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How Narcissists Use Religion to Control and Manipulate You

For as long as I have known my now ex-husband, he has been extremely religious.  Whether it was genuine or not, I cannot even now tell you.  But I know that his seeming love for God attracted me to him from the start.  But what I never knew until years after we were married was that he was also a narcissist for as long as I have known him. 

At first glance, it would seem that narcissism and religion couldn’t possibly mix.  Narcissism in its purest form is evil and religion in its purest form is good and perfect.  So, then, how could narcissists possibly use religion?

In actuality, narcissists use religion to fool people into thinking they are godly, kind, and God’s best friend.  People will easily trust them with secrets and vulnerability.  They use religion to attain leadership positions that allow them authority over those they choose to abuse.

Let’s take a look at some of the ways they behave in this evil way.

How Narcissists Use Religion to Fool People into Thinking They are Godly

Narcissists learn very on to adapt to the language of whatever role they take on.  If they can learn the lingo, they can fool literally everyone who isn’t familiar with what they are talking about.  And with some practice, they can learn the lingo well enough to fool even the most expert of the people they target.

Religion is a pretty easy role for narcissists to play, especially if they spend any time in the church as children.  

Narcissists are pretty adept at studying everyone and everything around them.  Many narcissists are incredibly sharp mentally.  My ex certainly was.  He could out-remember me 90% of the time.

Additionally, narcissists will learn what behaviors religious people are known for.  Servanthood, empathy, sacrifice, kindness, patience, and many other similar characteristics are the very behaviors narcissists will take on.  Then they will use them to the extreme whenever they are in church.  But, the minute they get their targets of abuse behind closed doors, they will experience something totally different. 

Control, anger, manipulation, threats, lies, denial of something they were seen doing, blame shifting, of any of a number of narcissistic behaviors will be what the person now sees.  And they will be so confused by it, that they will likely never say a word about it to anyone else.  Unless by some random chance, the narcissist is outed publicly.  Unfortunately, most religious narcissists are never outed and continue to abuse in the church for many years.  For the few that do get revealed, they often must move onto the next unsuspecting church.  And they successfully narcissistically abuse that church body.  It can literally go on for a lifetime.

How Narcissists Convince Others They are God’s Best Friend

A particularly evil way that narcissists use religion is to convince everyone around them that God is their best friend.  They behave as though they know God so well that they can actually tell you what God expects of you.  And if you disagree, well, shame on you, and beware of eternal damnation, because if you are disagreeing with the narcissist, you are also disagreeing with God, who is your narcissist’s own wing man.  

Narcissists will use religion to make you believe that they are so close to God they can understand exactly what He has written in the Bible.  They can interpret what God’s will is for your life.  And they can decide whether you are good enough to be one of the “godly crowd.” 

Religious narcissists have actually come to be known as BMOC, or Big Man on Campus.  It’s too bad we don’t all recognize them for what they are from the beginning.  It is for this reason that narcissists often prefer the church to many other places.  They can easily exert control and narcissistic abuse over so many people who so willingly and easily trust them.   Maybe now that narcissism is better known, we can or we can warn those who find themselves under the spell of the religious narcissist.

How Narcissists Use Religion To Gain Trust

One of the hallmarks of those in the church is that they are trustworthy, kind, giving, patient, and overall, incredibly good people.  And honestly, if we were half the Christians we should be, that would be absolutely true.  

So, the narcissist puts on an act that he is the epitome of these things.  And everyone is instantly endeared to him.  They feel as though if they brought their fears, insecurities, struggles and other very personal things to him, he could help them to be as godly as he is.  He is, in fact, inspirational to the membership and even leadership of the church.

Unfortunately, nobody realizes it is an act to get to the core of the victim’s being and know exactly how to use their most private and secret aspects of life against them.  The narcissist will know exactly which buttons to press.  And he will use all of those buttons to drive everyone beneath him so he can be on the top of the world.

By the time others know he cannot be trusted, it is too late.  He knows too much, if not everything.

How Narcissists Use Religion to Attain Leadership Positions

The church is always looking for people to lead committees, charities, classes, organizations, missions, and so many aspects of church life.  Often, leadership positions remain unfilled because there just aren’t enough people who are called to such rewarding but time-consuming and difficult roles within the church.  Enter the religious narcissist.

Narcissists will use religion to insert themselves into positions of leadership.  While it seems like an odd match, it really makes sense.  When a narcissist puts on the role of kindhearted, empathetic religious servant, the church leadership is quick to add them to their ranks.  They are excited to serve alongside such a good upstanding member of the community.  But it doesn’t take long before things start unraveling.

Soon after the narcissist finds himself in one or more leadership positions, he begins sending mixed signals to other members within the group(s).  Accusing others of not measuring up, stealing credit for others’ hard work, threatening those that could possibly expose them (of course behind closed doors when nobody else can see the threat), and other weird behaviors leave fellow church members confused about what is now transpiring. 

A few may see it clearly, but only because they have had previous experience with narcissism.  And the narcissist will do whatever he can to make sure that member doesn’t ruin the fun.  He will soundly threaten them and/or their family or friends to make sure his act doesn’t get communicated to the leadership.  And it will be nearly impossible to get them removed from their position of leadership, i.e., control and manipulation.

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There are so many ways narcissists will insert themselves into the church in order to find a slew of potential victims who will seemingly stand in line to be abused.  Even when they see what is going on with the narcissist, they are quick to forgive and move forward in peace with the narcissist because they feel like it is the Christian thing to do.  That is not what the Bible says about how we should treat religious narcissists.

There are so many Scriptures in the Bible about how to deal with narcissists, but I will just give you one of the best ones here. 

2 Timothy 3:1-5 says, “But realize this, that in the last days difficult times will come.  For men will be lovers of self, lovers of money, boastful, arrogant, revilers, disobedient to parents, ungrateful, unholy, unloving, irreconcilable, malicious gossips, without self-control, brutal, haters of good, treacherous, reckless, conceited, lovers of pleasure rather than lovers of God; holding to a form of godliness, although they have denied its’ power; and avoid such men as these.”

At the end of the day, they may think they are fooling everyone, and they may be fooling a lot of people, but they aren’t for a second fooling God.

There are three books that helped me put this very confusing experience into perspective.  And two of them were incredibly helpful to my pastor who was trying so hard to repair our marriage, his relationship with our children, and the broken relationships all over the church, and the many people who now believed his lies and deceptive behaviors.  It was a tall order for someone who had never experienced narcissism on such a grand scale.  Those two books were Narcissism in the Church:  A Heart of Stone in Christian Relationships by David C. Orrison, Ph.D, and When Narcissism Comes to Church:  Healing Your Community From Emotional and Spiritual Abuse by Chuck DeGroat. They both cover a lot of the issues of what happens from the leadership level down to the members, but from different perspectives that are both incredibly valuable.  DeGroat’s book goes a little more into leadership, so if that is your issue, then that is the better book for you if you have to choose.  But, honestly, both books were so incredibly helpful, you would really appreciate reading both of them.  You can see more about them here: 

Narcissism in the Church: A Heart of Stone in Christian Relationships


When Narcissism Comes to Church: Healing Your Community From Emotional and Spiritual Abuse


And finally, the last book that I found so incredibly helpful in learning how to deal well with my impossible situation was called Why Does he Do That?  Inside the Minds of Angry and Controlling Men by Lundy Bancroft.  This book showed me that just because my narcissist was wearing the mask of religious and godly behavior, the heart and behavior issues were the same as every other narcissistic issue.

It also gave me an element of sympathy for my abuser because I realized that his origins of narcissism were not his doing.  Narcissism is a tragic outcome of the early life of the narcissist.  But unfortunately, while it is believed to be rarely if ever  curable, it is also ultimately the choices made by the narcissist to hold on to the mask and abusive behavior.  And their lack of true empathy that allows them to abuse for life.  Anyway, you can get more information on this book right here:

There are so many more books that were literally life-changing for me and many others in the support groups that I work with now.  You can check them out on my resources page.  If you need some help with recommendations, contact me here!

What has your experience with religious narcissism been like?  How did your narcissist behave when confronted with his or her narcissistic behavior?  We would love for you to share with us in the comments below!

Hugs and love,

Here are some related articles you may be interested in:

What Does the Spiritual Narcissist do When You try to Leave?

When the Church Doesn’t Recognize Narcissistic Abuse

Will the Church Support Divorcing a Narcissist?

Are Narcissists Demon Possessed?

Can a Spiritual Narcissist Heal?

What is Spiritual Narcissism?

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Hi! I am the founder of Navigating Religious Narcissism after being raised under a narcissistic mother and married to a narcissistic man for 31 years. It is my prayer that I can be as valuable on your journey to healing and peace as were so many who crossed my path of healing.

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