Here we will examine the characteristics of a sociopath as they show up in cult leaders.
You can read here what Robert Hare, a psychologist who has studied sociopaths for many years says about characteristics of a sociopath.
Cult leaders are considered to be authoritarian personalities who have intense feelings of inferiority, insecurity, and hostility and to compensate for this they form a group of people around them with whom they can use thought reform techniques to dominate them and to use them for financial gain.
When people leave a cult, it is important that they demystify the supposed power the leader had in order to take control of one's life again. When people walk away from a group, they may be confused and disenchanted, but typically they continue to believe that the cult leader is good, kind and even godlike.
This even occurs in battered wives and abused children.
To fully heal, it's important to understand who this all-powerful person was, what their motivations and real purpose were, and the techniques they were using to maintain dependency and submission in the group.
Typically in cults, the group serves the power, financial, emotional and sexual needs of the leader. The leaders are power hungry, charming, and seemingly all knowing. And when members of different groups get together and discuss their leaders, whom they consider to be different, special and unique, they are amazed at the similarities. Why are they so alike? Because frequently their profile fits that of a sociopath, and their traits are actually a personality disorder!
So let's have a look at what Janja Lalich and Madeline Tobias say about the characteristics of a sociopath that are so common among these social parasites, or 'trust bandits' as they have been called.
One of the common characteristics of a sociopath is agility with words. Cult leaders are charming, persuasive and not usually stuck for words. They can be excellent storytellers captivating people in the show that they put on. They use language effortlessly to convince and confuse as well as to combat any criticism.
Cult leaders will manipulate emotions to create relationships in which they can dominate. For them, the world is full of suckers and sinners and they have the right to take advantage of this. For them, the end justifies the means. In other words, anything goes. Literally anything! (Remember they have no guilt or conscience).
Typically, other people are seen as competitors or aggressors, and if the cult leader does not dominate them, they will try to dominate him. It is thought that dominating others becomes their escape valve for the terror and rage they experience. If they can make friends with them first, and then dominate them, all the better.
This one of the characteristics of a sociopath is typically very strong in cult leaders. There's a huge sense of entitlement. They crave attention and adoration even when they say they don't. The present themselves as geniuses, enlightened, or leading humankind in a particular direction.
However, behind the grandiosity may be an inner emptiness and a sense of insignificance. Remember that another of the characteristics of a sociopath is the inability to experience emotions such as love or compassion. This means their inner world is very grey and bleak.
The grandiosity it is often accompanied by paranoia and this becomes part of the basis of the 'us versus them' mentality in cultic groups.
Sociopaths lie as easily as they breathe! When confronted with their lies they may simply change the story to try and fit in. There is never any guilt or embarrassment.
'Pseudologica fantastica' is an extension of pathological lying. This is where cult leaders create a complex system of beliefs and ideas, sometimes about their own powers and abilities, in which they themselves often get caught up. It is very difficult to know if they actually believe it or whether it's just a fabrication to con and deceive others.
They are rarely original thinkers, instead gathering up ideas from other people and packaging them together. While they may not give credit to others, they certainly want that their minions give them credit.
One of the characteristics of a sociopath is that truth for them is whatever works in the moment. If a lie helps to convince or manipulate somebody, that's what they do. This is almost incomprehensible to somebody with a conscience, so what happens is that the victims rationalize and justify away the inconsistencies in the cult leader, "What my leader did hurt me, but there must be a good reason for it…"
Not having a conscience, never feeling guilt or remorse, means that cult leaders can typically do whatever they like. People are treated as objects to be manipulated and controlled for whatever reason.
Sociopaths may decide if they cannot have the intelligence, good looks, or skills of somebody else then that person is not going to enjoy the benefits of those talents either and destroying that person's life becomes the goal.
Sociopaths do not have friends, there are victims and accomplices. And if need be, the accomplices become victims too!
Another one of the important characteristics of a sociopath is the lack of emotions. They are cold, shallow people, unmoved by neither atrocities nor by joyous things that elicit strong responses in normal people.
They do, however, learn to fake emotions, and these are displayed to control and manipulate the emotions of others. Of course, this is turned into a benefit for them - they can control their emotions and their followers should learn to do the same. Of course, this is just another way to control the followers. For example, anger in cults (towards the leader or the doctrine) is typically not allowed or is diverted outwards to an out group.
When leaders offer peace, joy, happiness, etc, it is a complete lie because these things are beyond the leaders' capacity to experience.
Cult leaders cannot give or receive love. But they have a tremendous need to be loved and adored by the followers. At the same time they often don't believe in love. This contradiction obviously has huge potential for manipulating and controlling people who are capable of love.
For example, a guru can claim that he has given up his life for the benefit of his followers, or he has taken on their illness or negative karma, and for this they should love him. And feel guilty!
The members love for the group may be tested in many ways, sometimes in ways that are cruel and horrific, but it is never permitted to question the leaders love.
Sociopaths get bored easily and therefore take risks just to entertain themselves. Some cult leaders will push the boundaries of respect and decency in their seminars, just to see her far they can go.
In the same vein, cult leaders may push their followers further and further beyond their limits, which is something quite common as they deteriorate psychologically and emotionally.
Cult leaders abuse the members in all sorts of ways with not the slightest consideration for their feelings. They are unable to feel empathy and other emotions.
One of the characteristics of a sociopath is a sense of superiority and this is added to by the fact that they don't consider themselves limited or burdened by emotions. They think they are above such things.
However, for cult members, it's almost impossible to understand what it's like not to have a conscience. Therefore they don't consider that they are being abused by their leaders, because it's not something they would do to others.
This makes it very difficult for them to accept that they have been taking advantage of by somebody they thought cared for them. It usually takes a while for them to get their head around this and it feels to them that a terrible evil has been done.
Another of the common characteristics of a sociopath is that they have difficulty learning to delay gratification and when they are frustrated they may have temper tantrums or displays of rage. These sudden outbursts, alternating with the appearance of being loving and caring, produce dependency in the members because how they are/feel depends on the mood of the leader.
These outbursts may only be visible to those in the inner circle, with the mask of perfection presented to everybody else. Of course, these outbursts are redefined to show the cult leader in a good light. Another of the common characteristics of a sociopath!
Another of the characteristics of a sociopath is antisocial behavior as a child. And typically this is hidden from the members, with cult leaders claiming to have had a difficult childhood and then some kind of enlightening experience after which they had powers which were almost superhuman. More lies and deceit!
Sociopaths have no sense of obligation or responsibility to anyone. Of course, for the mind controlled members, the lack of follow-up or fulfilling of obligations is explained away with something such as 'Well, that's just how he is!'
Sociopaths never feel responsible for the damage they've done to other people's lives. In fact, when exposed, they will typically blame other people. Anybody except themselves. And blaming the members is a very powerful way to continue the manipulation.
When exposed, a very common manoeuver is to blame the accuser of doing what they themselves are doing. So the sociopath becomes the victim and the sociopath claims the accuser is manipulating him or the evidence.
And the sociopath is never wrong. There is always a reason, a justification or some more information that changes the picture.
Sex is often used to control the members, everything from forced abstinence to group sex to rape. Cult leaders often have a history of extramarital affairs and sexual predation upon adult and child members of both sexes.
Because of the power imbalance between the cult leader and the members, sex is not considered to be consensual and invariably is damaging for the member.
It's very common for cult leaders to be extravagant in their spending while cult members have little. It usually turns out the cult leader is spending the members' money!
Cult leaders may be very preoccupied with their own health while destroying that of the members. This aspect may be hidden in order to maintain the aura of having superhuman abilities.
Sociopaths tend not to have long-term goals or have difficulty sticking to them. They often have somebody close to them who takes care of this aspect for them, for example, they may have a partner or devoted/manipulated cult members who organize the financial and day-to-day running of the cult.
A chameleon nature is one of the characteristics of a sociopath and cult leaders are happy to change the group to attract more members, make more money or avoid the law. If illegalities are exposed they will often disappear, relocate and start again under a different name with a different slant on the scam.
For those leaving a cult, it's very useful as part of the recuperation to be able to recognize the characteristics of a sociopath in the cult leader in order to get rid of the control, self-blame, fear and guilt that these unscrupulous parasites have used to manipulate, steal and abuse.
It's not always an easy process, but it is always worth the effort.
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