Lost and found: How India Oxenberg regained her identity after NXIVM
India Oxenberg is one of the most vocal NXIVM cult victims. She endured some of the heaviest abuse happening in the organization. It’s quite a traumatic experience to join an organization seeking to fill the feeling of emptiness inside you and find an even larger portion of yourself ripped away.
The DOS subgroup of NXIVM was supposed to teach women how to reach their highest self, and in so doing, perpetuate goodness in the world. Instead they found themselves wasting away from extreme diets, losing their sense of self, and getting sexually abused because of blackmail.
India Oxenberg chose to go public with her story. It’s helped prosecute the guilty parties of NXIVM and will hopefully help other people recognize when they’re being manipulated. The journey of regaining her identity has been a long one for India Oxenberg.
India Oxenberg faces Raniere in court
On October 27, 2020, Keith Raniere was sentenced to 120 years in prison for his crimes inside NXIVM. India Oxenberg and twelve other people read their victim statements before he was sentenced. It took a considerable amount of bravery for the victims to face their abuser, especially when Raniere played the part of an innocent martyr the whole time.
Imagine turning someone against their family, raping them, approving the branding of them, blackmailing them, brainwashing them, and still thinking you’re an innocent party. Then again, many contend that Keith Raniere is a sociopath, making him the perfect candidate for a cult leader. India Oxenberg herself espouses this belief.
It may not be that Raniere thinks he’s innocent so much as he doesn’t care he hurt people. When Oxenberg looked Raniere in the eye while reading her statement, she could see no remorse in his expression. “It was almost like he was watching a TV show – like there was nobody there.
“And he was putting on this part of the martyr, of, ‘Oh poor me.’ I even said this in my statement: ‘You’re pretending to be a lamb but you’re a deviant.’ And that’s the truth. This is just what he does. He tries to mask and manipulate and get people to believe his lies. I know that he’s a sociopath. He cannot feel and he doesn’t feel remorse and he doesn’t feel empathy for any of the women.”
Laughter is the best medicine
When asked by The Hollywood Reporter whether or not she still laughs after all she’s been through Oxenberg replied, “Yes, I do. I laugh a lot actually now. I feel pretty good with that. I actually think that laughing for me and just humor in general has been also part of my healing because this is heavy stuff and sometimes you actually just need to crack a joke to just let people know that you’re OK.
“For the NXIVM and The Vow stuff,” Oxenberg continued, “I don’t really know [why there was] all the laughter except for it was supposed to be this joyful community, and maybe people were trying to cope and that was one of the ways that they coped, was just laughing and giggling about things. I laughed as well, but I also believed that these people were my friends and I trusted them.”
After producing & starring in Seduced: Inside the NXIVM Cult Oxenberg has been able to move on that much more from her experience in the cult. During an interview with Bustle Oxenberg spoke about working on the docuseries, which exposes much of NXIVM’s inner workings:
“We went on this year-long journey together, going back in time trying to figure out and deconstruct what actually happened in NXIVM and what NXIVM really was. It was important for me to be transparent & honest [about my experience], because I think it’s so easy for us to look the other way when things are uncomfortable.” Although difficult, telling her story has no doubt aided Oxenberg in her healing process.
Deprogramming is a part of recovery
Many question how someone moves on from such a traumatic experience as being sucked into a cult. Part of the answer, as with many traumatic experiences, is therapy. Oxenberg said a specific process called “deprogramming” particularly helped her.
Having been subjected to cult brainwashing, which takes therapeutic methods and twists them into something brutal, traditional therapy actually sometimes triggered Oxenberg. It would no doubt remind her of her time being trained to erase her sense of self and trust her superiors above all else. It was far too reminiscent of a dark time.
Because of this unique aspect of her trauma, Oxenberg found deprogramming a helpful alternative. She described the process this way: “. . . the deprogram, in its essence, is just igniting critical thinking. Because when you’re in a situation like a high-control group or an abusive relationship, where somebody is trying to manipulate you to think the way that they think or change your mind about yourself, your critical thinking gets damaged.
“What the deprogrammers intended to do is ask you questions to start to get you to think like yourself again; to remember what your own opinions were, what you loved, what you cared about; reorienting to yourself rather than the group, because at a certain extent my identity had just become the group’s identity.”
Oxenberg had other tools in her recovery toolbox as well. Oxenberg reported, “I’ve done numerous types of things to help myself feel whole and like myself again.” All in all, it’s taken her at least a year and a half to feel normal again. Knowing Keith Raniere is behind bars and that other responsible parties are on the way certainly helps.