We, as a true-crime-consuming, armchair-psychologizing public, can't help but be fascinated by the minds of the strangest and most mysterious among us. If you aren't thinking of serial killers right now, you're probably thinking of cult leaders instead. And, in the same way that serial killers share certain tendencies and personality traits, so, too, do cult leaders
To learn more about what makes cult leaders tick, we spoke with cult researcher and author Janja Lalich, PhD, professor emerita of sociology at California State University, Chico.
Regardless of the goals or nature of their cult, most cult leaders behave the way they do in order to cultivate and maintain a power imbalance, Dr. Lalich says. If their followers never know how they are going to react to something, they're in control. If their followers don't know when they'll make their next appearance, they're in control. If their followers can't guess what their next demand will be, yes, they're still in control.
As large as they loom in the public imagination, there's only so much we can know about these enigmatic, notorious figures. Here, Dr. Lalich walks us through four key traits that we can identify in most cult leaders — and why they fuel their rise to notoriety.