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ETpro's avatar

How can parents best cult-proof their children?

Asked by ETpro (34521points) August 6th, 2013

Malignant pied pipers like Charles Manson were able to attract a faithful following of teens and young adults to themselves because young people seeking to break away from their parents and establish their own identities (a normally healthy impulse) found their weirdness and charismatically iconoclastic behavior seductive. Such acting out seemed a perfect rejection of what their parents stood for, and the ills they rightly recognized in the “gentile society” around them.

How can parents rear their children so that, when the time comes for them to begin shedding parental bonds, they are already well prepared to spot abusive individuals suffering from Narcissistic Personality Disorder complicated by Malignant Narcissism for the dangerous monsters they actually are instead of the loving father figures they pretend to be?

For purposes of this question, I am using the DSM IV definition for Narcissistic Personality Disorder.

While the diagnosis remains disputed, I am using for this question the definition of Malignant Narcissism given by Otto F. Kernberg, MD, FAPA; who listed these four traits on page 195 of his book, Severe Personality Disorders: Psycho-Therapeutic Strategies, 1986.
1  —  Paranoid regressive tendencies with “paranoid micro psychotic episodes.” These brief episodes of narcissistic rage involve loss of contact with reality and serve the function of punishing external enemies in order to avoid internal pain.
2  —  Chronic self-destructiveness or suicidal behavior as a triumph over authority figures. The malignant narcissist makes empathic followers or family feel his own hurt by initially seducing but eventually hurting them. Malignant pied pipers do this to their followers and even to their own children.
3  —  Major and minor dishonesty (psychopathy). Malignant narcissists manipulate and exploit others for profit, for their own satisfaction, or for imagined glory.
4  —  Malignant grandiosity with overt sadistic efforts to triumph over all authority. This triumph represents a satisfying turning of the tables for the malignant narcissist who, for instance, may have been abandoned without remorse by his father. By killing or vanquishing authority, the malignant narcissist feels as though he has achieved revenge against his uncaring father.

Kernberg adopts the term malignant because this disorder, once established in an individual, grows like an aggressive cancer till it ends in death or self and followers, as it did with cult leaders like Jim Jones and David Koresh; or for murder of selected cult members and innocent third parties, as in the case of Charles Manson and Japan’s Shoko Asahara.

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9 Answers

RealEyesRealizeRealLies's avatar

Cult Proofing for Dummies?

“Listen to, laugh with, and love your children. For Shadow Spiders are everywhere.”

janbb's avatar

I think giving children a sound grounding in critical thinking and letting them question authority – even your own – is helpful but I don’t think you can ultimately anything proof your children.

Jeruba's avatar

I’ve actually thought quite a lot about this question over the years. I’ve read a number of books on destructive cults and their methods and also personal narratives by former cult members, including several who were at Jonestown. I’ve also read things online written by cult escapees. One of the most interesting accounts was posted right here, in answer to this question of mine.

The question about children didn’t lead to my reading; rather, I read in pursuit of my long-held interest in what people believe and why—and what sort of belief can be so compelling that people will give up everything for it, including their ability to think and ultimately their lives.

I’m no longer sure that it’s really about belief, as I once thought. Maybe it’s about losing the power of choice, exactly like an addict.

Here are my thoughts on your question:

(1) You can’t. I honestly don’t think that a lone person who becomes enveloped by the cult’s recruiters and their techniques, especially once cut off from the rest of the world, will possess the mental strength to withstand forces that are designed to overwhelm. I’m sure I couldn’t do it. I doubt that any immature mind could do it.

(2) Don’t make true believers of them. I think people who have swallowed one belief system are easier targets for another, and not the reverse; that is, I don’t think one belief system is a shield against another, but rather, a doorway. I think the habit of belief, the submission to an all-powerful authority and its representatives, and the acceptance of inexplicable mysteries and paradoxes that defy reason are transferable from one system to another. I think people who have become lost to one system or disappointed in it are likely to look for another rather than to choose “none of the above.” They may actually think it fills a need in their lives. And maybe it does.

(3) Teach rational thought, skepticism, questioning. Teach them to question their own skepticism and not to think their rationalism makes them superior to anyone or impervious to anything. We are all, I think, more susceptible to irrational thinking than we want to believe. Thinking we’re above human weakness and delusion is one of the most dangerous of irrational beliefs, if you ask me.

If I saw a child of mine becoming attracted to a cult, I would probably fight it with everything I had, and I would probably lose. All I could do is make sure to plant the idea—deeply and repeatedly—that they can still choose and that help is available if they reach for it.

Simone_De_Beauvoir's avatar

I try to be all the weird they’ll ever need. And I raise them with a strong core, not easily swayed by gimmicks.

SpatzieLover's avatar

Lead by example. Show them you think for yourself.

Inspire them to question everything.

Show them real world examples of authority figures being failures.

YARNLADY's avatar

In my opinion, cults appeal to people whose parents don’t care enough to think about this sort of thing.

Paradox25's avatar

A strong presence of authority along with strict cultural standards generate cult mentalities by default. Nonetheless now the cultural reject involved in a cult is subject to new strict rules, and controlled thinking under a new authority. Society has for the most part always been concerned dealing with problems that could affect the type of culture we want due to the personal preferences of its citizens, but it’s only been recently that we started to address concerns for children on an individual basis.

We’re quick to teach kids about law and order, and complying with strict cultural standards which are expected of them. We’ve made scapegoats out of problems, and have selected which scapegoats should be considered the new enemy of children’s mental health. Are we teaching kids to be more compassionate and empathetic? We’‘ll combat drug use among children, but yet as a society we’re not as concerned about teaching basic empathy and compassion to them. Society seems to be fixated upon perpetuating cultural norms rather than bringing up compassionate children. Perhaps many of these kids will make great CEO’s, but will they be compassionate ones? Some of those other kids may just join a gang, a cult, a dogmatic religion, etc instead.

ragingloli's avatar

They can not. Especially not since 90% of the human population are cultists themselves.

ETpro's avatar

Thanks and GA to all. I’m just going to learn from your posts and thoughts here, rather than jump in and risk derailing my own question.

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