Dear Codependent, It is no contest. The narcissists have an unconscious radar for you. They can sense your insecure presence in a crowded room like a shark can taste a drop of blood in a mile of open ocean. They can sniff you out like a hound dog tracking a beef brisket sitting on the kitchen counter. The takers in this world see the givers coming a mile away because they need you. Yours is a symbiotic relationship.
So if are you a people-pleaser, a giver, a rescuer, a codependent—be afraid, be very afraid. Chances are you’ve learned a few lessons the hard way—or maybe not. Without even realizing it you may have become a world-class control-freak in a misguided attempt at self-protection.
The American Psychiatric Association’s DSM-IV does scant justice to the true malignancy of some narcissists. After all, “science” is not about making judgements of phenomena like say, evil. For narcissism there should probably be gradations from the narcissism lite (mildly self-absorbed) to moderate (totally demanding attention) to first- degree (answers to no one and believes they have god-like powers). I believe most serial killers are a type of first-degree narcissist.
Narcissism Lite, Third Degree
We’ve all known narcissists lite. They are the ones who can’t stop talking about themselves and their exploits. Wherever you have been, whatever you have done or whoever you know, they can top it. If you once spotted John Travolta at the mall; well, then they are practically personal friends with Tom Cruise or Cameron Diaz. If you spent a long weekend in Cancun; well, that reminds them of the two weeks they spent in Rio de Janeiro. If you went snorkeling in the Bahamas then they did hang-gliding in Tahiti, etc., etc. When you mention that you once had a Dodge Challenger they tell you about their Shelby Cobra. The veracity of these tales is not important, the telling of them is. In their self-absorption and incipient grandiosity they are irritating but fairly innocuous. They are just too full of themselves and you learn to avoid them.
The moderate, or second-degree, narcissists have the grandiosity and sense of entitlement in spades. They are beyond just irritating and are often harder to avoid as they may actively insert themselves into your life. They may end up in leadership positions. If they happen to be fairly intelligent and attractive, well, they may hold a certain fascination—perhaps, you think, they really are all that they claim to be. And they can often be masters at manipulating victims into their web of delusional self-aggrandizement. To the typical codependent with shakey self-esteem the apparently boundless confidence of the narcissist may seem very attractive.
First Degree Narcissism
Some first-degree narcissists can be dangerous because they believe they have the power of life and death—think Hitler. They act (and likely believe) as if they are the only person in the world—certainly the only real person. The rest of us are pretty much just shadows— existing only to serve them. They very strongly evidence the “lack of empathy” that is one of the DSM-IV criteria for narcissism. They have no conscience. They are totally sociopathic and manipulative. The first two gradations of narcissist probably have a little, tho very impaired, conscience.
It is my impression that pretty much all of the well-known politicians on the national scene these days are narcissists. Obama is my poster boy for narcissism. The question is what degree—but only a narcissist would write their autobiography at age 32. And it really doesn’t matter much whether they be liberal or conservative, Repub or Dems—my impression is they are mostly in politics for their own ego-needs. Selfless patriots are few and far between these days.
Narcissist Clergy and Cults
Also, unfortunately, narcissists of all gradations make their way into the pulpit. As clergy, they are often described as gifted, powerful speakers. They have learned to use scripture to their advantage. They radiate charm and when they reflect humility at times it’s strictly a ruse, it’s part of their shtik. All preacher/narcissists want to be looked up to, but some want to be flat-out worshiped. The leaders of all religious cults are narcissists. The names which come quickly to mind from the past few decades are Jim Jones and David Koresh.
Jones led his followers from San Francisco into the jungles of Guiana where he tried to establish his own little empire. This sad escapade culminated in the 1978 Jonestown massacre when over 900 of his followers were forced into a mass suicide. Similarly, in 1993, Koresh’s grandiose madness resulted in 54 deaths in the fiery Branch Davidian apocalypse in Waco, Texas. Like Hitler, both of these first-degree narcissists had not a shred of real compassion for their followers.
Also, as another first degree, throw in the name of L. Ron Hubbard, the founder of Scientology. While not in any sense a Christian organization they do make use of a cross logo and reference Jesus as a prophet. Hubbard has been dead for many years but while he was alive his mad, mad, mad organization was a total reflection of him and his megalomania and narcissism.
More recently, we have the narcissism-lite examples of the lifestyles-of-the-rich-and-famous word-of-faith, prosperity gospel preachers like Kenneth Copeland, Benny Hinn and Creflo Dollar. Creflo recently asked his flock to pony up 65-mil so he could have his own private jet. Only, narcissist clergy need private jets, and when Hinn lived in Heathrow, Florida, it was reported that he had the largest water bill in Seminole county because of his massive lawn. He was notorious for having a bodyguard and an extravagant lifestyle well over a decade ago. Then there is a 2008, Youtube video of Copeland bragging that he is a billionaire. He probably isn’t, however, his family’s extravagant lifestyle is well documented, and he’s had a private jet for many years—so why not Creflo?
But perhaps more troubling are the cases of Bill Gothard and Mark Driscoll. These men are not word-of-faith caricatures, but men who captained ministries founded on serious theological ground. Gothard’s Institute for Basic Life Principles (IBLP) was influential in fundamentalist circles for over four decades, and Driscoll had built Seattle’s Mars Hill church into one of the the nation’s most influential megachurches before age forty. Both of these men were forced out of their high-profile ministries in the past year. One wonders what role narcissism played in both their success and ultimately in their downfall. Was a surfeit of self-adoration the tragic flaw that lay dormant in them awaiting activation by the intoxication of success plus minions of codependents all too ready to fall at their feet?
My belief is that all of the Christian leaders mentioned above have been useful in building God’s kingdom. They undoubtedly have brought souls to Christ. The same God whose voice was heard thru Balaam’s donkey can use even narcissists if He so chooses. But they are still narcissists—and they still use unsuspecting codependents. The polar opposite of narcissism is humility. We cannot judge someone’s heart, but none of these powerful men’s public persona reflect the virtue of deep Christ-like humility.
Christian codependents are the most vulnerable of codependents because the need to believe, to love and to serve is practically part of their DNA. It is confusing and difficult to try to blend the biblical command to love and serve others with the often low regard codependents have for their own needs. Also, they often innocently and unsuspectingly trust narcissist clergy to follow biblical principles. They do not understand that they bend the rules to justify their transgressions and are quite adept at pulling a verse out of scripture that will support their position—and when questioned will resort to “touch not God’s anointed” (I Chron. 16:22). That verse was laid on me nearly two decades ago when I said something critical about Benny Hinn while he was still a high profile Orlando-area resident.
Many of the most ardent followers of powerful, charismatic pastors have codependent personality types. And as such they are easy pickings for the narcissist/manipulator. Being insecure and having a weak sense of their own identity, they are attracted to the confidence and apparent strength of the leader. The codependent people-pleaser is unconsciously attracted to the people-user manipulator that is a narcissist “man-of-God.” Their unconscious hope is that a little of the leader’s strength and charm will rub off on them. The pastor appears to have God in his hip-pocket and so they unconsciously hope to acquire some of the same God-intimacy that their leader has.
So if you are a codependent type, and if you happen to be attracted to some strong, charming ministry leader, let’s hope for your sake that he’s one of the good-guys and not a dangerous first degree narcissist. When cornered or caught, the narcissist will offer a justification for their transgression that may sound a bit like an “I’m sorry.” It may even seem somewhat like a public repentance. However, they will await your very predictable forgiveness—and then they will likely move on to shepherd a whole new flock of codependents.