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Narcissistic Leaders and their Manipulation in Group Dynamics
Before we even get into this article, please be aware that it brings a lot of issues in relation to narcissism and how it affects people. If this article triggers something for you personally, you may wish to consider seeing us for Narcissism Counselling in Perth. We see some people who have Narcissism and see Victims of Narcissists.
“Never Smile at a Crocodile”
In Walt Disney’s adaptation of Rudyard Kipling’s famous “Jungle Book”, there is a song whose jingle goes,
“Never smile at a crocodile,
Don’t be taken in by his welcome grin,
He’s imagining how well you’ll look within his skin.”
In this song and in the Jungle Book characters of the crocodile and the snake, we find the archetypes of the predator and narcissist, which are an increasingly common subtype of individuals in our modern society. Narcissism and Narcissists have gained a lot of press in recent times. The recent scandals over public figures such as Tiger Woods have drawn commentator allusions to Narcissistic tendencies and attitudes by these leaders in their chosen fields. At the same time a new book for women has just been released, entitled “A Girl’s Guide to Predators”, is a timely guide to illuminate the growing problem of psychopathic and Narcissistic personalities preying on unsuspecting women in society.
We now live in a society that promotes self entitlement and selfish pursuits to such an extent that words such as responsibility and compassion no longer apply. Increasingly we are producing damaged people in society who are cut off from their feelings, have no moral fibre, hide behind deceptive images and falsely manipulated personalities in order to control, exploit and abuse others, without remorse. From Facebook to Reality TV “it’s all about me now”, and the ugly consequences of the cult of “I/me” is becoming ever more obvious.
In my companion article Narcissism – Living without Feelings, I outline the basic dynamics, histories, theories and 20 most defining characteristics of the Narcissistic personality. I have been besieged by readers from that article wanting to know more about how the Narcissist often goes about their seduction, deception and betrayal of people in their life. This article will assume that the reader has read my other article, and only a few points from that article will be included here.
One form of Narcissism is a little understood personality disorder which is increasingly showing up in our leaders across political, business, sporting, psychological and spiritual institutions (Behary:2008). Indeed narcissism and narcissistic is increasingly being used to describe the mass cultural shift to a “self” obsessed culture where there is rampant consumerism, the pursuit of power, excesses, and the abuse of others in the pursuit of these ends, notes Martinez-Lewi (2008). We all need a healthy dose of narcissism, as else we would not back ourselves in life, nor have a healthy sense of self. There are healthy forms of narcissism.
However predatory or malignant narcissists do not have a healthy sense of self, they are not in touch with their true self, instead becoming a chameleon type of personality who seek to project an idealised image to others, and then seduce and control all others that have some value or utility for them, until that persons utility value is exhausted, and then they are dumped and abandoned without remorse by the narcissist. Our culture also rewards these sorts of people, and we now celebrate narcissism in our sports stars, media celebrities, and leaders in various fields. Narcissists are often rewarded in their endeavours and strivings to get to the top, and this is why we find them in leadership positions, or “climbing the ladder” to get to the top.
In this article I will focus on the way in which a Narcissist often works their deception at the physical, emotional, spiritual and mental or cognitive levels with their victims. I will put aside narcissistic sporting heroes, Hollywood and media heroes who make great reading in the tabloids when they act out their affairs, grandiosity, and other attention grabbing behaviours. I will focus on the more damaging and less obvious examples found in business organisations, and in spiritual/self development communities. I will use references to some well cited examples of narcissism but I will also draw upon my own 25 year corporate career in business and with my parallel 25 year interest and involvement in spiritual and self development groups and communities. In both these settings I have encountered and been impacted by a number of Narcissistic leaders and personalities.
THE 3 TYPES OF POTENTIAL VICTIM FOR A NARCISSIST
In order to understand the Narcissistic world view it will be important to understand how they view and select victims from the circles in which they move. The 3 types of persons mentioned here are referred to throughout this article. Unhealthy narcissists need other people around them to sustain them and feed them resources and narcissistic supplies (Ransky:1998). Authors such as Tucker and Ransky have basically defined 3 levels of affected persons which come into the narcissist’s world:
1) A potential. A potential is someone who the narcissist has attracted into their world, and must be assessed for exploitation and utility value. Narcissists view everyone only in terms of what value or use does that person have for them. People with a strong sense of self and boundaries are of limited use to the narcissist, and may be only relegated to a role of a colleague, customer, peer, a delegation point, or some ambivalent relationship in the narcissist’s constellation. They may however also be a potential for exploitation for future use and manipulation into one of the next two levels of affected persons. In terms of viewing narcissists from the context of business organisations, and from spiritual and self help groups, then co-workers in organisations, and curious seekers of healing and spiritual insight often are the primary source of “potentials”.
2) A follower. A follower is someone who has been groomed, seduced or manipulated into the reality of the narcissist, and will be supportive but not slavish to the narcissist. Narcissists work on these persons as they cannot trust another’s independence and free will in areas of concern to them. This level is in an enmeshed or deceived state but as a person is still a separate functioning identity. The person still has a separate operative identity but the narcissist has already started gaining leverage by overturning held beliefs, values, attitudes, and sympathies which are of importance to the narcissist. They have been able to gain a degree of trust and acceptance, and a degree of rapport has been established. The narcissist from their side will have already have identified the strengths and weaknesses of this person, and have commenced the seduction of the person deeper into the reality of the narcissist. This may be a “loyal” co-worker and friend or boss in an organisation, or a regular, committed member of some spiritual or self development group.
3) “Sidekicks” or blindly loyal pawns. This inner most trusted group are co-dependently engaged with the narcissist, and are overly-loyal, compliant, passive, and unaware they are no longer operating from conscious free-will in areas of concern to the narcissist. They put up with whatever treatment is meted out and will collusively abuse with the narcissist out of acts of demonstrated “loyalty”. They are under some form of emotional and/or mind control by the narcissist. They act for the narcissist when summoned and are often used in organisational politics, rumour and disinformation campaigns, and in both groups and organisations to carry out acts on behalf of the narcissist that could see them come under legal or ethical sanction. The narcissist will establish a degree of separation from the “sidekick” such that if ever caught, the narcissist will disown them to their own fate. The person normally has low self esteem, has a history of putting themselves second to others needs, may be a “caretaker” personality, or only feels loved, understood, supported or important when in the company of the narcissist.
Paul Babiak PHD, in his book, “Snakes in Suits”, notes that narcissists in organisations use a 3 phase game plan when engaging with victims. The first phase is selecting their victim or prey based on assessing the potential victim’s utility value, and identifying their psychological strengths and weaknesses. The second stage involves manipulation of the potential victims with carefully crafted messages plus using constant feedback from the potential victim to build and maintain rapport and control. Phase 3 occurs when the narcissist has finished “devouring” the victim and whose utility value has been exhausted. The drained and bewildered victim is abandoned without remorse as the predatory narcissist looks afield for new victims which equates to more power in their reality.
As I personally found out, another attractive honey pot for narcissists is in religion, spirituality, human potential, and self-help movements or groups within society. The reason this area attracts narcissists is that it is easier to start a religion, a movement, a modality, an institute, and become the leader from the outset. This confirms their grandiose delusion that they should be the rightful leader, and that they have some “special insights”, “vision”, or that they are a practicing “ascended master”, “mystic”, or “guru”, who should be the subject of followers, worshippers, who see their special gifts and importance.
In my own 25 year journey of spiritual paths, and of self development, I have come across quite a number of unhealthy narcissists who garnered followers, used a mish mash of psychological and spiritual dogma to espouse a “truth”. Some of these have become quite successful while others have had a taste of success before the truth came out and their lies were exposed, resulting in the collapse of their groups or followings.
These leaders had set about “feeding” off gullible and suggestible followers and “side-kicks” with manipulations to attend more and more fee based courses, buy products, help out at centres for free, do “therapy” where the follower was under risk of being brainwashed, and increasingly required to devote more time and resources towards the narcissistic leaders goals. I have seen followers, including myself, abused and manipulated in the process, upon starting to question the motives of these leaders. The techniques documented in this article here were on display in some of the groups I engaged with over the last 25 years.
People are generally surprised that narcissistic personalities can advance so far in life from such a troubled self. The term Narcissism finds its name in the Greek myth of Narcissus, but we need to look at the Greek myth of Proteus, and the Celtic myths of the Shape-shifters, in order to find the deceptive archetypes who describe the Narcissistic art of deception.
According to Guerber (1923), Proteus was a sea god, or from the element of water or fluidity, who could change shape with instant fluidity. He was a liquid shape-shifter who could transform at an instant into shapes most beautiful or most chilling, but his true nature was carefully concealed and withheld. Proteus in legend never is truly connected or bonded with other beings, he was too consumed and obsessed with his shape-shifting, in love with his transformations and related deceptions, much like a narcissist. Proteus and the narcissist are both alike as they both connect without feelings, break the connection, and move on unconcerned at their impact on others, and operate out of superficiality and deceit. They both are spell-binding, awe inspiring, compelling in their “performance”, and compel attention. Ultimately narcissists cultivate and grow this skill of protean fluidity of appearance and position on all things because it enhances their predatory positioning and advantage over the victim.
Narcissists employ camouflage in this fluid protean way and enhance their personal power from its use. They position themself like gods to be all things to all people, or to be the winner, the person with the last word, the most important contributor, to induce trust and create followers, so they can then harvest from the unwary gullible believer whatever agenda the narcissist has in mind for them. In Celtic lore, eminent Celtic mythology researchers Caitlin and John Matthews (2001) notes the Shape-shifter lay in wait for the unsuspecting mere mortal.
The Shape-shifter fluidly morphed themself into whatever shape and with whatever knowledge was alluring to the targeted victim, much in the way Babiak (2006) describes how the narcissist works out the strengths and weaknesses of their victim before crafting messages of superficial empathy, compassion and insight to gain their trust, and to position themself into the role much needed by the victim just at that fateful moment. The Shape-Shifter ultimately deceived the victim with their mask of the false self they had shape-shifted into, and dragged the victim off to an underworld or hell or bondage of some sort. Narcissists ultimately betray the people they seduce into their life and extract a cost that is like a hell or a death for many who come under their assault.
The predatory narcissist can morph into a false self without their body language betraying them with all the normal cues of unease or misalignment between their body and mind. According to Alexander Lowen (1986) this is because the narcissist is without feelings such as compassion, empathy, love or associated morality, and their bodies are deadened to feeling and so cannot betray them like feeling bodies will in the average person. They are fake or unreal in their body, mind and emotions, and can move freely between various states within each without creating obvious conflicts or anxieties (Johnson:1987). Feelings are superficially replicated by the narcissist but never actually felt (Lowen:1986).
This makes then masters of deception, entirely believable on first impressions, and able to penetrate into other persons reality in deep ways (Tucker:1999).Followers come to love them, die for them, never doubt them for a minute, and rationalise their own realities to accommodate violations of values committed by the narcissist against them or others (Ransky:1998). Even once the narcissist breaks the bonds and connections with victims as their utility value to the narcissist is exhausted, the Narcissist feels no loss, remorse, regret or feelings, whilst the follower is devastated (Tucker:1999).
The first layer of camouflage employed by the narcissist is at the physical level. Studies have shown that physical beauty normally psychologically disarms other people to varying degrees without those people having any other information about the attractive person concerned (Pease:2000). Some people fixate on the physical beauty and have a conditioned association in their unconscious reality between beauty and trust or beauty and success. We tend to associate finer and higher qualities to the beautiful over the ordinary or the ugly looking person. Psychologist Robert Cialdini notes that the presence of physical beauty tends to cause critical thinking to shut down and disable our defences.
Alexander Lowen (1986) notes that Narcissists are intelligent but “in their heads” personalities who often have a body structure that is a harmonious and athletic shape, with males often also having broad shoulders whilst well developed thighs on the woman. The person is usually charming, charismatic, seductive, confident and well groomed, and project success as a primary false self image to the world. These attractive outcomes in body shape and features act to reinforce the adult narcissist in their ability to seduce, influence, attract followers, and become extremely vain and self obsessed.
Where a narcissist lacks natural beauty they will either tend to try and create it, or compensate for the lack of it. Narcissists put on their physical mask of the finest clothes, hair styling, grooming, scents, makeup, iconic words on shirts, label watches, jewellery and key rings. In privacy they will resort to cosmetic surgery, hair transplants, hair colouring, and physical fitness regimes. Narcissists often have a paranoid fear of illness (Johnson:1987). They are often seen consuming obsessive amounts of tonics, vitamins, stay young elixirs and fixate on illnesses of the body and mind (Janet:2002). Various authors believe this stems from the fear that they privately acknowledge they are mentally unwell in themselves, and are basically sick, and so fixate on health to cover up their deeply subliminated sense of sickness and chaos that lurks below their false image and mask to the world.
Compensation via charisma and sheer force of personality is common where they are not so naturally attractive (Tucker:1999). Narcissists are seductive by nature and disarm others via seductive charm, talk, gestures, and alluring messages designed to appeal to the victim and connect with just what the narcissist feels the victim needs at that moment (Babiak:2006.) This fluid protean way of being amongst others is what snares the victim, especially when the narcissist comes attractively packaged.
Narcissists also work by association. They will tend to surround themselves with other rich and successful people and so by association state to others “I am just like them”. This is why Narcissists are often labelled as “snobs”. Their grandiose self image is not only so unrealistically puffed up that they would not willingly stoop to mix with common folk, but also the associating with like minded and like bodied peers reinforces to themself and others who they claim to be.
The Narcissist motors around life encased in their physical self with all its camouflage and associated image and power projection. At the emotional level narcissists by definition kill their own feelings which were so painful and overwhelming in childhood that disowning or numbing them was the survival strategy they evoked to cope. (Johnson:1987). As adults they do not feel for others with compassion or empathy or love, but yet learn how to convincingly mimic human emotions and control their use in a detached way. This is a powerfully deceptive trait that has devastating results on their victims.
Every one of us reads another person via not only their verbal and language cues, but by non-verbal bodily and emotional cues (Pease:2000). Our ability to have empathy relies on this ability. Narcissists manipulate others via faking emotions to convey an emotional statement which others read as being authenticate and accurate, and respond accordingly (Tucker:1999). The use of the right “emotion” at the right time, opens up the person emotionally to the detached and cold narcissist who is watching from behind their own fake persona, like a wolf stalking prey, waiting to seize the person emotionally. The narcissist’s emotional camouflage is strikingly convincing and fools most people upon who they use it on.
Narcissists never lose themselves in this “deep acting” style method (Tucker:1999). They operate from such a complete dualistic nature that the “mask” character is under control of the highly aware and real hidden personality in the narcissist (Ransky:1998). There is a degree of separation between the mask and real self that prevents the narcissist becoming mixed or enmeshed in the two sides of the split in the personality (Lowen:1986). Again the fluid or protean shape shifting ability at this emotional level becomes evident. Narcissists have no anxiety, dissonance or conflict in their camouflage display. The deception is so seamless and complete it is “real”. These personalities have been known to beat lie detector tests (Babiak:2006).They are absolutely truthful and absolutely deceitful at the same moment (Tucker:1999). This is why they are such dangerous predators as they fool every receptor we have to spotting deception. Disarmed by their manipulative feigned displays of emotion, the victim can be guided in this susceptible state towards the narcissist’s real agenda.
In one group community environment I was part of, the narcissistic leader used a display of “crocodile tears” on the assembled followers on several occasions with devastating effect. On each occasion the leader broke down into feigned deep sobbing in front of the assembled audience and either complained about how they had been ripped off over money, or how they had been betrayed within the community by a follower. The group who were already effectively co-dependent with the leader, and had long since lost adult critical thinking in these group settings. The group reacted to the false emotions and went into a group-think that at once wanted to nurture and soothe the “wounded” leader, and then turned into outrage and anger at the supposed perpetrator.
The group was manipulated into venting their rage at the accused, and to emotionally embracing even deeper their beloved leader. It was frightening to see these cult dynamics at play. The situations both had small beginnings from with emotional fervour was whipped into the sort of group-think hysteria that one associates with mob burnings and riots. Each person was then made the following day to personally account for their part in collusion or involvement with the “offender”, admit shame or collusion, cathartically express this in front of the group, and restate their loyalty to the leader.
The occasion of the money dynamics saw alleged offenders attacked at dinner that evening and shamed and ostracised from the group. What the leader did not know was that a follower who was coming from a toilet at the assembled venue, saw the leader leave the group full of tears, then undergo a chameleon or “shape shift” transformation from distraught tears, into a smirking self-congratulatory smile and a new bounce in their step, as the leader retreated to their room and let the group deal with the emotional bomb that had just exploded in their presence.
They were events that had consequences for years afterwards. The events were effectively used then onwards to continually character assassinate the accused, and the crocodile tears came out on a few strategic occasions to control and manipulate the group into blind loyalty. The group eventually broke up with quite a few damaged and disoriented victims unsure of their reality and their feelings about all that occurred in this group. Emotional camouflage was used effectively to influence the group and group dynamics whereupon the emotionally vulnerable group was used as a weapon against persons who the narcissist had a grudge with.
MENTAL OR COGNITIVE CAMOUFLAGE
Narcissists adopt and then discard belief systems and beliefs with the same detachment as one would change one’s clothes. The narcissist knows that identity and membership with another via beliefs is the basis for strong bonding and acceptance. It is a deceptive form of camouflage that politicians have exploited forever. Resonate with the target via a stated aim, belief, plan, argument or claim, and the targeted person will often succumb to the deception and offer up whatever the deceiver is targeting (i.e. your vote). Politics is built on this level of exploitation but the Narcissist also employs this tactic with ease.
Narcissists can deceive with ideas and beliefs for in their protean and fluid nature they are not strongly attached or form true beliefs and values of their own beyond their own grandiosity and self importance (Ransky:1998). Alexander Lowen (1986) argues that one needs contact with one’s own feelings in order to develop and live to a set of values, and that feelings reveal potential value violations in the person when they may be tempted to stray from that value or belief system. Given that Narcissists are emotionally deadened it follows they lack these internal signals and so lack constraining messages to their actions and impulses.
The adoption of beliefs can be a simple as being part of a group watching a sports team and changing our allegiance in that instance to the dominant view so not to be mocked. We all can modify our peripheral beliefs for inconsequential matters. However when a man spots a pretty woman sporting a Greenpeace tee-shirt and proceeds to pick her up on the chat up line that he has a passionate interest in saving the whales, when in fact he couldn’t care less for the whales, you are moving into cognitive and emotional camouflage territory.
We all hold some peripheral beliefs which can be challenged and changed under reason, and we all hold some core beliefs that we may be prepared to die for (Ransky:1998). Narcissists know to introduce themselves and engage with another person in order to find out their personal life story, interests, and ask who they are and what they stand for. Many people want affirmation about their beliefs and are open and vulnerable once another empathically affirms them or identifies with them as having a common cause (Tucker:1999). Narcissists exploit this human need for their own advantage and the feigned common belief is the emotional camouflage.
A violation or manipulation of core beliefs induces a form of trauma, shock and disorientation as our identity is partly comprised of these core principles (Ransky:1998). People develop a herd mentality around group common values as it allows us to feel safe, have our core values reinforced and mirrored back to us, and establishes stability and community (Lasch:1984). Narcissists know that if they can take over as leader of an individual or a group at this core belief level they have the key to deeply penetrate and manipulate individuals and groups.
To do so means adopting the camouflage of deeply believing in the core system of belief of the group, building trust as one of them, and then start to pump prime the individual or group with “alignment messages” which cause deep core value resonance between the narcissist and the group or individual (Ransky:1998). It is a deceptive practice as the narcissist is cynically adopting this guise of belief without having it as a true value or belief themself.
The victims are hooked and will defend the narcissistic predator almost as deeply as they will defend their own core belief, and sometimes this means with their life. The history of cults is often that later the leader is seen to not “walk the talk” of the deep doctrines that they espouse to their followers. Celibate cults have been found to have leaders who have sex with “special” followers, or who do drugs, or have lavish lifestyles whilst their followers walk the path of renunciation. In politics we see at each American Presidential election at least one Christian or moral firebrand politician or senator caught with their pants down with a prostitute, secretary, constituent or minor. Some of the fire and brimstone evangelical preachers who have their own television shows seem to fare no better over time.
Each core belief system has emotionally charged images, key words, themes, and ideas. The narcissist uses these repeatedly and with passion, and each will press the emotional button of the follower to pour out their passion in recognition of the same belief or message. Anyone who can tap into your core beliefs can start to disarm your adult critical thinking, and evoke an almost spiritual déjà vu like feeling. I often shudder when I hear someone say they just met their soul mate. Often it turns out they just met a narcissistic type who just tuned into their core beliefs and mirrored them back to the person. Months later when the soul mate is long gone and the person is feeling deflated and depressed, they wonder how they got so completely fooled.
Just look at Adolf Hitler who used such simple but powerful messages and simple emotionally charged concepts, images and words to seduce and control an entire German generation. His speeches at the Nuremburg rallies are legendary. Hitler then led Germany to war, many to their death, and to the annihilation of their country as well as much of Europe. He personifies this type of deception and shows its ability to deeply reach and convert listeners into loyal followers via the use of emotionally charged words wrapped around core beliefs.
One of the strongest set of belief systems in humans are spiritual beliefs. The history of the human race has been religious wars and crusades of various types where the zeal may equate to martyrdom or killing others under the banner of the core beliefs of that religious or spiritual system. All cultures have evolved some form of cosmology and spiritual belief system which directly affects the personal identity of its believers (Jung:1955).
Narcissists know instinctively that spiritual and psychological self-help groups, churches and faiths hold a set of collective core beliefs (Ransky:1998). A Narcissist need only join and listen to find out what motivates and drives the group. Narcissists understand that in groups there is both a herd mentality and group-think dynamics available to them to exploit. There are far more resources such as power, money, sex, status and advancement on offer in a group situation (Ransky:1998). Also the esoteric or supernatural nature or subset of beliefs from these groups allows the narcissist to create a spiritual camouflage of being somehow blessed, a healer, a mystic, touched by god, in communion directly with god, a channeller of god’s word, or assisted by the archangels, etc.
Narcissists believe in their own grandiosity and specialness and so choose grandiose ruses to infiltrate such groups (Ransky:1998). There is no feeding of their narcissistic ego needs by being a humble, compassionate helper of the poor. Better to be the “special one”, the prophet, the mystical one who can be seen in awe by all, and who can never be challenged as they hold the grace of god and so to challenge them would be to challenge a core belief of their own group (Tucker:1998).
Once accepted in their guise or spiritual camouflage as the anointed one, the narcissist starts to reshape the group to entrench their own power and position, by channelling gods “instructions” to this end, or using their charisma, feigned psychic powers or spiritual wisdom, transcendence, mastery and words of transformation (Tucker:1998). The words and the carefully crafted messages will never seem to violate the core beliefs of the group, and the narcissistic leader will introduce new powers and skills. Typically this will mean they alone having clairvoyance, or being able to read auras, or see past lives, or have a special angel now appointed to him to guide their work, as an elevation above the group that prevents their being further challenged (Ransky). All this camouflage hides the deep deception that will be played out upon the group.
Narcissists also setup and create their own churches, movements, institutes, centres and followings, all based on this same set of principles. Their control exists from day one but their impatience means that the challenge of targeting an existing group can be hard to resist (Ransky:1998). There is no shortage of searchers for the truth, and vulnerable seekers in the spiritual marketplace. What is alluring for the narcissist is that religious and spiritual dogmas are both faith based, can involve god-like archetypes in its guru leaders, which is the closest societal role that exists which equates to the grandiose, ungrounded, narcissistic, and possibly mentally unstable self-identity that the narcissistic holds about themself. Most narcissists believe at some level that they are god-like (Ransky:1998) and so are acting out their destiny in assuming these roles. There also is no empirical way to test the faith based claims of spiritual gurus and so this appeals to the protean fluid like narcissist who can create new claims and dogmas without the fear of being exposed (Tucker:1998)
I have personally met a number of dangerous narcissistic leaders of such groups and institutes. All claimed to be able to channel information from supernatural entities such as angels or god or the Buddha, all claimed to have miraculous healing powers, or could read auras, see past lives, or had clairvoyance about you and your intentions and thoughts. The group members and followers, including myself, quickly were impressed, began to trust, became open, vulnerable, and were told to let go, surrender and submit. Many fell in love with the leader. Spiritual candy flowed from the lips of the leader. However it was extremely intimidatory as the “mask” of kind benevolence and core beliefs of wanting heal people and the world, or to advance one’s spiritual or psychological progress, came with a sting in the tail.
Narcissists are paranoid in varying degrees and ultimately trust no-one (Johnson:1987). Once entrenched the narcissist would project their unhealed and disowned shadow material onto various members of the group and single them out for belittlement or character assassination. The group would be held in both awe and fear of their great leader who always held the trump card of stating they had “special” insight into the betraying member, or would manipulate events to create an outcome they could sell to the group as evidence about the person being somehow bad or not to be trusted, or who threatened the group safety. Divine guidance meant it was not a personal grudge but a divine task.
Abuse via the possession of the trump card of special psychic or supernatural gifts is an ultimate betrayal of the group and a sign of the mental instability of the narcissistic leader (Ransky:1998), and an indicator of the emergence of cult dynamics (Tucker:1999). From Jonestown to Waco to extremist Muslim Jihadi faiths, the leaders will use and abuse their followers to advance their agenda, even to the point of death. The uncovering of false prophets and leaders such as occurred in the Rajanesshi sect can in the abandoned followers shatter their core beliefs and lead to years of disbelief, depression, denial, nostalgia, confusion and trauma (Ritchie:1991).
Society offers institutions and roles that can act as camouflage for the narcissist. Narcissists look to couple themself to organisations and institutions that project respectability, safety, status, and seniority or professionalism (LewiMartinez:2008). This will disarm people who are checking them out and also offers the narcissist self-importance in conversation where invariably they talk about themselves and their important contacts and friends (Meier:2009). They may hide behind the camouflage of the local church, Apex, Charity, political movement, professional body, or corporation. They may obtain a professional degree and have a career or profession such as a doctor, lawyer, preacher, CEO, or head of their own beneficial sounding organisation.
The Narcissist will try to obtain degrees and qualifications by the easiest means possible (Tucker:1999). Mainstream universities are now warning organisations and the public of the emergence of the “internet mill” industry of degrees for sale. The modus operandi of these fake universities is they offer impressive sounding degrees. The “buyer” of the degree “enrols” via credit card payment and the promise of completing a thesis of some sort. There is little or no class or lecturer contact. The “student” will buy online degrees, or submit a substandard Masters thesis to these foreign registered and obscure universities who have impressive sounding titles. These universities often shift off-shore location every few years and have no proper international accreditation. The narcissist can gather around them impressive sounding degrees as further camouflage that disarms the victims who believe they are professional and can be trusted. The victim is then open and vulnerable to exploitation. Organisations get fooled in this way in the employee selection process.
Because the Narcissist is the king of protean fluid-like transformation it is not surprising that Narcissists have moved within our society into the business of personal transformation (Harvey:2009). Narcissists are well credentialed to offer superficial transformations which sell well in our present age, probably because we are all so unsatisfied with ourselves, or filled with self-doubt and self-loathing (Tucker:1998). In our protean age of the quick fix, the message from spruikers in marketing, retail, and self-helpers is to do a makeover, create a new personality through some new product or fad therapy, or transform your self-image through yet another motivational seminar.
Our society is run on the businesses of transformation of low self image into a new beautiful, narcissistically empowered self. From beauty salons, day spas, life coaches, beauty photo shoots, celebrity makeover shows, “reality” television shows, we offer everyone a way out of their mundane and boring existence, with the promise of some new or enhanced personality, image or self. For the Narcissistic leader all they need to do is appear to offer some new and profound transformation to potential victims. Because of their protean natures, many narcissists will have had a number of previous “shape-shifts” from one industry deception or ruse to another, and so they often shamelessly leverage this “experience” and promote themselves as having many years of experience, or are now offering their most profound realisations that have taken half a lifetime to realize. You the poor soul should come on board and avail to this huge revelation.
Ransky (1998) notes there are some common stated deceptions in the transformation game. He notes that the narcissist will claim to have operated in say 10 countries, when in fact they may have merely travelled to 10 countries. They will claim to have healed thousands of people or have thousands of followers but yet they are really saying they have had thousands of attendees. What new age transformation or human potential movement tracks its attendees and measures their health pre and post attending, or employs professional surveys to measure the impact of their work. Virtually none, yet Ransky (1998) notes this is a common stated claim of narcissistic gurus. Tucker (1999), notes that a mish mash of new age spirituality, psychology, and healing paths is often thrown into the transformational offering, but there is always a differentiation point, there is some new “secret” you had better get on board and learn or you will be left behind. Secret societies have always operated in the shadows of society based on this premise (Ransky:1998).
Ransky (1998) also notes that such transformational programmes are light on detail. The notes from such course are either non-existent or are short and embedded with shallow explanations, short articles and instead use the emotionally charged words to effect emotional buy-in. Narcissists do not explore at depth or research and commit to detail or writing where possible (Ransky:1998). This restricts their need to be fluid, moving, shifting and unaccountable later when things go wrong, and ultimately they do not believe in what they offer, it’s all a game, or a con to them (Ransky:1998).
However the narcissistic guru must also embody this new revelation with all the camouflage techniques already mentioned in this article. They will passionately sell this new transformative miracle to anyone they encounter. Depending on the content of the transformation offered, the narcissist will shape-shift into the persona that draws on a balance of physical, emotional, spiritual and societal camouflage to attract and recruit new victims. The mix depends on both the nature of the transformative offering, the potential victims vulnerabilities in their own personal makeup, and the context of the introductory dynamic (i.e. whether one on one or in group setting).
Because of the shallow nature of transformation programmes versus the hard work of healing paths and programmes, the attendees at these type of “quick fix” programmes are often not committed to deep healing. They may be “spiritual tourists” who have tried everything but committed to none. They will speak loudly at cafe conversations about how they healed their life in just one session or weekend, and they are now “cleared”, “healed”, “transformed”, or “enlightened”. A more sober prognosis would be the term deluded.
Many people in society no longer have the discipline, trust or resources to make a lasting commitment to anything, let alone genuine recovery or healing. Many people think that getting a conceptual understanding by reading a book or hearing a speaker is enough. Many do not understand the difference between a conceptual understanding and a deep realisation. This type of victim is more easily fooled by surface camouflage as typically people drawn to such programmes do not look below the surface of things in life in general.
It is also easy to provide a “transformational experience” to the more shallow and naive self development traveller in life (Lifton:1983). They will feel grateful and is often open to pay for more and more such experiences which ultimately fosters a co-dependent addiction on the leader/follower dynamic. Also the new recruit is likely to be encouraged to go out like a missionary zealot, and recruit more members to the programme. I remember being berated at several life changing style group events for not bringing along friends or family to “integration” or celebration nights post the event, or spending my nights on the phone ringing up and recruiting new recruits for the programme. The fact that my indoor cricket night on a Tuesday came before sitting down and ringing people I knew to harass them to attend a transformation introduction night, did not sit well with the team leaders who monitored our “progress”!!.
Robert Jay Lifton (1983) notes that we all have a desire to have protean natures at some level. This too can then be exploited by the master protean, the narcissist who can lead the apprentice along a path of transformation according to the narcissist’s intent and will, and not where the confused and vulnerable apprentice victim understands what is really going on.
VIRTUAL REALITY CAMOUFLAGE
One new world for the narcissist has been the internet and its protean fluid like nature that allows one to assemble and project virtual realities out into cyberspace. More than never before can any person construct and hide behind a false facade, and converse and interact with others from this place. We live in the age of Protean man, argues Robert Jay Lifton, who in his book “The Protean Self”, notes that modern man is hungry for constant change and transformation. He describes many of us now being disconnected from our inner selves and others, hungry for new connections, and “in a constant process of death and rebirth of inner form”. Lifton wrote this book in 1983 before the advent of the internet but I am sure he would agree as I argue that the internet via such social network tools as Facebook, Twitter, U-Tube, and blogging, facilitates the constant protean creation and recreation of the individual. It is also a new stalking ground for the hungry narcissist who knows far better than most how to play this game in this new arena.
It is easy to setup a website, a Facebook account, a Twitter account and U-Tube presence. In this act we setup an idealised projection of what we want the world to believe who we are. From here we may want to connect from the safety of our remote and camouflaged reality. We are able to cut and paste false or doctored pictures of who we are, change sex, age, nationality, or even create entirely new Avatar style figures from which to reach out and communicate to others. This protean feature attracts many to do so, not just narcissists, and renders the internet as a fluid medium of connection but also a predatory camouflage in which to lure unsuspecting victims.
One classic example of this deception is the predatory paedophile who now use the internet as a way to camouflage as a child or teenager, make contact with children or teenagers, and begin a grooming process to gain trust, rapport, and online contact with the victim (Interpol:2009). Police forces are finding that the paedophile is well able to establish a connection with young victims who have no idea they may be dealing with adult men or women. The predator knows the language to use, the current “cool” trend or movie, and is able to easily manipulate the victim into “friendship” (Interpol:2009). The ploy or agenda is to slowly sexualise the content of the interchanges, start to play games of send me a photo of you, and I will do so too. The child sends the photo of themself, the paedophile a photo of another child victim, or a stranger child photo sourced from almost anywhere. The predator starts to suggest they “play” by sending nude photos, or do “sexting” of each other, and often this occurs (Interpol:2009).
The paedophile may leave the sexualised contact at this level, and possibly try to gain “recruits” via their new child friend who will introduce others who often also eventually act out sexually. The end game though for many paedophiles is to groom the child for contact and to meet in person, where abduction, rape or abuse may be in store for the unsuspecting child. Police forces now employ cyber-police who play the paedophile at their own game. The adult police officer creates a child persona and under this camouflage, starts to “hang out” online on chat sites, forums and FaceBook. They interact as a child with whoever makes contact with them, and lies in wait for a paedophile on the prowl. Once they make contact with an adult predator they maintain the ruse, act sexualised, play along with the predator, agree to meet, and then the police pounce and arrest the culprit. Such is the power of the internet to create a false disguise and go about predating on others.
The narcissist finds great pleasure in the internet world. Facebook is like a worshipping pedestal that the narcissist wants to be on and be worshipped by all. They, like internet or gaming addicts often gain instant gratification by seeing large numbers of friends and followers linked to their Facebook and Twitter pages (Editor:2010). Numbers count for everything on Facebook and Twitter, and a form of social anxiety emerges for the insecure when they are no longer in the limelight or receiving positive feedback (Editor:2010). The narcissist does not rely on real dynamics to create their desired image, they manipulate the system to create the outcome they desire. Internet profilers and SEO experts note that there is evidence that online “Dorothy Dix” questions and feedback/comments get posted on numerous Facebook and Twitter sites either by the owner themself, or by someone in collusion with them (Editor:2010). The comments or feedback are glowing in terms of the owner and their latest venture, activity, or achievement. It is intended to manipulate others into a conforming reality (Editor:2010).
I recently attended a talk by a visiting “international” healer, promoting a modality of healing that I was curious to see, and if it was fraudulent or not. The venue was not suitable as it was too big and “loud” in its acoustics, there were about 20 of us there, and the speaker rambled on about himself, more than about the modality. My narcissist detector was going off loudly in my brain but I stayed till the end so I could have a cup of green tea and chat to the assembled folk. The urn was broken and no-one remembered to bring the tea. I went home amused and wrote off the experience as one on how not to run a talk.
Imagine to my horror when I joined and visited this persons Facebook page and Twitter account as a follow up to see if anyone made a comment about this or any other of his engagements on his “world tour”, or workshops he ran on this tour. There were 4 comments that made me think the quantum physics theory of parallel worlds is indeed true!! If one could believe the comments from the “faithful”, there were 120 at the talk, the catering was excellent, a member of the public got a spontaneous healing, and nearly everyone had signed up to be part of his next workshop and training!! I pinched myself and wondered if I was at the same talk. I sent in a Facebook comment which never made it into the public domain. I was sent a private email demanding I desist from being negative and asking if I was possessed? I guess I was possessed except not of spirit but of a different reality. I guess I stopped being part of their Matrix.
The other internet deception is that because there is no actual face to face contact unless a web cam is used, one can hide or feign one’s feelings. This mimics the same ability of the narcissist who does this constantly in real life. Psychologists are using the term “emoticons” to describe the trend of people who stop using real feelings and emotions, and to instead replace them with graphic figures such as smiley or sad faces. The use of these symbols in online language is part of the ongoing desensitisation that is affecting our Gen X and Gen Y age groups. Increasingly psychologists argue, we are creating a world of withdrawn people who live and connect via online means, and who are losing their socialisation skills and their real identities to virtual equivalents.
The situation is affecting some teenagers and adults physical and mental health. It is becoming an acute addiction with all the classic withdrawal symptoms for the affected. This group is more susceptible to online predators as their own identities, realities, and boundaries are compromised by constant internet and online use of their time.
GROUP DYNAMICS – SELF-HELP OR SELF-ABUSE?
We have already noted that Narcissists are attracted to spiritual and transformation movements and programmes. Most of these involve group dynamics. The narcissist is often a naturally gifted speaker and can be charismatic and superficially passionate. Many such leaders use gained knowledge of psychological concepts and workings of the human condition to firstly diagnose the need or opening into the unwary victim, then works to “prove” their skill to truly “see” the suffering/dilemma of that person, ensnare them with some form of healing process or wisdom, then emotionally devour that person over time, and subtly convert them into a subservient follower or inner circle “sidekick” (Tucker:1999). Absolute compliance is expected of followers and “sidekicks”.
These dynamics are far harder to execute in business organisations where the narcissist also needs to typically fight to the top to gain whatever power needs they crave. Spiritual/self help communities and organisations offer no such constraints or delays. Narcissists simply setup such an organisation and place themselves at the top. Ransky (1998) and Lasch (1979) note that the narcissist creates an irresistible persona that conveys that they have unique spiritual gifts and access to secrets or truths imperative to that persons healing or salvation. The narcissist filters out prospective members who are just possible revenue sources but otherwise independent, versus those who are vulnerable.
This predatory nature is classic to narcissists who seek vulnerable people as prey and then “feed” off them over time, devouring their money, their independent reality, their power which they pass over to the leader, and possibly their minds, sexuality and any other aspects useful to the narcissist. The seduction which typifies the narcissistic modus operandi, often involves riveting eye contact, special feigned concern, gestures, tones of voice, and always appealing to the emotionally vulnerable, those feeling deprived or unworthy, or in need of a father or mother figure.
Narcissists instinctively know that many spiritual or self development seekers are seeking a magical answer, a formula, special healing, that will deliver them from suffering and drudgery into our all powerful godlike state. Narcissistic teachers and leaders are adept at using dynamic and intuitive powers to seduce and fool many people, often having a good grasp of psychological techniques, but being manipulative and working the audience towards their own agenda, such as the next retreat, prayer group, or workshop, or some new initiative that the narcissist compels his audience that they need to attend, and in doing so, pay the leader for the privilege.
A powerful example of this art of deception I have personally witnessed is the misuse of the psychology of “hidden dynamics”. There are a number of modalities that use or seek to make conscious the unconscious or “hidden dynamics” of systems such as family or organisational systems. The origins of many of these processes can be traced back to African and Shamanic practices which were highly spiritual, and where a preliminary extended practice of purification, or conscious altering drumming was employed to clear the participants’ minds. This important step of emptying the mind is acknowledged in many spiritual traditions as being necessary to “get oneself out the way” in mind channelling processes (Jung:1955). When these practices were “westernised” their context was lost and these important considerations overlooked (Ransky:1998). Western versions of these practices just focussed on the process because a vast majority of westerners do not possess the discipline of spiritual practice nor the ability to “clear their minds” for these hidden dynamics style processes (Ritchie:1991). This is all true before we have any subsequent problems via manipulation or misuse of these processes.
One such version of these tools and processes is Bert Hellinger’s Family and Organisational Constellations that employ a subtle form of non-verbal and embodied channelling of hidden dynamics of family or organisational systems. This is a very subjective type of process where contamination by the facilitator or the role-players is an ever present risk. A key risk is where the facilitator “primes” the group with concerns or leading information before- hand about the subject of the process, thus placing the role-players in a contaminated and influenced dynamic where compliance to the suggestion is the probable outcome.
The role-playing participants may often not be trained or experienced in the work, and Bert Hellinger warns that many constellations are corrupted by role-players either bringing their own perception or issues into the role, or wanting to create movement or an effect to please the facilitator, and not appear unable to channel information from the quantum field. Given the need for an empty mind to ensure an uncontaminated outcome, these hidden dynamic processes are problematic to facilitate when run in self help group retreats and workshops as the minds of the facilitator and attendees may already be full of emotions, issues and personal mind chatter.
In addition some writers argue that where the facilitator holds an opinion or bias on the subject or object of the constellation process, then just as in classic quantum mechanics, there is a contamination of the performed constellation by an “Observer Effect”. In addition, some interventions under the guise of classifying the constellation as an exercise in “Constructivism”, allow for possible manipulation and interference of the process and the participants to an outcome of dubious quality and intent. The highly subjective nature of this work means there is no accountability or objectivity over the process, and the facilitator can quite easily say “well that is what is in the hidden unconscious dynamics so it must be true”. As this statement can never be tested it is open to abuse.
I have personally seen some Constellations proceed under “direction” rather than emergence, and the observing client has been then told such unfolding dynamics are their unconscious truth, which again can never be tested, and is quite manipulative. I have seen the outcome of constellations used and sold to others as objective proof of negative intentions and states of minds of the constellated person, and create an outcome similar to defamation of the targeted individual. Bert Hellinger warned that constellations are like “opening a door into which one may get a glimpse of something new”, but they should never be used as a black and white outcome or reality (Auer 2003). This may not be explained to those witnessing these hidden dynamic processes. Cults often employ similar divination techniques that are manipulations designed to influence the minds in the same way that these hidden dynamics processes may unfold in the hands of an abusive facilitator.
The other old chestnut that deceptive psychological and spiritual leaders have used to influence followers and their audience is the use of “channelling” of god, angels, ascended masters, “higher selves”, or discarnate entities. This technique has blossomed since the New Age commenced in 1966, notes Ransky (1999). In this highly subjective and unaccountable dynamic, the channeller uses various techniques to portray or actually have happen, a shift in the seat of consciousness where either they “get out the way” and allow the entity to possess and communicate directly through them, or they claim to “receive messages or dialogue” that they then communicate to the audience.
There is no way of challenging these channelled “truths” as they supposedly come from a 3rd party and the channeller is just the vehicle for them, and so again is not accountable. There is a long history of supposed “higher” connected self claimed mystics or spiritual/self help leaders who have been found to be frauds, or having personality disorders, or mental health problems. Narcissists also use this deceptive and powerful technique as it places the narcissist to a higher and special status than the rest of the group, creating the illusion of being “holy”, gifted, close to god, and therefore ethical. They may appear to go into raptures, ecstasy, or hold private conversations and mumble to themself to convey perceptions of being under divine influence. To challenge them would be a hearsay akin to challenging god himself!!
Linda Martinez-Lewi (2008) identifies the key warning signs that indicate the narcissistic spiritual/self development leader is manipulating and milking their flock of followers and “sidekicks”, making themself more powerful and affluent as the real agenda. She notes (with slight modifications to words to align to those used elsewhere in this article):
1) Pay attention to the money barometer. Does the guru charge exorbitant fees for their services? Do they ever genuinely ever give anything substantial for free?
2) Is there pressure for members, followers and the curious attendees to sign up for ongoing expensive programs? (e.g. like retreats, trainings, healings and workshops), creating a pay to pray, pay to be holy, or pay to heal syndrome.
3) Devotees often venerate the guru leader, reflexively obeying them, as having being deluded by their charismatic and convincing leader, they give away their power and no longer are exercising independent critical thinking, or are co-dependent on their leader.
4) The narcissistic spiritual/self development guru often uses their closest followers or “sidekicks” as servants who perform free labour: going on special errands, cleaning their residences, arranging their lives and events. The loyal devotee or “sidekick” considers these requests as a privilege and evidence that they hold an honoured place in the guru’s hierarchy, and that are worthy.
5) Narcissists play favourites and they pit one member or follower against another to maintain ultimate power and control over the members.
6) Followers and “sidekicks” are often mistreated. The slightest mistake can cause ugly scenes of humiliation in front of other group members or being raged at in private.
7) Followers or “sidekicks” who question the spiritual/self development leader, or who evolve into independence, are considered dangerous rivals who must be excommunicated from the group. Character assassination and denigration of the rival or denounced person is commonplace.
8) The narcissistic guru or leader often behaves very differently in their personal life than amongst devotees. They are often extremely self indulgent, materialistic, greedy, and in some cases uses drugs, sex or alcohol to excess. They might engage in sexual, emotional, financial or spiritual exploitation with compliant devotees who are co-dependent and emotionally dependent, vulnerable, and psychologically fused with the leader.
POSSESSION AND DEVOURING BY NARCISSISTS
Many of the more severe narcissists effectively seeks to not just control their victims, but essentially to possess them (Tucker:1999). This goes beyond just controlling them, and is related to the predatory nature of this personality. Narcissists have both contempt and envy for others where the other person has some resource, power, or skill outside their current reach (Martinez-Lewi:2008). Narcissists want to assume or possess that which they do not yet possess which is attractive or challenging to them. The lust for more power and status from the constant acquiring of power is the fuel that drives many narcissists (Tucker:1999). Their paranoia drives a fear of devour or be devoured. Their inner real self which is shame based, insecure and self loathing drives them into their grandiose false self behaviours, which include the treadmill of compensating for their real felt flawed self by conquering, lying, deceiving, and constantly acquiring power (Meirs:2009). In some spiritual and occult traditions they actually believe that they gain the life force of the victim, and that is of immense power to them, and like a drug, they become addicted to feeding off their victims (Peck:1983).
Robert Jay Lifton (1985) notes that the narcissistic process of devouring facilitates the deepening deadening of empathy and compassion, which is always absent in narcissists. Psychologists note that Narcissists become worse over time as they age. Lifton argues this is because they become desensitised to their victim’s pain, dismissing and rationalising it, and compartmentalising it, which is a process called “psychic numbing”. The person maintains a normal social mask and presentation but underneath a whole new personality lurks complete with a dark supportive belief system. Eventually the “skin” of the social mask will be shed once real power is attained and the dark “double” personality will emerge, and some narcissists argue that this veneer of compassion and civility needs to be shed as it constrains their evolution and advancement in the pursuit of power.
Scott Peck (1983) in his book “People of the Lie”, discusses the malignant narcissistic devouring process of their victims as causing diffuse pain, confusion, revulsion, and unease to the victim whose identity is potentially annihilated in the process. This annihilation of the victims separate identity is no accident or by-product of the devouring process, it is the attempt at possession of the victim by the narcissist. This deliberate attempt to eradicate or compromise the reputation and then the separate identity of another person is called “soul murder” by Leonard Shengold, whose book “Soul Murder” illustrates the abuse of power in which a stronger person breaks down and destroys the inner resources, identity and reputation of a weaker person.
This is typically a slow drawn out process where the victim has some utility for the narcissist and there is a partial replenishment of life force and resources occurring which can then be drained again and again. Critics and threats to the narcissist will normally not suffer a drawn out devouring as a victim would. They must be crushed and overcome with force due to the rage driving the narcissist, and this example made of such a person then binds other witnessing victims in group settings closer to the narcissist out of fear of being next in line for annihilation (Tucker:1999). Narcissists love to make examples of critics, competitors and victim followers, as it breeds fear, which is a narcissistic supply of their power in the world (Behary:2008).
Possession becomes a slow, long form of devouring the victim. Depending on the skill of the narcissist, and the industry or occupation that they worm their way into, the opportunity as a predator to possess their victims can exist at different levels, argues Tucker (1999). Possession can be defined in this context as ownership, invasion and domination, and abandonment by the narcissist, or escape by the victim, which usually signals the end of such possession (Tucker:1999). Narcissists are essentially co-dependent on others for resources and narcissistic supplies, and so do not exist as loners. Victims, followers and “sidekicks” are necessary for narcissists to function (Behary:2008). Possession of people is the means to the end, and occurs at deepening levels according to the defences and makeup of the targeted victim, and the degree of mental aberration of the possessor.
Tucker (1999) argues that physical possession is the least effective as the person still has conscious free will and inner resources available to them. Physical possession occurs when the victim’s physical actions and body are controlled by an outside force beyond their control, either via physical restraint, or the threat of some form of harm. Slavery, imprisonment, bullying, enforced prostitution, are direct forms of this possession. Narcissists are intelligent and subtle and so normally employ subtle physical possession of followers via such means as “voluntary” physical activities such as cleaning, campaigning, doing manual tasks, being their unpaid assistant, or doing delegated job tasks of a manual nature.
Narcissists use this form of possession more to avoid having to “lower” themself to do menial tasks which is an insult to their grandiose sense of self (Behary:2008). There is not much actual utility value from these low level tasks but yet they need to be done. The narcissist knows this and so has “sidekicks” in place to carry out these basic tasks, normally on an unpaid basis for which the sidekick feels privileged. The narcissist however has other victims in mind whose level of utility is greater, and whom they seek to possess at a deeper level.
Tucker (1999) argues that narcissists target all victims at an emotional level, as here they enter the inner world of the victim, and here a whole armoury of techniques are available to the narcissist. It is at this point that the boundary often lies between a classic psychopath and a narcissist, who is essentially a version of the psychopathic personality (Lowen:1986). Babiak (2006) notes that classic psychopaths are impulsive and emotionally reactive people who tend to employ more body-centric forms of coercion than a narcissist who is better able to hide and control their feelings and project an intelligent and stable social mask to the world. Our jails normally have cells filled with psychopaths who commit more violent and impulsive crimes, whilst narcissists who end up in prison (where they feign innocence), tend to be there for economic, financial, and white collar crimes.
Behari (2008) notes that because narcissists have repressed their own inner value system, they lie as convincingly as telling the truth, and use deceit and exaggeration as a core modus operandi in life. The narcissist enjoys denying and reshaping the reality of their victims into their own image and truth. All victims are needy at some level, and of their free will go along with the narcissist, but this is done from a place of trust, a trust that is violated early in the relationship, and which is reframed to suit the narcissist (Tucker:1999). The narcissist works to possess and control a victims emotions beyond their knowledge and power to resist, eliciting from the victim specific emotions at specific times, creating emotional control (Tucker:1999).
The narcissist also sets the emotional tone for the relationship with the victim, often creating a reality that they are helping the victim with “fatherly or motherly” concern, just before shaming, humiliating or crushing them, to reinforce the victims sense that they are unworthy, flawed, in trouble, or need to reprove their loyalty and commitment to the narcissist (Ransky:1998). One of the most common wounds in people is parental abandonment, which later in life translates to those in authority or a mentoring or management role for the person concerned (Johnson:1987). Narcissists know this and will often try to set themselves up in a parental dynamic with their victims. Once a bond is gained then abandonment can be then be threatened as a form of control of the victim.
In this way look for sentences couched in terms such as “I have been really concerned for you for some time now”, and more ominously “I’ve been getting negative reports about you and your work from others in your team for some time now”, or “I don’t think I can continue to work or associate with you anymore”. These sort of statements are designed to put the victim into shame and crisis, to fear abandonment from the paternal or maternal bosom that has after all, according to the narcissist, only been concerned for the victims best interests. This common tactic is designed to force an often false confession from the accused victim, which is often done with peers, followers, and “sidekicks” present, to assassinate their character, colour the perception of the audience against the accused, and humiliate the victim (Ransky:1998). This bonds the group to the narcissist in fear, a fear that they too could end up like that other poor soul, and so they redouble their efforts to “prove” their loyalty to their master (Ransky:1998).
Narcissistic leaders of communities and groups cultivate informers and spies amongst their most trusted “sidekicks”. Communist era soviet countries such as the USSR, East Germany, and Nazi Germany, were all ruled by malignant narcissists such as Stalin, Hoenecker, and Hitler, who projected their paranoia onto the state apparatus by creating a society of spies and informers amongst neighbours, families, workers, and friends (Peck:1983). In spiritual and self development groups, narcissists cultivate an “inner circle” of “sidekicks” who work for free, give up time and autonomy to serve their master, and who willingly “inform” on other members, who they have been conditioned to believe represent a threat, are disloyal, or have been told by the narcissist are mentally or emotionally unwell (Ransky:1998). The narcissist is looking for information to be used for character assassinations either in private or in public as already mentioned, or to bring up with the victim as if obtained through clairvoyance or divine means. Any information gained also confirms the narcissist’s paranoid reality that they cannot trust anyone anyway.
One a narcissist loses whatever semblance of feigned trust they claimed they had for a follower, victim or “sidekick”, that person’s days are numbered. There is no redemption in the mind of a narcissist, its either devour or be devoured, and they always strike first even before the victim is even aware an issue really exists in the mind of the narcissist (Tucker:1999). Narcissists enjoy the element of surprise and ambush, as the victim will not be able to mount a concrete or coherent defence, and will normally collapse. Betrayal is sweet for a narcissist as they in their paranoid reality they always complain of being betrayed, and it’s part of their victim mask they use to elicit sympathy and loyalty from followers, victims and “sidekicks” (Ransky:1998). The followers as a group will often be secretly primed with negative information before the ambush occurs against the targeted victim or now disloyal follower or “sidekick”.
The ambushing attack is best done in front of other followers so it negatively influences the followers perceptions in regards to the victim, as when they see the surprised victim not offering a coherent defence, they see that as proof of the negative information the narcissist has already primed them with, before he attacks the victim (Ransky:1998). It’s a negative self-reinforcing reality that brings great negative pleasure. In a subtle form it may manifest as a spiritual or psychological process to elicit “the truth” of that persons unconscious negative intentions towards the leader, such as performed in a contrived “hidden dynamics” type process mentioned earlier in this article. In extreme cults, disloyal followers are actually attacked, raped or even ritually killed or sacrificed, thus spilling onto the group their life force which is accessed via their blood and emotional energies released in this process, and used in rituals to further empower the survivors in the group (Tucker:1999).
What follows is most often a cover-up of the activities that occurred. In subtle forms, negative results of processes or information is sometimes released without consent or knowledge of the intended target. In extreme cults the modus operandi is that the “scene” is cleaned up, survivors threatened, and some used in the killing and raping process to bind their loyalty via guilt of committing a felony (Tucker:1999). In business and spiritual/self development group settings, a form of manipulated reality is used with the loyal witnesses. In corporate settings, a sworn secrecy, omission or alteration to documents and minutes of meetings, may occur to prevent disclosure and accountability (Babiak:2006). This is energetically the same “blood on the hands” that extreme cults use, and it serves to bond the survivors deeper into the secret and craziness of the narcissistic paranoid world, which the surviving followers see as exhilarating and proof that they are special followers or “sidekicks” in the eyes of their master (Tucker:1999).
In this process, part of the surviving follower group also starts to “psychically numb”, just as the narcissist has already achieved, and soon a “group think” develops where the follower loses more and more of their autonomy and independence, and they are more deeply penetrated and manipulated by the narcissistic leader as a consequence. I have personally witnessed professional men and women slide into these passive and subservient “sidekick” roles from the machinations of a narcissistic leader. I also was once effectively a “sidekick” for a narcissistic leader and so know how subtly but completely this deception and giving up of autonomy, boundaries, and healthy reality can occur.
Narcissists use this emotional level of possession to manipulate their followers. Narcissistic CEO’s will manipulate their board members to vote according to their wishes, will identify and work on co-dependent board members to “buy” their loyalty. (Weiner:2002) Further they will seek to dislodge independent Board members who resist being controlled, and appoint sycophantic “sidekick” or “lapdog” Board members or Directors who will present no trouble or opposition to the CEO’s grandiose and paranoid, self entitled belief they should exercise sole control of the company (Weiner:2002). The other Board members are effectively there for subservience, and Corporate Governance is really just window dressing as all key power and decision making will remain with the narcissistic CEO. The narcissist will orchestrate Board or Director level restructures to install themself as CEO or to weaken the powerbase of any threat to them at this level of the organisation (Weiner:2002).
The start-up companies where the narcissist was from the beginning the CEO do not face this chaos. Normally the CEO will try to run the company alone or at best with an Advisory Board who can make the CEO look good by supplying him with advice and ideas, but who have no power in the running of the company. In spiritual/self development communities the narcissistic leader faces none of these dilemmas. They are in position through the “special power” of their gifts, talents, or being “chosen by god”, which makes it hard for us mere mortals to argue with!!. There is normally no effective level of review and accountability within these communities, as there is the leader, and a loose or organised group of “sidekick” members who typically work for free under instruction from the narcissistic leader.
They are “worker bees” who enforce loyalty, sell the products and services of the leader and their modality or movement, and who act as informers to the leader when dissension shows up. The narcissistic leader “milks” the community for their time, ideas, labour, money, and promotion of the leader and their products and services. Loyalty means signing up to whatever is the next thing being promoted by the leader, and shunning disloyal members by using one’s negative emotions against them. This use of negative emotions is effectively the narcissistic leader possessing and controlling feelings of the followers. The followers direct their negative feelings on behalf of the leader, against the enemies of the leader (Tucker:1999).
I CAN’T GET YOU OUT OF MY HEAD!!
If the community has a psychological or self development or human transformation basis, and there is a therapist/client dynamic involved via the leader and the followers, then the risk intensifies. It is an accepted dynamic of most forms of therapy that the therapist has in unequal power relationship with their client, where the therapist constellates a parental archetype holding much power, and the client assumes a childlike archetype who with trust places themself in the “safe hands” of emotional, cognitive and possibly physical and spiritual control of the therapist (Hedges etal:1997). This is a real honey pot for the narcissist. A narcissistic therapist can invade the client’s cognitive, emotional and spiritual life and literally call forward any emotion they wish (Tucker:1999).
They get to hide behind the therapist role in doing so, they have the clients consent and hence submission, and if the submission is facing resistance or is incomplete, the therapist can invoke in the client feelings of fear, terror, abandonment and even self-hate to main control (Ransky:1998). The use of suggestion, psychological concepts, hypnosis, and transference all give narcissistic tools to invade, dominate, control and reshape clients into obedient followers, “sidekicks”, or co-dependent and needy clients (Tucker:1999). Often the victims of this form of emotional control are encouraged and feel a need to regularly “check-in” with the therapist leader, who fosters a co-dependent reality from this place (Ransky:1998). Regular check-ins are one way a narcissist reinforces and maintains control of followers and “sidekicks”, and to monitor their independent thinking processes.
I have personally witnessed this “check-in” phenomena and how it is used as a tool for control, manipulation, and to shape followers reality. I was in a situation where regular “check-ins” to a self development leader were encouraged and expected. I personally did not want to “check-in” on a regular basis as I did not feel a need, and was healthy and functioning and getting on with my life and responsibilities. The leader then started to “pathologise” me to break me down and submit to their will and control. The leader used manipulation via extracting parts of what they knew about me and my history, fashioning that information into a psychological framework that was then reconveyed to state that I was not well, needed their ongoing support, and that they were only “acting out of concern”.
I knew I was fine and sought independent advice which confirmed that view and highlighted the insidious process at work here. The leader upon realising I would not submit to their will, then started to pathologise me to others, and conducted character assassination on my name and reputation in collusion with trusted “sidekicks”. The leader had a co-dependent follower try to get close to me and then report back to them all that I said or did. The faithful followers believed the leader and their manipulation of myself, which meant that I was ostracised from that point onwards. I left that movement having been exposed to someone who exhibited many unhealthy narcissistic leadership traits, yet whose followers were naive or bonded in a co-dependent idealised view of this person. It is so easy to get fooled in this way as I found out.
Narcissistic therapists are never wrong with their clients, and Tucker (1999), argues the narcissist convinces the victim they are in the presence of someone stronger, better, wiser, more self-assured, who loves the victim and cares for the victim despite the victims many flaws and weaknesses. The victim will occasionally challenge or raise doubts as the therapist strips them of their defences and self worth, feeling self doubt at what is occurring. Typically the narcissistic therapist will then feign injury, stating “how can you say or feel that, I am just here for you, trying to heal you, and I’ve only ever shown you love and concern”. The denial of the persons impulses, feelings and reality is a key way the narcissist takes over emotional control of the client (Ransk:1998).
The client never emerges feeling good from being manipulated in this way. The therapist will denounce feelings that arise in the client as being grudges or resentment and that to free yourself of them is healthy else it will hold you back somehow. The feelings and emotions are often valid and express boundary violations that are taking place in therapy but are made to feel flawed and wrong for having them (Tucker:1999). Victims (clients) may start to disorient from such psychological assault, and often manifest psychosomatic illness, notes Lowen (1986). The victimised client then often turns back to the very person creating their issues, their narcissistic therapist, and so a downward spiral ensures, which is according to the narcissist plan, argues Tucker (1999).
After a transition period of instability and being broken down, a new compliant reality emerges where the victimised client actually stabilises and starts to feel normal again (Ransky:1998). They have in fact normalised the redesigned self in accordance with the narcissistic therapists plan for them (Tucker:1999). From this point on they are compliant and malleable to the narcissist’s whims. In extreme cults such as Jim Jones, Davidian or Solar Temple, followers will follow their leader to their deaths. In more subtle forms there are now a compliant group of followers serving their master in whatever shape or form that dictates, even when the group or organisation presents a benevolent face to the public (Ransky:1998).
In another variation of the recruitment of members and followers, the hallmarks of the narcissist at work appear. I have heard of instances where clients of other therapists in the same healing community, or from an outside healing modality, who go along to a talk, workshop, retreat or “event” of some charismatic leader, and the leader then offers to “stay in touch” with these people. These arrangements are couched as a fatherly or motherly compassionate and “free” support and concern, but are a triangulation of the sacred client-therapist relationship. Normally after a while the narcissists supportive “chats” turn to concerns the narcissist has with the quality of advice and therapy the person are getting from their therapist. Ransky (1998) notes in this dynamic that subtly but powerfully the seeds of dissent are planted in the client, and if the leader can gather evidence of faulty or poor advice from the other therapist, will point this out to the client and suggest they start to see them instead, or at least stop seeing their therapist.
This dynamic is another subtle but powerful form of character assassination that I have witnessed occurring in numerous spiritual/self development communities. The client has no idea what is going on. They feel “special” that this great and special leader takes time to phone them, an unworthy or troubled soul, who is getting “seen” and feeling “wanted”, which may be a core issue for them in this life. They fail to see how the narcissist has “triangulated” their therapy setting, which for many is a recreation of the childhood dynamic with their parents, where they may have been used by one of the parents, or kept a secret for a parent (Ransky:1998).
Ransky (1998) notes that these arrangements are normally done where the leader suggests to the client that they keep this friendly “chat” a secret from their therapist, thus recreating a triangle and secret keeping, which were often dysfunctional dynamics from childhood. Hedges et al (1997) warns of the dangers that therapists can have in creating seductive triangulated relationships between potential clients and their current therapists. If the therapist does find out and objects, which is the appropriate course of action, the narcissistic leader manipulates the client by saying such things as “I was just trying to support you, what about them, sounds like their only concern is your money”, and “it’s your right to speak to me if you want…. who are they to control your life”, and “sounds like your therapist is threatened by this….. are you sure they are professional? … they sound like amateurs to me!!”.
The other therapist is in a no-win bind whatever move they make, and normally lose their client at this point due to the transference and the emotional manipulation that has occurred (Hedges et al:1997). The narcissistic therapist knows this and works the dynamic to their benefit, always hiding behind the mask of just wanting to help and be there for someone in need. This is a predator at their best or worst whichever way you look at it. This is why professional bodies such as Psychotherapists and Counsellors Federation of Australia (PACFA), which regulate psychotherapists and counsellors outlaw the practice of interference by a practitioner of another practitioner’s therapist-client relationship, and outlaw the practice of “poaching” clients from other therapists. The client gets damaged by this abuse but that does not concern the narcissistic therapist.
The other violation that occurs in such settings is the presence of dual relationships between client and therapist. According to professional bodies such as PACFA, therapists have no basis or right to conduct dual relationships with their clients. Any presence of a dual relationship may signal inappropriate abuse of the client by the therapist, and in my personal understanding of these dynamics, it may signal the presence of a narcissistic personality preying on their clients. Given clients enter therapy in an unequal power dynamic with the therapist who equates to a parental type of figure, clients are susceptible to being manipulated into serving the therapists needs and propping them up, rather than the therapist serving the client’s needs (Ransky:1998).
Manipulative leaders and therapists will always try to justify inappropriate or dual relationships as this is one aspect of their lives that cannot be camouflaged and minimised, and so rationalisation and justification remains their only remaining defence (Ransky:1998). Likewise bodies like PACFA warn that dual relationships are an abuse by the therapist of the client and invite potential professional and legal sanction against the therapist who engages in such conduct (PACFA Code of Conduct). Hedges et al (1997) warns therapists that this dual relationship is unethical and the sign of poor boundaries, and a potentially unsafe and possibly self serving therapist.
Emotional abuse also occurs where the therapist persuades the client to buy into the therapists reality over some meta-physical or other explanation for their suffering, or some healing technique that cannot be empirically proven but relies purely on faith (e.g. past lives), notes Tucker (1998). The client may exalt the therapist onto some pedestal where they ascribe special powers, clairvoyance or god status to the narcissist, which creates a great source and supply of narcissistic reinforcement for the narcissistic ego of the therapist.
The therapist will promote this idealisation and feed off it, by selling the client on more courses and events, making them special (creating the basis for followership and “sidekick” status). The narcissist cannot be held accountable for these fanciful meta-physical claims as normally they are beyond proof and accountability, but such therapists often start to buy-in to their own grandiosity and specialness, and start claiming they are “mystics”, “ascended masters” or in direct contact with ascended masters, or can “channel” divine wisdom or guidance (Ritchie:1999), for a fee of course!!
In Australia there is effectively no regulation in place over who can use the term “counsellor” and so it creates almost no barriers for entry by narcissists wanting to exploit in this way. A glance through any new-age healing magazine reveals a multitude of adverts from some very “enlightened” people who make all sort of grandiose claims. It would not be unfair to claim that the odd wolf lies in amongst that group, hidden in healers clothing.
(CEO) – CONTROL, EXTRACT, OVERTAKE
In organisations the same set of emotional devouring, manipulation, and controlling techniques are employed, but in more subtle ways, where the political environment and team dynamics that exist in any organisation, must be shaped and used to serve the narcissist or corporate psychopath. Many of the techniques mentioned above show up, but there are better boundaries in organisations, HR policies that dictate appropriate behaviours, and an absence of permission to “invade” other employees’ realities and privacy.
Summarising Bubiak (1999), the climb to the top of an organisation relies on the “chameleon” nature of the narcissist to shape other peoples reality and perception of them, whilst subtly lobbying and positioning themself with the formal and informal powerbrokers and stakeholders of the company. Babiak (1999), notes that part of reason that narcissists have been able to get into and thrive in modern organisations is their modern dynamic, often chaotic state. He argues that as the old stable bureaucratic organisation was stripped of its many layers of middle management, many checks and balances also fell by the way side. In addition there was a need for the cold ruthless type of “gun for hire” type manager to come in, restructure, and downsize with mass redundancies. Cold hearted, ruthless narcissists fitted the bill perfectly.
In addition the narcissist is used to chaos as their inner life is chaotic, often their personal lives are chaotic, and the fast paced changes in organisations where documentation is scant, risk taking required, and fast paced action required, suits the narcissists style, notes Martinez-Lewi (2008). Narcissists enjoy the challenge, excitement, stress and chaos of fast paced organisations, where rewards for risk taking and entrepreneurial action exist (Babiak:2006). Narcissists became the new corporate heroes and gathered the status, wealth, acclaim and publicity they strove for (Meier:2009). The problem is that only years later are we seeing the excesses, damage and criminality of many of these corporate narcissists who were let loose at the highest levels of organisations in the gung-ho “greed is good” years (Probyn:2009). Writers such as Meier, Weiner and Babiak argue that the era of the corporate excesses equates to the narcissists in charge of the 1980’s boom, the year 2000 dot com boom, and the more recent lending/financing boom, and the resulting near Depression and GFC aftermath we are struggling with now in 2010.
The United States is seen by a number of authors as being the key culture that makes narcissism a virtue.” The American” has long been portrayed as grandiose, self entitled, over bearing, and hard to suffer. In corporate terms, the excesses of America makes everyone else pale, and corporate behaviour of its executives in recent times shows traits of extreme narcissism. In his article “The Lessons Unlearned”, Catherine Fox (2009) notes that Goldman Sach’s bonus pool for 2009 was 20-23 billion American dollars, despite the US Government effectively bailing them out, and in the face of a chorus of severe criticisms of their own part in the rampant greed that underpinned the resulting 2009 Global Financial Crisis (GFC).
Respected ethics researchers such as Simon Longstaff (2010), argue that there has been no soul searching or meaningful inner reflection of the crisis and corporate America’s collective part in its creation. Corporate psychologists such as Giles Burch note that the triad of psychopathy, narcissism, and Machiavellian behaviour has created toxic behaviours that are very resistant to self change in the corporate world, and it will take strong and sustained external regulatory intervention to create lasting change (Fox:2009). This intervention is unlikely to occur as even the Australian Governments Productivity Commission report on Executive Pay has been panned as ineffective, a whitewash, and “all talk”, notes Maiden (2010).
In organisations the narcissist will employ a number of tactics in the “CEO” process of control, extract, and overtake. Character assassination is well used, appropriation of others work and efforts occurs, and the ability to sense and diagnose other peoples strengths and weaknesses is a constant radar signal they emit. An office affair with the right person to gain knowledge or a promotion is just a means to an end, and the creating and breaking of alliances is all part of the job. Corporate psychopaths enjoy the cut and thrust of office politics and are normally very adept at playing the political games. The use of destructive gossip to damage others is one form of character assassination they typically employ, but the prize of power, money and status accrues not from the employees but from the organisation itself. They are known to manage upwards and abuse downwards, and tolerate those at the same level for the moment, until they climb higher, when they abandon those they used, and now show ambivalence or disdain towards them (Weiner:2002).
MIND POSESSION – THE REALM OF PSYCHOPATHIC ORGANISATIONS AND CULTS
If a narcissist is operating from the area of emotional possession, then there is a distinct overlap into the area of mind possession. I have already touched on it above in emotional possession for it is often hard to separate the two as each relies on the other. Psychologists agree that beliefs give rise to feelings, and feelings resonate with beliefs and conclusions about oneself, the world and others. Distinctly it is the area of a victims core beliefs being controlled, shaped and changed by a narcissist that denotes mind possession in this article. This occurs in both organisational and spiritual/self development settings, as well as families, relationships and cultures. The basic ideas a person holds about themself, life, others, the world, and their place in the world, is the substrate of mind where beliefs form and arise, and from which emotions then follow. A narcissist who can invade and possess a victims mind achieves a deeper level of possession than at the higher level of emotions, notes Tucker (1999).
If you control someone’s mind then you control what that person believes to be true. Given we all live from our own subjective reality of the world, it is not hard to imagine how this can undergo change at the hands of a skilled narcissist. My use of the term “sidekick” qualitatively describes someone who has voluntarily or involuntary given up their thinking mind and adopted the mindset of the controlling narcissist in those areas of interest to the narcissist. The person may still have many other independent thinking aspects of self untouched by the narcissist, but the core beliefs and mind spaces that the narcissist decides need transforming, are effectively changed to their benefit. Psychological studies show that beliefs lead to perception, action and emotions so the narcissist starts to gain real leverage of their victim at this level.
Psychological assault either of a subtle but sustained process, or a sudden and intense intervention, or the two conjoined, are used to create dramatic shifts in core beliefs, in the personality and behaviour which depends on them, notes Tucker (1999). These practices are more likely to be found in Guatanamo Bay than in organisations and with your everyday narcissist, but extreme cults and some military apparatus are known to use these techniques. An organisation that is psychopathic in itself, which is a phenomenon now agreed by Scott Peck, Paul Babiak, and captured by George Orwell’s 1984 novel, can apply the ongoing stress and psychological assault of its employees till they “buy-in” to the company ethos and culture, even when it is corrupt and violates the employees’ personal values.
The infusion of corporate “spirit” by senior management into employees has been noted by authors such as Scott Peck as being the same process used in cults, occult groups, and arcane religious orders. Individuals give up parts of themself and are “possessed” by their organisation to be accepted, get promoted, and prove their loyalty. Psychopathic organisations are usually an extension of their psychopathic or narcissistic CEO. CEO’s of this ilk see the organisation as an extension of themself, to be plundered by them, devoured by them, owned by them, with all employees requiring to submit to them unconditionally (Weiner:2002).
Narcissistic leaders and CEO’s are want to be heard using such phrases as “you are either for me or against me” or other such dramatic sayings straight out of Hollywood, and often see themselves as a “Godfather” like figure, where displays of loyalty are constantly required to earn their favour (Ransky:1998). Employees start to give up life “outside” the organisation, instead working late each day, working weekends, becoming workaholics to prove their loyalty. The organisation becomes uncaring regarding the impact to their workers, their families, and relationships. The organisation is in effect possessing the employee, and eating up more of their life force and time with work activities.
The pressure on peers to conform then grows, with the boss highlighting and rewarding the corporate “heroes” who go the extra mile for the organisation, who work for 24 hours without sleep to get that tender bid done, or some other heroic action. The “heroes” are deified for a brief period and the message is clear, conform and become part of the team, or get out. Many readers will nod their head reading this description, for Australia has one of highest hourly working weeks and unpaid overtime rates in the OECD, notes a 2009 union study. One of the way this can occur is via the corporate mind control of employees by a psychopathic organisation.
Studies have shown that corporate workaholics suffer mental and physical health issues, loss of relationships and marriages, and eventually some form of burnout (Probyn:2009). Psychopathic organisations literally devour such individuals, letting them burn themself out, sacking them via restructures, redundancies, or managing them out via performance management processes (Weiner:2002). They then simply recruit a replacement, and wait for the cultural forces to manipulate them into a workaholic replacement. Gareth Morgan (1986), in his book on organisations, “Images of Organisation”, argues that many organisations are “psychic prisons” and instruments of domination. He argues that unions were formed to fight such domination. Employees are constantly fighting for their freedom from organisational oppression and harbour dreams of freedom via a better employer, lottery wins, and stealing from the organisation as a symbol of rebellion.
WHO’S HELPING WHO ?
The spiritual/self development movements also are known to employ such coercive psychological techniques. I once joined a well known self development group where there was immense pressure to spend my evenings phoning potential new recruits, and help out at seminars. I was counselled, told I had some form of problem or “racket” because I did not see the benefits of participating in this way. I started to feel the cold shoulder of other willing members who started to talk and sound the same, who debated with me incessantly to break down my logic and arguments as to why I did not feel a need to participate in that way. I left and found myself releasing great stress as a result. This is also what people report who leave psychological assault environments, and some end up suffering Post Traumatic Stress Disorder (PTSD) as a result of such psychological assault.
Vulnerable people often seek out help from such groups and therapists when in the midst of a major life crisis. These people are vulnerable to having a manipulative person reshape their values and undergo what is termed a conversion experience (Tucker: 1999). Brainwashing pioneer Edgar Schein calls this 3 stage process the “unfreezing”, “changing” and “refreezing” of the victim. Crisis can naturally produce an “unfreezing” of core values of a person as they suffer a “meltdown” of their reality.
If someone is vulnerable and is seeking support and counsel from a narcissistic spiritual or self development guru, they are potentially exposed to having the narcissist instead manipulate their core values and identity. Over time one may see a dynamic established in which the client sees the predatory narcissist as kind, helpful, wise and supportive. If the narcissist ridicules them, they deserved it, and if they hurt them, they had good reason. Over time “in therapy” such a person typically becomes fully loyal and dedicated to their narcissistic master. They ask no questions and harbour no doubts as they are the ultimate “sidekick”. They will give intense loyalty, energy, devotion and enthusiasm for little or no return, and simply follow directions, believing all the time that their decisions are freely made. A classic trait of a narcissist is to gather around them a entourage of “sidekicks” who cater to their every whim, and perform all the drudgery tasks, without question, and for no return (Ransky:1998).
Robert Tucker (1999) gives an extensive list of behaviours and signs to look for if someone you know has succumbed to deep emotional and/or mind control. I have only changed wording to reflect those used throughout this article. The behaviours/signs are:
1) A sudden and complete transformation of personality; the “new” person is a complete rejection of the “old”.
2) Total rejection of all old friends, family, and relevant others. Communication and connections are all cut.
3) A new “language”; the person will speak with a jargon that is complete in itself, but unfamiliar to old friends, and completely out of alignment with their old personality.
4) A whole new “family” of people, all of them connected to the controlling leader, will suddenly circle the person. Outsiders will not be able to enter this circle.
5) A rejection and suppression of all critical questioning and doubt about the controlling leader.
6) A willingness to do whatever the controlling leader asks, no matter what the costs; this could mean anything from cover-ups, stealing money to harming people targeted by the controlling leader, and maintaining an outward facade of normalcy.
7) A virulent hatred of the controlling leader’s critics and enemies, and a desire to cause them harm. Generally, a deep suspicion and rejection of all outsiders who have not submitted to the controlling leader.
8) A powerful belief that a dark and secret conspiracy exists against the controlling leader, and that this conspiracy can only be defeated by expanding the controlling leader’s power and influence in the real world.
9) A “love” of the controlling leader so deep as to be coiled within the persons basic survival needs: the possessed follower believes that death, annihilation or worse will result if ever they challenge the controlling leader. Generally, a primal fear of breaking free of the controlling leader: “if I oppose you, I’ll die”.
10) The annihilation of selfhood: the possessed person ceases to operate independently. He or she turns to the controlling leader for answers to all problems, and for decisions for all questions “If you don’t own me, I don’t know who I am, so you have to tell me what to do”.
11) An imperviousness to reason, emotion, appeal, other than that offered by the controlling leader: only the controlling leader’s voice is relevant and meaningful.
According to Ransky (1998), those spiritual/self development movements that “educate” their followers in psychological techniques often omit teaching or educating students and followers in the dynamics and concepts that would expose the narcissistic leader. He identifies a number of key areas that would be corrupted or omitted:
1) Narcissism in its unhealthy form as Narcissistic Personality Disorder (NPD), or possibly any mention of narcissism itself.
2) Codependency itself or as a dynamic of abuse by parents or leaders.
3) Transference and Counter-transference. These critical aspects of a person’s functioning and interpersonal dynamics are often corrupted so that the leader effectively positions themself as having no transference with their followers and “sidekicks”. This grandiosity also then puts the burden of shame, guilt, blame, flawed self, and unworthiness back on the student or follower which assists in allowing the leader to suppress and control any attempt to challenge them as being anything other than perfect.
An insidious example of abuse of transference was a spiritual leader who claimed to have no transference at all with his group. This person instead claimed through a manipulative explanation that the followers “stuff” with him, was baggage they carried from their therapists, and tried to make the therapists the blame for any transferential dynamics. This leader wanted to be “clean as snow”, and a godlike figure beyond psychological dynamics, and beyond reproach. The leader was completely off the hook, and he damaged the therapists whom he had issues with, a point which he did not disclose to his followers.
This was in effect arguably a form of mind and reality control.
4) Emotional or mind control information and concepts which might alert followers or students to techniques being employed by the leader.
According to Ransky (1998), the object of such a deceptive leader is to insert their reality inside the follower/student such that the follower/student is unaware they have lost part of their independent functioning self in the process. This is effectively the modus operandi of a cult.
Survivors of psychotherapeutic cults and spiritual groups often emerge without a solid sense of self to show for all their years of followership. Many may have started out only wanting to work on an issue in their life, or learn some new concept, or deepen their spiritual path, and then years or up to a decade later, after tens or hundreds of thousands of dollars have been spent, they emerge(Ransky:1998). (handymanconnection.com) Many emerge because they no longer have utility value (e.g. any money left), or have upset or become a threat to the paranoid Narcissistic leader, who has milked them dry emotionally, mentally, and financially (Ritchie:1991).
Tucker (1999) states that many have a new crisis as they have relied so much on the co-dependency and group-think environment, they struggle to maintain an independent operative identity. Others realise they have been conned and are angry at what deceptions became obvious during their time in the group, which normally led to their exiting voluntarily, or being ejected (Ransky:1998).
I personally noticed a core group of followers in every movement who stayed past the reason for staying. When their spiritual path or their course finished, they lingered on for years, just attending the next thing. Like birds being ejected from the nest so they would be forced to fly, this never happened. They always gave the appearance of needing the leader in their life in order to be OK, and they did not possess adult critical thinking that would make them ask why as adults they felt a need to cling to the leader and the group. In essence they never asked themself the key question. If I came for healing or spiritual growth then why is I can now still not stand independently on my own 2 feet? Ransky (1998) notes that many who exit will go on to adopt another co-dependent relationship or join another abusive group.
NEW AGE DRIVERS TOWARDS AN AGE OF NARCISSISM
The sociologist Christopher Lasch (1984), noted in his book “The Culture of Narcissism”, that “In a dying culture, narcissism appears to embody …. in the guise of personal “growth” and “awareness” …. the highest attainment of spiritual enlightenment”. Martinez-Lewi notes that “many of us make the assumption that if an individual has theological credentials or training or claims in spiritual disciplines, he or she is authentic. Some of the most insidious forms of narcissism are perpetrated by spiritual teachers and gurus”.
I believe that we in the Western world are very susceptible to the predation by spiritual/self development gurus as a vacuum now exists where the church once played the role as the higher power and spiritual base for many people. The decline of the church and religion in society has not quenched many people’s desire for connection to spiritual truths, or indeed to be “saved” by some guru or enlightened person/being. The process of giving one’s personal power to some higher power is very attractive to the predatory narcissist who instinctively knows the role of spiritual/self development leader naturally delivers many resources and dynamics naturally demanded by the narcissistic personality.
Writers such as Scott Peck (1983), Ransky (1998), Cawthorne (1991), Ritchie (1999), and others see the New Age spiritual movement as a form of narcissism, and this is why it attracts so many narcissistic adherents. They collectively argue along the lines that follow. New Age philosophy is predicated with the idea that there is no personal god, hence you are not answerable or accountable to any other deity or higher power than yourself, or some universal life force. There is no sin, no need for shame, no evil, all of which are constructs of a controlling, scandal ridden church state. We each are elevated to being gods, we just need to realise that and become that. Once we start behaving as gods (which is the narcissistic aim or goal), we are liberated. We do not need to apologise to anyone, nor have conscience beyond the concept of a positive intention.
If in your pursuit of godhead, you run over someone else and damage or offend them, then well, too bad, that’s their stuff, karma or issue, and you are not accountable to them, only yourself. You are better placed to yell at them “stop being a victim!!” as you drive off down the road as that is an enlightened awareness they obviously need.
We are all one but in that I am number one and if the universe has not proven infinitely abundant to you, well then that’s your stuff, but keep your hand off my stash!! This is all narcissistic in the extreme but it’s now the prevailing myth and replacement for authentic spiritual discipline that most lazy westerners embrace. No need for discipline or restraint in this path, it’s just what you want, when you want it, as the universe is abundant and infinite. This is narcissistic heaven, but now plagues us in society with its extension now being felt everywhere, where everybody has all personal freedoms and rights, but let’s not talk about the equally relevant responsibilities. Personal responsibility has broken down from this place, and the New Age movement is a key driver in this change (Meier:2009). Many personal transformations programmes use these new-age narcissistic constructs (Tucker:1999).
Another key form of mind control is the New Age perversion of the concept of there being no evil and no such thing as a victim. In this contrived reality there is nothing outside you that can be blamed for your circumstance, for that makes you a victim, and victims are powerless. The New Age theme is to take back your power by putting the cause of the problem back inside you in every instance and every case. This logic to me needs a boundary between the truth of unconscious dynamics that we recreate in our lives which may keep us powerless and victims, versus the true evil of outside premeditated intent and action against oneself by another. Scott Peck, Nigel Cawthorne and Elsa Ronningstam all warn of this fallacy of removing a perpetrator or abuser from their accountability, and instead taking on the issue as one’s karma or self generated issue. They note this concept of self-empowerment over victimhood being a limited truth not applicable to all dynamics or situations.
These authors note that Narcissists and “people of the lie” are adept at creating justifications and psychologies that allow the leader to abuse the follower, then to doubly abuse them by telling them to stop being victims and see the deeper dynamic which is of their own darkness, lower self or some other origin. The abusive leader will claim that if the problem lies outside of you then you somehow are deluded, or have a problem, or you are being righteous. You are a true spiritual warrior, or virtuous or humble if you take it on every time as it only really being about you. How do we tell such a message to a child who was sexually abused, or a person whose partner gets caught in a bushfire and dies in that inferno?
New agers tend to retreat into unaccountable explanations from channelled spirits or dubious quantum physics principles which are hard to challenge, and even harder to understand for average folk, when challenged on hard ethical questions (Ransky:1998). There is no consensus about the role of spirit and consciousness in quantum physics, or even that quantum physics principles exist above the sub-atomic level of reality (Wolf:2003). New Agers create facts where there are none, turning faith into objective fact, and narcissists are not far behind (Ransky:1998).
Narcissistic self help leaders and cults often employ this double bind of victim denial on their followers and “sidekicks”. In this reality the abusing leader is unaccountable for their actions or lacks compassion for the plight of the victim, then pins the issue on the victim, and tells them to stop being a victim!! This is a form of denial of reality and a form of mind control. A more subtle form is a shared reality of “what is your 50% in this issue”. Tucker (1999) and Ransky (1998) both note the psychological damage that shaky particular forms of new age psychology causes to victims of trauma and pre-meditated violence. Both authors are explicit in their claim that narcissists operate from pre-meditation in their actions, and they do in fact create victims who are both unsuspecting and innocent of involvement. In these dynamics the only co-creation was to put misplaced trust on the abuser.
Scott Peck argues that evil exists and manifests in the conscious actions of some people. Narcissists by definition are never wrong and never apologise for key actions an inactions on their partMeier:2009). Deflecting and rerouting a complaint back to the complainant, then pathologising the person till they retreat confused, defeated and humiliated or shamed, is a trait that narcissistic self help and spiritual leaders use to control their followers (Ransky:1998), and which narcissists are known to employ on domestic partners in relationships.
In summary, it can be seen that unhealthy narcissistic leaders are deceptive and dangerous people, who can go through life largely undiagnosed, and who can be on appearance sane, rational and charismatic, often achieving success in their field. However on closer inspection one finds under this camouflage of grandiose perfection and self righteousness, a dark shadow of deceit, manipulation, self serving, lying, and potentially criminal behaviour that acts without remorse or compassion or consideration for others. Indeed they devour and possess others as a means to get power, status, wealth and other externalised symbols of success. They tend to predate on victims they attract and create in their life. They are truly crocodiles and snakes lying in wait in the swamp.
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