By: Jamie Harvey, Reporter
OMAHA, Neb. – Elizabeth Brohaugh sprained her ankle on her wedding day. Not about to let an injury get in the way of marrying the man she loved, she kept on getting ready for her big day. That’s when she was “helpfully” approached by an acquaintance from her congregation. Brohaugh said that the woman learned about her injury and “came to our church while I was getting ready to bring me some samples of the essential oils and started selling the products to me after that.”
Brohaugh didn’t know it at the time, but that day marked the beginning of two new chapters in her life–her enduring marriage to her husband and her much more damaging involvement with multi-level marketing company Young Living.
That church acquaintance who came to her with samples on her wedding day, convinced Brohaugh to become a Young Living “Brand Partner”–an endeavor that would cost her thousands of dollars and countless hours over the course of three years.
According to the FTC, multi-level marketing companies, also known as MLMs, are businesses that involve selling products to family and friends and recruiting other people to do the same. Compensation is typically based on commission-with sellers making money not only through their sales to customers but also by taking a commission on the purchases made by those they recruit to join the company.
MLMs often require sellers to purchase products upfront, offering no guarantees they’ll make back their investment. A survey of MLM participants by Magnify Money found that about 60% of new MLM salespeople take on debt to pay for products. And contrary to the marketing, most MLM participants make less than 70 cents per hour before expenses.
Brohaugh thinks she made even less than that “It would be safe to say I made less than 1 cent an hour with all the work I put into it” Brohaugh said. “I made less than $100 total over the three years and it was NEVER a profit.”
Brohaugh said that her upline, the people above her in the hierarchy who received a commission whenever she brought product, promised her that by spending $100 a month on oils she could build a team below her and be successful.
She worked hard chasing that promise–attending events, traveling, making promotional posts, teaching classes in her home, attending meetings, and doing research. Despite all her hard work, Brohaugh said she “lost so much money to my time in Young Living.”
Money wasn’t all she lost, Brohaugh said her Young Living selling and recruiting also led her to lose relationships with friends. “The one friendship that stings the most is someone I had known since middle school and was my friend through and after college.”
Brohaugh attributes how long she stayed to the MLM’s to cult-like control practices. She said that her upline would use tactics she felt were similar to Steven Hassan’s B.I.T.E model of Authoritarian Control to keep her engaged with Young Living–including behavioral control, informational control, thought control, and above all, emotional control.
“Love bombing and tremendous praise was given to me at any opportunity,” Brohaugh said. She though she had surrounded herself with friends within Young Living, but when she left, she was summarily shunned. “The very people singing my praises and calling me a good friend sent me some quite mean things over text and voicemails, it was so often that it was borderline harassment.”
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