Sunday, January 08, 2006

Narcissistic Spirituality - Part One

There have been many different facets of the issue of spiritual abuse which have been explored in preceding essays. Most of this material has limited itself to the context of the Sufi tradition.

One dimension of this topic which has been touched upon somewhat, although not in great detail, revolves around the nature of the perpetrator of spiritual abuse. What makes such a person tick? What are the motivations underlying his or her behavior? What is the nature of the pathology?

There are a number of proposals which might be offered in response to such questions. Some spiritual frauds are merely run-of-the-mill con artists who, through one means or another, have come to the realization that operating spiritual scams constitutes a fruitful realm with almost unlimited horizons of potential for an enterprising individual.

Other charlatans may see the realm of spirituality as a fertile medium through which to identify individuals who are vulnerable to being sexually exploited. Or, perhaps, a person’s struggle with his or her nafs or carnal soul went awry, and a desire for fame and/or power began to take control of things, and spiritual seekers merely became a means to satisfy such a person’s corrupted ends.

Some individuals may have started out on the Path with appropriate intentions, but, somewhere along the journey, took a detour into the darker, shadowy side of human potential, and not only became lost, but decided to entangle other people, as well. Historically, there are a number of movements and groups which began when someone who had been associated, in some fashion, with the Sufi tradition, had certain experiences, and, then, as a result of their own interpretation of such events, invented a philosophy, theology, or mystical path which, in turn, was offered and introduced to other people.

Some spiritually abusive people may be socio-pathic. History, circumstances, and personal inclination come together in unhappy alliance and manifest themselves in the form of a wolf who preys on and/or devours her or his flock over a period of time.

I have known, to varying degrees, different people who probably fit into one, or another, of the foregoing, categories. However, when I began to reflect on my own personal situation vis-a-vis the spiritual fraud with whom I became entangled, none of the aforementioned possibilities seemed to really resonate with my experiences, or the experiences of others who were spiritually abused by this individual.

Why did he do what he did? What was really going on?

After giving considerable thought and attention to this matter over the last 8-9 months, there are some tentative conclusions which have begun to surface which feel right – at least to me. Therefore, I thought I would share these reflections with others and let the chips fall where they may.

From one perspective, evil might be construed as anything that deviates, on one level or another, from the truth, and, therefore, in this sense, we all contribute to the introduction of evil into the world through the way in which we resist, rebel against, distort, hide, ignore, obstruct, and seek to undermine truth by means of our behaviors – both individual and collective. This sort of evil arises due to human weakness, short-sightedness, ignorance, error, selfishness, and the like.

There is another form of evil, however, which is more malevolent and pernicious. It exists for the sole purpose of leading people astray from the truth and commits acts intentionally with that goal in mind.

This kind of evil is very cunning, clever, perceptive, and duplicitous. It is always looking for ways to bring misery into the lives of people – not primarily for whatever sexual gratification, money, fame, or power which may be the collateral gain from such ventures – but in order to use the generation of misery as a means to leverage people away from seeking the truth.

There is, within most human beings, a longing for the truth. Some refer to this himma or aspiration as a holy longing – a deep, abiding, intense longing to come in contact with essential, ultimate Reality in an intimate, knowing way.

Human beings have come up with many ways to try to assuage this holy longing. Philosophy, psychology, theology, mythology, science, religion, and mysticism have all arisen in conjunction with this holy longing. Different people have pursued diverse roads in the hope of finding the legendary ‘holy grail’, ‘philosopher’s stone’, ‘alchemical elixir’, ‘golden fleece’ occult secrets, the ‘theory of everything’, a universal set of equations, and altered states of consciousness which would open the doors of perception into the sanctum sanctorum, the holy of holies, of Being.

There exists a force, or set of forces, however, which is (are) actively dedicated to corrupting the aforementioned holy longing. This is the malignant form of evil alluded to earlier.

Some people, such as Scott Peck, refer to this reality through phrases such as “people of the lie”. Others use the term Satan or Iblis. Some individuals talk in terms of a force of dissolution and chaos which flows through existence, tugging at the fabric of being, seeking to unravel life so that acting upon the holy longing becomes difficult, problematic, bogged down, compromised, co-opted, or re-framed in unethical and unjust directions.

The term or name which is used to give expression to this dimension of existence is relatively unimportant, and different perspectives will be inclined to use that term or name which is most compatible with the world-view which is inherent in that perspective. What is important are the themes underlying, swirling about, and being given expression through those forces and phenomena which seek to obstruct or rebel against the seeking of truth.

Many people who have been touched by such evil, abandon the holy longing altogether, and when this occurs, this mode of evil has achieved its purpose. Among other things, the impact of this kind of evil on their lives renders such people incapable of ever trusting anyone sufficiently to seek the kind of help and co-operation which seems vital to achieving progress with respect to struggling toward realizing one’s holy longing.

The man who, for ten years, I referred to as my shaykh or spiritual guide was, and is, a manifestation of the more malignant manner of evil which has been outlined above. He enjoys – indeed, revels – in leading people astray from the truth, and he often accomplishes this in very clever, elaborate, and ‘artful’ ways (this is called: ‘giving the Devil his due’).

There is something about his manner which just makes you want to trust, believe, and accept what he says. The lies are so effortlessly delivered, in such a soft, gentle, re-assuring, peaceful, ‘sincere’, low-key manner.

Moreover, the lies always are delivered in a context steeped in a forked-tongue spirituality which is constructed in such a fashion that the truth is used to camouflage the lies. Consequently, truth becomes like a Trojan horse which hides the army of lies hiding within.

Because he is so knowledgeable about the theory of tasawwuf or Sufi mystical science, and because he is so charismatic, entertaining and articulate, in several languages, with respect to the manner through which he weaves his lies into the truth, one rarely feels the poison enter one’s system. He is a master of misdirection.

The wonder of it is that he can keep all of his lies straight. Yet, even when he slips, he is a marvel to behold and very inventive in the way he uses additional untruths to spin the original lie into the territory of plausible deniability and ambiguity.

I have scoured DSM-IV (Diagnostic and Statistical Manual For Psychological Disorders), looking for possible matches between its many categories of disturbance and the behavior of my ‘once-upon-a-time’ shaykh. Although I am convinced that he serves the dark purposes of the sort of intentional evil which seeks to corrupt the holy longing inherent in human beings, nonetheless, I was interested in seeing whether their might be some less traditional, more modern way of thinking about such behavior –– something which might appeal to the sensibilities of current research.

The only category in DSM-IV which resonated, to some degree, with my experiences, along with those of several other individuals with whom I have conversed in conjunction with this man, was that of Narcissistic Personality Disorder. Consequently, in the remainder of this essay I would like to explore a variety of possibilities in this regard and, hopefully, make a few useful contributions along the way.

Perhaps the best way to begin this foray into psychological issues is to state that, in general, there has not been an extensive amount of study in relation to the nature and etiology of Narcissistic Personality Disorder. Opinions are fractured along a number of different fault lines –– some theorists favor an approach rooted in the impact which problematic genetic programming has upon personality and development; other researchers opt for perspectives that are immersed in issues of anomic societies, faulty parenting, dysfunctional families of one kind or another, maladaptive coping strategies, and so on.

There is no consensus among the experts. Moreover, there is precious little data to substantiate one model of Narcissistic Personality Disorder over another.

However, the existence of such a theoretical lack of settledness merely represents conceptual opportunity in another guise. And, into this breach I boldly go where no one may have gone before ... and, perhaps, with good reason – let us see.

There are a number of characteristics which need to show up in behavior in order to be able to arrive at a possible diagnosis of Narcissistic Personality Disorder in any given case. For example, individuals suffering from this malady tend to be deeply convinced that they are special, unique, rare people who only can be understood and appreciated by others (whether professionals, institutions, or ‘gifted’ people) who also are high-status and special in a similar or related way.

Such individuals have a constant, excessive need for either positive attention, praise, deference, and admiration from other people, or, alternatively, a need to be infamous, feared, or a source of notoriety of some kind. In either case – whether that which is forthcoming from others is in the form of adulation or some kind of fear or condemnation, these emotions constitute what is known as ‘narcissistic supply’, and the Narcissistic Personality disordered individual is constantly seeking to receive such a flow of emotion from others.

This sort of an individual has a very palpable sense of entitlement. In other words, this sort of person strongly feels they should be given priority, special treatment, or favored status in almost all things, and fully expects, if not demands, that everyone else should be inordinately sensitive to their need for obedience and compliance in relation to this sense of entitlement.

Although on the surface there may be remnants of a facade of compassion and empathy for others, in truth, this facade is purely for show – as one ploy, among many, to invite people to satisfy his need for a constant flow of narcissistic supply. In truth, a Narcissistic Personality disordered individual lacks any real empathy or feeling for others and is constantly exploiting them in order to derive further fixes of narcissistic supply, of one kind or another.

A person with this disorder often is arrogant and boastful concerning herself or himself, while being equally disdainful of others. Furthermore, such people tend to fly into extreme rages and angry tirades if their search for narcissistic supply either goes unfulfilled or is challenged, resisted, frustrated or ignored in some fashion.

On the one hand, a Narcissistic Personality disordered individual may believe, in a deep fashion, that the manner in which others feel about that person merely reflects the way in which such an individual feels about herself or himself. Ironically, however, the same individual may be intensely envious of others who may be receiving the sort of attention and adulation which that individual feels ought to be directed to her or him.

Not every person who suffers from this disorder may do so to the same degree. In some people, the foregoing symptoms may be sporadic, transient, relatively mild, or only arise in certain circumstances to which the person is currently reacting and, then, disappear when the nature of events changes. In other individuals, the full array of symptoms may be present in an intense, permanent fashion, and such individuals are extremely resistant to palliative treatment.


Anonymous said...

Anab it is time to drop the past and head forward into the future while living in the present. Much too much time is spent on the avoidance of something that every6one must go through to learn something about the spiritual way that they need to know thropugh their own experience. This is provided to them by the One who Knows the needs of those whom He has created. Demount the entire spiritual abuse organization and assist those who show up at your door. They are the ones who are part of your present and they are the ones you must address. When in the course of your communications and exchanges such things come up, address them as briefly as possible as there are more important issues in spiritual life and living than the avoidance of something, anything. This from someone who many consider not only a sociopath but also a spiritualsociopath. Wish you well in your endeavors and wish you the Right Guidance for what lies ahead and the wisdom of letting go of what lies behind.

"What causes us to act as we do? Is it found in manuals of the spiritual way or is it found in the Truth one connects with through introspection and careful observation and examination of one's own condition, through the means one has been provided with and not "the means provided to others."

topher said...

It is a good blog that points out some of the qualities of false teachers. However, as a psychology graduate, I should qualify the fact that not all narcissistic people are evil, nor are all evil people narcissistic. DSM-IV measures are very broad and it is rare that clear diagnoses are made with it. More often than not, people have one or two symptoms from many of the disorders and syndromes. Nevertheless, you have brought out elements that contribute to false teachers very well.

I think most people walking their path would agree that we all have elements of DSM disorders, just to differing degrees. i know i fight elements of narcissism, depression, anxiety, schizotypy, panic, dissociation, antisocial, among other disorders, but these are just labels for different elements of my thought and behaviour that inhibit me from experiencing life in peace and harmony within myself and most importantly with others.

Let's be truthful, your previous teacher was a crook first and foremost. We should not have compassion on him because he is a victim of a disorder, but because he chose his path and will reap the harvest he has sown. Let's hope he finds repentance, though considering your analysis of him, he may be resistant to change.

I agree with the first poster, learn this about your previous teacher, and learn it for yourself and those you interact with in the future. Bringing past hurt into the present by speaking at length about it is the best way to not let it go... peace out