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 Antisocial Personality Disorder in Cult Leaders

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Christopher Hamacher



Posts : 39
Join date : 2012-02-17

PostSubject: Antisocial Personality Disorder in Cult Leaders   Tue Feb 28, 2012 10:04 am

This article is an electronic version of an article originally published in Cultic Studies Review, 2006, Volume 5, Number 3, pages 390-410. Please keep in mind that the pagination of this electronic reprint differs from that of the bound volume. This fact could affect how you enter bibliographic information in papers that you may write.

Antisocial Personality Disorder in Cult Leaders and Induction of Dependent Personality Disorder in Cult Members
John Burke, Ph.D.
Kaiser Permanente, Health Management Organization, San Jose, California



Abstract

This article considers evidence for the presence of antisocial personality disorder (ASPD) in some cult leaders. Additionally, the influence of antisocial cult leaders on cult members is hypothesized to be associated with the emergence of dependent personality disorder (DPD) in some cult members.



A number of studies have reported ex-cult members’ eye-witness accounts of antisocial acts and behaviors by cult leaders (Martin, Langone, Dole, & Wiltrout, 1992; Tobias & Lalich, 1994; West & Martin, 1999; and Kent, 2004). Each of these studies report first-hand evidence of antisocial acts and behaviors by cult leaders toward cult members. These published accounts, as well as previously unpublished author material, are used within this article as background for an explanatory and predictive model of the personality organization of cult leaders who display antisocial behaviors.

Additionally, diagnostic criteria for ASPD as listed in the American Psychiatric Association’s Diagnostic and Statistical Manual, 4th Edition, (1994) are used to aid in the characterization of the personality organization of the antisocial cult leader. Within both the California and Colorado criminal justice systems, ASPD historically has been diagnosed based on a confirmed history of antisocial acts and behaviors. The author has participated as a clinical team member in the diagnosis of the personality disorders including ASPD for juvenile offenders in the California Santa Cruz County Juvenile Probation Department and for juvenile and adult offenders in the Colorado Department of Corrections.

A number of peer-reviewed studies, including studies by Martin, Langone, Dole, and Wiltrout, (1992); Tobias & Lalich, (1994); West & Martin, (1996); and Kent, (2004) present findings based on clinical interviews with ex-cult members, which report various antisocial acts and behaviors by some cult leaders. These accounts detail examples of mistreatment, psychological intimidation, and physical and sexual abuse of cult members by cult leaders. These accounts offer evidence for the hypothesis that antisocial cult leaders may sometimes meet DSM-IV criteria for ASPD.

It has been suggested that cult leaders might be better classified as meeting criteria for narcissistic personality disorder (NPD) rather than ASPD. This is an interesting hypothesis, which will be discussed only briefly in this paper. The position of most personality researchers in the field is that if DSM-IV-TR criteria are used in making prospective diagnoses, the diagnosis is given when criteria are met for a given personality disorder. Therefore, if a cult leader has a clear pattern of antisocial acts, the leader is most properly diagnosed as having ASPD. If this pattern of behaviors additionally meets criteria for an additional diagnosis of NPD, then that second diagnosis should also be made. The interested reader is referred to Len Oakes’ Prophetic Charisma, the Psychology of Revolutionary Religious Personalities (1997) for a full discussion of the relationship of emerging narcissism to the development of a narcissistic personality organization in a given cult leader. Although Oates’ hypothesis is both interesting and attractive, the present author, because of extensive experience working with criminal populations, will not limit the investigation of the emerging personality of cult leaders to an investigation of the emergence of narcissism and NPD. Rather, he also will consider the possibility that some of these individuals clearly meet minimum criteria for the DSM-IV-TR diagnosis of ASPD. Many who have written about personality disorders have commented about diagnostic problems that arise with overlapping criteria—for example, ASPD and NPD do have areas of intersection. In the field of personality study, however, if a given individual meets criteria for two personality disorders, the appropriate diagnosis is one that includes both disorders. As partial support of the author’s position regarding the hypothesis that some cult leaders might meet criteria for ASPD, Oates himself reports that 3 of the 20 cult leaders that he reported on in depth were currently in jail for major criminal offenses (Oakes, 1997, p. Cool. As a cautionary comment, however, it is worth noting that difficulties can arise in identifying more subtly presenting antisocials, as Millon has commented on in the following:

Perhaps ‘purer’ antisocials are quickly discerned, whereas those with more complicated or ‘devious’ styles become apparent only after extensive evaluations. It would be this latter group that would show a blend of high scores on scales 5 (Narcissistic) and 6A (Antisocial), (Millon, T., Davis, R., Millon, C., 1997, pp. 81–82).

Note: For this second group of persons diagnosed with ASPD, the Narcissistic scale, the Antisocial scale, and the Aggressiveness scale are all elevated beyond BR=75 (scores equal to or greater than BR=75 are considered to be clinically significant when using the MCMI-III Personality Inventory). (Also note that in analyzing a large adult male sample population (J. Burke, Personal Communication, August, 2, 2006), persons diagnosed with ASPD and a concurrent NPD diagnosis represent approximately 25% of all ASPD diagnoses.)

Several of Millon’s ideas are worth considering; first, that individuals with an ASPD diagnosis theoretically can be split into two groups: a group A, which is a very pure group whose members are relatively easy to identify, and a Group B, whose members possess more complicated or devious styles and therefore require much more extensive evaluation before they can be identified. Interestingly, in Millon’s standardization study, group B, the complicated and devious group, possesses not only clinically elevated Antisocial and Aggressive scales, but also a clinically elevated Narcissistic scale. Millon’s description of this second, complicated and devious group who are not easily evaluated can perhaps be compared to complicated and devious cult leaders who mistreat cult members and who are correspondingly difficult to identify. Presumably, it would be difficult for cult members to identify these group B-type antisocial cult leaders.

Antisocial Personality Disorder (ASPD)

Antisocial personality disorder (ASPD) is thought to comprise a related cluster of personality traits. Among these personality traits, two of the more prominent are dominance (exerting influence or control over others) and aggressivity (verbal and physical aggressive acts exhibited toward others). Blackburn (1998, p. 53) identifies the trait of aggressivity as co-occurring with high impulsivity, and he explains that “...a single act of aggression is not necessarily indicative of an aggressive disposition.... Dispositions or traits are, then, probabilistic tendencies describing average behavior over time and setting.” In Blackburn’s model, a single, isolated act of aggression does not define the aggressive disposition; rather, a repeated pattern of aggressive acts defines the aggressive disposition. Blackburn adds that aggressivity is expressed through either verbal or physical violence and represents an attempt to use “coercive power” to control social interactions (1998, p. 53b).

A partial explanation of why antisocial personalities exhibit dominating and aggressive behaviors can be gained from Millon’s Dimensional Model of Personality Disorders. This model includes a dimensional model for each of the personality disorders (Millon, T. & Davis, R., 1996, p. 444). In the Dimensional Model of Personality Disorders, Millon hypothesizes that persons with ASPD can be characterized as possessing a dimension of “‘Modification’ [of] rather than ‘Accommodation’ [to] the world.” According to Millon and Davis, (1996, p. 429), these people are “active-independents who seek to shape the social world of others.” Each might be an individual who “actively intrudes upon and violates the rights of others, as well as transgresses established social codes through deceitful or illegal behaviors” (Millon. T. & Davis, R., 1996, p. 446).

Also, according to Millon, the ASPD personality exhibits a “Self-focused” dimension. Instead of being “Other-focused,” these individuals tend to consume resources for their personal benefit instead of considering others’ needs. They exploit and manipulate others in the pursuit of their personal wants and needs. Finally, Millon states that persons with ASPD have a “pleasure-seeking” dimension that seeks to avoid pain. Millon says that “many antisocials possess a ‘lust for life,’ a passion with which they are willing to pursue excitement and hedonistic pleasures” (Millon, T. & Davis, R., 1996, p. 448). The presence of a pleasure-seeking dimension in persons with ASPD might help explain some cult leaders’ sexual excesses. For example, a male cult leader might strictly forbid members to engage in sexual relationships because the ostensible ideals of the cult incorporate an ascetic regimen; but the leader may then engage in sexual relations with available female cult members, whether married or single, child or adult. And when questioned regarding such sexual practices, the leader then might engage in an elaborate and sophistical rationale to justify his behavior.

The Antisocial in Society

When the term “antisocial” is applied to behavior, the term signifies manipulative, self-focused behaviors in contrast to “prosocial,” outward, community-building behaviors. Antisocial behaviors clearly transgress society’s standards of morality, fairness, and justice. The issue is not that the person with ASPD avoids people, but rather that he or she evaluates the world of others with approximately the same self-serving point of view of the piranha that evaluates a river full of swimming tourists. That is to say, the individual with ASPD and the piranha both seek the society of others to “take care of needs.” Thus, when the outside observer observes the acts and behaviors of someone with ASPD, the perspectives and actions of the individual appear to be based upon a set of principles that are diametrically opposed to the best interests of society.

According to Hare (1993, p.2), a Canadian forensic psychologist who has extensively researched antisocial personalities, the antisocial population in North America (United States and Canada) contains a subgroup of approximately 3 out of 10 persons who have such extensive personality deficits and extreme behavior patterns that they are more accurately classified as being psychopathic personalities. According to Hare, psychopaths have severe and pronounced personality deficits. The presence of psychopathy causes the affected individual to have little or no empathic identification with others, and as a result, the psychopath seems to act without the restriction or constraint of conscience (Hare, 1993, p. 173).

Additionally, Hare states that psychopathy is not limited just to the criminal population but can affect any walk of life, so that professionals such as doctors and lawyers, as well as “blue-collar” workers, can be similarly afflicted. According to Hare, many psychopaths are never arraigned and convicted of crimes, but rather remain under-identified in society, even though they commit frequent illegal and unethical actions that leave behind a trail of broken lives. Important to the present discussion is that Hare lists cult leaders along with many other occupations as possible havens for psychopaths. In Hare and Babiak’s book, Snakes in Suits: When Psychopaths Go to Work (May 2006), extended illustrations focus on how psychopathic personalities might tend to operate in the business world.

Using Hare’s analysis, cult leaders who exhibit psychopathic behaviors can be identified. For example, a recent report in the San Francisco Chronicle tells about the surviving relatives of the nearly 1,000 people in the Jim Jones cult in Africa who were compelled by Jim Jones to drink poisoned Kool-Aid. These family-member survivors have been so affected by the loss of their loved ones that even years later they continue to meet and discuss their losses of family members and friends. Recently, a group of the survivors got together and wrote and produced a play to commemorate the loss of all of the Jonestown cult members (Nakoa, San Francisco Chronicle, Section E, April 14, 2005, pp. 1–2). Studies of individuals who exhibited psychopathic traits, such as the cult leader Jim Jones, reveal persons who apparently lack the ability to experience genuine empathy for others. Also, these individuals seem not to be able to use emotional feedback from others to alter their life course. However, what makes such psychopaths dangerous to society is that even though they apparently possesses a defective empathy, they are still able to intellectually analyze the emotional makeup of other people, and then turn that understanding to a deadly advantage.

For example, psychopaths may borrow and use up another person’s finances for their own immediate wants and needs without later returning the borrowed money; or, in a similar way, they may sexually take advantage of people, and then after they have sated their animal urges, they sever the relationship with no thought of the other person. It has been found that during the course of a lifetime the psychopathic personality changes very little. But that at about age 40, the psychopath tends to become less active in terms of violent criminal activities, yet he still continues to act in a very self-focused and destructive manner even into the later years of life (Hare, 1993, p. 97). Unfortunately, psychopaths and antisocials seek out and prey on the weak and the needy, and one place they may go is into a cult, which contains vulnerable people.

Cult Leader Behaviors Within the Cult

When an antisocial or psychopath decides to enter a cult, a power struggle might be initiated with existing leadership. The antisocial cult leader may cultivate a “cadre” of fellow travelers who will readily support the leader’s every action. The antisocial cult leader grooms people who will reflect his or her own core beliefs and desires. Such a leader might exhibit a superficial, glib manner that clashes with the more open and honest personality style of most “normals” in a cult. In contrast to cult leaders, “normals” are usually more characterized by genuine, open communication and a desire for growing relational depth with others not based on merely ulterior motives. Normals who enter a cult may find to their dismay that they either must leave the cult (and it is estimated that about 10% of cult members do leave very soon after they join) or accept the leadership style of the cult leader.

After the cult leader consolidates his authority by means of manipulative tactics, anything might happen. One ex-cult member related that the requested surrender to the cult leader and the cult’s ideology and practices was accompanied by demands for ‘submission’ to the leader. Submission in a cult may be accompanied by loss of autonomy in areas of life previously under personal control, such as the ability to visit family and friends “outside” the cult, the loss of personal freedom of movement, and the requirement of daily disciplines such as incessant chanting, fasting, or doing tedious religious “ceremonies.”

In addition, well-documented accounts by cult members describe more extreme measures. Experiences of psychological intimidation, as well as incidents of sexual and physical abuse, are also reported by cult members. As a result of abusive treatment inflicted by cult leaders, ex-cult members might exhibit psychological symptoms such as dissociation, derealization, depersonalization, and depression. The psychological defense of dissociation is thought to exist as an inborn personality survival mechanism that is normally in a dormant state in the individual and is triggered only by conditions of extreme trauma and stress. For example, Lewis and Yeager (1996, p. 704) explain that “dissociation can be conceptualized as an automatic, primitive, protective, psychological defense against extraordinary pain.”

Identification with the Aggressor

As part of a personal survival strategy cult members use, new members may end up “identifying with the aggressor” (a condition first noticed by the psychotherapist Anna Freud among World War II concentration-camp survivors). This identification with the aggressor causes the affected individual to “team up” with the cult leader in order to survive, and also to take on some of the aggressive personality characteristics of the cult leader.

According to Dutton (1998, p. 140), a severe trauma experience is sufficient to cause some normals to begin identifying with the aggressor. If a cult member begins identifying with the aggressor, that person has, in effect, become psychologically conditioned to function like a “personality extension” of the cult leader. Historically, it is known that antisocials such as the Nazi leader Goering during World War II influenced their subordinates in the subordinates’ display of antisocial behaviors toward weak and vulnerable war prisoners. When a cult member identifies with the aggression of the cult leader and becomes like a personal extension of the leader, the influence of the leader is extended. New persons entering the cult may then be subjected to a concentrated, combined, malignant social influence that emanates from the cult leader and antisocial followers who are in the identifying-with-the-aggressor mode. The resulting group social influence aids the cult leader in controlling and quickly breaking down the new cult members into social acquiescence and ultimately behavioral dependence.

Why Cult Leaders Act As They Do

When ASPD is observed, it has been found to be a stable personality organization that is ego-syntonic—that is, it does not cause internal conflict within the ego. This means that cult leaders who are antisocial do not feel distress or feel like they need to change their ways or voluntarily enter treatment. In actuality, antisocial cult leaders are thought to have a self-opinion somewhat like the following: “Nothing is wrong in my world; I am in control of my surroundings, and I like the way things are.” Samenow (public seminar, Colorado Springs, 2002), after spending thousands of hours interviewing antisocial personalities in prison, characterized the antisocial personality as constantly seeking to avoid a “zero state” of feeling low, powerless, and down. According to Samenow, persons with ASPD tend to actively avoid this emotional “zero state” by manipulating and controlling others to gain what they want and thus keep their mood up, even if the resulting actions involve severely violating the rights or persons of others.

Viewed from this perspective, it is reasonable to assume that cult leaders understand what they are doing when they encourage group members to use techniques such as “love bombing,” or concentrated, focused “attention” when it is time to recruit new members. After the new cult member attaches to the group, other emotional and psychological tactics can be brought into play to complete the breaking down of any remaining resistance to the will of the leader. (Note: When this process of breaking down the will of the cult member is in process, it may be explained to the new cult member as being necessary, to “purge any remaining worldly influence or compromise with the world that is still left from contact with the world.” One way the new cult member is “softened up” is not to be allowed any further contact with family, friends, or mental-health professionals or religious leaders.)

The power and control of the cult leader within the group and over the new member’s personal life is further extended by “drying up” emotional “safe havens” within the cult for the new member. This can be accomplished by means of loyalty checks. The new member thus finds the group tone militates against resisting cult demands, whether reasonable or unreasonable. To enforce the cult leader’s wishes, the new member maintains a constant stance of internal discipline.

Historically, accounts of emotional and psychological manipulation by cult-like individuals(s) have been reported as early as the First Century A.D. For example, the Christian writer Paul writes in a public letter to the church in the city of Corinth about so-called religious leaders who “strike in the face,” “oppress and exploit,” and “take persons to themselves” (Delling, 1965, p. 5). In contrast to this kind of treatment, the apostle Paul states to the Corinthian church members, “Nevertheless, we have not used this power” (I Cor. 9:12b, 1975, The Greek New Testament).

Control over the person can also be gained by forced public confession of “wrongdoing” or “wrong thinking,” which also represents an egregious invasion of privacy. Additionally, required affirmations of loyalty to the cult leader and the professed “doctrine” of the cult, as well as verbal and/or physical “disciplining” (which actually may be verbal and physical abuse), might be practiced. However, at the point that physical or sexual abuse occurs, some cult members leave. Additionally, Martin et al. (1992) found that ex-cult members whom they treated had developed clinical levels of post-traumatic stress disorder (PTSD) symptoms, dependent personality disorder, depressiveness, and clinical levels of anxiety as measured by the MCMI-I personality assessment.

Ideologies and Cult Leaders

Contemporary religious and philosophical ideologies should not be considered as somehow providing support for or legitimizing the antisocial, illegal behaviors of cult leaders. Instead, it is the active, antisocial personalities of these cult leaders that particularize the culture of the cult. By way of contrast, the many independent Christian house churches in the United States do not usually lead to the formation of cults. Rather, cults more likely derive their particular individualistic character under the active leadership of a religious antisocial such as David “Moses” Berg of the Children of God (observed by the author in the late 1970s in Huntington Beach, California).

The aggressivity of the cult leader David Berg was exhibited to the author during Berg’s public meetings and serves as a personally observed case model. These meetings could be better characterized as occasions by an angry Berg for an unwarranted and vociferous condemnation of the audiences. Upon hearing Berg’s loud and strident voice coming from inside a Huntington Beach storefront, curious passersby who entered the ongoing “worship service” were accosted by this voice and Berg’s terrifying and personal depiction of God’s wrath toward sinful man, delivered with an almost out-of-control hysterical fervor. The zealous nature of the presentation resulted in a powerful emotional experience for the audience.

The individual responses of those acquiescing children and adolescents who on-the-spot “made their peace with God” after hearing Berg’s angry depiction of God’s wrath, doom, and punishment are perhaps best explained as being like the actions of persons who receive communion from an unholy, abusive priest: The sacrament is not tainted by the venality of the priest. Unfortunately, some of those trusting young people who subsequently joined Berg’s Children of God movement to be “saved by the prophet Berg” ended up being “saved for the prophet’s dinner,” according to ex-member reports that were later published in the national news media.

Therefore, in contrast to noncultic religious leaders, antisocial cult leaders can be distinguished by their mistreatment and abuse of their followers. Instead of acting with responsibility toward persons who genuinely seek to personally commit themselves to a cause, antisocial cult leaders engage in manipulation, domination, and exploitation ultimately for their own ends. These antisocial leaders seem to have a seemingly inexhaustible flow of an evil and self-serving impulse to control, abuse, dominate, and take advantage of unsuspecting cult followers.

Analysis of Cult Leader Behaviors Compared to Current DSM-IV-TR Criteria for ASPD

The DSM-IV Antisocial Personality Disorder criteria are listed below in italic type, with appended comments in standard font (DSM-IV, pp. 650–651):

A. There is a pervasive disregard for and violation of the rights of others occurring since age 15 years, as indicated by three (or more) of the following:

Retrospective adolescent data about cult leaders’ childhood histories is currently not available.

(1) failure to conform to social norms with respect to lawful behaviors as indicated by repeatedly performing acts that are grounds for arrest.

Except for extremely violent cult leaders such as Charles Manson, Jim Jones, or the three cult leaders reported by Oakes in Prophetic Charisma to be incarcerated, most cult leaders have not been reported for activities “that are grounds for arrest,” with the majority of cult leaders not being formally accused or convicted of serious crimes. Therefore, without specific evidence to the contrary, most cult leaders do not meet this criterion.

(2) deceitfulness, as indicated by repeated lying, use of aliases, or conning for personal profit or pleasure This criterion has been reported applicable by ex-cult members to some cult leaders. This criterion therefore appears to be characteristic of some cult leaders.

(3) impulsivity or failure to plan ahead.

Insufficient data is available at this time to determine whether or not this criterion is met.

(4) irritability and aggressiveness, as indicated by repeated physical fights or assaults.

As reported by some ex-cult members, some members have experienced physical assaults by cult leaders, as well as aggressiveness or irritability or both.

(5) reckless disregard for the safety of self or others.

Insufficient data is available regarding this criterion.

(6) consistent irresponsibility, as indicated by repeated failure to sustain consistent work behavior or honor financial obligations.

Cult leaders have been implicated in lack of financial integrity, which includes failure to honor financial obligations, including both fraud and misuse of monies ostensibly collected for cult “ministry needs.”

(7) lack of remorse, as indicated by being indifferent to or rationalizing having hurt, mistreated or stolen from another.

The leader’s lack of remorse, as indicated by being indifferent to or rationalizing having hurt, mistreated, or stolen from another has been reported by ex-cult members.

B. The individual is at least age 18 years.

Adult cult leaders meet this criterion.

C. There is evidence of Conduct Disorder (see p. 90) with onset before age 15 years.

Data is not available regarding the childhood background of cult leaders.

D. The occurrence of antisocial behavior is not exclusively during the course of schizophrenia or a Manic Episode.

Most cult leaders are not described in retrospective accounts as suffering from either schizophrenia or from manic episodes. (Note: Joseph Smith is alleged to possibly have suffered from bipolar disorder during later years, according to some literature.)

Reported eyewitness narratives by ex-cult members seem to suggest that some cult Leaders meet DSM-IV ASPD criterion (2), “deceitfulness...,” criterion (6), “...failure to ... honor financial obligations...,” and criterion (7), “lack of remorse...,”, which provide evidence for a diagnosis of ASPD. A minimum of three criteria of ASPD must be present before a full ASPD diagnosis can be considered. The only criterion not present (because of lack of evidence pro or con) is “...evidence of Conduct Disorder with onset before 15 years.”

The following additional DSM-IV comment (1994, p. 649) is apropos: “Individuals with Antisocial Personality Disorder and Narcissistic Personality Disorder share a tendency to be tough-minded, glib, superficial, exploitative, and unempathic.” This very interesting comment highlights an earlier statement that, in some cases, an initial diagnosis of ASPD should also have a diagnosis of NPD added to fully describe the personality structure of the cult leader. However, a cautionary note must also be added: “Only when antisocial personality traits are inflexible, maladaptive, and persistent and cause significant functional impairment or subjective distress do they constitute Antisocial Personality Disorder” (DSM-IV, p. 649).

Most cult leaders do not appear to be particularly troubled by the results of their lifestyles and actions on the lives of others. However, even though cult leaders give an appearance of little or no concern about the results of their actions, some, such as Charles Manson, still end up being incarcerated or are publicly exposed by the press, as in the case of Jonathan Berg of the Children of God.

The author has participated in the diagnosis of ASPD in forensic settings where the diagnosis was given based on a review of an individual’s extended history of criminal and antisocial acts. The author’s diagnostic practice in a forensic settings has lead to the consideration of evidence leading to a prospective diagnosis of ASPD for some cult leaders, especially when the history of the cult leader is based on verified accounts of antisocial and criminal behaviors reported and confirmed by ex-cult members.

In summary, it is proposed that the egregious, unethical, and sometimes illegal and criminal behaviors of cult leaders are best classified among the common criminal behaviors normally observed in criminal offenders who also carry a DSM-IV diagnosis of ASPD. And, additionally, that the privileges and honors normally extended to persons who hold positions of authority within religious groups should not be extended to those cult leaders who exploit, dominate, or abuse their followers.

A second issue to be considered is the effect of the antisocial cult leader on the cult member.

Emergence of Dependent Personality Disorder (DPD) in Cult Members

As introduction, the effect of traumatic experiences within cults on the subsequent development of symptoms of dependent personality disorder (DPD) among cult members might possibly be compared to a similar elevated onset of DPD observed among psychiatric inpatients (diagnosed with DPD at five times the rate of psychiatric outpatients).

The apathy, helplessness, withdrawal and disorientation that research has shown to be so widespread among [hospital] residents has been linked to the nature of institutional regimes … as residents grow more inured to residential life, so they become more dependent on the routine imposed on their life. (Booth, 1986, p. 418, as cited by Bornstein, 1993, p. 129)

It might be possible that social environmental effects tend to contribute to the emergence of DPD in susceptible individuals.

Ex-cult members who have just exited a cult environment have been observed to exhibit a higher-than-normal incidence of dependent behaviors, anxiety, and depressiveness. Several possible contributing factors in the development of dependency, anxiety, and depressiveness in cult members can be identified. But first, as background, several possible paths for the development of dependency are described below.

Dependency is explained by cognitive theorists as a cognitive style “...in which an individual perceives him- or herself as powerless, helpless, and unable to influence the outcome of events” (Bornstein, 1993, p. Cool. The inception of dependency is described by Bornstein as occurring during infancy and early childhood. Possible influences for the development of dependency are (1) overly authoritarian parents—who block development of autonomy by taking away the child’s decision-making power, and thereby prevent the child from developing independent, autonomous behaviors (Bornstein, 1993, p. 41); or (2) overly permissive, child-gratifying parents, who encourage dependence by overindulgence of every whim and desire. If childhood dependency continues into adolescence and adulthood, “[d]ependent behaviors may be directed toward any number of people who represent, in the eyes of the dependent person, potential nurturers, protectors, or caretakers” (Bornstein 1993, p.13).

As adults, dependent persons tend to be more strongly influenced by authority figures than their peers (Bornstein, 1993, p. 59), and they also tend to acquiesce to majority group opinion more readily than nondependents (Bornstein, 1993, p. 58). In a very interesting experiment that measured “...whether dependent individuals would be more sensitive than non-dependent individuals to warm versus cold treatment by a confederate” (Masling et al., 1982, as cited by Bornstein, 1993, p. 66), the electrodermal skin responses of dependents indicated that they responded more positively to “cold” than to “warm” treatment by a confederate. And, by extension, “cold” treatment of cult members by a cult leader could be expected to be tolerated with little resistance by a dependent cult member.

Simpson and Gangestad (1991, as cited by Bornstein, p. 69) found that dependent individuals perceive their relationship partners as being “...highly committed to the relationship and even tend to have a self-serving bias (i.e., distortion) ... perceiving greater commitment in the partner than actually exists.” Extending this finding to cult members might mean that dependent cult members tend to perceive the cult leader as being more committed to them than the leader actually is. And so perhaps when the novice cult member entering the cult is surrounded by an artificially created “pink cloud” created by the cult leader through the techniques of “love bombing” and “focused attention,” relatively rapid attachment to the cult occurs.

Additionally, within group settings, Yalom states that groups exhibit an almost irrational desire to find an authority figure, a parent, a rescuer—what Freud in 1955 (as cited by Yalom, 1995, p. 296) referred to as the group’s “...need to be governed by unrestricted force ... its extreme passion for authority ... its thirst for obedience.” Quite possibly, within the cult, the cult leader, when he observes the behavior of novice cult members, intuitively comes to understand that the group has a need for a strong leader, and then exploits this need for his own illicit purposes.

Another possible influence on the emergence of DPD comes from evidence of a genetic contribution; this evidence comes from studies of identical twins who scored more similarly on scales of submissiveness and dominance than did dissimilar twins (Gunderson & Philipps, 1995, p. 1451). However, even though there is some influence from genetic sources, most researchers still believe that under normal circumstances, the strongest influence toward development of dependency comes from the family environment, other environmental influences (such as the social influence of the cult itself), or both.

At this point, an important question should be considered: Do persons enter a cult with a pre-existing dependent-personality organization? In a community sample of individuals (Gunderson & Philipps, 1995, p.1450), 15% were found to have a dependent personality, with an estimated ratio of three females to one male. So it is statistically possible that some of the entering novice cult members might have a pre-existing dependent-personality organization or susceptibility to emergence of a dependent personality. However, this finding does not explain the existence of the triad of dependency, anxiety, and depressiveness clinically observed in ex-cult members.

An additional question is this: What effect might existing dependency needs have on the subsequent acquisition of DPD by cult members? A possible answer requires an understanding of the dependency needs of entering cult members. Hypothetically, persons who are psychologically vulnerable and have fluctuating moods, according to Dolan-Sewell, Krueger, and Shea (2001, p. 88), and who also experience fluctuating moods,

[may have] ...a heightened sensitivity to environmental events (e.g. separation and disappointment)... Individuals with pathological levels of anxiety/inhibition are quick to interpret environmental events, as well as their own behaviors and thoughts, as potentially harmful to themselves or someone else.

Apparently, some individuals might be easily influenced by exposure to the manipulative social environment of a cult and therefore may lose some of their ability to make independent decisions. They may become overly anxious and dependent, which may, by a group social-influence effect, lead them to adopt a survival personality style that keeps them from exiting an abusive cult environment or resisting wrongful acts while they are inside a cult.

In partial explanation of why some ex-cult members were found to develop a cluster of DPD, anxiety, and depression, it has been found that anxious and fearful personality-disorder patients (cluster C patients), which include the DPD patients, might also have co-occurring depression and anxiety on a much more frequent basis than cluster A or cluster B personality-disorder patients (Dolan-Sewell, Krueger, and Shea, p. 97, 2001). These authors imply that when DPD develops, anxiety and depression often are comorbid.

Interestingly, the previously cited Martin et al. study reported that "...a majority [of ex-cultists] appear to have been within a psychologically normal range before they joined the group” (1992, p. 3). If this is true, why would many ex-cult members exhibit the triad of dependency, anxiety, and depressiveness? Perhaps the traumatic stress experienced within a cult contributes to the emergence of dependency, anxiety, and depressiveness.

According to Dolan-Sewell et al., (2001; as cited by Millon and Davis, 1996; and Gunderson & Philipps, 1995), anxiety and dysthymia are oftentimes comorbid with DPD. Donald-Sewell et al. explain that this comorbidity is because all three conditions are related to affective dysregulation. However, if psychological treatment given after members exit a cult experience can quickly ameliorate the anxiety and dysthymia exhibited by these exiting cult members, this result is possible evidence in favor of the position that environmental factors are important influences in the development of these psychological conditions. Therefore, Martin, Langone, Dole and Wiltrout’s (1992) report of the rapid and simultaneous decline of MCMI-I base rate scores for DPD, Anxiety, and Dysthymia in ex-cult members following relatively brief psychotherapeutic treatment represents a significant finding.

This finding about decline in MCMI-I base rate scores of DPD after brief treatment (two weeks or less) provides a basis for posing a question about the possibility of a behaviorally conditioned “state,” rather than a permanent trait of DPD, emerging after one’s exposure to traumatic events in the cult. The induction of a temporary “state” of DPD by exposure to traumatic events within the cult environment is supported by the findings reported by Martin et al. (1992). If a) dependent traits were not elevated in most participants before their entrance into the cult, b) the traits later appeared when members were measured after they exited the cult, and then c) the traits declined following relatively brief psychotherapeutic treatment, this sequence of events would lend support to the hypothesis that the existence of clinical levels of DPD, anxiety, and dysthymia in ex-cult members represents a temporary personality “state” rather than an enduring personality “trait” in these individuals.

Some writers suggest that individuals who already have a dependent personality style are more vulnerable to the experience of incidents of traumatic stress, which then leads to the development of acute stress disorder and, later, PTSD. It has been reported that some cult members experience traumatic levels of stress during active cult membership; this stress exposure would then tend to exacerbate any latent stress vulnerabilities. And so it can be hypothesized that immersion in the dysfunctional and manipulative culture of the cult may lead to development of traits of a temporary dependent personality disorder as well as the onset of acute stress disorder with concomitant dissociation, depersonalization, derealization, and depression.

Many times, persons who join cults are seeking to find nurturing and caring leaders. However, the novice cult member who seeks out care and support in the context of seeking spiritual growth should not have an experience of manipulation, social-behavioral conditioning, and physical and sexual abuse by an antisocial cult leader. Many strong leaders of different types—whether military, political, or civilian—who serve as coaches, teachers, or even personal trainers, maintain high levels of responsibility to protect, encourage, strengthen, and build up their followers. In contrast to these prosocial and responsible behaviors, cult leaders caught up in self-serving and highly manipulative antisocial behaviors induce a variety of noxious psychological states and disorders in their followers and give credence to the words spoken by Jesus almost two millennia ago, “You shall know them by their fruits.”
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Ikuko



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PostSubject: Anti -social personality disorder   Tue Feb 28, 2012 11:08 am

Thank you for this post which I found interesting.My reponse is to ask the question "What is to be done?".

Psychopathy as I understand it is not curable as a clinical condition.Is it approachable

as a social phenomenon?How to approach the idea of a remedy?

Does education work?

Why do "normals" continue to collude with anti-social and psychopathic types?

I'm continuing to think about it.....
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cmpnwtr

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PostSubject: Re: Antisocial Personality Disorder in Cult Leaders   Thu Mar 01, 2012 7:12 pm

Ikuko wrote:
Thank you for this post which I found interesting.My reponse is to ask the question "What is to be done?".

Psychopathy as I understand it is not curable as a clinical condition.Is it approachable

as a social phenomenon?How to approach the idea of a remedy?

Does education work?

Why do "normals" continue to collude with anti-social and psychopathic types?

I'm continuing to think about it.....

Interesting questions. I am a clinical counselor with over 30 years experience, some of it with convicted offenders in my earlier days. I was called upon in my work to do evaluations at times with newly jailed offenders to do a differential diagnosis of whether a treatable mental health disorder existed or whether it was the condition of psychopathy, or ASPD, or sociopath. People with this profile have learned to feed people want they want to hear or see and have become masters of deception and manipulation and have learned to cultivate a social charisma. They are masters of disguising their true intentions. Therefore spiritual communities are prime ground for them to ascend in the ranks and achieve power in way they can victimize and exploit others. Fueled by the false myth of the "enlightened master" they find an excellent cover in "Crazy Zen" for their activities. Clinically there is not a remedy. The only remedy is to protect society from them, which is one reason we have jails. I would say that one would find a higher than normal percentage of sociopaths in the legal profession, because the law is power, and in politics and fields of business where there is little accountability. Exhibit A is Bernie Maddoff. Best thing to do for the public is educate them to sociopathy so they can learn to recognize it and take steps to protect themselves. And to the extent that it can be done, peer review. Most importantly devotees in any spiritual community must be empowered to have critical thinking and judgment, along with ethical and psychological education.
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PostSubject: Re: Antisocial Personality Disorder in Cult Leaders   Sun Mar 04, 2012 12:55 pm

Addendum on Psychopathy: I happened to be perusing Huffington Post this morning and saw a piece on Psychopathy and the prevalence of psychopaths among us, how to identify them. It cites a financial organization CFA that asserts that one of every ten who work in the financial investment industry are psychopaths. (not surprising in an industry where wealth and power are offered with little accountability). Also cites a book on what to look for in the psychopathic personality:
http://www.huffingtonpost.com/2012/03/02/psychology-book_n_1315990.html#s747885&title=Inhumane_or_simply
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PostSubject: Re: Antisocial Personality Disorder in Cult Leaders   Sun Mar 04, 2012 7:30 pm

Bill--Now people are going to find psychopathy whenever they run into charming but devious and/or shallow people. :-) (no, I'm not blaming you for anything)

I completely agree that having people who genuinely lack compassion among the rest of us is a terrible risk, and one that we will one day, hopefully, find a way to address. However, let's be very cautious before making attempts to eliminate, minimize, or even diagnose that condition and its social effects. Our uncertainty about how to measure it or determine it at the level of the brain SHOULD tell us that we are dealing with a conceptual model for how things are, rather than data-driven firm diagnosis of the kind that you can get for cancer, or even neurological blindness.

I can feel in the anti-Wall St. zeitgeist an urge to "fix" this psychopathy problem, and felt it myself. And y'all know what happens when we define our fellow humans as problems needing to be fixed, right? "If only we could get rid of those..."

In the meantime, I rely on people like you and Henry to work on this risk with care and compassion, and on psychological professionals generally to come up with their best diagnoses for what ails particular individuals. I, who've never even seen a DSM, can hardly feel qualified to pass such a harsh and potentially consequential judgment.

But now I have a question: if YOU had a patient who turned out, in your opinion, to be a genuine psychopath, would you feel obliged to tell the people in his life to run the other way? How do the professional ethics work themselves out when it's very clear that, while the psychopath isn't about to commit murder, he is certain to harm those close to him in ways that will have lasting negative consequences, by his inability to reciprocate empathy? Or, does the counselor just "run the other way," that is, sever the patient relationship because they're pretty sure that the person really can't be helped?

No rush, many thanks.--Dan
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PostSubject: Re: Antisocial Personality Disorder in Cult Leaders   Sun Mar 04, 2012 11:04 pm

ddolmar wrote:
if YOU had a patient who turned out, in your opinion, to be a genuine psychopath, would you feel obliged to tell the people in his life to run the other way? How do the professional ethics work themselves out when it's very clear that, while the psychopath isn't about to commit murder, he is certain to harm those close to him in ways that will have lasting negative consequences, by his inability to reciprocate empathy?
No rush, many thanks.--Dan

The professional ethics are pretty clear and there is a famed court decision that provides some guidance as well. The ethics of mental health professionals state such clinicians are not allowed to break confidentiality and warn others unless there is clear evidence of an imminent threat to the life and safety of others. In fact there is a court decision dating to 1976 called the Tarasoff decision stating that clinicians are required to warn persons in danger when a threat has been made. Other exceptions to the confidentiality rule are ( in all states I am aware of) to report evidence of child abuse to child protection authorities or law enforcement as soon as it is detected in the course of professional responsibilities. Otherwise you are not permitted to break confidentiality just because someone has the profile or likely diagnosis of an anti-social personality disorder. The DSM-IV diagnostic criteria refer, not just to personality style but also to behavior, including possible law violations, so lay people need not go around attempting to identify psychopaths based on personality style alone. But they should pay attention especially to behavior that transgresses basic ethical boundaries, in addition to those inner cues that people often get when they are in the presence of hidden menace.

In 30 years I have seldom broken the confidentiality rule, and it was only done in cases of child abuse, or where there was an immediate danger of life and injury. In the first ten years of my career I had occasion to deal at times with dangerous people, and was the mental health commitment investigator and crisis coordinator for a county in Oregon. So identification of dangerousness and psychiatric disorder (Dangerous can be due to a mental disorder or to sociopathy.) was an everyday part of my job. When I was involved in a formal investigation, I was covered by the laws involving mental health investigations. They are not the same thing.

To give an instance where such a formal investigation was not involved, and I was working with a young man as his therapist, a Vietnam vet with combat experience who was making specific threats in sessions with me towards law enforcement officers, including admitting to occasions where he was actually sighting in police officers with his high powered rifle scope. In my view he was just a hair's breadth away from committing murder. I informed the police officers in question and lived in fear for a while that he would carry out his threats or bring retribution on me for having told. I wasn't sure if he was a psychopath, but I believed strongly he was serious about his threats. I learned a few days after my telephone call that he had pulled a gun on someone equally dangerous and armed like himself, and he was shot and killed before he had a chance to fire his weapon.

Therapists live all the time with the knowledge that people they have seen for some reason in a professional capacity are going to do harm and possibly wreak havoc to others in their lives. That concern does not permit routine warnings to everyone in that person's life about what might happen. So we just learn to live with that concern.

I worked for thirty years in the public sector in community mental health clinics, and crossed paths with many people who I knew or suspected were psychopaths or Anti-Social Personality Disordered people. It made me aware of the fact that such persons are all around us, some in our own families. And when I walked down the street in one small town where I worked I would not infrequently spot someone who I knew was a psychopath and had no conscience about hurting, injuring another,even killing, or stealing from another. It makes for a level of awareness of vulnerability that most of don't wish to have. At the same time I learned in my clinical work to pay attention to observations that most people ignore, and the internal cues that most people ignore, and I developed a level of confidence in that ability and to protect myself and my family. There is no cure for psychopathy. There are only limits and boundaries to protect the individual and the community from their behavior. But it can't be done because of suspicions about what might happen, but what has happened.

I think the best preventive thing is education. It is not that difficult to give people a good mental/behavioral health education so that they learn to recognize basic signs of both mental illness and sociopathy. in the persons they encounter in their lives and to make those adjustments and judgments that are necessary to be safe.
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PostSubject: Re: Antisocial Personality Disorder in Cult Leaders   Mon Mar 05, 2012 4:09 am

Thanks Bill. It's worth noting that the HuffPo piece seems to suggest, at least to me, that people should actually "go around attempting to identify psychopaths based on personality style alone". Seems like a witch hunt might be in the works, at first glance.

Still, I would love to know if there are good resources (online? trusted books for non-specialists?) that can help the rest of us recognize basic signs of both mental illness* and sociopathy.

Maybe some of the books indicated in the slide show at the HuffPo link above have good advice on this score?

*(One time a friend of mine came up my driveway insisting that God was talking to him through the radio. I guessed, "Hey maybe my friend has suffered a psychotic break." Turns out he had been on a two-week bender and hadn't eaten decently. After remedying this, the following morning things seemed to be a lot better. Anyway, sometimes the diagnosis of mental illness seems inevitable, even by one as deeply skeptical and poorly qualified as me.

NB: Funny how hearing the voice of God is so seldom a good sign.)
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PostSubject: Re: Antisocial Personality Disorder in Cult Leaders   Mon Mar 05, 2012 10:07 am

ddolmar wrote:
y "go around attempting to identify psychopaths based on personality style alone". Seems like a witch hunt might be in the works, at first glance.

Still, I would love to know if there are good resources (online? trusted books for non-specialists?) that can help the rest of us recognize basic signs of both mental illness* and sociopathy.

Maybe some of the books indicated in the slide show at the HuffPo link above have good advice on this score?

*(One time a friend of mine came up my driveway insisting that God was talking to him through the radio. I guessed, "Hey maybe my friend has suffered a psychotic break."

n.)

Yes, personality style alone is not a good indicator. Maybe a red flag or two. People need to pay attention to behavior and the transgression of accepted ethical boundaries and the presence or lack of empathy for others or not. The Huffpos piece is only interesting in that it shows this is a conversation that is in the culture.

Sorry, I'm not familiar with resources online, except the diagnostic criteria in the DSM-IV. I believe a DSM-IV is coming out shortly or perhaps has come out.

I would suggest that your friend did in fact have a psychotic break, except it was not caused by onset of an ongoing psychiatric disorder such as Schizophrenia, but was a transitory psychosis brought on by nutritional deficits. I have had transitory psychotic states brought on by lack of sleep and by viral infection. The brain is a delicate organ and chemical imbalances producing psychosis can be induced from any number of sources.
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PostSubject: Re: Antisocial Personality Disorder in Cult Leaders   Mon Mar 05, 2012 2:47 pm

Correction: That's DSM-V and it's expected release date is May 2013. In the mental health profession that's the bible and also the basis for getting paid.
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PostSubject: Re: Antisocial Personality Disorder in Cult Leaders   Sat Apr 07, 2012 12:29 pm

Bill ,Thank you for your thoughtful and informative posts.

A resource I have found useful: Aftermath:Surviving Psychopathy.It is online and will appear on a Google search. The focus is on consciousness-raising amongst the public ,and on helping survivors,as the name implies.



Thank you again for all your contributions.

It's Easter.Happy Easter.

I'm going to celebrate passover and Easter with some Jewish/Christian/Quaker friends,because I'm a Buddhist!
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PostSubject: Re: Antisocial Personality Disorder in Cult Leaders   Tue Jun 26, 2012 10:57 am

Here is a review of a recent book about psychopaths. One of the pervasive issues that effects nearly everyone who has been in a spiritual group with a strong authoritarian and sometime charismatic leader is the confusion about that person. How could the guru be so insightful on the one hand and deceitful or self-blind on the other hand? How can they be sometimes kind and other times brutal? Former followers can wrestle with these contradictory experiences for years - and it can be important in the healing process to figure it out, to understand the inner psychology of the grandiose personality. Some analysis is in order. I think this is especially important with the groups / traditions that play the "crazy wisdom" card, the zen "skillful means" gambit, Kennett's "mirroring" or the "perfect" master story.

So here are a few books that relate in some way to this issue:

June 25, 2012 - NYT
Shades of Psychopathy and Ambition Run Amok
By ABIGAIL ZUGER, M.D
.

Here’s a medical riddle: When is just a touch of a disease worse than the full-blown thing?

And here’s a hint: worse for whom? Suppose it’s not the sick person you’re worried about, but that individual’s friends, family, colleagues and clients? The authors of “Almost a Psychopath” suggest that people with just a few of the dangerous characteristics of a psychopath may take a greater toll on the community than those with the real diagnosis, only because the partly psychopathic are so much more pervasive and elusive.

“Psychopaths are part of our professional lives,” write the authors (Dr. Ronald Schouten has both law and medical degrees and is a psychiatrist at Harvard Medical School; James Silver is a criminal defense lawyer). Most people, though, are unlikely to run into one of these career criminals; experts estimate that they constitute only about 1 percent of the population.

It is far more common to fall under the wheels of someone on the psychopathic spectrum, with enough of the charm, egoism, deceitfulness, aggression, manipulativeness and lack of empathy to ride blithely over the heads of others — and just enough normalcy to avoid detection. In fact, what these authors call “almost psychopaths” are also called “successful psychopaths,” because they often do quite well in life despite the gradual accumulation of victims in their wake.

Dr. Schouten and Mr. Silver have written a sophisticated self-help book aimed primarily at those victims — parents, spouses and co-workers — but also at those who might sense some of these traits in themselves. The authors include a detailed discussion of the thought processes behind a psychiatric evaluation and an overview of the still-tentative theories of causation.

The almost-psychopaths are inherently fascinating; they may rise high and fall low (certain scions of politics and finance come to mind) or simply cause smaller miseries in their roles as controlling spouses, manipulative colleagues or uncontrollable teenagers.

At work they may be competent, self-disciplined and high-achieving. At home they may be charming and lots of fun. And on the inside they may be just as morally empty as any true psychopath, but the almost-psychopaths are grounded enough to keep some of their worst instincts in check, staying employed and out of major legal trouble.

What to do if you’ve got one in your life? Dr. Schouten and Mr. Silver suggest some basic steps, none of them particularly surprising. If you are a parent, you will almost certainly need to enlist professional help; you may take some long-term comfort from data suggesting that a child may outgrow worrisome behavior, but just waiting it out is unlikely to be a good tactic.

If you are a friend or spouse on the receiving end of an almost-psychopath’s attentions, you should know when to stop negotiations and walk or run away; the same goes for co-workers and employees. As the authors emphasize, almost-psychopaths are “far better at doing what they do than we will ever be in detecting and stopping them. And sometimes that requires that you escape a bad situation and allow others to come to their senses in their own time.”

Politicians and financiers are hardly the only professionals whose psychic flaws may propel them into the stratosphere. Men and women of science routinely fly high with the same fuel, despite various professional codes and the invariable assertion that they do what they do for the lasting benefit of mankind. In “Prize Fight,” Dr. Morton A. Meyers presents a comprehensive catalog of the inglorious behaviors provoked by this love of others, clear evidence that personality disorders abound in the healing arts and sciences too.

His gamut of misdeeds includes plagiarism and fabricated data, like the white mice turned black with a few strokes of a researcher’s felt-tip pen. But Dr. Meyers’s real subject are the subtler conflicts that have erupted when truly important research begins to take shape and the principal actors find themselves fantasizing about that phone call from Stockholm, one of the early symptoms of the disease called “Nobelitis.”

Two cases of this destructive but fortunately uncommon contagion affected ambitious young researchers and their equally ambitious mentors. In the simplest terms, the young men did the grunt work, while the older ones got the financing, the credit and the prize. Members of the contentious Canadian team responsible for the discovery of insulin in 1923 actually wound up slugging one another; the fisticuffs surrounding the 1943 isolation of the antituberculous drug streptomycin were limited to the legal variety, but they resounded for a decade, embittering all involved.

The combat surrounding the more recent development of M.R.I. scanning was not between teacher and student but among established researchers. Dr. Meyers is a professor of radiology and medicine at Stony Brook University and knows firsthand both the science and some of the personalities involved here. While his narrative bogs down a little in personal anecdote and opaque technical details, he paints a clear picture of a competition for glory and cash carried out in maneuvers as subtle as an omitted footnote and as flamboyant as a series of full-page newspaper ads demanding that the Nobel committee reconsider its verdict.

Some readers may be able to take sides in this battle. Others will be left with the unhappy sense that in the pressure caldron that is modern medical research, the biggest challenge for many participants may not be the science itself so much as attaining and sustaining the requisite selflessness and integrity. Perhaps good behavior in the lab now deserves its own Nobel.
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PostSubject: Re: Antisocial Personality Disorder in Cult Leaders   Mon Jul 02, 2012 11:43 am

Jcbaran wrote:
Here is a review of a recent book about psychopaths. One of the pervasive issues that effects nearly everyone who has been in a spiritual group with a strong authoritarian and sometime charismatic leader is the confusion about that person. How could the guru be so insightful on the one hand and deceitful or self-blind on the other hand? l.

Just happened to do my occasional "drive-by" at this forum and noticed this post. As a retired mental health professional and a sometimes observer of cults and therapist of cult survivors, it is a topic that has natural interest for me. Two important facts to consider. Every member of cult was drawn there because of their own projections, or transference (term used in psychotherapy for unconscious projections/needs/expectations/desires ). Second important fact- psychopaths or sociopaths are keen observers of human behavior. They are adept in spotting behavioral cues that provide openings for exploiting vulnerabilities and motivations for purposes of their own enhancement of power and grandiosity. Lacking any empathy they are especially dependent on such observational abilities to understand and exploit others. Because of the power of transference such abilities are falsely misread by followers, and attributed to the "no-self" state or psychic sensitivities of the spiritual leader or guru.
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PostSubject: Re: Antisocial Personality Disorder in Cult Leaders   Mon Jul 02, 2012 12:13 pm

great points, Bill. Sociopathic leaders can often appear to be quite liberated, freed from common concerns and restraints, charismatic, but what you are mostly seeing is narcissism and lack of empathy in action. The behavior of the "master" can all seem very exciting, even thrilling until you begin to see the real consequences of their actions, the true effects -- and rather than helping to enlighten or free their students, these gurus are turning their followers into adoring sheep, dolls in their doll house. Nothing Zen about that.

And the "love" the guru feels for their students is only based on adoration -- the minute the student questions or challenges and stops worshiping, the guru cuts them off, banishes them. They are now dead. This affection is hardly unconditional - it is entirely conditional and is not love even in the most mundane sense.
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PostSubject: Re: Antisocial Personality Disorder in Cult Leaders   Mon Jul 02, 2012 12:35 pm

As a parent or teacher of a young person, it would be of great value help them be educated in how to discern the choice of a healthy spiritual teacher or mentor as they come of age: what qualities to look for, and what are deal breakers, how to look for the toxic cult leader. Teachers who validate the spiritual autonomy and personal responsibility of the student are important. Teachers who support a process of spiritual maturation, respectful of the inner life of the student, that leads towards ethical responsibility and accountability and towards meeting the challenges and responsibilities of adult living in work and relationships are to be valued. Graduation and independence from the teacher/student relationship is the goal, not ever deeper enmeshment and dependence. I am hoping with time that healthy models of spiritual mentoring and development become widely understood and articulated and we can learn from all the harm and injury that has occurred in the name of the life of the spirit and religion.

A couple of weeks ago the Dalai Lama tweeted this. So perhaps he is wondering himself about these things:
*********************
Dalai Lama ‏@DalaiLama
I am increasingly convinced that the time has come to find a way of thinking about spirituality and ethics beyond religion altogether.
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PostSubject: Re: Antisocial Personality Disorder in Cult Leaders   Mon Jul 02, 2012 12:52 pm

cmpnwtr wrote:
As a parent or teacher of a young person, it would be of great value help them be educated in how to discern the choice of a healthy spiritual teacher or mentor as they come of age: what qualities to look for, and what are deal breakers, how to look for the toxic cult leader

I believe the main thing a parent can do is model healthy behavior. Typically people who seek out cults are driven by deficits that should have been met by parents and they don't know how to relate to authority. Someone who grows up in a family feeling valued, and supported in the process of becoming an adult is highly immunized against the dynamics of cults.
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PostSubject: Re: Antisocial Personality Disorder in Cult Leaders   Mon Jul 02, 2012 1:16 pm

Isan wrote:

I believe the main thing a parent can do is model healthy behavior. Typically people who seek out cults are driven by deficits that should have been met by parents and they don't know how to relate to authority. Someone who grows up in a family feeling valued, and supported in the process of becoming an adult is highly immunized against the dynamics of cults.

Isan, what you say is very true. However, there is a vacuum of healthy models of spiritual development widely known in the culture that are evidence based and independent of the traditional and flawed historical religious cultures of East and West. The field of transpersonal psychology has approached this topic to some degree but such models need to be more known in the larger culture so that, especially younger people and even older seekers have a normative measure of what to look for and what to rule out. And it is true that reasonably healthy families can be transmitting totally wrong information on such matters and impart an undeserved and uncritical trust in authority figures in religious institutions or who might otherwise be clothed in credible disguises. They send their seeking offspring out into the world totally unprepared for the unscrupulous and the mal-intended. And for those seekers who have been worked over by the usual run of family dysfunction and are looking for a better way, wouldn't it be better for them if they have had the benefit of the study of evidence based models of spiritual development and practice?
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PostSubject: Re: Antisocial Personality Disorder in Cult Leaders   Mon Jul 02, 2012 3:58 pm

cmpnwtr wrote:
Isan, what you say is very true. However, there is a vacuum of healthy models of spiritual development widely known in the culture that are evidence based and independent of the traditional and flawed historical religious cultures of East and West.

Bill, thanks for the follow-up. I can see that my comment seemed to suggest that "healthy models of spiritual development" are not needed - clearly they are. As you say even folks coming out of healthier families are potentially vulnerable to established religious institutions that are presumed trustworthy, unless of course they are taught to be wary of them all. There seems to be an assumption in the culture that religious institutions are inherently more trustworthy than government or corporate institutions, but I see no reason why they should be exempt from the same scrutiny.
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PostSubject: Re: Antisocial Personality Disorder in Cult Leaders   Mon Jul 02, 2012 5:30 pm

My own view is that we are moving toward an era where spiritual practitioners may operate from within a spiritual tradition or orientation, or not, but will be independent of the organizational and denominational structures of a religion. Religious institutions are fading away, likewise their legitimacy and exclusive claims to authority. The data is clear that the millennial generation is turning away from organized religion. In a future paradigm spiritual practitioners will be evaluated on the basis of their level of training, and their accountability to peer review and to ethical and competency standards. One example of this development might be found in Spiritual Directors International www.sdi.org of which I am a member. It is an inter-spiritual, interfaith organization of members who are trained in recognized programs of spiritual direction and held to a common set of ethical standards of practice.

I am not doing an advertisement here because I see this an example of baby steps towards what might be, (and because I am retired from being an active spiritual practitioner). I see the discipline of transpersonal psychology as having a similar potential. The world of bricks and mortar religious structures having a monopoly or claim to authority over the world of spiritual practice is coming to an end. In a similar way as spiritual development becomes the proper domain of skilled practitioners schooled in recognized and accountable disciplines of practice, so does spiritual community become a matter of horizontal networks of egalitarian association based on shared interest and mutual support in learning those practices and growing in them. My view is that the Vipassana movement presents a similar potential model for networks of communities of practice.

I am an optimist about the evolution of human consciousness and to quote a Christian scripture, you can't put new wine into old wineskins.
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