What gives cults their power - from the ‘big’ cult players like the Moonies and Scientologists right down to the small mom-and-pop family cults that we’re talking about in these posts - is the other cult members.
Going against one person, however scary, is doable if you have a bunch of like-minded people on your side. There really is strength in numbers. But here is where we hit a huge problem for the people who want to leave the ‘mini cults’ that develop in a narcissist’s family: if you leave the cult and stop seeing your parent as ‘perfect’, then it’s not only your parent who’s going to come after you; it could be your whole brainwashed family.
Remember, the parent is perfect. That’s the main and central tenet, or belief, of the personality-disordered cults that build up around narcissist parents. As soon as you challenge that belief, you become the cult’s Public Enemy One, and your sister, your brother, your dad, your aunty - pretty much everyone you know who is also part of the cult - is going to come after you, to try to get you to admit that you’re completely wrong about the cult leader.
This next bit sounds counter-intuitive, but the easier ‘cult members’ to deal with are the obviously poisonous and nasty ones. They are the ones that write you emails telling you that unlike the cult leader, you’re a bigoted maggot, and an evil and cruel person. They also like to threaten you with all sorts of consequences for disobeying the cult leader, like dying a lonely, miserable death because you’ve isolated yourself from all the people who ‘really love you’ by leaving the cult.
As it’s pretty obvious that you’re dealing with an unhinged, mentally-ill lunatic, it’s much easier to reassure yourself that you’re really not the problem, here (although this still takes some practice, as malignant narcissists excel in identifying your weak spots, and zoning in on them with their eviscerating comments. If you secretly fear you’re a bad mother, for example, that will be the area they zone in on, as they tell you ‘you’re incapable of raising your children’ and other pleasantries like that.)
By far the more difficult characters are the two-faced cult members who pretend to be on your side, while all the time working overtime for the cult leader. These are the ones who keep persuading you to go against your best interests, or keep telling you to get back in touch, or try to guilt you out of leaving the cult by making it clear that ‘mom is about to have a BIG operation!!!’ and other manipulative moves like that.
They’ll ‘explain’ how the cult leader, or other cult member only said those disgustingly awful things because you started it! You made them do it! You suggested the cult leader wasn’t perfect and broke the cult’s sacred commandment! It’s all your fault that things are such a shambles because you have a Jekyll-and-Hyde character, and you’re mentally ill, and everyone else in the cult thinks that mom is THE BEST MOM EVER! So clearly, you are the only one at fault and the only one to blame for the family not being perfect.
Because the more two-faced cult members are great actors, they can make it seem that they really get your complaints, and your pain, and your hurt, while still turning it all around on to you and deflecting the problem away from the cult leader. “You’re just saying things to make it seem like mom is bad,” they’ll explain. “You set dad up and got him to act like a raging animal, when really he’s always so kind hearted,” they’ll tell you. “Unlike you, I know that mom only cut you out of the will because she has your best interests at heart, and if you weren’t so greedy and selfish you would understand that, too.”
The two-faced ones are much, much harder to deal with, because part of you hopes that once you lay everything out for them clearly, they’ll also come around to a more realistic view of what’s going on in the family-cum-cult.
Here’s a broad rule of thumb for dealing with other family members who are in the cult:
Any family member who is a narcissist themselves will be 100% committed to preserving and protecting the cult of perfection. They will abuse, cajole, lie, manipulate, threaten, attack and evade the truth at all costs.
When a family member is in the cult, but not a narcissist themselves, they will experience some severe cognitive dissonance around you, and do their best to steer the topic away from your ‘subversive’ views, and troubling heretical statements about the cult leaders not being as perfect as they seem. But they will not attack and abuse you in defence of the cult leaders.
When a family member is not in the cult, and not a narcissist - they’ll be so relieved to finally hear someone else telling the truth about what’s really going on! But it can take years for non-narcissist cult members to get to this stage, if it happens at all.
In the next post, we’ll take a look at how best to deal with abusive family members who are trying to stop you from ‘leaving the cult’.