The best way to fool people is to help them.Psychopath “Robert”
The most common defense I have heard of the leader of the cult from which I departed, as well as the most common justification for people remaining in it, is that the leader is a kind man who helps others. This is understandable. Kindness and helping others are admirable qualities that endear people to us, provided they are genuine and do not have a hidden agenda. How do you tell the difference? You cannot without waiting and watching. When not genuine, this is a form of love bombing.
Love bombing is the action or practice of lavishing someone with attention or affection, especially in order to influence or manipulate them.
Helping others is a form of attention, especially if it is performed in a manner that looks like great expense or effort on the part of the helper. It plays on one of the primary core principles that exists at the heart of every human, every normal human at least. This is the rule of reciprocation.1 This rule states that we should try to repay, in kind, what another person provides for us. It is very powerful, as most people instinctively feel compelled to repay in some way. In itself, there is nothing wrong with this. In fact, it makes society and civilization function in an equitable manner.
However, questionable people can do you a favor deliberately with the intention of making you feel indebted to return one. Salesmen are notorious for this. Moreover, a malicious person can do an uninvited favor, thereby triggering your feeling of indebtedness without you having asked for it. Would you have turned it down? Probably not. Do you know what is behind it? Probably not. That is what makes it so powerful. It has taken away your choice. It is very easy for unscrupulous people to use it to put you in their debt. Now here is where it gets really toxic. The person triggering the obligation to reciprocate in someone can very easily manipulate it into an unfair exchange to receive something far greater in return. Like, providing them with free labor or large sums of money, supporting them unquestioningly in the face of overwhelming evidence to the contrary, or even having someone move hundreds of miles to the religious leader’s property to be their financial and physical servant.
Preying on the Vulnerable
Adept con artists, narcissists and psychopaths seek out vulnerable people upon whom to bestow their false kindness, thereby incurring a debt of reciprocation. Usually, the victims are people undergoing hardship of some sort. The more painful and emotional the hardship, the better for the manipulator, because the victims are less likely to suspect or turn down an act of kindness. This all but guarantees reciprocation. Some common targets of these con artists are people who:
- Are recently divorced
- Have recently lost a loved one
- Have an illness
- Have an addiction or psychological problem
- Are financially disadvantaged
- Are lonely
- Have troubled pasts or exist on the fringes of society
Wolves in Sheep’s Clothing
Personality disordered persons, such as psychopaths or narcissists, use love bombing to give the appearance of kindness and help, or even attention and love, to establish control over another person. The victim may start doing things they normally would not, because they feel beholden to the person doing the love bombing. It is one of the most common tools that a psychopath or narcissist uses to get close to their victim in order to exploit them. An inordinate percentage of psychopaths and narcissists occupy leadership positions in our government, our corporations, and our religious institutions. Some studies indicate that up to ⅓ of religious leaders are narcissists or psychopaths.2 They are the true wolves in sheep’s clothing. While this percentage is still contested, even the lower end of the spectrum is far above the normal incidence of about 5% in the general population. It just makes sense to carefully watch for love bombing in religious leaders. They should not be doing it anyway.
A man who flatters his neighbor spreads a net for his feet.Proverbs 29:5
For such persons do not serve our Lord Christ, but their own appetites, and by smooth talk and flattery they deceive the hearts of the naïve.Romans 16:18
How it Works
During a clinical interview with a diagnosed psychopath and convicted felon named “Robert,” he breaks down succinctly how it works.3
The best way to fool people is to help them. Ask what they want. Ask what they need. Do they need any help doing anything? Do they need any money? Do they need their car fixed? Do they need their grass cut? Do they need their children looked out for? Do they need a job? Do they need anything, anything to get them to think that I am a decent person and want to help. Trust me, I will help. And overall, that was a flat out lie.
The religious leader gave you money. It wasn’t their money. They suckered members of the congregation to provide it while they take the credit. The religious leader devoted a lot of time to you. That means nothing. It is what all psychopaths and narcissists do to ensnare you. The religious leader called you brother. This is false closeness deliberately designed to create intimacy where there should not yet be any. The religious leader dropped everything he was doing to counsel you on your problems. That is not counseling, it is data mining to catalog your weaknesses and vulnerabilities for later use against you.
Cult expert Dr. David McDermott states that “new cult recruits are often showered with affection, pleasantries and made to feel special. Note that this is how psychopaths typically build artificial relationships with their intended victims. However, there are few, if any, true friendships in cults. When somebody leaves the group, the friendship typically dissolves and they are quickly forgotten.” This was my experience and the experiences of many others who left or were thrown out of the cult. If the members who remain will introspect just a little bit and be truthful about it, they will know that this is accurate and that they were the ones ending the friendships, often at the command of, or pressure from, the leader.
How it Looks in Action
Love bombing happens during the early stages of recruiting people into the group. It can be drawn out longer if the recruit has something particularly valuable to offer the leader. Below are statements that were all from members who had recently joined the group:
From the very first day we came, we felt so welcomed and treated like family.
There is such a heart in this community like we have never seen before, going above and beyond caring and helping one another and fellowshipping outside of worship service.
[The leader] and his wife have loved us, counseled us, taught us, and ministered to us.
This is the most loving, family like assembly my family has ever been a part of.
This all sounds wonderful, albeit a bit over the top for a regular church group. Over the top is exactly what a malignant leader would push to quickly create false intimacy. I do believe these types of things are good, but they need to be developed over time after a foundation of trust and respect has been established. Doing this so this early is a possible sign of love bombing.
An Appeal to Those Remaining
Get angry all you want about what I am writing, but ask yourself can you really afford to dismiss and ignore one of the most common manipulation tactics used by people who may comprise up to 1⁄3 of religious leaders? If you ignore it, you are setting yourself up for a high likelihood of failure. Would you put a pistol to your head and pull the trigger if two of the six chambers contained bullets? In essence that is what you are doing with your spiritual and emotional life by not even considering these words.
Many of the people heaping glowing superlatives upon the leader have been with the group only a short time. Usually less than two years. Many of the people who were purged and expelled had been there longer than two years. Do you detect a pattern here? Do not live under the misguided notion that it cannot and will not happen to you. In our past, we all stood where you stand now, believing what you believe now. Below is what love bombing turns into when the leader has no more use for you. The person who received this message from the leader was once a valued and publicly lauded member of the congregation. He was simply asking the leader to explain why he was being shunned. He once stood where you stand now.
This is my first and last notice for you to cease and desist any form of communication to me personally. Any form of future contact will be reported to the proper authorities and harassment/order of protection/no contact will be filed with the state.
Have those of you remaining ever stopped to consider that perhaps these people on the outside are following God’s commandments in trying to help warn fellow brothers and sisters (you) against following a malignant, false teacher into oblivion? From being deceived and used as they were? From experiencing the pain and destruction they endured? That some continue to warn you at great cost to themselves in terms of ridicule and personal attacks on them? I’d much rather just turn my back and leave you all to it, as it certainly gives me no joy or satisfaction to pursue this. I get nothing out of this. None of us do. I could understand and dismiss one, two, or even three people pursuing personal grudges against the group or leadership, but dozens? Wake up people!
You cannot say you were not warned. You have received far more warnings and in much greater detail than all the rest of the “purged” and “rebels” stretching back over the years. Do you realize that every single teacher or staff member, other than blood relatives, who has been with this group has departed under bad terms? You have never even heard of most of them. Over 40 people have departed over the last 4 years, most on bad terms. You have never even heard of most of them either. I would wager that is more people than the entire present congregation. Surely not every single one of those people was unteachable, evil or refused to submit to godly authority. That is statistically impossible. Wake up people!
I could say you are some of the most willfully delusional people I have ever seen, but that would not be true. I was exactly the same years ago in my first cult, so I know there is very little chance you will listen. I did not listen when I was in the middle of it, faithfully and energetically supporting the leader despite mountains of evidence showing her true colors. Tragically, you will not realize until after you have been used and discarded just like all those before you. Incredible damage may be done to your relationships, your faith, your finances and even your freedom by the time you reach that point. I lost all four during my first cult encounter. Fortunately, this group was not my first rodeo, so I was able to see what was going on more quickly and leave. I pray you learn to do the same.
1Influence: The Psychology of Persuasion, Dr. Robert B. Cialdini
3A Psychopath Describes His Behavior, https://youtu.be/eu17Wuq3nI8?t=469