It’s Narcissist Friday!
I just ran across an article on cults that connected so well to our discussion that I had to call it to your attention. The link to the article is below, but the author basically asks how people can become so dependent and so deceived as to kill themselves or give away all their money or live their lives in service as part of a cult. Cult groups often ask extreme sacrifices from their members, sacrifices that normal people simply would not give.
This is not a scientific article, but it has some good talking points. The author suggests that there are four “techniques” cults use to connect with and manipulate members. As you read through them, they will look very familiar.
First, cults choose their victims. Certain people are targeted. People with certain needs, certain weaknesses or struggles.
Second, cults “love-bomb” their victims, pouring out attention and flattery and acts of kindness. These actions coincide with the needs experienced by the prospective recruits. For example, young people with family struggles will find a welcoming family atmosphere in the cult.
Third, cults isolate their victims. We have all heard of these “training centers” way out in the rural areas. Keeping the recruits separated from family and friends, from life as they used to know it, ties the victims to the cult. Their whole world becomes the cult.
Finally, cults control their victims by subjecting them alternately to “terror and love.” They cultivate just enough fear to create a need for support, then provide the support within the cult. The victim cannot leave because of the isolation and because the cult is seen as the only answer, even though the cult is also the source of the fear.
None of this is particularly new or insightful, except that it is an amazing parallel to the way narcissists cultivate relationships. Targeting, love-bombing, isolating, controlling. Those who have suffered intimate relationships with narcissists will recognize the tactics. So will those who have been in narcissistic friendships. Even in jobs or churches, we see a similar process.
I know it’s hard to think that narcissists target their victims. That sounds so evil. But think of it more as a natural thing for the narcissist. He/she knows instinctively who will be responsive. I think narcissists recognize weaknesses and openings we don’t even know we have. It doesn’t have to be much, just enough to make the attempt worthwhile.
And, of course, we know that narcissists love-bomb. At the beginning of a relationship, the narcissist can be the best listener, the most caring and helpful friend, the one who makes us feel so good. They know how to flatter, promise, and make life worth living.
We have talked about how the narcissist isolates. Sometimes it is harsh and uncaring, but often it sounds reasonable. You have to move away for his job. You have to change churches, communities, jobs, or friends. Things are too busy. It’s too expensive. He/she doesn’t feel well enough to visit. There are so many excuses and reasons that isolation just seems to happen.
I think, if I were to write the article, I would not use control as the fourth step. Control is the ultimate goal. Terror and love—creating dependency through confused emotions—that’s the fourth step. It leads to or produces a controllable subject. “Terror and love.” That describes many narcissistic relationships. Don’t make the narcissist angry, but when things are good they are so very good. Back and forth, never quite sure, the victim stays just off-balance enough to become more and more dependent.
So, why is there such a connection between narcissists and cults? Why would they use the same steps? Obviously, part of the answer is that they have the same goals. The victim/recruit has something the abuser wants. In order to get it, and remain in control of it, certain steps must be taken to break down the resolve or boundaries of the prospect.
I use the word, prospect, intentionally. You see, these are simply negative expressions of common marketing techniques. Think of how you have been led to purchase something you probably didn’t need. Someone connected with a weakness or desire in you. Advertisers direct their words or pictures to certain groups of people. Something caught your eye, made you hungry, connected with a longing, solved a problem. Then the game started.
Your interest or desire was piqued. Then, you were bombarded with positive connections to either the salesman or the product. Salesmen have long been known for their flattery. Products promise fulfillment and good feelings.
What happened next? Often a salesman would take you off to the side, away from family or friends to sell to you. Or he would look directly into your eyes, ignoring the people with you, causing you to focus only on him. Isolating from the wisdom and support of others is a normal part of sales. One of the primary reasons online marketing is so effective, one that is rarely acknowledged, is the isolation. If you walk into the store, you are probably with someone who can question your desire to buy something. If you are on Amazon, you are probably alone.
Finally, the primary push to the sale is the comparison between the negative of your failure to buy and the positive of your purchase. In other words, you have to make the decision today because the price will go up tomorrow, but you will be so happy if you decide to buy. Or you will regret walking away and enjoy purchasing. Terror and love.
And what is the goal? You have something the salesperson wants. Probably money, but sometimes just a sale. If everything works well, the salesman can sell you the product, the service or protection plan, and maybe even get you to sign up for the company credit card. He gets commission or points for everything.
Narcissists are marketers. You have something they want. They have to make you want what they offer. Teach your children and grandchildren how to withstand simple marketing techniques and they will be stronger against the narcissist. If you see or feel the process happening, step away. Understanding how it’s done is a good part of keeping yourself safe.