Bad Vibes from the Sterling Institute for Relationships

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We recently had a request to look into a motivational training program known as The Sterling Institute of Relationship and what we found was quite a bit controversy surrounding this outfit.

For those who never heard of it, The Sterling Institute was founded by A. Justin Sterling, 79, whose real name is Arthur Kasarjian. Born to Jewish-Armenian parents in 1942 in Brookline, Massachusetts, he moved to San Francisco and acted in bit TV parts in the late 1970s and 80s. By 1979 he had renamed himself A. Justin Sterling and decided to cash in on the burgeoning New Age self-help industry by creating The Sterling Institute, which is based upon ideas he got from attending an EST seminar.

EST, which was founded by New Age enthusiast Werner Erhard, is considered to be the “granddaddy” of large group awareness training programs and is a hodge-podge of philosophies ranging from existential philosophy, motivational psychology, Maxwell Maltz’s Pscho-cybernetics, Zen Buddhism, Alan Watts, Freud, Abraham Maslow, L. Ron Hubbard, Hinduism, Dale Carnegie, Norman Vincent Peale, P.T. Barnum, and just about anyone else who appealed to Erhard at the time.

Although Sterling’s career was temporarily sidetracked for a few years when he was convicted of grand larceny and impersonation, the Sterling Institute was launched and continued Erhard’s tradition of weirdness in the way it approaches its core mission, which is meant to “transform the quality of people’s relationships by defining the differences between men and women so that they know their Selves, become closer to each other, and have the natural and loving relationship that will produce the partnership and context necessary for the transition to a true global community.”

This is a tame description of what is actually taught to men and women in these seminars; namely, that men are to be unconditionally obeyed and women are to submit to them.

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According to Cult Education Institute, the following are what Sterling affectionately calls his $50 tips to the men who take his program:

• Men don’t have any emotional needs (that can’t be gotten from a dog)
• Men should never discuss feelings with women
• Men should never do anything with women that they do with men (in a competitive sense) like play golf, tennis, etc. because women take it personally.
• There is no room for competition in a relationship
• Women are 100% responsible for the relationship
• Women are attracted only to power and resources or the potential to get these things.
• Women marry for power and resources, not love.
• Men marry for love.
• Men should not compromise themselves at all in a relationship. Corollary: How much you are devastated by the end of a relationship with women is a function of how much you compromised your masculinity.
• Men should focus on success and only that.
• Men think they are good at relationships–but aren’t and shouldn’t try to be.

The way he convinces men of these “truths” is by gathering them together in seminars where he utilizes many of the same harsh techniques as Erhard once did such as deprivation (denying people their cellphones, food, etc.), humiliation, mind control, even brainwashing.

As one attendee described: “The Weekend is designed to wear you down through sleep deprivation and lack of regular meal breaks. Besides being hungry and tired you will lose your sense of personal control by being told you can’t use the washroom except on announced 15 minute breaks. The men are given garbage cans to pee in at the corners of the room. Bodyguards are posted at all doors and to add to the intimidation they have walkie-talkies or headsets on. Production Team members (usually of the opposite sex to you) are stationed around the room videotaping…The rules are presented by Sterling’s assistant and include: No speaking, can’t leave the room except during break time, listening carefully, etc…. breaking the rules mean forfeiture of your $500 dollars (US) and expulsion. You will also be told that ‘the Weekend is ended when Justin says so and not before’.”

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The women have their own sessions where they are subjected to the same kind of hunger, isolation and deprivation, with brief visits from Sterling who sits in a director’s chair placed on a stage for a short while. They’re basically taught that their career goals interfere with their inherent inclination to serve men. They are to hold themselves 100 percent responsible for the success of the relationship. Women should never criticize their man or compete with him because his ego is too fragile. Instead, they should spend 45 minutes a day stroking his ego.

Not surprisingly, Sterling’s advice has led to many a failed marriage, including his own. He’s twice divorced. According to Rick Ross of the Cult Education Institute, Sterling’s first wife accused him of domestic violence and divorced him. His second wife took out a temporary domestic violence restraining order against him in Alameda County in 2016, court records show.

Sterling’s second wife called Ross and told him the same thing he heard from all the women who were exposed to men who believed his philosophy, and said that he was “abusive, controlling, dominating, had no respect for her. And was just a narcissistic, self-obsessed jerk.”

Even with a plethora of bad publicity, the Sterling Institute remains in operation.

This is just one example of the many dubious large group awareness seminars being offered throughout the country, including by corporations for their employees. Although many of these programs are used for normal economic reasons, and are put forward as non-religious, the Church document Jesus Christ the Bearer of the Water of Life warns, “In reality company employees can find themselves being submitted to an alien ‘spirituality’ in a situation which raises questions about personal freedom,” the document states.

Many of these programs employ tactics that classify them as cults: they are usually pyramidal in structure with a leader holding absolute authority at the top; they employ mind control and thought-stopping techniques such as chanting, meditation, trance induction, sensory overload, deprivation, and repetition to prevent critical thinking; they instill a sense of fear of leaving the group; they isolate members from the rest of society either physically or by encouraging them to think everyone who is not a member is somehow ignorant or bad.

Because of how often these programs change their names and other identifying features, it’s important to learn how to recognize them by the several specific warning signs:

• The organization’s leadership or past participants refuse to share the contents of the seminar beforehand
• You are required to sign a “hold harmless” agreement which protects the organization from legal action should you be harmed by the program
• The organization uses hyper language offering self-transformation
• Strong sales-type techniques are used to get you to participate
• The organization portrays its critics as ignorant, evil, or influenced by Satan
• The organization dissuades you from evaluating the teachings and methods yourself
• The organization discourages or discounts criticism from participants or others
• Promises are made to redesign your view of your self and reality
• Past participants exhibit an elitist attitude toward those who have not participated
• Past participants are pressured to recruit

Any large group awareness seminar that exhibits some or all of these traits should be strictly avoided regardless of how they advertise themselves!

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