How to help someone in an MLM

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I have complied this factsheet in an attempt to help you understand what your friend or relative is going through and how you can best help them out of this situation. I have gleaned this information from reading books on the subject and background research on MLMs and cults.

A word of warning. This is a very difficult subject and people can be emotionally and financially tied up in these schemes and can be very vulnerable. If you attempt to help them and you feel you may be making it worse, back off. They will be vulnerable and you don’t want to make things worse. Just remember, you are on their side and want to help them.

Notes on this article

I will refer to the person in the MLM from now on as ‘your friend’ to avoid repeatedly having to say ‘friend/relative/colleague/person you care about.’

Some other sources of help.

Ethan Vanderbuilt has made this useful YouTube video of advice for people who have a friend or loved one in an MLM.

This article- “Emergency Handbook, what to do when a friend loves woo”  is very enlightening. It covers MLMs as well as pseudoscientific products. It is from the Skeptoid website.

Your overall aims and objectives

You should not be aiming at ‘getting them out of the MLM’. Instead, you should be trying to empower them to understand their situation and to allow them to autonomously decide for themselves that they want to leave. They should not be emotionally blackmailed or forced to leave. You should be trying to give them back their lost powers of critical thinking.

Accept that this may take time and cannot be achieved with one quick meeting and a handover of facts.

Do not go in with the attitude that you know best and they are stupid. You could make them dig their heels in further and upset your relationship. Your friend has been subjected to some very clever techniques and we need to tread very carefully.

 

  • Take the time to educate yourself about what MLMs are and how they operate.

You need to understand what you are up against and to understand their responses when you talk to them.

Here is a good simple video called ‘How to spot a pyramid scheme.’ It describes how MLMs work.

Here is a video showing people’s experiences in Herbalife. Their experiences are relevant to all MLMs.

Some blog posts I have written explain the realities of MLM- Expectation versus reality. An analysis of the payment structure in one of the schemes here. A page on the things people in MLMs say and the truth behind them. This last one will be particularly useful to read before having a discussion about MLMs. Visit Bot watch on Facebook for links/ articles/ facts.

Have a look at Timeless Vie on Facebook and their blog and read about the bullying that goes on and some of the uncomfortable facts about MLMs. Here you will read about how vulnerable people are targeted, bullied and lied to. You will learn about some of the people behind the companies.

Visit Lazyman and Money for well researched articles on specific MLMs and more general themes that will give you some facts.

For a more detailed analysis of the workings of MLMs you could visit MLM expert David Brear’s website MLM The American Dream Made Nightmare.

Also, you might want to join in conversations or ask questions of people who can help you with answers. Send a message to Bot Watch, Timeless Vie or the anti-MLM coalition (of which I am a part of) who can advise or send you links that will help. Or join in the discussion on Mumsnet and jump right in. Go to the Money section there and select the discussion starting with the words ‘MLM chat’.

 

  • Look after yourself

It can be very distressing having discussions with people about their MLM. They will feel very loyal to their company and could get very defensive towards you. You will need to assess how much effort you are willing to put in.  If you have been contacted by an old school friend and asked to join their team, just say ‘no thanks’ and then leave a link for them that explains your position. ‘People who care about you are worried‘ is a good one that lays out some facts explaining why MLMs are a bad idea. Whether you take it any further is up to you.

If you are trying to help a close family member or partner, you will need to be a lot more involved and seek support. You will need to involve other family members and good friends. Make sure they realise what the person is involved in. You will need a united front and you will need to help each other. It will be very stressful for you if you are so closely involved and you feel you are on your own. It may take time and some people may not see MLM as a real problem. It will be worth the effort though if you can all work together.

  • Be aware that your friend is not who they used to be.

Your friend will have been changed by subtle but clever techniques from the MLM. You may notice personality changes and strange behaviours that are out of character for them. This is what has prompted observers to call them ‘bots’. This refers to their robotic behaviours and scripted-style responses. They may start posting inspirational memes, being overly happy and optimistic, posting pictures on social media constantly saying how amazing their life is. They may be lying about things that you know just aren’t true.  They are literally trying to change who they are and emulate the people higher up than them in the pyramid. They will have been subjected to ‘mindset training’ that tells them how to think and act.

Elements of Neuro Linguistic Programming (NLP) are used to change the way a person perceives the world and interacts within it. They are trained to see the outside world as hostile and desperate, their MLM as amazing and a perfect opportunity. They think their MLM is benevolent and the products desirable. They become unable to perceive things from multiple points of view and can only see things as presented by their MLM.

They sometimes become addicted to working on their ‘business’ and gain warm feelings and reinforcement from any sign of success. See this person’s experiences on Timeless Vie.

To borrow Steve Hassan’s concept from  his book ‘Combating Mind Control,’  the person changes from Mary-Mary to Bot-Mary. Mary has been partially taken over by Bot (Robotic) personality but it is still attached to the original Mary. She is still in there somewhere.

 

  • Do not criticise the company.

Your friend will take any criticism personally. They will see it as an attack on them and their dreams. They have had it drummed into them that their hopes and dreams can be achieved by this amazing company. People who stand in their way are just haters and do not understand how wonderful this opportunity is. By disagreeing with it you are criticising their choice and jeopardising their dreams. They genuinely won’t understand why you are trying to destroy their dreams.

The biggest danger of criticising the MLM is that you will be considered a threat to their success and could bring them failure. There are many, many instances of friends and family being cut off because of that. There have been divorces, lost friendships and family splits. This is a real threat, even if you had a very good relationship before.

 

  • Don’t buy the products and don’t join their team.

If you do, you will be giving your friend false hope and making them feel their MLM is legitimate. It might make them continue in it for longer. You may feel guilty and made to feel you are not being supportive but you are helping them really.

If you find yourself at a ‘party’ where products and the ‘opportunity’ are being sold, do not feel pressured to buy anything. Do not feel you need to give an excuse because they will just find a reason around that. Say something like ‘No thanks, I won’t be buying anything’ or ‘no thanks, it’s not for me’. Don’t feel guilty for being impolite, that is just a social norm that is being exploited by the methods used in MLMs. The system is banking on you making a pity purchase. Do not support this system.

If you are invited to one of these parties make sure you don’t take any money with you. Then you won’t be able to crumble and buy anything. You can confidently tell the person that you have no money on you. There’s not much they can do about that.

  • The stages people go through on their MLM journey

Understanding what phase they are in will determine what your approach will be. Also woven into this will be how close you are to them, so you will have to tailor your approach to your circumstances. This following bit is based purely on my observations, readings and speaking to people who have left MLMs.

  1. Interested about the opportunity. Might ask for ideas/ advice at this stage. Tell them everything. Maybe show them something like Timeless Vie or the reality vs expectation information.
  2. Invested in joining up and assigned an upline. First party booked. At this point they will be very excited and have spent money on the scheme. They are full of hope but will not have been changed too much. You might still have a chance here, but tread carefully and don’t criticise MLMs just in case they are deeper than you think and they cut you off. You could try some gentle questioning (see later point) here and react accordingly. Often at this point, they will be closely supervised by their upline so it could be difficult to have an opportunity to talk to them about it.
  3. They will have invested a lot more time and money and not making much back. They probably will be being pressured by their upline to work harder and will be starting to blame themselves for their perceived failure. At this point they will be very vulnerable. They will be tired, stressed and financially stretched.  Concern and support are the best things you can offer at this point. Be there for them and show you care for them. Do not be tempted to buy anything.
  4. By now it will be painfully obvious to your friend that they are not going to make it in this MLM. They could well find that a piece of information at this time could be the straw that breaks the camel’s back. Tailor the piece of information you share with them to their own personal ethics or knowledge. Essentially here you are finding their ‘hot button’, the trigger that will get to them. Just like how they were targeted when they joined the company. There is plenty of information out there to chose from- facts about the top bosses, conduct of experts, targeting of vulnerable people, using sick children, illnesses and charities to sell products.

 

Presenting information to your friend.

 

Moments of doubt.

Your friend may express doubts about what they are doing. Don’t jump on this this and tell them you are glad they have found the truth and then proceed to tell them how dreadful you know the whole scam to be.  It is very common for people to have moments of doubt but then return to what they were doing. You will then be seen as a threat and will be avoided. Their defences will be up when they are around you. See it as a kind of bad relationship and they told you they have split up. Then they get back together again. Your relationship with your friend would be seriously damaged.

Instead, be supportive and gently questioning. Ask them why they are having a wobble. Help them explore their feelings. Help them navigate around the issues but don’t tell them what to do or think. If they ask for your opinion, say you are not sure and look for the answers together.

Having discussions with your friend.

 

Connecting with the non-bot part of your friend.

Your friend may be thinking and acting as Bot-Mary as discussed previously and your aim is to connect with the old Mary-Mary. Try to steer conversation to interests you used to share. Invite them to a film you know they would have liked before. Talk about shared memories. Ask them about something you once did together. Don’t let the old ‘Mary’ disappear and be taken over by ‘Bot’ where everything is all about the MLM. You could use this technique to steer conversation away from recruitment attempts or sales pitches. Show your friend that you still value them and want to connect with them.

Helping your friend see things from multiple perspectives.

This can be difficult but if it can be achieved, can be quite effective. They have been trained to see things from just one perspective- that of the MLM. They have lost the ability to see things critically anymore. If you can get them to see their situation from a different perspective, they may be able to start making connections and think their way out of their situation. You could ask them how their old selves might have perceived something. E.g.

Time- “Wow, Mary! What would your old self have said if she knew you would be up at 3am posting comments on social media trying to sell a face cream?”

Person- “How is your partner coping with all this working that you are doing?” Don’t get judgemental, just help your friend explore how their actions might be impacting on others. Has anyone said anything to them about how their MLM activity is negatively impacting on them? “Have you had much negativity?” Maybe explore what negative comments they have had and where these might have stemmed from. Try to leave your friend with something to think about.

Non threatening but relevant topics.

Your friend may have been programmed to shut down and stop listening when their MLM is being criticised. You may be able to discuss other relevant issues though that they do not see as threatening to their ideals. Typically people will be able to see flaws in other MLMs. They feel able to criticise and listen to criticism of other MLMs because theirs is not being targeted. You could try to present information about other MLMs and get their take on it. Show them an income disclosure for another MLM and see what their thoughts are on it. They might agree that the MLM in question does indeed have a dreadful pay structure. They may well be left wondering what their own income disclosure looks like. Plant that seed. Pursue it as far as you feel able. It doesn’t have to be an income disclosure, it could be an issue you have seen on Bot Watch or Timeless Vie.

 

Conclusions

I apologise for not being able to give you a simple, step-by-step account of how to help someone in an MLM. Instead, all I have been able to do is give you some understanding and principles to work with. I hope that some of these tactics can be used to help your friend. Remember, your aim is to support your friend and gently try to guide them towards being able to make decisions for themselves.

I wish you luck in supporting your friend.

If you have lost someone to an MLM and you are concerned about them and have been unable to help them, would you consider talking to us to add your voice to the growing number of people who are telling their stories? You will be treated in confidence and your concerns taken seriously.

Please feel free to comment below with any insights you have on how to talk to people in these situations. What have your experiences been? Have you come out of an MLM? What was it that made you see the truth? There are so many people out there looking for ways to help their loved ones, any insights would be useful, thank you.

 

 

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21 comments

  1. You assume people are brainwashed. You are not an authority on people & business.
    People go through many things in life & mlm is one way that can give a person the opportunity to build more than what their present situation dictates.
    It’s alot of work too but it revolves around helping each other market goods & or services that can build what people most want & that is security which they feel they may not realize from their present situation. Others may just want to find a way to help others in a way that it would be continuous even when they’re gone.
    You assume it is wrong when maybe you are the one mistaken.

    Like

    1. I have no doubt that is what people are looking for in an MLM. What they actually get can be a bit culty unfortunately. And a lot of MLMs are plagued by pushiness and bullying from uplines. Add into the mix the fact that people hardly earn any money, when they are promised a living. I stand by my article.

      Liked by 2 people

    2. Do the research on MLMs. Most people lose money in them. They also attract people who are pushy and don’t recognize boundaries. I’ve had to end friendships with other women who started preying on me to get me into their MLM business. One of them screamed at me and called me names, when I told her I wasn’t interested. These people have serious issues. It’s best to get as far away from them as possible.

      Liked by 2 people

  2. Reblogged this on Not Quite Fairy-Tales and commented:
    Chapter 5 is halfway written, ladies and gents. I am but a perfectionist!

    In the meantime, here is a brilliant and relevant article from Bot Watch, a brilliant anti-MLM blogger. Some of you may already know people who are in the grip of a MLM scheme – this piece gives you some pointers on what to do.

    Like

  3. It is very hard to convince people already in a MLM to leave it. They are programmed to fight for “their dreams” and we are the enemy on their way. Also, many are compromised with downlines.
    The best way, in my opinion, to stop MLM’s (without legislation, laws. Which should be) is to inform people “before” they join any MLM. MLM is like a tree that keeps growing. If we stop the water to feed it, the tree will eventually die. An easy way to start is to ask your family and friends not to share your contact information with any MLM, specially in social media. I’ve done several memes with the intent to educate people and you can find them at my twitter account @PrimericaFacts. I’m also occasionally at Facebook, but they keep closing my accounts :)..

    Like

    1. Yes, I agree with you. I try to spread awareness and educate people on the facts. If we can stop people joining and make the whole idea of MLM as unpopular as it should be, it will die away.

      This piece on how to help someone was in response to the many requests made by people who are having difficulty getting through to their loved ones who have been converted. There is a real danger that if they say the wrong thing, their MLM person will cut them off or dig themselves in deeper. It is important to handle the situation properly.

      Like

  4. This was very comforting. A whole section of my extended family has gotten sucked into Nerium. It has torn our family apart. Cousins have become strangers and siblings have become awkward acquaintances. Thank you for providing some tools to begin gentle conversations if we see there is an appropriate time.

    Liked by 2 people

  5. I feel like it is important to point out that if you feel like this fight is taking a severe toll on you, letting go does not make you a bad person in any capacity. I had to let an old friend go for good due to her MLM obssession as I couldn’t handle trying to help her see the truth any longer and I blamed myself for letting her down for the longest of times. I now think I did all I could and it simply wasn’t enough. I think people need to remember that ultimately you can’t save anyone from themselves despite all your efforts and if you feel like you need to walk away to protect yourself, that is perfectly fine. Not a criticism to this article in any way, just a point I felt needs to be addressed 🙂

    Like

  6. Anonymous poster –

    —————-

    Hey guys 👋

    Thanks for the add admin 🙂

    My bestie has been roped right into an MLM and has since changed into a complete stranger! I feel like I don’t even know her anymore, like there’s this wall around her – like our friendship has this weird element of coldness, or like she’s closed, defensive and self absorbed 100% of the time 😔

    At first I thought it must just be me, since she seemed so genuine when she was telling me that “all of her new friends are so supportive! You just don’t want me to succeed!” until I read that’s actually one of the most common catch phrases they are brainwashed to believe 😔 the sad part is, she actually believes it 😔

    I’m so scared for her crashing and burning, when it’s all said and done, and all these new ‘friends’ will cut her when she quits, and her real mates have kind of iced her since she pretty much used us all for her own financial gain and social media popularity… I’m really worried she will have no one! And that the crash will be 100x harder than normal, since she’s been brainwashed to believe that her life is flawless, negativity can’t exist, every day is pure perfection – will she have forgotten HOW to handle a rough time???

    This has been stressing me hard core for a few months now, and I guess I’m just hoping to hear that it’s not just me being a bad friend, and that there is a light at the end of the tunnel for our vulnerable, gullible, insecure loved ones 😔

    It all came to a complete head for me (silently) last week when she came down to stay with us for the weekend. We live 5 hours apart. I’m very close with her son and, at least I thought, she was extremely close with my kids. We have been like family since the day we met. While she was here, she had the opportunity to come and watch my kids play soccer for the first time, which we were really excited about!

    My best mate, as I knew her, would have taken a hundred photos of my kids and shouted them ice cream after their game! But sadly, my new isa-bestie left half way through the first game, to go shopping and spend $230 on see-through gym wear, so she could climb a mountain by herself, get a stranger to take a photo of her, so she could post it to social media with some bullshit rant about self worth and loving life, then she literally sat at my house for about 3 hours STARING at the post, waiting for the likes and validation to roll on in.

    None of it was genuine.
    None of it was for pure enjoyment.

    Every bit of it was for self promotion and meanwhile she missed out on creating real and invaluable memories with us, her family.

    The time before this, when she came to visit, we set up a little fire pit in the sand and went for a night fish with our kiddies, I kid you not, my best friend who I have always adored for being the most earthy, down to earth, NON superficial and real human being, knocked back a fishing rod and a marshmallow toasting stick for a selfie stick, and spent the entire night sitting perfectly positioned in front of the campfire so she could initiate her latest social media self promotion, where she tries to convince people that these wonderful experiences only exist coz MLM! (FFS)

    Here are the lines that got me REALLY concerned-

    “I’m quitting my career to be a full-time network marketer for (brand name) without any training or qualifications”

    “I want to use my social media presence to give people health and wellness advice”

    “I don’t need qualifications, I’m living proof it works”

    “I can get people off their medications, off their anti depressants and if they die as a result, it’s not my fault, it’s theirs for not going to their doctor” (after telling me doctors are wrong) “I don’t care of a handful of people die or get sick over here 👈, Coz I know I have helped X amount of people over here 👉”

    “yeah but…. They donate to charity 🙂 ”

    “stop personally attacking me, you’re so negative and jealous, they told me i would encounter people like you, you just don’t want me to succeed!”

    Then of course, all of the fake happiness in Facebook. The BS motivational posts, the denial of any NORMAL moods or days. The key words like “self love” “self care” “journey” “accountability” and “wellness coach” :/

    It’s driving me so batshit that ibe just unfriended my best friend completely 😔

    Anyone else having similar experiences with loved ones???

    Sorry for the long rant!

    Like

    1. That’s a really sad story to read Indie and I’m very sorry this has happened to you and your friend. I hope she gets out soon and realised what she has been like.

      It seems that situations like this can damage relationships irreparably unfortunately.

      Thanks for sharing your story with us. Let us know if there are any developments.

      Like

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