Submitted by William D. Meyer
I suggest we all administer a quiz, (taken from the Diagnostic and Statistical Manual of Mental Disorders, Fourth Edition) based on what we now know and have personally experienced, to a late but not lamented religious leader who has affected all of our lives. According to the DMS IV, the diagnostic criteria for Narcissistic Personality Disorder (301.81) are as follows:
A pervasive pattern of grandiosity (in fantasy or behavior), need for admiration, and lack of empathy, beginning by early adulthood and present in a variety of contexts, as indicated by five (or more) of the following:
1. has a grandiose sense of self-importance (e.g., exaggerates achievements and talents, expects to be recognized as superior without commensurate achievements)
2. is preoccupied with fantasies of unlimited success, power, brilliance, beauty, or ideal love.
3. believes that he or she is 'special' and unique and can only be understood by, or should associated with, other special or high status people (or institutions)
4. requires excesive admiration
5. has a sense of entitlement, i.e. unreasonable expectations of especially favorable treatment or automatic compliance with his or her expectations
6. is interpersonally exploitative, i.e., takes advantage of others to achieve his or her own ends
7. lacks empathy: is unwilling to recognize or identify with the feelings and needs of others
8. is often envious of others or believes that others are envious of him or her
9. shows arrogant, haughty behaviors or attitudes."
Interesting, isn't it? And remember, it only takes five of these nine for a valid diagnosis of Narcissistic Personality Disorder.
A friend of Wm. Meyer wrote:
I once heard or read a story (can't remember how I learned the story) about a Jewish gentleman who had been in Hitler's camps. He was called to testify at a trial of one of the Nazi elite. When the accused Nazi walked in the room, the Jewish gentleman looked at the man for a very, very long time, let out a cry, gasped and fell in a dead faint.
Of course, everyone was concerned and medical attention was given right away. When the Jewish gentleman revived, he was asked why he had fainted. Was it too terrible for him to go back in the courtroom with the Nazi? And the Jewish gentleman replied, "Yes, yes -- it is terrible. Stripped of his uniform and standing there in his chains between two guards he reminded me of myself when I was in the camps. But then, I wondered if it I were in a uniform now and he still had on his chains could I do the evil things to him that he had done to me, my family and friends .... it is terrible. For I knew that to some degree I had the same capacity to do such evil! To be in the courtroom with him is difficult, very difficult indeed. However, I can leave him in this courtroom after I testify. But to see the capacity for such evil in myself is terrible ... it became so unbearable that I fainted."
Looking at the traits is very sobering for me -- especially when I think about the "only true church" teachings. While Armstrong is gone to whatever reward God deems fit for him (and Armstrong is most fortunate that God doesn't want my input regarding the "reward" he deserves), it remains for me to search myself and eliminate things in myself that I hated about Worldwide.
Your quiz is interesting; I never knew the medical definition of a narcissistic personality -- it describes Armstrong perfectly. Unfortunately, qualifying for membership in worldwide required the belief that the church was "special", therefore the member was "special" which sort of provides fertilized soil for the seed of the narcissistic personality.
The Ambassador experience certainly helped to create an environment for development of the unhealthy personality type your quiz describes. I think part of the trouble people have when they leave worldwide or when they deal with the "changes" is that they no longer feel "special" ... all of the people they "shunned" are not "shunable" any more, etc.
God help us all to be more like Christ (which is completely opposite of the diagnostic listing you provided) and nothing like Armstrong.
William D. Meyer replies:
Yes, the scary part is what all this says about me and my need for being special. Your comments were very humane and very much to the point. Would you mind if I shared them, with or without your name, with some of the others I sent the original message to? Some of them have websites and would probably post your response if you were willing. I think it would be helpful to many Worldwide Church of God exiters who like me are still coming to terms with where we've been and how we got there.
The really frightening part of all this is that I recognize that I could have done to others many of the truly evil things that were done to me -- given just a few changes in circumstances and the actual power and opportunity to do so. And that realization sets me back several notches.
Thank God for staying my hand somewhat.
May God help me where I pushed my hand on ahead despite the cautions he sent me.
Thanks again for writing. It is always good to hear from you.
The current issue (Feb. 9, 1998) of U.S. News & World Report had the following comments on p. 40 about narcissism, hyperthymia (a constant upbeat mood "two steps short of mania") and risk taking relative to politicians in general and Bill Clinton's current difficulties in particular:
"Modern psychotherapy is especially interested in what happens to the self in adults who as children received inadequate parental empathy. Often they become "narcissistic" -- with a distorted or conflicted sense of self-worth (narcissists are said to have problems with "grandiosity") and a tendency to use other people to supplement damaged aspects of the self. ...
"However imperfect the perspective of psychiatry, they help structure a possible account of what goes wrong when a man in the public eye takes foolish risks. What you get when you mix propensities for risk taking, hyperthymia and narcissism in the right propostions is a damn good politician -- creative, energetic, able to use others well. At the same time, you get a man for whom the sex act is a compulsion and a constant gamble: What is at stake is precisely his grandiosity -- if his naughtiness escapes punishment, the fates still adore him."
Or in the context we were discussing, he is still God's special instrument on earth, End-time Elijah, uniquely used of God to take a warning message to world leaders, beyond good and evil, above the laws that regulate mere mortals etc. etc. etc.
At any rate, the whole article is well written and worth looking at, not only for its comments about Mr. Clinton's difficulties, but what it says about the narcissism in general.
Fraternally, Bill Meyer
After looking at Narcissistic Personality Disorder (301.81) from a cult perspective, I wanted to propose we administer a second quiz to ourselves and others involving its soul-mate, Dependent Personality Disorder. According to the Diagnostic and Statistical Manual of Mental Disorders, Fourth Edition, (DSM IV) these are the diagnostic criteria for Dependent Personality Disorder, (301.6):
"A pervasive and excessive need to be taken care of that leads to submisive and clinging behavior and fears of separation, beginning by early adulthood and present in a variety of context, as indicated by five (or more) of the following:
1. has dificulty making everyday decisions without an excessive amount of advice and reassurance from others
2. needs others to assume responsibility for most major areas of his or her life
3. has difficulty expressing disagreement with others because of fear of loss of support or approval. Note: Do not include realistic fears of retribution.
4. has difficulty initiating projects or doing things on his or her own (because of a lack of self-confidence in judgement or abilities rather than a lack of motivation or energy)
5. goes to excessive lengths to obtain nurturance and support from others, to the point of volunteering to do things that are unpleasant
6. feels uncomfortable or helpless when alone because of exagerated fears of being unable to care for himself or herself
7. urgently seeks another relationship as a source of care and support when a close relationship ends
8. is unrealistically preoccupied with fears of being left to take care of himself or herself"
So that one's interesting, too, isn't it.
I'm not quite sure how to explain it, but it seems to me that the cult dynamic -- at least with Armstrongism in mind -- has something to do with an interplay between Narcissistic Personality Disorder and Dependent Personality Disorder.
What sometimes has passed for spiritual growth in the Worldwide Church of God could be a shift from dependency to narcissism -- but not too much narcissism, lest the supreme-narcissist-for-life be displaced and yet another Worldwide Church of God splinter group emerge, complete with its own narcissistic "pastor general." (I'm not convinced I'm exempt from these temptations. This is one reason why I have urged our congregation to seek external accountability mechanisms for its pastor from supervision by the Commission on the Ministry of the Christian Church in Ohio (Disciples of Christ.)
Perhaps someone else could comment on the interplay between dependency and narcissism in cults. I think there is some interplay, but I'm not sure exactly how it works. Nevertheless, I confess that I see tendencies toward parts of both in myself. And I suspect others will as well. The healing process, then, to some extend would involve moving away from both narcissistic and dependent personality traits.
Put in theological terms, the ultimate idolitry is almost always some form of self-worship, even if elaborately camouflaged, and human beings often wish to be dependent on other human beings rather than on God. And in a cultic environment, the narcissist and the dependent personality tend to find one another and begin a kind of sick dance.
Other peronality disorders are also worth looking at from a cult context, especially Borderline Personality Disorder (people who want you to hate them and just know that you won't like them and will reject them), Histrionic Personality Disorder (the dramatic types, always in the midst of a crisis), Antisocial Personality Disorder (the users) and Schizotypal Personality Disorder (people with eccentricities of behavior and accute discomfort with close relationships).
I've found these personality disorders to be a sort of who's-who of many of the folks I've met in the Worldwide Church of God -- although I've also met some really lovely people as well.
To be honest, these personality disorders have caused a lot a personal introspection. This is why Jesus explanation of the Gospel in Luke 4 in healing terms (freedom from captivity, release of debts, restoration of clear sight and the proclamation of God's acceptance and grace) has been so profoundly encouraging to me.
Unfortunately, the personality disorders are relatively resistant to psychiatric treatment and require a large investment of time to deal with for even modest success. (So insurance companies try to avoid paying for therapy for these disorders, preferring to deal with clinical disorders that respond much more quickly to therapy or medication.)
Let me know what you think. My e-mail address is: firstname.lastname@example.org .
Fraternally, William D. Meyer
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