No surprise to anyone, ministers are humans and have private lives that often do not seem to add up to the qualities you would expect from someone standing behind a pulpit. Some have a completely different persona on stage (pulpit) than when they are off. They treat their parishioners with love, but treat others (waiters, staff, close friends and family) very differently.
How can we detect this kind of narcissistic behavior when all we see is the good side?
In my life I have had the nuisance of having two such ministers that I would likely say are narcissistic. I have worked many years in the psychiatric/psychology arena and have seen and studied such behaviors, mostly because I come from a home with a father that had similar attributes and needed to understand it to overcome its lure.
Everyone in the world thought my father was a saint. But, to his family, he was a demon on wheels. Nothing was ever right. He would go from nice to venomous in seconds. And his anger was tyrannical and vengeful. Life was either his way, or you did not belong in his life.
Church congregations seem to be magnets for people with Narcissistic Personality Disorder (NPD), and especially a type of NPD called ‘covert’ NPD.
NPD leaders in a congregation tend to be covert because the characteristics of NPD are quite diametrically opposed to the common image of Christian (Spiritual) behavior and countenance. This covert quality will serve to effectively hide the NPD leader for an extended period of time (even decades).
Because NPD people are highly talented at shifting blame and attention away from their own character flaws, the average congregational member may never suspect that there is a very sick leader who is perpetrating the decline of their congregation.
Continue reading below.
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(This week featuring: “Your New Story, Your New Life” The Metaphysical Mind.)
Continued from above:
Here’s a dirty little secret:
Pastors and Church Elders are 93% of our most wanted felons for pedophilia. (Abel and Harlow Study, 2014)
It is critical to note that this abuse is no less prevalent within the faith community. In fact, there are studies that demonstrate that the faith community is even more vulnerable to abuse than secular environments. This disturbing truth is perhaps best illustrated by the words of a convicted child molester who told Dr. Salter,
I considered church people easy to fool… they have a trust that comes from being Christians. They tend to be better folks all around and seem to want to believe in the good that exists in people.
Yes, this fact above is primarily about sexual abuse, but it is also about Religious Abuse and, more importantly TRUST, which it is pertinent to this conversation. Most people don’t want to know that evil happens within the church walls, because they think, If I can’t trust the church leaders, who can I trust to help me with my problems?
Though the above is very true, this makes vetting trustworthy faith leaders even more important. Because church leaders are doing their best to lure you into their congregations, they are going to show you their best behavior at the beginning (as any one does in any new relationship). I am one of the best diagnosticians when it comes to narcissism when the person is sitting across from me on my office recliner. But, you dress a narcissist in a nice suit, put a charismatic smile on his/her face, make them intellectual and charming and add the dynamic of spiritual, I’m just as much fooled as the next.
In fact, studies show that people who have PTSD (Post Traumatic Stress Syndrome) are more likely NOT to see this kind of phony behavior because we tend to be pulled in from the triggers from our past. So, if you have been diagnosed with PTSD from a narcissist in the past (as I have), you are going to more likely to be swept away by this same kind of person. The psychological dynamic is:
We are attracted to the very people who hurt us in the past for two reasons: their behavior appears perfectly normal and we intuitively want to heal the hurts from the past by inviting the same behavior into our lives OVER AND OVER AGAIN!
There is Life After Narcissism. Many books have been written about it. One of my favorites is: “Going Through Hell with a Toxic, Narcissistic Church Leader” by John Xavier.
My story is two-fold. I had a female minister who “Blew a trumpet in Zion” when she met me. I was her lifesaver and the only person who could lead her music ministry. After many of my friends warned me about her (her signs of narcissism, inappropriate sexual allure to men in the congregation, and foul dealings and misappropriation with church accounting), I still believed I was her personal savior, as did many she placed conveniently around her (she hand-picked the Board Members, she mistreated the staff, she pitted people against each other by talking behind their backs, and frequently made best friends of the people she needed the most.).
These were all things that became apparent to me a long time after I fell in love with the congregation and felt equally comfortable with the praise and more adulation I got from them each week during and after the services.
It took a wrecking ball the size of New Hampshire to get me out of that church, but one day I just decided I couldn’t be both her friend and her staff. There were too many problems in between. When I left the cozy place of being her BFF, she began to hate me and started malicious lies about me. The past was painful, so painful that it took her getting fired for exposing the church to a lawsuit, counseling wives to leave husbands she was having affairs with, and other disgusting behavior—for me to believe and trust my own instincts.
Recently, I had encountered something similar, but recognized it way sooner, thank God. Unfortunately, not soon enough for me not to fall in love with the congregants and make some friends that now have had to make the hard choice to stay where they are being fed, where they love the pastor, where they love their church friends and even have committed to bank drafts of thousands of dollars to support the church, rather than believe my astonishing news.
No one wants to believe that a pastor has dirty doings or simply bad behavior. Even I was NOT convinced I was completely in the right until I contacted a member of this pastor’s previous church, someone he had known and had been a dear friend of for 15 years. What I learned about this man had completely shown me all that I needed to know to realize my instincts were right—for me.
I can’t make anyone else’s choice for them, but I must not be in a church or in a friendship, where I feel a negative undercurrent, even when what one sees on the surface is professional, loving, and on point.
I write this blog to give people (congregants) permission to be suspicious of the very people that are guiding their children, ministering to their vulnerabilities, and entrusted with their hearts. Everyone should be discerning every moment you are around who you’ve entrusted to help you grow spiritually. It took the people in the first church I spoke about 8 long years to discover and release the negativity that seemed to become a malignant cancer that couldn’t be cured.
Understanding the reality of these disturbing church statistics is one of the first steps in transforming our faith communities into places where children are safe and abuse survivors are welcomed, valued, and loved. Perhaps a better understanding of these disturbing statistics would have prompted church members to make a habit of questioning the finances of the church and the behavior of the minister inside the walls of— and outside the church.
You don’t get to this voice if reason or recognize it unless you spend time with yourself in silence, asking yourself important self-talk questions. This is like dating. You must get to know the voice of the Spirit by spending time in meditation and silence. This is the only I know to clearly download the power of wisdom and recognize the voice—IN TIMES OF TRAUMA—that is always directing YOU into safety!
Deciding on and living by your core values is a tenuous challenge. My many years of spiritual coaching and life coaching can help you with this. I have helped many people in this situation see light and overcome the darkness of the past. Give me a call: 954-253-6493. SKYPE sessions are available. http://www.bosebastian.com/client-praise/
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