The Narcissist is like a cult leader...
My Nmother is a somatic narcissist i.e. obsessed with her beauty and/or sexuality. "Stunningly beautiful" is what most would call her for many decades of her life. But, alas, age will eventually make its mark no matter how successfully you've heretofore escaped its ravages. As my Nmother reached her sixth decade she needed a new gig. It was harder....well, damn near impossible, to convince herself that she was the most beautiful woman in whatever room she was standing in anymore. Her grandiosity bubble of being the Belle of the Ball was threatening to explode on her. Enter: the religious narcissist. If she can't be the most beautiful, she will be the most "spiritual". (Although, she still thinks she's gorgeous.) She will define what "spiritual" means in such as way that only she can stand at the pinnacle of achievement. She alone sits on the right hand of God, He speaks to her personally. About you and your failings. She is so "good" she would probably try to judge God Himself.
The next thing a highly "spiritual" narcissist needs is a following. Through her charisma and convincing aura of authority she was able to form what can only be described as a cult. She was the leader....the unquestioned leader (no questions allowed!). Cult members were hand-chosen by her. They were expected to be mere supplicants to her great wisdom. They must submit to her definitions of them. They must hang on her every word. They must listen to her shifting definitions of morality and incorporate them into every day life. Of course, what is right one day is wrong the next which is very unbalancing to your mind and keeps the narcissist in control. Hers is the voice of the Holy Spirit....to not act like you believe that to be true will result in harsh penalties. She took up more and more control of their everyday lives.
At this point in time I was not in her "cult". I had distanced myself from her considerably, both emotionally and geographically, before she overtly took on the mantle of spiritual leader. In fact, it was the first donning of her "spiritual" clothes that pushed me further away from her before the final break. It was a heightening of hypocrisy that was completely loathsome to me since I knew what an evil person she still was. I knew she was a laughable farce. At the time I didn't realize how far she was going to go with her new spiritual gig.
A couple years after she formed her cult following, I was able to start observing from a distance what she was doing inside of her cult. Unbeknownst to her I had infiltrated her secretive cult. One of the "members" was starting to question the craziness and was willing to confide in me. This person was a relative of mine. A female cousin. (This cousin confirmed my suspicion that she was being groomed as my replacement. My Nmother felt she deserved a "dutiful" daughter which I no longer was.) My cousin seemed the perfect substitute. Sweet, compliant, prone to question herself (not others). Set up for full exploitation by my Nmother, her aunt. As my cousin confided more and more what was happening in the "cult" I was given absolute confirmation of my Nmother's instinctive use of mind-control techniques. She was always good at these methods, but the added force of religious power gave even more effectiveness to her megalomanical control techniques. Nothing like claiming power over another person's soul to increase the level of control exponentially. One might call it the ultimate in power grabs.
I have observed that all narcissists have an instinctive understanding of how to brainwash. Among the many techniques of mind control (for brevity's sake, not listed here), narcissists forbid their "cult members" from talking to anyone outside the "cult". Narcissists forbid "cult members" from talking about the N leader to each other...unless, of course, to express adulation and worship. Those rules are specifically made to prevent anyone from seeing the grotesque system that has its fingers around their throats. A systematic campaign of slander by the narcissist divides the "members" from each other. These tactics keep you from getting free and will hamper your attempts at freedom if you can't silence the narcissist's voice in your head and proceed with talking with someone about what you've gone through. Just substitute the word "family" or "parent" for "cult leader" and the picture is the same. In order to escape, you will have to get brave enough to break these rules (and ignore the narcissist who is raging in your head, if not in your face, saying you are betraying them, you are ungrateful, disloyal, and a loathsome worm for doing it). Just like a cult member, the fastest track to breaking the control of the system you are in is to make a clean break. Even if it is for just a period of time. That time can allow a person to gain enough strength so a future contact with their "cult leader" won't be as likely to suck them back into the cult.
All the various effects of brain-washing are the most profound in those raised by narcissists. There are many aspects to dealing with a narcissist that normal people just won't tolerate. But if you've been taught from your earliest moments in the N-system, then you put up with a lot more crap than most will. This is what set up my cousin for exploitation. She was raised by a narcissist mother herself. Her thinking was clouded by the N-imposed reality of her youth. She was rich supply for any narcissist who came along.
If you were raised by a narcissist, you will tend to find yourself trapped in a succession of relationships with narcissists because you seem to be a "magnet" for them. The truth is this: everyone bumps into narcissists in the course of life. The difference between you and the other person is that you have been taught to discount your own experience in favor of the reality-revision of another person. You have been trained to deny what your own eyes and ears tell you in favor of whatever the narcissist says happened. A non-ACON bumps into a narcissist and is quickly put-off by the narcissist's chronic lying, revisionism, and self-centeredness. Something just seems "off" to them and they walk away before the narcissist can do any damage. You, on the other hand, have a sense of familiarity with the narcissist. You've been here before. Maybe it'll go better this time around. If you work hard enough, if you just love them enough, maybe you can (unconsciously) prove that the original narcissist in your life would finally love you back. Without realizing it, you try to revise your history with your Nparent by a succession of relationships with other narcissists. It always ends badly. It always will. You've been brain-washed to believe the problem is you. No, the problem is the narcissist. Your only problem is that you tolerate them. You must de-program yourself before you find yourself once again trying to dance with a narcissist.
I am convinced that the most under-recognized and most abused group by narcissists is their own children. The abuse doesn't stop in childhood, either. Most, if not all, ACONs have to deal with abuse for as long as the parent lives. The evil of narcissism is alive and well and it feeds regularly on the flesh and blood of its children.
Your survival will often require a complete cut-off from the narcissist parent. This can be very difficult to do because you'll have to endure the added condemnation of a society that tends to think there is never a good enough reason to divorce a parent. Maintain discretion. Don't talk about your evil parent to anyone who'll listen. Give minimal answers to direct questions. It's no one else's business.
In order to de-program you will need to break one of the fundamental rules of the cult leader....start talking to others! Not just anybody, though. You need to find others who have been where you are. Those people probably won't be other family members. (But if there is a family member who has cut themselves off from your family it is likely they have come to see the dysfunction and chosen to not participate. They may or may not be willing to talk.) Normal people most likely will not understand that the face of evil sometimes looks like a mom or a dad. So they may end up giving you very unhelpful advice. No, unburden yourself with those who have themselves grappled with the narcissistic family system. There are many groups out there on the internet as well as helpful books. Access them. The next step after you've gained the moral strength is to extricate yourself from the cult. Do whatever is necessary to escape the trap. Chew off your leg if need be. You can't gain perspective very readily while you're emmeshed in the narcissist's version of reality which they constantly impose in every interaction with them.
A very helpful and supportive group for ACONs can be found at:
The archives are extensive and probably cover nearly every aspect of your experience.