Category Archives: Legalism

Mind Control 6

It’s Narcissist Friday!

Singer’s Six Conditions for Thought Control (Cults in our Midst, 1995)

6. Put forth a closed system of logic and an authoritarian structure that permits no feedback and refuses to be modified except by leadership approval or executive order. The group has a top-down, pyramid structure. The leaders must have verbal ways of never losing.

I just had one of those fun experiences with customer service. Okay, not much fun. I ordered something from a company I had not purchased from before. They offered a one-time 20% off coupon. I placed a fairly large order and was pleased with the discount. Then I got a note saying that my order was canceled because the product was out of stock. Since it was something on their in-house product line, I assumed they would have it shortly, so I called to ask if I could place the order again and have it filled when the product was available. I was informed that the product was already available (odd), so I said I wanted to place a new order. I also wanted to use my discount. The lady said I had already used my discount on the previous order. I countered that I had not received any discount because the order was canceled. We went around and around. Her bottom line was that she could only do what the computer would allow her to do. In other words, she had no power other than to say the company line.

Well, most of us have learned that it really does no good to argue with the checkout person or the receptionist on the phone. They can’t do anything. All they know is what they have learned. They are actually barriers, protecting those who do have the power to make decisions. In many companies, you will have to go through several levels of these barriers to get to the one who can really help you. That is by design. The few people who dare to complain about something will almost all drop out before getting to that right person. And, yes, they will almost all keep using the company’s stores and products.

The narcissist says there is only one right way, his way. Your objections come out of your inexperience, your misunderstanding, or your stupidity. You might be laughed at. You might be mocked. You might be ignored. But the narcissist cannot admit that you might be right. To do so would be to affirm your input. To do that would be to open the narcissist to more input from you. Not a good idea for him. How will you stay under control if you feel good about your ideas or opinions?

Usually, narcissistic organizations have a single authority, a teacher whose wisdom is worshiped by the followers. At most, there will be a small group of leaders who make all the decisions. These will be the elite, the superior servants who have a right and responsibility to lead. In a Christian organization, they will be seen as the most spiritual. Because they are superior, they have wisdom the rest of the people don’t have. God, apparently, teaches them so they can teach others.

So, when a member of the organization has a question or a doubt and wants to find an explanation, he will be met with barriers. The friends he starts with will parrot the teacher’s words. They will assure the questioner that the teacher has so often been proved right. If he persists with his question, he will be pushed up to local leaders and marked as a doubter. They will also repeat the teacher’s words. Then, he may be referred to the next level and the next. Each time he will simply hear a repetition or a rewording of what the teacher has presented. And each time his status as a troublemaker will increase.

If the persistence of the questioner reaches the teacher, the teacher may condescend to a personal contact. In other words, a phone call could come out of the blue, or a meeting at an event might be arranged. The teacher will know all about the man with the question because the underlings have briefed him. But, again, the words of the teacher are as close to sacred as any will find. Nothing will change. The teacher has graced the troublemaker with a personal contact, something most of the underlings have never had. To continue to question would mark the person as a rebel, perhaps even cause him to be ousted from the group. But he will not change the teaching.

Special dispensations might be given for rules, and they will come with special strings. The one who needs a favor will be expected to present unusual loyalty, strong support, for the system. Non-conformity cannot be condoned. Questions cannot be allowed to change teaching.

Sometimes, if enough people are asking the question, the teacher can have a revelation. The teacher can change his teachings without admitting his error. A revelation, a clarification, a new teaching. The teacher can do almost anything, particularly regarding his teaching. Even the teacher is concerned about politics within the organization. He won’t want anything to instill doubt among the followers.

Control of information, when information is desired, is a narcissistic goal. To be the superior source, the one who defines, is the dream of the narcissist.

By the way, I got my discount by asking if there was anything she could do. Behind the scenes, so I couldn’t hear, she asked her supervisor what to do. Suddenly, a one-time complimentary offer of a 20% discount was available. She was doing me a big favor. So, I thanked her and placed the order with the discount. Sometimes you just have to play the game.

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Walk with Me: A Grace Devotional by [Orrison, David]

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Mind Control 5

It’s Narcissist Friday!

Singer’s Six Conditions for Thought Control (Cults in our Midst, 1995)

5. Manipulate a system of rewards, punishments, and experiences in order to promote learning the group’s ideology or belief system and group-approved behaviors. Good behavior, demonstrating an understanding and acceptance of the group’s beliefs, and compliance are rewarded while questioning, expressing doubts or criticizing are met with disapproval, redress and possible rejection. If one expresses a question, he or she is made to feel that there is something inherently wrong with them to be questioning.

One of the things I remember so well from the legalistic organization we were in was the system of rewards and punishments. Those who were chosen to lead, even in small groups, were considered superior. It was an achievement to be noticed for compliance and conformity. Things like initiative and energy were only rewarded if they served the system. Leaders were chosen, not on actual leadership abilities (that might present a threat someday) but for their willingness to submit to even higher authorities. Special families were given administrative chores, even brought to headquarters to serve.

Don’t underestimate the attraction of this kind of reward! I knew men who quit their jobs to work for the organization at minimal pay. I knew young people who gave up vocations and education to serve. Some of them even paid for the privilege to work long hours at sometimes trivial tasks. To serve at headquarters, even to serve in the local organization, was an honor.

The other side was almost as strong. Certain people were discouraged from applying, joining the group, because their families wouldn’t measure up. Too much television. Divorce and step kids. Even young people in college. These were enough to keep families out. Not good enough.

And, if you got in, the old process of shunning took new forms. Yes, certain families and certain people were in the group, barely. Everyone knew they didn’t fit. No one looked at them when opportunities arose. If one of the young people at HQ broke even a minor rule, he or she could be sent home to a reception of failure and shame.

Doubt was allowed. People spoke against some of the teachings. But those people were not rewarded. They were noticed and remembered. To ask a question was to reveal your spiritual immaturity. I marveled at those who said things like: “I really don’t agree with that teaching, but I know it’s because I haven’t arrived at that point yet.” Or: “Every time I disagree with something the teacher says, I find him to be right later.” You just had to wait and the teacher would be affirmed, no matter what kind of off-the-wall thing he taught.

The power of a legalist/narcissist organization to indoctrinate, to force conformity, seems unbelievable to those who have never experienced it. By subtly presenting a feedback system that always loops back into the teachings and control of the organization, the victims are moved slowly to acceptance. Rewards always led back to more involvement, more recognition, within the system. Punishments always circled back to the idea that conformity was best.

Now, does an individual narcissist do this? Of course. In fact, in much the same way. “If you do it my way, we will go out someplace together.” Always together. “If you don’t do it my way, you will be further separated from the things and people who build you up.” Always away from what is good for the victim and toward the narcissist. To question the narcissist is to attack him/her. Your question will be met with either a pat on the head (”You just don’t understand”) or a slap in the face (”How dare you?”).

In fact, one of the things that should cause you to suspect a narcissistic relationship is a system of rewards and punishments. What happens when you do what you are told? What happens when you do not? Loving relationships may have consequences, but they won’t make you feel controlled or manipulated. Narcissists don’t see you as a person with values and ideas like themselves. You are a tool to be used to serve the image. Any nonconformity must be brought under control.

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Walk with Me: A Grace Devotional by [Orrison, David]

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Mind Control 3

It’s Narcissist Friday!

Singer’s Six Conditions for Thought Control (Cults in our Midst, 1995)

3. Systematically create a sense of powerlessness in the person. This is accomplished by getting members away from the normal social support group for a period of time and into an environment where the majority of people are already group members. The members serve as models of the attitudes and behaviors of the group and speak an in-group language.

I remember the first time I saw a three-legged ladder. It looked like a regular stepladder, but it had only three legs. I asked about it and was told that a three-legged ladder was the most stable of all stepladders. “Three points make a plane,” the man said. I understood. But that third leg didn’t seem very strong. Apparently that’s why four-legged ladders are more popular. People find it hard to believe that one additional leg would be enough.

But that one person in your life was the real support you needed. Or maybe it was the one small group of friends. You knew you could count on them. They would have your back. You laughed together. You cried together. They were closer than family. And you needed them.

Now that person or that group are gone. What happened? That one person, that one group, would have saved you from the narcissist. But he/she convinced you to ignore their advice. He turned your heart away from them. He had to.

You probably remember it happening. Maybe she warned you about him. Maybe they were concerned about your new group. But when they expressed their concerns, you shut them out. That’s what the narcissistic organization said would happen. You can’t trust them, you were told. You can’t listen to them. You have new friends, friends who think like you, friends you can trust. At least that’s what they said.

Maybe you were told those old support people would just hurt you. You learned to be suspicious of their motives. You forced yourself to react against their words and acts of kindness. Even though it broke your heart, you pushed them away because “it was for the best.” But it wasn’t best. Not even good.

Isolation, separation from the support structure, takes away the opportunity to stand against compromise and brokenness. Most of us have someone who will speak truth to us. Most of us have someone who will stand with us ready to pull us away from danger. The narcissist and the narcissistic organization will want to separate us from those people. Exposing the evil, the control and manipulation, is the job of our support structure. Subtly and slowly or loudly and dramatically, we have to be separated/isolated so the narcissist can do his/her/its work.

Suppose you climbed a tall three-legged ladder. Then that third leg was threatened in some way. Or maybe someone told you that it was not to be trusted. It will fail, they said. What would you do? You want to be safe. You would probably listen and come down. Maybe you wouldn’t use that ladder, no matter how safe it really was. After all, just think of what could happen if you fell. No, better to be safe.

In much the same way, narcissists nibble at our confidence, particularly in the people who have always been there for us. By causing us to question, they open us to alternatives, their alternatives. New friends. New community. New support. But all designed to control you and get you to conform. It’s part of the manipulation. It has happened to many.

So, don’t be surprised when you realize that you cut off some good people, folks who cared and maybe even tried to help. They warned you because they cared. They didn’t want to see you get hurt.

Now what? Can you go back to them? You may have been part of their support network, and you hurt them. Understand if they are hesitant. Understand if they seem suspicious. You can apologize, but you may have to leave it at that. The best case would be if you could restore your relationships with friends and family, made wiser now because of the pain. The worst case is that you have lost their support for good. If you tell them you were wrong and should have listened, at least you have done what you can to bring restoration. They have a right to their pain, too.

One of the most heinous parts of narcissistic relationships is how they destroy good things, particularly the community and support victims once had. But understand that you are not the first, nor the only, this has happened to. Many wise and careful people have been led astray by the deceptive words of manipulative people and groups. So many, in fact, that the book of Proverbs talks about them.

An ungodly man digs up evil, and it is on his lips like a burning fire.
A perverse man sows strife, and a whisperer separates the best of friends.
A violent man entices his neighbor, and leads him in a way that is not good.
He winks his eye to devise perverse things; he purses his lips and brings about evil.

Proverbs 16:27-30 (NKJV)

And one of the things we are specifically told that the Lord hates:

A false witness who speaks lies, and one who sows discord among brethren.
Proverbs 6:19 (NKJV)

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Walk with Me: A Grace Devotional by [Orrison, David]

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Mind Control 2

It’s Narcissist Friday!

Singer’s Six Conditions for Thought Control (Cults in our Midst, 1995)

2. Control the person’s social and/or physical environment; especially control the person’s time. Through various methods, newer members are kept busy and led to think about the group and its content during as much of their waking time as possible.

Suddenly, your daughter can’t stop talking about this guy you haven’t even met. She sees him at work/school, spends every evening with him, and can’t put her phone down. Her life has suddenly become consumed with “Bobby.” When you ask about him or what they do together, you encounter a wall. Suspicion pops up in her words and mind. “Why do you want to know? Don’t you trust me?” Bobby’s too busy for you to meet him.

Your friends have become enamored with their new Christian teacher. They tell you all about him, but seem to think you aren’t quite ready for the level of teaching he provides. In fact, you sense them pulling away from you. Their time and focus are somewhere else. They say critical things about you and your family but pretend to care. They sit with their group at church. They have evening meetings and lunches with the new group. The new teacher encourages the people to identify as a group. Something is wrong.

The new boss has really gotten the team together. Your husband stays at the office late and comes home talking about work. He makes phone calls, sends emails, and studies so that the boss will approve of him. Promises of a promotion and a raise are almost close enough to grasp. You don’t dare protest because you don’t want to jeopardize his opportunities.

How do you gain control over someone who has a support system? “Isolate and medicate.” Do whatever you can to pull the person away from the support system, then flood his/her system with attention and expectation.

Isolating is a common narcissistic technique. Separating victims from their support structure begins early. Parents are not to be obeyed. Friends are not to be trusted. Wedges are driven in old relationships. The narcissist wants his victim to be dependent on him. Narcissists will often pull people out of their jobs, out of their church, out of their family. It is not uncommon for a young couple to move away from their parents (or her parents) so the narcissist can be the only support person.

“Medicating” is the idea of providing whatever it takes to make the isolation seem acceptable. Filling time with projects, travel, dates, work, and more allows the narcissist to help the victim feel like this new life is just too busy for the old relationships. A narcissistic organization will encourage people to be involved in the life of the group getting to know other members. Fun activities, involved projects, conferences, etc. A narcissistic friend will find positive and uplifting ways to be together, but still separate from others. Travel, shopping, clubs, etc.

The “medicating” part of this equation is important. People are medicated by different things. Anger can be a reason to separate. Different “values” pull people apart. A young wife might be persuaded to separate from her disapproving family. When the first child comes, the old family traditions aren’t good enough. Holidays, education, medical decisions, discipline—all can be “righteous” reasons to separate from family. That feeling of superiority, combined with a little anger, medicates by providing a strong reason to stay away from those who used to be the support structure. A decision to educate children at home provided separation for many young families, for example.

Isolation without “comforting” reasons is difficult. Narcissists and narcissistic organizations will be quick to provide those reasons. Later, when the support structure is no longer available, when too many bridges have been burned, the fun and righteous reasons may not be so easy to find or believe. But, by then, the damage will be done. The trap will be sprung.

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Walk with Me: A Grace Devotional by [Orrison, David]

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Mind Control 1

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.

  1. 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.

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Walk with Me: A Grace Devotional by [Orrison, David]

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Controlled Comparison

It’s Narcissist Friday!     

 

One of the connections between legalism and narcissism is the use of comparisons to manipulate. You will find a system of comparisons at work in legalistic churches and narcissistic workplaces, besides families and even marriages. And, somehow, you are always losing the comparison.

The most beautiful women will find ways to lose in comparison with others. So will the most successful men. As long as comparisons exist, there is a way for you to lose.

Years ago I worked for a short time at a funeral home. I watched as the salesperson talked through the purchase of a casket with a grieving family. First they went to the most expensive casket, a beautiful example of fine craftsmanship with an exorbitant price. Then they went to the cheapest caskets, the ones designed for and sold to those who have no money to spend. The family couldn’t afford the most expensive and couldn’t imagine using the cheapest. So they were left with the idea that they either have to break the bank or feel terrible. Then the salesman took them to the casket he really wanted to sell them. It looked very much like the most expensive one, but the price tag, while still high, was much more manageable. By making easy and regular payments, the family could feel good and still pay other bills.

Anyone who has bought a car off the lot or a house through the realtor has experienced this kind of controlled comparison. It is a process of manipulation by pushing you to feel either good about yourself or bad about yourself.

When the legalist sets up a controlled comparison, it will often be a model family or an individual who has exemplified the values of the church or legalist system. For example, one man is particularly mentioned as a great witness because he shares tracts with everyone he meets. Everyone else compares poorly to him. The model family is lifted up because of their well-behaved children, their showroom house, or their debt-free living (or all three). You don’t measure up to them. In either case, the comparison is carefully controlled for you. You are not to compare yourself with everyone. You are certainly not to look for others against whom you can compare yourself favorably. (Of course, that’s just what happens because people want to feel better about themselves, but that’s another post.) No, you are supposed to get the message about your inferiority and adjust your actions accordingly.

The narcissist can find fault with everyone, we know this. But when he or she wants to find fault with you, the controlled comparison is offered. “Why can’t you be more like him or her?” you are asked. “The neighbor’s have a nicer house than ours, but he makes more money.” “I don’t know why you can’t do it, she can.”

Remember: the controlled comparison is just that – controlled. It is not real. You will always compare unfavorably against someone in some way. If you look for that, you will find it. At the same time, others compare unfavorably to you in some way. The narcissist and the legalist use our fear of comparisons to manipulate us.

But once you understand what is happening, how phony the system is, you can become free. Yes, you compare well against some and poorly against others – so stop comparing! If the neighbors have a nicer house than yours, good for them. If your co-worker seems to be able to sell more than you, good for him. So what? Knowing that you will never win the game can set you free from the game.

Stop comparing yourself to others and stop using comparisons as a way to manipulate. It never works. It doesn’t motivate, and it doesn’t lead to health. Rejoice in the blessings others enjoy. Do something to encourage those who have less. But don’t let yourself get sucked into a system designed to manipulate you.

You will be amazed at the power of the freedom from comparisons.

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That Obnoxious Person

It’s Narcissist Friday!     

 

The folks over at Babylon Bee write satire in the form of news articles. This one fits our discussion so well!

Man Unsure If He’s Persecuted Because He’s A Christian Or Because He’s A Massive Jerk

 

The sad thing is that this article isn’t even as strong as the truth. Almost all of the obnoxious “witnesses” and “admonishers” I have known were actually proud of their offensiveness. Yes, they suffered rejection for Jesus, in their minds, but they loved being able to boast about that rejection. The more they suffered, the more they convinced themselves they were better than others. These “legalists” believed they were doing God’s work as they put others down.

Narcissists seem to be able to criticize freely and harshly without hesitation. They won’t do it in front of certain people, people they are trying to impress, but the criticisms flow as soon as the person leaves the room or the narcissist gets in the car. And, if you are unfortunate enough to be considered beneath the narcissist in status, you will probably receive obnoxious criticisms and comments openly and regularly.

And, as the article suggests, I have known narcissists/legalists who actually turn up their volume when they criticize in a public place. They claim they do it so the people around can have the benefit of their wisdom. But the truth is that they just want to embarrass their victim until he/she submits. The narcissist/legalist does not believe that a public spectacle will make them look bad; it will only make you look bad.

Scolding a teenager loudly in a restaurant, criticizing a customer in the grocery, ridiculing a cashier while checking out of the store, confronting the pastor as people shake his hand—these are public manipulations, expressions of superiority for all to see. While the rest of us would be ashamed to do such a thing, the narcissist/legalist uses the exposure to convince others of his/her righteousness and power.

Now, the hard part.

How do you handle this public display? Most of us will do almost anything to get them to shut up, including give in. But remember this: the loud critic exposes only himself as a jerk. We live in a culture where that is not considered good form. You don’t have to give in. You will be embarrassed either way, so why not make it clear that you are the victim in the situation? Ask: “Why are you doing this here in front of everyone?” Others are wondering the same thing. You don’t have to shout or cry. Just recognize the tactic for what it is.

Oh yes, there will probably be a price to pay for not playing your part in the situation. But you have to sort out the real cost of your actions. If you will be physically abused, then don’t leave that public place without some protection. And don’t go home with the abuser. But you may decide that you can endure the lecture on the way home, the rejection throughout the day or evening, or the angry scolding later. The narcissist/legalist doesn’t have to always get his/her way. Be careful. Just understand what the jerk is doing.

Oops!  One more thing!

As I read this after it posted I realized that sometimes the narcissist tries to get others to act irrationally in public places.  If, on reading this post, you wondered if you are the narcissist, but then realized that he/she provokes you to that point, please understand this.  Another tactic of the narcissist is to manipulate what you think of yourself and what others think of you by pushing you to the point where you react like someone out of control.  That doesn’t make you a narcissist.  It just shows that he/she is more covert, at least in public situations.  (Sometimes we have to respond loudly just to hear ourselves think above the confusion of the narcissist’s manipulations.)

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