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How Religious Narcissists Think

Reviewed by Karis A. Williams, MSMHC, LPC,   December 18 , 2023

To fellow church members, religious narcissists seem like amazing people on the surface.  They know all of the right things to say and how to behave in ways that others really look up to them.  But they don’t get to know people on a very personal level, because if they do, people will find out what they are really thinking.  Why is this, and exactly how do religious narcissists think?

Religious narcissists think they are superior to everyone else around them.  And they think they know exactly what God is thinking.  Once they have established this, the next step is to control what everybody else thinks and does.  Since he is superior to the point of knowing even the thoughts of God, who can even question him?

Let’s take a more detailed look at how religious narcissists think, how it affects those around them, and how to deal with people who use religious narcissistic thinking against you.

How Religious Narcissists Think

Religious narcissists think in terms of themselves as the center of the universe.  Whether the narcissist chooses to engage with you depends on what YOU think.  If you agree with what he says, then you are golden.  But if you dare to disagree, then there will be hell to pay.  Or he will just ignore you as though you do not exist.

This is so unfortunate on a couple of fronts.  First, it does not allow the religious narcissist to exist outside of his own world of influence.  If someone disagrees with him, he cannot bear that he is viewed as wrong.  The shame goes way too deep.  This isn’t even because he feels such shame about that incident, but that the shame from his childhood is so deep that any shame or perception of less than perfect is considered unbearable.

Second, it is unfortunate because the religious narcissist’s thoughts virtually trap him in his childhood.  He never matures emotionally.  And he never learns healthy coping mechanisms because he is too busy trying to hide the deep shame that he has felt since he was a small child.

How Religious Narcissists Think

Religious Narcissists Try to Convince You That They Know What God is Thinking

This makes religious narcissism the worst to try to deal with.  When the religious narcissist communicates that he knows the very thoughts of God, you can’t argue.  Nobody can argue against God! Even if you know what he is saying is completely opposite what the Bible says, you won’t be able to argue that truth with him.  He has already made up his mind and he isn’t going to back down.  That would make him look foolish, unintelligent, WRONG.  And that would be the worst thing he can imagine.  He has to be seen as the most religious, closest person to God.

For this reason, the religious narcissist will never let people get very close to them.   They will try to be in relationship, especially with those that will hang on their every word as godly.  But they will at the same time hold them at arm’s length.  It would be very dangerous if people could see what was really in his mind and heart.

This is honestly one of the saddest things I learned about my narcissistic ex.  The counselors and I spent significant time trying to make him feel comfortable to be vulnerable in this area so he could find true healing.  But every time he got even a little bit close to vulnerability, he would immediately shut things down.  At one point, he told me that he didn’t think he could change, even if our marriage depended on it.  I believe it was one of a handful of times that he was brutally honest with me.  He knew that he couldn’t bear to let the shame of his childhood come to light.  Even though we tried so hard to allow him to see that shame was not his to have to bear.  It didn’t matter.

How Religious Narcissists’ Thinking Affects Those Around Them

The religious narcissist’s need to make himself equal to God is actually an act of placing himself above God.  In order to align himself with God, he has to be the one in control.  And he is very far from what the Bible says regarding his position before God.

He wants you to listen to him, not God!  Some ways he does this is quoting Scripture that proves his point (whether accurate or not), telling you that God told him to say or do whatever it is he is telling you, and making his desires his idols.

This puts the people he is abusing spiritually in a very difficult position.  They want to honor God.  And they want to give the narcissist the benefit of the doubt.  But there isn’t much leeway when the narcissist is telling them unequivocally that God is telling them what they must do.  It is a hard situation to work through.

If people push back against the narcissist’s “God-sourced” demands, then he will get upset and attack your spirituality as not up to par with his.  My ex would accuse me of stealing from God, and disobeying God every time I didn’t do what he wanted and he would quote random, often improperly applied Scriptures.  It was maddening.  So what does a person do in this situation?  That leads us straight to the next point!

How Religious Narcissists Think

How to Deal With People Who Use Religious Narcissistic Thinking Against You

When people use religious narcissistic thinking against you, there are some options to stay strong and stand up for yourself.  In her book, The Emotionally Destructive Marriage, Leslie Vernick talks about using CORE strength to learn how to properly deal with your narcissist.  Here is what the acronym CORE stands for:

C – I will be committed to truth, both internally in my own heart and mind and externally. I refuse to pretend.

O – I will be open to the Holy Spirit and wise others, teaching me, maturing me, and guiding me into his way of living my life.

R – I will be responsible for my own responses to destructive behavior and commit to being respectful without dishonoring myself.

E – I will be empathic and compassionate toward others without enabling people to continue to abuse and disrespect me.

In a response to a follower, she goes on to say, “When you know and believe that you are a loved, valuable, worthwhile human being and live from that core place, toxic people lose their power to manipulate you. They can’t control and intimidate you as they once did when you felt worthless, dependent and needy.”

If you are struggling with your marriage, you really need this book!  It was a total game changer for me, especially in conjunction with counseling.  This book begins with a test you can take to determine if you are in a difficult or destructive marriage.  Then the book guides you through whichever circumstance you find yourself in.  I love how it gives you the strength and wisdom to make your own decisions.  You will emerge from this book a stronger person!



Religious narcissists may be the scariest of all because they claim that God is on their side while abusing those around them.  It is an insidious form of abuse.  But as impossible as it seems, you can find your strength and stand up to it!

Sometimes it is hard to see what you are really facing when you are in the middle of the storm.  Get some advice from emotionally mature friends, get some counseling, read some books!  And pray!  Your narcissist may be trying to convince you that God is on his side, but God is on the side of the children who love him.

When you start responding out of strength instead of reacting to the constant craziness coming at you, you will be in a whole new world.  Remember Romans 8:31-33: “What, then, shall we say in response to this?  If God is for us, who can be against us?  He who did not spare His own Son, but gave Him up for us all–how will He not also, along with Him, graciously give us all things?  Who will bring any charge against those whom God has chosen?  It is God who justifies.”  Know that God will hold you in His truth.  Your narcissist is being controlled by the Father of Lies.  Don’t listen!

I have one final thought for you.  It is imperative that you keep yourself safe!  If you feel that you or your loved ones are in any danger, contact the National Domestic Abuse Hotline at 800-799-7233 which can help you with any immediate need 24/7.

If you liked this article, I think you will also love the following articles:

Can a Narcissist be a Good Person?

Narcissistic Behavior:  What to Look Out For

Praying for Your Narcissistic Husband

Are Spiritual Narcissists Overt or Covert?

Religious Trauma Syndrome:  How to Preserve Your Spirituality

How to Navigate Religious Narcissistic Parents

What Happens to the Soul of a Narcissist?

How to Heal From a Spiritual Narcissist

Can You Maintain a Relationship With a Spiritual Narcissist?

Can Narcissists Have a Spiritual Awakening?

How Will God Judge a Narcissist?

When the Church Says to Move Back in With Your Narcissist

What Can We Say to a Friend Who’s Divorcing

23 Reasons Why Narcissists are Drawn to the Church

When the Church Doesn’t Recognize Narcissistic Abuse

Will the Church Support Divorcing a Narcissist?

What Does the Bible Say About Narcissism?

Can a Spiritual Narcissist Heal?

Can a Narcissist Be a Christian?

What is Spiritual Narcissism?

What Does the Spiritual Narcissist Do When You Try to Leave?

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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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