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9 Characteristics of Spiritual Elitism: Narcissism of a Different Variety

9 Characteristics of Spiritual Elitism: Narcissism of a Different Variety

Several years ago, I attended a private function at a highly esteemed religious institution (neither the name of the organization nor the type of religion is relevant to this article). I was excited to meet people who possessed an excellent reputation for their excellent work and who were highly esteemed amongst their religious populace. The nature of the engagement allowed the leaders of this institution to be in a more natural environment where they could let their guard down and relax. Unfortunately, once I witnessed how they behaved at this opportunity, my excitement was quickly squashed. Instead, I was surprised to feel only disgusted by their lack of character.

It was immediately apparent that this was a group with a severe mentality of narcissism. The dichotomous thinking was extreme: either you came from them and were 100% for them, or you were neither and because of it, they regarded you as less of a person. There was no middle ground with them. They had no grace for differing opinions, no real forgiveness for disloyal behavior, no tolerance for those who didnt follow their rules, no mercy for people who were suffering which they viewed as a consequence of poor, unholy choices – and no allowance for individuality. Instead, there was only a Groupthink mentality and strict adherence to their rules, whether they be right or wrong. Appallingly, the institution had an order similar to the characterization of communism as satirized by George Orwell in his book 1984.

Unfortunately, after having many experiences similar to this one, it is not as uncommon as many believe. Here is a breakdown of the narcissism seen en masse in religious organizations:

  1. Divine Fantasies: In order to keep believers invested in religion, religious leaders paint fantastical images of how by fully committing to their institution, followers have a quick and easy way to a better life. This is usually translated through a figurehead claiming to be a tried and tested witness. They frequently refer to themselves as evidence that if a person does right by the standards of the organization, they too will have a wonderful life free from the struggles and misfortunes of non-believers lives.
  2. Superior Humility: Just as some narcissists believe they possess superiority to others in intellect, beauty, success, or power, religious narcissists believe they are superior in humility. Meaning, they can be heard saying something like, Im the worst of offenders, in an effort to demonstrate how vast their humility is in comparison to those around them. Real humility requires no such show or demonstration and adding an element of competition to the character trait contradicts the trait itself.
  3. Sacrificial Admiration: The group I attended this function with wanted to be known for their self-sacrificing behavior, possessing some unnatural thirst to be admired for it by their brethren. In a weird game of one-upmanship, all of them were continually trying to outdo one anothers martyrdom. True sacrifice demands no attention and instead is quietly done preferring to remain silent, something this false exhibit left to be desired.
  4. Untouchable Entitlement: Only those who are deemed worthy by the institution can speak to the religious elite – without much hope of developing any type of real relationship. During the above engagement, I was treated as if I was invisible, even when speaking because I did not come from their original organization. This untouchable attitude is a form of mental abuse known as the silent treatment, which commonly greets all outsiders regardless of who they are.
  5. Exploitative of Faults: Narcissistic religious leaders are not exploitive of their own faults (although they may admit to minor infractions as a demonstration of how real they are) but they are intolerable to the faults of others. Frequently, according to their judgment, the sins of others – especially those in similar or competing religious organizations – are exploited without regard for any harm that might befall the individual as a result. This is done to keep the masses in line with their organizations standards.
  6. Righteous Remorse: One of the major tenants of nearly every religion is a type of confession where a person acknowledges wrong-doing and seeks restitution. Similarly, that was standard with this institution, although it was approached very differently. Here, any fault was the fault of the individual or body of believers alone, and the organization was incapable of ever doing anything incorrectly. There might be a very infrequent apology for a misstep with an expectation of immediate forgiveness, followed by little to no restitution. But it is nothing compared to the expectation and subsequent treatment of the sins of the followers that are supposed to be encouraged by this process.
  7. Conditional Empathy: There is no unconditional empathy from the spiritual elite to others who have had misfortune. Instead, conditional empathy is given if the person is deemed worthy of such grace. All too often, the hardships of others are seen as consequences for hidden sins or evidence of Gods disapproval of a person. The religious leaders sound more like the friends of Job continually looking for flaws to justify his tribulation than representations of the love they claim to live by.
  8. Covetous Envy: In order to remain in a position of authority, religious leaders covet the envy of their followers. From their perspective, it provides them leverage to create a reason for the members of the institution to idolize them as a leader. These leaders will do and say things intentionally to spark envy in their people and maintain their religious influence. This may be in the form of monetary benefit, untarnished reputation, ideal marriage, or perfect children.
  9. Arrogance by Association: This is the most disappointing category of them all. With arrogance by association, even genuine believers fall into the trap of thinking that because they associate with someone, the knowledge of the wiser party will be rubbed off onto them. This keeps a person from studying the tenets of their own faith for themselves and instead sets a person up to be greatly deceived.

To be fair, there are plenty of religious organizations and institutes that do not adhere to the above-listed description. Finding one can be a chore but is well worth the effort. It is crucial when searching for an establishment that is healthy and honest to stick to your beliefs and not be intoxicated by false pretenses and reputation alone. Stay true to your personal beliefs and use wise discretion, and these types of institutions can be avoided.


How to Identify a Malignant Narcissist

Steven Gans, MD is board-certified in psychiatry and is an active supervisor, teacher, and mentor at Massachusetts General Hospital.

Narcissism is a personality trait that has been recognized throughout history, yet narcissistic personality disorder (NPD) and narcissistic personality traits have been in the public eye more often in recent years. As awareness increases, people are wondering if they are dealing with a narcissist rather than someone who is simply selfish, thoughtless, or overly power-seeking in a more general way.

There are different "variants" of narcissism, including malignant narcissism, which many consider the most severe type. Beyond merely wanting to focus primarily on themselves and be held in overly high regard by virtually everyone in their lives, malignant narcissists tend to have a darker side to their self-absorption.

That’s why it helps to know when you have one in your life and what to expect from interactions with them. This knowledge, recognition, and understanding can provide you with some clues as to how to deal with them in the safest way possible.

How to Identify a Malignant Narcissist


What does this have to do with echoism?

Well, you can imagine the word Echoism must have come from Echo in some way. Echoism is on the opposite end of the spectrum from severe narcissism. An echoist is quiet, selfless and takes responsibility easily for things they’ve done. And where the narcissist wants all the attention, the echoist wants nothing to do with the compliments.

There can be just as many problems in life when dealing with this personality. Here are a few signs that suggest you might be an echoist yourself.

Signs you have echoist qualities

1. You’re the exact opposite of the narcissist

Just as narcissists strive for the spotlight and all the attention, the echoist tries to stay away from the spotlight as much as possible. Almost every trait of the narcissist is absent with echoism. If you notice that you give more than you take, a trait not present in narcissism, then you may be an echoist.

2. One of both of your parents were narcissists

If you shy away from attention and try to keep a low profile, then there’s a high probability that one or more of your parents was a narcissist. If so, there were almost impossible expectations imposed upon you on a daily basis. You learned quickly to stay out of sight and out of trouble.

3. You truly hate attention

Getting attention is just not your thing. In fact, as an echoist, you will run from attention when someone tries to give you the spotlight. Echoists don’t like compliments and even go as far as to deny any compliments and point out their failings. They just aren’t used to accepting good things said about them.

4. You’re never selfish

An echoist would give their last penny to anyone who needed it. That’s because they are selfless, kind, but reserved. Some echoists are introverts as well who usually do things for themselves when needs arise. In these cases, they will not accept help from others. They are independent to the point of even learning new skills to do everything on their own.

5. Introverted

As I mentioned above, some echoists are introverts. They rather are alone than in a room full of people. Sometimes they’re okay being alone for days on end. When it comes to events or social gatherings, they will find excuses not to attend. Of course, they try to people down in the nicest way possible.

6. Self-blaming

If something happens, the echoist is usually the one who takes the blame. Even if it’s obvious that the blame should fall on someone else or some other situation, the echoist stands in the gap and accepts responsibility. They are actually self-sacrificing.

7. You’re living in someone’s shadow

An echoist tends to live in the shadow of another, usually a narcissistic personality. While the narcissist wallows in the attention of the public, the echoist, which is many times the intimate partner of the narcissist, will live in the background and help praise the narcissist.

Being an echoist can ruin your life

Although echoists are quiet, reserved, and nice people, they cause their own suffering much of the time. Aside from the abuse experienced by any narcissistic relations, their self-defeating behavior prevents them from advancing in life. The echoist’s life can surely be ruined by these other characteristics.

  • Insulting themselves
  • Refusing special treatment
  • Struggling with anxiety and depression
  • Relationships with narcissists

Moving from Echoism to Normalcy

Although it’s wonderful to be a selfless person, you can go too far sometimes. You can end up feeling exactly as low as you try to keep yourself. It’s important to remember you’re true feelings and let them show sometimes, lifting you up.

It’s okay to be introverted, but why not swallow your pride and ask for help sometimes. And even though you might not prefer the spotlight, it’s good to appreciate just a few compliments every now and then.

If you’re an echoist or know someone who is, remember that it’s not necessary to stay at the complete opposite end of the spectrum from the narcissist. In fact, balancing your pride and selflessness is the best way to go. It might take time to learn this, but when you do, life will seem much happier. You will even start reaching for goals and attaining dreams with your new good self-confidence.


2. She violates your boundaries.

You feel like an extension of her. Your property is given away without your consent, sometimes in front of you. Your food is eaten off your plate or given to others off your plate. Your property may be repossessed and no reason was given other than that it was never yours. Your time is committed without consulting you, and opinions purported to be yours are expressed for you. (She LOVES going to the fair! He would never want anything like that. She wouldn’t like kumquats.)

You are discussed in your presence as though you are not there. She keeps tabs on your bodily functions and humiliates you by divulging the information she gleans, especially when it can be used to demonstrate her devotion and highlight her martyrdom to your needs (“Mike had that problem with frequent urination too, only his was much worse. I was so worried about him!”).

You have never known what it is like to have privacy in the bathroom or in your bedroom, and she goes through your things regularly. She asks nosy questions, snoops into your email/letters/diary/conversations. She will want to dig into your feelings, particularly painful ones, and is always looking for negative information on you which can be used against you. She does things against your expressed wishes frequently. All of this is done without seeming embarrassment or thought.

Any attempt at autonomy on your part is strongly resisted. Normal rites of passage (learning to shave, wearing makeup, dating) are grudgingly allowed only if you insist, and you’re punished for your insistence (“Since you’re old enough to date, I think you’re old enough to pay for your own clothes!”). If you demand age-appropriate clothing, grooming, control over your own life, or rights, you are difficult and she ridicules your “independence.”


Characteristics of Narcissism

The characteristics of narcissism are all based on our capacity for self-reflection, self-consciousness, which is “normal” development for human beings.

  • Fixation on emotional experience as the depth of human experience.
  • Identification with the body as self.
  • Ego activity serving as the dynamic force perpetuating fundamental narcissism.
  • Identity based on self-image.
  • A painful state of emptiness, a deficient inner nothingness.
  • A sense of life without meaning or significance.

Narcissism makes us vulnerable to feeling hurt by not being seen or understood. The greater our narcissism, the greater our sensitivity to narcissistic wounding. The journey back to presence takes us through the terrain of narcissism, its sensitivity, its deficiency and its wounding.


5. He is the master of double standards.

He denigrated my personal and professional meditation practice, saying no one would be convinced by me because I didn't meditate for two hours a day or attend spiritual retreats. He'd obsessively talk about his meditation plans but couldn't or wouldn't implement them because he had to read yet another Tibetan Buddhist book.

Any time I drew boundaries in response to his intrusions, I was "needy" and "judgmental"—never mind that he stalked me, pointed a knife at me, and read all my emails.

"Look, I signed up for this retreat," he'd brag. "What are you doing with your life?" It didn't matter that he was often too drunk or high to attend them—or the fact that no amount of spiritual retreating can actually make you a good person.

On one hand, he accused me of not letting go of my ego. On the other hand, he'd hijack every conversation—no matter how unrelated the topic was—to make it about him.

Spirituality doesn't mean we kill our ego. It is a part of us. Instead, we acknowledge its presence and learn when not to listen to it.


7. The Victim

The “victim” narcissist is also called the “covert” narcissist. He’s a master manipulator, but he differs from other narcissists because he seems to be almost an introvert.

Sadly, for a “poor me” kinda narcissist, it all comes down to one thing: he actually hates himself. He thinks it’s going to be possible to hate himself BETTER, somehow.

Though he continues to demonstrate the behavior that he loathes, the covert narcissist is powerless to control his thoughts – and his deep inner conscience is NOT okay with the person he is or has become.

He judges HIMSELF more harshly than he judges anyone else, and usually, more harshly than he judges anyone else – but he certainly has what he considers a high standard for his life.

He quietly sticks to this unreasonable standard to the best of his abilities, happy to secretly look down his nose at the people he deems “lesser” than he. Learn more about the covert narcissist.

How to deal: As with any narcissist, watch your back and go no-contact if possible. If not, be prepared to ignore the quietly judgmental gaze and superiorist attitude directed your way – and then just keep doing what you do. If you don’t feed their narcissistic supply, like the rest, they may just get bored and move on.

Do you recognize someone you know in these types of narcissists? Take this quick toxic relationship self-assessment to find out if you are dealing with a narcissist in a toxic relationship. You’ll be given resources for your situation at the conclusion of your test.

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Angela Atkinson is a certified trauma counselor and the author of more than 20 books on narcissism, narcissistic abuse recovery, and related topics. A recognized expert on narcissism and narcissistic personality disorder who has studied and written extensively on narcissistic personality disorder and narcissistic abuse in toxic relationships since 2006, she has a popular narcissistic abuse recovery YouTube channel. Atkinson was inspired to begin her work as a result of having survived toxic relationships of her own.

Atkinson offers trauma-informed narcissistic abuse recovery coaching and has certifications in trauma counseling, life coaching, level 2 therapeutic model, CBT coaching, integrative wellness coaching, and NLP. She is a certified trauma support coach and certified family trauma professional. She also has a professional PTSD counseling certification. Her mission is to help those who have experienced the emotional and mental devastation that comes with narcissistic abuse in these incredibly toxic relationships to (re)discover their true selves, stop the gaslighting and manipulation, and move forward into their genuine desires – into a life that is exactly what they choose for themselves.


How to Spiritually Deal With a Narcissist

What happens, though, when we encounter those who don’t view the world this way — who think first of themselves, and have little or no empathy for anyone else? What’s our spiritual responsibility toward those with severe narcissistic tendencies? We’ve all encountered the pathological liar, the deeply narcissistic, the self-loving. How do we deal with such a syndrome? How can we protect ourselves without enabling the pathology of others? The Baha’i teachings have some advice that may surprise you:

“The Kingdom of God is founded upon equity and justice, and also upon mercy, compassion, and kindness to every living soul. Strive ye then with all your heart to treat compassionately all humankind — except for those who have some selfish, private motive, or some disease of the soul.

Kindness cannot be shown the tyrant, the deceiver, or the thief, because, far from awakening them to the error of their ways, it maketh them to continue in their perversity as before. No matter how much kindliness ye may expend upon the liar, he will but lie the more, for he believeth you to be deceived, while ye understand him but too well, and only remain silent out of your extreme compassion.”

This advice, roughly comparable to the “tough love” philosophy of many twelve-step recovery programs, focuses on treating others with love and respect — but also asks us to deal forthrightly and without excessive compassion toward narcissists, egotists and tyrants, refusing to countenance, support or buy into their self-destructive behaviors.

This kind of spiritual tough love requires a clear eye and an open, honest ability to spot the manipulation and exploitation narcissists typically exhibit. Identifying and naming this sort of behavior isn’t always easy, but one clue can help: a short fuse leading to a state of rage. Because narcissists have a need to control others, they can suddenly and abruptly turn from charming to alarming when something upsets, threatens or destabilizes their carefully-constructed world. Such “two-faced,” Jekyll-and-Hyde behavior should shout “Narcissist alert!” to everyone nearby.

The Baha’i teachings ask everyone to focus on the good qualities of the people around them, and ignore the bad qualities. In people like these, however — those who have “a selfish, private motive, or some disease of the soul” — we owe it to ourselves, and to them, not to fall victim to their pathology. If we follow this sage spiritual advice, perhaps we can help identify and stop the next narcissistic outburst of rage before it becomes toxic, violent and murderous.