In this thought-provoking research article, “Humility and Narcissism in Clergy: a Relation Spirituality Framework,” the authors explore the role of the virtue of humility and the destructive nature and presence of narcissism in ministry. Though dense in spots, it is important reading for both priests and clergy wives, as it provides insights we sometimes want to avoid.


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Humility and Narcissism in Clergy: a Relational Spirituality Framework

Elizabeth G. Ruffing1,2 & David R. Paine1 & Nancy G. Devor1 & Steven J. Sandage1,2,3,4

# Springer Science+Business Media, LLC, part of Springer Nature 2018

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.

Keywords Humility.Narcissism.Clergy.Relationalspirituality.Differentiationofself. Attachment

Historically, humility has been considered one of the primary Christian virtues (Wolfteich et al. 2016a). Christ was described as humble, and humility is prescribed for those who imitate him as spiritual leaders (Lamothe 2012). Yet, there are significant barriers to Christian clergy


1 2

3 4

Elizabeth G. Ruffing

The Danielsen Institute, Boston University, 185 Bay State Rd., Boston MA 02215, USA

Department of Psychological and Brain Sciences, Boston University, 64 Cummington Mall, Boston MA 02215, USA

School of Theology, Boston University, 745 Commonwealth Ave., Boston MA 02215, USA MF Norwegian School of Theology, Gydas vei 4, 0363 Oslo, Norway

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practicing humility in contemporary Western society. There is some evidence that narcissism levels have been increasing in Western societies over the past few decades (Twenge and Foster 2008; Twenge et al. 2008; Twenge et al. 2014). It may not be a surprise that levels of narcissism observed in prominent business and government leaders are higher than in the general population (Rosenthal and Pittinsky 2006). However, this disparity has also been observed in religious leaders (Ball and Puls 2015, 2017; Lee 2004), suggesting the need for increased attention to the interrelated dynamics of narcissism and humility among clergy. These findings on risks for elevated narcissism may have significant pastoral implica- tions given the positions of personal, social, and spiritual influence that clergy hold. This literature on narcissism emerges at a time when psychological research on humility is also on the rise (Worthington and Allison 2018), but the studies on narcissism and humility have remained largely segregated. In this paper, we offer an initial rapproche- ment of the literatures on narcissism and humility (a) in relation to the psychological and spiritual challenges of religious leadership and (b) as synthesized using a relational spirituality framework (Worthington and Sandage 2016).

Relational spirituality is a construct gaining increasing use in social science literature and has been defined in various ways (for an overview, see Tomlinson et al. 2016). We define relational spirituality broadly as Bways of relating to the sacred^ (Sandage et al. 2008, p. 187), with ‘sacred’ referring to whatever a person considers Divine or of ultimate importance. Although some individuals do not self-define as Bspiritual,^ clergy are in the unique position of relating to the sacred themselves while also serving in roles deeply embedded in the relational spiritualities of others and the religious communities they co-construct. A relational spirituality framework facilitates attention to a broad range of relational development dynamics (ranging from healthy to pathological) and the interactive nature of human interpersonal dynamics with relational experiences with the sacred. Facets of the relational spirituality model have been empirically tested in over 20 published studies with seminary students and religious leaders, including studies of humility and narcis- sism summarized below (Worthington and Sandage 2016).

Humility and narcissism are complex, multidimensional constructs, and the unique posi- tions that clergy hold require an understanding of the particular theological, social, and psychological factors that influence them. Humility and narcissism are both considered individual personality traits, but they are traits shaped by relational development and have important implications for interpersonal functioning and relational spirituality. In this paper, we focus on Christian clergy since we draw from previous research on Christian clergy, but similar dynamics may be present for religious leaders in other traditions. Christian clergy draw from a complex theological backdrop that offers a range of examples of humility, including some sources that can foster a shame-based religiousness (Wolfteich et al. 2016b). Although clergy are typically expected to be humble, they often face numerous factors that may contribute to risks for narcissism, such as isolation (Weaver et al. 2002), unrealistic expectations (Rowatt 2001), and idealization (Hook et al. 2015). These particular factors require interdisciplinary conversation with careful consideration of the psychosocial and spiritual dynamics at play. In what follows, we bring the psychological definitions of humility and narcissism into conversation with theology. We then review existing literature on prevalence and outcomes related to clergy, humility, and narcissism. Next, we provide an overview, based on theory and empirical literature, of some of the particular factors that may contribute to the prevalence of narcissism among clergy, despite the traditional empha- sis on humility in many Christian contexts. Finally, using a relational spirituality model,

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we propose two key developmental capacities (secure attachment and differentiation of self [DoS]) that we consider pivotal for the cultivation of healthy and authentic humility rather than narcissism, and we outline practical implications for religious organizations.

Defining humility and narcissism

Humility is a multidimensional construct that includes (a) accurate self-appraisal (e.g., know- ing one’s strengths and limitations), (b) a receptive orientation toward others, including an appreciation of human differences, and (c) the capacity for self-regulation of emotions, particularly shame and pride (Davis et al. 2011; Davis et al. 2010; Exline and Hill 2012; Jankowski and Sandage 2014; Jankowski et al. 2013; Paine et al. 2016; Tangney 2009). In this paper, we consider the problem of pathological narcissism as a phenomenon that runs counter to humility. As Pincus and Roche (2011) discuss, pathological narcissism is characterized as Bimpairment in the ability to manage and satisfy needs for validation and admiration, such that self-enhancement becomes an overriding goal in nearly all situations and may be sought in maladaptive ways and in inappropriate contexts. This heightens sensitivity to the daily ups and downs of life and relationships. .. and impairs regulation of self-esteem, emotion, and behavior^ (p. 32). This is in contrast to a healthy narcissism as described in Kohutian self psychology (Kohut 1971) and elsewhere described as Badaptive narcissism^ (Ackerman et al. 2011), which has been shown to be important for mental health (Sedikides et al. 2004) and for leadership when paired with humility (Owens et al. 2015). Healthy narcissism includes capacities for realistic self-esteem, empathy, creativity, wisdom, and a sense of humor about one’s personal limitations, whereas pathological narcissism runs counter to all of these strengths. Clergy leadership roles typically require the confidence and sense of personal authority that is consistent with healthy narcissism; however, we address certain clergy role challenges that provide risks for pathological forms of narcissism. For our purposes in this paper, we use Bnarcissism^ to refer to pathological forms of narcissism, since that is how it is most commonly used in the empirical literature, unless we specify Bhealthy^ or Badaptive narcissism.^

Narcissism is commonly divided into two main types: grandiose and vulnerable (Pincus et al. 2014). Grandiose (sometimes called overt1 or centrifugal) narcissism involves a repression of both negative self-perceptions and negative perceptions of the self by others, an inflated self-image, manipulativeness, domineering behavior, and the pursuit of interpersonal power and control (Pincus and Roche 2011; Sandage et al. 2017). Vulnerable (sometimes called covert or centripetal) narcissism also involves entitlement and a need for admiration but is characterized by hypersensitivity, shame, anxiety, depression, low self-esteem, helplessness, and a tendency to idealize others (Pincus and Roche 2011; Sandage et al. 2017). Both grandiose and vulnerable narcissism provide barriers to a healthy humility, as we explain below.

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.

The psychological study of humility and narcissism can benefit from interdisciplinary theo- logical engagement, particularly since Christian clergy often draw from theological sources within Christian traditions to inform and interpret their experience. Whereas the term ‘narcis- sism’ did not enter into use until the late nineteenth century (Oxford English Dictionary), Christianity, like other religious traditions, has been concerned with Bpride^ in its various forms for millennia (Okholm 2014). The contrast between the proud and the humble is a major theme of Jesus’ teachings, and it is presented as capturing a fundamental orientation to God that has priority over other aspects of righteousness. For example, the contrasting orientations of pride and humility are presented in the parable of the Pharisee and the publican (Luke 18:9– 17). Pride puts one in direct opposition to God; BGod is opposed to the proud, but gives grace to the humble^ (James 4:6, NASB). The wisdom literature of the Hebrew Bible repeatedly heralds the formative moral value of humility in countering the deleterious effects of pride, such as the teaching that Bwhen pride comes, then comes dishonor, but with the humble is wisdom^ (Prov. 11:2, NASB). Many other biblical texts could be invoked that speak to the relational or communal implications of pride versus humility, and Wengst (1988) has argued that both the Jewish and early Christian biblical traditions cast humility as a socially egalitarian virtue of spiritual solidarity with the oppressed, in contrast to more hierarchical Greco-Roman negative views of humility as representing low social status. This offers a point of connection with some contemporary psychological research on humility, which operationalizes one dimension as a level of concern for status (e.g., Jankowski et al. 2013).

The medieval philosopher Thomas Aquinas contrasts humility with both self-focus and with a belief in one’s superiority. He writes that Bhumility makes a man [sic] think little of himself in consideration of his own deficiency^ and that Bhumility makes us honor others and esteem them better than ourselves, in so far as we see some of God’s gifts in them^ (Aquinas, as quoted in Klancer 2012, p. 665). Whereas biblical texts often appear to contrast humility with grandiose forms of narcissism, Aquinas leaves room for the conceptualization of both vulnerable and grandiose forms of narcissism as contrary to Christian spiritual formation. A comprehensive review of Christian theologies of humility is beyond the scope of this paper, and key theological themes have been outlined by Wolfteich and colleagues (Wolfteich et al. 2016a, b); however, we do want to engage some important contextual theology considerations here that are relevant to the contemporary integration of psychology and theology related to narcissism and humility.

First, some expressions of humility throughout Christian traditions provide a complicated backdrop for clergy, since they can seem to promote a shame-based self-involvement similar to that found in vulnerable narcissism. As will be discussed later, an inclination toward self- abasement, interacting with one’s relational spirituality, can foster a distorted form of humility. As one example of a complex text, the influential sixth-century Rule of Saint Benedict, in naming humility as a central spiritual virtue, states, BOne should consider himself lower and of less account than anyone else, and this not only in verbal protestation but also in the most heartfelt inner conviction, humbling himself and saying with the Prophet, ‘But I am a worm and no man, the scorn of men and the outcast of the people’^ (chapter 7). Christian clergy with that inclination may draw from texts such as these to inform and legitimize a shame-based, vulnerable narcissistic form of pseudo-humility. For this reason, these texts require engage- ment when considering the particular challenges that clergy face in embodying humility. Practical theologian Claire Wolfteich et al. (2016a) argue that there can be a more nuanced

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Christian theological traditions on humility and narcissism

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dynamic at play in these early representations of humility. The representations find their full meaning within the theological, political, and rhetorical context in which they are situated. Wolfteich and colleagues discuss the passage from the Rule of Saint Benedict, arguing that this statement is situated within the context of a paradox—progress through the stages of humility is an ascent rather than a descent since Beveryone who exalts himself will be humbled, and he who humbles himself will be exalted^ (Luke 14:11, NASB). They go on to argue that highly self-effacing language was used at times by some marginalized spiritual writers, particularly women, to serve a rhetorical-political purpose, enabling them to claim spiritual authority by highlighting the divine nature of their message alongside extreme self-deprecation. This nuanced reading of these texts is probably different than the ways some clergy may interpret these texts when forming their ideals about Christian humility, and it is worth noting the empirical findings that some shame-based expressions of relational spirituality appear to conflict with expressions of genuine humility (e.g., Jankowski and Sandage 2014).

Although language around humility and pride can at times be used to subvert the systems of power and privilege, it can also perpetuate those same systems. These dynamics must be taken into account when defining humility and narcissism. Valerie Saiving articulated this concern in 1960, influencing succeeding generations of feminist theologians. Saiving asserted that men and women have different starting places when considering the cardinal Christian sins and virtues. For example, in men Bsin^ is identified with Bpride, will-to-power, exploitation, self- assertiveness^ (too much pride and not enough humility), whereas in women sin is understood as Bunderdevelopment of the self or negation of the self^ (too much humility and not enough pride) (Saiving 1960, p. 107). Reflecting on the 50th anniversary of Saiving’s work, Hinson- Hasty (2012) contrasts false humility (Babuse and humiliation^) with genuine humility: Ba choice made through one’s own moral agency, rather than being imposed by others^ (p. 110). Similarly, McDougall (2006) writes that Bdefining sin in terms of the. .. self-inflated ego. .. presumed a notion of autonomy and agency that women do not enjoy^ and actually is Bproven complicit in women’s gender captivity^ (p. 116). As Pineda-Madrid (2008) notes, this is true for women as well as for other marginalized people, such as those historically or currently in conditions of slavery and colonization (Hinson-Hasty 2012). Attending to gender and diversity underscores the importance of understanding humility as involving an accurate self-appraisal, which, depending on one’s starting place, could involve self-development or tempering one’s self-assertiveness. Clergy approach the role from various social locations. For members of marginalized groups that have historically been excluded from the clergy role, such as women, developing humility’s Baccurate self-appraisal^ (Jankowski and Sandage 2014, p. 71) may require an emphasis on recognizing strengths rather than only limitations (see Moore 1999).

Humility in clergy

Despite its centrality to Christianity and its complex theological background, there is a dearth of empirical research on the prevalence of humility among clergy. This is particularly surprising given that existing research suggests that humility may be relevant to clergy’s individual well-being and the well-being of the institutions they lead. For example, there is evidence that clergy humility supports effective ministry, including the navigation of interper- sonal conflict within the congregation (Briggs 2016). Other studies focused on clergy found that the intellectual humility of a religious leader, as rated by congregants, was positively associated with congregants’ forgiveness of the leader for a transgression (Hook et al. 2015).

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There is a small body of studies of humility among Protestant seminary students using a relational spirituality model. These indicate that humility is associated with formation-based qualities that are likely to support the students’ becoming effective ministers in the future. Paine and colleagues found that humility is positively associated with high intercultural competence, and this effect was mediated by DoS (Paine et al. 2016). This suggests that those who are willing to humbly acknowledge their limitations and orient themselves to others are more likely to think and act in interculturally appropriate ways, and this is related to differentiated capacities to self-regulate emotions and relate flexibly across cultural differences. Seminarian humility has also been associated with other virtues such as forgiveness and higher levels of social justice commitment (Jankowski et al. 2013). These findings suggest that humility may contribute to emerging religious leaders who can effectively engage with diverse congregations, embody a forgiving posture toward conflicts, and actively support the needs of marginalized persons and groups, which are all considered important aspects of maturity within the relational spirituality model (Worthington and Sandage 2016).

Other research demonstrates that humility is also related to specific indices of spiritual health and pathology among emerging religious leaders. Low levels of humility in seminary samples have been linked to potential spiritual problems such as spiritual grandiosity, insecure attachment to God, spiritual instability, and a higher inclination to idealize others (Jankowski and Sandage 2014; Sandage et al. 2015). This association with spiritual grandiosity indicates that those who struggle to exhibit humility are more likely to believe their relationship with God is privileged or superior compared to others. At times, this may contribute to an authoritarian style of leadership in a religious setting that could alienate congregants. This hypothesis is supported by evidence indicating that spiritual grandiosity positively correlates with both the authority and exploitation subscales of the Narcissistic Personality Inventory (Hall and Edwards 2002). Clergy with lower levels of humility may also have difficulty establishing and maintaining an emotionally secure relationship with God, which may impair their ability to help others grow in intimacy with the divine.

Research beyond clergy and seminarian samples shows that humility is associated with numerous positive outcomes in mental health and organizational leadership effectiveness. The literature focused on humility in leadership is especially pertinent to understanding the role of this virtue in clergy leadership development and functioning. Several theorists propose that leader humility is important within organizations (e.g., Morris et al. 2005; Owens and Hekman 2012; Vera and Rodriguez-Lopez 2004), and recent empirical work supports this. Executives’ humility has been found to positively influence organizational member engagement, commit- ment, and performance (Ou et al. 2014). Humble leaders have also been found to foster learning-oriented teams, engaged employees, employee job satisfaction, and employee reten- tion (Owens et al. 2013). Each of these outcomes is particularly important to religious leaders, who may not only manage employee teams but who rely significantly on volunteers from the congregation. The fact that leadership coursework and training seems to be an inconsistent or limited offering within many seminary curricula invites research questions about how well humility and effective leadership practices are integrated within many clergy.

In recent years, humility has been proposed as contributing to personal health and desired relational outcomes (Peterson and Seligman 2004; Tangney 2000). This is supported by a growing body of empirical research indicating that humility is associated with better physical health (Krause 2018), lower levels of depression (Jankowski et al. 2013), and resilience to trauma (Krause and Hayward 2012). Thus, humility may serve as a buffer against some of the negative effects of clergy burnout, which is a growing concern (Jackson-Jordan 2013). As

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mentioned earlier, humility is also associated with relational qualities such as prosocial behavior, prosocial motives, social relationship quality, forgiveness, and generosity (Exline and Hill 2012; Jankowski and Sandage 2014; Peters et al. 2011). Taken together, these studies suggest that humility can have important positive implications for clergy personally and for the health of the communities that they influence.

Further research is needed to understand the factors that contribute to the cultivation of humility while attending to personal, contextual, and cultural factors relevant to clergy. For example, spiritually engaged individuals who are attracted to the clergy role may already be committed to cultivating humility. They may engage in practices aimed at building the virtue, such as prayer, self-examination, confession, and receiving mentorship. Krause and Hayward (2014) found that those in religious communities with spiritual support felt an increased trust and awe in God, which increased their humility, pointing to the important role of healthy relational spirituality in fostering humility. Future research could also examine whether being in the clergy role itself sometimes helps to foster humility, as clergy have opportunities to see the impact of their strengths and weaknesses. In addition, future research could investigate whether cultural signaling regarding the nature of religious leadership may also contribute to humility, since clergy often receive explicit messages encouraging them to attribute success to God, to focus on elevating others, and to direct congregants to focus on God’s work rather than the clergyperson’s work. It would be expected that these factors and others may operate in various ways based on gender, ethnicity, religious tradition, and social location, given the complex dynamics at play for members of marginalized groups in leadership roles. It is possible that diversity dynamics in certain contexts could reinforce unjust expectations related to humility for some groups, such as women or persons of color being perceived as lacking humility for simply expressing assertiveness in patriarchal or White-dominant settings. Future research should examine the influence of demographic factors on the experience, processes, and impact of humility in clergy. Although there are several hypothesized processes that may support humility in clergy, existing empirical research on narcissism in clergy suggests that, for some clergy, factors within themselves and within the role may instead lead to narcissism.

Narcissism in clergy

Empirical literature on narcissism in clergy suggests that narcissism is both prevalent and damaging. Existing prevalence studies have some limitations, but their findings indicate that narcissism may be more common in clergy samples than in the general population. They provide ample reason to investigate narcissism further.

Lee (2004) examined 225 United Methodist clergy using narcissism scales from the Minnesota Multiphasic Personality Inventory-1 (MMPI-1; Morey et al. 1985). She found that the clergy in her study had significantly higher levels of overt narcissism2 than in the general clinical sample on which the scale was developed (there was no comparative sample available for the covert narcissism measure). Overt narcissism also predicted a faster ascent to becoming full members of the denomination, suggesting that overt narcissistic qualities propelled people to positions of influence more quickly. Contrary to Lee’s hypothesis that narcissistic leadership would lead to more conflict within congregations and more moves between congregational

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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placements, overt and covert narcissism had no significant relationship to the number of times clergy moved. This study was limited by the scales used—the covert narcissism scales on the MMPI did not have normative data, and the dependent variables did not specifically capture well-being, leadership effectiveness, and other important dimensions.

Ball and Puls (2015) found that 31.2% of the 210 active clergy surveyed in the Presbyterian Church of Canada had scores on the Netherlands Narcissism Scale self-report measure (NNS; Ettema and Zondag 2002) that would suggest a diagnosable narcissistic personality disorder. They found the highest levels of overt narcissism among pastors of large congregations (over 200 attendees) and the highest levels of covert narcissism among pastors of small congrega- tions (under 200 attendees). This study is limited by the absence of a comparison sample. Zondag (2004) compared levels of narcissism in 196 Dutch clergy to other groups, also using the NNS. He found that levels of narcissism among clergy (n = 196) were comparable to levels in the comparison groups of secondary school teachers (n = 67) and university lecturers (n = 18), but he found some other notable differences between the groups. He found that clergy rated themselves as less isolated than teachers and lecturers. This was attributed to the relational nature of pastoral duties rather than to peer relationships.

In another study, Zondag (2007) found that overt narcissism in clergy significantly related to empathetic perspective-taking. He interprets this finding by stating that Bpastors give their clients unconditional recognition by means of empathic perspective-taking, and in turn receive recognition for their own narcissistic desires. To put it another way, giving others unconditional confirmation is a way of obtaining unconditional confirmation for oneself^ (Zondag 2007). Just as Lee (2004) found that overt narcissism significantly related to faster progression into membership in the denomination, Zondag (2007) found that overt narcissism significantly related to a specific pastoral skill that could propel someone to greater influence. Since other research has typically found narcissism and empathy to be negatively correlated (Watson and Morris 1991), Zondag’s findings with clergy are curious and merit replication with attention to different dimensions of empathy and risks for overidentification with others.

Like humility, narcissism has an impact on the way that people approach themselves, others, God, and their profession (Wink 1996). For this reason, narcissistic leadership can have a devastating effect on organizational health. Williford and Williford identify six signs of narcissism in clergy: B1) all decision making centers on them; 2) impatience or a lack of ability to listen to others; 3) delegating without giving proper authority or with too many limits; 4) feelings of entitlement; 5) feeling threatened or intimidated by other talented staff; and 6) needing to be the best and brightest in the room^ (Williford and Williford 2006, as cited in Ball and Puls 2015, p. 3). Research supports the concept that narcissists can be particularly sensitive to ego threats, that is, anything that challenges a positive self-image (Morf and Rhodewalt 2001; Nevicka et al. 2016). In response, they use a number of defensive strategies, such as distorting feedback in self-protective ways (Foster and Campbell 2005), attributing blame to others (Campbell et al. 2000), derogating their critic (South et al. 2003), or acting in otherwise aggressive ways (Bushman et al. 1998; Vaillancourt 2013). These behaviors can have destruc- tive implications for leadership teams and religious communities.

Some empirical literature has investigated outcomes linked to narcissism in clergy. Zondag (2007) found that clergy displaying both covert and overt narcissism engaged in fewer piety practices on average. He also found that covert narcissists did the fewest number of pastoral visitations, only visiting congregants when it was absolutely necessary. Some have suggested that narcissism is associated with extramarital affairs or sexual misconduct, both in the general

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population and among clergy (Atkins et al. 2005; Celenza 2004; Haslam and Montrose 2015; Hunyady et al. 2008); however, the empirical findings in this area are mixed (see Francis and Baldo 1998; McNulty and Widman 2014). Grosch and Olsen (2000) theorize that narcissism is linked to burnout in clergy specifically, and empirical literature in a broader sample supports this possibility. In a sample of 723 individuals from various professions receiving in-patient treatment for job burnout, narcissistic personality traits were found to explain a similar amount of variance in job burnout as depressive symptoms (Schwarzkopf et al. 2016). Each of these findings raises questions about the relational spirituality orientations of clergy high in narcis- sism, such as whether (a) they may have deficits in spiritual self-regulation practices, (b) they may avoid relational aspects of ministry involving pastoral care, and (c) they may be at an increased risk of using their position to cross relational boundaries.

Narcissism is also an important concern for mental health. Vulnerable narcissistic factors are associated with depression, stress, and low self-esteem (Clarke et al. 2015; Sandage et al. 2017). Grandiose narcissistic factors are associated with high risk-taking behaviors (Buelow and Brunell 2014), impulsivity (Crysel et al. 2013), somatic symptoms in men (Kealy et al. 2016), and aggression (Bushman et al. 2009). As will be discussed below, there may be a bidirectional relationship between narcissism and other mental health difficulties, such as stress. That is, narcissistic behaviors often generate more stress, and those high in narcissism tend to lack healthy coping strategies, so their narcissism may escalate under stress.

It is also important for preventative purposes to carefully consider the forces that contribute to narcissism in clergy, given the notable prevalence of narcissism and its impact on clergy health and congregational health. In what follows, we suggest areas for future research, outlining a number of unique features of the clergy role that may both attract individuals with narcissistic personality traits to the role and may also provide an environment that cultivates narcissism for those already in the role.

First, certain features of the clergy role may attract some people with narcissistic tendencies. Research across numerous denominations and demographic groups shows that clergy often have congregants who experience them as parental or idealized figures, both individually (Grosch and Olsen 2000) and in their marriages (Moore 2007). This opportunity for idealiza- tion may be a pull for some with strong needs to feel admired. The clergy role also frequently provides the opportunity for unbounded influence. In many contexts, clergy are perceived as having the most influential role in the community, and the role is perceived as being for those of extraordinary spiritual development and charisma. People with a grandiose narcissistic relationship to God and others may, indeed, believe that they are spiritually superior to other people and should hold a position in which they have significant influence over others’ lives. Places of spiritual influence may also be particularly attractive because they lack some of the boundaries common in other professions of influence (Parent 2005). Clergy often hold multiple roles in relation to those they counsel and have limited outside regulation, which provides high flexibility and potential for influence. They are invited into the most intimate confidence, and they are asked to share their advice on every aspect of people’s lives. Although denominational structures vary, clergy often have autonomy and independence in their work, not needing to report regularly to superiors in certain traditions.

The clergy role may also be attractive to people with vulnerable narcissistic characteristics. Since their own self-concept is regularly threatened, they may gravitate to a role that appears to offer significant external validation by others (Olsen and Devor 2015). As we discuss below, a vulnerable narcissistic relationship to God is associated with an insecure, preoccupied attach- ment to God and strong needs for idealization. Vulnerable narcissists may be preoccupied with

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proving themselves to God, to themselves, and to others through tireless Christian service. Too often, the clergy role provides significant positive reinforcement for this type of overfunctioning, which can become another source of anxiety for clergy over time as they start to sense they are operating beyond their competence or trying to meet impossible expectations (Friedman 1985).

The social environment helps to shape spiritual development and personality development. Throughout development, certain religious communities may serve to reinforce a narcissistic self-perception in those who may have some personal vulnerabilities of selfhood. A spiritually engaged young person may be made to feel that he or she is exceptionally spiritual compared to peers. A religious environment may also reward and affirm the spiritual preoccupations of the vulnerable narcissist, who is driven to Bspiritual perfectionism and validating shame-based scrupulosity and self-punishment^ (Campbell and Miller 2011, p. 414). Religious communities may also encourage certain qualities that correlate with narcissism. In particular, research in both clinical and community samples has found that narcissistic personality traits significantly correlate with measures of perfectionism, including excessive concern about mistakes, high personal standards, and high parental expectations (Dimaggio and Attinà 2012). These perfectionistic qualities are rewarded in some religious communities. In other words, some degree of narcissism may be cultivated and reinforced by certain community contexts. Individuals who have grown to have narcissistic qualities are likely to choose contexts in which they can continue to receive recognition for their superior capabilities (Wallace and Baumeister 2002). For this reason, those who receive significant affirmation in a religious context may be likely to pursue vocational ministry.

In studies of secular organizational and industrial contexts, certain qualities associated with narcissism also propel people into leadership roles. Research conducted in business and organizational environments has found links between narcissism and a number of desirable leadership qualities. The boldness and visionary qualities found in narcissism can contribute to a charismatic leadership style (Galvin et al. 2010). This leadership style may be particularly attractive to followers who have low DoS or self-concept clarity (Howell and Shamir 2005) or who are in crisis (Bligh et al. 2004). People with subclinical levels of narcissism respond to ego-threat by engaging in tasks that display their abilities and by enhancing their creative performance (Nevicka et al. 2016). This parallels Lee’s (2004) finding that overt narcissism in United Methodist clergy predicted a faster progression to full membership in the denomina- tion. Campbell and Campbell (2009) propose that narcissism is beneficial for those in emerging settings—that is, early-stage relationships, short-term contexts, and first impressions. However, narcissism’s costs emerge in enduring settings—that is, in continuing relationships and with already acquainted individuals (Campbell 2005; Paulhus 1998). This invites further research questions about the adaptive or healthy features of narcissism necessary for leadership versus the pathological aspects that compromise leadership effectiveness over time.

Although some may be drawn to clergy roles due to pre-existing narcissism, aspects of the work may promote narcissism regardless of whether clergy entered the role with those tendencies. As described below, idealization by others can pull for narcissism, and stress in the job can deplete the self-regulation resources that can temper narcissism. Clergy often serve as sources of idealizing projections for those around them, but that requires that they can bear the weight of others’ idealized expectations without overidentifying with those projections. The expectation to be a public role model is often a source of stress and anxiety, and individuals’ self-concept can be impacted powerfully by how others view them. If the social environment expects the clergyperson to be perfect and congregants cannot tolerate the anxiety

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produced by clergy imperfections, clergy may begin to exhibit narcissistic qualities to fulfill the social expectations. Thus, idealization by congregants may have a powerful influence on those who originally did not seek to be idealized. As Grosch and Olsen (2000) write, BOver time, [some religious leaders] gradually may become convinced that they really are extraor- dinary, an occupational hazard that follows from persistent admiration and idealization^ (p. 622). This is coupled with the reality that clergy generally have relatively few confidants to show their unidealized self to (Weaver et al. 2002). They are expected to have competencies in a wide variety of areas in which they have received very little training, such as mental health, finances, administration, marriage and family issues, and event planning. Such an environment provides pressure to hide the authentic self, a problem associated with vulnerable narcissism and reduced humility (Sandage et al. 2017). Congregants reinforce this hiding of the self by becoming upset when they discover their idealized leaders’ imperfections and limits.

Relatedly, clergy can experience anxiety-based pressure from the congregation to provide theological stability and certainty. They face the religiousness-humility paradox inherent in holding particular beliefs (Jankowski et al. 2018; Woodruff et al. 2014), that is, the dialectic of balancing conviction with humility. However, this paradox is height- ened with the particular external and internal pressures placed on clergy to have authoritative, unwavering positions on numerous matters. For them, expressing the intellectual humility to hear others’ perspectives and flexibly consider alternative view- points may produce anxiety internally as well as in certain congregational systems that have a low tolerance for ambiguity or change.

Leaders who strive to temper narcissistic tendencies with humility may find themselves less able to do so in the face of the depletion, stress, and fatigue associated with the role. Clergy face stressors on many fronts. Rowatt (2001) found four categories of stressors in a qualitative study of clergy and spouses: (a) vocational stressors (e.g., low pay, unrealistic time expecta- tions, frequent relocation), (b) intrapersonal stressors (e.g., low personal satisfaction, emotional exhaustion, burnout, feelings of personal failure, high personal expectations), (c) family stressors (e.g., lack of quality family time, lack of privacy, low family satisfaction), and (d) social stressors (e.g., high levels of criticism from others, intrusive congregational members, lack of social support, high behavioral expectations). It is no surprise that there are high levels of anxiety, depression, and burnout among clergy (Proeschold-Bell et al. 2013). Stress affects one’s emotion-regulation abilities. One neuroimaging study found that individuals with chron- ic occupational stress had less functional connectivity between the amygdala and the anterior cingulate cortex, the dorsolateral prefrontal cortex, and the motor cortex (Golkar et al. 2014). Decreased functional connectivity in these areas is associated with less ability to down- regulate negative emotions. Decreased capacity for emotion regulation is also associated with covert narcissism (Zhang et al. 2015). Covert narcissism is associated with factors related to poor emotion regulation, such as internalizing symptoms (i.e., shame and anxiety; Malkin et al. 2011) and negative emotional reactivity (Atlas and Them 2008). The directionality of these relationships has not been established. It is possible, however, that decreased capacity for emotion regulation due to work-related stress may create an increased vulnerability to narcissism.

Existing empirical and theoretical perspectives demonstrate that, despite the value placed on humility in clergy, numerous factors encourage the cultivation of narcissism and discourage the cultivation of humility. In the following sections, we propose that secure attachment and DoS are two key capacities of mature relational spirituality that aid in the cultivation of humility and act as a protective buffer against narcissism (Worthington and Sandage 2016).

Attachment has significant implications for both humility and narcissism. Attachment theory (Bowlby 1969) posits that children’s experiences with caregivers form internalized relational templates that become Bencoded^ in the limbic brain and guide future relationships with self and others. Those with a secure attachment style, who received empathetic attunement from a caregiver, have a positive view of self and others and a sense that they are safe, accepted, loved, and cared about, regardless of whether they meet expectations (see Ruffing et al. 2017). Those with an insecure attachment style, who lacked empathetic attunement from a caregiver, do not have that sense of safety in relationships and lack a secure base for exploring new understandings and experiences. They may be conceptualized as falling into one of three categories: preoccupied (having a low view of self, high anxiety and vigilance concerning rejection and abandonment, seeking emotional closeness), dismissive (having a low view of others, high avoidance, discomfort with closeness), and fearful (low view of self and others, high anxiety, and high avoidance) (Bartholomew and Horowitz 1991). This range of attach- ment styles is also mirrored in individuals’ styles of relational spirituality and perceived relationship dynamics with God (Granqvist and Kirkpatrick 2016). For example, those who experience a secure attachment to God feel safe, accepted, and unconditionally loved by God, whereas those who experience an insecure attachment to God may feel an anxious need to prove themselves to God, a preoccupation with their own shortcomings, or a motivation to rigidly hide their vulnerability from God and others.

Empirical research suggests that attachment style is linked to both humility and narcissism. A study of an adult community sample found that dismissive insecure attachment, but not anxious insecure attachment, is negatively associated with humility (Dwiwardani et al. 2014). Another study with Protestant graduate students in helping professions found that insecure attachment to God predicts lower levels of dispositional humility (Sandage et al. 2015). Krause and Hayward (2014) found that higher levels of humility were associated with increases in perceived closeness to God, although in that case more research is needed to understand whether perceived closeness is indicative of secure or insecure attachment.

Studies examining the relationship between narcissism and attachment style have found a significant positive relationship between vulnerable narcissism and both attachment anxiety and avoidance (Dickinson and Pincus 2003; Ettensohn 2011; Otway and Vignoles 2006; Smolewska and Dion 2005). The findings regarding grandiose narcissism are more mixed, with one study finding no significant relationships with attachment styles (Smolewska and Dion 2005) and others finding a significant positive relationship between grandiose narcissism and either avoidant attachment style (Ettensohn 2011) or both the avoidant and secure attachment styles (Dickinson and Pincus 2003). These mixed results may be attributed to defensive responding on the part of those with a grandiose narcissistic style (Ettensohn 2011). There is a significant link between grandiose narcissism and recollected early experiences of the combination of parental coldness and overvaluation (Otway and Vignoles 2006), which is a context theoretically consistent with the development of insecure attachment.

The aforementioned findings align with psychodynamic and attachment theories of rela- tional spirituality. If individuals have a secure attachment to others and to God, they are more likely to have Ban accurate assessment of [their] characteristics, an ability to acknowledge limitations, and a forgetting of the self^ (Tangney 2009, p. 483); that is, they are free to be humble and to acknowledge their personal limitations without debilitating shame. Those with insecure attachments often operate from a fearful and protective posture. Winnicott

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Secure attachment

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conceptualizes a healthy narcissism, which is compatible with humility, as Bthe capacity for play, as freedom to move back and forth between the harsh light of objective reality and the soothing ambiguities of lofty self-absorption and grandeur in subjective omnipotence^ (Mitchell 1988, p. 188). Secure attachment provides the internal dynamics for this kind of play and allows for the development of a healthy sense of self that is able to move freely between a grandiose sense of importance and the limitations of objective reality. This contributes to flexible forms of relational spirituality with the humility to both confront oneself, when necessary, while also maintaining the playfulness to explore and accept one’s imperfections.

Insecure attachment undermines the felt sense of security that supports an inclination to play and explore the real world. For those who struggle with insecure attachment and grandiose narcissism, BIllusions are actively and consciously maintained; reality is sacrificed in order to perpetuate an addictive devotion to self-ennobling, idealizing, or symbiotic functions^ (Mitchell 1988, p. 196). Furthermore, in cases of insecure attachment and vulnerable narcissism, BIllusions are harbored secretly or repressed; preoccupation with the limitations and risks of reality lead to an absence of joyfulness or liveliness—even a paralysis^ (Mitchell 1988, p. 196). This suggests that insecure attachment may facilitate a narcissistic ‘turn toward the self’ which may manifest in a grandiose and/or vulnerable orientation toward others and the world. For those in the Christian tradition, this assertion seems to echo St. Augustine’s definition of sin as incurvatus in se, or being turned in on oneself (Barron 2011, p. 254).

Cultivating secure attachments with God and others may be particularly important for clergy. Exline and Geyer (2004) propose that humility comes through a sense of security from a stable source (e.g., a loving relationship with a person or a transcendent reality) rather than from a transient source such as social approval. Clergy face strong pressure to insecurely orient around social approval—they may have entered the ministry due to a desire for social approval or the environment may emphasize social approval through the constant reinforcement of praise and criticism as they fill multiple roles and manage high expectations (Olsen and Devor 2015). Secure attachment can provide them with the capacity to cultivate humility despite those challenges. However, it is also important to acknowledge that congregations or ministry contexts comprised of a large percentage of insecurely attached individuals may also make it difficult for clergy to consistently operate from securely attached humility due to intense needs, expectations, and criticism.

Differentiation of self

Like secure attachment, DoS is a key developmental capacity that makes humility possible. DoS, a concept that originated in Bowen’s family systems theory (Kerr and Bowen 1988), refers to the ability to balance (a) independence and connection in relationships and (b) cognitive and emotional functioning in ways that facilitate self-regulation (Paine et al. 2016). Schnarch (2009) describes DoS as holding onto one’s sense of self while also coming close to another. Well-differentiated individuals are able to regulate their own emotions independently, enabling them to approach another’s emotions without the anxiety that would produce emotional fusion or cutoff. DoS enables individuals to tolerate differences and contributes to intercultural competence, or the ability to engage appropriately and sensitively with cultural differences (Sandage and Jankowski 2013). There is empirical evidence that DoS

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is consistent with numerous indices of healthy spirituality, as well. Worthington and Sandage (2016) argue that differentiation is supportive of positive spiritual transformation and mature spiritual development. This is supported by empirical evidence indicating that higher levels of DoS are correlated with increases in intrinsic religiosity, decreases in spiritual instability, decreases in insecure attachment to God, and increases in realistic acceptance of God (a measure of spiritual maturity; see Jankowski and Sandage 2014; Sandage and Harden 2011).

Humility and DoS are theoretically aligned constructs that are positively correlated with one another (Jankowski and Sandage 2014; Jankowski et al. 2013). Humility and DoS also share positive correlations with desirable qualities and outcomes such as forgiveness, resilience, social connectedness, relationship quality, and psychological health (e.g., Bollinger and Hill 2012; Jankowski and Hooper 2012; Jankowski et al. 2013; Lal and Bartle-Haring 2011; Peters et al. 2011; Rowatt et al. 2006; Skowron 2004; Williamson et al. 2007). Conceptually, DoS and humility are both relational in nature (Jankowski et al. 2013). As DoS involves the ability to negotiate the tension between individuality and connectedness (Kerr and Bowen 1988), humility requires a similar capacity to balance individual concerns (i.e., accurate self-assess- ment) with the needs of others (i.e., receptivity and other-orientedness). In addition, humility, like DoS, involves the capacity for emotional self-regulation. Jankowski et al. (2013) described humility as a Bcapacity for intra- and interpersonal self-regulation that fosters prosociality and interpersonal well-being^ (p. 414). As humble persons demonstrate a capacity to regulate the self-focused emotions of pride and shame, well-differentiated individuals manifest the ability to regulate the anxiety, sadness, and dissatisfaction that may support those corrosive limbic self-evaluations.

Previous research among graduate students in the helping professions at a Protestant- affiliated institution found that DoS is positively associated with dispositional humility and dispositional forgiveness of others and negatively associated with depression (Jankowski et al. 2013; Sandage et al. 2017). DoS is particularly important for clergy, as suggested by numerous theorists of healthy ministry leadership (Friedman 1985; Olsen and Devor 2015; Steinke 2006). It enables them to negotiate the competing expectations of congregants from a well- regulated posture. They can encounter the anxious demands of those in their congregation without being overwhelmed and turning to emotional fusion or cutoff. Like secure attachment, DoS allows clergy the emotional and spiritual freedom to be humble and to resist urges to overfunction or become too passive.

Implications for religious communities and conclusion

Although there are numerous factors that may lead to narcissism in clergy, it is possible for religious communities to support clergy in cultivating humility. We propose that this can happen through targeting the particular factors that may contribute to narcissism in clergy and through intentional development of secure attachment and DoS. Formation resources that promote self-awareness, authenticity, secure connections, and relational development can each play a role in promoting humility.

Religious communities can encourage self-awareness about tendencies toward narcissism. Many engage in some sort of pre-ordination psychological evaluation, but this is not a uniform nor always a beneficial practice; in addition, increasing numbers of non-ordained religious leaders may not undergo evaluation. Psychological evaluation can be a crucial professional foundation, helping clergy understand themselves better and create intentional plans for

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personal and professional growth. Evaluations can be structured so that they are nonpunitive and help religious leaders understand their attachment styles, DoS, and narcissistic tendencies, as well as identify practices that can help them develop a less defensive, more open and differentiated relational stance.

Given what we know about the associations between stress, burnout, depression, and increasing levels of narcissism, helping religious leaders understand their default manner of coping with stress is essential, as is developing more intentional practices to respond to stress from a differentiated posture. Since stress is often a factor in conflicts between religious leaders and the systems in which they work, religious communities can institute boundary training such as that outlined by Olsen and Devor (2015). Their training is focused less on clergy misconduct and more on prevention, such as helping clergy identify and articulate their limits, the situations that promote perfectionism and overfunctioning, and ways to navigate within religious systems that are at times demanding and often anxious. Given the associations between humility, DoS, and intercultural competence (Paine et al. 2016), training specifically oriented around intercultural competence can be another important way to equip clergy to manage their anxiety around difference and to engage with differences that they encounter both inside and outside of their congregations from a humble and differentiated posture.

Clergy groups that intentionally foster authentic peer relationships can decrease the com- mon experiences of isolation and pressure to hide the self. Facilitated groups that promote peer accountability in an honest, noncompetitive, and confidential setting can enable religious leaders to rely on others for feedback in the service of more accurate self-appraisal and an increased capacity for self-regulation, along with realism about the boundaries of competence for managing certain ministry situations. Harewood et al. (2013) and Hester and Walker-Jones (2009) provide helpful resources on the types of clergy groups and their benefits.

Receiving guidance from trusted others and engaging in individual spiritual practices can support the development of secure attachment and also can support DoS. Spiritual direction, psychotherapy, coaching, and mentoring all invite religious leaders into secure relationships in which they can explore and develop a sense of self beyond their clergy role. They also provide a space for clergy to develop and maintain a secure attachment to God. Individual prayer, silence, contemplation, the Examen, reflection and other spiritual practices can contribute to increased self-awareness and self-regulation of emotions (Sokol 2017) and to an increased sense of spiritual transcendence, decreased stress, and increased psychosomatic health (Büssing et al. 2016). Seminaries, denominational bodies, and individual congregations can create structures and norms that support these practices.

Although there is a need for structures throughout religious leaders’ development that encourage ongoing growth, it is important to expose emerging leaders to these concepts as early as possible so that they will recognize their need for support in the future. Seminary can provide an ideal structure and time for emerging religious leaders to begin to identify and address areas of attachment style, differentiation, narcissistic tendencies, intercultural compe- tence, coping styles, and spiritual disciplines. Formation-oriented courses can build on feed- back from pre-ordination psychological evaluations or school-sponsored assessment programs, providing space for students to process and apply the results. They can also help students learn to recognize their own tendencies through reflection on their formative life experiences and through reflection on the ways they already find themselves reacting to various pressures in their field education placements. The format of these courses may involve lectures, journaling, small group processing, supplemental reading, and other means to increase personal engage- ment. Importantly, courses can expose students to seasoned clergy, perhaps through guest

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speakers, who can model insight and vulnerability into their own psychological, relational, and spiritual processes within their roles. Many seminary students have already held informal leadership roles within their contexts, and it is likely that these roles contained some of the pressures of idealization and hiding the self. Seminary students may not have structures elsewhere that support this level of self-awareness and that attend to their own psychological, relational, and spiritual growth. Coursework of this type sets the stage for a lifelong journey characterized by self-awareness, reflective practice, and formation-based growth (Sandage and Jensen 2013). It can increase students’ comfort with self-reflection and can give them a framework from which to notice their tendencies and the ways that those tendencies interact with context.

As discussed, humility and narcissism can have a significant impact on the well-being of clergy and the congregations they serve. Clergy inhabit a particular theological and social context, and more empirical research is needed to identify which specific aspects of such contexts promote humility and offer protection from narcissism. Existing theoretical and empirical work on relational spirituality and humility suggest that secure attachment and DoS play a significant role. Clergy with these capacities are able to see their own strengths and weaknesses, orient toward connecting with others, and regulate their emotions. In other words, they are free to be humble even when internal and external pressures push toward narcissism.

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


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