Self-Deprecating Narcissists: Why Some Christian Narcissists Appear Humble

Self Deprecating Narcissists in the ChurchA humble narcissist?

I always wondered how my former pastor could appear so righteous and yet act as a narcissist.

Even after writing a post about narcissism in the church, I still scratched my head.

But no more.

Recently, my friends over at “Recovering Grace” re-posted a blog which describes exactly how this behavior happens. Since most Christians frown at obvious narcissism, pastors who struggle with narcissism must cloak their personality disorder with apparent humility. Thus the term “self-deprecating narcissism.”

The article quotes extensively from Jack Watts, who writes about spiritual abuse by evangelical leaders. You will find his insights in this article well worth your time. The author also quotes from Sandy Hotchkiss. I want to read her book, but this snippet quoted in the blog will have to suffice for now:

“Sandy Hotchkiss in her book, Why is It Always About You: The Seven Deadly Sins of Narcissism, lays out the traits of all narcissists this way. [Emphasis by blogger]

Narcissists in the ChurchShamelessness – Shame is the feeling that lurks beneath all unhealthy narcissism, and the inability to process shame in healthy ways.

Magical thinking – Narcissists see themselves as perfect using distortion and illusion known as magical thinking. They also use projection to dump shame onto others.

Arrogance – A narcissist who is feeling deflated may re-inflate by diminishing, debasing, or degrading somebody else.

Envy – A narcissist may secure a sense of superiority in the face of another person’s ability by using contempt to minimize the other person.

Entitlement – Narcissists hold unreasonable expectations of particularly favorable treatment and automatic compliance because they consider themselves special. Failure to comply is considered an attack on their superiority, and the perpetrator is considered an “awkward” or “difficult” person. Defiance of their will is a narcissistic injury that can trigger narcissistic rage.

Religious NarcissistsExploitation – can take many forms but always involves the exploitation of others without regard for their feelings or interests. Often the other is in a subservient position where resistance would be difficult or even impossible. Sometimes the subservience is not so much real as assumed.

Bad Boundaries – narcissists do not recognize that they have boundaries and that others are separate and are not extensions of themselves. Others either exist to meet their needs or may as well not exist at all. Those who provide narcissistic supply to the narcissist are treated as if they are part of the narcissist and are expected to live up to those expectations. In the mind of a narcissist, there is no boundary between self and other.”

Check out the rest of the post for more explanations of narcissism in the church.

Update, 11/17/15: William E. Krill, Jr., L.P.C., has written an outstanding post about what he calls “Covert Narcissistic Pastors.” It is worth ten minutes to read it. You can find it here.

21 comments on “Self-Deprecating Narcissists: Why Some Christian Narcissists Appear Humble

  1. Yes Steve!! I have always wondered that too, until I started reading about Narcissism. The person with true narcissism is actually a very insecure person and will use any tactic to re-establish his deluded identity if threatened; under no circumstances will a narcissist let that go. This is why it is difficult to pin them because they see no problem with using any trick or lie to get their status back to “normal”. Often times others will give in to their demands making it harder to catch these guys and muzzle their damaging activities.

  2. I agree with both comments. And the saddest part is that narcissists tend to have very charismatic personalities and thus deceive the masses. When the narcissist is crossed they lash out and mask it in a spiritual dress. Of course it is others fault, never the narcissist. Steve, thanks for bringing this up. I actually have a 1/2 written post on the topic involving seminary students and that prayer I hate to pray – Lord please don’t let them leave here and abuse your sheep. Thankfully it is rare but still very sobering knowing it exists.

  3. ljrobinson, I know it is very sad and rare these days. This epidemic has left me without trust in the church I am afraid- BUT the Lord is so good and gracious to me and my family. I have never lost my faith and trust in Him. Anytime I even try to express my woes of the church, however, I am always given the classic “well you know that no church or pastor is perfect” or “you are disobeying God by not becoming involved as a member in a church”. There is no “we understand and want to be along side/support you and pray with you”. Most churches don’t even allow healing or doubt, they only expect you to get over it and get with the program. You are just a number and a money coffer- thats it.

  4. […] Self-Deprecating Narcissists: Why Some Christian Narcissists Appear Humble | Liberty for Captives A humble narcissist? I always wondered how my former pastor could appear so righteous and yet act […]

    • My husband is one of those pastors. Although it took me e few years to recognize the problem or rather the truth. The abuse was minimal in the beginning, and has now progressed to the unbearable state. He has no idea that I have figured out he’s a narc, and I’m playing it safe right now. It’s disgusting to see him stand up and preach the WORD of GOD, then belittle me, his wife, with cruel words. And of course everything is all my fault. I’m nothing without him. I work 2 jobs , have 2 degrees, pay all the bills, and he does nothing all day, and only preaches on Sunday morning and Tuesday night Bible Study. He has everyone fooled. Such a charmer, especially with women. I pray daily for wisdom, knowledge, and understanding that God will direct my path. That I make a decision that He wants for me, and I don’t jump with haste. Most importantly, I don’t want to be stupid. He has turned me from wanting any part of this kind of church, but he can not take away my joy or love for Jesus.

  5. When the subject came up on another spiritual abuse blog, the type example cited for a Humble(TM) Narcissist was a Charles Dickens character:
    Uriah Heep from David Copperfield

  6. Stephen, this was eye-opening for me. I have grown up with a Narcissistic mother and I have recently be trying to help my sister and I cope with how to deal with her in a Christ-like way. What I wasn’t expecting was that I can see now that my former pastor is a Narcissist! We left after 15 years and he began calling our new pastor to “warn him about my husband that he would try to usurp power”. Thankfully our new pastor knows this other one and could discern the truth. But I still feel that he needs to be stopped so others won’t continue to be hurt. It has been a hard road.

    • Thanks for sharing, Michelle. I’m sorry that you have been surrounded with closet narcissists, but it sounds like you are on a journey of healing and recovery. How reassuring to hear that your new pastor understands the truth and can help protect the sheep. It may have been a hard road, but God can redeem it for much good. Grace and peace to you.

  7. I have been married for about a year and six months. I feel that my wife is a narcissist. I really didn’t know what that was until after a few months of marriage. She blew up on me several times and one day I just googled “Crazy wife.” Narcissistic came up in the results. My wife is deeply in the church as am however she has always acted as her faith is far above mine as well as her knowledge. I had seen signs from time to time during our dating and it really came to the front during the last six months before the wedding. With the extra pressure of planning the wedding…we broke up several times because she would get upset about something simple…….she even said she was going to call the cops on me after one break up…because a piece of furniture that she had brought over after a fight…she wanted back and I was not at home. She broke a outside light on another occasion. I look back and wonder what was I thinking in going forward when so much was showing me not to. Since being married….she has cursed me out, thrown stuff at me and gone a entire weekend without saying anything to me. Yet if she says she is sorry….it is forgotten…by her never to be remembered but I can’t forget. She then promises to get help but just as the actions are forgotten so is that as well. What is so hard for me is she can do all these things but go to church and act like she is Jesus. I have even gone to church at times where she would not say one word to me all the way there…get out of the car and hugging as well as speaking to everyone. Sing several songs during service and then go home with me again not saying one word. It is deeply frustrating to live with that but too its hard to see how she has fooled so many people at church. People are always coming up to me saying,”take care of her…she is a good woman.” If they really knew the truth. I used to enjoy hearing her sing when we first started dating but now its hard. She has even gotten the pastor fooled….he thinks the world of her and she is always kissing up to him. I think she does that so she can move up. Her family treats her like a queen when they see her. I notice that she does not talk to them very much. I feel like I live on egg shells….when things are good…they are good but I know they can go bad any second. I beat myself up every day because I should have opened my eyes and saw the light but I didn’t. There is so much more I can write but I will stop here….thanks for reading.

    • Dear In Pain,

      I am so sorry to hear what has happened to you. This sounds so painful =( Your wife may indeed be a narcissist, or have other personality disorders. It must be really hard to have everyone at church think she is wonderful, while she treats you like dirt. I am so sorry. Let me recommend to you my friends at Hope for the Heart in Plano, Texas. They are trained counselors who can listen more to your story and perhaps help you to come up with a strategy to deal with this situation in a biblical, safe way. You can call them toll free at 1-800-488-HOPE (4673). The call and conversation are both free. I will pray that God helps you to find healing and that your wife might be brought to repentance and learn to change and mature in healthy ways.

      Grace and peace, Steve

  8. i wish more people would talk about mental illness in the church and talk about how to deal with it, how to not condemn these people, but at the same time protect ourselves. i feel like there are a lot of silently hurting people and others just don’t care. it’s just absolutely sad. i hope that this can be MORE known and less hidden. dear God, help us! it’s truly, truly SAD.

  9. Here are some other good resources for this topic, scroll down the page for titles: http://johnofthecross.hubpages.com/

  10. Sandy’s book is fantastic and easy to read. Very helpful.

  11. He Steve
    Thanks for putting this blog up. We are working though issues in our church with a potential NPD person, who has put himself such he is just under the main leadership, but still can influence greatly by being part of committees etc. He has hurt my wife, my self and now recently friends of ours by his compulsive need to correct, diminish, patronize and comments on whatever public testimonies or comments we have made. This has harmed me in my security, and I feel like I am walking on eggs in the services. I am afraid to share things publicly, for the fear of being snubbed or subtly ridiculed. I also start to get angry and hateful thoughts and feel chained. I don’t want that and want to be able to look around the congregation freely and not feel like I have to bounce my eyes once they hit that person, because bile rises within me. He has hurt my wife and my friends with comments, which are now done off ‘just misunderstandings’. without any personal apologies. I used to do skids, and currently with a new pastor, we have been asked to do another one, but I feel afraid. It will be a mind game to stand there in front of everybody and not feel infleunced by ‘ the presence’.
    My question is how can I be free from an NPD person, without feeling influenced, so I am able to fully function in that congregation? I feel locked up.
    Thanks mate

    • Dear Bart, I am so sorry to hear about the sin committed against you by this person. Dealing with an NPD person is very difficult since they rarely respond with compassion or contrition. It is like beating your head against the wall.

      While the Bible does call for “turning the other cheek” when somebody strikes you, in the church when somebody commits chronic sin such as you describe, it is time to confront the person using the church discipline model in Matthew 18. If this person wields power over you, or if you feel unsafe in their presence, I would encourage you to talk to a trusted leader in the church about the situation first.

      The question is not how you should change your thinking or develop thicker skin so that this harassment doesn’t bother you, but rather how the church leadership can take action so that the church becomes the safe place it is supposed to be. You are not the problem for saying there is a problem, and you do not have to knuckle under to this NPD person who is trying to shame and humiliate you in order to make him or herself feel better.

      What encourages me is that nominally this person is under the church’s head leadership, which means there are leaders you could talk to about the situation. I would hope–and this would be ideal–that the leaders would respond with pastoral zeal to confront this NPD individual to ensure that no member of the congregation is harassed by this person. If the leaders prove unwilling to address the matter, downplay its significance, or make you feel bad for bringing it up, this is a problem with the church’s leadership.

      Individuals with NPD rarely respond to correction, though they sometimes modify their behavior in response to leaders above them. You should not feel unsafe in church. Any Christlike church leader should move rapidly to confront the offending member for their own well-being and for the sake of the church body. My two cents.

      A helpful book on the roots and responses to NPD, though not from an explicitly Christian perspective, is “Why Is It Always About You? The Seven Deadly Sins of Narcissism” by Sandy Hotchkiss.

      Grace and peace, Steve

  12. This article is so encouraging in that it confirms with an eye to obedience to Jesus being key to knowing God which, in turn, requires humility before the Lord. The shamelessness thwarts obedience because obedience to God and him alone requires humility before the Lord.

    My heart goes out to the one who, because he is shameless, cannot comprehend the love of God for him. There is no knowledge or comprehension of the joy of the Lord.

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