Narcissistic people have an inflated sense of their own importance and a deep need for admiration. Those with narcissistic personality disorder believe that they’re superior to others and have little regard for other people’s feelings.
Here are some traits to look for when encountering a narcissist: Reacts to criticism with anger, shame or humiliation; Takes advantage of others to reach his or her own goals; Exaggerates own importance; Exaggerates achievements and talents; Entertains unrealistic fantasies about success, power, beauty, intelligence or romance; Has unreasonable expectation of favorable treatment; Requires constant attention and positive reinforcement from others; Is easily jealous; Disregards the feelings of others, lacks empathy; Has obsessive self-interest; Pursues mainly selfish goals.
In religious contexts, these people can rise in popularity and become “leading” voices quite easily in a world driven by branding, messaging, the need to have “influence” and legacy, etc. It’s easy: build a movement around yourself, gather people around you who will not challenge you, get the largest following you can, be accountable to no one, create a niche in which you are a self-proclaimed authority, dominate those around you, and so on. Celebrity status is easy to come by for senior pastors, solo pastors, church planters, bloggers, etc. When a narcissist lands in this position it can be dangerous.
Dr. Terry Cooper adds that narcissists and those who are committed to their own self-expansion have aconquest mentality. In conservative Christian circles this could present as a mission to conquer “liberals,” those with bad theology, defend the faith, etc. They are authoritarian and value vindictive triumphalism against their opponents. They are convinced of their own superiority. They boast about their ability to “call a spade a spade.” They are often highly charismatic, persuasive, and charming. They appear loving and generous but much of this is to cultivate anticipated (future) praise and flattery. They don’t mind jokes about themselves as long as those jokes promote what they love about themselves.
Any criticism sends them into deep resentment, “often with an accompanying outburst of fury,” says Cooper. They crave the respect of others. When challenged, “vindication, or vengeance becomes a way of life.” These responses lead to an extreme sense of competitiveness. They will intimidate others into submission (esp. opponents). They tend to be insensitive and when others object they charge opponents with being weak and soft.
Although they criticize others often they feel that they are entitled to never be criticized. They handle conflict by being arrogant and vindictive.
In religious traditions characterized by fighting against liberal Christians and a declining American culture, like the Reformed tradition, these types of men can quickly rise to celebrity status. These narcissistic, self-expansive types are lauded as generals–heroes in the “battle” for truth.
Who are these narcissistic, self-expansive celebrities “leaders?” You’ll know them by how they set up mini-empires around themselves (with dot coms, conferences, etc.) and (and this is an important “and”) how they respond to criticism and challenge. In an age of celebrity Christianity, narcissistic leaders are running wild and free while being supported by others who care more about their topical content than their narcissistic affects on others.
Why do think narcissistic leaders are so appealing to young conservative Protestants in the 20s and 30s?