep it fun, and we try to keep it not scary because I want people to listen. I want people to learn. Yeah. And, uh, it really is just educating yourself as much as you can so that when your friends need your help, you're prepared. Yeah.

Dr. Andrea Bonior: Oh my goodness, you hit on so many things there. And I had wanted definitely for us to talk about how to help a friend you're concerned about, and you really hit the nail on the head there. And the other thing I'm thinking about is so much of that advice also applies fittingly to when you're worried about a friend in an abusive relationship. It's a very similar thing if you go all in ready to load and fire and say, he's the most terrible person in the world, and I have no idea what you see in him, and you need to leave him right now, and I'm not going to be in the room with him ever again. Guess what? You are not going to be the one that she comes to when he starts hitting her or any kind of abusive relationship, emotional abuse or whatever it looks like. Uh, it's the same sort of thing. You've got to be the calm, listening voice. And even though you can be judgmental about it because you're telling them you're concerned, you don't want to be judgmental in the sense that you're making them feel so awful about themselves or make them feel stupid. It's such similar advice to anybody that you're worried about in that, uh, situation.

zone. So we might be having a:

Dr. Andrea Bonior: Yeah.

Roberta Blevins: So the BITE model, you can find that anywhere. Google.

Dr. Andrea Bonior: Yeah. No, that's wonderful. And what underlies all of this is little steps matter, right? Little steps. Let me plant this little seed for my cousin and just get her to maybe think about this. But no, I'm still there if she wants to talk. Let me just look at the frequently asked questions on this website that I've kind of gotten involved with. Let me just think. Little steps are how you can sometimes get a toehold and grow and start to actually have some strength start to come. You know what? There's now four things that make me feel really weird, uh, about this, and four feels like something meaningful. And I'm going to give this even more thought. Or you know what? We've had this conversation now with my friend, and she's brought up a couple of additional points. I didn't really think about it before, but now that I have been and so little steps absolutely, really matter. And, of course, the big steps to which you are doing all the time. And I'm just so grateful that you were able to share your expertise with us. And I'm so grateful for the community that you're building for so many folks. I love the fact that you're about compassion and inclusion, and there's no shame and there's no judgment. We just want to help people gain insight. We want to help people escape some of this manipulation of their vulnerabilities. We want to empower people to know when they are being gaslit and when they are driving themselves into the ground or being driven into the ground financially and relationships getting ruined in this. And you've created such a community, and you continue to do so. I mean, I hate to say it, but honestly, it inspires me to start a pyramid scheme to help people get out of pyramid schemes.

Roberta Blevins: All you have to do is refer this episode to five friends and tell them to refer it to five friends, and then eventually, after 14 levels, everyone in the world will know.

Dr. Andrea Bonior: The model works.

Roberta Blevins: Totally. We're just going to have to use this model for good and not evil.

Dr. Andrea Bonior: I know. It's funny how that doesn't seem to happen so much, right? Yeah. Oh, my goodness. Well, thank you so much, Roberta. Uh, you are a gem. And I just appreciate this conversation so much, and I look forward to helping drive some folks over to your community.

Roberta Blevins: If anybody is listening right now. And they're like, oh, my God, I think I'm in an MLM. What do I do? Google the name of the company and then scam and then just spend a couple of hours reading people's testimonies. I probably have an episode on it, too, so you can hit me up and go, do you have any episodes on blah blah? And I will send you to the right place so you can hear that you are not alone and it's built this way.

Dr. Andrea Bonior: Yeah. Such an important message. Thank you again.

Roberta Blevins: Yes, of course. Thank you.

Dr. Andrea Bonior: Thanks for joining me today. Once again, I'm Dr. Andrea Bonior, and this has been Baggage Check, with new episodes every Tuesday and Friday. Join us on Instagram @baggagecheckpodcast. Give us your take and opinions on topics and guests. And you know, you've got that friend who listens to, like, 17 podcasts. We'd love it if you told them where to find us. Our original music is by Jordan Cooper, covered by Daniel Merity. And my studio security? It's Buster, the dog. Until next time, take good care.

Show artwork for Baggage Check: Mental Health Talk and Advice

About the Podcast

Baggage Check: Mental Health Talk and Advice
with Dr. Andrea Bonior
We've all got baggage. But what do we choose to do with it?
Every other Friday, licensed clinical psychologist, best-selling author and popular psychology professor Dr. Andrea Bonior takes your mental health questions, and makes you part of the conversation. Join her and other voices as they translate research into real life, and talk about relationships, emotions, health, psychological disorders, stress, finding meaning, work, and occasionally-- just occasionally-- the most obscure dance crazes of 1997.
All are welcome, and nothing is off limits. With science, compassion, and humor, she's here to help.

About your host

Profile picture for Andrea Bonior

Andrea Bonior

Andrea Bonior, Ph.D., is a licensed clinical psychologist, speaker, and the best-selling author of “Detox Your Thoughts." She was the longtime mental health advice columnist for The Washington Post, and appears regularly in national media, including CNN and NPR, with several popular courses on the LinkedIn Learning platform. Dr. Bonior’s blog for Psychology Today has been read more than 25 million times. She serves on the faculty of Georgetown University, where she recently won the national Excellence in Teaching award, given by the American Psychological Association.