Book added to Recommended Reading section


Daniel Shaw is the current admin of the Leaving Siddha Yoga website and his book Traumatic Narcissism: Relational Systems of Subjugation was developed from an earlier essay entitled Traumatic Abuse in Cults which he wrote after leaving Siddha Yoga. Due to his personal familiarity with Siddha Yoga and consequently Shiva Yoga and it’s leaders (which is an offshoot of Siddha Yoga), his book is highly recommended. Available on, excerpt from Chapter 3 below:

“For those not familiar with cult phenomena, it can be quite astonishing to learn how exactly similar from group to group the relational dynamics of leader and follower are, regardless of how outwardly different the group, its ideology, leaders and followers, may be. The following are some of the most common dynamics:

1. Purification of “ego.”  The follower’s deficiencies are grouped under the umbrella of “the ego,” the “monkey mind,” or a similar idea using different words, which is regarded as a harmful appendage or blockage of the true self, and which must therefore be “purified” by the leader for the follower to reach her potential. Purification in the case of cults typically means being subjected to various forms of sadistic belittling and humiliation, including in some cases accepting beatings. Purity may also be judged by one’s willingness to give over most of any money one might have; and/or willingness to be subjected to sexual abuse. Leaders do not have to be grateful for anything they are given or for anything they take from followers – when taking, the leader is understood to actually be giving. George Orwell (1949) identified this sort of mental gymnastics as “Doublethink” and “Newspeak” in 1984, his vision of a world ruled by Stalin-like leaders.

2. Only Perfection is Good Enough. One’s “potential” is defined in any way the leader chooses, but in one form or another, cult leaders are always demanding perfection, in the form of devotion, loyalty, willingness to obey, and willingness and ability to recruit others. By demanding perfection, the leader makes it impossible for the follower to fully succeed at anything, including devotion, and therefore it is impossible for the follower to avoid the leader’s abusive criticism. The follower’s status can be raised, at least temporarily, when he demonstrates his willingness to act, abusively and criminally if need be, in accordance with the principle that whatever end is specified by the leader always justifies any means.

3. Incessant Urgency. The more successful and powerful a particular cult becomes, the greater the risk of public exposure, and therefore, the more urgent and hysterical the culture becomes. Anxiety mounting, the leadership of the group becomes more shameless and without boundaries, demanding more and more time, money and energy of the followers, defining enemies of the group to eventually include anyone not in the group, and becoming increasingly punitive of deviance within the ranks.

4. Violation of Boundaries as a Norm. As followers discover that no effort they make is ever good enough to earn the leader’s full recognition, or to make them exempt from the leader’s destructive attacks, they become more and more desperate to please the leader, becoming willing to let down their own boundaries, and to violate the boundaries of others at the leader’s behest.

5. Inner Deviance Must Be Eradicated. Ultimately, followers act on the belief that only the leader’s thoughts and feelings matter and have validity, and the follower must exist only to serve the leader’s aims. The follower actively seeks to negate any aspect of his own subjectivity which the leader might disapprove of.

6. Defend the Leader No Matter What. To most outside observers, the leader’s aims are clearly nothing more than self-aggrandizement. Insiders, however, in spite of little or no evidence on which to base their assertions, cling stubbornly to the belief that the leader is actually pursuing lofty and noble aims. Asked to do anything to enrich the leader, including, in the case of some notorious groups, prostituting themselves, followers obey and find a way to believe that whatever they do is righteous. By remaining loyal to the leader, the followers persuade themselves that their own existence is given meaning and validity by their support of the leader’s mission.

A cult then can readily be understood as a variant of the traumatizing narcissist’s relational system, in which the leader presents herself as the living embodiment and ultimate master of the principles of her own ideology. Her mission and her ideology are formalized in ways that will vary in the details from one group to another. The group’s goals frequently shift, are proclaimed to the followers with grandiose pomposity, and are often connected to a demand for payment for the privilege of being granted access to the esoteric wisdom. The unstated and disavowed actual goal of any group led by a traumatizing narcissist is for the leader to keep herself in a state of narcissistic hyper-inflation; and the actual job of the follower is to do whatever it takes to help the leader to achieve that aim.

Followers in cults are traumatized in various ways by the different kinds of abuses they are exposed to as they accept the leader’s control over them. Abuse in these situations typically includes intimidation, belittling and humiliation, and more concretely, severe overwork and deprivation of sleep and proper nutrition. The follower’s rewards, which are recognition from the leader and the ensuing prestige they gain within their group, are bestowed and rescinded at the leader’s whim, keeping the follower in a state of instability and fear about displeasing the leader and thereby losing status and favor.

What is often most traumatic for followers who leave cults is the realization that what led them to blind themselves to the sadistic cruelty and the selfishness of the traumatizing narcissist leader was how desperately hungry they became – how willing they became to abandon their own subjectivity and allow themselves to be violated – for any bit of recognition they could get from the leader they idealized. One of the reasons why many of the people who leave cultic groups choose not to identify their own experience as abusive is because to do so would mean acknowledging an extraordinary degree of grief over the loss of a deeply cherished idealized attachment, connected to their most cherished hopes about themselves and about life; along with the unleashing of an extraordinary degree of shame about their own self-deception and gullibility; and shame and rage about the amount of abuse they were willing to endure for the sake of maintaining their tie to the leader. Eventually, the realization that their devotion and labor in the group led to no real personal growth, and to no significant contribution to society, will also become a source of deep shame and regret.”