The Cult of the Narcissist

How does a Christian group morph into an abusive high-demand cult? What are the factors at play? The following is an adaptation from an article by Sam Vaknin, an admitted narcissist, describing how a narcissist would form his own cult.

Mr. Vaknin proposes that a narcissist, having failed to impress the world with his greatness, withdraws into a “pathological narcissistic space”. Vaunting his superior knowledge and uniqueness, and painting himself as the heroic victim of mistreatment, he draws in unsuspecting followers.

His story of mistreatment and misunderstanding [by other Christians] rallies support and sets the stage for an “us versus them” mentality in the group. His own withdrawal from society becomes an “exclusionary shared psychosis”. The outside world is an enemy. Members must cut off contact with family and former friends. He sets up rules to regulate information from the outside.

The narcissist cannot tolerate criticism or disagreement of any kind. He demands complete loyalty, agreement, admiration and awe. Members of his group can become suspected enemies if they exhibit autonomy or independent thought.

If someone leaves his group he panics that they will betray information about him that will not be approved in the outside world and he reacts vehemently to silence them.

One of the main functions of his group (his narcissistic space) is to provide this constant narcissistic supply. He expects to be served and waited on. He has no concept of personal boundaries, and makes free use of everyone’s money and assets.

The narcissist demands complete obedience and exerts almost complete control over those within his narcissistic space. He alone determines the rights and obligations of his disciples. He defines right and wrong, he dictates what is to be pursued and what is to be avoided. He is a micro-manager of the minutest details of behavior. Thus he shapes the character of his group.

In addition to the “exclusionary shared psychosis”, Mr. Vaknin proposes an “inclusionary shared psychosis”. He says, “The narcissist’s cult is ‘missionary’…always on the lookout for new recruits.” This idea sheds light on the heavy emphasis on witnessing in Bible-based groups like the Geftakys Assembly. The narcissist’s need for constant replenishing and enlarging of his narcissistic supply pushes unceasing evangelistic efforts.

Read Sam Vaknin’s full article here.

More on narcissism and the Geftakys Assembly:

Characteristics of Malignant Narcissism

Malignant Narcissism: A Stage Production

Children Are at Risk in the Cult of the Narcissist

Categories: High-demand dynamics


2 replies

  1. I have found that all of us are at the core a narcissist due to the fact we all are self interested. It is impossible to escape the tendency toward promoting that self interest. However, honest recognition that we have this natural orientation helps in keeping us from thinking to highly of our own opinion. The writer really understands the nature of of a narcissist as cult leader very well— and those in his group.

    However, this cult behavior is more complicated than the writer presents it, as these leaders can at times show empathy and humility. I remember GG asking me what I thought about something he taught and really seemed to have some self doubt concerning it. Also, some of the other leaders showed at times some real empathy towards other members.

    So, it seems one needs to find a balance between our natural tendencies and those that allow self to control our lives. This balance can be found in the teaching of Jesus— which the writer misses completely. The high-demand teaching of Jesus that the writer narrowly focuses on is never intended to be interpreted as a control mechanism of a cult like leader. Rather, it is meant to show us how sinful— self centered— we are and how there must be a means other than self righteousness to find relationship with God. Jesus, unlike a narcissist, washed the feet of the disciples, showed mercy, and a high degree of empathy, which if one does believe he is God is a remarkable demonstration of something much higher than humanism— divine love.

  2. Hi Margaret,

    The topic of narcissism helped me to accept and come to peace with the dark side of the Assembly. Even when I was in the Assembly over 27 years ago, I had this phrase in my head that I never said publicly: “George is the uprising and the downfall of the Assembly.” It was his vision, and some ways insight, that made it happen. It was his narcissism that brought it down.

    Seeing George with a narcissist pathology helps me look at the situation with sadness and pity as opposed to resentment. I’m not saying people don’t have good reason to be resentful – they do. However, for me, holding on to resentment puts me on a path where I end up hurting myself and those I love. Like the old adage: Resentment is like drinking the poison hoping others, such as George, will die.

    As for the writer’s contention of Jesus as a narcissist. He probably has a point unless Jesus was indeed who He claimed to be – the Son of God. It only serves to strengthen Lewis’ famous liar, lunatic or Lord argument. If He wasn’t God, he probably was a bit of a messed up dude.

    -David B. Sable

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