The Book Teaser Series: Stupid Narcissism

My book, The Gentle Souls Revolution, is inching towards completion & publication. So, while waiting, I’ve decided to float out book teasers — windows into some content.

MAGA - Stupid Narcissism
“I’m a very stable genius.”

Today, we will explore Stupid Narcissism:(verb) a selfish action or statement that most people would recognize as inconsiderate, egregious and and in the most extreme cases, incriminating. So, behaviors or things that most people would never do or say.

While too often malignantly self-serving people lie, abuse and commit crimes without accountability, I started noticing that the more desperate a narcissist gets, the more likely he or she is to do something that is, well, just stupid. So I started calling those things Stupid Narcissism.

For example, Keith Raniere (malignant narcissism’s current poster child) is now serving a 120-year prison sentence for his crimes. Despite his steep fall from “vanguard” to convict, his delusions of grandeur march on. In the docu-series, The Vow, you can hear Raniere pontificating documentary advice to the producers over the phone from his cellblock. In a slow, deadpan, drippy, voice, he proclaims, “There are many ways of presenting a documentary. Your side is only the very top layer. And depending on what you’re willing to present as the truth, it can go very deep. So, talk to me…”

This level of self aggrandizing is impossible to comprehend: Stupid Narcissism.

Cult leaders, like Raniere, lose control by underestimating their targets. They overplay their hands when soon-to-be former members start realizing, I don’t need this person/group; they need me, or at least the cult version of me. Then narcissistic leaders panic & Stupid Narcissism kicks on.

Robert’s (somewhat) more covert version of Stupid Narcissism kicked on when I told him that I was leaving “school” to save my marriage. He tried to brow beat me back into the cult trotting out two tactics:

Strategy 1: The demonize husband tactic: “Your husband will always try to control you, you know,” He told me. “These. Things. Don’t. Happen… in a vacuum.” The irony of Robert calling my husband a controlling bully, while trying to bully and control me was too funny to ignore.

I remember thinking, …anyone who meets my husband for five minutes, will see that controlling other people is not his thing. Didn’t Robert stop to think that my husband had put up with this weird group lurking in the background of our marriage for five years–as well as the $20,000 expense??? No, of course not, because … well … Stupid Narcissism.

Strategy 2: The empathy ambush tactic: Robert’s voice slowed and softened (like Raniere’s phone call voice). He said, “I’m trying to put myself in your husband’s shoes.” It was so transparently disingenuous, that I felt insulted. I thought, hey, Mr Evolved, I have insomnia. I’m losing weight. I can’t find work while I’m spending our money on “school” — I don’t know my ass from my elbow and you, ‘evolved man,’ are wondering why my husband is worried???

My “school” coma snapped for good. I recognized what Robert J Lifton calls dispensing of existence. You see, for Robert, my well-being didn’t matter. I was inconsequential unless in service to “school.” Stupid Narcissism doesn’t care about me, or you, or anyone else.

So I woke up and said to myself, You know, if I’m going to fuck up my life, I’d rather do it on my own terms.

The most extreme example of Stupid Narcissism that I stumbled over while researching cults came from Charles Manson. During his murder trial in 1969, his desperation accelerated. AP reporter Linda Deutsch recalled: “In court, Manson choreographed a spectacle that included his three co-defendants jumping to their feet and singing songs mocking the judge. At one point, he propelled himself across the table, brandishing a pencil and shouting at the judge: ‘Someone should cut your head off, old man.’”

Mason surely sealed his fate with the dog and pony show. Trial judges don’t suffer fools. Stupid Narcissism.

Stupid Narcissism announces, “Don’t you know who I am!” Social norms, boundaries and safeguards disappear. Then we do, indeed, see who they are. Selfish, shameless and callous people. People incapable of empathy, and bereft of morals, principles, civility, decency, or souls. The pathologically selfish are empty, desperate parasites, who cling to fallacies.

Whether malignant or covert, at the end of the day, all narcissistic cult leaders share an insatiable need to control others. They are all the same. All destroy lives and families and leave messes behind them, in the wake that follows a storm of selfish stupidity.

I don’t know how to keep a check on Stupid Narcissism — what is the societal correction? I don’t have the answer. But education is a good place to start.



 

Indoctrination Podcast – I talk “School” / Odyssey Study Group with Rachel Bernstein 

Happy fall …ish? I guess we’re not quite there, yet. I, personally, love autumn. That’s me.

I’m so excited to share this interview! In the cult-i-verse world, Rachel Bernstein is a household name. She’s a highly respected cult recovery expert, marriage and family counselor and cult interventionist.

She’s also an excellent interviewer and brilliant podcast hostess. As a truly gifted therapist, she asks thoughtful questions, listens deeply and offers feedback that hits the mark.

So, whether you are interested in my cautionary tale, or have other reasons to understand cultic misadventures, I hope that this conversation is helpful!

Here it is: A Safety Guide for Gentle Souls

More to come on my book, The Gentle Souls Revolution, soon! It’s getting close to launching.

That’s it for today!

Thanks for reading,

Esther

The little things & gratitude

Good evening, fellow “disgruntled” ex “students”,

It’s Tuesday night. I’m home cooking, listening to music, drinking a Voodoo Ranger, Hazy IPA, a little buzzed. It’s been so long since I left the “hallowed” / hollow halls, the sometimes I forget.

“School” claimed my Tuesday evenings for 5 f***king years. Damn, it feels good to have them back. I’m so happy to be home, a little buzzed, cooking and listening to tunes. Cheers! I’m just hoping (yep, I typed it … JUST …) that some of you are feeling as free & happy as I am!

So … here’s to your “School”-free Tuesday night!

Cheers, Esther

Book update, Podcast recommendation & more…

In 2016, I started writing a book. Part cult memoir, part research & most importantly, part recovery guide, I’m calling it The Gentle Souls Revolution. I just sent my completed manuscript to the proofreader. Fingers crossed, I will publish it this fall.

While writing I came to my own definition of the word Cult:

a group-perpetrated socio-pathology in which a narcissistic leader fabricates a self-aggrandizing tale, attracts adherents & then directs his/her well-intended believers, as the cast and crew, to act out his or her delusions of grandeur, in a theater of absurdity, produced for an audience of one.

All narcissistic relationships are fictional fiefdoms — narcissists desperately need their delusions of grandeur. So they target, manipulate and assert power over others. Narcissists need others to cater to their needs.

That’s why, if you’re recovering from your “school” misadventure (or any other cult) I recommend the podcast Navigating Narcissism.

In the episode, No Such Thing as a Good Cult, narcissism expert Dr. Ramani Durvursula interviews film maker and NXIVM whistle-blower, Mark Vicente. The parallels between Raniere/NXVIM & Sharon/Robert/ “school” are obvious:

1) The “hope” market: “School” & NXIVM both marketed hope to seekers & idealists. People who were seeking meaningful lives and community and struggled with their own sense of worth the most were more vulnerable.

Vicente was in search of human goodness & he suffered from the all-too familiar “Never good enough syndrome.” His film What the Bleep Do We Know, popular in new age circles, made him a public figure. His spoke of his dream was to “…use media to make the world better” in various interviews. NXIVM recruiters listened. The cult sought him out & groomed him – He told Dr. Ramani, “They studied me very carefully …they told me everything that I wanted to hear.”

2) The love bombing: Like my “school” recruiter (also known as “new friend”) his recruiter got to know him & customized the bait: We really see you! We believe in you! We can help you do the thing, become the person & realize your potential. We applaud your dream. We are aligned with you!

Cults/narcissists leverage hopes. This tactic has a name: future faking. They promise the moon, but never deliver, because they are promising a fiction. The point is to leverage the fiction and use your needs against you. They claim that you’ll get the moon, if you work hard enough. You earn it by (as they said in “school”) “working on yourself.” Over time, it becomes clear that you can never do or be enough. That moon will always be out of reach.

3) The grooming: Vicente calls this process “Data-mining insecurities …” Pathologically selfish people, or social groups, present what you want to see, convince you to trust them and then gather intel on your vulnerabilities. Then they weaponize your vulnerabilities. They all claim that if you quit trying to earn the moon, you let down your (again, in “school” language) yourself, your “essence friends” & teachers.

4) The cultic identity theft: Vicente calls this, Codified gaslighting. Cults & narcissists tell you that normal emotions are only for the lowly, proletariat. You are supposed to float above your feelings, dismiss and disregard them. Emotions are only for the “inferior”. When you deny your emotions, you deny your own healthy internal signals. This gives abusive people license to abuse. When you express healthy angry or hurt, they frame it as proof that you are flawed. You need to “work harder”. You need to “fix your flaw.” If you’re really committed you will “do what it takes.”

“School” called this the fatal flaw and /or the essence flaw. All cults practice codified gaslighting, i.e. identity theft. In School, teachers characterized normal human responses, emotions, thoughts, perceptions as “suspicious sets of I’s,” or “lazy I’s,” or “denying force.” 

5) The self-gaslighting: Every former member, or survivor of narcissistic abuse, I’ve spoken with to date, describes self-gaslighting. They internalize the gaslighting. They doubt themselves and question their own sanity. It’s easier to control people who are insecure & scrambling to fix their “flaw(s)”: “how am I seeing the world that’s inaccurate?” They start to deny themselves.

Eventually, the tradeoff becomes group or self–you can’t have both.

Vicente’s recovery also followed a familiar path. It reflected my recovery process.

1) He faced the shock and accepted the traumatic betrayal. He let go of a dream, a belief in the allegedly altruistic mission. This is especially difficult when surrounded by people who are still clinging to that belief. That is why people struggle with staying or leaving.

Vicente said, “I wanted there to be goodness … .” He saw that Raniere and his top lieutenants were hijacking his wish to create goodness and funneling it into Raneire’s self-aggrandizing delusion.

Vicente explained that accepting traumatic betrayal feels threatening to the self. He said, “You’re trying to keep your psyche glued together, when you know, on a very deep level, that something’s not right.”

I remember clinging to “school’s” fiction, until I no longer had the energy. The irony, I discovered, was that it was the letting go and accepting that the leaders betrayed me, intentionally, that saved my sanity.

2) He accepted NXIVM leaders intentionally deceived him, to usurp his talent, passion, money, time, energy and everything else. These a**holes break concepts of love, goodness and trust. It is a loss of innocence and is painful to face. But, once you do, a lot of other things start to come together and make sense.

That’s when you begin trusting yourself over the cult / narcissist–a critical piece in recovery. When I admitted to myself that Robert never cared about me, my mind started reintegrating.

Clarity replace my confusion. Inner conflict fell away. My mind quieted and calmed. I found peace.

Facing that heartbreak, empowered me to put my psyche back together again.

3) When Vicente let go of the dream of creating goodness in the world through NXIVM, he said, “I no longer felt crazy. Because I had felt crazy for 12 years.”

4) He worked through the denial and made space for the heartbreak. Then came healthy rage, “Something had been done to me. I’d been damaged.”

My parallel version came when I declared to myself, No More Secrets. “School’s” secrets protect Sharan and Robert and damaged everyone else.

5) Rage led to the obsessive research and reading into narcissism and cults. The psycho-education was critical. All cults and narcissistic abusers use the same tactics. Once you know this you can protect yourself.

Betrayal trauma is surreal. The pain is emotional and psychological. You must accept that you trusted untrustworthy people. You trusted people who were so endlessly self-serving that they were callous to you. Pathologically narcissistic people aren’t capable of caring about others. They are impervious to other people’s suffering.

If you are a Gentle Soul the concept of such callousness seems impossible. Sadly, not only is it possible, but we’re seeing increasing evidence of the selfish and the stupid inflicting all kinds of societal damage without a care in the world. You will often hear the selfish and the stupid say things like, “Well, it doesn’t effect me.”

The silver lining: once you accept that this evil does exist and you know how to spot the danger signals, you have the tools that you need. You will recognize these parasites sooner and realize that these people deserve, exactly, nothing from you.

The Gentle Souls Revolution is a book written for the Gentle Souls; the empathic people who, like me, (unfortunately) trusted untrustworthy people–it details tools for Self Recovery and Self Preservation. The headline is that the revolution starts with boundaries — just say no.

So, more to come in the near future.

The invisible world? Not so much: 2 more OSG articles

Good morning fellow “disgruntled ex-students” –
I hope that you’ve got air conditioning these days. Don’t “intentionally suffer” these climate-change temps if you don’t have to. Just say no!

Speaking of saying no to “intentional suffering”, the NYC press is blowing the lid off of corporate headquarters & nudging the lid off the Boston branch, thanks to a cleverly insincere new recruit, who went all 007 with recording devices hidden inside a pen.

I’m not making this up — read about the pen, and other no longer “invisible school” things here:

Also published in the U.S. Sun, July 23rd: Twisted Society: Inside NYC’s secret cult that forced gay people into conversion therapy & brainwashed high-achievers into manual labor.

The Sun article centers on Spencer Schneider’s book, Manhattan Cult Story. But, in my opinion, this is the most pertinent quote from it: “Any fears Schneider had that School was a cult were allayed when he looked around the room at the seemingly sophisticated and well-to-do crowd – made up of fellow lawyers, doctors, teachers, and heiresses – that was gathered inside the room.”

“School” is what my dear friend and fellow cult buster, Gerette Buglion would call an Everyday Cult. Read about her parallel misadventure in her memoir, An Everyday Cult.

“School” or Cult? Do your research (as the kids like to say …)

Two Things: 1) Sometimes justice does prevail: Sarah Lawrence Cult Leader Convicted of Trafficking and Extortion

2) Sometimes it doesn’t: I left “school” in 2011, largely because my husband found the blog Esoteric Freedom. It exposed the cult con & provided a cyber gathering place for all “disgruntled ex-students.”

Following Scientology’s strategies, “school” sued the site owner. L. Ron Hubbard saw that– ironically– our justice system does not have remedies to protect whistleblowers from parasitic groups with loads of money. Free speech, anyone?

So “school” said, “Hold my beer,” hired a sleaze-bag lawyer & Esoteric Freedom evaporated. During my recent interview on the pod The Cult Vault, the host, Kacey, mentioned that she’d struggled to find information. Recently, some folks contacted me because a “school” recruiter had been courting them.

For what it’s worth, here is a list of online information that I’ll keep on the top of this blog & add to it, as things roll out:

Most recent:

The New York Mystery Machine interviews me and Spencer Schneider , posted August 1, 2022: Surviving a Cult: An Interview with Former Members of the Odyssey Study Group

NYC cult bought $925K upstate retreat, uses “forced labor’ to dig ditches: source, posted July 23, 2022

Inside NYC’s secret cult that ‘forced gay people into conversion therapy’ & brainwashed high-achievers into manual labor, posted July 23, 2022

Odyssey Study Group cult still going strong after death of charismatic leader Sharon Gans, posted July 9, 2022

Sharon Gans’ NYC cult member exposes fight clubs and broken lives, posted July 2, 2022: I learned a lot of stuff I didn’t know about “School” from this article.

A Cult Vault round table discussion: the host, Kacey, interviews me and Spencer Schneider, together: the compare and contrast between corporate headquarters, NYC, and “school’s” poor cousin, the Boston branch.

A Little Bit Culty interviews Spencer Schneider – Page Turner on his book Manhattan Cult Story

Accused cult leader Sharon Gans Horn cut kids from will: court papers

Manhattan cult duped women into paying fee, working for free: lawsuit

Inside the cult that has been operating in NY for decades

Cult Vault Podcast interviews me (part 1)

Cult Vault Podcast interviews me (part 2)

Cult Vault Podcast interview with Spencer

Another podcast: New York Mystery Machine–Cult Following:The Odyssey Study Group

Another podcast: Drinking on the Job–Sharon’s son talks about being groomed for cult leadership


Past reports:

Sharon Gans Cult Report – the most current blog to come out of corporate headquarters, i.e. the NYC branch.

Archived Pages of Esoteric Freedom from The Wayback Machine

Random website from 2011

A history & analysis of the Sharon Gans group, also known as “The Work” (aka “school”, “the study” … etc)

Comment thread from various ex-members and spouses of members seeking information about “school”. (2006)

Theater group, cult or stage – an article published in The San Francisco Progress, 1978

Sharon Gans left San Francisco amidst scandal in 1978

Comments on “the work” a “fourth way school”

The ganscult

1978 San Francisco Progress article about the Horn/Gans cult

School” abuse of the court system to shut up an ex-member

Rosie, Sharon, Alex, Robert & “the work”

Rosie O’Donnell refutes cult connection