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Narcissism from a Narcissist: A series, Part 1

We “normal” people find it difficult to accept that somewhere deep inside the narcissist simply does not care if he or she hurts us and has no empathy at all for your difficulties.

You probably have never heard of Sam Vaknin. Mr. Vaknin is a self-acknowledged overt narcissist. He has several interesting videos on Youtube® and is the author Malignant Self-love: Narcissism Revisited. He essentially answers questions about narcissism from the narcissists viewpoint. Another interesting work is a self-published book titled Ask the Narcissist: The Answers to Your Questions by H. G. Tudor.

Both acknowledge severe Narcissistic Personality Disorder and in plain terms explain how the narcissist thinks and operates. The next several installments of Let Us Prey will analyze and paraphrase material from both authors.

The behaviors of the narcissist appear to be illogical, nonsensical, and self-destructive. To us, anyway. It makes perfect sense to them as it keeps people confused and in their power. Your confusion, anger, fear, and attempts to love them are what gives them fuel and energy. They do not care if you love them or hate them as love gives them positive energy and hate gives them negative energy, and both are acceptable fuel. What drives them crazy is your indifference as there is nothing in it for them. They are emotional vampires who feed off the energy that you give them, and the more energy you invest the more they will use it.

You are useful to them only so long as you fit their needs of the moment. As soon as you no longer fit those needs as either antagonist or protagonist, you have lost your value and will be discarded like yesterday’s newspaper. But a warning: after the biggest of blowups they will act as if nothing ever happened. If you are still seen as possibly being useful, the seduction process will start anew with the narcissist declaring his or her love with promises to be better and offering all manner of enticements to you, with the only purpose being to draw you back close enough to once again feed off of you.

It is common to always have people in the seduction process as some will not respond as wanted, and will be discarded. So, when one relationship ends, another has likely already begun. To paraphrase, their need for “fuel” overrides absolutely everything else. If a current partner has been drained to a state of numbness, then another partner is needed and the first partner is thrown away. If the discarded partner starts approaching them while seeking to “repair” the relationship, they will be seduced again only for the fuel the narcissist craves.

Why is this so easy for the narcissist? “We are not hampered or hindered by considerations such as guilt, regret, compassion or remorse.” Not only that, but they “jettison all thoughts and memories of you once you are discarded” except as they have no choice but to interact with you – which they absolutely hate – such as in a divorce parenting plan. And they make terrible co-parents as the kids just get in their way, yet they demand all sorts of outrageous concessions. Outrageous to us, that is. Completely normal to them as it gives them more conflict and thus more negative fuel. “The fact that we chose you and you let us down disgusts us and in order to eradicate that disgust” they quickly move on to someone new, someone not like you, someone who will give them the adoration, respect, and obedience they demand.

Chew on that for a bit. I’ll be back soon.

The Narcissist Pastor, Sexuality, and Marriage

This is a little long, but I wanted to be thorough.

As we have seen, the narcissist is a bundle of contradictions, fears, and rage. Narcissist pastors are no different. Since the vast majority of non-Catholic pastors are married, it is the marital partner who must figure out how to survive in submissive codependency, or get out entirely. There is no middle ground.

This installment focuses on narcissism and sexuality, which of course is where the spouse is most vulnerable. In addition to several published studies, tt draws heavily on a 2009 article by Salman Akhtar published in the April edition of Psychiatric Annals 39, no. 4 titled, “Love, Sex, and Marriage in the Setting of Pathological Narcissism.” 

While some narcissist pastors proclaim an almost prudish sexuality, “narcissistic sexuality is strongly associated with three specific types of sexual aggression (unwanted sexual contact, sexual coercion, and attempted/completed rape), and the likelihood of future sexual aggression. Narcissism is also positively associated with infidelity, including sexual exploitation, grandiose sense of sexual skill, sexual entitlement, and lack of sexual empathy (husbands only).” 

Mature love requires an intimate, sustained relationship with a romantically attractive partner with whom “affection and sensuality can both be expressed and received.” There must also be a “capacity for separateness, respect for the lover’s autonomy, and feelings of tenderness and care.” The narcissist does not understand or accept the last three.

“The individual with a narcissistic personality has not mastered these developmental tasks. Feeling deprived from the earliest periods of childhood onwards, he is seething with rage. This rage makes tolerating limits difficult. Tenderness and restrained sexuality is replaced by greed and cocky irreverence. This, as can be readily imagined, has a wide-ranging impact upon the evolution and sustenance of romantic and sexual life during adulthood.

Deficient in empathy, the narcissistic individual often fails to subtly convey his own desire since he assumes that his need will automatically be met with gratification. Instead, he simply demands sex or assumes that he has the right to exploit others. Worse still, the narcissist might deliberately overlook the partner’s sexual invitations in order to "sadistically withhold affection from them."

In essence, from the awakening of desire through foreplay to orgasm and post-orgasmic states, the narcissist finds sexual matters difficult. He cannot manage normal sexuality, which requires the capacity to simultaneously enjoy oneself and to pleasure his partner. 

The tensions of self-loathing, seeing the other person as an object to be exploited, and marital monogamy are too much for a narcissistic individual’s ego to bear. Marrying and staying married thus become difficult, the common result being serial affairs and multiple marriages with ever-younger women in the vain attempt to maintain his own youthfulness. 

“Narcissistic personalities tend to select individuals who, rather than help diminish their pathology, aid in retaining their aggrandized view of themselves. Marrying a socially prominent person helps the accomplished narcissist via boastful sharing (in essence, stealing) of the partner's talents and achievements. Marrying someone far beneath one's socioeconomic status can, paradoxically, also facilitate the stabilization of narcissistic grandiosity; one can constantly demonstrate one's superiority. Besides, one can also satisfy the covert masochism, which frequently accompanies narcissism. In such narcissistic marriages, ‘the partner is really a servant or a convenient fixture, and depreciation and resentment are institutionalized in chronic aggressive behavior’ (Citing Kernberg). Clearly, masochistic tendencies on the partner’s part secretly collude in the stability of such pathological marriages.”

“Marriage does not only bring a spouse in one's life but also his or her family. Cultivating and maintaining a receptive attitude towards the in-laws requires tact, resilience, and, ultimately, a deep sense of respect for the spouse's internal objects. The narcissistic individual lacks these qualities and thus ends up alienating the spouse.” The counter to this is to alienate the spouse from his or her family through emotional terror.

“Narcissistic personalities might damage their marriages by having extramarital affairs. Such damage might remain contained within the marital bond, if is a one-time occurrence, if the spouse has reasons and ability to be forgiving, and if the narcissistic individual himself shows the capacity for remorse. Otherwise the damage is severe enough to result in divorce. This is especially the case with narcissistic men who are habitual philanderers and whose spouses have psychically grown and become more self-respecting over time. 

“The onset of middle age also poses special risks for the sexual and marital lives of narcissistic individuals. The unmarried philanderer finds his diminishing sexual prowess extremely disconcerting. It threatens to de-link him with the sole avenue he has had available for connecting with women (mother-substitutes) and drawing sustenance from them. His ever-present subterranean inconsolability now bubbles to the surface. For the married narcissist, too, matters are not simple. Generally speaking, the inevitable diminution of sexuality during middle age is normally compensated by deepening of mutual regard, respect, and affection. For narcissistic individuals, especially men, the diminution of sexual excitement is, however, accompanied by a loss of interest in the partner. ‘Here, eternally youthful bodies are needed compulsively, regardless of the face, the person, and the attitudes with which such bodies relate to the (narcissistic individual)’(citing Kernberg). Hunger and greed of such proportions end up cannibalizing whatever emotional goodness does exist in the marriage.”

The Narcissist Pastor in Marriage

In the last series, we explored the behaviors of a narcissist in an intimate relationship case study. Which raises this question: How does the narcissist pastor behave in intimate relationships, and in particular, marriage? 

This series will explore one or two aspects in each edition.

The narcissist pastor is an explosive bundle of contradictions. He (or she) has a fairly clear picture in his head of how he should behave, but the picture itself is warped by his attachment to the sacred, which he equates as power and which comes out as domination. This is particularly striking in their marriages.

For example, in a situation I worked with in Indiana, the pastor did all the talking, while his wife sat next to him but said nothing. He answered every question, even those I directed to her. She was obviously afraid of him and more or less cowered throughout the encounter. She said not one word in the four hours I was with them, not even when I asked her a question during a break. In another case, the pastor was a shy/covert narcissist, and expected his wife to defend him against every criticism. This allowed him to take the victim role, which is powerful in itself. One time when he was directly confronted by church members, she yelled at them, “You can’t tell him what to do – this is HIS church!”

Since the narcissist never takes responsibility for anything going wrong and believes that he can treat people badly, the spouse is left to do the repairs and cleanup. A quote: “I spent more than 20 years cleaning up his every mess and apologizing for him. He didn’t give a damn about what most others thought, but I couldn’t say that. Being the ‘good pastor’s wife’ that I was, I had to explain that he was under a lot of pressure, was tired, behind schedule, or whatever would get him off the hook.”

They tend to be rigid and expect instant compliance to rules – many of which are secret and tend to change without notice! This is a form of domination as it keeps the spouse constantly wary and guessing about what he wants or needs. If his rules are violated she will face a scathing attack designed to humiliate and establish stronger control over her. One pastor’s ex-wife told me that she was “constantly walking on eggshells, never knowing what would set him off. His claim was that he was a Man of God! and I was damaging his relationship with God by irritating him. Can you believe it? I did, but no more.” 

The domineering extends to his children, who quickly learn to obey without question to avoid his anger. The family is not a democracy, but a mini-theocracy as God is always on his side. The problem then is that the children mature under a tyrannical parent and either become like him, experience emotional problems, or both. This tends to play out for boys in their teen years under what many call “preacher’s kid syndrome,” which is a form of rebellion to compensate against the expectations for them of being perfect children – which is a reflection on their perfect parent! Girls tend to conform to expectations longer, but when rebellion comes it is sudden and forceful.

Next time: Sex!

The Narcissist in Intimate relationship: A Case Study, Conclusion

Brysen was now thoroughly convinced that he was so worthless that only Crystal could love him, and that he deserved every punishment she meted out. He could not go anywhere without her knowing where he was going, and she almost always insisted that he go with her when she left the house. He did not dare text or call Barbara for fear of Crystal’s rage if she found out. Then she took away his phone entirely and he was cut off from everyone.

Everyone except the boys, that is. They still came as required every other weekend, and Brysen began to pour out his heart to them. They were shocked to see their Dad in tears, and his story made them both angry and afraid for him. They told Barbara all of it, and pleaded with her to do something to get him out. An idea began to form, but it was an unexpected contact from Brysen’s parents that set it in motion. Brysen had told his mom everything, and they recognized the situation for what it truly was: severe and prolonged emotional abuse brought on by Crystal’s narcissistic mental illness.

The plan came together quickly. The boys would smuggle a cell phone in to Brysen the next weekend, along with a message: leave now! They found a safe place for him, and even knew of some job openings. Everyone was supporting him, but he had to get out at the first opportunity. Unbelievably, the opportunity came the very night the boys arrived. Crystal unexpectedly left without explanation, but for how long they had no idea. They jumped at this surprising gift, carted everything they could carry of Brysen’s to his pickup, and fled into the night.

Brysen quickly moved to another city more than a hundred miles away, and found a great job with excellent pay and benefits. Crystal was uncharacteristically quiet for a time. She allowed Brysen to get his remaining property without protest. It made no sense, so everyone waited for the hammer to fall. Crystal could not let him go without it being her victory.

Crystal started by going through surrogates. A woman texted Dustin, Brysen and Barbara’s oldest son, and asked for Brysen’s phone number so she could call him on behalf of Crystal. No dice. Crystal herself then texted Dustin, saying how heartbroken she was and how this was “just tearing our little family apart. I love you like my own son and I can’t bear the thought of losing you and your brother. Please, please, talk to your daddy for me? I love you so much!” Dustin saw it for what it was: just another manipulation attempt to get what she wanted, and refused to respond. He then blocked her phone.

Crystal then began emailing Brysen directly, declaring her deep and undying love, begging him to come back, and promising to “be a better person, more deserving of your love.” He ignored the emails, then changed his email address.

It’s been about a year now, and Brysen has not gone back to Crystal. But his deep emotional neediness is still real and operational. And his emotional scars from living more than two years with Crystal may never heal completely. It’s’ too early to tell.
Postscript: While this story is not a composite, it does mirror the many stories I have been told by the wives (former and current) of narcissist pastors since Glenn and I began this work. That’s right, the narcissist pastors are little different in their “intimate” relationships.

I will write more about that next time.

The Narcissist in Intimate Relationships - A case Study, Part 3.


Crystal began to tell the boys that Brysen was physically and emotionally abusive to her. Though they had never seen him be violent, Crystal brought them in on her “terrible secret” and swore them to secrecy. She then said that she loved them more than their own mother, and how she wished that they were her boys. Crystal then began to slander Barbara to the boys while bribing them with expensive clothes and promising trips to Disneyworld and learning to surf.

Brysen, in the meantime, tried to text Barbara without Crystal knowing about it. Crystal demanded to know who he was texting, grabbed his phone, and then smashed it against some rocks when she saw the text was to Barbara. In a rage, she began to punch Brysen in the face, and Brysen hit her back. The boys saw it all, and were horrified.

Brysen found himself in the guest room for the next several weeks as much to avoid Crystal’s ongoing verbal assaults as it was because she exiled him there. She blamed her behavior on him, insisting that he made her hit him. Brysen began to believe it. Even when they were on good terms, Crystal could weaponize a compliment to Brysen in a way that only he would know it was an insult. Never strong in self-worth, Brysen began to sink further and further into the isolation that hallmarked their relationship.

She had the uncanny ability to know his weakest points, and did her best to destroy what self-confidence he had left. Again, as the Billy Joel song says, “She will promise you more than the Garden of Eden, then she’ll carelessly cut you and laugh while you’re bleedin’.”

Brysen decided to leave her, but was not prepared for her response. She had kept a ledger of everything she had spent on him and the boys, and insisted he was legally obligated to pay back every penny. She demanded reimbursement for food, clothes, rent, toys, sporting good, the trips they had taken – and even demanded that he give back all the clothes she had bought him, even though she had thrown out all of his other clothes.

By now Brysen was so entangled in this sick relationship that he believed her – and stayed.

The Narcissist in Intimate Relationships - A Case Study, Part 2

The Billy Joel song says it well: “She can kill with a smile, she can wound with her eyes; she can ruin your faith with her casual lies, and she only reveals what she wants you to see.”

The true narcissist is the ultimate chameleon and manipulator, and Crystal was a true narcissist. She methodically and alternately pulled Brysen in close and then abruptly shoved him away. This was of course confusing to Brysen, but Crystal knew exactly what she was doing. She was seeing how he reacted in each situation, then filed the reactions way into the file cabinet of her mind for future use. She was learning his fears and weaknesses and neatly cataloguing them. She was also testing the limits of how far she could go before he resisted. And when he did resist, her rage was like a flame thrower directed at him.

All of this was designed to gain greater and greater control over Brysen until he was in reality her slave, living in fear of her wrath and craving her praise and acceptance. And it was working. More and more he based his self-worth on her acceptance, not seeing that he was losing his own identity little by little. The longer they were together the more of himself he lost – and the more he rationalized her behavior.

Crystal’s greatest fear was that Brysen would go back to his ex-wife, Barbara, leaving her alone, and being alone was something she could not tolerate. She was convinced that Barbara wanted him back and would do anything to make that happen, so she more or less commanded Brysen to hate Barbara and treat her with contempt every time they talked. Fearing her unleashed rage, he did it. Crystal insisted that he have no contact with Barbara, but that was impossible because they had two sons and joint decision-making regarding them. So Crystal insisted he could only text Barbara about the boys – and then did the texting herself.

The texts were full of obscenities and accusations. Crystal went along when Brysen picked up the boys for the weekend and glared at Barbara during the exchange. The boys were afraid of her, but Brysen had turned into a “Disneyland Dad” with Crystal paying the tab. They would spend the weekends doing all kinds of fun things, but Crystal had other motives. She began a subtle campaign of distancing the boys from their mother. She bought them clothes and sporting goods they could not afford otherwise, and made progressively bold attempts at slandering their mother. The boys were becoming more and more confused.

Barbara showed them nothing but love and refused to say anything bad to them about Crystal or their Dad. In private, she was devastated and increasingly angry.

It was about to get worse.

The Narcissist in Intimate Relationship - A Case Study

It's been several weeks since I added anything new. Today we begin a new series detailing the intimate relationship patterns of those with narcissistic Personality Disorder. This is a case study with some details altered to protect the people involved. What is different is that the NPD in this situation is female - only 25%+/- of NPDs are women.

The Narcissist in Intimate Relationships – A Case Study
Part 1
It started as most relationships do. We will call them Crystal and Brysen. Their eyes met, they smiled, and a conversation started. They laughed and enjoyed each other’s company. They started dating and it very quickly turned romantic. She was the instigator of most things, and he enjoyed the attention she lavished on him.

They were both needy, but in different ways. She had money and he was barely scraping by. She bought him new clothes that he could never afford, including $150 jeans and a $400 pair of cowboy boots. She bought him a used powerboat. He was recently divorced and still dealing with childhood rejection and abuse; there was a deep neediness in him which she sensed and which she catered to, praising him and declaring her undying love. He responded as she hoped, and fell in love with her.

There was a major problem, however; Crystal was married and living with her husband. She claimed they were divorcing. She said that she hated her husband, that he was a terrible man and worse father to their two children. He was stupid and a total loser, but Brysen was an answer to her prayers and she was so thankful for him.

Brysen moved into the house with Crystal the day after her husband finally moved out, even though he was still arriving at various times to rescues his belongings. He said something very curious to Brysen that made sense only much later: Get out while you can, he whispered. Brysen shook off the comment as jealousy and made himself at home.

It was the biggest, most lavish home he had ever had... And the sex was great! Brysen thought he was in heaven.

And then it got even better, or so he thought. Crystal owned several apartment houses and proposed to Brysen that he take over as the primary caretaker/handyman. She would only pay him $14 an hour, but he would not have any housing, food, gas, medical or clothing expenses. Further, she said that she would “cook the books” to make it appear he was earning only minimum wage, which would eliminate Him from paying income taxes, meaning he could get a refund of several thousand dollars every year for his child support payments. Brysen knew less than nothing about tax laws and agreed.

But Crystal had “some anger issues.” She demanded that he have nothing to do with his ex-wife, even though they had three young children and a parenting plan that required them to make mutual decisions in nonemergency situations. Why, he asked? “I hate her,” said Crystal, “and so should you.”

Brysen had had a small business a few years before that he wanted to revive, and began to call his old clients. He also called his ex-wife a few times. Crystal demanded that he give to her his phone and the password. On seeing he had made the calls, she flew into a screaming rage and smashed the phone to the point where nothing could be retrieved. All of his contacts were lost.

Crystal bought him a “new” cell phone and programmed the password herself. Crystal had begun her campaign to isolate him from everyone else and turn him into her psychological slave. Being codependent, Brysen rationalized it all as nothing more than eccentricity. He could not have been more wrong.

Paranoia, Cognitive Dissonance, and Narcissistic Churches

Narcissist pastors tend to be paranoid, believing that unnamed “others” and staff are plotting against them out of jealousy. If the church has isolated itself and believes it is unique and superior to surrounding churches, it too may become paranoid. One of the results of paranoia is the general and even pointed rejection of complaints and criticism while the paranoia grows wider and deeper.

Organizational paranoia can lead to the organization losing touch with reality and becomes more and more deeply enmeshed in its own self-deceiving truth-story to the point where all other truth-stories and inconvenient facts are summarily rejected. In normal organizations, knowledge is acquired and understanding and application sought through thought, word, and experience. Rational distortion in narcissistic organizations warps meaning and the understanding of intentions, leading to incorrect, but thoroughly accepted, conclusions.

Information that contradicts what we believe creates tension in our minds between what we believe to be true and authoritative information that contradicts that belief. This confusing tension  is called “cognitive dissonance.” It rests on the premise that people desire to view themselves as rational and uniform in both thought and action; therefore, they consciously choose how they respond to information or behaviors that challenge their way of thinking. One respected researcher proposed three ways humans do this: minimize the importance of the dissonant thought, outweigh the dissonant thought with consonant thoughts, or incorporate the dissonant thought into one’s current belief system. 

An uneasy tension spreads through the narcissistic church when what is expected and what actually happens are different. When there is cognitive dissonance between what the organization believes and what is observed outside the organization, the organization as a whole may tend towards such psychotic traits as “compulsion, anxiety, depression, attention seeking, fantasies, irrational fears, paranoia, shyness or narcissistic behavior.” 

Paranoia is always focused on the present with fantasies of imminent attack or sabotage. The result is that the church withdraws further and further while becoming more and more cult-like.

Let's compare how individuals and groups of individuals (churches) relate to perceived outside threats:

  • Individuals deny the reality of demands and resource constraints, facts about themselves, and features of past occurrences.   Organizations deny facts about themselves through spokespersons, propaganda campaigns, annual reports, and myths.
  • Individuals rationalize decisions and actions to mitigate negative outcomes. Organizations provide rationalizations that structure thought, after-the-fact justify their actions, inaction, and responsibility.
  • Individuals engage in fantasies of omnipotence, exhibit grandiosity and exhibitionism, create cultures in their own image, narrate stories that flatter themselves, make nonsensical acquisitions, engage in ego-boosting rituals, and write self-aggrandizing autobiographies. Organizations endow themselves with rightness, make claims to uniqueness, commission corporate histories, and deploy their office layouts and architecture as expressions of status, prestige, and vanity.
  • Individuals blame external authority for their plight, and narrate stories that contain self-enhancing explanations. Organizations use annual reports to blame unfavorable results on external factors and attribute positive outcomes to themselves.
  • Individuals are exploitative, lack empathy, engage is social relationships that lack depth, and favor their interests over shareholders. Organizations are structured according to principles of entitlement. Organizations assume entitlement to continued existence.
  • Individuals suffer internally, experience deprivation and emptiness, are paralyzed by personal anxiety and tension, and struggle to maintain a sense of self-worth. Organizations suffer from social instability due to a breakdown of standards and values and alienation, requiring shared culture, moral order, a common sense of purpose, leadership attempts to secure commitment.

And things fall apart…


Internal Working of the Narcissist Church - Rationalization

While secular organizations tend to rationalize their less-than-ethical actions both externally and internally, churches seem more inclined to internal rationalizations, and even those are very limited in terms of the congregation or the public. Instead, they offer pointed justifications that cover the rationalizing.

Where you will find the major rationalizations is in the upper strata of leadership: the pastor and his or her most trusted (as far as a narcissist can actually trust, of course) associates. University of Cambridge organizational development expert, Andrew Brown, argues that policy makers are often more inclined to satisfy their own personal motives and emotional needs than in fulfilling the the requirements of their organizations.

The result is that many decisions are made for egocentric reasons, which then must be justified/rationalized (often un-self-consciously) by means of “impressive-sounding reasons.” This becomes possible because organizations allow “shadow places” to be created “in which nothing can be seen and no questions asked.” The social order of organizations creates “selective principles” (rationalizations) that in turn highlight favorable events and obscure or cloak unfavorable events, “control memory, provide categories for thought, set the terms for self-knowledge, and fix identities.”

But doesn’t every church do that in some respects? Probably, but again the objection misses the point, which is that the combination of these factors and their intensity determines whether or not a given church has narcissistic qualities or is intensely narcissistic.

Witness the rise and fall of Harold Camping, who predicted the end of the world and the return of Christ. Many of his followers sold their homes, gave away their possessions, liquidated their assets and gave them away because none of those things would be needed in heaven. They waited expectantly for May 21, 2011. Nothing happened. Camping then adjusted his prophecy to the date of October 21, 2011. Again, nothing happened.

Camping rationalized his narcissistic belief that he alone could “decipher” the “Bible code” that held the secret to the second coming and said on his radio program, “We’re living in a day when one problem follows another. And when it comes to trying to recognize the truth of prophecy, we’re finding that it is very, very difficult. There’s one thing that we must remember. God is in charge of this whole business, and we are not. What God wants to tell us is his business. Amongst other things, I have been checking my notes more carefully than ever. And I do find that there is other language in the Bible that we still have to look at very carefully and will impinge upon this question very definitely.” Notice the rationalization and refusal to admit that he was just plain wrong?

The International Business Times put it this way on November 2, 2011: “However, when Doomsday failed to materialize, the followers were left in the lurch. They did not fly off to heaven as promised and had exhausted their life’s savings. When questioned about his moral responsibility to the followers, Camping deftly washed his hands off. He said he was not really responsible for anyone in particular.” He attributed favorable motives and outcomes to himself, blamed his followers for following him, and then blamed God for changing the second coming without notifying him! In Camping’s May 21, 2011 spiritual judgment day predictions, he even claimed that God had stopped saving people who did not believe. He did apologize for that, but never actually retracted the statement, either.

Being leader of a church carries with it automatic prestige and power, and less often financial rewards. Being part of a church gives deeper meaning to who we are and why we exist; thus it offers the intrinsic reward of self-esteem—I am loved and cherished by none other than God Almighty. In maintaining this self-esteem, we also open ourselves to self-aggrandizement, and for the same reason—I am loved and cherished by none other than God Almighty! Brown aptly summarizes the dilemmas and traps that churches and their members are susceptible to. “These rewards encourage the individual to self-aggrandizement (“Because I am a member of a virtuous or worthwhile organization, I too am virtuous or worthwhile”), to deny moral improprieties and questioning of the individual’s social utility (“Since I participate in a good organization, my actions must be good”), to rationalize actions (“My actions are prompted by virtuous motives”), to possess a sense of entitlement (“The virtuous should receive”), and to engage in attributional egotism (“Since I am good, so are the consequences of my actions”).

When is a Call to Ministry Not A Call?

The “Call” to be a Pastor (?)

All Christians are “called” to ministry in one way or another. But what about ordained ministry? How does someone “know” he or she has been “called by God” to be a pastor? It’s a vexing question at best. The “god” a true narcissist is called by is him- or herself in the desire to gain supernatural—and very human—treasure in its many forms. The true call would be almost devoid of this need, as demonstrated by most of the Old Testament prophets. They did not want to be prophets! Moses claimed to be slow-witted and to have a speech defect. Jeremiah cried out that he was too young. Jonah. . . and so on. But there is a problem: more than 90% of all ordained pastors score high in narcissism. A majority are able to redirect it in healthy ways, but this is not about them.

Narcissistic Personality Disorder is a nuanced mental disease. We all have narcissistic qualities. The fact that Glenn Ball and I have written a book on narcissistic pastors and I am writing this blog betrays my own narcissistic belief that others are interested in what I have to say. That is not necessarily unhealthy narcissism, though. When it is healthy we tend to term it as self-confidence.

Westminster Theological Seminary says this in part: Before pursuing ordination, it is vital for you to evaluate your desires and motives for such a pursuit. Do you want to become a minister because you have the right gifts? Do you enjoy being in charge of others and in control of most situations you find yourself in? Do you like it when others listen to you and take your advice above the advice of others? If these are your main reasons for becoming a minister, perhaps you should reconsider your motives. As Titus 1:7 points out, a minister cannot be arrogant, but must be “upright, holy, and disciplined.” The problem here is that the narcissist is incapable of true self-analysis.

Narcissists most emphatically are not called to ministry by God; they are called by their own deep needs and insecurities. The difference is both profound and tragic.

Most denominations have a lengthy vetting process of supervised ministry but seem to believe that psychological testing has no place in it. They are wrong. Glenn’s study showing that 31.2% of ordained ministers have a diagnosable and very serious mental disorder proves that the internal vetting processes simply do not work.

Narcissistic motivation is nuanced and often difficult to spot until the pattern appears over time. I can only guess what your motivations may be at a given time. It is your actions that clarify and define motives. Here are some hallmarks for identifying the narcissist:

1. They make grand promises they do not keep.
2. They pull people to themselves under the pretense of spiritual mentoring.
3. The speak of grand ideas and projects that rarely actually happen.
4. They “churn” new projects to find something that works.
5. They want your praise – and pity! (A common theme is how hard they work and how ungrateful people are for it.)
6. They tend to tell people different things and then pit them against each other.
7. They are never wrong. Never. In fact, they are experts on everything.
8. They refuse to be held accountable. Anyone suggesting accountability is a traitor and must be destroyed.
9. They are amazingly adept at playing to your weaknesses and needs to pull you into a dependent relationship.
10. They have no respect for boundaries.
11. They not only twist the facts, they outright lie. A lot! And then lie about lying!

Hallmarks of the Narcissist Church - Part 2

Along with grandiosity and entitlement, the narcissistic church will experience a certain amount of paranoia that expresses itself through isolation. This will manifest as a sense of being superior to other churches, which then have nothing to offer of value. Instead, these churches should come to them to learn how to do church right. They wait and wait, but never figure out why it is that nobody comes. There are some that are hugely successful in this and have numerous conferences each year for pastors on preaching, church growth, and so on, but rarely participate when other churches offer similar programs. It’s an interesting way of disguising internal narcissism under a cloak of service, but it is service with the background idea of “we are so good at this that you really need to copy what we do.”

This is also manifested in more fundamentalist and cultic groups that believe contact with the outside world is polluting. In the dangerously narcissistic church, a warped gospel message proclaims that Truth can be found nowhere else. The twisted psychology of it provides for varying degrees of “We have a corner on the Truth as revealed through our charismatic pastor. To be part of us you have to accept that Truth exactly as we present it without question or challenge.” As the church turns ever further inward, the message of paranoia and isolation grows stronger.

Lack of Empathy
Let’s be honest: we all sin. Daily. Sometimes, we may fall into a major sin such as immorality or worse. So what is the Church to do? Galatians 6:1–2 states, “Brothers and sisters, if someone is caught in a sin, you who live by the Spirit should restore that person gently. But watch yourselves, or you also may be tempted. Carry each other’s burdens, and in this way you will fulfill the law of Christ.” The Church is called to be a place of accountability and gentle restoration. It’s not one or the other, but both.

You will probably not find gentle restoration in the narcissistic church. Instead, the narcissistic church will loudly proclaim the love and forgiveness of Christ even as it draws its members ever deeper into a cold, rigid, and unforgiving conformity.  

Case in point: a young unmarried woman had an affair with a married man. Riddled with guilt she went to her pastor and confessed. Her pastor counselled her that she had to stand up in front of the entire congregation and confess her sin. As humiliating as that would be, she cherished the relationships she had in this church, and so agreed. The following Sunday morning she quivered in fear and humiliation as she stood in front of the entire congregation and tearfully told her story. She expected biblical forgiveness and restoration. Instead, the pastor publicly told to her to leave and never come back, and ordered the congregation to shun her. Amazing—a church proclaiming the gospel of Christ with no place for actual sinners! Glenn and I would probably never be accepted into membership—but then again, we don’t intend to apply.

The lack of empathy usually is not that dramatic, but it is just as real. More often, people with questions or criticisms will be told privately that they would probably be much happier elsewhere, which is a shaded message to leave and never come back. Even more subtle are the places that begin a whispering campaign against someone that eventually cuts them off from all of their friends and makes it known that they simply are no longer welcome. Conformity is enforced in this way.

Hallmarks of the Unhealthy Church - Part 1

Every one of us has probably seen the phenomenon of a mediocre team unexpectedly winning a game and the players and bench sitters alike madly jutting their index fingers in the air while screaming “We’re number one! We’re number one!” Proclaiming yourself Number One does not make it a reality. Unfortunately, churches are vulnerable to the same enthusiastic delusion.
To claim uniqueness or greatness by necessity requires defining who we are, as well as defining the “other,” which is who we are not. Jose Bruner argues, “Throughout history, as bonding has gone on and as identities have changed, the Other has been necessary in this process. Rome required barbarians, Christendom required pagans, Protestant and Catholic Europe required each other. Thus, while serving as a foundation of love among ‘us,’ the more pathological form of narcissistic collective self-love inevitably leads to rage against ‘them,’ that is, against those who fail to be part of ‘us’ because they differ in some significant way. . .” (Bruner, Pride and Memory).
Almost every church proclaims its uniqueness as a means of attracting new people. Branding, rebranding, and church growth have become a major industry. Every church needs members and every church tries to figure out how to attract new members, and so we ask ourselves, how are we unique? What’s our brand? No church I have ever seen advertises that it is dull, bland, and boring, and is probably a good fit for dull, bland and boring people.
In looking at church slogans and taglines, we see the effort to be different. Here are a few we found in a quick Internet search: “A place where miracles happen.” “Walking in faith; discovering a community.” “Molding believers, influencing the world.” “Transforming our city. . . one life at a time.” “We’re boldly going where no faith has gone before.” “On our way to changing the world!”
There is a certain amount of increasing grandiosity in each of these statements as they progress, particularly when a local church proclaims that it is influencing the entire world, transforming a city, going where no faith has ever gone before or even on their way to changing the entire world. You get the point.
The problem really is not in the slogan, but in the essence of the leaders and congregation and the intensity of belief in their uniqueness. One pastor regularly proclaimed how unique his church was and how many young pastors were shaping their churches after “his church.” Many took his words with more than a few grains of salt, but many others believed him, even though there was no supporting evidence. They became proud and looked down at other churches in the area, and would have nothing to do with them. Most of them have no idea how others in the community referred to them and their church as the place where the theology was “an inch deep and an inch wide” and where they preached “Gospel lite.”
A true quest for uniqueness can be a major spur to creativity, but it can also be a means of isolating the group from other churches and outside influences.
One of the first things I do when called in to help a wounded church is visit its website. I want to know the message the church is projecting to the world, and I often find some very interesting things.
Remember, to the narcissist, bragging about how exclusive his club is comes naturally and he is tone deaf about how it is received. It is no different for churches. One website proudly proclaimed that hundreds of people attended every Sunday, but only a few were actually members because the membership process was exhaustive and lengthy. The inference was that this was an exclusive club and only very special people were admitted. You had to be dedicated and willing to go through their initiation process. The Senior Pastor made the final decision on who was admitted into membership and who was not, so it was a clear possibility that you could give months of your time, energy and study and still be denied. This approach appeals to narcissistic grandiosity. One man I know personally talks constantly about how his church is the best, most biblically accurate, friendliest, wealthiest. . . keep adding superlatives. His own narcissistic needs are met at least in part by being a member of this particular church.
We actually encourage pastors in self-aggrandizement by the ways in which we treat them, invite them into our most intimate and difficult moments, and place them on a higher plane than where we ourselves are confined. While a majority of pastors understand that this is not fair to them or us, the narcissist expects and demands it as his due. Remember, it is easy to proclaim how humbled we are by praise and attention while secretly gushing with pride.
If there is one place where entitlement should be loathed, it is the local church. Jesus had very strong words about entitlement. Take a moment and read Matthew 10: 35-45. Jesus makes it clear that His followers are to serve rather than be served. But even here it is not so much about serving as it is the attitude of the servants.
The North American culture is in many ways a culture of entitlement and church members bring that sense of entitlement with them. It is common for people to make various demands because they have been members for a long time or to withhold their tithes and offerings because they are unhappy with a decision made by the church leadership. When a narcissistic pastor comes together with members who also believe they are entitled, it can create a culture of entitlement in the church.
The Church at every level from the small group to the largest megachurch is called to one form expressed in many ways: servanthood. Like Christ, we are called to serve, not to be served (Mark 10:45).
The narcissistic church may serve, and serve very well. It may be exemplary in its service to those in need. That is not the point even as Jesus’ words to James and John were not about service—they were about the attitude and spirit of service. So the question is, why do we serve? So that we can feel good about ourselves? So that we can get together and talk about how well and how much we serve, and then congratulate each other on our service? So that we collectively as the local church can proclaim our service as a reason for joining us? That is unhealthy narcissism as it brings acclaim to us and not the Lord we serve. Jesus said in Matthew 6:3, “But when you give to the needy, do not let your left hand know what your right hand is doing.”
So the question is not, Do we serve? It is, Why do we serve?

The Narcissistic Church - Series

This is the first of series of posts regarding narcissistic churches.
Is it possible for the church itself to become narcissistic? Sadly enough, the answer is an unequivocal “yes.” All organizations tend to follow the patterns of their leaders, which in this case includes not just the pastor(s), but also the lay leaders. If the lead pastor is a narcissist and is able to pull other leaders into his circle of sickness, the church will begin a slide into its own version of Narcissistic Personality Disorder and will go deeper and deeper into it the longer these leaders remain in control. This cycle has a way of becoming self-perpetuating: as healthier leaders leave due to discomfort and disagreement, new leaders who have stronger narcissistic tendencies will emerge along with a subgroup of kowtowing followers who get close to the leader in order to bask in his glory.
Entering and becoming part of a church involves the emergence of a new personal identity that says we belong to and are part of something greater than ourselves. We come to see ourselves as part of the church and the church as part of us in a shared-identity relationship. We find in this relationship a sense of belonging that we may not otherwise have. This new identity often has the ability to sustain us through dark times, which in turn motivates us to strengthen the identity and the relationships that created it. In this way the church is seen as legitimate and important.
The church also has a life that is largely not seen. It is not hidden from view, but it operates in the background much as the operating system on a computer and thus is simply not very noticeable until it goes haywire. It is the identity of the church. Jay White of the University of Nebraska writes, “An organization’s identity consists of the psychological makeup of current and past organizational members. It is formed from people’s psychological reactions to events within and outside organizations; events that are incorporated into their preconscious thoughts and influences their outward behaviors.” In other words, the church has a history that is alive in the present and influencing the current internal story it tells itself in proclaiming its uniqueness to those looking for a church. There simply are not many churches proclaiming that they are average, nothing unusual, run of the mill places in which you will find little that challenges or inspires you. Couple the “uniqueness” message with the reality that the biblical church is one where personal "life stories" are retained but made subordinate to the collective narrative and the possibilities for abuse and predation arise.
A church with a narcissistic pastor at its center quickly begins to veer off course towards treacherous shoals because “the narcissism of the chief executives often sets a similar tone for the corporation [church] as a whole.” One researcher writes, “Everything that develops within a [church] including culture, management style, interpersonal relationships, rules and procedures, strategy, symbols and behavior will have some unconscious basis to it.” The unconscious basis consists of the internal identity the church creates for itself and the narrative the church holds as “truth.” The problem lies in the fact that the “truth” of our narratives is often more about favorable interpretation than it is about factual reality—or scriptural integrity. When the story we tell ourselves about ourselves is accepted as true and then is confronted by outside resistance, it tends to strengthen the value placed on the story as it is rather than examine the resistance for bits of truth. The stronger the attack, the stronger is the resistance, the stronger the truth-story becomes, and a siege mentality often ensues. In other words, external forces rarely produce positive internal changes.
Instead, the narcissistic church simply become more narcissistic and convinced of its own uniqueness.

The Hallmarks of Severe Narcissistic Personality Disorder

A pastor with NPD endangers not only the church as an organization and community of faith, but also places in danger everyone who is a member. What's more, the numbers we got through testing an entire denomination's pastors have been confirmed by an independent researcher at a prestigious university. Men and women with NPD are in fact drawn to ministry at rates of about 1500% higher than they are found in the general population.

As a refresher, let's go through the identifying hallmarks of someone with severe NPD. Not everyone will exhibit all of them all the time, but all of them will be there and will come out under the right circumstances.

  1. Arrogance. Wants the whole world to know what a superior being he or she is. Takes credit for what others do but never takes responsibility for errors.
  2. Achieves dominance through bullying and intimidation. Threatens anyone he or she sees as a threat and will do whatever they can to destroy a perceived threat.
  3. Uses sarcasm instead of humor. Attacks others for their looks, weight, gender, ethnicity, education, race, religion, disabilities... pretty much anything.
  4. Exaggerates achievements. Everything he or she does is better than anything anyone else can do.
  5. Never forgives. Cannot even conceive of what forgiving truly means.
  6. Always takes revenge. Favorite Bible verse is "...you are to take life for life, eye for eye, tooth for tooth, hand for hand, foot for foot, burn for burn, wound for wound, bruise for bruise." (Exodus 21: 21-25).
  7. Lies constantly. Lies about his lying, and attacks anyone who challenges the lie. Contradicts himself then denies the contradiction by denying he ever said what he now contradicts, even if challenged with a recording.
  8. Always blames failure on others. It can never be his/her fault.

I could go on.

Do you recognize anyone from this list?

Understanding the Narcissist: Origins

Much of what follows is paraphrased from a 1997 article. It is still a good partial description of how the narcissist comes to be and how they related to the world.

Frederica Halligan. “Narcissism, Spiritual Pride, and Original Sin.” Journal of Religion and Health 36, no. 4 (Dec 1997): 305-320.

There are large numbers of people who suffer from narcissistic disorders.... They enter therapy in the belief, with which they grew up, that their childhood was happy and protected when the opposite was more often true. The parents are often themselves like "insecure children." They may see in their offspring a weaker creature that, in contrast, makes them feel strong. Many parents may attempt to over-control the child, out of the parents' own feelings of being helpless, weak, or afraid. Often they try to relive (or live for the first time) academic success or athletic prowess through their children. In such situations, parents are unable to fulfill the child's primary narcissistic needs because the parents grew up in an atmosphere where their own narcissistic needs were never met.

 Thus the parents themselves were deprived and throughout life they have been searching for what they did not receive—someone to admire and attend to them. They look to their children for gratification of their own needs. In this tremendous focus on parents' needs, parents tend to reject a child's "true self." They often reject the child's negative feelings with the result that the child often admits only to feelings that the parents approve. The cost is depression and emptiness which is often covered over by grandiosity.

Even the most gifted and successful narcissists are haunted by their underlying fear of rejection and failure. According to prevailing, general attitudes, these people—the pride of their parents—should have had a strong and stable sense of self-assurance. But exactly the opposite is the case. In everything they undertake they do well and often excellently; they are admired and envied; they are successful whenever they care to be—but all to no avail. Behind all this lurks depression, the feeling of emptiness and self-alienation, and a sense that their life has no meaning. These dark feelings will come to the fore as soon as the drug of grandiosity fails, as soon as they are not "on top," not definitely the "superstar," or whenever they suddenly get the feeling they failed to live up to some ideal image and measure they feel they must adhere to. Then they are plagued by anxiety or deep feelings of guilt and shame" (citing Miller, 1981, 5-6).

In similar manner, narcissistic rage may occur as a defense in a child whose parents were unavailable or in families which rejected some part of the child's true self. Emptiness, self-alienation, guilt, and shame—these are the profound feelings from which the narcissist runs. Behind the perfect persona lies a tremendous sense of failure and a terror that one is, in essence, unlovable. Here is the abyss of the soul.

This abyss is often well hidden and people with narcissistic personalities spend a great deal of time and effort shoring up the persona so that no one knows the anguish they feel. Any sign of indifference, any slight or rejection causes them great suffering (and often defensive rage). Least of all do they want to know of, or to deal with, this "hole in the soul." The resistance here is high; too much honesty exposes them to the most dreadful feelings of abandonment.

Naivete and Narcissism - Not a Good Mix!

My daughter sent me an interesting article by Altheia Luna on why empathic people get caught up in so many dangerous relationships with narcissists. She writes,

"Like moths drawn to flames, us empaths seem to have a penchant for flying head-first into dangerous friendships and soul-sucking relationships that leave us feeling exhausted and unhinged. And yet, over and over again many of us fall into the same trap, often missing the vital life lessons being presented.

"Why is it that empaths and narcissists – two diametrically opposed types of people – feel an almost magnetic pull towards each other? There are many theories, but at the heart of it, I believe that it is Life’s way of restoring balance."

What??? She then accurately describes the narcissist as "highly charming and attractive, yet deeply uncaring, indifferent, self-centered and cruel. Put empaths and narcissists together? Both come in contact with their “inverted/reverse” selves, and both are forced to learn, grow and heal as a result of such an experience (although this doesn’t always happen immediately, but through trial and error)."

That Luna believes that both will learn and adjust flies in the face of all the clinical literature and is just naive, wishful thinking. The empath may learn and change, but not the narcissist! The narcissist, being already superior to everyone else, sees no need to change and rarely learns anything through mistakes to counter their actions . In reality, the narcissist sees the empathic, loving person as a weak target to be exploited and then discarded when its usefulness is finished. They form a symbiotic and twisted relationship that is toxically codependent.

The narcissist knows the causes and effects of his actions, and knows the damage that he or she does, but, as Sam Vaknin writes, "He simply does not care!" (Vaknin by his own admission has severe Narcissistic Personality Disorder and writes with an insider's view.)

With the narcissist, you need more than love!

The First Narcissist Pastor in America?

I recently read Stacy Schiff's excellent history titled, The Witches: Salem, 1692 (New York: Little Brown, 2015). In it she describes Puritan Pastor Samuel Parris in detail, and in particular his demands on his parishioners for money, firewood, to have a field cleared and fences repaired, and so on. His rigid personality and belief in his moral superiority to all around him and his disdain at the primitive conditions (and people) of Salem were so so obvious that his parishioners refused to collect his salary. To disagree with him was to make a lifelong enemy who never forgot and never forgave. His was the punishing God of the Old Testament and he saw himself as anointed by God to cleanse the area of all evil.

Parris was the same at home: rigid, demanding, judging, and punishing. It was after preaching several sermons on the presence of the devil in Salem that his own daughters became the first to act traumatized by witchcraft, and to identify several upright - and not so upright - village women as the witches, along with a few men.

The hysteria caught on, and other girls began to act as if possessed, leading to more accusations against more women. Parris himself was active in the trials that followed, testifying as an expert on the powers of witchcraft and the reality of the accused as demon possessed and in actual pacts with the devil.

As the hysteria grew, Parris stayed at its center, obviously relishing and thriving on the power he had, all the while complaining about how poorly he was treated and paid by his parishioners.

The result is that several women and even children as young as five were imprisoned in irons, where some died, and nineteen people were executed, mostly by hanging. One man - their former pastor - was crushed to death.

Once the hysteria died out, Parris was seen as the instigator, left Salem, and eventually disappeared into obscurity.


It is said that, in order to move on, the discomfort of staying must be greater than the discomfort of pulling up the anchor and turning the boat towards the open sea. Leaving the church I had poured myself into for 18 years was hard. but staying was no longer an option, particularly with the book coming out. It's amazing how fast so-called "Christian love" can turn into hostility and threats. Kicking in my office door, the only one to be touched in a building with 15 offices in it, was a very strong message. 

And so my small family and I are sailing in blue water with no destination in sight. It feels very strange, even disjointed, not to have a church home, but on open water is the metaphorical place we need to be right now. You cannot reach a new harbor without leaving the old one behind. The adventure is in the journey, and the difference between ordeal and adventure is attitude. We will find safe haven again,; of that I am sure.

The awareness of NPD in pastors is growing fast. Just this morning I read a blog about the damage they have done in the Reformed Church, and yesterday I read of yet another mega-church pastor who was fired for his narcissistic tendencies. His Board saw what he was doing, and acted. Unfortunately, many more church boards not only see it, they aid and abet it. Am email I received yesterday called it an epidemic.

It is exactly that: a deadly epidemic designed to discredit Christianity and destroy the effectiveness of the Church. And it is working!