Characteristics of a CULT LEADER:
Does the Shoe Fit?
Part I: Master Manipulator
Part II: Machivellian Personality
Part III: Characteristics of a Cult Leader
PART I: Master Manipulator
The following is an excerpt from the book
Captive Hearts, Captive Minds: Freedom and Recovery from Cults and Abusive Relationships
by Madeleine Landau Tobias and Janja Lalich.
Part I: The Master Manipulator
Let us look for a moment at how some of this manifests in the cult leader. Cult leaders have an outstanding ability to charm and win over followers. They beguile and seduce. They enter a room and garner all the attention. They command the utmost respect and obedience. These are "individuals whose narcissism is so extreme and grandiose that they exist in a kind of splendid isolation in which the creation of the grandiose self takes precedence over legal, moral or interpersonal commitments." Paranoia may be evident in simple or elaborate delusions of persecution. Highly suspicious, they may feel conspired against, spied upon or cheated, or maligned by a person, group, or governmental agency. Any real or suspected unfavorable reaction may be interpreted as a deliberate attack upon them or the group. (Considering the criminal nature of some groups and the antisocial behavior of others, some of these fears may have more of a basis in reality than delusion!)
Harder to evaluate, of course, is whether these leaders' belief in their magical powers, omnipotence, and connection to God (or whatever higher power or belief system they are espousing) is delusional or simply part of the con. .... In any case, beneath the surface gloss of intelligence, charm, and professed humility seethes an inner world of rage, depression, and fear.
"Trust Bandit" is indeed an apt description of this thief of our hearts, souls, minds, bodies, and pocketbooks. Since a significant percentage of current and former cult members have been in more than one cultic group or relationship, learning to recognize the personality style of the Trust Bandit can be a useful antidote to further abuse.
The Profile of a Psychopath
In reading the profile, bear in mind the three characteristics that Robert Lifton sees as common to a cultic situation:
**A charismatic leader who...increasingly becomes the object of worship
**A series of processes that can be associated with "coercive persuasion" or "thought reform"
**The tendency toward manipulation from above...with exploitation--economic, sexual, or other--of often genuine seekers who bring idealism from below.
We are not suggesting that all cult leaders are psychopaths but rather that they may exhibit many of the behavioral characteristics of one. We are also not proposing that you use this checklist to make a diagnosis, which is something only a trained professional can do. We present the checklist as a tool to help you label and demystify traits you may have noticed in your leader.
Characteristics of a Cult Leader
People coming out of a cultic group or relationship often struggle with the question, "Why would anyone (my leader, my lover, my teacher) do this to me?" When the deception and exploitation become clear, the enormous unfairness of the victimization and abuse can be very difficult to accept. Those who have been part of such a nightmare often have difficulty placing the blame where it belongs--on the leader.
In examining the motives and activities of these self-proclaimed leaders, it becomes painfully obvious that cult life is rarely pleasant for the disciple and breeds abuses of all sorts. As a defense against the high level of anxiety that accompanies being so acutely powerless, people in cults often assume a stance of self-blame. This is reinforced by the group's ma- manipulative messages that the followers are never good enough and are to blame for everything that goes wrong.
Demystifying the guru's power is an important part of the psyche- educational process needed to fully recover. It is critical to truly gaining freedom and independence from the leader's control. The process starts with some basic questions: Who was this person who encouraged you to view him as God, all-knowing, or all-powerful? What did he get out of this masquerade? What was the real purpose of the group (or relationship)?
To heal from a traumatic experience of this type, it is important to understand who and what the perpetrator is. As long as there are illusions about the leader's motivation, powers, and abilities, those who have been in his grip deprive themselves of an important opportunity for growth: the chance to empower themselves, to become free of the tyranny of dependency on others for their well-being, spiritual growth, and happiness.
The Authoritarian Power Dynamic
The purpose of a cult (whether group or one-on-one) is to serve the emotional, financial, sexual, and power needs of the leader. The single most important word here is power. The dynamic around which cults are formed is similar to that of other power relationships and is essentially ultra- authoritarian, based on a power imbalance. The cult leader by definition must have an authoritarian personality in order to fulfill his half of the power dynamic.
Traditional elements of authoritarian personalities include the following:
* the tendency to hierarchy
* the drive for power (and wealth)
* hostility, hatred, prejudice
* superficial judgments of people and events
* a one-sided scale of values favoring the one in power
* interpreting kindness as weakness
* the tendency to use people and see others as inferior
* a sadistic-masochistic tendency
* incapability of being ultimately satisfied
Part II: The Machivellian Personality
From Harriet Braiker's "Who's Pulling Your Strings?"
From Harriet Braiker's "Who's Pulling Your Strings?"
In the early 1970s, psychologist Richard Christie and his colleagues identified a distinct personality style that is characterized by manipulativeness, cynicism about human nature and shrewdness in interpersonal behavior. Named after the sixteenth-century political philosopher and Italian Prince Machiavelli, this personality style is very nearly synonymous with being a manipulator. Machiavellian personalities are committed to the proposition that a desired end justifies virtually any means. Machiavellianism is defined as a manipulative strategy of social interaction and personality style that uses other people as tools for personal gain.
Christie developed a test that measures the tendency to be Machiavellian. People who score high on this measure are referred to as “high machs.”… High machs influence or manipulate others in predictable ways, using tactics that are exploitive, self-serving, and nearly always deceptive.
Prince Machiavelli deduced these rules from the political practices of his time:
1.) Never show humility; it is more effective to show arrogance when dealing with others.
2.) Morality and ethics are for the weak; powerful people should feel free to lie, cheat, and deceive whenever it suits their purpose.
3.) It is better to be feared than loved.
In contemporary terms, high machs tend to endorse the following statements:
- The best way to handle people is to tell them what they want to hear.
- Anyone who completely trusts anyone else is asking for trouble.
- It is safest to assume that all people will have a vicious streak and that it will come out when they are given a chance.
- Most people will work hard only when they are forced to do so.
- It is hard to get ahead without cutting corners and bending the rules.
And high machs tend to disagree with the following statements:
- When you ask someone to do something for you, it is best to give the real reason for wanting it rather than giving reasons that might carry more weight.
- It is never right to lie to someone else.
- Most people are basically good and kind.
- One should take action only when it is morally right.
High machs tend to constitute a distinctive type. They tend to be charming, confident, and glib; but they are also arrogant, calculating and cynical, prone to manipulate and exploit.
In the context of laboratory experiment games, high machs display a keen and opportunistic sense of timing,
and they appear to capitalize especially in situations that contain ambiguity regarding the rules.
PART III: CULT LEADER CHARACTERISTICS
From a forum at www.rickross.com.
1. Authoritarian, or those who favor complete obedience, or subjugation to authority, over individual freedom.
2. Usually (or perhaps always?) raised in authoritarian family environments that operated under authoritarian rule.
3. View themselves as super-human or better than most, (or better than all?) other humans.
4. Charismatic, having the ability to easily persuade many others to believe in their supposedly superior abilities.
5. Usually possess a keen above average intelligence.
6. Usually claim to have had paranormal or psychic experiences at least once in their lives.
7. Rarely known to voluntarily abandon or renounce their roles as cult leaders, even despite the most convincing evidence to the contrary, e.g. Hitler at the end of WWII.
8. Often previously employed in professions that required the art of persuasion, before they became cult leaders.
Link here to Amazon and order Captive Hearts, Captive Minds: Help and Recovery from Cults and Abusive Relationships
Janja Lalich has also released an updated and expanded version of "Captive Hearts, Captive Minds" which you may also like to consider: Take Back Your Life: Recovering From Cults and Abusive Relationships