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What Does the Spiritual Narcissist Do When You Try to Leave

Reviewed by Karis A. Williams, MSMHC, LPC,   December 1, 2023

When you get healthy and brave enough to leave a narcissist, whether a spiritual or secular narcissist, it is going to be rough.  In both cases, they will punish you.  They will be very angry because they are losing their supply.  All hell WILL break loose.  But there are some pretty huge differences.

So, what does the spiritual narcissist do when you try to leave?  They will make an example of you in front of the whole church.  Also, they will make themselves to be the victim, to the magnitude of Job!  But the biggest thing they will do is try to convince you and everyone else that you have broken the very law of God and forsaken Him.  All because a hit against the narcissist is akin to a hit against God Himself.

Let’s take a look at some specific things that spiritual narcissists do when you try to leave.

Narcissists Make You Feel Like You are Disobeying God

I believe that the number one tactic the spiritual narcissist will use when you try to leave is to make you feel like you are disobeying God Himself.  If he can convince you that he is on such a wavelength with God that whatever you do is akin to leaving God, then you will most certainly stay.  After all, who can fight against God?

In the mind of the spiritual narcissist, if they can convince you that they know exactly what God wants you to do, you will have no argument or answer other than yes to whatever they are demanding.  This actually puts them in the position of God.  They have elevated themselves above God.

I could never understand how this could work, because don’t they realize that God knows their hearts and can see what they are doing?  I think the answer lies in the fact that they believe they are so convincing to others that they could even convince God.  They just need to convince themselves so completely that they actually believe the mask they wear is their true self.  It is a whole lot of mental gymnastics.

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Narcissists Will Use Church Authority to Bring You Back Under Their Control

Here’s something else the spiritual narcissist will do when you try to leave:  he will use church authority to make you submit to him.  This is a tactic that he may find even more successful than telling you what God says you should do.  If you won’t listen to God, surely you will listen to the pastor or other church leader sitting directly in front of you.

I remember when my ex started turning me into church authorities.  In the first case (yes, there was more than one experience with this), we both told the pastor what our issue was in our own words.  After about a half hour of back and forth, the pastor leaned back, literally laughed, then told me, “Your husband is doing the very things he is accusing you of doing.”  I had no response because I knew he was right but couldn’t verbally acknowledge it.  At the end of that meeting, he recommended we go to a professional counselor.  We put that idea on the backburner and continued in our status quo.

The second experience was quite similar.  When pastor #2 asked us what the issues were, and we answered him, I remember saying that if I were to just shut up and obey everything would be okay and we could go on with life as normal.  He looked at me as if to say, “Well, then, just obey!”  He later admitted that was exactly what he was thinking at the time.  Once he realized the role that narcissism had played, he apologized profusely for ever thinking that it was as simple as me “shutting up and obeying.”  This session also ended in the pastor telling us we needed to seek professional counseling.  And this time that is exactly what we did.

Narcissists Will Refuse to Admit That They Were Responsible for Any of the Failures in Your Relationship

When you try to leave the spiritual narcissist, he will refuse to admit that he was responsible for any of the failures in your relationship.  He will blame everything on you.  And in acts of total projection, he will actually blame you for the things he has done.  Again, more mental gymnastics.  It is usually couched in terms of “I had to do that because you…”

One of the hard parts of this exchange for you is that there is nothing you can say that will help smooth things over, other than that he is right and you are wrong.  If you try to defend yourself or work things out, he will just throw out more crazy words.  You will never find resolution in trying to reason things out rationally with him.

Narcissists Isolate Those Who They Use to Support Destroying You and Make Sure They Don’t Know the Whole Story

When you try to leave the spiritual narcissist, they will find the most unusual support from places you would never expect.  And many times, the people they use for support have no idea they are being used.  They are purposely left in the dark about any relevant details.

A Couple of Examples

I have a couple of examples regarding this.  The first is when my church filed charges against my ex for desertion and not following the authority of the church government in healing the marriage.  He gathered several friends from over the years and told them he was being falsely charged for things he could not discuss with them.  He just needed them to vouch for his Christian character.  Nearly all of them readily agreed to do that, feeling sorry for him that the leadership would “randomly target” him in the way they did.  I finally asked the church to drop the charges because we feared a church split because so many people were willing to act without knowing the circumstances.

The second example is when I found a handwritten list conveniently placed in plain sight for me to find.  It had random friends and family members from outside the church that he had named his personal support.  What was weird about that list was that it had people on it that had no idea they were supporting him in the destruction of his family.  If they had said one nice thing to him in the few years leading up to that time, he considered it unilateral support for him.  That list had exactly the effect on me that he wanted it to have.  I actually thought he had spoken to those people in the same way he did the other church members to garner support.

I didn’t speak to everyone on that list.  But over time, I did find out that some of the people he had never had a single conversation with.  He just believed they were supporting of him because they spoke to him kindly.

Spiritual Narcissists Twist Scripture to Force You to Obey and Submit

When you try to leave the spiritual narcissist, they will use Scripture against you.  While I say they twist Scripture, they do it in a way that you can’t tell them they are twisting it.  They use it mostly accurately.  Let me give you an example.   Ephesians 5:22 says, “Wives, submit to your husbands…”  And that is where the spiritual narcissist will stop. He won’t get to the part of the passage that says, “In this same way, husbands ought to love their wives as their own bodies.  He who loves his wife loves himself.  After all, no one ever hated their own body, but they feed and care for their body, just as Christ does the church…”

As long as he is holding his wife accountable, nobody needs to see what he should be doing.  And he will make sure it LOOKS like he’s doing it when they are in public or in church.

The more you push back on Scriptures and his misinterpretation, the more subtle yet crazy the twisting will get.  There is no argument you can use that will allow you to come to an agreement with the spiritual narcissist.

If You Don’t Immediately Agree with the Spiritual Narcissist, They Will Argue and Dominate Until You Give In

One of the hardest lessons for me to learn in my 35 years with my ex was that when he said something, the only thing I was supposed to say was, “what an amazing idea” or “you are the absolute best at that.”  In other words, I could only give him absolute praise for everything.

In the cases where I dared to be honest, he would then demand that I acknowledge him as the final authority and his decision as the wisest.  As long as it ended up that way, all could go on as normal.

I was dumfounded when, one day he gloated that he could always get whatever he wanted from me.  All he had to do was bother me long enough about it.  I would give in every single time.  And I can’t tell you how disheartening that conversation was.  I was only giving up in the spirit of not wanting to be rebellious to my husband as a devout Christian wife.  And usually, it was in resignation, knowing that we would pay for that poor decision sooner than later.

Spiritual Narcissists Will Try to Convince You and Everyone Else That They Have the Only True Way

When you try to leave, this is the spiritual narcissist’s way of saying it’s his way or the highway.  If I said that what he was asking me to do was wrong, or even that something he was doing was wrong, he would immediately tell me that there was no wrong way.  Which really meant that his way was not wrong.  And I had to agree to it.

Here is a benign example from early in our marriage.  I had a collection of cassette tapes that were in alphabetical order in their cases. (I’m pretty sure I just dated myself here!)  He had a habit of getting out a new cassette and putting it into the cassette player.  Then he would take the old tape and place it in the case that he had just removed the new one from.  By the end of the week, I couldn’t find any of the tapes I wanted without a time-consuming search.

I explained to him that it was very frustrating that he wasn’t putting the tapes back into the appropriate cases.  His response was that there is no wrong way to put them away.  At first I was speechless.  But as this problem went on, I began to insist that it is wrong if it takes me so long to find the right one and have to reorganize on a regular basis.

He would respond in anger that I would dare question him and I would not be “allowed” to argue the point anymore because it was bringing up the past unnecessarily.  There was literally no way I could get him to see my point.  I could only admit that he was fine no matter what he did.

Spiritual Narcissists Try to Convince Everyone Else that They are Amazing

When you try to leave the spiritual narcissist, they will make you look crazy for leaving such a wonderful person.  For as long as you’ve known them, they have gone out of their way to look amazing in public.  They want to be the life of the party.  And they will go the extra mile to get more recognition.  They will call it their “servant heart.”  Then they will tell you there is something wrong with you because you don’t have the same servant heart.

Here is an example.  It was the first week of our new round of kids club at church.  I was meeting with the other two leaders.  My ex was with me.  The kids were all in the car.  It was right after church and lunchtime. We realized one of the teacher’s curriculum was sent to the other teacher’s house.  While they were trying to work it out, my ex stepped in.  He said he could drive to the one teacher’s house and pick it up.  Then he would drive it back to the other teacher.  All while our kids were waiting in the car and very hungry.

I tried to explain that they could work it out between themselves.  (Just to be clear, we had nothing to do with the mixup.)  While there was nothing innately wrong with him offering to help, it was inappropriate.  It wasn’t his place.  When I tried to explain that to him, he told me I was not as sacrificial as he.  And honestly, I wouldn’t have minded it if it wasn’t something that happened all the time.  His family literally came in last place every time.  He had a constant need to be the most amazing servant in the room. That’s how he could count on unlimited praise.

Spiritual Narcissists Need Everyone to Know How Spiritual and Close to God They Are

When you try to leave the narcissist, they will make sure that everybody knows you are leaving someone that is so much more spiritual than you.  Most spiritual narcissists realize early in their Christian walk that they just need to use the right terminology.  It will get them incredibly far within the life of the church. The see the credit they get for what they say.  And they continue to hone that skill until they are seen as the most spiritual in the room.

what does the spiritual narcissist do when you try to leave

Jesus actually had something to say abou this.  In Matthew 23:27-28, He says,  “Woe to you, teachers of the law and Pharisees, you hypocrites! You are like whitewashed tombs, which look beautiful on the outside but on the inside are full of the bones of the dead and everything unclean. 28 In the same way, on the outside you appear to people as righteous but on the inside you are full of hypocrisy and wickedness.”

The Pharisees did the same exact thing as the spiritual narcissist.  They made sure everyone could see how holy they were.  But it was all only for show.  They just wanted credit from everybody else.  And Jesus had something to say about that as well.  In Matthew 6:2 He said, “So when you give to the needy, do not announce it with trumpets, as the hypocrites do in the synagogues and on the streets, to be honored by men. I tell you the truth, they have received their reward in full.”

Spiritual Narcissists Will Always do the Talking and Never Listen

When you try to leave the spiritual narcissist, they will make sure they are heard and you are not.  But not in the way you think.  They do always want to be the one talking.  Because they want everyone to think they are the smartest in the room.  They want you to see their great knowledge by all the wisdom that comes out of their mouth.  Unfortunately, they missed the verse that says, “Even fools are thought wise if they keep silent, and discerning if they hold their tongues.” (Proverbs 17:28)

I have an example of this from our counseling days shortly before we we divorced.  He would dominate the room, even talking over the counselors.  They would try to make him see the error of what he was saying.  And he would get angry for being corrected instead of praised.  Every time we got out of counseling, he would tell me that it wasn’t fair that I just sat back and let him talk and then he got in trouble for what he said.  I’m not sure what he wanted me to do.  Especially since he didn’t like for me to say anything during those sessions anyway.  I was in a lose-lose situation with him as far as when I should talk.  But he was in the real losing position.  He couldn’t understand why the counselors didn’t appreciate his words of wisdom for them.

Spiritual Narcissists Will Never Show You Their True Self

Even though you see a totally different side of the spiritual narcissist than the public does, you still don’t see their true self.  They feel such deep shame that they could never let ANYONE see what is really behind the super spiritual behavior in public or the dominating controlling behavior behind closed doors.

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The tragedy to this scenario is that the shame they feel is so overboard.  It is unfortunate that they cannot face it and move past it.  I remember pleading with my ex to just let go of it and work with the counselors.  But the minute they came close to a breakthrough with him, he would get angry and throw up the mask so fast our heads would spin.

And for that reason, I feel such deep sympathy for narcissists that internalize shame so much more magnified than what it should be.  But at the end of the day, they cannot use it to abuse and control others.


There were two books that were huge in helping me to realize the trouble my marriage was in and how to begin healing.  Both of them were recommended by my counselor early in our sessions.  If I had to tell you which one you should read first, I don’t think I could.  They were both critically important books, just in two very different facets.

The first one, Emotionally Healthy Spirituality, was the very first book recommended to me by my counselor.  I honestly didn’t have any memory of this until I showed her that I had found the book and read it and it had impressed me profoundly.  At that point, she reminded me that it was the first book she ever recommended but that my husband refused to buy it for us because he said his spirituality was just fine and he didn’t need a book to tell him how to be spiritual. I would like to believe that God used that book in His own timing for me when I did finally read it.

As for the second book, The Emotionally Destructive Marriage, I found the test online in a Google search and it rang so true to me that I had to have the book.  I also looked up all of Leslie Vernick’s online resources.  They were an amazing help to me at an extremely difficult time.  And ironically, in a counseling session soon after, my ex and I were given the test from this book to help us evaluate our marriage and the path to healing.  If it weren’t for the narcissism, it would have been a life-changing book for us.

If you don’t have them yet, click on them to check them out!



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

When the Church Doesn’t Recognize Narcissistic Abuse

Will the Church Support Divorcing a Narcissist?

Are Narcissists Demon Possessed?

What Does the Bible Say About Narcissism?

Can a Spiritual Narcissist Heal?

Can a Narcissist Be a Christian?

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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