Sunday, March 3, 2013

The Psychology of an Abusive Cult Leader

I decided to look into the lives and teachings of some abusive cult leaders and see if there was a pattern and to see if David Miscavige, and of course L. Ron Hubbard fit into these parameters.  I found that there has been a lot of work in this area, and indeed, there are many traits that almost all abusive cult leaders have in common.  These studies have included the likes of Jim Jones (Jonestown Guyana), David Karesh (Branch Davidians), Stewart Traill (The Church of Bible Understanding), Charles Manson, Shoko Asahara (Aum Shinrikyo), Joseph Di Mambro (The Order of the Solar Temple aka Ordre du Temple Solaire), Marshall Heff Applewhit (Heaven’s Gate), Bhagwan Rajneesh (Rajneesh Movement), and Warren Jeffs (polygamist leader).  According to psychologist and ex-F.B.I agent Joe Navarro

"What stands out about these individuals is that they were or are all pathologically narcissistic. They all have or had an over-abundant belief that they were special, that they and they alone had the answers to problems, and that they had to be revered. They demanded perfect loyalty from followers, they overvalued themselves and devalued those around them, they were intolerant of criticism, and above all they did not like being questioned or challenged. And yet, in spite of these less than charming traits, they had no trouble attracting those who were willing to overlook these features."

Let's take an amalgamation of these leaders and see what traits they have in common:

Here are the typical traits of the pathological cult leader you should watch for and which shout caution, get away, run, or avoid if possible: 

He has a grandiose idea of who he is and what he can achieve.
Is preoccupied with fantasies of unlimited success, power, or brilliance.
Demands blind unquestioned obedience.
Requires excessive admiration from followers and outsiders.
Has a sense of entitlement - expecting to be treated special at all times.
Is exploitative of others by asking for their money or that of relatives putting others at financial risk.
Is arrogant and haughty in his behavior or attitude.
Has an exaggerated sense of power (entitlement) that allows him to bend rules and break laws.
Takes sexual advantage of members of his sect or cult.
Sex is a requirement with adults and sub adults as part of a ritual or rite.
Is hypersensitive to how he is seen or perceived by others. 
Publicly devalues others as being inferior, incapable, or not worthy.
Makes members confess their sins or faults publicly subjecting them to ridicule or humiliation while revealing exploitable weaknesses of the penitent.
Has ignored the needs of others, including: biological, physical, emotional, and financial needs.
Is frequently boastful of accomplishments.
Needs to be the center of attention and does things to distract others to insure that he or she is being noticed by arriving late, using exotic clothing, over dramatic speech, or by making theatrical entrances.
Has insisted in always having the best of anything (house, car, jewelry, clothes) even when others are relegated to lesser facilities, amenities, or clothing.
Doesn’t seem to listen well to needs of others, communication is usually one-way in the form of dictates.
Haughtiness, grandiosity, and the need to be controlling is part of his personality.
Behaves as though people are objects to be used, manipulated or exploited for personal gain.
When criticized he tends to lash out not just with anger but with rage.
Anyone who criticizes or questions him is called an “enemy.”
Refers to non-members or non-believers in him as “the enemy.”
Acts imperious at times, not wishing to know what others think or desire.
Believes himself to be omnipotent.
Has “magical” answers or solutions to problems.
Is superficially charming.
Habitually puts down others as inferior and only he is superior.
Has a certain coldness or aloofness about him that makes others worry about who this person really is and or whether they really know him.
Is deeply offended when there are perceived signs of boredom, being ignored or of being slighted.
Treats others with contempt and arrogance.
Is constantly assessing for those who are a threat or those who revere him.
The word “I” dominates his conversations. He is oblivious to how often he references himself.
Hates to be embarrassed or fail publicly - when he does he acts out with rage.
Doesn’t seem to feel guilty for anything he has done wrong nor does he apologize for his actions.
Believes he possesses the answers and solutions to world problems.
Believes himself to be a deity or a chosen representative of a deity.
Rigid, unbending, or insensitive describes how this person thinks.
Tries to control others in what they do, read, view, or think.
Has isolated members of his sect from contact with family or outside world.
Monitors and or restricts contact with family or outsiders.
Works the least but demands the most.
Has stated that he is “destined for greatness” or that he will be “martyred.”
Seems to be highly dependent of tribute and adoration and will often fish for compliments.
Uses enforcers or sycophants to insure compliance from members or believers.
Sees self as “unstoppable” perhaps has even said so.
Conceals background or family which would disclose how plain or ordinary he is.
Doesn’t think there is anything wrong with himself – in fact sees himself as perfection or “blessed.”
Has taken away the freedom to leave, to travel, to pursue life, and liberty of followers.
Has isolated the group physically (moved to a remote area) so as to not be observed.

When a cult or organizational leader has a preponderance of these traits then we can anticipate that at some point those who associate with him will likely suffer physically, emotionally, psychologically, or financially. If these traits sound familiar to leaders, groups, sects, or organizations known to you then expect those who associate with them to live in despair and to suffer even if they don’t know it, yet.

Two writers on the subject used the label "Trust Bandit" to describe the psychopathic personality.Trust Bandit is indeed an apt description of this thief of our hearts, souls, minds, bodies, and pocketbooks. Since a significant percentage of current and former cult members have been in more than one cultic group or relationship, learning to recognize the personality style of the Trust Bandit can be a useful antidote to further abuse.

The Profile of a Psychopath

In reading the profile, bear in mind the three characteristics that Robert Lifton sees as common to a cultic situation:

1. A charismatic leader who...increasingly becomes the object of worship

2. A series of processes that can be associated with "coercive persuasion" or "thought reform"

3. The tendency toward manipulation from above...with exploitation--economic, sexual, or other--of often genuine seekers who bring idealism from below.

Steve Hassan (former cult member turned psychologist) says, "It's shocking to me that so many people today have not even heard of Jonestown". But Hassan observes the lasting psychological effects every day in his work with former cult victims, and he says cults are growing more powerful and more cunning in their deceit--often by using psychological research findings--while the public remains largely unaware of them.
If cults are going to abuse lessons from social psychology, psychologists must study how they are doing this, Cialdini says. More attention to researching and working with cult victims is needed, Hassan adds. For example, psychologists need specific training to work with former cult members, who often suffer from dissociative or panic disorders, he explains.
"There are lots of individuals who are suffering," Hassan says, "and they need our help."

Referring back to Hubbard and Miscavige, I think you can see that they share too many of the above traits to be ignored and that indeed, people who have loved ones in the "church" of Scientology should have grave concerns for the well-being of those loved ones.

Thanks for dropping by.  I will be interested in your views.  If you have the time, please see the video below to look into some of the mind of L. Ron Hubbard.


  1. Well i also see you left out a few. They live or have lived in a body. They have drank water and breath air. So what is your point? We all have these traits to less or more degree.It is only when it become stuck that there is concern.