Benchmarking and the Secret Knowledge Bias of the Cult Leader

Benchmarking and the Secret Knowledge Bias of the Cult Leader November 26, 2016

CB Asymetric Insightby Cindy Kunsman cross posted from her blog Under Much Grace.

Part of her series on Cognitive Biases. All images by Cindy Kunsman of Under Much Grace and used with permission.


Just a reminder that the purpose of this discussion aims at stimulating thought and self awareness as tools to help those in recovery from trauma learn how to make safer choices. To make the discussion more jocular, we’ve defined Cognitive Biases as “CranioRectal Inversions” (CRI).
I’ve struggled with writing this installment because I hate when a person pulls a Blind Spot Bias subtype out of their hat as cult leaders often do… Or were they in full force all along, but it took time for me to finally get over my own biases so that I am able to recognize them in someone else?

I find them particularly difficult to bear when used against me. I still haven’t figured out how to recognize them in someone else without making the realization a way of morally denigrating someone somehow, but that is an element of life and boundaries that I’m still chewing on. That tie to morality comes about because of my past experience, but it’s not necessarily an element of a cognitive bias.
The Illusion of Asymmetric Insight
We humans tend to trust our own reasoning first when it conflicts with information from someone else, and illusion of insight builds upon that tendency. In a nutshell, not only does a person believe that their own view of themselves is accurate, but it extends to insight into the lives of others. It’s most easily summed up by the saying,
 “I know you better than you know yourself.”
If you’ve exited a high demand group or relationship, this bias seems to be a natural assumption of the leader – that their insights into everything and everyone are superior if not actually divine. The hidden curriculum of a social group enforces this idea covertly, and some religions institutionalize the bias through doctrine. Does anyone recall the video from the Calvinist church near Chicago and the pronouncement that any opinion or testimony that contradicted their elders was demonic? (Of course, they neglected to state that a few elders had recently departed from the church because of disagreement over fleecing the sheep. Read more here.)
A Shortcut to Avoid Discomfort?
I also think again of my psychologist friend who leans on the Blind Spot Bias when she feels insecure. It feels painful to her to consider that she has her own biases, and when threatened, she falls into the pattern of asymmetric insight. I don’t deny her skill which does make her very insightful, but when it comes to interpersonal conflict, she just automatically assumes that she is far more complex than others and that they are quite simple to figure out. I always feel a bit betrayed when she switches into this mode, and I will challenge her because I trust in our friendship. She listens and trusts me, so our friendship works.
This never happens with a cult leader or a narcissist. They do not negotiate. Everyone else must be seen as inferior and lost without the divine insight and guidance from the leader, and this bias serves as a primary way of protecting themselves from the pain of reality. A person needs some degree of empathy to consider a perspective that differs from their own, and those who are slaves to wielding their power usually don’t have the flexibility to do so. For them, they are always a cut above, and conflict takes on a painful ethical element that assigns greater worth to some and a lesser worth to others.
How to Avoid the Illusion
Biases tend to lock us into a static view of the world around us, and close-minded thinking makes a person quite vulnerable to this pitfall. Humility helps, and perhaps why I tend to attach this bias to the connotation of worth. We change, others change, our circumstances change, so we must be vigilant about how we think about things and how we choose to put them into perspective.
We have plenty of bias that already limits us, just because we are limited creatures. To be truly vigilant, we must constantly evaluate and re-evaluate our thinking processes and our opinions. If someone offers a logical explanation for a different position, we need not see it as a struggle of wills if we negotiate. We can often be wrong, and others might just be right.
For Further Reading until the next post:

moreRead more by Cindy Kunsman:

Positive Perceptions and the Blame Game



Cindy is a member of the Spiritual Abuse Survivor Blogs Network.

Cynthia Mullen Kunsman is a nurse (BSN), naturopath (ND) and seminary graduate (MMin) with a wide variety of training and over 20 years of clinical experience. She has used her training in Complementary and Alternative Medicine as a lecturer and liaison to professional scientific and medical groups, in both academic and traditional clinical healthcare settings. She also completed additional studies in the field of thought reform, hypnotherapy for pain management, and Post Traumatic Stress Disorder (PTSD) that is often associated with cultic group involvement. Her nursing experience ranges from intensive care, the training of critical care nurses, hospice care, case management and quality management, though she currently limits her practice to forensic medical record review and evaluation. Most of her current professional efforts concern the study of manipulative and coercive evangelical Christian groups and the recovery process from both thought reform and PTSD.

She blogs at Under Much Grace and Redeeming Dinah.

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  • Friend

    Abusive churches are rigid: rigidity is what they do. It’s very hard to learn how to think more freely.

    Humility does help, but how do we get there when we’re already worms? Humility has to be something different from self-loathing. It needs to turn into a true love and enjoyment of others and ourselves.

    One exercise that might help: Next time you are sitting with your loved ones, just take a quiet moment to look at each face. What do you love about these people? What makes them irreplaceable? Just bask in that. It’s a form of humility to love your grandchild’s hair, your brother’s wit, your mother’s perfect technique for making biscuits, your neighbor’s way of walking. Try to spare some love for yourself too.

  • Abigail Smith

    Love this!
    So much damage from Calvinistic church we fled from…it was not only “self-righteous” but downright depressing