Reassuring Authority Figures

Our need for reassuring authority figures. As far back as psychoanalyst Sigmund Freud’s research in the early 1900s, much has been written about how people deal with authority. When we are very young, we depend on our parents to guide and protect us, but as we mature, we learn to be our own compass/authority/person and make our decisions without being dependent on others. However, as adults, some followers still have a high need for authority figures. They want their leaders to be big and strong like their parents used to be. They want to feel assured that they will be taken care of and protected. This need can open the door for destructive leaders to take advantage of followers and use them to meet their own ends. When followers’ needs for a reassuring authority figure are strong, it makes them vulnerable to the dictates of abusive and destructive leaders. For example, in 2009, 50 participants in a self-help retreat in Arizona entered a sauna-like ceremony in a sweat lodge that was meant to provide spiritual cleansing. Even though some of the participants were in obvious distress and pleaded for help, James Arthur Ray, a prominent figure in the self-help industry at the time and leader of the retreat, instead pushed them further, encouraging them to tough out the sweltering conditions as part of a rebirthing process that would transform their lives. The participants trusted Ray, and as a result, 3 people died and 18 were hospitalized from overexposure to heat.

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