Cults are rare. Due to this rarity they may be considered fascinating to the population. Which could explain why, when cults are mentioned interests peak. This interest is overwhelmingly negative, because the view individuals have of cults is negative in general (Olson, 2006). Although many people may not even be aware of what the word “cult” means. Definitions of cults vary, but overall they are defined as groups, either religious or non-religious, which have distinctive philosophies (Woody, 2009; Young & Griffith, 1992). Instead of understanding what cults actually are, people apply negative connotations to the word. These negative connotations may therefore overshadow the perception of cults. It is therefore essential to look at cults as a whole, including leaders, members, and behaviors, in order to understand them better.
Cult leaders are obviously central to the function of cults. The leaders, although different to every group, often share similar characteristics. Charisma is one of the main characteristics used to describe the leaders of cults. Such leaders tend to be characterized as charismatic (Eister, 1972; Schwartz & Kaslow, 2001; Tourish & Vatcha, 2005). The charisma found amongst cult leaders indicates that they are prone to:
Exaggerated self-descriptions, exaggerated claims for the vision, a technique of fulfilling stereotypes and images of uniqueness to manipulate audiences, a habit of gaining commitment by restricting negative information and maximizing positive information, use of anecdotes to distract attention away from negative statistical information, creation of an illusion of control through affirming information and attributing negative outcomes to external causes. (Tourish & Vatcha, 2005, p. 459)
These various features of charisma are not found in every cult leader, nor does every cult leader possess all of these features. Nevertheless, charisma is a characteristic found in many cult leaders’ personalities.
Another characteristic used to describe cult leaders is powerful. Leaders of cults are considered to be an authority figure which enables them to influence others (Salande & Perkins, 2011). The influence that these figures have also enables them to manipulate other people (Schwartz & Kaslow, 2001). Power does not only allow for influence and manipulation, it also helps to explain leaders’ authority over their cult members. Leaders are seen by members as more pure and spiritual, which is especially true for leaders who represent religious figures (Ward, 2011). The combination of features such as authority, manipulation, and influence among leaders of cults all add up to the characteristic of power.
The characteristics which many cult leaders possess can be labeled as narcissistic. Such characteristics, as described above, are found in Narcissistic Personality Disorder (Salande & Perkins, 2011; Ward, 2011). It is partially due to this narcissism that leaders believe themselves to be...