Introduction to Traumatic Narcissism Issue

International Journal of Cultic Studies, Volume 5, 2014

Introduction to Traumatic Narcissism Issue

Daniel Shaw

Psychoanalyst, Private Practice, New York City and Nyack, NY; Faculty and Clinical Supervisor, The National Institute for the Psychotherapies (NIP)

For many years, I have sought to bring the subject of trauma and abuse in cults to the attention of the professional mental-health community. My own affiliation has long been with The National Institute for the Psychotherapies (NIP), where I was trained in psychoanalysis, and where I currently teach and supervise psychoanalytic trainees. In the past few years, I have been developing a psychoanalytic conceptualization of the cult leader/follower relationship, and I began to see an opportunity. I proposed a program, Post-Cult Trauma and the Relational System of the Traumatizing Narcissist, to Michael Langone, which he green-lighted; but I didn’t have an available venue in New York City, where I work. I approached the NIP, who it turned out was happy to cosponsor the program with ICSA. The NIP graciously provided its conference space and many of the amenities we needed to make the program work.

The program was well attended, with both former cultists and mental-health professionals in the audience. Structuring the program to have both a psychological theoretical component and an experiential component, I asked Shelly Rosen to lend her vast expertise in trauma theory to the program, and I was lucky that she consented. Between my work on traumatic narcissism, which represents an effort to form a psychological profile of the cult leader, and Shelly’s understanding of postcult trauma, I felt we had a good, solid, theoretical foundation. For illustration of the theoretical ideas, I asked Ann Stamler, William Yenner, and Amy Siskind to share with the audience their personal experiences of being in the groups they eventually thought of as cultic, and fortunately, they too willingly agreed. Chris Carlson provided a brief introduction to and moderated the program. The resulting program offered both clinical theory and compelling personal stories.

It is my hope that readers who find this material and this format compelling will consider using this program as a model for presenting the issue of cults to mental-health workers in their own communities. The mental-health profession can play a meaningful role in being a resource for those suffering from postcult trauma only to the extent that the professionals are well-informed. It is my hope that these collected papers can be a beginning contribution to the goal of widely educating and informing mental-health professionals throughout the world.

International Journal of Cultic Studies ■ Vol. 5, 2014