Spiritual Narcissism, Spousal Abuse

Are churches an unknowing co-conspirator?

Paul tells us not “to boast” in our church work. Jesus tells us that husbands were ordained to emotionally bond with their wives, to serve created yearnings for intimate relationships both with spouse and with God. To substitute something else instead (like relishing in the accolades from church volunteerism or even relishing in the success and recognition garnered from one’s business or profession) represents a hardness of one’s heart – disobedience of the Creation Ordnance of Oneness (Genesis 2:24).

 

A spiritual narcissus thrives happily on the feel-goods stimulated by the beaucoup accolades of “great-job” showered upon him by the pastor thankful for his volunteering. Additionally, a narcissus-like Christian can be naturally attracted to church volunteerism, relishing in a feeling of moral superiority, the ego-boosting feeling of self-aggrandizement. So doing, a spiritual narcissus is choosing to forgo spousal closeness, having made this being his “safe” choice. The noetic rationalization in avoiding spousal bonding is the temporary nature of marriage, that serving church is spiritually superior to that of nurturing a “temporary” earthly spouse. This noetic view is contrary to Creation Ordinances and is spousal abuse. God’s marriage institution is the redemptive vehicle that prepares one to enter Heaven. Paul labels all this avoidance as sins of self-deception. Paul counsels: test yourself, be just like Jesus and do not fall victim to Satan’s tactic of appealing to your prideful vanity (self-aggrandizement).

OVERARCHING CONCERN

Churches, in their rightful quest for volunteers, should become aware of the potential that some of their volunteers are spiritual narcissists; otherwise the church may unknowingly become a coconspirator of spousal abuse. Narcissistic personality disorder is more prevalent in males than females and, according to research, [1] is thought to occur in around 6 percent of the general population. Thus, out of 20 male church volunteers, the likelihood is that at least one is a neurotic narcissus. If the volunteer demographics lean towards males in the 20s, the chance increases to two neurotic narcissuses. [2]

As Peter points out (2 Peter 1:3-8), KNOWLEDGE is the antidote for spiritual narcissism, a tactic churches might consider as a preventive measure. Also, gratitude is the felt emotion that softens hard hearts into accepting Peter’s KNWOLEDGE. Are churches doing enough to instill this emotion?

THEOLOGICAL SUMMARY

Paul tells us not “to boast” in our church work. Jesus tells us that husbands were ordained to emotionally bond with their wives, to serve created yearnings for intimate relationships both with spouse and with God. To substitute something else instead (like relishing in the accolades from church volunteerism or even relishing in the success and recognition garnered from one’s business or profession) represents a hardness of one’s heart – disobedience of the Creation Ordnance of Oneness (Genesis 2:24). While Paul calls this a sin of self-deception, it’s also choosing to live a self-absorbed, narcissistic-like life style – that’s “my life, my time, and my agenda” – disobediently choosing to avoid (Genesis 3:10) the Ordained intimate spousal relationship – choosing instead to live an emotionally safe and sinful “roommate” relationship (Genesis 3:7) as passed down generationally from Adam and Eve.

APPLICATION SUMMARY

In choosing an “emotionally safe” life over an obedient life, in the context of spiritual narcissism, counselors call this “spiritual bypassing.” This is the subconscious belief that the action chosen is morally correct, rationalizing that the choice is obedient to a higher spiritual belief. The subconscious motivation driving this choice is to avoid (bypass) dealing with painful feelings, unresolved wounds, and developmental weaknesses, all having been experienced within his family-of-origin – an action that’s so pervasive within the Body of Christ that in goes largely unnoticed. [3]

Example: So far our traveler has endured a battered and bruising journey. He now arrives at a fork. According to the map some nefarious looking guy gave him a while back, both paths appear to lead to his ultimate destination, Heaven. But the left path is clearly marked on the signpost REDEMPTION. It looks to be rather hazardous, rocky, with lots of chances to stumble – a pathway that would be best to AVOID, if possible.

The path to the right is clear, even though it tracks to a much higher elevation. It’s unmarked on the signpost, yet the map labels it ACCOLADES. It looks really inviting and the map suggests that he may get to the same destination. (On the map, the line indicating the right fork sort of fades out towards its end, only hinting that Heaven is its destination.) Best yet, the right fork appears bypasses all those hazards where he can stumble and fall all over again. So he takes the right pathway and gets on with his life journey.

Restating, spiritual bypassing is the substitution of one good thing by another “better looking” thing with the subconscious (substitutionary) motivation being to AVOID a heart issue that’s painfully difficult to face. (Spiritual bypassing is a subset of the noetic effects of sin.)

WHAT DOES PAUL SAY ABOUT SERVING AS A MEMBER OF THE BODY OF CHRIST?

PAUL speaks to the most important role for each of us as members of the body of Christ:

  • Should a fellow Christian be caught in a transgression, we should gently restore him (Galatians 6:1). We’re to help carry his burden (v. 6:2a), and in this way you will fulfill the law of Christ (v. 6:1b). [4], [5]

In other words, our “feel-goods” (that’s the emotionally felt rewards designed by God) that comes from demonstrating our Christian faith as a servant who glorifies God by being his redemptive agent, obediently helping another return in relationship to God.

Many churches follow Paul’s recommendation, either informally or in a structured and formalized way – like adopting the specific training resources available from the Stephen Ministries, a non-profit Christian education organization focused upon implementing Galatians 6:1.

Paul’s specific encouragement in Galatians 6:1 (NKJV) is: Brethren, if a man is overtaken [caught] in any trespass, you who are spiritual [are to] restore such a one in a spirit of gentleness, considering yourself lest you also be tempted.[6]

  • Overtaken means to be caught off guard at a venerable point – NKJV’s note.

Caught, such a sinning person is devastated, feeling disgrace (shamed) by being caught doing works of the flesh. Thus the sinner must be approached gently (gently being a Fruit of the Spirit), like approaching as a “spiritual friend.”[7] Maintaining a relationship distance no closer than that of a “spiritual friend,” honors Paul’s added admonishment: “lest you also be tempted,” (v. 6:1b, NKJV). Importantly:

  • Who are spiritual” denotes that the Christian “burden carrier” is to be under the control of the Holy Spirit. A spiritual narcissus is not under the Spirit’s control.

Thus, Paul’s caveat “you who are spiritual” purposely precludes a spiritual narcissus from this restorative activity. Paul immediately qualifies his caveat in vv. 6:3-5 — If anyone thinks they are something when they are not, they deceive themselves. Each one should test their own actions. Then they can take pride in themselves alone, without comparing themselves to someone else, for each one should carry their own load. Again:

  • Without comparing himself to someone else” is exactly what naturally attracts a narcissistically inclined person to church volunteerism: “Comparing” feeds the natural inclination of the narcissistically inclined as means to satiate his need to feel morally superior, appealing to his vanity, an ego booster, and self-aggrandizement.

Paul is admonishing all to first put-off the old [prideful selfishness (vanity)], and put-on the new [other centeredness (humility)] (Ephesians 4:22-24), that’s to put off the weakness inherited from Adam and Eve by first transforming one’s self (Matthew 7:3-6) BEFORE volunteering to restore others as God’s agent.

Satan appealed to Eve’s vanity (pride) at the Fall (Genesis 3:4-6); Satan then employed the same tactic by appealing to Jesus’ vanity in the wilderness (Matthew 4:1-11). Jesus held fast to his Father’s principles.

  • It’s ironic that Satan, knowing his “seed” of self-centered, self-absorption that he’s planted in all of God’s children (back in Genesis 3), will flower today as a narcissus-like behavioral style, being the vanity behavioral style that Satan can once again grab onto and leverage to fulfill destruction of God’s Kingdom.
  • That’s why Paul emphasizes avoiding satanic proclivities: Compare Paul’s emphasis, first he used only 1-1/2 versus to explain how we are to help fellow Christians, versus another 3 verses (2X) that Paul uses to warn us not to capitulate to our satanic proclivities.

To self-check, Paul proposes: Examine yourselves to see whether you are in the faith [under control of the Holy Spirit]; test yourselves. Do you not realize that Christ Jesus is in you—unless, of course, you fail the test? (2 Corinthians 13:5) — Paul’s test being “Are you walking according to the Gospel?” — the five components of Paul’s test are:

  1. Are you obedient to our Father’s will? (Matthew 7:21)
  2. Do you display continuous growth in holiness? (Hebrews 12:4; 1 John 3:3)
  3. Does your lifestyle specifically demonstrate the Fruit of the Spirit? (Galatians 5:22-23)
  4. Is your heart rooted in Living Water? – Demonstrated by other-centered love (1 John 3:14)
  5. Can you say that, in general, you are living a godly lifestyle, walking according to the Gospel? (Matthew 5:16; Romans 8:16)

A self-centered, self-absorbed individual who exhibits a “narcissistically like” behavioral style, will be unable to answer “YES” to most, if not all of Paul’s questions. Why? As Paul points out, Christ Jesus is not in you if you fail the test [that’s being uncontrolled by the Holy Spirit]. That’s why Paul adds the admonishment to be self-aware in 1 Corinthians 11:31, ESV: But if we judged ourselves truly [that’s being self-aware], we would not be judged.

Importantly, an individual who exhibits just a glimmer of self-awareness can grow into answering all of Paul’s questions with a “YES.”  Why? A degree of self-awareness is the “hook” that enables the individual to unlearn the inherited behavioral habit of self-absorption,[8] and return to being under the control of the Holy Spirit.

WHAT DOES JESUS SAY ABOUT SERVING THE CHRISTIAN CHURCH?

Jesus surprisingly adds significant depth and meaning to Paul’s admonishment of self-deception during his divorce debate with the Pharisees in Galilee (Matthew 19:1-12).

Jesus delivers his main point as he recounts just what marriage is (vv. 19:4-6):

  • Spouses will abandon (leave) the relationship they had with their parents, and will glue (join) themselves together, [thus] becoming one flesh.

Jesus has just defined marriage to be the closest relationship possible, a relationship solidified in physical and emotional intimacy, that’s becoming one flesh in emotional onenessemotional oneness being like what the wife feels when she’s being holistically protected by and bonded in sexual relations with her husband. (Holistically protection is the physical, emotional, and spiritual protection that she once enjoyed prior to having been created from her man.) Thus:

  • The wife, having been created from her husband, is why Jesus defines marriage to be the closest relationship possible; marriage is the return of woman to her origin. That’s why wives yearn for oneness – physical and emotional coupling plus holistic protection – RAPTURE would be the descriptive term for Kathy and Timothy Keller’s summation that “sex between a man and a woman can be a sort of embodied out-of body experience … the most ecstatic, breathtaking, daring, scarcely-to-be-imagined look at the glory that is our future.” [9]

Knowing that God’s sovereignty is what brought the two together, spouses meet their “psychological longing for relational closeness” in their oneness – now feeling emotionally grateful (thankful) to God for having brought them together, feeling grateful as they relish together in rapture a oneness with God.

A quick summary thus far:

  • Paul tells us not to give-in to satanic proclivities by obtaining our “psychological need for relational closeness” from church work (or from our work/profession).
  • Jesus tells us that the source for meeting our “psychological need for relational closeness” is our spouse.

Now Jesus, in Matthew 19:8-12 goes deeper in detail as he completes his point on church service. Here’s the conversation:

8 He said to them [Pharisees], “Moses, because of the hardness of your hearts, permitted you to divorce your wives, but from the beginning it was not so. 9 And I say to you, whoever divorces his wife, except for sexual immorality, and marries another, commits adultery; and whoever marries her who is divorced commits adultery.”

10 His disciples said to Him, “If such is the case of the man with his wife, it is better not to marry.”

11 But He said to them, “All cannot accept this saying, but only those to whom it has been given: 12 For there are eunuchs who were born thus from their mother’s womb, and there are eunuchs who were made eunuchs by men, and there are eunuchs who have made themselves eunuchs for the kingdom of heaven’s sake. He who is able to accept it, let him accept it.” (NKJV, bold emphasis NKJV, underlines are the author’s)

Jesus, in v. 12, uses “eunuch” as his metaphor for the unmarried man, saying that remaining unmarried falls into three Kingdom serving classifications:

  1. Those who choose to forgo marriage, like Paul when he was called to remain celibate (1 Corinthians 7:6-9), choosing instead to serve God [eunuchs who have made themselves eunuchs];
  2. Those who are given the gift of celibacy in order to serve God [eunuchs who were born thus from their mother’s womb]; and
  3. Those who thru an experience, perhaps having an insightful epiphany moment, have chosen to serve God [there are eunuchs who have been made eunuchs by others].

An example of the third case is Luther’s experience. Here truth came crashing into the heart [i.e., Peter’s KNOWLEDGE (2 Peter 1:3-8) crashes through the heart’s hardened shell]. Luther, as he was riding his horse during a heavy thunderstorm, experienced a lightning strike, delivering Luther a near death experience, an experience that changed his heart.[10] Truth came crashing into Luther’s heart.

So what’s the spiritual situation for a married man (not a eunuch) – that’s our spiritual narcissus [11] – who (selfishly) chooses to obtain his needed “feel-goods” from serving God (or business/profession) instead of emotionally bonding with his wife?

This situation is a consequence of the married man’s upbringing: He’s unable to form emotional bonds. [12], [13] Thus in marriage, he’s a functional eunuch (fitting within classification #3, above) who was made that way by his parents [there are eunuchs who have been made eunuchs by others]. So instead of bonding, he thrives happily upon the beaucoup gratitude showered upon him by a thankful pastor for his volunteerism, or from his success in his work/profession.

Paul addressed this spiritual situation as an act of “self deception” in Galatians 6:3-5, above, while Jesus covers this identical point in Matthew 19:8 when he referred to Moses having permitted divorce because of hardness of the heart. The following analogy describes Moses’ hardness of the heart:

THE SHIP’S CAPTAIN AND THE ENGINE ROOM

Moses’ “hardness of the heart” can be described by referencing a ship’s Captain on the Bridge, having received all the navigational instructions (he knows God loves him and forgives him), but the ship’s Engine Room (his heart) never gets this message from the Bridge and thus didn’t drop the ship’s anchor in Living Water (he doesn’t feel it). Why? The Captain either forgot to tell the Engine Room (2 Peter 1:9), OR the speaking tube for communication between the Bridge and the Engine Room was clogged: forgetfulness and the clog symbolize the Hardened Heart.

Feeling the emotion of gratitude is the “Drano” that melts this clog as well melting through the hard outer shell of a hard heart. [14] Once melted, Peter’s KNOWLEDGE (2 Peter 1:3-8) will trigger the heart (Engine Room) to drop anchor (rooting the heart) in Living Water.

Either way, this is also known as the head/heart split. Decapitation. Unanchored in Living Water, the Captain’s ship (his life) drifts, only to run aground and be broken-up; totally destroyed upon Satan’s rocky shoreline, known as the Gospel Gap[15]The mind knows but the heart never gets the message.

God grieves the Gospel Gap in Psalm 9:16b — the wicked are ensnared by the work of their hands [16] — that’s the Engine Room’s failure to drop anchor. This verse is uniquely[17] appended by two non-translatable, Hebrew words – higgayown suggesting that upon reading, the reader should emotionally feel a grave accentuating tone (like hearing a solemn, low-octave, musical chord), followed by celah (or selah) meaning pause – the reader is to pause after hearing this grave chord and meditate on the seriousness of the message; pause and let the consequences sink-in!

GAPS NEVER STAY EMPTY: SPIRITUAL BYPASSING FILLS THEM

Selfish self-absorption (in this paper’s context, that’s spiritual narcissism) fills them, just as Satan planned back in Genesis 3. Since the breath-of-life (Genesis 2:7) instilled within us moral values, Satan was fully aware that the noetic effects of his seed (selfish self-absorption), which he planted in all of God’s children, will blossom and motivate us to find a gap-filling alibi.

So that’s what we do. We subconsciously come up with an alibi. Subconsciously we practice Paul’s self-deception. We subconsciously adjust our Christian Worldview to somehow “make it right” (1 Samuel 12:3), that’s, in our minds, finding a way to accept our satanic proclivities as being morally A’OK, that’s avoiding what we should do as Christians – AVIODING the pain of directly addressing the heart issue causing our emotional hurts, painful feelings, unresolved wounds, and developmental weaknesses – the pain of giving-up the “my life, my time, and my agenda” lifestyle.

In the beginning of this paper, the noetic alibi was that marriage was temporary, thus its nurture didn’t merit as compared with serving the Church, or the monetary provision for the family was of greater value than nurturing a wife.

So, contextually, we spiritually bypassed. We subconsciously rationalized that serving the Church was “godly superior,” enabling us to avoid having to own-up to our inability to emotionally bond with our wife. Thus, we “filled the Gap” with the sin of spousal abuse. Satan has won another!

CONCLUSION

Churches, in their rightful quest for volunteers, should be aware of the potentials that some of their volunteers may be spiritual narcissists; otherwise they inadvertently become abettors of spousal abuse. As Peter points out (2 Peter 1:3-8) KNOWLEDGE is the antidote for spiritual narcissism, a tactic churches might consider as a preventive measure.

Any husband (or wife), who has adjusted his/her Christian Worldview to obtain “feel-goods” not from the spouse, but rather from church, hobby, business, or profession, is sinning against Creation; they are functioning as sinfully deceptive Christians, and, uncontrolled by the Holy Spirit, they are, at the very least, spiritually abusing their spouse.

Hank Miiller lives in Newton, Penn., attends the Riverstone Church, Yardley, Penn., and is a Biblical Marriage Counselor specializing in helping those in abusive relationships.


ENDNOTES

[1] Bressert, Narcisstic Personality Disorder, https://psychcentral.com/disorders/narcissistic-personality-disorder/

[2] Lindsay Lyon, Narcissism Epidemic: Why There Are So Many Narcissists Now, US News and World Report, https://health.usnews.com/health-news/family-health/brain-and-behavior/articles/2009/04/21/narcissism-epidemic-why-there-are-so-many-narcissists-now?context=amp

[3] Robert Augustus Masters, Spiritual Bypassing: When Spirituality Disconnects Us From What Really Matters, North Atlantic Books, 2010.

[4] All verses are from the NIV unless noted otherwise.

[5] The Law of Christ includes loving one’s neighbor (Matthew 22:39, Galatians 5:14 — For the entire law is fulfilled in keeping this one command: “Love your neighbor as yourself), and one’s enemy as well (Matthew 5:43-44).

[6] This means falling victim to peer pressure.

[7] For churches to adopt the Stephen Minister training resources, they must agree to specific training and management practices that are designed to insure that the “care giver” never gets closer in relationship than a “friendship” with a “care receiver.” Any counseling relationships with a “care receiver” are strictly “off limits.”

[8] The process of unlearning a behavioral habit is set forth in 1 Peter 3:13-22, which is to set hard and fast behavioral boundaries for the individual willing to change his habits, and for his accountability partner to be willing to enter into the “constructive conflict of mercy” should a behavioral boundary be crossed, as habits take time along with a stead-fast commitment to change.

[9] Timothy Keller, with Kathy Keller, The Meaning Of Marriage, Dutton, 2011, p. 236, confirmed the Shulamite’s expressed enjoyment of oneness in Song 6:12 – Before I realized it, my desire set me among the royal chariots [the four-horse very fast and powerful chariots built by Amminadab] of my people.

[10] Luther’s life-changing, A-Ha lightning moment: On July 2, 1505, Luther, having visited his parents, was returning to the University of Erfurt where he was about to graduate with a Master of Law degree. Luther was ridding his horse back to school and a severe thunderstorm hit, a bolt of lightning struck. The blast threw him from his horse. Hitting the ground, Luther called out to Saint Anne: “I will become a monk.” (He had been thinking about this before but his father was insisting on a law degree.) On July 17, with heart-felt gratitude for Saint Anne having saved his life, Luther entered the Black Monastery in Erfurt and became a monk. The lightning bolt was Luther’s life changing, epiphany event that came crashing into his heart.

[11] Spiritual narcissism has a defined behavioral signature — basically a vanilla-like narcissist but highly flavored with biblical overtones. Behavioral warning signs are:

  1. They constantly reference their own spiritual achievements, emphasizing their A-Ha moment that point to their spiritual enlightenment.
  2. They invade conversations quoting scripture.
  3. They twist scripture to represent their own presuppositions; even self-righteous enough to contradict their own Pastor.
  4. They profess love of spouse, but never show it. They avoid intimacy.
  5. They talk, but don’t listen, another display of spiritual self-righteousness.
  6. They live in Echo Chambers, forming like-minded friendships.
  7. They refuse to acknowledge their mistakes, typical of all self-absorbed.
  8. They tear others down saying: “You should be more spiritual, be just like me.”
  9. They lead by force, not by example. They are “ownership” parents. Anger is their weapon to force compliance; they lack in experiencing family joy.
  10. They ultimately put God second to themselves, typical of all self-absorbed.

[12] The self-absorbed, being a lover of self, has a natural inability to form emotional bonds. They have “learned,” likely during their childhood, to emotionally protect themselves, to be dependent only on the self for affirmation of care. Thus the Creation ordinance that Jesus explained in Matthew 19:4-6 (spouses will abandon [leave] the relationship they had with their parents, and will glue [join] themselves together, [thus] becoming one flesh) has no meaning because they did not acquire a bonded parental attachment to abandon [leave] and to recreate in gluing [joining] themselves to their wife. In effect, they are eunuchs who have been made eunuchs by their parents. They also are likely to be eunuchs in relationship with God, even while professing otherwise.

[13] Unable to form emotional bonds, the individual also rationalizes that “doing and/or giving things” are replacements for “emotional bonding.” For example, the husband will do “little favors” like brew her morning tea, straighten up the kitchen before she arises, give back rubs, and so forth, as “signs” of his love for his wife.

The book “The 5 Love Languages” by Gary Chapman (Northfield Publishing, 2015) expounds on this principle. The problem is that “love languages” only papers over the underlying heart problem, for the husband’s inability for form an emotional connection, which is the ordained by Genesis 2:25, remains unattended. Why? Love Languages cannot drop the anchor of the husband’s boat into Living Water. Love Languages are not the language of the heart. Only emotions are, and that singular emotion is gratitude. His sin of wayward disobedience remains.

Additionally, the narcissistically inclined husband, substituting “things” for emotional bonding, often is expecting by so doing that his wife will “respect” him. In reality, he’s using “things” as a manipulative means to gain “control” – worship obedience!

[14] Miiller, How Should We Understand Genesis 3:16b — The Role of Gratitude, the Emotion that Prevents Abuse (Part 4),

[15] Lane and Tripp, How People Change, New Growth Press, 2006, pp. 1-20.

[16] All scripture quotations are from the NIV unless otherwise indicated.

[17] Psalm 9:16 is the only place in the Hebrew bible where higgayown & celah appear together, further emphasizing the grave nature of not communicating with the Engine Room.