A number of mind-manipulating cult leaders may exhibit many of the behavioral
characteristics of a sociopath - such as an outstanding ability to charm
and seduce followers. Since they appear apparently normal, they are not
easily recognizable as deviant or disturbed. Although only a trained professional
can make a diagnosis, it is important to be able to recognize the personality
type in order to avoid further abuse.
These behaviors are not limited to cult leaders, however...they can be
exhibited in one-on-one relationships as well as within a group.
Language can be used without effort by them to confuse and convince
their audience. Captivating storytellers that exude self-confidence,
they can spin a web that intrigues others. Since they are persuasive,
they have the capacity to destroy their critics verbally or emotionally.
Manipulative and Conning
They never recognize the rights of others and see their self-serving
behaviors permissible. They appear to be charming, yet are covertly
hostile and domineering, seeing their victim as merely an instrument
to be used. They dominate and humiliate their victims.
Grandiose Sense of Self
Feels entitled to certain things as "their right." Craves
adulation and attendance. Must be the center of attention with their
own fantasies as the "spokesman for God," "enlightened,"
"leader of humankind," etc. Creates an us-versus-them mentality
Has no problem lying coolly and easily and it is almost impossible for
them to be truthful on a consistent basis. Can create, and get caught
up in, a complex belief about their own powers and abilities. Extremely
convincing and able to pass lie detector tests.
Lack of Remorse, Shame or Guilt
A deep seated rage, which is split off and repressed, is at their core.
Does not see others around them as people, but only as targets and opportunities.
Instead of friends, they have victims and accomplices who end up as
victims. The end always justifies the means and they let nothing stand
in their way.
When they show what seems to be warmth, joy, love and compassion, it
is more feigned than experienced and serves an ulterior motive. Outraged
by insignificant matters, yet remaining unmoved and cold by what would
upset a normal person. Since they are not genuine, neither are their
Incapacity for Love
While they talk about "God's love" they are unable to give
or receive it. Since they do not believe in the genuineness of their
followers' love, they are very harsh in testing it from their devotees
and expect them to feel guilt for their failings. Expects unconditional
Need for Stimulation
Living on the edge, yet testing the beliefs of their followers with
bizarre rules, punishments and behaviors. Verbal outbursts and physical
punishments are normal.
Callousness/Lack of Empathy
Unable to empathize with the pain of their victims, having only contempt
for others' feelings of distress and readily taking advantage of them.
Their skills are used to exploit, abuse and exert power. Since the follower
cannot believe their leader would callously hurt them, they rationalize
the behavior as necessary for their (or the group's) own "good"
and deny the abuse. When devotees become aware of the exploitation it
feels like a "spiritual rape" to them.
Poor Behavioral Controls/Impulsive Nature
Rage and abuse, alternating with small expressions of love and approval
produce an addictive cycle for abuser and abused, as well as creating
hopelessness in the victim. Believe they are all-powerful, all-knowing,
entitled to every wish, no sense of personal boundaries, no concern
for their impact on others. The followers only see them as near perfect.
Early Behavior Problems/Juvenile Delinquency
Usually has a history of behavioral and academic difficulties, yet "gets
by" by conning others. Problems in making and keeping friends;
aberrant behaviors such as cruelty to people or animals, stealing, etc.
Not concerned about wrecking others' lives and dreams. Oblivious or
indifferent to the devastation they cause. Does not accept blame themselves,
but blame their followers or others outside their group. Blame reinforces
passivity and obedience and produces guilt, shame, terror and conformity
in the followers.
Promiscuous Sexual Behavior/Infidelity
Totalist leaders frequently practice promiscuity, child sexual abuse,
rape and sexual acting out of all sorts. This is usually kept hidden
from all but the inner circle. Stringent sexual control of their followers,
such as forced breakups and divorces, removal of children from parents,
rules for dating, etc.
Lack of Realistic Life Plan/Parasitic Lifestyle
Tends to move around a lot or makes all encompassing promises for the
future. Many groups claim as their goal world-domination or other utopian
promises. Great contrast between the leader's opulent lifestyle and
the followers' impoverishment. Support by gifts and donations from the
followers who are pressured to give through fear and guilt. Highly sensitive
to their own pain and health.
Criminal or Entrepreneurial Versatility
Changes their image and that of the group as needed to avoid prosecution
and to increase income and to recruit a range of members. Is able to
adapt or relocate as needed to preserve the group. Can resurface later
with a new name, a new front group and a new twist on the scam.