A lasting and fulfilling love relationship may be one of the rarest things to experience in this life as mere mortals. Couple issues are common and the divorce rate has been exploding all over the world over the past decades. When people needs are moving up the Maslow pyramid, from pure survival to creating a life that feels good, they have higher expectations and they aspire to an emotionally fulfilling intimate relationship. Many people are expert at projecting how good they are doing as a couple to the outside world but as soon as they are home alone, difficult arguments may start. Actually, very few couples are experiencing the following attributes that would characterize a successful intimate relationship:
Feeling loved, seen, understood and cared for
Enjoying spending time together
Heartfelt intimate connection that translates in feeling the other in oneself such as giving to our beloved feels better than giving to oneself
Physical affection including great sex
Lots of laugh together
Such relationships are a very rare gift, and nothing can come even close to bring us intense happiness. Keeping it for the long run is even rarer.
THE LURE OF PASSION
There is a common belief that love stories always end up badly. This is why we say falling in love instead of waking up to love. Romantic love is this intense and all-consuming feeling to merge with another. It is not rational, explainable or conscious. It feels more like a mystical state than anything else. It stems from the depth of our subconscious. It yields incredible power to change the course of any life, and its primary purpose is to break the walls required to promote our inner growth.
Romantic love is a way for nature to urge us into forcing us to solve our unresolved fragments, to bring our shadows into light and to work out our Karma. It is one of the ways for spirit to orchestrate our growth as a spiritual being having a human experience.
First, intense love attractions are about our traumatic past so that we may re-experience them in a different form to bring them back to our conscious mind, and complete healing. Girls with an absent father will automatically look for an emotionally unavailable man. They try hopelessly and futilely to be loved by them. It is their subconscious attempt to get loved by dad again. A man who was abandoned as a child will repeat over and over this pattern of abandonment with his partners. We replay the trauma of the past tragically and we get hurt badly. Some of us are able to reflect upon these difficult experiences to heal our painful past to create a life that feels good. But many of us sink even deeper into addiction, or develop mental and physical health issues.
There is nothing like love to transform us to our very core. Love relationships also act as a strong indicator of the qualities we need to develop within to become whole. We fell in love with someone because they have attributes that we want to possess. They are guiding us through our journey of self-development. We are not even conscious of this process. Attraction is based on how much a person is able to reflect our disowned self. This is why shrewd businessmen lacking empathy are often attracted to highly sensitive women. They represent the heart they have lost along the way of their financial success. Unfortunately, we quickly start doing to the object of our love what we have done to the aspect of us this person is mirroring, the aspect of us that we have disowned. We shut it down, we judge it as weak and incompetent with the repercussions we know to the detriment of the relationship. This is largely the reason why many love stories end up badly.
The first beautiful phase of a romantic relationship shows us what we can become as we achieve our full potential. These states of consciousness include feeling incredibly alive, ego dissolution, feeling one with all, sharing and feeling love with an open heart. So why don’t we go directly towards this magical potential that we all possess instead of getting lured by the reflection of this love in another human being? Why don’t we go directly for the fire of self-love and trust that a beautiful intimate relationship will manifest in this physical dimension to mirror that love?
On an amusing and anecdotal note, many people give up on human love and just buy a dog. They know that no one would ever be able to provide this level of unconditional love exhibited by their pet. Some others just turn towards God, Jesus or Buddha because an imaginary being that they project as perfect could never do them wrong. They just project the pure love potential that exists within all of our hearts to an external projection. And some others again look for self-realization. At the end, it is all the same search for love, to realize that it lays within our own heart.
LOVE AS MANIPULATION
There are many wrong reasons to be in an intimate relationship with someone. We may be afraid of feeling lonely. We may feel incapable of taking care of ourselves financially, emotionally or physically. We may want to look good (or avoid looking bad) to our family, friends or community. We are ashamed of all these reasons so we manipulate to get our needs met. Seduction takes the form of manipulation. We show the other person the aspect of us that will appeal to their own insecurity and lack: we want partners with a sexy body to boost one’s self-esteem, another one with a muscular one to feel safe next to him, a wealthy partner for financial security, a witty boyfriend for fun, an intelligent girlfriend for stimulation or someone empathic for warmth and support. We all intuitively do this as part of the seduction game. So we start the relationship on the promise of what the other person is looking for, but this is a small aspect of us. Quickly, we cannot help showing who we truly are, especially if we live with our lover. All our flaws and all the dark reasons why we wanted to be in a relationship go on the open. This is the moment of shock where the beloved becomes ugly and scary. Unfortunately, we are already hooked and it is too painful to leave. It will remind us possibly of how unlovable or unattractive we are, or of the traumatic childhood event where we were abandoned. We prefer not to say anything, not to rock the boat. Tension builds in the relationship. More distance or activities outside the relationship are required to soothe this terrifying intimate mirror.
However, a relationship that was based initially on something we are not or very partially is doomed. It is simply not sustainable to keep pretending. Less and less of our energy gets invested in the relationship. We start looking at other options, project our own limitations into our lover, and build resentment. We enter the relationship on the basis of manipulation and we get surprised when we get manipulated in return. This is the story of the 65-year-old dating a 25-year-old who gets shocked at the price tag that comes with it. This is a business transaction, not a relationship. One of the most common and unconscious forms of manipulation is the game between the love avoider (typically played by the man but not always) and the love anxious. As long as the woman is not attached, the man showers the woman with attention, gifts, fun outings and compliments. But as long as the woman opens her heart to the man, he gets scared, feels suffocated and the fear of commitment takes over. The woman hurts deeply as a result so she starts detaching. He panics about the lost love and with the extra distance, the man is comfortable again to pour love again into the woman and does everything he can to win her over again. But he becomes commitment-phobic as soon as he wins her back. This game can continue indefinitely.
At worst, romantic love may also become a mirage, a coping mechanism not to face our inner void or even an addiction. At best, it opens the gates of our heart and to the divine.
I have a long-time friend now in his 70s who has a long history of relationships. He has done it all. In the 90s, I knew him in a polyamorous setting with 3 beautiful women. While this could have appeared like a dream for many men reading this article, he told me recently that being alone is better than being with multiple partners. And being with a special person is better than being alone. This was his wisdom after over 50 years of relationships and it was genuine. It is so easy for us to play games, lie to ourselves, get lost in distractions rather than opening our heart to true intimacy.
LIMITS OF COMPATIBILITY
After being burned out so many times with the lure of passion, we may decide to take a different approach. We go online and answer the hundreds of questions of match.com and eHarmony to find a perfectly compatible partner. Enough of the drama, of the crazy step kids and the misunderstandings. We finally find someone with the same interests in life, the same culture, the same sex drive, the same diet, the same vision for life, the same social status and with kids of the same age. The relationship feels good and drama free. We feel we have finally transcended our past traumas to experience a relationship that feels good. We realize we can be friends in addition to lovers.
But after a while, we feel something is missing. We are missing the butterflies in the stomach. We crave for that intense passion that made us lose our mind. We are missing this feeling of fusion where our ego dissolves. We start wondering about the opportunity cost of compatibility. We cannot deal with the grief of missing real love, especially when we have experienced it before and we know how it feels. We may have a great loving friend but we start thinking this may prevent us from meeting our soulmate. A compatible relationship may feel more like a friendship than love. While a strong friendship between lovers makes life much easier to live, there is still the part of us that likes to be out of control and even obsessed about the object of love. This intensity is making us feel alive. When routine takes over, our lover may feel more like a roommate who shares now with us all the stress and burden of our life. At the same time, just meeting for the good times and doing fun things together feels empty after a while. We want something more, a fusion where we are able to share all of who we are, not only the bright side. We starve to be seen fully in all of our light and shadow, and to be loved with all our idiosyncrasies. But we are terrified that our partner would run away if they see our dark side. After all, the personality tests we took were all about our conscious aspects and not the defects we are ashamed of.
In my practice, I see people with high conflict relationships that have been together for a long time, and some that never had an argument who just decide to separate. Conflict is not what ends a relationship. To some extent, we fight for things we care about. To stop caring is what ends a relationship. Some people see relationship just as a way to get one’s needs met. This is so prevalent in this time of consumerism and social media. However, a love relationship is more defined by what we are able to give than by what we are able to get. Love is not rational. It is not about convenience. It is more an art than a science. It is all about feeling, and it is hard to make sense of all these feelings. We like stability and peace, but too much of it makes us feel uneasy. The moments of doubt and uncertainty in the relationship make us remember not to take anything for granted, that we are together by choice and not because we have to. We marvel at that irrational love we cannot explain because it is unconditional. Great sex is based on duality, on the opposites that challenge each other. When we are too similar, the polarity decreases as well as the sex appeal. Sometimes, a lover may even create some futile arguments to spark some flames because she/he becomes afraid that the relationship may become dull.
DEVELOPING DEEPER INTIMACY
Relationships are difficult because we are a multiplicity instead of being a unified whole. There is an aspect of us that is looking for fusion. However, there is another aspect that is looking for individuality and freedom. As a person, we are the composite of many layers of our past development that encapsulate with each other. The baby part wants to find fusion again with mum, and the toddler in us wants to explore away from mum. And we possess many other aspects that contradict each other. To be a human being is complex and it gets worse as we age. This is why it is so important to be introspective to know oneself and become more attuned. This way, we can compensate this inner complexity with good communication to accommodate the needs of both our internal parts and the ones of our partner. Of course, it is easier said than done.
Love starts with getting infatuated with the partner’s qualities that we desire subconsciously, the aspects of us that we have disowned. This is a form of narcissistic love, where we are in awe of our own potential through the mirror of the beloved. I believe however that true love is based on embracing and even loving the other person’s shadows or quirks. This is what is going to make a relationship last.
The reality is that we do not want to work on a relationship. We want to be in the flow. Of course, when children, material and status considerations, fear of abandonment are in play, there are very big incentives to make the relationship work. So we start problem-solving the relationship like a problem at work. We read relationship books looking for the magical recipe to fix the relationship. Love becomes a project. We become roommates or business partners with our mate and the intimacy fades away. We calculate, monitor closely what we do or say to reach an outcome. However, the flow of love requires free expression and spontaneity. It is about creating a container large enough for the person to express themselves fully so that they may be seen in their totality. It is about living in the present without any parachute. It is about reminding ourselves that love is a gift and not a due and it may vanish or come back at any time. It is about letting go off control. This is where self-love is so important. If we do not possess enough self-love, the idea of losing the object of our love is unbearable. Jealousy sets in. Otherwise, we understand that our lovers just reflect the love that is within us.
It is a wonderful feeling to be in a relationship because we want to and not because we have to. This is only possible if we have enough autonomy. Two hearts that love each other in total freedom is magical and it can be so terrifying at the same time. And it is even better when we cannot even explain why we love someone. It is an act of grace. I have learned to enjoy missing a lover and it is a such good indicator of the love I feel for her.
A relationship needs space to grow and this amount of space is dependent on the people in the relationship. Creating space helps to counter the tendency we have to take people for granted, to remember the qualities instead getting stuck on the deficiencies. The time when we miss each other genuinely takes away the natural erosion of life and routine on the relationship.
I go back to the words of intimacy expert Peter Sandhill. According to him, it takes 3 main ingredients for a fulfilling intimate relationship. First, we need love or the powerful subconscious pull that brings two beings together. Every relationship goes through ups and downs, and without this powerful attraction, we simply will not have the perseverance and the commitment to face the challenges coming our way. Secondly, we need compatibility so that we may experience more beautiful memories, enjoyable shared moments and connection time instead of conflicts. This will keep the relationship fresh and limit the natural erosion of everyday life on the relationship. Third, we need the tools which are the combination of our inner work, effective communication and relationship knowledge. We need to stay students of life and commit to become the best version of ourselves because a relationship is nothing else that the closest mirror to the totality of who we are.
What makes love so unique is that there are no rules. It is a continuous exploration. As we evolve and reflect, we have the ability to co-create a relationship that feels good for both partners or part ways. There is no magic formula but we have much power than we can imagine to heal and experience gratifying relationships. We may learn from the experience of others but, at the end of the day, it is really up to us. Authenticity, communication, creativity, commitment, openness are the constants. And let’s remember that love is more about an art than a business where flow, inspiration, courage will always mean more than willpower, problem-solving and planning.
Disclosure: I am not a licensed therapist so I am not qualified to use these terms in a therapy setting. I have however studied this topic very closely as a tool for self-improvement and self-observation. I am just sharing my own understanding and experience on this matter with the hope it may heal your own relationships and help you to love yourself at a deeper level.
My mother was a discouraged borderline and my father was a codependent. My sister is a borderline, my brothers are codependent and I have been on a life long journey to heal my codependency too. Almost all of my intimate partners have struggled with borderline personality disorder. I am hopefully closer to live a more authentic life as I have brought awareness to my subconscious patterns.
I have shared with you in my previous blog how my attachment traumas made me a match to a cult. The same attachment traumas made me a match to dysfunctional intimate relationships. A number of us with personality disorders can actually be high-functioning according to societal standards. You will find many successful CEOs, performers, top politicians that are narcissistic, borderline or active co-dependents. These personality disorders can best be seen in our personal and intimate lives that suffer greatly from these personality disorders coming from childhood attachment traumas.
I can see that my intimate relationships have been plagued with negative core beliefs coming from an early age. Initially, as a young man, because of my own abandonment traumas, I was deeply avoidant as I was convinced to be unworthy of love. I believed that it was just a question of time for my intimate partners to leave me. I would push them away and they would break-up with me, as they felt unloved. I felt unloved and unlovable as a result while these partners would actually deeply care for me. It was a vicious circle feeding self.
Because I felt unlovable as I was, I decided subconsciously that I need a hook for my loved ones to stay with me and not abandon me. I entered a rescuer phase. As a friend jokingly put it, I became “Captain save a hoe”. In my early twenties, I fell in love with an impulsive borderline in a desperate situation. She had a son with a thug in the northern suburbs of Paris. He was a gambler that would still money from her while she did not even have enough money to feed the child. He used the child to control her. He would sometimes take the child out of the balcony of the 20th floor and threaten to drop him if she did not obey his demands. After I started a relationship with her, my heart broke when I felt the pain of this child. I took many risks to get them out of this desperate situation and we eventually managed to immigrate to the USA together. The relationship eventually ended. I was shut off emotionally past the limerence stage as I continued to focus on external activities to be worthy of love instead of emotionally investing into the relationship. I had no clue that my partner actually wanted to be with me but I felt so unlovable that it seemed like a foreign concept. My partner eventually cheated on me as she was starving emotionally and struggling with her own issues. I felt deeply betrayed and was so confused. How could she leave me after everything I had done for her? As this was not enough, I repeated the exact same experience with a Russian woman and her son a year later. She lived with a violent man who abused her physically. I helped them immigrate to the US as well. Our relationship ended up in the same miserable way and I felt taken advantage, unaware of my own part in the dramas that were unfolding.
These painful experiences made me change my strategy for partners. I felt attracted to stronger and more successful women. However, there needed to be something about these women that was difficult to be with. Something that would keep other men away so that they would not cheat on me. Something that only me could handle so that they would be less likely to abandon me and repeat the abandonment trauma with my mum. The high functioning borderline met these criteria as they share the same abandonment traumas as I did.
Codependents and borderlines are a very common pair. This relationship dynamic allows the codependents to slip into “caretaker” roles, giving priority and focus to problems in the life of the person with BPD (Borderline Personality disorder) rather than to issues in their own lives. No one’s ego likes to see its own dysfunctions as it brings up shame, something especially excruciating for a codependent with a weak sense of self. In these kinds of relationships, the codependent will gain a sense of worth by being “the sane one” and “the responsible one” as he makes the borderline “the crazy one” or “the sick one”. High functioning borderlines are often more narcissistic too. Codependents can provide the narcissist with an obedient and attentive audience that matches the needs of the self-absorbed narcissist. Among the reciprocally interlocking interactions of the pair are the narcissist’s overpowering need to feel important and special and the co-dependent person’s strong need to help others feel that way. Actually, borderline/narcissistic people are only able to create relationships with codependents. A healthy individual with an authentic self could not alternate the roles of perpetrator, rescuer and victim that the borderline requires. Only the codependent can do this as a personality split is required. Their lives together are an endless roller coaster and they alternate control during crises. The codependents submit and weather the storm as the borderlines/narcissists get into their rant or rage. They know however that it is just a matter of time for the borderlines/narcissists to crash. At that time, they can play their favorite caretaker role and get back in control once again. For this reason, it is in the interest of the codependents to worsen and not improve their partners’ mental health. This is a dark side of codependents that only few people understand. This is why they are called enablers. They are enabling and feeding on the most dysfunctional aspects of their partners instead of keeping them accountable for their harmful actions. The borderline is seen in most psychology books as the evil one and the codependent as the good one but the reality is that their shadows are a perfect mirror of each other. The codependent is actually more dangerous as his darkness is more covert. I have worked with many women that had violent and sexually abusive fathers. I have found that they experienced even deeper traumas with their own mothers as they looked the other way and made excuses for their husbands’ behaviors all during the time the abuse was taking place. The child would feel hope as the codependent mother would complain about the father behind his back but felt betrayed over and over again as the mother showed her loyalty to her husband first in her actions. The borderline and the codependent mirror each other attachment traumas, core shame, lack of self-esteem and pathological loneliness. These attributes are directly expressed with the borderline and repressed with the codependent.
Through introspection and the observation of codependents through the diverse communities I have been part of, I have dived deeper into the characteristics of the codependents that I will share with you below. I was able to see the horror of my own psychological make-up through external mirrors and started healing it as a result. I hope you can do the same as you see aspects of yourself in a vulnerable way through the examples below.
No sense of self, low self‐esteem, poor boundaries, absence of conscience
In its broadest definition, a codependent is someone who cannot function from their innate self and whose thinking and behavior is instead organized around another person, or even an organization, or substance. This condition originates from childhood trauma. In the dysfunctional family, the child learns to become attuned to the parent’s needs and feelings instead of the other way around. As a result, the child becomes disconnected from his authentic feelings, as there was no space for the essence of who he is. Codependent people are fixated on another person for approval or sustenance and need to attach themselves to a stronger personality. Poor self‐esteem lowers your expectations of being treated well so we accept the unreasonable demands from our narcissistic/borderline partner with little resistance. Growing up in dysfunctional families, we learn to not trust our perceptions and what we know. We just abide by the narcissist. Most codependents find themselves in relationships where their primary role is that of rescuer, supporter, and confidante. These helper types are often dependent on the other person’s poor functioning to satisfy their own emotional needs and this is the only time they find a sense of self-worth. The codependents cannot believe they can be loved for who they are so they are asking to be given a role where they can be used by their narcissistic partner. They hope to make themselves indispensable through this role so that they would not be abandoned. Their abandonment fears and core shame overpower their conscience so they have lost their inner compass to what is right or wrong. They have delegated it instead to the narcissist, the organization of the substance. As a result, codependents lack authentic and inner accountability. Instead, they do things to stay out of trouble from their partners. They have the feeling to always walk on eggshells as they spend their lives to please their partners and loved ones from the often contradictory feedback they receive externally instead of relying on their inner guidance system that they have shut down to survive their early childhood. Let me give you a couple of examples that I have witnessed personally.
A confidante of a spiritual teacher was asked to lead a group through a process. She started working with the group but in the middle of it, she felt her presence was required next to her teacher so she left without notice leaving all attendees open, vulnerable & incomplete in their healing.
In the cult the Fellowship of Friends, a woman who was struggling raising her child for both financial and emotional reasons asked the narcissistic cult leader what to do. The leader never had children, did not like to be around children and was a sexual predator. He told her to give him for adoption to a couple he designated. Though they were taken by surprise, all parties complied. This left the child with severe abandonment traumas.
A man fell madly in love with a woman but she came from a higher social class. They married and had a child but he compensated his social status insecurity by becoming a workaholic and building/running a successful trucking business. One day, the child died in a car accident. When his wife informed him of the tragedy, he responded he would come after he was done with all his meetings of the day. When he finally came home, he told his wife that nothing could be done, as the son was already dead so life had to go on. The wife left him, as she felt her husband was as sensitive as a cold stone. He later collapsed emotionally and became homeless.
A son visited his dad after not seeing him for 2 years to celebrate his grandmother birthday with him. He spent a day with him then asked to have a walk with him to talk. The father who was afraid that he would get in trouble with his wife (his stepmum) to spend more time away from her encouraged his son to leave right away. The son could not tell him in person that he was getting a divorce with his wife.
As a prank, I showed the most ridiculous video once of an individual portraying himself as a tantric master and I told the manager of a spiritual teacher that she wanted to work with him and invite him to her facility. Though he was conservative and in any other circumstances would have been outraged at the video, he expressed that he was impressed with the tantric teacher and would do the necessary to bring him. I was in complete disbelief that the prank worked so well with no resistance on his part.
A community member of a spiritual teacher fell in love with a woman. He wanted to have children with her but his teacher could not handle having children around him. His teacher required him to continue living with him at the same time. He complied and buried the issue. His girlfriend eventually left him as she understood her family life and her needs would be always second to the whims of his partner’s spiritual teacher.
Enabling the dysfunctional relationship by feeding the partner’s shadows
As we have learned previously, the codependent is an enabler that does not make his narcissistic partner accountable in any way. As a result, the partners’ mental health continue to decline and his narcissistic and paranoid tendencies get worse overtime. While this is true that the narcissists’ natural tendency would be to be comforted in their drama, and have little interest for personal accountability, the codependent enabling tendencies make it much worse. There is a famous quote from Edmund Burke “The only thing necessary for the triumph of evil is for good men to do nothing”. The codependents are these “good men” that do nothing. Codependents and narcissists feed each other false selves as they grow more unhealthy dependency with each other. To survive the dysfunctional environment, the codependent has learned not to challenge the narcissist and on the opposite to play with their shadows to ensure his safety. In return, the narcissist gets addicted to the false validation he gets from the codependent. They both isolate from the rest of the world so that they may not be challenged in their vision of reality. As the borderline/narcissists get more controlled by their addictions, shadows and inflated sense of self, the more they may be controlled by the codependent. Edmund Burke said also “Flattery corrupts both the receiver and the giver”. Why it is one thing to boost our loved ones’ self confidence, it is another thing to feed their inflated sense of self. By using flattery on his narcissistic partner, the codependent understands he can kill two birds at once. He gains his favor while isolating him from potential rivals. I remember a situation where a follower was shamed for hours by a spiritual teacher and his codependent manager for recommending a change of schedule where another teacher would come on the last day of the program. The codependent manager of the spiritual teacher insisted he was the best of the world so that he had to conclude the program. The spiritual teacher fell for it and went on a rant for hours how this so-called fan could even dare to propose this change of schedule. He was very insecure and insisted for anyone around him to always say he was the best in the world. If anyone would see the value in another spiritual teacher, they would have to face the borderline rage of the teacher that was fueled by the codependent manager. Over time, he developed paranoia for anyone who could potentially compete with him so he got rid of his best disciples, which also comforted the codependent manager who felt insecure with anyone who could have direct access to the teacher. A “royal court” was formed around the teacher that isolated him from reality, and consequently his mental health declined at a rapid pace as his narcissism turned into megalomania.
Denial is prevalent for both the borderline/narcissists and their codependent partners. By staying as victims, they avoid facing their own shame. They both play an elaborate dance to construct a reality that boost each other ego but isolate them from the rest of the world. While the codependent gets rewarded by praise, appreciation, a sense of control, attention and often financial security from their dominant partner, the narcissist gets a sense of security and personal power as their self-concept stays unchallenged. As the pattern amplifies, the chance for this duo to build or maintain any authentic relationship become smaller and smaller. The narcissistic partner thinks he is the one in control however the more their ego get inflated, the more controllable they become by their co-dependent partner that lead the way from behind the scenes. The codependent feeds on the partner’s mental health issues. They may get drown and overwhelmed at times by their partner narcissistic episodes but they know it is just a matter of time for them to regain control as their partners’ steam run out. The narcissist cannot have friends. He can only have employees, followers or fans, basically transactional relationships.
The codependent pattern will encourage the negative behavior “I am serving your father a glass of Whiskey because he needs to relax after a long day” while a more healthy partner will set a clear boundary “If you continue drinking I will have no other choice to leave though I love you very much”. A friend of mine contacted me recently. She broke up with a boyfriend she loved very much because he started being abusive with her. It broke her heart to do it but she knew this was the only way to wake him up. This is the difference between codependent and healthy relationships. The codependent will feed your shadows to be in control and create more unhealthy dependency. Healthy partners will not hesitate to confront you on your shadows even at their detriment. An intimate relationship is the closest mirror we can have. Do you choose to mirror your partner light or darkness? And remember by doing this, you are doing else then mirroring your own light and darkness. By committing to support your partners to become the best version of themselves, you are doing the same to yourself. Codependents choose to do the opposite because of their own insecurity.
The codependents cannot meet their needs directly so they manipulate
This came from childhood trauma. The codependent was simply an accessory to their primary caregivers narcissistic needs. They never received the mirroring they needed to discover their authentic selves. Not only are they unable to meet their needs directly but they are simply completely unaware of their needs. They are actually terrified to figure out what their needs are as this would mean they could be rejected or ridiculed for wanting what they need. It feels so much safer to say their needs do not matter or focus instead on the needs of others. They place a lower priority on their own needs, while being excessively preoccupied with other people needs. For this reason, many codependents learn to be self‐sufficient and to deny their emotional needs, and this is not sustainable. They match perfectly their narcissistic partners that are self-focused on their own needs. If your important emotional needs were shamed or ignored in your childhood, would you not grow up shutting down the feelings associated with those needs? Why would you feel a need if you do not expect it to be filled? It is less painful to deny it entirely. However, no one can un-need what they need so they live in state of emotional starvation and develop manipulation strategies to meet their needs indirectly.
Manipulationthrough communication triangulation, being double faced, alienation and” Divide and Conquer” strategies
Codependency is more about why and how you do things than what you do. Their actions are often driven by not getting in trouble with their partners instead of doing what feels right according to their authentic self (that they do not know). They rarely perform any action from their heart instead they expect something in return. They have a transactional mind. Codependent parents would often remind children of all the sacrifice they endured to raise them to adulthood. If they want to be touched by their partners, they would offer to give them a massage instead of asking directly for their needs. The massage would not feel good because of the feeling of expectation. And if the partner does not reciprocate, they are then punished emotionally through withdrawal. If they want a night girl out, they would ask their male counterpart if they would be interested to spend a weekend away with his friends. If they would like to bring their parents over, they would encourage their partners to have their parents visit. Once their partners express their own needs, then they feel they are allowed to express their own needs. It is an exhausting way to live life and they are continuously set-up for disappointment. A relationship is not about keeping counts but it is about meeting each other needs in a mutually beneficial way. When someone does not express their needs directly, the probability for someone else to meet these needs go drastically down. Because of their deep shame, they spend a lot of energy justifying why they need what they need. They react often in a passive aggressive way when they unexpressed needs are unmet. I knew a woman that was in love with another woman but she could not face the truth that she was a lesbian. She made herself her caregiver. Once she felt she had leverage by becoming more indispensable, she would threaten she may leave to find the love of her life (often described as a male). This would make the other woman panic however it was obvious that she did not intend to go anywhere. She eventually succeeded in splitting her with her husband by becoming what she felt the other woman really wanted and by showing her the incompatibilities she perceived with the husband the other woman loved. These types of relationship are doomed and I can speak from experience. I have too attracted lovers and partners by pretending to be what they wanted to see. However we can only hide for so long. Once the real us come out, our partners feel duped and they make our lives impossible. A common ploy for codependents interested in a woman that is a single mum is to build rapport with her children. They understand the intense guilt the targeted partner is experiencing from not providing a full-time and caring father to her children. Overtime, however, the single mum often realizes that the new partner never truly cared or had true ownership with their children. And if the man leaves the relationship, there is no interest in maintaining the relationship with the children.
The codependent cannot be trusted because he is double faced. He shows a different face for every different person he is interacting with. He is a people pleaser and adapts his messaging accordingly. I am also guilty to have played the same codependent game with my company executives in the past. A vice president would come to my office complaining about the behavior of another executive that they would consider bossy, disrespectful and unprofessional. I would empathize with her and would confirm the flaws she had noticed in him. Then the other executive would stop by my office complaining about the immaturity and lack of experience about the first one. I would validate the same way, happy to get rapport through opposition. I felt good and important as the rescuer. However I was undermining my management team spirit and cohesion. Then I was acting surprised why these grown-up executive cannot get along and keep fighting! Overtime, they lost trust with me as they could feel my lack of authenticity.
During one of my divorces, I trusted an individual to act as an intermediary of my wife to act on her behalf, as she was too emotional to take care of legal details of the split. He was very nice and amicable with me while I realized only months later, he was disparaging me behind my back as friends made me listen to voice mails he was leaving about me. Instead of making things better with my ex wife, he kept putting oil on the fire to antagonize each other behind our backs. Both she and I felt very thankful to him at the time to act as a mediator as the other party seemed crazy and ill intentioned not realizing he was largely responsible for the increased strife between us through triangulation. The intermediary ended up getting married to my former spouse!
The codependent learned at an early age to manipulate their caregivers to survive emotionally in a dysfunctional environment. They are excellent at identifying the blind spots to the people around them for their benefit. The can place shame on others to manipulate a situation and then use charm to come off caring as their typical fashion to get what they want from others. They are experts in alienation and playing on people fears. They identify a weakness in a rival and makes a crack looks like a canyon while they state how different they are. Sometimes they just make things up and hope they will get away with it. A friend of mine did not know anything about finances so her business manager puts doubts in her mind that her husband was embezzling money to create a rift in their relationship as the manager was in love with her. He also showed her how her husband was a liability to her career while at the very same time he kept complementing the husband on his contribution to her business. The wife fell for it and divorced the husband while she was away from the husband on a business trip while the manager took on the savior role. The manger continued to ensure there would be no contact between them so that she would never figure out the manipulation that had taken place. “Divide and conquer” is the favorite power dynamic of the codependent.
I knew a lady that lived with her best friend and his girlfriend. Both girls used to get along very well. He was very codependent and made his girlfriend feel he cannot fully present to her because of the commitment he has towards his best friend that was also his employer. He made his friend/employer insecure that telling her that he cannot be really there for her because of his relationship to his girlfriend, which he claimed was the most important thing in his life. As a result, the two ladies that really adored each other started feeling threatened with one another.
When we did not receive enough nurturing or had your feelings respected, we may attempt to fill this void with an addiction. Addictive relationships or substances serve as a substitute for real connection. Some people are caretakers who hope to receive love in return but are unable to be vulnerable about their own feelings, which is necessary to maintain an intimate relationship.
Many who don’t recognize their needs for support and comfort isolate — especially when they’re hurting. Even with awareness of their needs, asking someone to meet them can feel humiliating.
As a result, many people turn to some addiction. Many of my clients had a codependent father or mother that was alcoholic. I had an uncle that was a gambler to compensate for the lack of intimacy in his marriage. I became a workaholic and the high intensity of running a Silicon Valley business was my own way of compensating. Some men escape in following sports on TV while many women do the same with their soap operas. The options of escape are endless to avoid feeling the lack of intimacy and connection that we are experiencing.
The goal of the addiction is to prevent us from experiencing painful feelings, often originating from childhood traumas. It is critical we allow ourselves to sit with these painful emotions and do shadow work when they come up instead of falling for an addiction to escape. As we experience consciously these difficult feelings, we will start healing and eventually generate the desires to make the necessary changes in our life to create a life that genuinely feels good.
Replaying trauma from childhood
Codependency is often associated with abusive, addictive, or controlling home environments. Or it may be the product of emotional neglect and absence. Any painful experience from childhood has the potential to become a trauma that can affect our present actions. Fortunately, there are many modalities today that can support soul retrieval so that you do not need to manifest into your life the original trauma. I knew a woman who suffered incest from her brutal father all of her childhood. As a child and teenager, she kept fantasizing that mum would leave dad to save her. Unfortunately, mum was very codependent and an enabler to the abuse so the rapes continued into adulthood. She brought that intense desire into her adult self and she became a close confidante to a married woman. The wife had suffered a lot of abuse too in her childhood in the hands of a psychopath. They both replayed their drama and made the husband the bad guy they had to escape from. The husband was ostracized overnight and completely cut from his family. Even months after the separation had taken place, they were still making lists to demonize the poor fellow. The husband was abandoned by his mum when he was a child so this is why he was a match to this experience as well. There are no bad people only people who have been traumatized. If their childhood traumas are not healed, people will have a tendency to replay them in their adult lives. If they are unable to heal, their traums will unfortunately repeat into the next generation, the lives of their children. This is why soul retrieval and trauma healing are the most important thing we will ever do.
Unhealthy dependency instead of autonomy
Human beings are a social species so we need each other to live a good life. There are healthy dependencies and unhealthy ones too. The codependent has the later form of dependency. Their fear of loneliness would keep them in abusive and dysfunctional relationships instead of looking for better options for partners. In a codependent relationship, the codependent’s sense of purpose is based on making extreme sacrifices to satisfy their partner’s needs. Codependent relationships signify a degree of unhealthy “clinginess”, where one person does not have self-sufficiency or autonomy. One or both parties depend on their loved one for fulfillment. In romantic relationships that do not involve children, we need to remember that the individual in the relationship is more important than the relationship. There should be no coercion in such relationships. The codependents need to be committed to put themselves first and accept that it is better to be alone than being with people that are not ready to accept and love their authentic selves. Of course, they first need to figure out what this authentic self is all about. Once they make this step, they will be on their way to create a life that feels good. Thich Naht Hanh said “You must love in a way that the person you love feels free”. To become autonomous is to able to share a life with a loved one without trying to possess or control him/her. We do not need to possess him/her because they live within us. It is not anymore a relationship where two become one, but two become three: the two partners and the relationship. They create a conscious relationship instead of being consumed by it.
How bad can codependency get?
The Selena story
Selena Quintanilla-Perez was an American singer that achieved international fame. Her story was immortalized in the Selena movie starring Jennifer Lopez. As Selena’s singing schedule became more demanding, she came to rely on Yolanda Saldivar, a San Antonio nurse who had founded her fan club in 1991 and was a devoted follower of the band. The family did not realize how much of a sycophant she was. Shy, plain-looking, and eleven years Selena’s senior, Saldivar made herself indispensable, taking on the job of managing the boutiques and eventually becoming Selena’s confidante. Selena had a caring but narcissistic father that was ruling the whole family. As a result, Selena desperately needed a confidante outside her family circle. That’s when Yolanda stepped into her life and made it seem like she was taking care of everything. Yolanda appeared to everyone like someone sweet, like a mother figure. She used to mother people around her and ask, “Do you need anything, m’ijo/a?”. Yolanda managed to gain a lot of importance in Selena’s life. Whether Selena realized it or not, Yolanda became her filter and gatekeeper. Selena had lots of friends working for her at the beginning of her career. Once Yolanda came on board, she got rid of Selena’s friends one by one. Anyone who captured Selena’s attention, she eliminated. After the family found out that Yolanda was taking advantage of her position to steal money, she felt her life was over and shot Selena to death as her life felt meaningless without Selena. By killing her, Yolanda assured that her name would be associated with Selena for eternity.
Wild Wild Country: Osho and Sheela
A recent documentary Wild Wild Country narrates the rise and fall of Osho Rajneesh, a gifted and controversial spiritual leader that set-up a community in the US state of Oregon. Osho’s passion was teaching spirituality and waking up his followers through various healing modalities. He trusted a young and a very ambitious early disciple of his: Ma Anand Sheela to deal with all the material and organizational aspects in creating the community. Osho liked reclusion and long periods of time for meditation and contemplation so he let naively Sheela take more and more power. For a very long time, she was the only one meeting with Osho and through communication triangulation, she was able to dictate all important decisions in the community. People started to fear her. Power went to her head, as she obviously did not have the experience, integrity and wisdom to handle this level of responsibility and decision-making. She created her own group of devotees and instructed some of them to perform unethical actions. For example, he convinced one of her close follower to kill a doctor that she felt was getting too close to Osho. Unbeknownst to Osho, she built a multi million dollar center to spy on all community members. She armed the community, brought thousands of homeless people from all over the country to win county elections and poisoned the water of the nearby town. During this time, Osho was doing a 3 years’ silent. The whole state of Oregon that had been antagonized by Sheela’s actions was on high alert to bring the community down. Sheela was finally arrested but US officials felt it was safer to bring Osho down too. He was arrested too, and suffered such bad treatment in custody that he died a few months later.
These are some of the most extreme forms of codependency and everyone can see how dangerous it can be. Idolatry can flatter the ego but everything is a transaction for the codependent. It is just a matter of time that they will come for their due once the dependency is complete. Every relationship is a mirror and one cannot be controlling in a relationship without being controlled oneself. We eventually receive what we give in a relationship. How do you recognize a dysfunctional relationship from a healthy one? The dysfunctional one puts you down while the healthy one will make you a better human being.
My mother was raised in the French foster system. My father was a product of the Second World War and only reconnected with his mum when he was 10. As a result, they suffered from severe attachment trauma and shame. She was a discouraged borderline struggling with depression and he was a codependent that lost his ability to feel. Because my father was mostly absent, I was parentified and developed a fusional relationship with my mother. Both my sister and I could not receive in this family environment the emotional nurturing we needed to develop secure attachment. I coped by being the best at school and in general the best boy possible so I became the Golden Child and started building strong codependent tendencies. My sister struggled to cope in this family environment and became the Scapegoat and started developing borderline tendencies. When I was 9, our parents divorced. Mum could not cope anymore with the emotional unavailability of dad, and left overnight leaving both my sister and me behind to live with her new companion. She was clumsy in explaining to us her departure. At that point in my life, my mum was everything. She was a stay-at-home, we spent a lot of time together and I was meant to fill the emotional void my dad had left. We had a fusional relationship. While it is natural for a 9 year old to be dependent upon his mother, my dependency was even more pronounced, as she was so afraid of being alone. To make it worse, when she ran away, I was left with an emotionally unavailable father. My new stepmother was a petulant borderline. As a codependent, my dad needed to appear as the good guy so played sides instead of fighting for inclusion. As a result, she saw us as a clear threat to her relationship to our dad. This led to a second abandonment where my dad gave us away back to my mum and we hardly saw him after that. This second abandonment was very hard on me as I asked my dad to stay with him. Though he was an absent father, I had developed an intense fear around my mum unpredictability so felt safer to stay with him at the time instead of going back to mum. But he just gave me back to mum without even giving to us an explanation. As a result, my child self developed the core belief of being “bad”, in fact “very bad” for parents not wanting to be with me. And shortly after being reunited with mum, both sets of parents had a baby son. This reinforced how bad we had to be that we needed to be replaced. My goal in sharing this story is not to throw my parents under the bus as I have repeated myself many of their mistakes but to share with the readers how attachment traumas are created.
I coped with the deep core belief of being so bad by becoming a hyper-achiever. I had a bright mind and used it to my advantage to bury my core shame of being unlovable so that my achievements could give me the positive attention I was desperately craving for. To cope with my attachment trauma, all my focus turned into the goal of being admitted to Ecole Polytechnique, the most prestigious engineering school of France. To reach that goal, I worked insanely for the 2 years after high school. I would study until 12:30 AM every night and only give myself Saturday afternoon to bike in the Cote d’Azur countryside. As it was a national exam, I was competing with the brightest and most hard-working students in my age category in France. I became interested in the occult as a short cut to become super smart as I felt being the best was the only way I could be loved. Actually many kids today that are fascinated by the Marvel super hero movies and comics feel very powerless and out of control as they feel unlovable in their present state. I ended up not making it to Ecole Polytechnique but to the second best engineering school of France Ecole Centrale Paris, which was an excellent achievement. While I thought reaching my goal would bring me happiness, the opposite happened. I had lost the goal that was distracting me from my misery. I felt distressed and I could not explain why. I did not feel I belonged anywhere. I started drinking heavily and my connection with women was limited to meaningless one-night stands. I started developing a profound disgust to myself. I had read lots of books from Osho Rajneesh (see documentary Wild Wild West on Netflix) and I enjoyed very much his provocative insights, vast knowledge and wisdom. One day, when I felt particularly miserable and was looking for an answer, I drew a card from his tarot deck. It was the Master card, the 79th card in Osho’s tarot deck. I interpreted the meaning of this card that I had to find a master because I felt so stuck. Awakening felt like the answer to my suffering. An occult group in Paris was leaving bookmarks in Osho Rajneesh books. It was called The Fellowship of Friends that proclaimed to be a fourth way school following the teaching of Gurdjieff and Ouspensky, two famous Russian mystics. Osho spoke frequently of Gurdjieff in his books. I contacted them and after three prospective meetings, I was determined to join to put an end to my misery and isolation.
At first, my experience in the cult was exhilarating. I felt an intense sense of belonging, I was given a new meaning for my life, I was surrounded with many smart, mature and wise people, my mind was stimulated by new and fascinating esoteric knowledge, my ego was gratified by feeling among the chosen ones and having a direct connection to God (called Influence C in that group), I was developing deeper connections with people and my life became full of new exciting experiences and adventures. Being in a cult at that time was actually an improvement to my state compared to the powerlessness, isolation, addiction and depression that I had been struggling with. Actually, a lot of people go from substance or sexual addiction to becoming fundamentalist newborn Christians, this is actually an improvement too. There is a reason why the 12-step program is so religious.
If you want to better understand the type of cult I joined, you may be interested to watch the documentary Holy Hell on Netflix. Both my cult leader Robert Earl Burton and Michel Rostand in Holy Hell are megalomaniac and homosexual predators. They believe they are fully awakened. They are highly manipulative and believe that it is an honor to be used by them. They are very authoritative and exercise full control over the life of their members. Robert’s group the fellowship of friends was a bit larger than Michel’s as it reached over 3,000 members at its prime time. Robert demanded 10% of every member income, sex from any male member he found attractive (most of them being heterosexual and having no interest to have sex with a man) and compliance to his instructions as he saw himself more evolved than Christ himself.
In most cases unfortunately, a guru/disciple relationship is nothing else than a narcissist/co-dependent relationship. It is a dysfunctional relationship where needs are met in ways that are destructive, manipulative and covert. What is the dynamic of this dysfunctional relationship? Because of their attachment traumas, the co-dependents have developed core shame and believe they are bad and as a result, there are unable to see their own light. They have disown their light and their guru has disowned his shadow. The relationship that they are developing with a narcissistic guru will then reflect their unworthiness and they are therefore a perfect match to their cult leader because of their core belief of being bad. The codependents are attracted to the charm, boldness, confidence and domineering personality of the narcissist. The codependents reflexively give up their power; since the narcissist thrives on control and power, there is an intense attraction between them. The narcissist guru find recruits who lack self-worth, confidence and who have low self-esteem — codependents. Through smart manipulation the narcissist leader is able to conceal his lower motives and maintain an unsullied reputation—at least in the beginning. They are often highly intelligent, possess esoteric information that is very attractive to their followers, and are well aware of mind control techniques. Most use the technique of undermining the follower’s sense of self by subtle criticism or exposing personally embarrassing situations to trigger their core shame—all this in the name assisting the person to transcend ego. They establish their superiority over their followers by claiming super powers that cannot be verified. For example, Robert would claim “I have fully developed higher centers”, “I live in a pure state of presence & being”, “I am omnipresent, omniscient and omnipotent”. Anyone questioning the claims of the guru is shamed for lacking faith, devotion or is seen as disruptive for the group cohesion. Because co-dependents have such fear of abandonment, they typically err on the safe side by unconditionally siding with the guru’s views with the rest of the followers. Over time, even as the disciples become aware of the guru abuse, they look the other way, as they understand that the cult leader owns the relationships in the group and any opposition would mean ex-communication, which is perceived as the worst possible punishment for people with abandonment traumas. Once we have accepted the cult as our family, we are stuck. There is another important reason why it is so difficult to leave these dangerous cults. We have disowned our relationship to our Creator, God or Source and believed we are dependent on the group and the cult leader to access it. Leaving the group is then associated with cutting our connection to the divine, which is a deeply entrenched fear in humans. We have been controlled for millenniums by the fear of rotting in hell for eternity. When I announced my departure of the cult to Robert in 1996, he warned me that I would lose my connection to “Influence C” (i.e. God). At the end, I only lost my connection to a demon 😉
I had made the Fellowship of Friends my family, I was part of the cult inner circle, I had adopted the cult beliefs and language, I had very little connection with my blood family. So how was I able to leave it when I was only 23 confronting the cult leader Robert Earl Burton on my last day while so many other more mature, smarter and experienced members stayed stuck there for so many years?
First, I stayed in contact with a French healer Jacques who I intuitively felt had many more spiritual abilities than my guru who claimed to be God on earth. He helped my deprogramming in smart and subtle ways.
I was not completely dependent on the group as I just started a programmer job in Silicon Valley.
I rented a room in a house with an individual that had his own teacher Elias De Mohan, a remarkably psychic man that was not cultish. This again challenged Robert’s claim that he was the most conscious being on earth.
After attending so many Robert’s events, he looked like a parrot repeating the same thing over and over again so I did not feel I was learning anything new anymore.
The cult organization destroyed my relationship with a woman I was deeply in love with and built resentment toward the cult as a result.
I understood how wasteful Robert was with money and I did not want him to do this with 10% of my income now that I had a good job.
However, I think the biggest factor came from my own attachment trauma. I had lost my family already when I was a kid and knew I could survive it. Or maybe subconsciously, I wanted to re-experience the pain of losing my family again for healing purpose. In any case, my own trauma benefited me in this situation.
Most of my friends in the cult ended up only leaving the cult 13 years later after all the abuse was made public through this public blog.
In summary, here is what the cult member gets from the transaction:
The cult member gets his core belief of being unlovable, bad and unworthy validated, replaying childhood attachment trauma. Many co-dependents have learned that they only get loved by being down on themselves and making the other better than they are
The cult member gets belonging & connection with like-minded individuals. He gets a new family (with conditional love)
The cult members gets to experience the divine and higher part of them that they have disowned through the guru
The cult member gets a sense of (false) security through the guru self-confidence, assertiveness, and views on the meaning of life that are simple to understand
The cult member gets new goals and activities so that he does not have to face his own inner turmoil and demons anymore. He is given a new direction that prevents him to dwell more on his/her own misery so feels better as a result. Actually, many of these activities allow the individual to develop his creativity far more than what he was doing in the past. The caveat is that the guru is the one benefiting financially for the disciple newfound creativity, not the individual
These benefits provide enough value to the disciple that they will often surrender their free will, financial resources and even their own body to the leader. Disappointment with the leader, acknowledgement of the abuse will eventually force the follower to re-own his own power and needs, stand on his own feet to live his own life, a more authentic life. At this stage, the follower feels angry, betrayed and intense grief. What was heaven now seems hell. Eventually, they will need to digest this experience in more objective terms for true healing to take place. They feel like a victim but eventually needs to own how their own attachment traumas played a role to be a match to this experience. They will able to take responsibility for joining a cult and forgiving themselves for doing so. Actually, many people are able to create fulfilling and successful lives after a cult experience if they can learn all the lessons that came with it.
Paradoxically, cult leaders hold often even more core shame than their followers. Their shame is so repressed that they can only see it externally through their own disciples. We have to remember that cult leaders and followers, just like narcissists and co-dependents are simply the mirrored repressed aspects of each other. Many cult leaders are hyper achievers to cover up their own sense of inadequacy, and many have developed special abilities to maintain the illusion of personal greatness so that they would never have to face how bad they actually feel about themselves. Actually, both cult leaders and their members are in a state of dysfunctional and unhealthy dependency. The guru deals with his insecurity around that dependency by creating a large narcissistic supply of followers to ensure that his needs would always be met. It is actually harder for the guru to growth and heal as he has completely disowned his shame and buried his vulnerability. Actually, therapists see a lot of codependents but narcissists never come to their office. This is because narcissists can never admit there is something wrong with them while codependents are so good at finding fault within themselves as they have learned to get rewarded and receive love for showing their imperfection to the narcissist. All cult leaders suffered from severe trauma from their childhood that they never healed. Theo Dorpat wrote in his book “Wounded Monster” about the importance of Hitler’s (the most infamous cult leader of all times) childhood trauma to explain his destructive behaviors.
What does the cult leader gets from the transaction?
It feels alone at the top so actually the cult leader in most case does not get belonging or connection. He feels often alone and disconnected from others. They are unable to develop equal authentic relationships with others as they see the world in a hierarchical way. This is why so many cult leaders, especially if they are men, turn into sex addicts. Sex is the only way they can get the connection they desperately need. In general, the cult leader will get his followers to talk his or her love language whether it is act of service, words of affirmation, gifts, time together or touch to fill the void of their pathological loneliness. The bigger the void, the bigger the need for external adoration. The same pattern can be observed with stars and their fans, or with any narcissistic leader and their subordinates.
The leader gets tremendous energy from their followers and it typically feeds their lower shakras because of lack of purity and integrity: financial security with the first shakra, sexual gratification with the second shakra or power with the third shakra. This energy rarely reached the higher shakras because their character has been perverted: the fourth to experience pure love for their followers through service (ex. burning heart of Christ), the fifth to express it creatively, the sixth to lead with vision and the seventh to stay aligned with the rest of creation.
Ego is nothing else than the illusion of separateness. As the ego gets gratified, the identification with the ego becomes stronger and stronger and the connection with the authentic self weaker and weaker. They become sociopathic then psychopathic as their disorder develops. This means that they are able to cut their own unpleasant feelings through rationalization. As a result, they repress their own emotional pain & suffering which now become externalized in the pain & suffering of their followers that have not completely cut the connection to their heart.
Gurus are often high-functioning psychopath that display superficial charm, a grandiose sense of self, lack of remorse or empathy, lack of introspection, cunning behavior, lying, egocentricity, parasitic lifestyle, and more often than not, sexual exploitation. While their followers admire them, their psychological condition is often worse than the people they abuse. Behind close doors, they are deeply tormented and often resort to diverse addictions to shut the door of their own conscience torturing them. Their mental health is plagued with anti-social disorders, paranoia and self-hatred.
What do they need to heal? A collapse of their universe with people turning against them and keeping them accountable for their own actions. In 1996, during the third year at my cult, I went to Russia. The Soviet block had collapsed and there was a lot of interest for spirituality. I start giving there teaching dinners and running large meetings about the group teaching. The women were beautiful and I was falling in love every day. My success went to my head and I was becoming a mini-guru. The cult leader Robert Burton heard from others that I was taking too much liberty and I was reprimanded and fined at my return to the US. They crushed me and this is the best thing they could have done to downsize my ego that had got too inflated. Of course, the fact that he punished me for actions he would do himself behind people’s back did not sit too well for me and acted as a catalyst for me to leave.
Of course, not all spiritual teachers are narcissist or have dysfunctional parasitic relationship with their followers. What is most important for those seeking spiritual guidance is to keep their critical thinking alive as they approach any spiritual teacher. The questions they must ask ourselves are:
Does this teacher walk his/her talk? Does this teacher live by the precepts he/she teaches?
Is the teacher respectful of you? Do they automatically assume you are below them?
Do they have a grandiose sense of self?
Do you feel manipulated in any way by this person?
Do they require zealous, unquestioning commitment and subservience to the leader?
Is questioning, doubt, and dissent discouraged or even punished?
Is the group elitist, claiming a special, exalted status for itself, its leader and members?
Does the leadership induce feelings of shame and/or guilt in order to influence and/or control members?
Do they encourage members to cut ties with family and friends outside the group? Are members encouraged or required to live and/or socialize only with other group members?
Does the group use subtle maneuvers to make it difficult for you to leave? Do they punish you if you leave? Are you ostracized if you leave the group?
Once these question are answered to your satisfaction, this somewhat suspicious stance can be relinquished in order to assimilate the instruction you desire, and to create an open-hearted relationship with your spiritual teacher.