Narcissists need to be seen as the best as much as they need oxygen. At least that was pretty much what my narcissistic ex-husband used to say. A significant number of narcissists see the church and the appearance of godliness in Christian circles as the ultimate way to look like the best. If they can align themselves with God Himself, who can beat that?
There are so many ways a narcissist can hide in the church and fool the masses into thinking they are the person they are pretending to be. Narcissists want to appear godly because if they have God on their side, no Christian is going to argue against it, at least initially. People in the church are supposed to be more trusting, more forgiving, more gracious to say the least. And that makes the church a perfect haven for narcissists to use people and get away with it the vast majority of the time.
I spent 35 years with my narcissist ex, from the time we met in high school and started dating to the time we were divorced. He has never let go of his need to be seen as the greatest Christian. And when people were on to his act, he would just move on to the next church/Christian group. Based on my experiences and what I have since learned about narcissism in the church, I came up with this list of reasons why narcissists want to appear godly. Take a look and see how many you have experienced as well.
Table of Contents
Narcissists Want to be Seen as God’s Right-hand Man
Narcissists don’t really see what God is telling them. Just like their relationships with other people, narcissists only see what they want to see. They cannot bear to think of things outside of their personal view of how life should be–otherwise known as historic revisionism.
When they can tell others what the learned from reading their Bible or listening to the prompting of the Holy Spirit, it becomes difficult for others to disagree with them. Even if what the narc is saying doesn’t make sense, people will try to give him the benefit of the doubt, knowing that they don’t want to second guess God if there is any chance the narcissist is right.
Unfortunately for the narcissist who wants to appear godly, God will not give him a pass. God wants us to actually be godly. And as much as the narcissist tries to take on the role of most godly Christian, he can’t fool God. But he can continue to use magical thinking to convince himself and others that he is completely right and everyone else is not as smart or godly as he is. And that will get him quite a long way with fellow church members.
The truth is, narcissists actually want to BE God. They want to be seen as having all of the greatness of God–omnipotence, omniscience, perfect, larger than life. While they can’t claim to be God, they can claim to be so close to Him that they know exactly what He thinks and wants and then control those around them accordingly.
Narcissists Know That Historically Christians are Known to be Good People
Until the past 50 or so years, American families were expected to attend church regularly as part of their community. People attending church were considered wholesome, conscientious, responsible, fair, honest, and all the other positive qualities that made them productive members of society. While we all know that evil people can and do infiltrate the church, it is still generally believed that those who attend church try to live a good life.
That is exactly why narcissists want to appear godly. Just by being asociated with the church, narcissists are given the ability to use people to their benefit and avoid suspicion of all of the crazy things they are doing behind closed doors. When people inevitably do suspect something isn’t quite right, they will try to give the narcissist the benefit of the doubt and bleive they are being honest and true.
When fellow church members finally come to the point they can’t give the narcissist the benefit of the doubt, they may approach the narcissist, but almost always in private, so as not to call them out inappropriately. And the narcissist will gaslight them, lie, blame shift, maybe even fake repent, or a number of different ways they manipulate others behind closed doors.
The people they do this to will either be too ashamed to say anything to others. Or they will be so offended and beaten down that they may just quietly leave the church for another one. But in either event, the narcissist totally gets away with the abuse and gets to move on to the next source of narcissistic supply. The narcissist can literally go for years in this cycle and never run out of people to victimize in the church. And many will have no idea what he has done to them.
Narcissists Know That the Church Encourages Respecting and Submitting to Authority
The authority of God is a mainstay of the church, from the beginning to the current day. And yeilding authority to God is not a bad thing. Until it is being used for bad reasons.
There are many churches that believe men are the end all of authority. This is not Biblical. At least not in the way men are dominating and abusing their power. That is not what God meant by authority or men being the head of the home and church. For every verse that men use to lord their authority over others, there are many more verses about men loving and serving their wives in holiness and purity to their relationship.
Narcissists want to appear godly in the church because it allows them to be authoritative. This is beyond exercising authority. It is inappropriate leadership because it seeks to force others to be submissive in a cruel way instead of a kind and loving way. And it is not at all the way church should be.
When it was established that there was abuse in our home, my ex-husband left our church that had him removed and moved on to a church that expected me to let him move back in without having any remorse or repentance for what he had done. Because my church (and I as well) said he could not move back into our household until there was healing, they declared my ex had grounds for divorce because I was not taking care of his needs.
It was horrific that they justified his abuse for the sake of the man being the head of the household. It is this kind of behavior in the church that allows narcissists to thrive in abuse to other members for years on end.
Narcissists Know Christians Will Forgive Them When They Inevitably Fail
One final reason why narcissists want to appear godly is because they see the shame they are hiding from everyone else. And they know how far they fall short. But they also know they can keep up their act (or mask, whichever way you want to think of it) and receive forgiveness forever as long as they say the right words and put on the right performance to keep himself in the church’s good graces.
My ex knew all the right words to say, and even what body language would get the responses he needed to keep getting his narcissistic supply in the church.
There are a significant number of people in the church that are judgmental. And honestly, the narcissist himself is incredibly judgmental. But if he keeps it behind closed doors and doesn’t slip up, he can keep the vast majority of the church in the dark regarding the Mr. Hyde that comes out in private.
As much as the narcissist demands to be forgiven for the tiny things he is willing to take the blame for, the act of forgiveness is not reciprocal. He expects forgiveness but does not offer it unless he is trying to prove what a great guy he is to someone who is looking. And then he will be the most amazing servant of God/loving person you could ever meet. Over years and decades, you will wonder why you ever believed the false self they project so badly.
There are so many tricks in the narcissist’s bag that allows them to get their narcissistic supply in the church in near unlimited amounts. And many times, nobody has any idea what is really going on. They can perceive that something is wrong, but can’t quite put their finger on it.
Fortunately, though, the church is starting to wake up to what is going on. There are two books that I found absolutely instrumental in working with my church toward healing. I was fortunate to have a church that took a deep look at what was going on and make the necessary adjustments. And I think that without these two books it would have been a much harder journey to get there.
If you are having issues with an abusive and/or narcissistic spouse, family member, or even someone else in the church, click on the pics to check out these books and share them with someone that you know is safe to go to for help. I hope they will be as life-changing for you as they were for me!
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