When a narcissist discovers the vast potential for control of others through spirituality, whole congregations are in danger. Not all spiritual narcissists belong to a formal congregation; I believe that many are satisfied with controlling the "congregation" of family. Either way, a spiritual narcissist holds a very powerful handle on others once they learn the jargon, a few good Bible texts, and perfect their angel face.
Much that is labeled "spiritual" falls into the category of subjective and undefinable. At least in the minds of many people "spiritual" seems subjective and undefinable because many times rationalizations are labeled "spiritual"...and rationalizations can be legion. Because of this ambiguity, narcissists thrive. Narcissists flourish in the areas of ambiguity that exist in the minds of normal and decent people. Narcissists also thrive in social settings where the majority of people are in full possession of a conscience. People with a conscience can easily be convinced they are the ones in the wrong, that they are the ones misperceiving reality. So the narcissist who stumbles upon the rich potential of a gathering of spiritually minded people is like a kid in a candy store. Or a fox in a hen house. Or a wolf in sheep's clothing.
In my unfortunate dealings with spiritual narcissists (a category my mother also falls into since the late '90s) I have noted a common thread. The spiritual N recognizes the powerful handle they have on many by simply claiming to be plugged into the "voice of God". They either claim to have a superior understanding of God's voice as it pertains to the Scriptures, or they will go so far as to claim to be able to hear His voice either through prayer, or simply moment by moment as if they are tuned into the frequency that God transmits His will through that only the most spiritual and pure have access to on the tuner. Or all of the above. Because the Bible has many examples of individuals who heard God's voice and have articulated it for the congregation, Christians are loathe to summarily discount someone who claims such an ability. We get sucked in by our desire to believe that God's voice is so clear and discernible even if only by a select few. Who are we to say whether or not Holy Joe over there is plugged into God's Holy Frequency Channel? Rather than look like an unbeliever, most will go along with Holy Joe's claims simply because it seems impossible to disprove him.
The first and most overt case of a spiritual narcissist in my experience was my aunt who had convinced her family she could hear the voice of God, or "Abba" as she called Him. She was my mother's youngest sister, my Aunt S. I was rather shocked at her latest revision of herself when I saw her for the first time in half a dozen years. This aunt had long made great professions of spirituality and had gone through several spiritual fads, but now it was apparent she'd taken it to the next level. She went around piously stating constantly, "Abba told me this" or "Abba says no". It was an instantaneous feed where, in the very process of a conversation, my aunt claimed to have God's answer to your question or request. I watched quietly as she completely controlled the behaviors of her immediate family with this "Abba this" and "Abba that". It took me less than a day to become fully disgusted with her manipulative behavior as well as marveling at her husband's complete and total capitulation to her spiritual "superiority". She had the absolute and final last word on any subject because she had convinced her "congregation" that she had become so spiritual that she could constantly hear God's voice. By any subject I mean everything. Apparently, God is a complete control freak and really wants to tell us whether or not to eat toast for breakfast or what time to get the tires on the car rotated. Micro-management of our every single movement is apparently the spiritual narcissist's concept of God. No surprise there, since the narcissist aspires to be God Himself, and it is the narcissist's desire to completely control everything about everyone. A case of projection onto the Almighty Himself.
My mother was there for this bit of theatrics by her sister and apparently she took notes. Even though she acted a little shocked by her sister's behavior when I privately pointed out to my mother that it was just a manipulation tactic, I think the evidence now proves that my mother must have envied the power her sister had found to keep family members in complete control.
It was within the next year my mother made great profession of a conversion. Shortly thereafter she started spending large amounts of time in "Bible study" and prayer. I put Bible study in quotes because her idea of Bible study is just as perverted as anything else about her. I found out later that my mother had begun to control my cousin and her sons with messages from God in the months following her "conversion". My mother wasn't yet as overt as her sister. She didn't claim to have a continuous feed from Heaven Central. Her evolving gig consisted of her claims that in her long prayer sessions "God told me that you need to...." insert whatever it was she wanted this person to do or to stop doing. Her revelations always came after one of her looooooong prayers that she was careful to point out the length of to anyone who would listen.
It was my mother's claim to hear God's voice that ended my relationship with her. Before she engaged in an unprovoked verbal attack upon my then 20 year old daughter, my mother had been praying in my living room during the fateful Thanksgiving visit of 2002. She told my father and my daughter that morning that during her prayers in the wee hours of that day she had heard a voice telling her "GO" as she prayed about her granddaughter. She repeated this story about the voice that said "GO" many times to various people in the fall-out from this event as she tried to exonerate herself. She was simply following God's clear instruction and therefore she was not responsible for what happened. God was. We were resisting God's will by not acknowledging she was only doing what God told her to. Because I persistently refused to believe her claim to be hearing God's voice...and because I insisted on the many objective reasons why I knew it couldn't have been God's voice talking to her...she eventually recanted and said it must not have been God's voice after all. This recantation was only given to me and my daughter and not to those who weren't there to witness the event. When she felt cornered she was willing to tell me what she knew I wanted to hear...the voice in her head wasn't God. It was obvious I wasn't going to believe that the little man behind the curtain was the Great Oz...so she caved.
I also have had an experience with a spiritual narcissist who is not related to me. She too claimed to have special ability and abundant spirituality that enabled her to know God's will. She usurped power from her church positions and attempted to control every aspect of this small church's operation and outreach. This saga was particularly painful and drawn out as most people refused to see this woman for what she was. The church didn't survive the experience.
People who are honest with themselves realize that they are not particularly pure or pious. Because of this they tend to believe the professions of those who appear to be pious and pure. The decent but average churchgoer will subvert their own good sense to the spiritual narcissist because they can be easily convinced that someone else is more spiritual than themselves. No one knows better than you do that you aren't on your knees for an hour a day and studying your Bible for two hours a day. Christians are taught to believe that prayer and Bible study are the sure-fire way to get on the holiness fast-track. So when Holy Joanie comes along and drops hints about her vast hours of prayer, meditation and study, you feel like a spiritual midget and are primed to fall for the pronouncements from those you perceive to be more spiritual than you.
A bit of advice here...the truly pious make no professions of being such. It is the hypocrite and Pharisee that makes a great show of their religious acts and piety. Consider it a red flag when someone you know is careful to drop hints about their hours of prayer and Bible study, their charitable donations or volunteer work, their degrees in theology or their years of "being in the truth" when it is gratuitous to do so. See Matthew chapter six for extra help when confronted with someone who makes sure everyone see their good works. The person who has the trumpets blown just before they drop their money into the church coffers is a hypocrite. Period. When you catch someone being careful to do their good works out of sight and without recognition then you've probably found a truly good and sincerely religious person.
Sometimes the hypocrite doesn't drop the hints but finds others to do that for her. She has a few loyal friends who are careful to sing her praises or go into attack mode when their "leader" is confronted by someone who isn't buying the act. Spiritual narcissists gain a lot of power by just having a few good people who will defend her reputation to the death. The victims of the spiritual narcissist find themselves quickly ostracized, criticized and their reputations mutilated by these "true believers" in the narcissist's spiritual gifts.
Is it possible for a narcissist to be plugged into the voice of a holy and just God? Are you in spiritual danger if you discount someone's claims to be hearing God's voice even though you can see that the fruit of their lives is rotten? How can you know for sure it is okay to dismiss these transmissions without fear that you may be dismissing God Himself?
Since I'm tired of typing...I'll attempt to address those questions in the next post.