*When I read these powerful words written by my dear friend Leonard Tuchyner, I knew I must share them…as an explanation, and a warning. Thank you for reading.*
Portrait of a Cultist
by Leonard Tuchyner
What are the traits of a cult leader? Some of these traits have actually been described. Of course, not all cult leaders fit one single template, but I believe the one I have in mind does fit into this pattern.
The core of this description is, the world revolves around me. Dr. Scott Peck, psychiatrist and priest, wrote the book People of the Lie, in which he describes, in great detail, characteristics of the primary narcissist. The term narcissism goes back to Freud, and probably before him, all the way back to the ancient Greeks. Peck defined this condition as fraught with evil and destined to harm everyone within the circle of influence commanded by the primary narcissist.
In Peck’s view, the narcissist is stunted in his emotional growth at the level of infancy. He fixates his emotional energy on an unrequited initial love object. That object usually takes the form of a parental figure, male or female. Imagine an adult fixated at that emotional level of development. Everything revolves around the wants and needs of the child-adult. Yet his mental development continues to grow. So, what we have here is an infant with an adult mind.
What are the ramifications of this condition? They are astounding. One result is the assumption made by a person with primary narcissism is that what is good for the infant is good for the world. Thus, anything done for the child’s sake is justified.
Remember, his emotional status is that of a child. But for the development of a conscience, a higher overall development must be greater than that of an infant. In effect, there is no conscience in the normal understanding of what a conscience is. This is the level he must work from. Good is what he perceives as best for him, and bad is whatever is not in his service.
The level of intelligence (excluding emotional intelligence) that a primary narcissist can obtain is alarming. That intelligence has been developed purely to serve the person’s perceived wants and needs. It is highly cunning in achieving those self-centered goals. If power has been the way he achieved his needs as an infant, he spends his life on the skills that gain him power. And he always wants more.
These people are often highly successful in their lives, as measured in attaining their goals. They have learned how to be ruthless and how to hide their ruthlessness. They do this with aplomb. They are often charming, when it pays. They are very good at self-presentation. They are successful in getting what they want out of others.
Primary narcissists appeal to a niche in society, those who have not confronted their own needs and/or desires, but don’t have the capacity to get those needs met without the help of someone who is willing to break societal rules. They want a strong leader and see those qualities in the primary narcissist. Some are willing to make a bargain with the Devil. They look the other way when their leader breaks rules which they are reluctant to break on their own. In other words, the narcissist brings out the hidden devils in their followers.
Not all their followers fit that willing victim scenario. Many are taken in, and are beguiled into the lair of the primary narcissist. They wouldn’t have gotten involved if they realized the modus operandi of the cult leader. By the time they realize what they have become involved in, it is too late. They are in too deep, or their psyches may have been damaged in one way or the other by the cult leader. How this is done is a discussion all in itself. It is too late even for them to seek exit. Many cult followers are the last people you would expect to be vulnerable to a cult.
An example of it being too late to get out is Jonestown. By the time the followers were wise to the nature of their leader, it was too late to get out.
The narcissist has created his own rendition of how the world is, and sold it to his followers. To do this, he must lie, and lie, and lie. There is a fascinating question here. Does the narcissist know he is lying? I can only conjecture on this question. In my opinion, his fantasy world is made of lies and half-truths, conscious and unconscious. It may be the time of day or other factors that influence his thinking at the time he is engaging others in his lies. Eventually, I think the primary narcissist is entrapped by his own lies. For example, Hitler believed in his fantasy at the end of World War II despite all the evidence, until there was no way out, and he killed himself, as did Jones in Jonestown.
This relates to another fascinating question. Is a primary narcissist insane? I’m using the word insane because it is not a medical term. However, it is taken from the word sane, which means of sound and healthy mind. If a person is unable to distinguish between what is real and what is not, is he coming from a sound, healthy mind? I would submit that he is not. The caveat here is that no one is fully aware of reality or fantasy. At the level of knowledge, as it exists today, there is more unknown about the real world than is known. So, it is a matter of degree. In that case, who among us is sane? Having said that, a primary narcissist is insane by comparison.
Finally, the primary narcissist needs to take his followers down in this sinking ship, if only to prove to himself that his cause was right.
Does this remind you of a certain politician?