The religious narcissist

It seems like everyone knows a narcissist these days. It isn’t a term I really thought about a decade ago. After I left a teaching position with a corrupt president, I started hearing people refer to him as a Narcissist. I also have a sister about whom we used to say, “She just can’t see beyond herself.” It was always a benign issue… until it wasn’t. Over the years, I realized the narcissism there. It was painfully demonstrated to me.

With those experiences, I’ve done a bit of research over the last few years on narcissism. But, the religious aspect of narcissism has always been hard for me to grasp. The heart of living the Christian faith is to look beyond yourself. The narcissists in my life have been religious and will eagerly tell you about how much service for others they do.

This weekend I ran across an older article from the Washington Post that had the following quote:

[S]ome true narcissists are obsessed with helping other people — kind of self-aggrandizement through martyrdom. We’ve all met people like this, Craig Malkin, author of “Rethinking Narcissism,” tells Webber — “self-sacrificing to the point where you can’t stand to be in the room with them.”

I’d never read it worded quite like that. A classic part of narcissism is self-aggrandizement. I’d always wondered how that works out when a narcissist, maybe a religious narcissist, considers themself to be a giving person. It is a contradiction in these people because they help others but for their own purposes.

Religious Narcissist

I also joined a Christan Facebook group about narcissism. I was a little hesitant fearing that it may be a pray the narcissism away type group. The group did however share a really powerful piece from an unknown author about religious narcissists. I would love to know the original source. But still, it is worth sharing in this context. My narcissists aren’t from a romantic relationship but so much of this applies to any religious narcissist.


Did your narcissistic ex sit in the pew and quote scripture, talk about God all the time, and have people believing they were a “Godly person”? It’s all an illusion, and you know that by now, because narcissists are all about creating illusions.

The illusion goes something this….God is good. Scripture is good, and true. Therefore, the narcissist, who claims to be Godly and quotes scripture, is also good and truthful….and also right, and if you disagree, well, then, you aren’t opposing the narcissist, you are opposing God….

…..The narcissist quotes scripture or religious teachings to create the illusion that they are spiritual, are holy, righteous, and better than other people, including you, who are not as special and lack the “spiritual gifts” the narcissist has. The implication is that the narcissist has a special relationship with God.

….To the narcissist, religion is yet another way to deceive and to abuse, and get away with it. It provides a perfect cover. Even the religious leadership may support the narcissist. And, instead of providing you will a sense of peace, it contributes to your confusion….why should you be feeling insecure, have a sense that something is wrong, and why you don’t feel close and trusting with the narcissist if he’s so religious? That’s “cognitive dissonance“, and it’s very uncomfortable.

A relationship with “religious” narcissist will suck the life right out of your religious practice, because the narcissist confuses you, abuses you, controls and dominates you using religion. It’s a particularly evil and destructive practice that attacks the deepest and best part of you.

The narcissist may adopt a “holier than thou” attitude toward others and refuse to associate with those who don’t agree with the narcissist….in other words, the narcissist can be rigid and rejecting, in the name of God.

….In short, the “religion” of the Narcissist is a near perfect catch all…it exempts them from fault, it give a punch to the narcissist’s being right all the time, it eliminates any differing views because their views are God’s views, it justifies abuse by saying they are saving your soul…..

Religion empowers and justifies the narcissist….they are always good, and always right, and that’s just perfect for a narcissist, but it’s bad news for you.

Unfortunately, the children are often totally turned off to anything religious, and can become actively hostile, since religion was used to abuse them.

There is also a self deprecating narcissist….they like to portray themselves as perfectly humble, if you see the contradiction. In fact, the narcissist’s entire approach to religion is contradictory.

Narcissists twist the idea of love to mean abuse, and use religion as the ultimate abuse…spiritual abuse, and does it by standing everything good on it’s head, making evil seem good, and good seem evil. They do evil in the name of God. And nothing can justify that, and nothing can be worse.

-Author unknown

Navigating relationships with religious narcissists is incredibly challenging. I am no expert. Yet I do always find comfort in knowing that others are walking the same path. I hope this provides you some comfort in walking your path.

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  • Peter Woodward says:

    I totally concur with the assessment of the “unknown author.” My experience was with a “senior” pastor who abused everyone into submission to his “mission”. If you had the simplest question or attempted an honest conversation about his decisions, you became a target. His 12 years of leadership “grew” the parish from 700 active members down to 300, and that was justified with the verse about “bad company corrupts good character” — an irony all its own.

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