What Does The Cult Of Personality Entail?

Updated July 02, 2020

Medically Reviewed By: Wendy Boring-Bray, DBH, LPC

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There are a lot of cults out there, most of them involve some sort of propaganda. The cult of personality is no exception. This cult relies on different techniques, especially personality ones, to rally people up. But, what is it exactly? Read on to find out.

Cult Of Personality, Defined

A cult of personality does refer to not a cult per se, but when a regime or a political figure uses media, lies, spectacles, speeches, patriotism, and even the arts and demonstrations for one to create the perfect image of a leader. Flattery and praise are at the forefront of this, and this is commonly seen in state parties or one-party states. Authoritarian countries do run based on this type of regime.

This type of leader often ties in their images of themselves into heroes. If you ever look at how Augustus Caesar tried to make Julius Caesar look like a deity, thereby connecting him to a deity, that's a perfect example. You also can look at monuments that were in the Soviet Union, and various posts that showed key Soviet Union people, including Engels, Lenin, and Marx himself. There are also monarchies that have used the elements of divine sanction, but lots of times, that doesn't make them a personality cult, since a lot of these monarchies, though creating a god complex in the leaders, didn't have the ability to use mass media in order to push an idea out into the open.

The purpose of this was to show control in a group, and the leaders were able to control the group with the personality of this alone, sometimes using the deity images as mentioned before as a means to showcase that this person is the supreme leader the populace needs. The media is usually controlled by the leader and the heads of state, and threats were often dealt with by said people, and any opposition was handled immediately.

It first came about in 1958 when Nikita Khrushchev's speech On the Cult of Personality and Its Consequences came to light during a congress in the Soviet Union. Khrushchev was the secretary of the party criticized in this how people idolized Joseph Stalin, and from this, the communist party, along with Mao Zedong, who was a contemporary of Stalin. The speech was soon public and was part of "de-Stalinizing" the Soviet Union later on. However, they first appeared in the 1800s in France and Germany. At first, it wasn't political, but instead, it was commonly called the "cult of genius," but then, later on, it was used in political use when Karl Marx sent a letter to the Wilhelm brothers, which was in 1877.

The Characteristics Of This

The characteristics are quite interesting, in that this type of personality cult have five different characteristics to it. They are, that they try to attract males, target the entire population and not just some sections, that they employ mass media, and they make sure to control the media and inhibit any "rival cults" or other types of thought.

This type of cult also creates an ideal, or even god-like image of someone that is shaped and molded with both media exposure, and the propaganda as well. From this, one can manipulate others based completely on the public personality that is shown here. It often externally uses shallow images to create a heroic and idealized type of image.

This type of cult is often seen given very extravagant and exaggerated public demonstration when it comes to leader praise.

Thee are three conditions that also should be here when you see this, and they are as follows: a combination of both patrimonialism along with clientelism, a systemic falsification of the culture itself, and lack of dissidence on the part of the people. You do need to have these conditions in place for the cult to form.

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How Media plays A Huge Role In This

Media plays a huge role in this, since it brings forth the leader's personality, and that if the leader is charismatic, it actually does have an even bigger part in their exposure, and often, their personality is created via the media. The media can reflect on the cult of personality at different levels, for example, the media played a huge role in the cult of personality in Nazi Germany, and in the Soviet Union, but in American politics, it does affect it to some extent as well. The media does contribute to the image that's often put there by the person, but leaders dominate the politics in America to an extent, and sometimes, the charisma of the leader is a focal part in the exposure a politician gets.

The Purpose Of This

The purpose of this is to transform someone to help show to the nation that without them, a future won't happen. It essentially works to justify some of the actions that totalitarian leaders engage in within different countries. For example, Stalin, Hitler, Mussolini, and others did horrible actions, but because of the cult of personality, it started to help with their image, allowing them to become the ideal in their eyes, and in their totalitarian state.

The Stalin cult, in particular, did try to legitimize this, through many different distortions, and other falsehoods. For example, The Kremlin didn't allow access to records that show the truth, and that's why many documents were destroyed, and some photos were altered, and documents were invented from this. Those that knew Stalin had to have "official" accounts that were following the demands of the cult themselves and these accounts are even seen in the history books about the Bolsheviks, which is studied today.

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A Central part of Stalinism was that the cult was integral to the power that Stalin possessed, and even contributed to his megalomania.

How We Have Our Cult Of Personality

Within ourselves, we have different roles that are in our lives, and we have different archetypes that play a major role in what we do.

Lots of times, we may choose one element of our personality, and over the years, we take out and get rid of the rest, and it sets up a paradigm that's hard to maintain, where we use different actions to be loved and acknowledged, but we also disown different aspects of ourselves. There are different ways we adopt different parts of yourself to create a persona that's "healthy" and "successful." This, in turn, creates self-rejection, and we often do away with parts of ourselves with the element of temptation to be successful being at the forefront of all of this. We sometimes fall prey to the words in our head that say that to be successful; we have to reject parts of ourselves.

This creates a personality cult within yourself. You're always painted as a sort of ideal. We all do this, whether we know about it or not, and we try to have wealth, popularity, and power, often seen as solutions that are attractive. But, if we're brought down a little bit, we end up feeling like we're no good, that we are rejected, forgotten, and left along. Self-rejection is an enemy since it does contradict the voice that we have within us.

Lots of times, we try to work on reclaiming ourselves, and this can be seen lots of times in those who are addicts and trying to recover. Embracing the truth of who you allow for you to change, and from there, you can integrate better habits more positively. But, integrating period allows for you to become conscious of this, and gives you a choice.

Compartmentalizing is the opposite of this, and that's essentially putting on blinders and not seeing the truth that's there. This is extremely limited, since you can't see the big picture from this. Often, we end up holding ourselves hostage to who we want to be, and in turn, we end up trying to be something that we are not.

You see this type of cult of personality in both media, and in individuals. There are those out there who paint a picture of themselves that screams that they are perfect in every single regard, but they're far from it, and lots of times, learning about who you are can be quite beneficial, and it can make a difference.

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Help With This!

If you feel like you're a slave to your personality, and you want to know more about your personality, you should seek out a counselor today. They can help you retain a bit of who you are and improve your life. If you're ready to understand personality a bit more, what you've got hiding, and how to shine, then this is the way to go. You'll be able to do this without too many problems easily, and understand yourself better.

FAQ’s (Frequently Asked Questions)

Who did cult of personality?

A cult of personality refers to a person who is charismatic and is likely a megalomaniac. The individual wants to have the attention to be on them and to assert control over others. Their goal is to dominate and rule the country they live in. They’re extremely manipulative, and use the media to expose people to their propaganda. Their goal is to break down the population so that they can have no agency. They want to appear like a hero or deity so that the public can worship them. People often idealize these individuals. Once they break down society’s support systems, they can easily manipulate others. They prey on vulnerable people who are in pain or experiencing trauma. You’re likely to see a cult of personality leaders in countries that have dictators and communities with high levels of religiosity. A cult of personality consists of a charismatic leader who is a predator and extremely controlling. That stems from their insecurities, and they want to project those onto others.

What does being in a cult mean?

Being in a cult means that you have no autonomy and that you’re beholden to the rules of the cult of personality. People in this dynamic have no say over their minds or bodies. They are manipulated and controlled by the leader, or the cult of personality. The leader may withhold resources, such as food, or shelter to make the participants stay. A cult of personality is an expert at making people feel like they have no choice but to exist in this toxic environment. The leader is considered a savior by the followers. The cult of personality believes that their final word is the law, and undeniably right. The followers are told that they cannot have unique thoughts, and the cult of personality brainwashes them. They remove their family members or friends so that they cannot leave the cult. The followers feel completely alone, except for their connection to the cult of personality and the fellow captives. Sometimes the followers develop Stockholm Syndrome and start to believe that a cult leader is a safe person. They may fall in love with the cult of personality or develop an unhealthy attachment to that person. That makes it extremely difficult to break free of the cult. It’s possible to leave a cult, but it takes strength and the belief that there’s help out there. And there is a way to break free. You may be making a sacrifice by leaving the group. Your family could be involved in the cult, and if that’s all you’ve ever known, you might not know of another life. You don’t have to stay in an abusive environment. There is a better life out there. Once you’re able to leave the cult, there are support groups and therapists who can help you heal. They provide you with essential resources for shelter and job opportunities.

What key is cult of personality in? 

There’s a popular song called “cult of personality” by the band Living Colour. The song talks about cults and their leaders. It popularized the term “cult of personality.’ The tune is in the key of C, which is common and means no sharps or flats. It’s a catchy song and educated people on the world cults and leaders. The band wrote the song to bring attention to the concept of cults, and how detrimental they can be. The lyrics talk about oppressive leaders such as Mussolini and Stalin. It’s an impactful song because it sheds light on how one person can manipulate an entire group of individuals. The arts can be used as a tool to send a crucial message to a larger audience about inequality or social justice.

What is the difference between a cult and a religion?

Cult leaders are manipulative and highly intelligent, but they’re not necessarily affiliated with a religion. A religion is something that people generally adopt willingly; however, that’s not always the case. A cult is about worshipping the cult leader. Religion has rules, but cults are more abusive in general than religion. Many religions have a belief in a higher power, rather than an individual. People in cults typically worship a living person.

When was the cult of personality?

The song “Cult of Personality” was released in 1988 by the band In Living Colour. Though, the concept of the cult of personality is an old term to refer to leaders of these groups.

Who created the cult of personality?

Being in a cult is extremely intense, and can be scary. Cults are groups created by charismatic leaders who abuse their powers. They dominate others and use their powers to hurt and manipulate others. If you have been abused by a cult and escaped, you can get help. You can find a productive and nurturing community where your viewpoints are welcome. It’s essential to have space where your individuality is recognized. You can also seek the help of support groups, whether those are online, or in person. Creative Art Therapy is an excellent resource if you have experienced trauma from being in a cult. You can express your feelings without using words. Sometimes it’s painful to talk about your feelings. You can externalize your trauma by creating something. The arts are the tool to express and communicate your emotions. Beyond art therapy, a licensed therapist can support you in understanding what you’ve endured. You don’t have to suffer alone. Your trauma is real, and you have the right to live a good life. Whether you work with an online counselor or someone in your local area, therapy can be a wonderful place to feel heard and seen.


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