NPD

High demand groups and cults are terms often used interchangeably, but they do have nuanced differences. Both are social organizations that exert a high level of control over their members, but the degree and nature of that control can vary.

High-Demand Groups vs. Cults

High-Demand Groups

These are organizations that require a significant commitment of time, resources, or emotional investment from their members. They can be religious, political, or even corporate in nature.

The key characteristic is the level of demand they place on members, which can sometimes be excessive but not necessarily harmful. One thing to watch for is if the commitment seems to steadily (or even quickly) increase over time — that’s a definite red flag.

Cults

A cult is a more extreme form of a high-demand group. Cults often have charismatic leaders who claim exclusive knowledge or power. They employ manipulative tactics to control members, isolating them from friends and family, and exploiting them emotionally, financially, or physically.

Often these cult leaders are narcissists, sociopaths, or even psychopaths. They feel no empathy and no shame, and get a cheap thrill from deceiving and manipulating others for their personal benefit.

A cult leader of a high demand group mesmerizing his look-alike followers, by Midjourney

The Relationship Between the Two

All cults are high-demand groups, but not all high-demand groups are cults. The line between the two can be blurry. A high-demand group becomes a cult when it starts to harm its members through manipulation, exploitation, or abuse.

Both cults and high demand groups often feature narcissists at all ranks, but especially in the leadership. Look for signs and behaviors like projection, emotional blackmail, black and white thinking, magical thinking, and word salad.

Recognizing high-demand groups and cults

  1. Charismatic Leadership: A single, charismatic leader who is the ultimate authority is a red flag.
  2. Isolation: Efforts to cut you off from friends and family should be taken as a warning sign.
  3. High Time Commitment: If the group demands an inordinate amount of your time, be cautious.
  4. Financial Exploitation: Be wary if you’re asked for large sums of money or to give up your financial independence.
  5. Exclusive Beliefs: Claims that the group has exclusive access to truth, salvation, or power are concerning.
  6. Fear and Guilt: Manipulation through fear, guilt, or threats is a classic control tactic.
  7. Lack of Transparency: If the group is secretive about its activities, goals, or finances, that’s a red flag.

How to avoid them

  1. Research: Always do your homework before joining any group. Look for testimonials or reports from ex-members.
  2. Consult Trusted Sources: Talk to friends, family, or professionals about the group.
  3. Take Your Time: Don’t rush into commitment. High-demand groups often pressure new recruits to make quick decisions in order to get you on the back foot.
  4. Set Boundaries: Make it clear what you are and are not willing to do.
  5. Trust Your Instincts: If something feels off, it probably is. Your gut knows!
Schlocky cult leader of a high-demand group, looking like a fake guru

High-demand groups and cults can have a profound impact on individual lives, often in detrimental ways. While high-demand groups may offer a sense of community and purpose, they can cross into harmful territory when they become exploitative or abusive, turning into cults. Recognizing the signs and knowing how to avoid them is crucial for safeguarding your emotional and financial well-being.

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The concept of “flying monkeys” is a term that originates from popular culture, specifically the 1939 film “The Wizard of Oz,” where the Wicked Witch of the West employs winged monkeys to carry out her malevolent deeds. In the realm of psychology and interpersonal relationships, the term has been appropriated to describe individuals who act on behalf of a narcissist or emotional predator, often without full awareness that they are being used to harm others.

Psychological underpinnings of flying monkeys

Flying monkeys serve as extensions of the narcissist’s inflated ego and domineering will. They are often manipulated into believing that the narcissist’s cause is just, and they may even think they are helping to protect or defend someone they care about. This is achieved through a range of manipulative tactics such as gaslighting, projection, and triangulation.

Gaslighting is a hallmark of narcissistic personality disorder (NPD) and emotional abuse that involves making someone doubt their own perceptions and memories, while projection shifts the narcissist’s negative traits onto the victim. Triangulation pits people against each other, creating a web of confusion and mistrust.

Usage by narcissists

Narcissists employ flying monkeys to extend their sphere of influence and control. These enablers can be friends, family members, or even colleagues who are manipulated into carrying out various tasks for the narcissist. These tasks can range from spreading rumors and gossip to more overt acts like harassment or stalking. The flying monkeys often believe they are acting out of loyalty or love, not realizing that they are pawns in a larger scheme.

The narcissist’s relationship with their flying monkeys is transactional. There’s an unspoken quid pro quo: the flying monkeys get to bask in the narcissist’s approval, and in return, they carry out the narcissist’s bidding. This dynamic allows the narcissist to maintain a clean image via plausible deniability, as they can always distance themselves from the actions of their flying monkeys.

Usage by cult leaders

In the context of cults, the concept takes on an even darker hue. Cult leaders often employ a cadre of devoted followers to enforce their will and isolate potential recruits from outside influences. These flying monkeys serve as a buffer between the leader and the outside world, allowing the leader to maintain an aura of mystique and unapproachability. They carry out tasks ranging from recruitment to punishment of dissenting members, all while believing that they are part of a grand, noble cause.

Evil flying monkeys are in every environment, by Midjourney

Ethical and social implications

The use of flying monkeys raises significant ethical and social concerns. It disrupts the social fabric, eroding trust within communities and families. Victims often find themselves isolated, as they cannot easily prove the manipulation at play. This isolation can lead to severe emotional and sometimes physical harm.

Flying monkeys and manipulation

Understanding the concept of flying monkeys is crucial for recognizing and combating manipulative behaviors in both personal and broader social contexts, and as an essential cult warning sign. Whether deployed by narcissists in interpersonal relationships or by cult leaders to maintain their power structures (or, often, both), flying monkeys serve as tools of manipulation, coercion, and control. Awareness of these dynamics is the first step in breaking the cycle and fostering healthier, more authentic relationships and societies.

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ParadoxBot is an adorable chatbot who will cheerfully inform you about the Dark Arts

Sure, you could use the site search. Or, you could have a bot — try having a conversation with my blog via the following AI chatbot, ParadoxBot.

Ask it about conspiracy theories, or narcissism, or cults, or authoritarianism, or fascism, or disinformation — to name a few. You can also ask it about things like dark money, economics, history, and many topics at the intersection of political psychology.

It doesn’t index what’s on Foundations (yet) but it has ingested this site and you can essentially chat with the site itself via the ChatGPT-like interface below. Enjoy! And if you love it or hate it, find me on BlueSky (as @doctorparadox) or Mastodon and let me know your thoughts:

Tips for using ParadoxBot

  • Follow general good practice regarding prompt engineering.
  • If you don’t get an answer right away, try rephrasing your question. Even omitting or adding one word sometimes produces good results.
  • Try broad broad and specific types of queries.
  • Dig deeper into any areas the bot turns up that sound interesting.
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“Love bombing” is a manipulative tactic employed to gain emotional control over an individual by showering them with affection, compliments, and promises. This technique is often used by both narcissists and cults, often for similar objectives — to overwhelm a target with positive feelings, in order to secure their loyalty. Understanding the nuances of love bombing can be crucial for identifying and avoiding this core tactic of emotional predators.

Love bombing by narcissists

Narcissists use love bombing as a way to quickly establish emotional dependency. They may shower their target with gifts, compliments, and an overwhelming amount of attention. This is often done during the “honeymoon phase” of a relationship, creating an illusion of a perfect partner who is deeply in love.

How to identify love bombing by a narcissist:

  1. Intensity: The affection and attention feel overwhelming and come on very strong.
  2. Rapid progression: The relationship moves quickly, often skipping normal stages of emotional intimacy.
  3. Idealization: You are put on a pedestal, and any flaws you have are either ignored or spun into positive traits.

How to avoid it:

  1. Pace yourself: Slow down the relationship and insist on a more typical progression.
  2. Seek outside opinions: Consult trusted friends or family about the relationship, and share your misgivings about its pace of progression.
  3. Set boundaries: Make your limits clear and stick to them. If someone is pushing back and not respecting the boundaries you set, it is yet another red flag of potential narcissistic personality disorder (NPD) traits.

Love bombing by cults

In the context of cults and cultish groups, love bombing serves to recruit and retain members. As one of a host of different influence techniques, newcomers are often greeted with extreme enthusiasm, given immediate friendship, and showered with positive affirmation. The objective is to create a euphoric emotional state that is then associated with the cult — making it harder to leave later, when the cracks begin to show.

How to identify love bombing by a cult or high-demand group:

  1. Instant community: You receive immediate acceptance and friendship from multiple members.
  2. Unconditional affection: Love and acceptance seem to be given freely, without the need for personal growth or change.
  3. Isolation: Efforts to separate you from your existing support network and even your family, making you dependent on the cult for emotional support.

How to avoid it:

  1. Be skeptical: Question why you’re receiving so much attention and what the group might want in return.
  2. Research: Look into the group’s history, beliefs, and any reports or articles about them.
  3. Maintain outside connections: Keep in touch with your existing network and consider their opinions. The group may encourage secrecy, but sharing your experiences outside the group and getting a wider perspective on them is critical.

General tips for avoiding love bombing

  1. Trust your instincts: If something feels too good to be true, it probably is.
  2. Time: Time is your ally. Manipulators often need you to make quick decisions. The more time you take, the more likely you are to see inconsistencies in their behavior.
  3. Consult with trusted individuals: Sometimes an outside perspective can provide invaluable insights that you might have missed.

Understanding the mechanics of love bombing is the first step in protecting yourself from falling into such emotional manipulation traps. By being aware of the signs and knowing how to counteract them, you can maintain control over your emotional well-being.

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Donald Trump pathocracy, by Midjourney

Pathocracy is a relatively lesser-known concept in political science and psychology, which refers to a system of government in which individuals with personality disorders, particularly those who exhibit psychopathic, narcissistic, and similar traits (i.e. the “evil of Cluster B“), hold significant power. This term was first introduced by Polish psychiatrist Andrzej Łobaczewski in his work “Political Ponerology: A Science on the Nature of Evil Adjusted for Political Purposes.”

The crux of pathocracy lies in the rule by a small pathological minority, which imposes a regime that is damaging to the majority of non-pathological people. The key characteristics of pathocratic leadership include a lack of empathy, a disregard for the rule of law, manipulation, authoritarianism, and often, brutal repression.

Origins and development of the concept of pathocracy

Pathocracy emerges from Łobaczewski’s study of totalitarian regimes, particularly those of Nazi Germany under Adolf Hitler and Communism in the Soviet Union under Joseph Stalin. Born in Poland in 1921, he witnessed the upheaval and transformation of his own country during the horrors of World War II and subsequent Communist occupation.

He suffered greatly to arrive at the insights in his work — arrested and tortured by the Polish authorities under Communist rule, he was unable to publish his magnum opus, the book Political Ponerology, until he escaped to the United States during the 1980s. Łobaczewski spent the rest of his life and career trying to unpack what had happened to him, his community, and his nation — such brutality over such a shockingly short span of time.

Łobaczewski posits that these authoritarian and fascist regimes were not merely politically oppressive, but were also psychologically abnormal. He studied the characteristics of these leaders and their closest supporters, identifying patterns that aligned with known personality disorders. His work also identified a much higher percentage of personality disordered individuals than is still commonly understood, finding that about 7% of the general population could be categorized as severely lacking in empathy and possessing the tendencies — latent or overt — leading to the rise of pathocracy in society.

Characteristics of pathocratic leadership

  • Psychopathy: Leaders in a pathocracy often display traits synonymous with psychopathy, including a lack of empathy, remorse, and shallow emotions.
  • Narcissism: Excessive self-love and a strong sense of entitlement often drive pathocratic rulers.
  • Manipulation: These leaders are adept at manipulation, using deceit and coercion to maintain their power. They also often exhibit other traits and behaviors of emotional predators.
  • Paranoia: A heightened sense of persecution or conspiracy is common, leading to oppressive and authoritarian measures.
  • Corruption: Moral depravity, ethical degeneration, and widespread corruption are endemic in a pathocracy, as pathological leaders tend to surround themselves with similarly affected individuals who feel no shame about performing unethical and/or illegal actions either in secret, or in broad daylight with little fear of retaliation.
Continue reading Pathocracy Definition: Are we in one?
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Narcissistic rage is an intense emotional reaction often exhibited by individuals with narcissistic personality disorder (NPD) or strong narcissistic traits. It is characterized by extreme anger, aggression, or passive-aggression, typically in response to a perceived threat to their self-esteem or self-worth. Unlike typical anger, narcissistic rage can be disproportionate to the triggering event and can escalate quickly.

NPD is part of Cluster B, a group of personality disorders that also includes psychopathy and antisocial personality disorder, among others. Narcissistic rage is one of many types of narcissistic abuse.

Characteristics and manifestation

Narcissistic rage can manifest in various ways, including:

  • Verbal attacks: Sudden, intense verbal aggression, often disproportionate to the situation.
  • Physical aggression: In severe cases, it can lead to physical violence.
  • Passive-aggressive behavior: Indirect expressions of hostility, such as silent treatment or backhanded compliments.
  • Manipulative tactics: Attempts to control or undermine others, especially those perceived as threatening.
  • Emotional outbursts: Intense, often unpredictable emotional reactions that may seem excessive.

Underlying causes

The root cause of narcissistic rage is typically a fragile self-esteem and an externalized sense of self-worth. Individuals with narcissistic traits often depend on external validation and can perceive even minor criticisms or failures as devastating. Key factors include:

  • Threats to self-image: Anything that challenges their perceived superiority or specialness.
  • Perceived criticism or rejection: Even constructive or mild criticism can be seen as a personal attack.
  • Failure or defeat: Situations where they feel they have lost control or are not the best.

Dealing with narcissistic rage

Dealing with someone experiencing narcissistic rage requires patience and tact. Here are some strategies:

  1. Stay calm: Avoid responding with anger or defensiveness, as this can escalate the situation.
  2. Set boundaries: Clearly communicate your boundaries and stick to them.
  3. Avoid escalation: Do not try to argue or reason during the height of their rage.
  4. Seek support: If you’re regularly exposed to such behavior, consider seeking support from a mental health professional.
  5. Protect yourself: In cases of physical aggression, prioritize your safety and consider seeking help from authorities.

How to avoid triggering narcissistic rage

While it can be challenging to prevent triggering narcissistic rage, understanding and being mindful of the sensitivities of individuals with narcissistic traits can be helpful:

  1. Be diplomatic: Communicate issues or criticisms gently and diplomatically.
  2. Respect their need for recognition: Acknowledge their achievements and strengths.
  3. Avoid direct confrontation: If possible, avoid situations that directly challenge their self-perception.
  4. Maintain emotional distance: Keeping an emotional distance can help prevent getting deeply affected by their reactions.

Narcissistic rage is a defensive reaction to perceived threats to a narcissist’s self-esteem or self-worth. It’s essential to understand that this rage is rooted in deep-seated insecurity and fragility. While it is challenging to deal with or avoid entirely, understanding its dynamics can provide strategies for managing interactions with individuals exhibiting these traits. It’s crucial to remember that maintaining personal boundaries and emotional well-being should always be a priority when dealing with such situations.

In cases where you find yourself frequently dealing with narcissistic rage, especially if it affects your mental or physical well-being, it’s important to seek professional advice. A mental health professional can provide personalized strategies and support for coping with these challenging dynamics.

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A cult leader who is definitely a narcissist, sitting in a chair glowering

We’ve been obsessed in our household with documentaries about the Nxivm cult — and next with Scientology. The heads of both of those organizations are quite clearly pathological and often malignant narcissists, with grandiose and delusional ideas and an addiction to other people’s attention. Separately, I’ve studied narcissism quite a bit and feel, at least anecdotally, that all the cult leaders I’ve read about or known of have been led by these types of people, who are notoriously lacking in empathy, self-centered, entitled, and have an insatiable lust for power and control. It started me to wonder: are all cult leaders narcissists?

While certainly not all — or even any — cult leaders are clinically diagnosed narcissists, many pretty obviously exhibit narcissistic traits. Narcissism, particularly in its more extreme forms (including narcissistic personality disorder or NPD), is characterized by a grandiose sense of self-importance, a need for excessive admiration, and a lack of empathy for others. These traits can be paradoxically and counterintuitively conducive to the development of a cult-like following.

Cult leaders often exhibit the following narcissistic characteristics:

  1. Grandiosity: They may have an inflated sense of their own importance, believing themselves to be special or uniquely gifted, which can attract followers seeking answers, guidance, or a sense of certainty.
  2. Need for Admiration: Cult leaders often seek excessive admiration and validation from their followers, which reinforces their self-perceived superiority and authority and reifies their over-idealized self-image.
  3. Manipulation and Exploitation: They may manipulate or exploit followers, viewing them as tools to achieve their own goals, rather than as individuals with their own rights and needs. Employing love bombing and other psychological influence techniques, they can abuse, steamroll over and/or capture decades or entire lifetimes of people under their sway.
  4. Lack of Empathy: Cult leaders may show a lack of empathy, being indifferent to the needs and feelings of their followers, or callously exploiting their vulnerabilities. They are primarily concerned with gratifying their own needs and desires, and rarely recognize the needs of others as valid or worthy of attention.
  5. Charisma: Like the exceedingly self-confident narcissist, many cult leaders are charismatic, which aids in attracting and maintaining a devoted following. They turn on the charm when they feel it might get them something they want, but just as easily withhold it when they wish to devalue you for some other strategic purpose.
Continue reading Are all cult leaders narcissists?
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The “Dark Triad” is a term in psychology that refers to a trio of personality traits: narcissism, Machiavellianism, and psychopathy. These traits are considered “dark” because of their malevolent qualities—namely, they are associated with a callous-manipulative interpersonal style.

Narcissism is characterized by grandiosity, pride, egotism, and a lack of empathy. It’s derived from the Greek myth of Narcissus, a man who fell in love with his reflection. In a psychological context, narcissism ranges from healthy self-esteem to a pathological level where it can be the full-blown personality disorder NPD and have a great impact on relationships and quality of life.

A hallmark of pathological narcissism is the constant need for admiration and a sense of entitlement. While a certain degree of narcissism may be essential for healthy self-confidence, its extreme can lead to destructive behavior both to the narcissist and to those around them.

Machiavellianism is named after the philosophy espoused by Niccolò Machiavelli, a Renaissance-era political philosopher who argued that deceit and manipulation were effective in politics. This trait is characterized by a person’s tendency to deceive and manipulate others for personal gain. It’s not an officially recognized personality disorder in the Diagnostic and Statistical Manual of Mental Disorders (DSM), but it is widely recognized in the field of psychology. People high in Machiavellianism are often adept at controlling others and tend to prioritize their interests over morals or societal rules.

Psychopathy is perhaps the most dangerous trait of the Dark Triad. It is often associated with a deficit in affective (emotional) responses and a lack of empathy. Psychopaths may exhibit antisocial behavior, diminished capacity for remorse, and poor behavioral controls. It’s important to note that while psychopathy is not a formal diagnosis in the DSM, its behaviors are often associated with antisocial personality disorder. Psychopaths are typically impulsive and thrill-seeking, they may be charming and intelligent, which masks their inability to form genuine emotional bonds.

Widespread traits

Each of these traits exists on a spectrum, and all individuals may exhibit these traits to some degree. It’s the extreme manifestations and the presence of all three traits in an individual that become particularly problematic. The Dark Triad has been a subject of significant research, especially in occupational and social psychology, due to its implications for workplace behavior, relationship dynamics, and social harmony.

Individuals with these traits may be drawn to certain professions or social situations that allow them to exert power or control over others. In the workplace, for example, Dark Triad traits may be beneficial to some extent for individuals in high-level management positions or in industries where cutthroat tactics are common. However, these traits can also lead to toxic work environments, unethical behavior, and organizational dysfunction.

The Dark Triad can also affect interpersonal relationships. Individuals with high levels of these traits may be charismatic and engaging initially, but their relationships are often superficial and plagued by manipulation and conflict. Their lack of empathy can result in the callous treatment of others and a focus on short-term relationships that serve their needs.

Made and Born

Research on the Dark Triad is extensive and has explored the biological, psychological, and social factors that contribute to these traits. Some studies suggest that there are genetic predispositions for these traits, while others point to environmental factors such as childhood experiences. It’s likely a combination of both. The expression of these traits is also influenced by cultural and societal norms; what may be considered assertive or ambitious behavior in one culture could be viewed as aggressive or unethical in another.

Understanding the Dark Triad is important not just for psychologists and mental health professionals, but also for individuals in managerial roles, human resources, and those involved in policy-making. By recognizing these traits, it is possible to develop better screening tools for positions that require high ethical standards and to create interventions that may mitigate the impact of these traits in various settings.

The Dark Triad encompasses three interrelated personality traits that have significant implications for individual behavior and social interactions. While these traits are part of the human personality spectrum, their dark aspect lies in their potential to harm individuals and society when present in high levels. Understanding and addressing the Dark Triad traits can lead to healthier social environments, more ethical workplaces, and overall improved wellbeing.

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Why do we do the things we do?

Psychology is the scientific study of the mind and behavior, encompassing a wide array of topics such as mental processes, emotions, cognition, development, personality, and social interactions. It seeks to understand how individuals think, feel, and act, both individually and in groups.

Psychology inside the mind, with the brain's neurons firing

It fascinates me endlessly and — because you’re here! — I am guessing it fascinates you too. We’ve defined some terms here:

psychology and the study of the mind

Learn More:

30 Common psychological biases ↗

These systematic errors in our thinking and logic affect our everyday choices, behaviors, and evaluations of others.

28 Cognitive distortions list ↗

Cognitive distortions are bad mental habits and unhelpful ways of thinking that can limit one’s ability to function in the world.

24 Logical fallacies list ↗

Recognizing and avoiding logical fallacies is essential for critical thinking and effective communication.

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cluster b evil narcissist

When the most common psychological defense mechanismdenial — hardens into an outer shell so impenetrable as to be worn like armor, you have yourself a clinical narcissist. They may not — and probably will never — be diagnosed as members of a group of personality disorders known in psychology as Cluster B; but unmistakably, you cannot seem to find empathy in them no matter how high or low you look.

They think of themselves as special; chosen; beyond the fray — rules do not generally apply to them, but oh do they ever to you. They tend to see the world in black and white terms, a Manichaean struggle of hierarchy vs. fairness, with strict social status to abide by and perpetuate — a world of dominance and submission, with themselves at the top.

The higher on the Cluster B scale you go (with psychopathy at the top), the less empathy these individuals possess. Without empathy, there is no basis for forming a conscience. One could say the classic defining hallmark of this group of personality disorders is that the people exhibiting them have little to no conscience. The general consensus from research to date indicates that somewhere between 4-8% of the general population has very weak or no conscience at all — a scary figure when you think of it in terms of being about 1 in 15 of the people you will meet in your lifetime.

evil narcissist, by Midjourney

Cluster B includes:

  • Narcissism — This is the root trait of all the Cluster B personality disorders. We all exhibit narcissism to some degree, and it’s a large part of childhood and teen development to learn how to balance it with sociality. As with all life skills, some develop it more or less well — and if the narcissistic phase is never fully outgrown, adults can be emotionally immature in surprising and at times dangerous ways thanks to a kind of profound psychological arrested development. When the self-absorption is so severe as to profoundly disturb aspects of their lives, that is when clinicians might say a person has a narcissistic personality disorder, or NPD. There are several types of narcissism, including covert narcissism and malignant narcissism. Park of the dark triad in psychology, narcissism is often found in conjunction with two other malevolent personality traits: psychopathy, and Machiavellianism.
  • Borderline — Perhaps best known culturally from the movie Girl, Interrupted (1999), borderline personality disorder of BPD is characterized by intense mood swings, impulse behavior, fear of abandonment, unstable self-image, dissociation, and self-harm. One way to think of BPD is as a sort of failure to form an integrated personality.
  • Histrionic — The least well-known of Cluster B, histrionic personality is extremely dramatic and over the top, well out of proportion to the magnitude of events or circumstances. They have an overwhelming desire to be noticed, and will behave extremely or inappropriately to get attention.
  • Sociopath — Sociopathy takes narcissism and adds more sadism into the mix. A narcissist could hurt you and not really care either way, while a sociopath will derive from pleasure from it and often go out of his or her way to cause harm for the purpose of reaping that enjoyment. Though not as unfettered as psychopaths, sociopaths can be prone to violence and criminality at the worst, and are commonly cruel and mean-spirited at best.
  • Psychopath — The psychopath is the scariest of the Cluster B bunch. Unbelievably horrific folks like Ted Bundy and Hannibal Lecter were almost certainly psychopathic — committing horrific and murderous crimes that have shocked generations in their brutality and stomach-churling details.

Common traits and behaviors:

  • Projection — blaming others for your own misdeeds. Projection involves attributing one’s own undesirable thoughts, feelings, or motives to another person. It serves as a defense mechanism to avoid confronting or accepting these aspects in oneself.
  • Scapegoating — blaming the wrong party for a transgression; scapegoating is the practice of unfairly blaming an individual or group for a problem or fault. It often serves to divert attention away from the real issue or to absolve the blamer of responsibility.
  • Gaslighting — a form of psychological manipulation where the perpetrator tries to make the victim doubt their own perceptions, memories, or sanity. The aim is to gain control or induce confusion.
  • Stonewalling — refusing to speak or dilvulge information. Stonewalling involves refusing to communicate or cooperate, often in a relationship setting. It serves as a way to avoid conflict or evade responsibility, but it can be damaging to relational dynamics — and is prevalent in Cluster B.
  • Grandiosity; extremely high self-regard, often out of proportion to actual achievements. Grandiosity is an inflated sense of one’s own importance, skills, or achievements. Often seen in narcissistic personalities, it can manifest as excessive confidence, arrogance, or a belief in one’s own exceptionalism.
  • Love bombing — a technique in which the narcissist first showers you with affection and grand displays of positive attention early on in your relationship, in order to secure a quick bond that blinds you to their darker traits and behaviors that begin to spill out more prominently later on down the road.
  • Splitting — the tendency to view people or situations as entirely good or entirely bad, with no middle ground. Common in borderline personality disorder, it can lead to unstable relationships and emotional volatility.
  • Black and white thinking — this cognitive distortion involves viewing situations in extreme, either/or terms. It lacks nuance, often categorizing things as good or bad, right or wrong, with no middle ground. This can limit one’s ability to see alternative perspectives.
  • Lying — the act of deliberately presenting false information as true. While it can serve various purposes, such as self-preservation or manipulation, it erodes trust and can have significant relational consequences.
  • Malignant envy — this virulent form of envy is destructive and stems from a desire not just to attain what another has, but also to deprive them of it. It can lead to harmful actions aimed at undermining the envied individual.
  • Denial — a psychological defense mechanism where one refuses to accept reality or facts, often to protect oneself from painful emotions or situations. It can be both conscious and unconscious. Common in all of us, it is often especially pronounced in Cluster B.
  • Narcissistic rage — triggered by perceived threats to self-esteem or self-worth, narcissistic rage is an intense, disproportionate anger often aimed at destroying the source of the threat. It can be overt or covert, involving passive-aggressive behavior.
  • Cruelty — causing physical or emotional harm to others, often deriving pleasure from their suffering. It’s an extreme form of antisocial behavior that can manifest in various ways, from verbal abuse to physical violence.
  • Bullying — a repeated, intentional act of aggression, often exploiting a power imbalance to intimidate or harm others. It can be physical, verbal, or relational, and occurs in various settings like schools, workplaces, and online.
  • Sadism — the act of deriving pleasure from inflicting pain, humiliation, or suffering on others. It can be psychological or physical and is considered a concerning trait when it leads to harmful actions.
  • Word salad — a jumble of words and phrases that lack coherent meaning. Often seen in severe mental disorders, it can also be used manipulatively to evade questions or confuse listeners.
word salad

Intersects with:

Types of Narcissism

Narcissism is a complex psychological construct that manifests in various forms, each with its own set of characteristics and implications. It actually refers to a range of conditions that fall under the umbrella of Narcissistic Personality Disorder (NPD) — which itself falls under the umbrella of Cluster B.

Grandiose Narcissism

Grandiose narcissism is the most commonly recognized form — it’s the stereotype of what most people refer to when they think of a narcissist. Individuals with this type exhibit an inflated sense of self-importance, a lack of empathy, and a need for excessive admiration. They often believe they are special and unique, deserving of special treatment. Their self-perception is rarely grounded in reality, leading them to overestimate their abilities and underestimate the contributions of others. This form of narcissism is usually quite visible and can be disruptive in both personal and professional settings.

Vulnerable Narcissism

In contrast to the grandiose type, vulnerable narcissists are sensitive and introverted. They still have a heightened sense of self-importance but are plagued by insecurity and a fear of rejection. Their narcissism serves as a defense mechanism to protect a fragile self-esteem. Unlike grandiose narcissists, they are not outwardly arrogant but may harbor secret fantasies of greatness that they fear will never be realized.

Malignant Narcissism

This is a severe form that combines traits of narcissism, antisocial personality disorder, aggression, and sadism. Malignant narcissists are not just self-centered; they are also willing to manipulate or harm others to achieve their goals and often do so repeatedly. They lack remorse and are often deceitful, making them particularly dangerous in relationships and organizational settings.

Social psychologist Erich Fromm, who fled the Nazis in the 1930s, describes the Nazi “quintessence of evil” as an canonical case of malignant narcissism. They are among the most concerning members of Cluster B.

Covert Narcissism

Also known as “closet” or hidden narcissism, this type is less obvious than the grandiose form. Covert narcissists often present as shy, reserved, or self-deprecating. However, they share the same sense of entitlement and lack of empathy as other types. Their narcissism is expressed in more subtle ways, such as passive-aggressiveness or quiet disdain for others.

Communal Narcissism

This type is characterized by a grandiose sense of one’s own altruism. Communal narcissists believe they are the epitome of generosity and kindness. They seek admiration not for their looks or achievements but for their perceived selflessness. However, this is often a façade to garner praise and adoration.

Collective Narcissism

This is not an individual trait but a shared belief within a group that they are exceptional or superior. It can manifest in various settings, from nationalistic fervor to corporate culture. Collective narcissism can be dangerous as it often leads to in-group favoritism and out-group discrimination.

collective narcissism, by Midjourney

Somatic Narcissism

Somatic narcissists are obsessed with their physical appearance or bodily achievements. They may spend excessive time and resources on grooming, exercising, or undergoing cosmetic procedures. Their self-worth is tied to their physicality, and they often seek sexual conquests to validate themselves.

Cerebral Narcissism

Cerebral narcissists derive their sense of superiority from their intellect rather than their appearance. They consider themselves smarter than everyone else and seek to demonstrate this at every opportunity. They are often dismissive of others’ opinions and intolerant of intellectual disagreement.

Spiritual Narcissism

This form manifests in the realm of spirituality or religion. Spiritual narcissists believe they have a direct line to a higher power and may consider themselves enlightened or morally superior. They use their spiritual beliefs to justify their actions, even when those actions harm others. Abusive priests and handsy preachers with large hard drives fall into this group.

Eco-Narcissism

A relatively new concept, eco-narcissists are individuals who flaunt their environmentally friendly lifestyle for the sake of appearing superior. Their primary concern is not the environment but the social capital gained from appearing conscientious.

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Best books about narcissism

More posts related to narcissism and the nature of evil:

Collective narcissism is a bad solution to modern anxiety ↗

From Calvinism to the Cold War, a study in why supremacism as a life mission truly gets it wrong.

Collective narcissism book by Erich Fromm, psychoanalyst who fled the Nazis

Tactics of emotional predators ↗

Chances are you’ve had an encounter with an emotional predator — whether you’re aware of it or not.

An emotional predator with his sheep, by Midjourney

📚 Narcissism Books 📖 ↗

Narcissists think of themselves as special; chosen; beyond the fray — rules do not generally apply to them, but oh do they ever to you.

The Narcissist you Know, in a list of narcissism books
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word salad

Word salad is a term used to describe disorganized speech that can occur in various mental health conditions, including some personality disorders like Narcissistic Personality Disorder (NPD). In the context of NPD, word salad may not be as severe or disorganized as it is in conditions like schizophrenia, but it can still be difficult to follow and understand.

Word salad in NPD is characterized by a mix of unrelated or loosely related words, phrases, or ideas, which may be used to manipulate, confuse, or maintain control in a conversation. This type of speech may be a defense mechanism employed by someone with NPD to avoid responsibility, deflect criticism, or maintain their sense of superiority.

Word salad almost seems like a kind of pseudoscience or paleological babble that narcissists use to hold the floor with their own agenda, such that anyone who is trying to challenge them can’t even get a word in edgewise. It is a common tactic of emotional predators, who seek to disorient and confuse their targets in order to achieve their hidden agendas and goals.

word salad from a narcissist

Some common features of word salad in NPD include:

  1. Tangential thinking: The person may go off on tangents, bringing up unrelated topics or ideas in an attempt to distract from the main point or issue at hand.
  2. Circular reasoning: The person may engage in circular arguments, repeating the same points over and over without ever reaching a resolution or addressing the underlying problem.
  3. Evasion: The person may use vague language, refuse to answer direct questions, or change the subject to avoid taking responsibility or admitting fault.
  4. Gaslighting: The person may use word salad to make others doubt their own perceptions or understanding, in order to maintain control and avoid accountability.

It is important to note that not everyone with NPD exhibits word salad. However, when it does occur, it can be a source of frustration and confusion for those interacting with the individual. Effective communication with someone who engages in word salad may require patience, setting boundaries, and seeking support from a mental health professional.

Word salad in cults

Word salad can also be used as a tactic by cults and other high control groups to create confusion and maintain control over their members. This technique involves the use of jargon, ambiguities, and convoluted language that might sound profound but is ultimately meaningless or contradictory.

By employing such language, leaders can create an illusion of insight and wisdom, often leading members to believe they must align themselves closely with the group to understand its teachings fully. The confusion created by word salad can hinder critical thinking, making it difficult for members to question or challenge the group’s ideology or leadership. This method thus reinforces dependency and control, ensuring that members remain committed to the group’s principles and less likely to seek external perspectives. In the realm of manipulation, word salad is a subtle but potent tool for influencing thoughts and behaviors.

Know the cult warning signs, and keep an eye on the use of word salad jargon in potential groups you may be considering joining.

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Narcissistic Personality Disorder (NPD)

Narcissistic Personality Disorder (NPD) is a mental health condition characterized by (as the name implies) narcissism, including a pervasive pattern of grandiosity, a lack of empathy for others, and a need for admiration. People with NPD often have an inflated sense of self-importance and believe they are special or unique in some way. They may be preoccupied with fantasies of power, success, beauty, or ideal love. However, behind their grandiose façade, they often have fragile self-esteem and are highly sensitive to criticism or rejection.

NPD is part of the Cluster B family of personality disorders. People with NPD tend to exhibit odd, sometimes bizarre behaviors — including word salad, emotional abuse, and other tactics of emotional predators — that are offputting to others and tend to have serious effects on the individual’s life.

Narcissistic Personality Disorder (NPD)

NPD diagnosis

The Diagnostic and Statistical Manual of Mental Disorders, Fifth Edition (DSM-5) outlines the following diagnostic criteria for NPD:

  1. A pervasive pattern of grandiosity, characterized by a sense of self-importance and an exaggerated sense of achievements and talents.
  2. Preoccupation with fantasies of unlimited power, success, brilliance, beauty, or ideal love.
  3. Belief that they are special and unique and can only be understood by other high-status people or institutions.
  4. Need for excessive admiration.
  5. Sense of entitlement, expecting to be treated in a special way or given priority.
  6. Exploitation of others for personal gain; using the tactics of emotional predators; narcissistic abuse.
  7. Lack of empathy, an inability to recognize or care about the feelings and needs of others.
  8. Envy of others or a belief that others are envious of them.
  9. Arrogant, haughty behaviors or attitudes.

The symptoms of NPD may vary in intensity and presentation, but they are typically stable and longstanding. The condition may start in early adulthood and may be diagnosed only after adolescence, as it is difficult to differentiate between normal developmental narcissism and pathological narcissism in childhood.

NPD: Lack of empathy

People with NPD may have difficulty in maintaining close relationships because of their lack of empathy and preoccupation with themselves. They may feel entitled to special treatment and have unrealistic expectations of others. They may exploit others for personal gain and may become angry or hostile when their expectations are not met. Additionally, they may struggle with criticism or rejection and may react with narcissistic rage or humiliation.

NPD is often co-occurring with other mental health conditions, such as depression, anxiety, and substance abuse. It may also be comorbid with other personality disorders, particularly Borderline Personality Disorder, as individuals with BPD may exhibit traits of NPD, such as a need for attention and admiration.

Treatment for NPD often involves psychotherapy, particularly psychoanalytic or psychodynamic therapies, which aim to explore the underlying psychological factors contributing to the disorder. Cognitive-behavioral therapy may also be effective in addressing maladaptive beliefs and behaviors associated with NPD. However, individuals with NPD may be resistant to therapy, as they may not recognize the need for treatment or may be unwilling to acknowledge their role in the dysfunction.

Types of Narcissistic Personality Disorder

  1. Grandiose Narcissism: This form is characterized by arrogance, dominance, and a need for admiration. Individuals may appear self-confident and assertive but are often preoccupied with fantasies of success and power. This is the classic version of the narcissist that most people think of when they think of NPD.
  2. Vulnerable Narcissism: Unlike the grandiose type, vulnerable narcissists are sensitive and insecure, often feeling unrecognized and inadequate. They may harbor intense envy and resentment towards others and are prone to feeling victimized.
  3. Malignant Narcissism: Malignant narcissists combine aspects of NPD with antisocial behavior, aggression, and sometimes even sadism. This type can be dangerous, as they lack empathy and remorse and may exploit or manipulate others without concern.
  4. Covert Narcissism: This type manifests as hidden or masked narcissism, where individuals may not outwardly display arrogance but still harbor grandiose fantasies and exhibit a lack of empathy. They often feel misunderstood and neglected, leading to passive-aggressive behavior.
  5. Communal Narcissism: Communal narcissists see themselves as especially caring or altruistic, often emphasizing their contributions to others. However, these acts are driven by a desire for recognition and praise rather than genuine empathy or compassion.

Please note that narcissistic personality disorder is a complex and multifaceted condition, and these categories may overlap or manifest differently in each individual. If you have concerns about this disorder or would like more detailed information, consulting a mental health professional would be the appropriate step.

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covert narcissism

Narcissistic Personality Disorder (NPD) is a complex psychological condition characterized by a long-term pattern of exaggerated self-importance and grandiosity, an intense need for excessive attention and admiration, and a lack of empathy for others. Narcissists can be classified into different categories, with covert narcissism being one of the more insidious types.

Covert narcissists

Covert narcissists, also known as closet or hidden narcissists, exhibit a more subtle and hidden form of narcissism. Unlike their overt counterparts, they tend to present themselves as modest, self-effacing, or even victimized. However, beneath this humble exterior lies an underlying sense of entitlement, grandiosity, and a constant need for attention and validation.

Key Traits of Covert Narcissists:

  1. Insecurity: They often feel inadequate and may suffer from anxiety or depression.
  2. Passive-Aggressive Behavior: Rather than being openly demanding, they may use subtler tactics to manipulate others.
  3. Victim Mentality: They may cast themselves as the victim to gain sympathy and control others.
  4. Sensitivity to Criticism: Even mild criticism can provoke intense reactions, as their self-esteem is fragile.
  5. Chronic Feelings of Envy: They may resent others’ success or happiness and believe they are entitled to the same.
covert narcissism

Comparing covert narcissists to other types

1. Overt Narcissists:

Overt narcissists are the opposite of covert narcissists. They are open and unabashed about their self-centered behavior, displaying arrogance and a sense of superiority or supremacy. Unlike covert narcissists, who may mask their true intentions, overt narcissists tend to be more transparent.

Differences:

  • Overt narcissists are openly grandiose, while covert narcissists hide their grandiosity.
  • Overt narcissists seek attention directly, while covert narcissists manipulate subtly.

2. Malignant narcissists:

Malignant narcissists are more aggressive and may exhibit antisocial behavior. They often lack remorse and may engage in deceitful and exploitative practices.

Differences:

  • Malignant narcissists are more openly antagonistic, while covert narcissists use passive-aggressive tactics.
  • Malignant narcissists may harm others intentionally, while covert narcissists often manipulate indirectly.

Covert narcissism resources

This curated list of five key resources for understanding covert narcissism provide valuable insights into identifying and dealing with covert narcissists:

  1. Psychology Today
    • Website: Psychology Today’s Narcissism Section
    • Description: This platform often features articles by mental health professionals that delve into various types of narcissism, including covert narcissism. It’s a great starting point for understanding the subject from a psychological perspective.
  2. The Mayo Clinic
    • Website: Mayo Clinic on Narcissistic Personality Disorder
    • Description: Mayo Clinic offers a comprehensive overview of Narcissistic Personality Disorder, including symptoms and treatments. While not specifically targeting covert narcissism, it gives an essential foundation on narcissistic behaviors.
  3. Healthline
    • Website: Healthline’s Guide to Covert Narcissism
    • Description: Healthline’s guide specifically focuses on covert narcissism, providing detailed information on recognizing the signs and understanding how it differs from other forms of narcissism.
  4. Narcissistic Abuse Recovery by Angie Atkinson
    • Website: QueenBeeing
    • Description: This resource is dedicated to helping victims of narcissistic abuse. Angie Atkinson, a certified life coach, offers various tools, including videos and articles, to understand and recover from covert narcissistic behavior.
  5. The Little Shaman Healing (Podcast)
    • Website: The Little Shaman Healing
    • Description: This podcast series by a professional therapist addresses issues related to narcissistic relationships, including covert narcissism. It offers insightful episodes that can be valuable for those dealing with covert narcissists in their lives.

Covert narcissism in a nutshell

Covert narcissists represent a unique and challenging form of narcissistic personality. They are adept at hiding their true intentions and can be difficult to identify, especially when compared to other, more overt forms of narcissism. Their passive-aggressive behavior and tendency to cast themselves as victims make them particularly insidious. Understanding the differences between covert and other types of narcissists can provide valuable insights into their behavior and help in recognizing and managing interactions with them.

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Psychological projection is a defense mechanism that occurs when an individual unconsciously attributes their own feelings, thoughts, or attributes to another person. Projection is a way for people to cope with and protect themselves from unwanted or uncomfortable emotions such as guilt, anger, or anxiety. In essence, psychological projection involves transferring one’s own emotions, thoughts, or motives onto someone else, as a means to avoid confronting or dealing with them directly.

Sigmund Freud, the founder of psychoanalysis, initially conceptualized projection as a defense mechanism. According to Freud, the mind has various ways to protect itself from psychological distress or anxiety, and projection is one of many methods. While Freud’s work laid the foundation for understanding projection, our understanding of the concept has evolved over time, with many modern psychologists examining its cognitive, social, and emotional aspects.

Several factors contribute to the likelihood of an individual engaging in psychological projection. These factors include personality traits, social and cultural influences, and situational factors. People who are more prone to projection often have a higher level of neuroticism or difficulty regulating their emotions. Social and cultural factors can also play a role, as people may be more likely to project certain emotions or traits onto others depending on societal norms and expectations. Situational factors, such as stress or emotional conflict, can further exacerbate the tendency to project.

Types of projection

There are various types of psychological projection, including:

  1. Complementary projection: This occurs when an individual projects their own feelings or thoughts onto someone who has a complementary role in their life, such as a partner or coworker. This type of projection can often be seen in relationships, where one person may accuse their partner of being unfaithful when, in fact, they are the ones who are struggling with feelings of infidelity.
  2. Complimentary projection: In this form of projection, an individual attributes positive qualities or traits that they themselves possess onto someone else. This may be done to reinforce a positive self-image or to maintain a sense of self-worth.
  3. Projective identification: This is a more complex form of projection in which an individual not only attributes their own emotions, thoughts, or motives onto another person but also manipulates the other person into actually exhibiting those characteristics. This can be seen in interpersonal relationships where one person tries to control or manipulate the other to confirm their own beliefs or fears.
  4. Collective projection: This occurs when a group of individuals projects their shared feelings, thoughts, or motives onto another group, often as a means of maintaining group cohesion or protecting the group’s image. This type of projection can be seen in situations of intergroup conflict, where one group might blame another for problems that actually stem from within their own group.

Negative consequences of projection

Psychological projection can have several negative consequences, both for the individual engaging in projection and for those on the receiving end. For the projector, it can prevent them from taking responsibility for their actions, feelings, or thoughts, thereby hindering their personal growth and emotional development. It can also distort their perception of reality, leading to poor decision-making and strained relationships.

For those on the receiving end, psychological projection can be confusing, hurtful, and damaging. It can lead to misunderstandings, conflicts, and emotional distress. Additionally, being subjected to projection can cause individuals to question their own reality and self-worth, potentially leading to feelings of self-doubt or depression.

Projection in politics

Politicians and their supporters often engage in projection as a way to deflect criticism, discredit opponents, and maintain a positive image of themselves or their party. Projection in politics can manifest in various ways, including the following:

  1. Accusing opponents of misconduct: Politicians may accuse their opponents of engaging in unethical or illegal activities that they themselves are involved in, as a way to deflect attention from their own actions and create doubt about the opposition (classic example: when then-Speaker of the House Newt Gingrich waged a campaign against then-President Bill Clinton for having an affair, while he himself was having an affair with a Congressional aide on his staff).
  2. Misattributing motives: Politicians might project their own motives or goals onto their opponents, suggesting that the other side is pursuing an agenda driven by selfish or malicious intent. This can be a way to delegitimize the opposition’s policy proposals or campaign messaging.
  3. Stereotyping and scapegoating: Projection can also be seen in the form of stereotyping and scapegoating minority groups or other marginalized communities. Politicians may project their own insecurities, fears, bigotries, or prejudices onto these groups, blaming them for social or economic problems, as a way to rally support and distract from the real issues at hand.
  4. Groupthink and collective projection: Political parties, factions, or movements may engage in collective projection, projecting their own faults or shortcomings onto rival groups. This can help maintain group cohesion and reinforce a shared identity, but it can also contribute to political polarization and conflict.

Projection in politics can have several negative consequences, including the distortion of facts and reality, the exacerbation of political polarization, and the perpetuation of stereotypes and prejudice. It can also hinder constructive dialogue and compromise, making it more difficult for politicians and policymakers to address pressing issues and find solutions to problems.

To counteract the influence of projection in politics, it is essential for individuals to remain vigilant and critically examine the claims and accusations made by politicians and political parties. Media outlets and journalists also play a crucial role in fact-checking and holding politicians accountable for their statements and actions. Encouraging open and honest dialogue, promoting empathy and understanding, and fostering critical thinking can help mitigate the impact of projection in the political arena.

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Emotional blackmail is a manipulative tactic used by individuals to exert control and undue influence over others by exploiting their emotions, fears, and vulnerabilities. It typically involves the use of threats, guilt, negative emotions, and other influence techniques to pressure someone into complying with the manipulator’s demands or desires.

Forms of emotional blackmail

  1. Threats: The manipulator may threaten to harm themselves, the victim, or someone the victim cares about if their demands are not met.
  2. Guilt-tripping: The manipulator may try to make the victim feel guilty for not complying with their wishes, suggesting that their refusal indicates a lack of love, care, or loyalty.
  3. Fear: The manipulator may use the victim’s insecurities, anxieties, or fears to manipulate them into submission.
  4. Obligation: The manipulator may insist that the victim “owes” them something, such as a favor or support, in order to pressure them into compliance.

Emotional predators use blackmail

Emotional blackmail can be subtle or overt and may occur in various types of relationships, including romantic partnerships, friendships, family, and professional settings. Emotional predators (often people with personality disorders) tends to use psychological manipulation techniques to get what they want from you — without much (or any) regard for your own feelings in the matter, or the ethical dubiousness of doing so.

Recognizing and addressing emotional blackmail is essential for maintaining healthy boundaries and relationships.

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