9 Ways Many Narcissists Behave Like Cult Leaders
How to recognize narcissists’ manipulative and cult-like tactics.
Psychology Today/March 17, 2021
By Dan Neuharth Ph.D., MFT
- Individuals high in narcissism, like cult leaders, often inflate their own sense of importance and behave in ways that are destructive to others.
- Similarities between narcissists and cult leaders include a tendency to lie and turn others against each other for their own ends, along with little tolerance for dissent.
- To escape the negative influence of a narcissist, be mindful of what you share with them and set firm boundaries about how you will and won’t be treated.
The strategies many narcissists instinctively use to get their way in personal relationships can be strikingly similar to the coercive tactics used by destructive cult leaders to indoctrinate and control followers.
If you have a spouse, family member, friend, or boss who is narcissistic, ask yourself whether any of the following nine characteristics of destructive cults and cult leaders sound familiar.
1. Cult leaders act larger than life.
They claim to be innately good, possessing special wisdom, answerable to no one, with no one above them.
2. Cult members are expected to subjugate their own needs for the “good” of the leader or cause.
Members are told that what the cult wants them to do is for their own good, even if it is self-destructive.
3. An “us versus them” attitude prevails.
Outsiders are viewed as dangerous or as potential enemies. This turns members’ focus outward, distracting from problems within the cult. Viewing others as enemies can be used to justify extreme actions because of the “dangers” that outsiders pose.
4. Feelings are devalued, minimized, or manipulated.
Shame, guilt, coercion, and fear appeals keep members in line. Members are taught to discount their own intuition and healthy instincts in favor of the leader or cult’s teachings. Over time, members can lose touch with their healthy habits and innate values.
5. Questioning and dissent are not tolerated.
Having doubts about the leader or cult is considered shameful or sinful. Members are told that doubting or dissenting indicates that there is something wrong or bad with the member.
6. The ends justify the means.
The “rightness” of the leader and cult justifies behavior that violates most people’s standards for ethics and honesty. In the zealotry of the cult, anything goes.
7. Closeness to the cult and leader is rewarded, while independence is punished.
Temporary ostracism is used to punish behavior that doesn’t conform to group rules. Members fear being estranged from the group and losing the promised protection and benefits offered by the leader and group.
8. Lies are repeated so often they seem true.
The cult leader cannot be wrong and never needs to apologize.
9. Communication is coercive or deceptive.
Things are not always what they seem. This fosters confusion, leaving members vulnerable. When confused, members seek solace in the aura of certainty the leader seems to possess.
If you notice similarities between such cult-like techniques and your relationship with a narcissistic person, keep in mind:
- Cults and narcissists use powerful forms of manipulation, but there is nothing magical about what they do. Understanding their methods can allow you to avoid being taken in.
- If someone is narcissistic, be mindful of sharing personal information with that person, as it may be used against you.
- In any adult relationship, you have the right to confront, prevent, or remove yourself from manipulation or coercive control at any time. You do not need to give a reason, and you do not need the other person’s permission.
- In any adult relationship, you have the right to ask questions, make your own decisions, and honor your values and goals.
- Nobody has the right to tell you what to think or how to feel.