Personality disorders in the church.

Functional sociopaths more and more seem to find their way into the local church’s leadership, sometimes they are the pastors, worship leaders, home group leaders or they may have no official leadership role but have manipulated their way into a position of influence and then begins the breakdown of any healthy community life.

Community life is part of the problem or, rather lack of it.  High functioning individuals with personality disorders seem quite normal, but as time passes it becomes apparent that something isn’t right. This is why often sociopaths will change their friends or associates every few years.

What is a personality disorder?

Everyone has personality traits that characterise him or her. These are the usual ways that a person thinks and behaves, which make each of us unique. Personality traits become a personality disorder when the pattern of thinking and behaviour is extreme, inflexible and maladaptive.

Personality disorders are seen as a failure of character development. The American Psychiatric Association’s Diagnostic and Statistical Manual of Mental Disorders (DSM) divides personality disorders into 3 clusters and 10 distinct diagnoses. There clusters of personality disorders: odd or eccentric disorders; dramatic, emotional or erratic disorders; and anxious or fearful disorders. Specific disorders are as follows:

Paranoid personality disorder is a pervasive distrust and suspiciousness of others, such that their motives are interpreted as malevolent.

Schizoid personality disorder is a pervasive pattern of detachment from social relationships and a restricted range of expression of emotions in interpersonal settings.

Schizotypal personality disorder is a pervasive pattern of social and interpersonal deficits marked by acute discomfort with reduced capacity for close relationships. It is also characterised by distortions of thinking and perception and eccentric behaviour.

Antisocial personality disorder is a pervasive pattern of disregard for and violation of the rights of others.

Histrionic personality disorder is a pervasive pattern of excessive emotion and attention seeking.

Narcissistic personality disorder is a pervasive pattern of grandiosity (in fantasy or actual behaviour), need for admiration, and lack of empathy.

Avoidant personality disorder is a pervasive pattern of social inhibition, feelings of inadequacy, and hypersensitivity to negative evaluation.

Dependent personality disorder is a pervasive and excessive need to be taken care of, which leads to submissive and clinging behaviour and fears of separation.

Obsessive-compulsive personality disorder is a pervasive pattern of preoccupation with orderliness, perfectionism, and mental and interpersonal control, at the expense of flexibility, openness, and efficiency.

Borderline personality disorder is a pervasive pattern of instability of interpersonal relationships, self-image, moods, and control over impulses.

Narcissistic personality disorder.

For the rest of this article we will be looking at the most common disorder found in church leadership. The Narcissistic personality disorder.

Narcissism was named after a mythological Greek youth named Narcissus who became infatuated with his own reflection in a lake. He eventually died there because he couldn’t tear himself away from the admiration of his image.

There are many narcissist in pulpits today, projecting false authority, and the appearance of having things all together, but in their arrogance, they suppress all communication, sharing, and criticism. They demand accountability while submitting to no-one.

Dissenting against their authority will result in a narcissistic leader doing anything to keep that false air of confidence and power. They will destroy and scatter the sheep, and use controlling manipulative doctrines to do it. Their self-centeredness blinds them to the needs of the people they are supposed to be leading to Christ; everyone else must bow, or suffer the consequences.

Their motto is “Me first!” Everything’s all about them. They have a grandiose sense of self-importance and entitlement, crave admiration and attention. A legend in their own mind, the world is reflected in their image.

According to the Diagnostic and Statistical Manual of Mental Disorders, 4th Edition (DSM-IV), people with Narcissistic Personality Disorder have “a pervasive pattern of grandiosity, need for admiration, and lack of empathy, beginning by early adulthood and present in a variety of contexts, as indicated by five or more of the following:

  • Has a grandiose sense of self-importance (e.g., exaggerates achievements and talents, expects to be recognised as superior without commensurate achievements)
  • Is preoccupied with fantasies of unlimited success, power, brilliance, beauty, or ideal love.
  • Believes that he or she is “special” and unique and can only be understood by, or should associate with, other special or high-status people (or institutions)
  • Requires excessive admiration.
  • Has a sense of entitlement, i.e., unreasonable expectations of especially favorable treatment or automatic compliance with his or her expectations
  • Is interpersonally exploitive, i.e., takes advantage of others to achieve his or her own ends
  • Lacks empathy: is unwilling to recognise or identify with the feelings and needs of others.
  • Is often envious of others or believes that others are envious of him or her.
  • Shows arrogant, haughty behaviours or attitudes”

Some traits and factors to look for.

  • They create suspicion
  • They fain to operate form “conviction” creating a party spirit and dividing of a group up into camps…often over pointless issues.
  • They are remarkable liars.
  • The leave a wave of broken ministries, persons and dreams behind them.
  • The have a way of making themselves central to what is going on.
  • They nearly always have money issues.
  • Sometimes have cloudy sexual questions around them.
  • They are excessively prudish hence looking pure and righteous.
  • They are control freaks
  • Slip around accountability
  • Have trophy families
  • They are flat emotionally often are very distant from spouses and others.
  • They change friends almost every other year or have none
  • They usually were abused in some fashion as children.
  • They are intimidating and charming at the same time.
  • They have above average intelligence.
  • Snobbish about positions they hold.
  • Exempt themselves from required meetings.

 Narcissists in the bible

Jesus describes the Pharisees in terms that characterise narcissists. As Israel’s self-righteous religious leaders, many of them unfortunately evidenced the symptoms of narcissism. Here are a few passages:

Matthew 6:1-2 – “Beware of practicing your righteousness before men to be noticed by them; otherwise you have no reward with your Father who is in heaven. So when you give to the poor, do not sound a trumpet before you, as the hypocrites do in the synagogues and in the streets, so that they may be honored by men…”

Luke 18:10-14 – The Pharisee tried to justify himself and thought he was better than other men; the publican humbly admitted his unworthiness and went away justified before God.

Matthew 23:1-12 – The Pharisees did all their deeds to be “noticed by men” (v.5). On the contrary, Jesus says that his followers should be humble: “The greatest among you shall be your servant. Whoever exalts himself shall be humbled; and whoever humbles himself shall be exalted” (vv.11-12).

Elsewhere, Jesus says that the Gentile rulers “lorded it over” those beneath them (Matthew 20:25), and Peter says that church leaders should not “lord it over” the flock entrusted to their care (1 Peter 5:3).

So the Bible has a lot to say against people who we would describe today as “narcissists,” and especially against religious leaders who have narcissistic personalities.

 What a narcissist needs.

The issue with narcissists is that it matters not to them how they feed their narcissistic supply, whether they are loved or feared, whether they seek love through positive relationships with the people of God, or by authoritarianism and intimidation. They put up a “very convincing” front that they are effective spiritual leaders.

They can be charming, intelligent, caring–that is, until their guru-status is threatened. When you stop stroking their ego or beg to disagree, they and turn on you and become punishing.

Narcissistic leaders want their followers to affirm how wonderful they are, often through public testimonies then say that God gets the glory but in reality it is the fix the narcissist needs. In the absence of admiration, any attention will do. What the narcissist fears most is being ignored, so “persecution,” media critiques, or other negative forms of attention give the narcissist his “narcissistic supply” of strong emotional reaction.

 What a narcissist wants.

A Narcissist wants to the hero. Presents himself as a hero who stands against Satan.  They see themselves as important to your spiritual development; that without them you may miss out on all God has for you.  People who oppose him are standing against righteousness, God’s servant, or God’s man. He frequently cites his own credentials, such as education, that he’s associated with the important people, or his superior intelligence or spiritual insight.

Although a narcissist may understand human nature very well, really isn’t interested in connecting with those who are struggling.

The Narcissist is unable to appreciate other points of view, since he lacks empathy and the truth always seems so clear to him. The narcissist answer usually amounts to one of three solutions: submit, repent, or get out!

Narcissists often believe that other people are out to get them, are plotting against them, or trying to destroy their ministry. When people disagree with them, a narcissist may impugn the other person’s character rather than engaging in dialogue or critical thinking.

 So your pastor is a narcissist, what do you do?

Facing the reality that your pastor or ministry leader one is not who you thought they were, or even who you thought they should be, can be a little overwhelming. After all, how can a Shepard not care for the flock? How can a leader always blame others? It is often easier to believe the lies the narcissist tells you, that you are the one who is making life difficult, that you are not doing a good enough job, that you are not trying hard enough. And so you continue to struggle on, with the faith and the hope that if you just become the person they want you to be, everything will be all right, and that you will, eventually, be accepted.

The trouble with that plan is that is never works. You will never be enough for the narcissist because they always want more. And trying to be something for someone else will only weaken your own self-esteem even further. So instead of getting the acceptance you so desperately want, you work yourself further and further away from it, all the while increasingly believing that you don’t really deserve it anyway because you’re doing such a lousy job. It’s a path to self-destruction.

So what is the solution? Awareness and acceptance. First, recognise what’s really going on. The key is to understand whom you’re dealing with. If you are not feeling good about yourself when you’re with someone, working for someone, or in a relationship with someone, they are probably not good for you. Trust your instincts.

Its time to get out.  You owe it to your spiritual growth, your mental heath, your own self-respect.  A narcissist often will never see that they are doing anything wrong.  They will never give you the recognition you deserve, no matter how hard you try.  The narcissist simply sees you as a tool to be used and when you’ve given your all they will discard you and move on to their next victim.   RUN!!!