Here are the conditions to make this work:
- People who develop Greenville Syndrome often view the authority figure as giving success — vocational, spiritual, social — by simply not destroying it. Thus, the authority figure becomes in control of the person’s success.
- A person endures physical or ideological separation from outside people and groups so that only the authority figure’s perspective is available. Leaders routinely keep information from their people — specifically outsider’s views of the leader’s actions. This isolation keeps the person totally dependent on the leader for information.
- The authority figure threatens to cut-off the person from his approval, his property (“campus”), or his fellowship. That person judges it safer and easier to align with the authority, endure the difficulties of separation, and obey rather than to disagree and face utter failure.
- The person sees the authority figure as showing some degree of affection. A simple positive gesture of attention (“being gracious” or “being nice”) is the cornerstone of Greenville Syndrome; the condition will not develop unless the authority exhibits some affection toward the person. However, people often misinterpret a lack of negative attention as affection and may even develop feelings of appreciation for this perceived benevolence — “He’s always been nice to me.” If the authority figure were purely evil and abusive, a person would respond with hatred. But if the authority figure offers some positive attention — an emailed compliment, a “we really like you here” — a person will submerge the anger s/he feels in response to the threat of failure and desperately concentrate on the authority figure’s “good side” to protect themselves.