The three kinds of cult chief, in keeping with a cult-recovery therapist

  • Cult leaders have psychosis or narcissistic personalities that drive them to evangelise a message and persuade others to observe, in keeping with therapist Rachel Bernstein.
  • Bernstein treats former cult members, like those that have been in NXIVM and Scientology. She has additionally met quite a lot of cult leaders.
  • Go to Insider’s homepage for extra tales.


HBO’s new docuseries “The Vow” examines how NXIVM cult chief Keith Raniere was capable of first promote self-improvement programs as a multi-level advertising and marketing scheme, after which used the programs to brainwash followers into offering blackmail, branding themselves, and having intercourse with him.

Raniere was arrested on seven costs together with intercourse trafficking in June 2019, however earlier than that, he captured a whole bunch of followers over a long time together with his charismatic character and teachings.

In keeping with Rachel Bernstein, a California-based therapist who works with former cult members together with eight from NXIVM, there are three principal kinds of cult leaders that rise to energy. Some are self-centered narcissists, whereas others have delusions that they imagine so deeply, they’re capable of get others on board too.

The delusional martyr

Bernstein mentioned she considers a delusional cult chief probably the most harmful as a result of they will use their unyielding beliefs to persuade others to purchase into the delusion.

She gave the instance of Heaven’s Gate in San Diego, a cult the place 39 members dedicated mass suicide as instructed by chief Marshall Applewhite in 1997. Applewhite, who beforehand reported having a near-death expertise, was satisfied a UFO would quickly come to earth and assist people go away their our bodies for the next existence.

“There’s the sense that the chief wasn’t attempting to get cash out of them and he wasn’t attempting to make use of them. He actually believed that this mothership was coming and that all of them wanted to depart their corporal existence and go to this mothership, they usually all joined within the psychosis,” Bernstein advised Insider.

This group-oriented delusion is a diagnosable situation referred to as “shared psychotic dysfunction,” in keeping with the Nationwide Institutes of Well being.

The preacher-turned-egomaniac

Different cult leaders do not realize their charismatic potential at first, however as soon as they do, they grow to be egomaniacs, in keeping with Bernstein.

She mentioned such a cult chief might begin as a instructor, avenue preacher, or in one other public-speaking place. Ultimately, they notice individuals cling onto what they must say and run with that ability.

They “all of a sudden notice that everybody listens to all the pieces they are saying, and they’re pied pipers, and other people will do issues simply because they advised them to do it. They usually begin to morph into this sort of ego maniacal monster,” Bernstein mentioned.

Jim Jones, the cult chief who orchestrated the Jonestown Bloodbath in 1978, was one in every of these varieties.

Jones began as a spiritual preacher and finally had hundreds of followers at his group the Folks’s Temple in California. Jones satisfied a whole bunch of those followers to maneuver with him to a Guyanan jungle encampment he referred to as “Jonestown.”

When a US Congressperson arrived at Jonestown to research the operation, Jones advised his followers to drink deadly poison, and 900 of them did, killing themselves.

The hard-and-fast narcissist

Final, there’s the cult chief who has been a narcissist for almost all of their life, Bernstein mentioned.

“That is how they have been since they have been little. They really feel in the end entitled to fully mislead you, to placed on this good charming face, to get you to imagine what they’re promoting, no matter it’s, whether or not it is God or a product or something,” she mentioned.

In keeping with Bernstein, most cult leaders are narcissists, and are a “bottomless pit of ego want.”

This kind of character might clarify why somebody like Raniere arrange his cult within the method he did, with a relentless want for members’ blackmail, which he referred to as “collateral,” and obedience to him and his perception system.

Even when a NXIVM member devoted a decade of their life to the group, one slip up would label them as untrustworthy or a failure to their group. That perception creates a “hamster wheel” of unhealthy behaviors and relationships, in keeping with Bernstein.

“I’d say most cult leaders are malignant narcissists. They do not care concerning the injury they’re inflicting. They do not care concerning the lies they’re telling, they usually do not care concerning the households they’re destroying. They simply want to want it, they usually should be liked, they should be adored, they should be feared.”

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