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Understanding Narcissism
Page Two

At one point, Craig informed his dad that he was moving in with his new girlfriend. When his dad asked why he didn’t wait until they married, Craig was incensed. “You’re not supporting me,” he shouted, as if his father should be duty-bound to feel exactly the same way Craig did about all of his decisions. Craig was oblivious to his father’s right to have a mind of his own, and when his father expressed his own beliefs, Craig felt betrayed. Craig didn’t have any boundary or differentiation between his thoughts and feelings and his dad’s. He thought his father should think and feel exactly as he did. To Craig, like many narcissists, “being loyal,” meant agreeing with him at every point!

In between a healthy degree of self-interest and pathological narcissism is a group of people who don’t fully fit the diagnostic criteria of pathological narcissism but do have a lot of leanings in that direction. They tend to be self-centered and not deeply concerned about others and may have only three or four of the criteria listed above. Among others they can include physicians, lawyers, and athletes who are overly controlling, “cocky,” proud of their accomplishments, or possibly use labels and license plates like “Top Doc,” “Super Lawyer,” or “Top Jock.”

Some very successful politicians, religious leaders and businessmen and women are rather narcissistic. They have great vision and drive to succeed, but they like things their way, eat up the admiration of their followers, exploit others to fulfill their understanding of the needs of their business, church or society, but lack deep caring for others and true humility. They may be admired from a distance or seem successful in terms of growth, numbers, outreach, and influence, but not in terms of their close relationships with others. When it comes time to give up the leadership reins, they struggle to let go since that means giving up prestige and control.

When narcissistic people are placed in positions of leadership in a church or missionary organization, both their strengths and weaknesses impact those who work with them. On the positive side are the narcissist’s vision and capacity to stir people to set new goals and accomplish great things. They are often able to mobilize a congregation or group of people—especially if the people don’t work closely with them or if they trust them implicitly because of their leadership position.

If someone disagrees with the narcissist's
vision, the narcissist labels the dissenters
as uncooperative, lacking vision or being
unspiritual and out of God’s will.

On the negative side, narcissists need to be the focus of attention, have difficulty receiving advice and input from others, and may view members of their congregation or missionary team as people who should unquestionably accept and follow their vision.

If someone disagrees with the narcissist's vision (whether it is to build a larger church sanctuary or start a new outreach), the narcissist (and his or her loyal followers) labels the dissenters as uncooperative, lacking vision or being unspiritual and out of God’s will. In their arrogance, narcissists naively assume that they know God’s will and that anyone who disagrees with them is opposing God rather than simply expressing a well considered opinion. Needless to say, this is extremely discouraging to members of a team or congregation who feel ignored or minimized or pushed aside as the narcissist pushes ahead with his or her own agenda.

Other narcissistic leaders try to subtly (or sometimes not so subtly) take credit for everything positive that is happening in a church or team. They can’t stand seeing anyone else getting credit or being in the lime light—unless they put them there and can share in the reflected admiration.

Many churches have been fractured or lost many fine members because of a narcissistic leader’s need to have everyone under his or her control. Even very successful ministries in the congregation of a narcissist are too big a threat to be tolerated if the narcissist can’t control them or take the credit.

It is estimated that less than one percent of individuals would be clinically diagnosed as having a narcissistic personality disorder. But when it comes to exhibiting some unhealthy narcissistic personality traits in relationships and personal living, the number is much larger. Of those diagnosed with the narcissistic personality disorder, 50 to 75 per cent are male.

Continued on Page Three


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