Rants, Musings, and Mental Meanderings of a former Conservative Christian Mother. Standing Strong against ignorance, preconceptions, labels and excessive housework. Celebrating original thought, religious freedom, parenthood, free enterprise and chocolate.

Saturday, September 3, 2011

The Catharsis of Religion

I believe that radical fundamentalism really only appeals to certain people, as mentioned in the previous post. One of these groups is those with mental illness or learned personality disorders. A common example I've seen is Narcissistic Personality Disorder. Here is an article that sums it up easily, for those needing clarification. Some of the hallmark symptoms include an exaggerated view of their own intelligence and looks, a very high sense of their own importance, even when the corresponding contributions and accomplishments aren't there, a propensity to be a pathological liar, especially when revising an event to make themselves seem superior and errors belonging to others, blaming others for any mistake associated with themselves, sense of entitlement, arrogance, a sense of being superior than others, exaggerating academic (and other) achievements and inflating accomplishments, justifying their lack of relationships by assuming people either are envious of them, feel like a failure compared to them, or are just not on their level of looks, intelligence, etc..., and, what I feel to be one of the key elements, a complete lack of empathy. I believe this is key, because this inability to sense people's feelings makes them unable to sense the disgust and revulsion of people around them. They can be surrounded by people who are intensely annoyed or put off by them and truly believe that everyone enjoys their presence. Conversations are especially frustrating, since they tend to tell the same stories over and over, using the same anecdotes of usually fictitious events to make the same points endlessly. They are always the heroes of the stories, while everyone else is failing in some capacity. They have an addiction to affirmation, which is ironic since they are harshly and vocally critical of others. Because they crave constant flattery, they brag about even the smallest accomplishments, usually inflating the difficulties to such an extent that mundane household chores seem to be massive achievements. Everything suddenly has an elaborate back story, and they are the conquering heroes. The lack of empathy also makes them tactless and harsh in their criticism, but inversely they will go into tantrums at the slightest feeling of being reprimanded. They jealously guard their superiority in any capacity, and feel the need to "one up" anyone else getting attention. If someone is ill, they have been more ill, for example. If someone is praised for an accomplishment, they hasten to point out where they performed even better. Again, most of the events they fall back on are exaggerations at best, outright fabrications at worst. They are greedy and tend to hoard items, and because of their sense of entitlement and lack of empathy they have no problems rationalizing stealing something they believe they "deserve" or is "rightfully theirs." Because of this behavior, they are extremely suspicious of others. They assume everyone else wants what they have, since they assume others envy them. If it is pointed out that they have few (if any) meaningful relationships, they assume it is because of their superiority that others are intimidated by them. If the lack of human contact causes their flattery well to dry up, they turn to virtual achievements to reinstate their feelings of dominance. (Social networks like Facebook feed this beautifully.) They do not differentiate a lasting impact on someone's life between a high score in a game. Both equally feed their inflated egos and give them that affirmation fix they crave.

Dealing with a narcissist is exhausting, since they are relentless in their need to stay superior in every capacity and boundless in their snide criticism. Spouses and children suffer the most, since the emotional starvation they suffer with never being shown affection, empathy or compassion, coupled with the verbal (and sometimes physical) abuse, added to the constant demands for praise and affirmation and sense of entitlement coupled with laziness, leaves them beyond drained. Even as their needs are neglected, they must cater to the narcissist or risk the abusive consequences.

Many who read this can relate, having had to deal with someone who fits this profile. Sadly, one place the narcissist finds cathartic is religious fundamentalism. Fundamentalism itself fits the description of a narcissist in many ways, notably the grandiose sense of self-importance, inflated views of achievements and impact, greed for wealth and power, rampant racism, lack of compassion and empathy, and a detached sense of reality that they justify through belief that they are inhabiting a "higher plane" than the rest of us. The leaders tell the same stories over and over, with their spiritual prowess always triumphing over the "evil" person. (The irony is, they especially love to brag about taking on one of the "cults" like the "JW's" or Mormons. Nothing excites a fundamentalist more than being able to tell off a fellow cultist.) They promote racial supremacy, even claiming it is spiritually justified. If there is no evil person to triumph over, they create one. I have heard more preachers rail about what the would say and do to "the guy" who tries to take their guns, their kids, or their KJV Bible... when in fact, nobody cares. They justify the most heinous treatment of people because of the combination of a lack of empathy and the need to assert the superiority of their beliefs. This overrides the natural humanity of the average non-abusive person. This is why the churches embracing this mentality "eat their own" as it were, if someone slips into sin or even worse, tries to pull away from their control.
If you find yourself trapped in these abusive relationships, more than likely you will be drawn to these types of churches. The tragedy is, even as these cults attract those with NPD and provide them with the catharsis of a spiritual mandate for their behavior, they also attract those from abusive and dysfunctional situations. These victims were never allowed to think for themselves, always reacting to their environment instead of being able to control or change their situation. They see these church "families" as filling all the voids from their troubled pasts, and shutting out the world helps them shut out their pain. They don't see it as denying reality, they really think they are just avoiding sin. To them, an environment where strong, powerful leadership is unquestioned and a positive, safe outcome is (falsely) guaranteed seems like the safe haven they've searched for their whole life. In fact, it's just locking the fox in the hen house.