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Narcissism, Brainwashing, and Groupthink: How Narcissists Act Like Cult Leaders

When we think of cult leaders, we typically picture famous men such as Charlie Manson, Jim Jones, or David Koresh. These leaders seem far removed from our simple lives. We may question the motives of those who follow them. How could a person believe them? Why would people leave their entire families and lives to follow them? How could normal individuals become so far removed from reality in such a short time? We secretly believe we are above such people; that there is no way any of that could happen to us.

The problem with this type of thinking is that it ignores the very possibility that we have already interacted (or currently interact) with someone who acts like a cult leader. These types of leaders simply operate on a smaller scale. Rather than convince hundreds of people to follow them, they use manipulation and brainwashing techniques to control the lives of one or two people around them. Whether it be a close friend, spouse, or family member – cult leaders exploit their narcissistic personalities to ruin and destroy the lives of those who love them. Here are 5 ways that narcissists can act like cult leaders.

1. Have a Larger-Than-Life Personality

To control those around them, narcissists must have very charismatic, interesting, and different personalities than the average Joe. They may be well-read, intelligent, and have seemingly experienced countless adventures throughout their lives. They are probably the center of attention at parties and enjoy making people laugh. People are naturally drawn to these individuals. Larger-than-life personalities tend to tell people what they want to hear rather than the truth. They know how to find what makes you tick and exploit it, so you feel empathetic towards them, or learn to trust them.

2. Us vs. Them Attitude

Very early on, a narcissist may showcase an “us vs. them” mentality. This is particularly true when it comes to outsiders that do not believe in the narcissist’s lies. Wary family members or close friends simply get in the way of the narcissist. The victim’s life goals such as going to school or getting a better job can also get in the way if those goals may deprioritize the narcissist’s needs. Black and white thinking is frequently utilized in order to put people into two camps: good or bad.

3. Devalues Your Feelings

The narcissist puts their feelings above the needs of everyone else around them. Therefore, the feelings of the victim or other people don’t really matter. If you find that you blame yourself quite frequently after fights, even when the narcissist is clearly in the wrong, you may be dealing with someone who devalues your feelings. Your needs always go second, which can make you feel anxious, depressed, worthless, and hopeless. In a healthy relationship, both partners value each other’s needs equally. A narcissist does not know how to put anyone else’s’ needs above their own.

4. Compulsive Lying

A narcissist must lie to keep up the appearance that they have everything under control. They tend to lie when confronted, or when trying to impress another person. They use lies so frequently that they may be entirely unsure of what the actual truth is. Frequent lying will confuse victims, who struggle to keep up with various stories. The victim may even end up blaming themselves for not believing the “correct” version of a story, or for thinking they were told a lie in the first place.

5. The End Goal is All That Matters

To the narcissist, it doesn’t matter what they must do in order to get what they want. They don’t have the same type of moral standards that normal people do. They will lie, cheat, and steal to get what they want. They will also justify any of this poor behavior and point to the larger goal at hand as a reason for their behavior. They can even make the victim feel like this type of bad behavior is warranted because the end goal is moral.

Are you in a relationship with a narcissist? Do you feel anxious, depressed, and vulnerable? If so, please contact Straight Talk Counseling at 714-828-2000 or visit out website at One of our professional therapists would be happy to speak with you.

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