Malignant Narcissism as the Core Madness of the Cult Leader

June 4, 2021 @ 12:00PM — 3:00PM Eastern Time (US & Canada)

Free ICSA Webinar. CE Credits Available!

Malignant Narcissism as the Core Madness of the Cult Leader image

3 CE Credits Available!

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Malignant Narcissism as the Core Madness of the Cult Leader

3 CE Credits Available! 12:00-3:00 pm EST, Friday, June 4th

How to obtain CE Credit:

You must be logged in during the live session to receive CE credit. You will be asked to complete a post-event evaluation. Please check with your licensing board to see if you are eligible for CE credit.

International Cultic Studies Association (ICSA) has been approved by NBCC as an Approved Continuing Education Provider, ACEP No. 6893. ICSA is solely responsible for all aspects of the programs.

Webinar Information by psychotherapist, presenter Charles Zeiders

Malignant narcissism, the presenters argue, characterizes the core psychopathology of the cult leader. Drawing from their recent book, Malignant Narcissism and Power: A Psychodynamic Exploration of Madness and Leadership (Routledge, 2020), presenters Charles Zeiders, Psy.D. and Peter Devlin, LGSW will generate a profile of the Malignant Narcissist Leader (MNL). Via case studies, their workshop will unpack the malignant leader’s rise and fall, and the deleterious impact from the malignant leader’s selfish, but bizarrely seductive, manipulative, and coercive behavior. The presenters will reveal the malignant leader’s core character traits: Narcissism, Criminality, Paranoia, and Sadism. Drawing on cult studies, forensic psychology, and the humanities, they will depict the malignant narcissist in leadership as a trans-historical, cross-cultural phenomenon.

While most clinicians encounter only the victims of MNL’s, the possibility of treating MNL’s themselves will be explored. Is it possible, or even safe, for a clinician to develop “sympathy for the devil?” Covered will be the dynamics of cultic totalitarianism to answer the question: how does the mad leader form followers and gain ascendance? How does the mad leader transform normal people, families, and organizations to his insanely controlled cultic regimes? For attendees fascinated by organizational (mis) development, a totalitarian sampler will be offered depicting diverse cult leaders in the context of their high-pressure organizations, with remarks as to the clinical features of patients who dissent from the MNL’s vindictive domination. The presenters will discuss how cult leaders cause a perversion of utopia, and shall offer clinically helpful notions about the MNL’s so-called god-drive, sexuality, and relation to Freud’s primal horde theory. Primacy of place shall be given to making the material relevant for the front-line psychotherapist who is interested in the character pathology of the cult leader.

Additional context from psychotherapist, presenter Peter Devlin:

The malignant narcissist in leadership presents deep concerns for any society. Their capacity for destruction is significant. The dangerous leaders we chronicle in our book and will discuss in this lecture span cultures and centuries. Many of these leaders, like Hong Xiuquan or Jan of Leiden, led lives of historical importance. But malignant leaders exist everywhere and can be found in any organization or institution. Malignant narcissists ascend to leadership by offering hope that they will be transformational leaders who will lead their followers to a promised land. As their leadership unfolds, they make strict demands on followers and strive to morph constituents into worshippers. The leader must be perceived as a “genius,” a “spiritual teacher,” or a “prophet.” Meanwhile, the malignant leader will purge, or even murder, dissidents who criticize their leadership. When finally exposed as unable to deliver on extravagant promises, the malignant leader acts out in enraged violence, for his grandiose claims are exposed to have served a false self. Needless to say, the malignant narcissistic leader is a tornado of destructiveness that leaves physical and psychic damage in his or her wake.

Because Dr. Zeiders and I acknowledge the theoretical nature of our description of this type of human being, we have been open to a multi-disciplinary approach toward understanding this phenomenon. We employ a range of terms and theoretical perspectives that illuminate the psychic characteristics of these individuals. However, throughout our book and this discussion our touchstone will be psychodynamic theory which we believe offers the most extensive examination of mad leaders. We also have different theoretical orientations that creates a respectful tension between our attempt to create a profile of the malignant narcissistic leader (as can be seen in the last chapter of our book). However, despite these differences, we believe malignant narcissist leaders have foundational traits: narcissism, cruelty, malfeasance, paranoia, and megalomania.

We believe it is urgent we understand and profile these leaders because of their pathogenic destructiveness. The 21st century has been a century of loneliness and isolation for many people living in first world nations. Malignant narcissist leaders promise community, transformation, and the lure of the transcendent. However, they lead followers on a destructive path that leads to trauma, sadism, destruction of personhood, and even criminality. In our attempt at portraying the malignant leader, we will employ biography, history, anthropology, and sociology. The portrait we paint is both disturbing and revelatory about human nature and our zeitgeist.”

Learning Objectives

  • Utilize case vignettes to develop a profile of the malignant narcissist in cult leadership (MNL).
  • Identify the four principal traits of malignant narcissism in leadership and associated features of this dangerous psychopathology.
  • Articulate controversies surrounding the treatability of the MNL character.
  • Identify the pathogenic features of the MNL in the context of his or her cult-like organization, and identify specific manipulative behaviors MNL’s and their confederates use to gain followers, ascend to power, and maintain socially destructive power.
  • Articulate clinically useful insight regarding MNL pathology concerning sexuality, traumatizing style, and their uncanny allure.

About the Presenters

Charles Zeiders, PsyD, is the T.S. Eliot Lecturer for Humanities and Spiritual Psychology, Reformed Episcopal Seminary in metropolitan Philadelphia. A clinical and forensic psychologist, Dr. Zeiders is Practice Director of CCT Associates of the Main Line. His books include The Clinical Christ, Faith, Forensics, and Firearms, and volumes of depth-psychological poetry. Dr.Zeiders is an expert in psychopathology.

Peter Devlin, LGSW, is a psychotherapist at Capitol Hill Consortium for Counseling and Consultation in Washington, DC. He received his BA from the University of Pennsylvania and his MSW from the University of Southern California. His research interests include personality disorders, trauma, and the psychology of power.