Sometimes, families behave like cults. Oh, I don’t mean they have off-the-wall doctrine. Rather, it’s the dynamics within the family that are very cult-like. This is often true of narcissistic families, especially the religious ones…like mine.
Back in March, I published Part 1 of When Family Is a Cult. The response was phenomenal, so I knew I was onto something. Here for your reading enjoyment, and hopefully a few “aha” moments, is Part 2 of When Family Is A Cult. Thanks to the International Cultic Studies Association and “Cult 101” for providing the cult-like dynamics listed below.
Traits of a Cult
“The group is elitist, claiming a special, exalted status for itself, its leader(s) and members…”
Heck ya! I mean…isn’t that just another way of describing narcissistic grandiosity!?
“The group has a polarized us-versus-them mentality, which may cause conflict with the wider society.”
Where do I even start!?! This is true of narcissists on so many levels.
First, the us-versus-them mentality may imply the victimhood narcissists hold so dear. Everyone is out to get them. No one understands them. Ah, woe is them. What have they ever done to deserve this?
What have they done!? Day after day they sit high atop their Ivory Tower of Righteousness, staring down yards and yards of nose at those poor, deluded souls who never do things right…unlike them. They know the right, the only right way to do things and are very verbal…and judgmental…about it.
Naturally, this isolates them from their fellow man who, after all, aren’t “good enough” to socialize with them anyways! In my family, for example, no church was good enough for us! Nothing and no one was good enough for us.
It was a lonely existence.
“The leader is not accountable to any authorities…The group teaches or implies that its supposedly exalted ends justify whatever means it deems necessary. This may result in members’ participating in behaviors or activities they would have considered reprehensible or unethical before joining the group (for example, lying to family or friends).”
Wow! What a trigger! My guts are screaming, “Yes!” even as I struggle to put this concept into words.
Basically, we’re talking about hypocrisy fueled by the narcissists’ penchant for being so-called “logical.” In their world, the end justifies the means because 1) they are perfect and 2) emotions don’t matter.
Let’s pause here to look at this a little more closely. Hello! I spy with my little eye the logical fallacy of circular reasoning (circulus in probando) or begging the question. The narcissist is perfect. They’re quite sure of this. Therefore, anything they do must ipso facto also be perfect. Morally sound. Correct. Acceptable.
They’re ability to do just about anything to anybody to attain their goal is underpinned by their belief that emotions do not matter. Specifically, other people’s emotions. They cast a very jaundiced eye on emotions in general, believing them to be fickle, untrustworthy and utterly useless. Your emotions simply don’t matter. This wouldn’t be “lack of empathy” would it!?
Meanwhile, they consider themselves to be one of the calmest, most unemotional and logical people on the planet, while we know them to be the most dramatic, emotional, volatile people of our acquaintance!
Vividly I recall Dad labeling me as “so emotional” and roundly invalidating my emotions. Meanwhile, I learned to shift my work schedule later and later so he had time to calm down from his post-work anger before I got home from the office.
Dad would’ve thoroughly disapproved of anyone who attacked a child. Yet he himself furiously grabbed a neighbor child by the hair and yelled in his face. I know because the police came.
Dad would’ve thoroughly disapproved of anyone breaking limbs off of his tree. Yet he broke limbs off of other people’s trees when they got in his way on the sidewalk.
Vividly I recall Granny harping and preaching on the evils of being judgmental. But she’s one of the most judgmental people I’ve ever met. To your face, no less!
Vividly I recall Mom’s delight as Bette Davis escaped from her dominating mother’s strictures on Now Voyager, never realizing that she herself was oh! so similar to Bette’s mother.
And if they ever had realized their hypocrisy (hah!), they would have been 100% justified in doing the same things they vilified in others. The rationalizations would never end.
“The leadership induces feelings of shame and/or guilt in order to influence and/or control members. Often, this is done through peer pressure and subtle forms of persuasion.”
Guilt. False guilt. It haunts us every moment of every day. It’s the sound of our father and mother’s voices constantly playing in our head like an eternal loop. (We must be incredibly strong to carry on despite this! Kudos!)
I was carefully taught to heed my conscience, lest it become seared by being ignored. Then these same folks played on my conscience by inculcating false guilt, manipulating my conscience to their whims. This has nothing to do with valid guilt for bona fide misbehavior. No! This is simply brainwashing and mind control by exploiting our inherent desire to do the right thing to bend us to the narcissist’s will.
“Subservience to the leader or group requires members to cut ties with…friends, and radically alter the personal goals and activities they had before joining the group.”
No one is good enough. No one was ever good enough. At the tender age of six, I was summarily ordered to never speak to my best friend again. It was the first time…but it wouldn’t be the last.
And goals. Phooey! What are those?
I find it odd that narcissists don’t seem to have hobbies. Maybe I’m wrong, but their goals center around maintaining the illusion of perfection…and that takes a lot of time and energy leaving little leftover for hobbies, pleasure, the enjoyment of life.
In fact, they don’t seem to think of life as something to be enjoyed. For a narcissist, it’s something to be conquered. A span of years to prove themselves worthy of life. A pass/fail grade. And, unfortunately, they pass this philosophy down to their families.
“The group is preoccupied with making money.”
Scratch a narcissist long enough and, sooner or later, you’ll discover their true love: money. In my own experience, the realization that money was so important to my family came late. Too late.
You see, I’d bought their spiel…hook, line and sinker. Fell for their extreme thrift. Pitied their financial straits. Dutifully paid rent equal to a monthly mortgage even while I longed to live elsewhere. They said they loved me too much to let me move out because it wasn’t safe.
I call it greed.
Back when I worked for Dayton’s, the employees were forbidden from using their employee discounts for family members’ purchases. Mom was so mad when I followed those rules. That was a clue!
Back when I lived at home, she wrapped rubber bads around the necks of liquid soap bottles to limit use…and woe unto you if you pumped the bottle twice. That was a clue!
Back when I moved out, Mother ruined my joy and shamed me by quietly saying, “I just want you to know that you moving out is causing us financial hardship.” That was a clue!
Back when I got married, I was instantly removed from the family gifting…or so I assume on pretty good authority. That was a clue!
Back when I started this blog, my family tried to demand over $50,000 from me. That was a MAJOR clue.
I guess it’s true. You can either serve the God of love…or the god of money.
“Members are expected to devote inordinate amounts of time to the group and group-related activities.
Wow! If that ain’t the truth! But strangely, I never realized it until I moved out. I was shocked by how much free time I suddenly had. I’d expected living alone to be much harder than living in a family. In fact, it was much easier.
Suddenly, my evenings were free. My weekends were free. I wasn’t running errands 2-3x evening per week on an empty tummy. I wasn’t forced to play music twice a week. I didn’t force myself to yack for hours with the poor, poor lonely woman who had zero friends.
It was wonderful not to have to “devote inordinate amounts of time to the group”…I mean, family.
“Members are encouraged or required to live and/or socialize only with other group members.”
Hell ya! I remember when I joined MENSA back in 2004. Once a month, there was a get-together and oh! It was so much fun! Yeah, sometimes the trivia and conversation got a little off-color. But so what!?!
Yep, Mom pressured me into giving that up too. In the end, I just gave up on trying to have friends at all. It was easier that way. After all, no one was “good enough” and my self-esteem was so low, I felt threatened by everyone. How sad is that?
Why? Why are Cults and Narcs so similar?
Because cults are started by narcissists. Good ol’ boys don’t generally run out to start cults. They’re too busy having a good time with their friends. But narcs do start cults. Their egos need the blind worship, power, sexual favors and the ability to denigrate and dominate others.
Naturally, narcissists establish the same dynamics in their own families. This is why the families of narcissists have cult-like dynamics.
If you choose to leave (and I hope you do!), prepare to suffer extreme cult withdrawal symptoms. (Google it!) But that’s another story for another time!
Got a story about the cult-like dynamics you endured? Share it in comments!
This article is for informational and educational purposes only. Under no circumstances should it be considered therapy nor replace therapy and treatment. If you are feeling suicidal, thinking about hurting yourself, or are concerned that someone you know may be in danger of hurting himself or herself, call the National Suicide Prevention Lifeline at 1-800-273-TALK (1-800-273-8255). It is available 24 hours a day, 7 days a week and is staffed by certified crisis response professionals. The content of these blogs and all blogs written by Lenora Thompson are merely her opinion. If you are in need of help, please contact qualified mental health professionals.