It’s Narcissist Friday!
I recently came across a list of techniques cults use to entrap and control people. It surprised me (and not much does anymore) to see how well the list corresponds to the narcissistic methods we have talked about over the past few years. Apparently, the sneaky process of controlling others against their wills is the same in and out of the church and in and out of personal relationships.
The list comes from Margaret Singer’s book, Cults in our Midst, 1995 edition. The newer edition (2003) has changed the wording of this section and provides more explanation, but these will work well for our purposes. I want to look at one each week. I think you will agree that she pegs narcissistic control very well, in both personal and organizational relationships.
- Keep the person unaware of what is going on and how she or he is being changed a step at a time. Potential new members are led, step by step, through a behavioral-change program without being aware of the final agenda or full content of the group. The goal may be to make them deployable agents for the leadership, to get them to buy more courses, or get them to make a deeper commitment, depending on the leader’s aim and desires.
Narcissistic control begins early in the relationship. Children, of course, grow up with it and know little else. A girlfriend will think of her new guy as attentive, supportive, and caring as he listens to her secrets. A boss or a pastor will be strong and open at the beginning. The manipulation starts right away.
The boyfriend tells her how much he likes that little blue dress. He may like that it reveals something of her body. He may like it when others turn their heads as she walks by. He may have no other reason than to begin to control. When she wears the red one on the next date, he pouts just a little and reminds her that he likes the blue one so much. But, he “likes the red one too.” What does she wear next time?
In the new church, almost all the ladies wear skirts and have long hair. The leaders’ wives dress enough alike that a subtle message of superiority is projected. No one is criticized, at least at first, for wearing something different, but almost all the women visitors know what they should wear next time.
If you want to get ahead in the company, you have to be prepared to come early, stay late, and work through lunch. At least, that’s what the company leaders do. The new guy might try to get others to go out for lunch, but he ends up going alone. He learns the unspoken policy quickly.
Conformity is a strong motivation for most people, at least for the people the narcissist wants close. Rejection is not overt, but a subtle message of expectation will be clear. “If you want to be accepted, this is what you will do.” Narcissists and other abusers know that relationships take time, but they don’t want to invest much time. Eventually, the victim is either in or out.
It is not uncommon for visitors to notice that the people of the church (or the company) are all alike in some way. That way might not be easy to identify, but it is felt. Conformity is expected and enforced in some way. But nothing will be said, nothing is written, no book of standards is given. If anyone asks church leadership why this conformity seems to be so prevalent, an answer will be given like: “We are all just trying to follow the Bible.” And then they will point out differences as evidence of freedom.
Words that mark the new person as different will also send motivation to move further into conformity. “Newcomers,” “beginners,” “basic class,” “introduction.” It will be clear that those labeled with these words are not quite accepted, but are moving positively toward that goal.
The boyfriend may joke to his friends about “training” his new girl. He may often “remind” her of things they had talked about. He will be frustrated with her lack of progress, but refer to it as “their differences.” Since she doesn’t want them to have differences, she will find ways to conform to his will.
In church, in the company, and in the relationship, conformity is the beginning of control.