Humility and Narcissism in Clergy: a Relational Spirituality Framework

Abstract

Humility is a central virtue in Christian traditions, and it is typically expected of Christian clergy. However, research indicates that there may be significant levels of narcissism among those in religious leadership. This paper incorporates psychological and theological perspectives to understand the particular dynamics that surround narcissism and humility in this specific population. Empirical research to date suggests that clergy humility has positive implications for clergy’s mental, spiritual, and congregational health, whereas narcissism has deleterious consequences. Aspects of the clergy role, including idealization, hiding the self, stress, overfunctioning, unboundaried influence, and unrealistic expectations can encourage the cultivation of narcissism. Integrating psychological theory and empirical research, the authors propose that the developmental capacities of secure attachment and differentiation of self are two key aspects of mature relational spirituality that can help clergy (a) to practice healthy forms of humility and (b) to resist narcissism. Implications for religious communities are discussed.

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Notes

  1. 1.

    Of note, Pincus and Roche (2011) argue that the distinction between overt and covert narcissism captures a dimension of narcissism that is distinct from the grandiose-vulnerable dimension, arguing that there are overt and covert aspects of each. Nonetheless, the empirical studies reviewed in this paper use overt and covert to refer to the grandiose-vulnerable distinction, so we name them as synonyms here.

  2. 2.

    As discussed previously, many terms are used to distinguish between various types of narcissism. Those used within each study are used here.

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Acknowledgments

This project was supported by a grant from the John Templeton Foundation (#60622).

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Correspondence to Elizabeth G. Ruffing.

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Ruffing, E.G., Paine, D.R., Devor, N.G. et al. Humility and Narcissism in Clergy: a Relational Spirituality Framework. Pastoral Psychol 67, 525–545 (2018). https://doi.org/10.1007/s11089-018-0830-4

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Keywords

  • Humility
  • Narcissism
  • Clergy
  • Relational spirituality
  • Differentiation of self
  • Attachment