Wednesday, October 27, 2004

The Narcissist Claims Infallibility

Recently After Hours has received letters questioning the incognito nature of our site.

This is a legitimate issue, and one we'd like to address, by posting the following letter we sent to the reader who first raised the issue:


Thank you for your letter. We appreciate how you feel about the anonymous nature of After Hours, and we have given it a lot of thought before coming out "unsigned." Basically, it was decided to do it this way because it gives the cult leader (Cohen) no means of retribution, no leverage, no way to assert his special status as the "leader." We have personally been on the receiving end of all too many of "the narcissist's (Andrew's) panicky and sometimes violent reactions to "dropouts" from his cult. There's a lot going on that the narcissist wants kept under wraps. ...Abandonment threatens the narcissist's precariously balanced personality."

Some would say, why doesn't everyone - including Andrew - just sit down and talk this thing through....hah! Fat chance, as you probably know.

We apologize for the unease that this gives you, and hope that in the future we can open this up and there can be real personal connectedness.

We quote an article below which outlines the basic strategies of the narcissist, and the dangers in being involved with such a person. This gives you some idea of how we see the situation with our ex-teacher and helps explain why we do not want to sign our name(s) at this time to After Hours.

Best Regards,
- After Hours

The Narcissist Claims Infallibility
by Sam Vaknin -

The narcissist is the guru at the center of a cult. Like other gurus, he demands complete obedience from his flock: his spouse, his offspring, other family members, friends, and colleagues. He feels entitled to adulation and special treatment by his followers. He punishes the wayward and the straying lambs. He enforces discipline, adherence to his teachings, and common goals. The less accomplished he is in reality – the more stringent his mastery and the more pervasive the brainwashing.

The – often involuntary – members of the narcissist's mini-cult inhabit a twilight zone of his own construction. He imposes on them a shared psychosis, replete with persecutory delusions, "enemies", mythical narratives, and apocalyptic scenarios if he is flouted.

The narcissist's control is based on ambiguity, unpredictability, fuzziness, and ambient abuse. His ever-shifting whims exclusively define right versus wrong, desirable and unwanted, what is to be pursued and what to be avoided. He alone determines the rights and obligations of his disciples and alters them at will.

The narcissist is a micro-manager. He exerts control over the minutest details and behaviors. He punishes severely and abuses withholders of information and those who fail to conform to his wishes and goals.

The narcissist does not respect the boundaries and privacy of his reluctant adherents. He ignores their wishes and treats them as objects or instruments of gratification. He seeks to control both situations and people compulsively.

He strongly disapproves of others' personal autonomy and independence. Even innocuous activities, such as meeting a friend or visiting one's family require his permission. Gradually, he isolates his nearest and dearest until they are fully dependent on him emotionally, sexually, financially, and socially.

He acts in a patronizing and condescending manner and criticizes often. He alternates between emphasizing the minutest faults (devalues) and exaggerating the talents, traits, and skills (idealizes) of the members of his cult. He is wildly unrealistic in his expectations – which legitimizes his subsequent abusive conduct.

The narcissist claims to be infallible, superior, talented, skillful, omnipotent, and omniscient. He often lies and confabulates to support these unfounded claims. Within his cult, he expects awe, admiration, adulation, and constant attention commensurate with his outlandish stories and assertions. He reinterprets reality to fit his fantasies.

His thinking is dogmatic, rigid, and doctrinaire. He does not countenance free thought, pluralism, or free speech and doesn't brook criticism and disagreement. He demands – and often gets – complete trust and the relegation to his capable hands of all decision-making.

He forces the participants in his cult to be hostile to critics, the authorities, institutions, his personal enemies, or the media – if they try to uncover his actions and reveal the truth. He closely monitors and censors information from the outside, exposing his captive audience only to selective data and analyses.

The narcissist's cult is "missionary" and "imperialistic". He is always on the lookout for new recruits – his spouse's friends, his daughter's girlfriends, his neighbors, new colleagues at work. He immediately attempts to "convert" them to his "creed" – to convince them how wonderful and admirable he is. In other words, he tries to render them Sources of Narcissistic Supply.

Often, his behavior on these "recruiting missions" is different to his conduct within the "cult". In the first phases of wooing new admirers and proselytizing to potential "conscripts" – the narcissist is attentive, compassionate, empathic, flexible, self-effacing, and helpful. At home, among the "veterans" he is tyrannical, demanding, willful, opinionated, aggressive, and exploitative.

As the leader of his congregation, the narcissist feels entitled to special amenities and benefits not accorded the "rank and file". He expects to be waited on hand and foot, to make free use of everyone's money and dispose of their assets liberally, and to be cynically exempt from the rules that he himself established (if such violation is pleasurable or gainful).

In extreme cases, the narcissist feels above the law – any kind of law. This grandiose and haughty conviction leads to criminal acts, incestuous or polygamous relationships, and recurrent friction with the authorities.

Hence the narcissist's panicky and sometimes violent reactions to "dropouts" from his cult. There's a lot going on that the narcissist wants kept under wraps. Moreover, the narcissist stabilizes his fluctuating sense of self-worth by deriving Narcissistic Supply from his victims. Abandonment threatens the narcissist's precariously balanced personality.

Add to that the narcissist's paranoid and schizoid tendencies, his lack of introspective self-awareness, and his stunted sense of humor (lack of self-deprecation) and the risks to the grudging members of his cult are clear.

The narcissist sees enemies and conspiracies everywhere. He often casts himself as the heroic victim (martyr) of dark and stupendous forces. In every deviation from his tenets he espies malevolent and ominous subversion. He, therefore, is bent on disempowering his devotees. By any and all means.

The narcissist is dangerous.

by Sam Vaknin


Anonymous Anonymous said...

I must say I found your first entry, with the dialogue between Andrew Cohen and Ken Wilbur at the café in the south of France, a real riot. No kidding, I laughed out loud reading it, as did a few of my friends. No one more richly deserves to be satirized than those whose self-importance and grandiosity has reached epic, even mythic, proportions. Especially when two people come together and use each other to promote themselves in such a cloyingly self-satisfied way, then represent it to the naïve general public as dharma. One does not have to be an ex-student of Andrew’s to be irritated and annoyed at such unbecoming misbehavior in two grown men who claim to be enlightened.
However, reading "After Hours" I could not help but reflect on how there is such a thing as too much of a good thing. Too much of anything becomes its opposite—not just a bad thing, but, in this case, in poor taste and unconscious of its own pain and aggression. Sounds familiar, doesn’t it, because those are exactly the charges that can be levied (among others) quite fairly against Andrew Cohen
Those who have known and observed Andrew Cohen for the past ten years have watched, with some sadness, as he has aggressively pursued world domination of the spiritual scene. Andrew started out as a brilliant, inspiring individual of extraordinary dharmic rhetorical power and clarity; he clearly had the potential to offer something of profound value to serious practitioners on the spiritual path. What a heartbreak to see him fall so far from grace! He has left a trail of "bloody bodies," so to speak, among his students, with serious allegations—that did not appear in Andre’s book, by the way, where the issues were watered down or left unexamined—of serious physical, emotional and spiritual abuse. Anyone who is vitally tuned into the western spiritual scene is aware of the pain of many, many ex-students of Andrew Cohen who have been bombarded with coercion and who feel deeply, deeply betrayed by the man they considered to be their guru. And for the record: it’s not only Don Beck and Ken Wilbur whose ideas Andrew has usurped and made his own—and here we can include both dharmic ideas and actual phrases that are either universally known principles of the spiritual path and the specific language and experience of other contemporary western schools, which he has claimed for his own.
However, for your purposes, in order to strike at the root of the problem in a way that actually serves a higher purpose—rather than merely the immediate ego gratification of trashing someone who hurt you deeply—you could take a long, strong look at yourselves and assess what might be the most effective skillful means at hand. There is such a thing as satire and humor that is free of aggression, although, granted, it is a very difficult thing to achieve. Nonetheless, when you can free yourself of hatred and aggression toward Andrew, you will be more effective in achieving your goal, which might be to provide some real sanity and clarity for people who are lost in the swamp of Andrew’s unexamined shadow. Perhaps that is where the real possibility of "After Hours" can be found.

Friday, 05 November, 2004  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

Great response and very helpful and balanced. I have a lot of trouble struggling with these polarities. Between feeling righteous anger at Andrew and his ruthless methods to achieve his lofty goals. Realization after realization that his motivation was not totally pure, despite being totally immersed in a system that did not in any way allow legitimate questioning....which of course dulled my own inherent ability to discriminate....rationalizations just ended up warping and blunting my own god given intuition. And still.........! What was good and wholesome in the impulse to follow someone like Andrew has to be given some space too.

Wednesday, 10 November, 2004  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

(quoted from previous post)

'What was good and wholesome in the impulse to follow someone like Andrew has to be given some space too.'

Its so easy to feel afraid of our own aspirations when these have led us into a situation where we've been wounded.

What may help is to discover the distinction between persons who are inspirational and those who are actually qualified to serve as spiritual mentors.

We are finding out (in some cases, very painfully) that inspirational persons are not always qualified to function in the mentor role. Very immature people can be quite inspirational. And inspiration does serve a purpose much like the spark plug in a car--it rouses our vitality, gets us off the couch, out of the rut, out of the house. That part is good.

But once we are on the road, we need some trustworthy guidance, and as we go further that guidance has to be tailored to the special needs of each student. Thats where a mentor/coach/guru comes in.

A genuine mentor has to be honest, has to be mature, able to see the needs of each student without the mentor's personal hang ups interfering. And if the mentor is leader of a community, he or she has to have received training on how to keep a community functioning in a healthy manner, and how to do things like conflict resoluation, train people to fill various leadership roles, how to make sure money and resources are used responsibly, etc.

The one thing that few people seem to look at is that Andrew Cohen received virtually no training from his original guru. The various accounts indicate that after just two and a half weeks, the guru told his protege to go 'start a revolution amongst the young.'

Thats like getting someone drunk, then giving them keys to a car without ever giving them lessons on how to drive.

Any time we encounter a marvellously inspirational writer or teacher, it is very important to ask 'What training did this person have to function as a mentor, and especially what training did this person have to function as leader of a community or an ashram?'

For purposes of comparison, survivors of the Andrew Cohen project may find it intriguing to read 'The Buddha From Brooklyn' by Martha Sherrill. This book, available on, describes what happened when an American born women was mysteriously singled out by a Tibetan rinpoche, seeminly told she was the re-incarnation of an obscure Tibetan lama, then after a gaudy coronation ceremony, found herself as lama, head of a Buddhist community, but given no practical training or support on how to function in the role. She found herself isolated, lonely, she'd been given all kinds of messages guaranteed to inflame personal vanity, and ended up reportedly behaving in ways that hurt her students.

Alexander Berzin, in his book 'Relating to a Spiritual Teacher' reports that many problems came up when Tibetan lamas and monks were sent to the West, with inadequate training, then put in charge of dharma communities, but given little social support. Even the wisest human being can break down in such circumstances.

Finally students rarely have sufficient background knowledge to ask 'Has this very inspirational guru been adequately trained to function in this role? Did he ever live in community under someone's authority before functioning as an authority figure himself? Is it possible that my guru was sent to the affluent West to serve as a publicist/recruiter for an ambitious guru back in Asia? And if the original guru in Asia never led a residential ashram, and never lived or taught in the West, how could this guru give his protege adequate preparation to lead a community of Westeners?'

Saturday, 20 November, 2004  

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