The Pathological Narcissist

Resurrected Joseph Smith

From a paper by Daniel Shaw

“From a psychoanalytic perspective, the cult leader unconsciously experiences his dependency needs as so deeply shameful that a delusion of omnipotence is developed to ward off the toxic shame. It is urgent to the pathological narcissist, who knows unconsciously that he is susceptible to extreme mortification (the sense of ―death‖ by shame), that this delusion of omnipotence be sustained. Manic defenses help sustain the delusion, but in addition, followers must be seduced and controlled so that the loathsome dependence can be externalized, located in others and thereby made controllable. The leader can then express his unconscious self-loathing through his ―compassion‖ (often thinly disguised contempt) for his followers‘ weakness. Manically proclaiming his own perfection, the leader creates a program of ―purification‖ for the follower. By enlisting the follower to hold the shame that he projects and evacuates from his own psyche, the cult leader rids himself of all shame, becoming, in effect, ―shameless.‖ He defines his shamelessness as enlightenment, liberation, or self-actualization. It becomes important to the cult leader, for the maintenance of his state of shamelessness on which his psychic equilibrium depends, that there be no competition, that he alone, and no one else in the group, feels shameless. So while apparently inviting others to attain his state of perfection (shamelessness) by following him, the cult leader is actually constantly involved in inducing shame in his followers, thereby maintaining his dominance and control. I have called this sadomasochistic danse macabre the ―dark side of enlightenment‖ (see Shaw, 2000).”

In cults, the leader depends on her ability to persuade her followers that she is always right. If anything is wrong, the follower is always to blame, never the leader, and the leader never lets the follower forget that those are the rules. By blinding themselves to the corruption and abuse of their leader, and taking on a sense of sinfulness, guilt and unworthiness in themselves, followers sustain their tie to the leader, and along with that tie, their hopes for redemption and salvation. Cult members are constantly obsessed with how they are perceived by the leader, whether they are good or bad, up or down. While obsessively striving for the
leader‘s approval, they must also learn to accept the leader‘s need to humiliate others, andto be ready at any time to assume the guilt and shame the leader is constantly seeking to project on to others.

For most of those SYDA (cult) members that I knew personally who worked directly with Gurumayi (the female guru), attempting to please her would eventually lead to breakdowns in physical and mental health. Gurumayi resented people who were confident, and she was contemptuous of people who were weak. Trying to be what Gurumayi wanted you to be so that she would remain pleased with you was impossible, because she changed the rules at whim. It was common for staff members to disappear suddenly because they had been sent to rehabilitation centers for various addictions or disorders, or to a SYDA center in Honolulu for rest. In cults, breakdown is often the only option for members who have humiliated and diminished themselves as far as they could, and who unconsciously seek some sort of escape from the leader‘s insatiable demands for further abasement and submission.

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