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14 Ways Narcissists Can Be Like Cult Leaders

By Dan Neuharth, PhD MFT

~ 2 min read

The tactics some narcissists use to get their way in personal relationships can be strikingly similar to the coercive tactics used by destructive cult leaders.

Photo by OnTask

If you have a spouse, family member, friend, or boss who is narcissistic, ask yourself whether any of the following 14 characteristics of destructive cults parallel

your relationship with the narcissist.

1. Cult leaders act larger than life. They are viewed as innately good, possessing special wisdom, answerable to no one, with no one above them.

2. Cult members rights are subjugated for the good of the group, leader, or cause. Members are told that what the cult wants them to do is for

their own good, even if it is self-destructive.

3. An Us vs. Them attitude prevails. Outsiders are viewed as dangerous or enemies. This turns members focus outward, reducing the chances they

will spot problems within the cult. In addition, viewing others as enemies is used to justify extreme actions because of the dangers outsiders pose.

4. The leader or cause becomes all-important. Members devote inordinate amounts of time to the leader and group, leaving little time for self-care or


5. Feelings are devalued, minimized, or manipulated. Shame, guilt, coercion, and appeals to fear keep members in line. Members are led to discount

their instincts and intuition and told to seek answers from the leader or cults teachings. Over time, members can lose touch with their previous

habits and values.

6. Questioning and dissent are not tolerated. Having doubts about the leader or cult is considered shameful or sinful. Members are told that doubts

or dissent indicate something wrong with the member.

7. The ends justify the means. The rightness of the leader and cult justifies behavior that violates most peoples standards for ethics and honesty. In

the zealotry of the cult, anything goes.

8. Closeness to the cult and leader is rewarded while distance is punished. Temporary ostracism is used to punish behavior that doesnt conform to

group rules. Members fear being estranged from the group and losing their identities and the benefits of group membership.
9. Cult members are on an endless treadmill of becoming. Only the cult leader is considered perfect. All other members must strive to emulate

the leader. Most cults are set up so that members can never achieve this perfection, which keeps them dependent.

10. Lies are repeated so often they seem true. The cult leader cannot be wrong and never needs to apologize.

11. Cult leaders enrich themselves at members expense. Members are encouraged or coerced into gratifying the leaders needs by giving up time,

money, and more.

12. Communication is coercive or deceptive. Things are not always what they seem. This fosters confusion, leaving members vulnerable. When

confused, they seek solace from the aura of certainty the leader seems to possess.

13. Sameness is encouraged. Certain kinds of appearance, behavior, and cult terms and language become the norm for members. Over time, members

come to identify themselves as part of an entity rather than as individuals.

14. Doing what the leader wants is presented as the path to enlightenment or happiness. In time, this leads members to give up their old habits and

norms. They live in a bubble, filtering out information that might weaken their resolve.

If you notice similarities between such techniques and your relationship with a narcissistic person, keep in mind:

Cults and narcissists use powerful forms of manipulation but there is nothing magical about what they do. Understanding their methods can allow

you to avoid being taken in.

If someone is narcissistic, be mindful of sharing personal information with that person, as it may be used against you.

In any adult relationship, you have the right to confront, prevent, or remove yourself from manipulation or coercive control at any time. You do not

need to give a reason and you do not need the other persons permission.

In any adult relationship, you have the right to ask questions, make your own decisions, and honor your own values and goals.

Nobody has the right to tell you what to think or how to feel.

Additional readings on destructive cults and narcissism:

Characteristics of cults

Traits of dangerous cult leaders

Psychology of the cult experience

Telltale signs of cults

What cults dont want you to know

Techniques of thought reform

Brainwashing techniques

How narcissistic leaders manipulate group dynamics

Cults of personality

Sociopathic cult leaders