The spiritual narcissistic is literally too good to be true. They often don’t need to seek out prey because their victims are predisposed to high ideals and are actively seeking answers to existential questions. “Look no further!” the spiritual narcissistic exclaims: “I am just what you were looking for! The universe/God/Creator has predestined our meeting!” Their friendly charismatic facade hides their true nature; a devourer of souls. In order to avoid falling for this predator, being familiar with the following 8 traits can help save a lot of heartache.
Narcissism has become a familiar concept that requires little explanation. With an estimated 16% of the population being high on traits of grandiosity, superiority, entitlement, lack of empathy for others, and an extreme desire for attention, nearly everyone knows someone who fits the bill. People often come to learn about narcissism through subtle (or not so subtle) abuse dished out by an intimate partner, family member, or work colleague. Not so often recognised is the spiritual narcissistic, who cleverly disguises themselves as a “nice” or “good” person who is supposedly dedicated to a higher purpose.
You may meet the spiritual narcissistic at church, on a retreat, at a health and fitness seminar, or perhaps you were googling and stumbled upon their YouTube channel. The next thing you know, you’re mesmerised by their confidence and bedazzled by how they seem to know all the answers to life’s greatest challenges and mysteries.
Spiritual Narcissists vs Other Narcissists
The average spiritual narcissist may act arrogantly superior about their belief system being better than anybody else’s . In milder cases such attitudes can be overlooked, or even appreciated as passionate dedication to one’s faith. The real problems lie in spiritual narcissists who have full blown a personality disorder (around 5% of the population).
These individuals don’t just believe they are exceptional, they believe they have a divine right to manipulate and control others. They will torment anyone who dares to challenge their authority.
These charlatans could be a pastor, priest, yoga instructor, life coach, or someone who asserts they are empathetic to universal vibes. More often than not, they are the cult leaders, masters of high demand groups, and CEO’s of wellness businesses. Or if they don’t create their own kingdom to rule, they may seek out leadership roles at a prayer groups, local parishes, ashrams, or the alike.
In many respects, spiritual narcissists are superior to other forms, like those in domestic settings. Within a family unit, the narcissist’s objective is to control their partner, children, siblings, or parents. In other words, a relatively small group of people. But in groups that gather for spiritual intentions, the narcissist can have tens, hundreds, thousands, or even more, under their spell.
Identifying someone with this form of severe God complex from someone who is sincerely striving to express a wholesome form of spirituality is not always easy. The more traits they exhibit from the following list, the chances are they are high on the scale of spiritual narcissism.
Feelings and attitudes of supremacy are narcissistic hallmarks. In the case of the spiritual narcissistic, these qualities are beyond human. They don’t just believe they are better than everyone else, they believe a higher being has endorsed their superiority over others. They can be so deluded that they perceive their personal will and God’s will is one and the same. Rejection of the spiritual narcissist’s distorted self image is often met with rage because to deny their grandiosity is viewed as an act against the Almighty Himself.
Whoever is not supportive of their supremacy is considered to be against them; that is how narcissistic black and white thinking works.
2. Love Bombing
In romantic settings, narcissists are renowned for their love bombing and telling a person they just met there is a special bond between them. The allure of feeling like you’ve just met your soulmate can be strong. This person is so into you, so interested in everything you say, and wants to know every detail about your life. The spiritual narcissistic is no different, except they have multiple “soulmates”.
As time goes on, the intimate details you trusted will be used against you. Your confessions may be recalled to evoke shame, and phrases you said in private taken out of context and used as slander.
From the outside, the appeal of the charismatic leader may appear odd, moreover, the signs of manipulation obvious. But to the insider, acts of deception are routinely dismissed.
For instance, I know of a cult leader who has a tendency to “accidentally” send emails containing intimidating material to group members, their families, and outside organisations. Recipients outside of the high demand group can usually see the correspondence is a farce, a deliberate attempt at bullying that could not be communicated through civil interactions.
A dead give away is that the “accidental” emails are calculated acts of passive aggression is that they are not followed up with any apology. Instead, this charlatan claims it was God’s will for the recipients to hear what they were saying behind someone’s back, hence the “accident” occurred through no fault of their own.
This individual won’t attempt to make any amends like a normal person would do if they genuinely accidentally sent an offensive email (narcissists are known for their inability to apologise). After all, why should they? This narcissistic believes they’ve been chosen by God, therefore, any act of deception can be excused under the guise that “God works in mysterious ways”.
People dedicated to a spiritual narcissist are more easily fooled. Through grooming processes their critical thinking skills are dulled to a point in which they will accept extreme versions of reality that their leader dictates to them
The deception can take many forms. Regardless of the faith or ideology a spiritual narcissist claims to be an expert on, they will embellish truisms with unprovable evidence. For example, insisting there is a paradise filled with virgins awaiting all true believers in the afterlife, or that a spaceship is ready to beam up a select few earthlings before an impending apocalypse. While it may be true that something along those lines could be inferred from books that are considered sacred by some, there is no evidence that spiritual narcissist’s interpretations are accurate.
Failure to accept forms of deception are usually met with treats.
In domestic violence, the narcissist may keep their victims trapped by threatening to take away their children, harming pets, or physical abuse. In work situations, the narcissist may threaten public humiliation, loss of a promotion, or unrealistic performance measures. The spiritual narcissist uses divinity as their greatest threat by telling their victims things like bad karma is going to come their way or they’ll spend an eternity in hell if they don’t follow their precise directions.
Conversely, the spiritual narcissist will guarantee bliss in the afterlife in exchange for willing submission to their every whim because, after all, they’re supposedly Divine Authority on earth.
The impact of fear tactics is that victim’s higher order thinking (cognitive functions) are gradually depleted. Instead of recognising the way the are being treated is unacceptable, their nervous system goes into survival mode (trauma response to threats). A person in this state becomes a lot more susceptible to suggestion, thus independent thinking is replaced with the will of the narcissist.
5. Victim Blaming
Another classic tactic of the spiritual narcissist is the subtle art of victim blaming. If a person shares a horrific story, like an assault, they may respond with something along the lines of suggesting it was their karma, God’s will, or the fulfilment of an unconscious desire. The casual lack of empathy and recognition of a victim of crime’s experience erodes self identity, thus paving the way for further exploitation.
Over time, the victim’s self esteem is chipped away at. No matter how hard they try to achieve spiritual purity, the narcissist will always find fault. No one in the flock is allow to be better than the master shepherd.
6. Word Salads
Ordinary narcissists are experts at creating word salads. If you ask them a question, they’ll respond by using catch-phrases, elaborate terminology, and sound bites of common analogies. You’re able to recognise parts of what they are saying, but since none of it actually makes sense, you’re left doubting your comprehension skills instead of doubting the messenger.
Spiritual narcissists do the same, only they mash up scripture within nonsense connections to sound more authoritative. For instance, in response to saying you have trouble sleeping at night, they may say: “The Goddess, shines down upon the earth like the moon. It’s always been that way, so that’s why lions like to hunt at night; feed your lions during the day and you’ll sleep better.” Don’t know what your lions are or how to feed them? Just pray to the Goddess and she will tell you through the spiritual narcissist’s wisdom. And if you suspect the cult leader is just making things up, well, that just demonstrates how little faith you have (ie. continuation of deceptive strategies).
They may also use this technique to spin pseudo-psychology terminology in an attempt to reframe life experiences to match their program, like Alan John Miller who evokes emotional responses in people then implies these are spiritual phenomena.
7. Special Knowledge
Spiritual narcissists don’t rely purely conventional knowledge and wisdom. They generally go one step further by convincing others they have a been especially chosen (by Jesus, an angel, an alien being, the forces of the universe, etc.) to convey a special message to others. They’ll may also claim to have sacred knowledge or insights that’s been handed to them through past lives, dreams, environmental signs or channeling (hearing voices in their head that are believed to come from some celestial origin).
Upon closer inspection, many of these so-called revolutionary thinkers have simply collected ideas from a range of sources, then rebranded them win a new spin. Kind of like what Freud did when he appropriated the Ancient Greek philosophy of the rational and irrational souls by calling them the id and superego. (The Greeks called the ego, the ego. )
8. Coercive Control
If a spiritual practice encourages an “us” versus “them” mentality, isolation from family and friends, exploitative labour practices, controls personal finances, surveillance of communication, and micromanaging of behaviour (like limits on how much peanut butter can be put on toast or how many toilet paper sheets are allowed per bathroom visit), the chances the group it’s being lead by a spiritual narcissist.
The biggest misconception about spiritual narcissists is that they are simply following bad doctrines. This is not the case. The theologies of a spiritual narcissistic are designed to be oppressive, and because they perceive themselves to be special and have a mystical connection to the divine, they feel justified in dominating and controlling others.
The spiritual narcissist is not really concerned about the well-being of those who follow them, they are interested in control. Their abuse of power may not leave physical scars, but their coercive control can cause severe psychologically damage, which ranges from PTSD to loss of trust in legitimate spiritual exploration.
I am sincerely open to the prospect that some people have genuine spiritual experiences, and not all religious leaders are spiritual narcissists. However, it is equally prudent to recognise that not all religious leaders are good, just because they claim to be.
Unfortunately, freedom of religion laws often create loopholes for this form of abuse to go unchecked. Both the righteous and the sinister religious leader may be viewed the same by the naive and vulnerable.
Ultimately, there is no cure to spiritual narcissism. But recognising typical tactics like those mentioned here provides a solid start to de-cloaking wolves in sheeps’ clothings.
If you’ve had experiences with a spiritual narcissist, please share your stories by leaving a comment. Education and exposure are the best prevention.