The Cult of the Narcissist

How does a Christian group become 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 narcissistic leader shapes his group into a 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, he draws in unsuspecting followers.

In 1969-1970 when George first met a few of us, he was full of criticism of the Plymouth Brethren. They had lost the heavenly vision, they had become worldly, they were no different than all the other worldly churches. We didn’t know until many years later that the Brethren had refused to give George a place of leadership, because he was too domineering. George was looking for a way to begin his own independent group.

• The narcissist’s story of mistreatment and misunderstanding 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.

George’s excoriation of all other churches initiated this withdrawal. His overcomer teaching intensified the impetus to fear and avoid all other influences.

• 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.

George exhibited this behavior time and time again.

• 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.

In George’s case he first pleaded with them, “Don’t leave me! Don’t leave me!”, anticipating the loss of narcissistic supply. But he quickly moved to vehemently renounce and discredit 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 forms the character of the group. He 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.

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.” His need for constant replenishing and enlarging of his narcissistic supply pushes unceasing evangelistic efforts.

More on narcissism and the Geftakys Assembly

Scott Peck’s characteristics of malignant narcissism also provide a lens through which to view a narcissist’s group:
The Malignant Narcissist as a Group Leader

Characteristics of Malignant Narcissism

Malignant Narcissism: A Stage Production

Children Are at Risk in the Cult of the Narcissist

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Margaret Irons and her husband Steve and three children were in the Fullerton Geftakys Assembly for twenty years. We left in March, 1990. We are still recovering and learning in Orange County, CA.

3 thoughts on “The Cult of the Narcissist

  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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