Take Back Your Life: Chapter 5: Characteristics of a Cult Leader

For previous sections of this series go to: Captive Hearts, Captive Minds/Take Back Your Life

A NOTE regarding the book. The book is being revised and updated and will get a new title; Take Back Your Life: Recovering from Cults and Abusive Relationships (previously titled Captive Hearts, Captive Minds and this is the title I am working with) by Janja Lalich and Madeleine Tobias"

Take Back Your Life: Chapter 5: Characteristics of a Cult Leader

As I read through this chapter I kept thinking back to Rutherford rather than Russell as the originator of the WTS that we know today. I did this for a couple of reasons. Once Rutherford took over the organization he remodeled it based on his own pattern and most of the beliefs that Russell published were disposed of in favor of Rutherfordís beliefs. The entire structure of the organization changed under his leadership including the renaming of followers to "Jehovahís Witnesses. After reading many of the historical accounts of Rutherford and his personality traits I believe his leadership more than any others was responsible for turning the WTS into the cult we know today. The GB has, in my opinion becvome a reflection of that personality.

When I first started learning the real truth about the WTS I found it really hard to accept that so much of what they did was deliberate. I could not imagine the lies and manipulations. I always believed that the GB were men who made mistakes but they were basically honest and following scriptual guidelines. I never would have dreamed about the money, the UN, the political shoulder rubbing. And I would have argued with you about all of those things.

Well now I know better. But the big question most people have is "Why?" Why would these men who profess to care about Godís sheep? I first started connecting the pieces when I got to know more about Rutherford and his alcoholism. Now, in my work with people who had been abused I frequently saw families where alcoholism was a huge factor in some families. The alcoholic controls the family. Everyone in the family becomes enablers to the alcoholic. As I started examining the WTS under Rutherford, I realized it is just one big dysfunctional family.

As we go through this chapter remember the characteristics can apply to a cultic group leader, an abusive spouse and in the case of the WTS Ė a group of men who are collectively "the leader".

The beginning of chapter 5 states:

A cult cannot be truly explored or understood without understanding its leader. A cultís formation, proselytizing methods, and means of control "are determined by certain salient personality characteristics of [the] cult leader. . . Such individuals are authoritarian personalities who attempt to compensate for their deep, intense feelings of inferiority, insecurity, and hostility by forming cultic groups primarily to attract those whom they can psychologically coerce into and keep in a passive-submissive state, and secondarily to use them to increase their income." (p. 64)
The effect of living under a leader like this is that people experience a lot of anxiety as a result of feeling powerless and to counter that powerlessness they are likely to adopt a feeling of self-blame. In turn the message they often get from the group is that they are not good enough.

Like a child who is beaten by their parent, group members usually blame themselves for any bad treatment from the leader. Because their survival depends on their leader, they take responsibility for problems on their own shouldrers rather than see the problems that exist with the leader(ship). It is too firightening for them to think their leader is "cruel, untrustworthy, and unreliable." (p. 65) Even after leaving some may continue to put the blame on themselves rather than see the group leader as the problem.

The Authoritarian Power Dynamic

In any abusive relationship the purpose of all activities are for the benefit of the leader Ė not the followers. Their role is to fill the needs (emotional, financial, sexual and power) of the leaderís regardless of the personal cost to themselves. This is a top-down power relationship (all the power at the top and none at the bottom). The characteristics of authoritarian personalities include the following:

  • the tendency to heirarchy
  • the drive for power (and wealth)
  • hostility, hatred, prejudice
  • superficial judgements of people and events
  • a one-sided scale of values favoring the one in power
  • interpreting kindness as weakness
  • the tendency to use people and see others as inferior
  • a sadistic-masochistic tendency
  • incapability of being ultimately satisfied
  • paranoia (p 65-66)
When ex-members from various groups meet it is surprising that all the group leaders fall into the same personality profile. That profile falls into the category the psychopathis personality. The authors discuss various aspects of the psychopathological profile that are commonly found in abusers. (p.66)

The Role of Charisma

Cult leaders must have some quality to make people want to follow them, at least at first. Max Weber, a sociologist defines charisma as "an exceptional quality in a an individual who, through appearing to possess supernatural, providential, or extraordinary powers, succeeds in gathering disciples around him . . . .a sorcerer with an innovative aura and a personal magnetic gift, [who] promoted a specific doctrine . . . .[and was] concerned with himself rather than involved with others . . [He] held an exceptional type of power; . . . and assumed instead those of demagoguery, dictatorship, or revolutuion, [which induced] menís whole-hearted devotion to the charismatic individual through a blind and fanatical trust and an unrestrained and uncritical faith." (p. 67) NOTE: I have the book they are citing in this quote from The Sociology of Religion (p. 6-7) by Max Weber and the quotes are accurate. All [ ] and . . . are in the text of Captive Hearts, Captive Minds.

The authors continue:

In the case of cults, of course, we know that this induction of whole-hearted devotion does not happen spontaneously but it is the result of the cult leaderís skillful use of thought-reform techniques. Charisma on its own is not evil and does not necessarily breed a cult leader. Charisma is, however, a powerful and awesome attribute found in many cult leaders who use it in ways that are both self-serving and destructive to others. The combination of charisma and psychopathy is a lethal mixture . . . (p 67-68)
The Cult Leader as Psychopath

Dr. Hare, a leading expert in psychopathology, and the author of the book Without Conscience: The Disturbing world of the Psychopaths among us, states:

Psychopaths are social predators who charm, manipulate, and ruthlessly plow their way through life, leaving a broad trail of broken hearts, shattered expectations, and empty wallets. Completely lacking in conscience and in the feelings of others, they selfishly take what they want and do as they please, violating social norms and expectations without the slightest sense of guilt or regret." (p. 69)
Those who have read many of the descriptions of Rutherford (many of which can be found in The Best of... Rutherford info) during his time as the WTS president may begin to see the characteristics noted above. Rutherford was a man who claimed that his power came directly from God. His manipulation of board members to gain the leadership after Russellís death; his authoritarian attitude; his alcoholism; his attiudes towards government; religion and women all support the belief that he alone was appointed to take care of Godís earthly organization. This was a man who claimed titles for himself and refused any criticism of his methods. These character traits were what Rutherford imposed upon the organization he developed. His unrealistic expectations of his followers led him to use them in a most shameful way to get media attention for his "cause" at the expense of those who naively followed his orders.

The authors of the book Captive Hearts, Captive Minds states:

Neuropsychiatrist Richard M. Restak stated, "At the heart of the diagnosis of psychopathy was the recognition that a person could appear normal and yet close observation would reveal the personality to be irrational or even violent. (p. 70)
The Master Manipulator

Cult leaders need to be able to manipulate people. The authors state:

Cult leaders have an outstanding ability to charm and win over followers. They beguile and seduce. They enter a room and garner all the attention. They command the utmost respect and obedience. (p. 71)
Further on they state:
Beneath the surface gloss of intelligence, charm, and professed humility seethes an inner world of rage, depression and fear. (p. 71)
The Profile of the Psychopath

Robert Lifton stated that there are three main characteristics of the cultic leader:

  1. A charismatic leader who . . . .increasingly becomes the object of worship
  2. A series of processes that can be associated with "coercive persuasion" or "thought reform"
  3. The tendency toward manipulationfrom above . . . with exploitation Ė economic, sexual, or other Ė of often genuine seekers who bring idealism from below (p. 72)
As we cover the following list of personalith thrais it would be helpful to keep the above in mind. Also note that not all cult leaders are psychopaths but they may still exhibit many of the behavioral characteristics among the following.

1. Glibness/superficial charm

Many cult leaders are able "use language effortlessly to beguile, confuse, and convince.
  • They are captivating story-tellers.
  • They exude self-confidence and are able to spin a web that intrigues others and pulls them into the psychopathís life.
  • Most of all they are persuasive. Frequently they have the capacity to destroy their critics verbally or disarm them emotionally." (p. 72-73)

     

    2. Manipulative and conning

    Cult leaders do not recognize the individuality or rights of others, which makes all self-serving behaviors permissible.

  • The manipulator appears to be helpful, charming, even ingratiating or seductive, but it is covertly hostile, domineering
  • [the victim] is perceived as an aggressor, competitor, or merely an instrument to be used
  • The psychopath divides the world into suckers, sinners, and himself. (p. 73)

    3. Grandiose sense of self

    The cult leader enjoys tremendous feelings of entitlement. He believes everything is owed to him as a right.
  • He presents as the "Enlightened One": enlightened, a vehicle of god, a genius, the leader of humankind, and sometimes even as the most humble of humble. (p. 73)

    4. Pathological lying

    • Psychopaths lie cooly and easily, even when it is obvious they are being untruthful.
    • Leaders tend to create a complex belief system, often about their own powers and abilities in which they themselves sometimes get caught up.
    • These manipulations are rarely original thinkers. Plagarists and thieves, they seldom credit the originators of ideas, often co-opting authorship.
    • The only "truth" is whatever will best achievethe outcome that meets their needs. (p. 73-74)
    5. Lack of remorse, shame, or guilt
    • Psychopaths see those around them as objects, targets, ot opportunities, not as people.
    • They do not have friends, they have victims and accomplicesóand the latter frequently end as victims. (p. 74)
    6. Shallow emotions
    • While they may display outbursts of emotion, more often than not they are putting on a calculated response to obtain a certain result.
    • Hiding behing the "mask of sanity," the cult leader exposes things only insofar as they serve an ulterior motive.
    • He casts himself in a role of total control, which he plays to the hilt. (p. 74-75)

    7. Incapacity for love

    • As the "living embodiment of Godís love," the leader is tragically flawed in being able to either give or receive live.
    • The leaderís tremendous need to be loved is accompanied by an equally strong belief in the love offered him by his followers; hence, the often unspeakably cruel and harsh testing of his devotees.
    • Unconditional surrender is an absolute requirement.(p.75)
    8. Need for stimulation
    • Thrill-seeking behaviors, often skirting the letter of the law or spirit of the law, are common among psychopaths. Such behavior is sometimes justified as preparation as marytrdom: "I know I donít have long to live; therefore my time on earth must be lived to the fullest.".
    • Cult leaders live on the edge, constantly testing the beliefs of their followers, often with increasingly bizarre behaviors, punishments, and rules. (p. 75-76)
    9. Callousness/lack of empathy
    • Psychopaths readily take advantage of others, expressing utter contempt for anyone elseís feelings.
    • Psychopaths are unable to empathize with the pain of their victims.
    • Meanwhile, part of the victimís denial system is the inability to believe that someone they love so much could consciouly and callously hurt them. It therefore becomes easier to rationaize the leaderís behavior as necessary for the general or individual "good."(p. 76)
    8. Poor behavioral controls/impulsive nature
    • Like small children, many psychopaths have difficulty regulating their emotions.
    • Rage and abuse, alternating woth token expressions of love and approval produce an addictive cycle for both abuser and abused.
    • He may act out sexually, aggressively, or criminally, frequently with rage. Who could possibly control someone who believes himself to be all-powerful, all-knowing, and entitled to every wish, someone who has no sense of boundaries, no concern for the impact on those around him?
    • Generally this aberrant behavior is a well-kept secret, known only to a few disciples.(p. 76-77)
    10. Early behavior problems/juvenile delinquency

    Psychopaths frequently have a history of behavioral and academeic difficulties (p. 77)

    11. Irresponsibility/unreliability
    • Not concerned about the consequences of their behavior, psychopaths leave behind them the wreakage of othersí lives and dreams
    • Psychopaths rarely accept blame for their failures or mistakes.
    • Scapegoating is common, blaming followers, those outside the group, a memberís family, the government, Satan.
    • Blame is a powerful reinforcer of passivbity and obedience, producing guilt, shame, terror, and conformity in the followers (p. 77)
    12. Promiscuious sexual behavior/infidelity

    For psychopaths, sex is primarily a control and power issue.

  • The sexual behavior of the leader may be kept hidden from all but the inner circle or may be part of accepted group sexual practices. (p. 77-78)

    13. Lack of realistic life plan/parasitic lifestyle

    The psychopath tends to move around a lot, making countless efforts at "starting over" while seeking out fertile new ground to exploit.
  • The flip side of this erratic life planning is the all-encompassing promise for the future that the cult leader makes to his followers. Many groups claim as their goal world domination of salvation at the Apocalypse.
  • The leaderís sense of entitlement is often demonstrated by the contrast between his luxurious lifestyle and the impoverishment of his followers. (p. 78)

    14. Criminal or entrepreneurial versatility

    • Cult leaders change their image and that of the group as needed to avoid prosecution and litigation, to increase their income, and to recruit a range of members.
    • Cult leaders have an innate ability to attract followers who have the skills and connections that the leaders lack. (p. 79)

     

  •    
    Lady Lee Re: Take Back Your Life: Chapter 5: Characteristics of a Cult Leader Old post 20-Feb-06 09:09


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    Sorry about the formatting near the end. I know if I go in to try to fix it that it will only get worse.

     

    This was a hard chapter for me to go through. Not only was I thinking of how this applied to Rutherford and the WTS but thoughts about various people who fit this personality type kept slamming away in my mind.

     

    My father, step-father, and a woman I knew a few years ago, and to some extent the husband I left back in Winnipeg all fit this far too well. It sure helps me understand why these people keep entering my life. And now I can recognize them better I won't let them back in - or anyone like them.

     


     

    Part Two of the book starts the Healing Process
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    jojochan Re: Take Back Your Life: Chapter 5: Characteristics of a Cult Leader Old post 20-Feb-06 11:03


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    Interesting read, I'm saving this for later.

     

    Thanks Lady Lee.

     

    jojochan.
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    Lady Lee Re: Take Back Your Life: Chapter 5: Characteristics of a Cult Leader Old post 20-Feb-06 15:54


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    thanks jojochan

     

    I'm working on a list of all the last 15 points and how they would apply to Rutherford and the WTS we know today
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    Lady Lee Re: Take Back Your Life: Chapter 5: Characteristics of a Cult Leader Old post 21-Feb-06 08:07


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    Big Tex Re: Take Back Your Life: Chapter 5: Characteristics of a Cult Leader Old post 21-Feb-06 08:31


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    The effect of living under a leader like this is that people experience a lot of anxiety as a result of feeling powerless and to counter that powerlessness they are likely to adopt a feeling of self-blame. In turn the message they often get from the group is that they are not good enough.

     

    Chicken or the egg question:  Does the cult make people adopt self-blame/low self-esteem or do they attract those who already have these difficulties in their personality?  Probably in reality a little of both, or at least the cult exacerbates what is already there.
    Like a child who is beaten by their parent, group members usually blame themselves for any bad treatment from the leader. Because their survival depends on their leader, they take responsibility for problems on their own shouldrers rather than see the problems that exist with the leader(ship). It is too firightening for them to think their leader is "cruel, untrustworthy, and unreliable." (p. 65) Even after leaving some may continue to put the blame on themselves rather than see the group leader as the problem

     

    The very single last meeting I ever attended (Nina used to guilt me into going "Please help me with the kids" with eyes shing with tears), the speaker smugly waved a Time magazine article on the Catholic Church's abuse scandal and said "how wonderful it was to be in Jehovah's organization where we are kept safe".

     

    I leaned over to my wife, raised one eyebrow and watched her blush.

     

    Abuse victims are told they must present two eyewitnesses to an act of abuse, otherwise it is assumed they are lying.  Think of the extraordinary impact that has on someone who screws their courage up only to be beaten down with an impossible standard and then to compound it they are blamed not the abuser.  I don't know which way the average elders goes on this:  does he refuse to consider the possibility that a pedophile is running rampant in Jehovah's holy organization?  Or does he simply want mindless robotic obedience and mercilessly stamps out anything that threatens that type of order? 

     

    In other words, is the average elder too frightened to look, or to cruel to care?
    The authors of the book Captive Hearts, Captive Minds states:

     

    Neuropsychiatrist Richard M. Restak stated, "At the heart of the diagnosis of psychopathy was the recognition that a person could appear normal and yet close observation would reveal the personality to be irrational or even violent. (p. 70)

     

    Honest question:  Are cult leaders psychopathic, or are they sociopaths?  This is probably splitting hairs, but I've always viewed a sociopath (antisocial personality disorder I believe is the current term) as one who has no sense of moral value whatsoever.  I've always associated violence with psycopaths, whereas sociopaths are more those who manipulate, use and throw others away without consideration of the impact.  Someone who is cold and cruel.  My mother was like this.

     

    As far as relating this to Jehovah's Witnesses, I don't see charisma anywhere and certainly not in the stodgy, fortress-like GB.  Perhaps with Rutherford (although that was before my time) and I could maybe see it with Freddie Franz, but not now. 

     

    I see them more as a sect that has never cared one whit for another human being.  Narcissistic, grandiose and even a need to be an object of worship (as an organization) perhaps but not charismatic.  I see them more as cold, relentless, demanding, harsh to the point of cruelty and yes shallow and lack of remorse and guilt. 

     

    As as I say, I'm probably splitting hairs as the damage is just as bad.

     

     
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    DannyHaszard Re: Take Back Your Life: Chapter 5: Characteristics of a Cult Leader Old post 21-Feb-06 10:16
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    That's it they are psychopaths (no conscience)

     

    The Watchtower is run by psychopaths  Why Psychopaths Beat Polygraphs (video
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    Lady Lee Re: Take Back Your Life: Chapter 5: Characteristics of a Cult Leader Old post 21-Feb-06 10:57


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    Thanks for dropping in BT.

     

    The authors do address the difference between psychopaths and sociopaths. They state:

     

    The psychopathic personality is sometimes confused with the "anti-social personality," another  disorder; however, the psychopath exhibits more extreme behavior than the antisocial personality. The antisocial personality is identified by a mix of antisocial and criminal behaviors--he is the common criminal. The psychopath, on the other hand, is characterised by a mix of criminal and socially deviant behavior.
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    DannyHaszard Re: Take Back Your Life: Chapter 5: Characteristics of a Cult Leader Old post 21-Feb-06 14:09
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    Lady Lee your thread is featured on FreeMinds.org  scroller
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    VM44 Re: Take Back Your Life: Chapter 5: Characteristics of a Cult Leader Old post 21-Feb-06 14:48


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    Thank you for writing this Lady Lee.

     

    Rutherford indeed displayed the traits you write about. By using manipulation to get himself the presidency of the WTBTS, Rutherford was able to have a position where no one could do anything about the way he behaved.

     

    His goal was to became so powerful within the Organization that no one could touch him! And he did obtain that goal!

     

    He had many followers, but did anyone really like him? Will we ever know?

     

    --VM44
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    VM44 Re: Take Back Your Life: Chapter 5: Characteristics of a Cult Leader Old post 21-Feb-06 14:54


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    Rutherford did have a god-complex, a sense of being chosen by God.

     

    Ruthford's reasoned that as Jehovah was using the Watchtower to transmit truth to the people, and as he was the president of the Watchtower, then Jehovah had selected him directly.

     

    Rutherford thus believed he was chosen directly by Jehovah himself, who then conveyed spiritual truths to him via the angels.

     

    And being chosen by God, Rutherford thought it was only just to live like King David, accepting gifts, liqour, Cadillacs, homes(many, Beth Sarim was only the most famous of the residences Rutherford enjoyed)

     

    Based upon what he wrote, and how he lived, we can safely say that Rutherford was delusional, he really believed what he wrote!

     

    --VM44
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    DannyHaszard Re: Take Back Your Life: Chapter 5: Characteristics of a Cult Leader Old post 21-Feb-06 14:54
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    What is a Psychopath?
     

     

    "Psychopaths are social predators who charm, manipulate and ruthlessly plow their way through life, leaving a broad trail of broken hearts, shattered expectations without the slightest sense of guilt or regret. Their bewildered victims desperately ask, 'Who are these people?'"

     

    We often think of psychopaths as the disturbed criminals who capture headlines and crowd the nation's prisons. But not all psychopaths are killers. They are more likely to be men and women you know who move through life with supreme self-confidence -- but without a conscience.

     

    "What makes them the way they are? How can we protect ourselves?"

     

     
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    Lady Lee Re: Take Back Your Life: Chapter 5: Characteristics of a Cult Leader Old post 21-Feb-06 15:17


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    Thanks for the heads up opn the Freeminds scroller Danny

     

    My step-father was mostly the type of psychopath who exuded charm.  He thought he was God's gift to women (and his 2 daughters from his first marriage, his daughter with my mother, my aunt and myself, whom he sexually abused and my mother's sister whom he had a fling with while he lived with my mother). I have always thought of him as a Clark Gable/Rhett Butler type (sort of looked like that too). He always seemed to have women swarming around him. But he could be cruel and abusive and expected everyone to di whatever he wanted. And if the charm didn't win people over he used rage and fear to get control. Not too many people who knew him saw that side of him though. I had never really thought about him as having any sort of psychological problem, at least not a diagnosable one. But while typing out the above I just kept having images of him in my head.

     

    My psychopathic father, on the other hand, had no charm whatsoever. He was just mean and nasty. My mother's scorecard isn't too great. her third husband was an alcoholic/pedophile - just not the psychopathic kind

     

    From what I have read about Rutherford I suspect that he may have had some very good persuasion skills to get so many people to follow him. I believe that when he took over the WTS after Russell's death around 2/3 members left. But it sure didn't take Rutherford long to find replacements

     

    Mouthy/Grace

     

    I don't know if you have been reading this, and he may have disappeared by the time Sue came into the family, but I would be interested in your impression of him if you ever did meet him. The last time I saw him I was only 12.