TOXIC PARADISE

2017 – 2019

By Kim J Vermeulen

These images are an intimate glimpse of my biological father-in-law’s abandoned home, where he lived in a cult for 20 years. I explore the complexity of explaining and substantiating psychological abuse. These artifacts are his domain, they are the discarded material evidence that he was here. I receive feedback that these images are too attractive, too hopeful. That is indeed what I believe important to communicate about this experience; that evil can be as charming as it can sinister. Evil looks ordinary, it covertly brings your fears to the surface. Evil will push you to the edge and then pull you back to safety, with increasing intensity. Overt malevolence is a last resort. We must look for the clues, that is the game of narcissistic warfare.

It was a late summer that my husband, our two young daughters and I moved to The Netherlands to live and work with my biological father-in-law; he ran a group accommodation and retreat centre. My husband having an accomplished CV in hospitality looked forward to the position and was keen to form a relationship with his estranged father. The centre is in an affluent area within a national park rich in forests and heathlands. We often dreamed of living in such a beautiful setting.

We would come to realise my father-in-law was the self-proclaimed protector and prophet of a cult. This cult existed under the guise of a foundation called Truth, Simplicity and Love. In my failure to conform to behaviours which were gradually more extreme and nonsensical, my father-in-law employed his expertise in the construction and implementation of fear as a weapon. My fear is the safety of my family, and that moment of anxious tension in the shadows of a thriller. He literally stood in those shadows; he threatened and terrorised us.

Fanatical followers of the cult played active roles in abuse, although I feel sure that in some cases they themselves were indoctrinated and unaware of the severity of their contribution. Others, however, remain dedicated in their belief and pursuit to impose the principles; we received thousands of pages of correspondence threatening us, faced aggressive confrontations and harassment. 

Through persistent resistance and enquiry, we exposed an extensive history of the mistreatment of other individuals, many of whom are still left suffering from the mental health effects of the abuse they endured.

Eventually, in a reprisal of my husband’s childhood, my biological father-in-law fled. His home stood, forsaken, for over a year.

We do not carry his family name.

The control he had over us was an illusion that we allowed him to realise. External support, healthy relationships, conversations, critical thinking, and commitment is how we took back control of our daily life. It would be a further 2.5 years before the ending of the cult and its persecutions. 

© 2018 Kim J. Vermeulen

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