Hello friends and kind strangers. After many years of writing about photography and marketing, I’ve decided to pivot and try writing about the more personal and relevant topics that have been rattling around in my brain. Hopefully getting them down onto the page/screen will help them coalesce into something useful/interesting or, at the very least, entertaining. In the meantime, I will use this post to help set some expectation and create a kind of “mission statement.”

If you’re here, you’re probably curious about one of a few things: who I am and what my work is about. Maybe you’ve been…


Several months ago I was listening to an episode of the Falling Out Podcast, in which the host, Elgen Strait, interviews people who grew up in and left the Unification Church. In this particular episode he was talking to Donna, who had gone to the same church boarding school I did, but had been kicked out the year before I arrived. At one point, Donna says that she had to do research on the school and look back at records and announcements to make sure that her bad memories weren’t some sort of fever dream.

Her words stopped me in…


The term “love bombing” seems to have come into the cultural consciousness in a big way in the past several years, perhaps because of the prevalence of toxic behavior in arenas like online dating. Culturally we’re at a point where the term gets tossed around quite casually. A quick Google search on the term brings up cautionary articles from sources as varied as Cosmopolitan to Business Insider and Psychology Today.

Many articles highlight the fact that love bombing is a control tactic, and go as far to say that it’s generally used by people on the narcissistic personality disorder spectrum…


A few years ago someone commented on one of my social media posts, asking me to explain why I felt that growing up in a cult was such a bad thing. It was such a diminishing question that I felt my brain completely freeze up. The question mirrored much of the gaslighting that the Unification Church and other high demand groups & cults inflict upon their membership, telling them that things aren’t that bad, or that they should be grateful for their suffering. …


In focusing on art as a healing tool, I want to hone in specifically on religious trauma because that area of focus is where my personal experience is rooted. However, I believe that many of the resources shared in this post apply to other areas of trauma as well.

Let’s start by defining religious trauma. According to therapist Sheri Heller, who specializes in treating complex trauma, addictive disorders, survivors of narcissistic abuse in addition to religious and spiritual trauma,

“Religious or spiritual trauma is a form of psychological abuse and brainwashing that inculcates the shameful message that we are sinful…


Today I’m working on my presentation on Healing Through Art for the virtual Conference on Religious Trauma next month, and I wanted to start by sharing my experience of using art as a tool for reclaiming my story and rewriting my narrative.

If you felt yourself tense up at the idea of creating art, I want to reassure you: many people I’ve met over the years have told me that they’re not creative. Despite their assertion, I believe we are all born creative, or at the very least, with the capacity to be creative. …


“This has always been your choice, Jenny,” my mother would say. It was a refrain I heard from her many times over the years before I left the Unification Church.

She would usually wield it when she saw me backing away from a fork in the road that she, and the Church, wanted me to take. Whether I was trying to get out of going on a Church mission that boiled down to living in a van and being labor trafficked as a minor, trying to leave a Church job that paid me $100 a month and had me sleeping…


The other day I was listening to the radio, and the subject of QAnon came up. In the piece, a cult exit counselor was talking to a staunch QAnon supporter. The discussion made me uncomfortable, because sounded like therapy; it was as though I was a voyeur, sitting in on something that ought to be private, while the QAnon supporter became something of a spectacle.

Although media coverage of topics like cults and QAnon are important, in that they help us understand the very real threat of radicalization, I sometimes struggle with how the coverage is handled. Oftentimes the subject…


Soft autumn light danced across the wooden floorboards of my living room as I bussed an empty tea mug into my kitchen. I crossed the path of a sunbeam filtering in through a window, and a small black cat curled up by my feet mewled her protest from the floor.

“Sorry sweetie,” I said, about to step aside and forfeit my spot in the warm afternoon sun until a buzzing in my back pocket distracted me. I pulled out my phone to examine the screen. The cat heaved herself up and swished between my ankles, as though pressing me to…


Hello and welcome to my least favorite question in the entire world. It’s one I’ve heard more times than I care to count, and sadly I think that’s something many cult survivors can relate to. In the past that question used to make me clam up and spiral into shame, or mumble, “It’s not that simple.” But in those days I didn’t fully understand the coercive control mechanism that were used to keep me, and so many others, trapped.

This is also a question that many survivors of domestic abuse/intimate partner violence are faced with. As a survivor of both…

Jen Kiaba

Artist, Educator, Childhood Cult Survivor

Get the Medium app

A button that says 'Download on the App Store', and if clicked it will lead you to the iOS App store
A button that says 'Get it on, Google Play', and if clicked it will lead you to the Google Play store