The typical figurehead of a cult lures innocent people into a sticky web with drugs, sex and the spoken word. He assures you that he has the definitive answers to all of your questions and he alone can show you how to fulfill your life’s purpose. He goads you to separate yourself from your loved ones who don’t have your best interests in mind and give yourself over to him. Then, if you do what he tells
you, you can be the second most powerful person in the world. Guess who the first one is.

We are familiar with the usual male suspects who make it their business to steal power from and abuse female followers, but women become cult leaders, too, and they gather their own menagerie of sad, isolated seekers who are yearning for the family they never had. I was watching a rather disturbing episode of an HBO series recently that was based on a real life woman who thought she knew everything. She declared to have no mentors because she didn’t need any. According to her, no one knew better than she did about anything and she made a big hoopla as she burned incense and sage, performed rituals, and channeled people’s dead relatives. She put on quite a show and from what I could see, no one enjoyed it more than she did.

While she continuously stroked and flipped her very long brown hair around, flirting with  men and then scolding them for being sexually attracted to her, she claimed that her understanding of humanity and spiritual growth surpassed that of the Dalai Lama. Hers was the right way, THE ONLY WAY, and she would be willing to share her knowledge with you . . . if you believed what she believed and did exactly what she told you to do. In this way, you and she could take over the world. She had taken on an affect of strength self-assurance but in truth, she was so insecure, when anyone exited her organization, she said, “You might as well kill yourself because without me, your life has no meaning.” When I heard her tell her staff that they needed to find her a multi-billionaire husband to  fund her invaluable work, I switched the channel.

I’ve met three similar women in my life, arrogant people who preyed on others with no compassion or kindness.

One of them remained unmoved by other people’s suffering, no
matter how bad it was, because she claimed to have suffered more than anyone in the world and she had become enlightened.

Another woman told me that she didn’t read books because if she held one in her hand, she knew everything in it. The irony was that she had approached me to write her book but she refused to discuss it. During our and only meeting, she spent the entire time trying to convince me how powerful she was.  

Finally, a third woman talked about how lonely she was
because there was no one of her caliber “to play with.” She was trying to help some chosen women in her organization get smart enough to be interesting companions for her.

There are tried and true ways to spot these faux leaders, male or female. Their “tells” are obvious. They look you in the eye and say, “I know you better than you know yourself,.” And then they take everything: your money, your power, your sexuality. And most importantly, your trust, as they convince you to transfer it from you to them. 

I make a habit of steering clear of anyone who asks me to hold them and their ideas in higher esteem than my own. I once heard someone call them “psychic vampires” and I thought that was an apt description since they tried to steal souls. As human beings, we are naturally equipped with something called intuition, a sense rather than a thought, that guides us toward our personal truth and encourages us to trust our own feelings. In order to become
acquainted with this part of ourselves, we need to practice. The Dalai Lama, whom in my opinion knows a lot more than any cult leader says, “You don’t create trust in one day or one week but over many months.” If you keep on taking a moment to tune in, you’ll eventually find the guidance that is there, even if you’re feeling something you don’t like. In fact, that’s when it’s most important to trust yourself.

I knew an American Indian Chief, a lovely teacher, who encouraged
his students to become quiet and hear their inner voices. He didn’t try to take people’s power away. Instead he assigned spirit animals to each person and explained their significance. What stayed with me was his definition of the coyote. He called it a trickster and said that when one of them crossed your path, be on alert that things are not the way they seem. The other day, I was in my car on Mulholland Drive, fretting over something, when a coyote crossed the street in front of me. I used the sighting to bring my attention to the present moment and stop projecting into the future. Things inevitably turn out
differently than we expect, so why not take the time to look within and find the conscious knowing that goes beyond appearances, the knowledge that never fails us? That’s how we build our self-confidence so we can keep our own counsel.

I’m not suggesting that we always have to go it alone. Feedback that makes sense is a good thing. Sometimes when I’m making an
important decision, I discuss it with a smart person or two in my life to get some different points of view. But ultimately, the decision I make is my own. I choose to trust myself and if I make a mistake, I take the lesson I learned, leave the content behind, try not to beat myself up and I try something else. Nothing is set in stone except the cement in your driveway, and even then, it’s built on soft and malleable earth. 

As human beings, we are soft and malleable as well as strong and durable. Our physical power comes from our center and so does our trust. When you do a workout, if your trainer is a good one, she takes you through exercises to strengthen your muscles and your core. Ballet training, the daily form of exercise that I grew up with, required a soft and gentle presence on top of powerful muscles and a strong center. The harder we practiced back then, the more we came to trust our bodies to perform the difficult things that were
required while we moved in a soft and ethereal way.

In my life today, I try to be patient, stay in the present moment and remind remember that  I am capable of living a good life and being kind, no matter how tough things get. I’m dedicated to learning how to be soft and strong, kind and assertive, confident and vulnerable, and trusting and skeptical, all at the same time.

Philosopher Wolfgang von Goethe said, “As soon as you trust
yourself, you will know how to live.”