Cardinal Narcissus?

Reflecting upon Cardinal Mahony’s recent blog posts, Mark Shea wonders if there isn’t a kind of sociopathic narcissism at play.  He uses the terms loosely, but it’s worth asking if there is something more to it than hyperbole.

Narcissistic Personality Disorder (NPD) is disturbingly common among leaders of corporations and other high-profile institutions, including, sadly, the church.  That’s not to say that God can’t work through narcissists–he works through all of us after all–but it is important to realize when you’re dealing with one so that you can view their work and their pronouncements with a grain of salt.  Too many people fall prey to ecclesial narcissists like Corapi, or Cutie,  or Maciel only to have their souls crushed when the mask comes off.

People love heroes.   They love a person with a great story.  Narcissists know that and are good at playing to it.  But not everyone with a powerful conversion story or who puts themselves in the public eye is necessarily a narcissist.   So, how do you know if you’ve got a narcissist in your life, or your company, or your parish, or your chancery?  The link above describes some of the diagnostic markers for  NPD, but there’s a difference between diagnostic criteria and the way a person carries him or herself.  The following are some of the behaviors and traits you often see in someone who has NPD (Hat Tip,

“Haughty” body language – A physical posture implying and exuding an air of superiority,…He rarely mingles socially and prefers to adopt the stance of the “observer” or the “lone wolf”.

Entitlement markers – The narcissist immediately asks for “special treatment” of some kind.   He wants to talk to the person in charge.  He always needs special accommodations.   He becomes indignant or hostile if denied.

Idealisation or devaluation – The narcissist immediately sizes another person up as someone who can boost his status or someone who is unhelpful to boosting his status.  Those who are status sources will be praised–at first, and then torn down as the narcissist gains acceptance by the target’s friends.  Those who cannot help the narcissist’s status will be humiliated or insulted in some way so the narcissi can at least use the interaction to reassert his superiority and dominance.

The “membership” posture – The narcissist always tries to “belong”. Yet, at the very same time, he maintains his stance as an outsider. The narcissist seeks to be admired for his ability to integrate and ingratiate himself without the efforts commensurate with such an undertaking… One of the most effective methods of exposing a narcissist is by trying to go deeper and discuss matters substantially. The narcissist is shallow, a pond pretending to be an ocean. He likes to think of himself as a Renaissance man, a Jack of all trades. A narcissist never admits to ignorance IN ANY FIELD!

Emotion-free language – If the narcissist is asked to relate directly to his emotions, he intellectualises, rationalises, speaks about himself in the third person and in a detached “scientific” tone or writes a short story with a fictitious character in it, suspiciously autobiographical.

Seriousness and sense of intrusion and coercion – The narcissist is dead serious about himself. He may possess a fabulous sense of humour, scathing and cynical. But he never appreciates it when this weapon is directed at him. The narcissist regards himself as being on a constant mission, whose importance is cosmic and whose consequences are global.

Have you experienced someone who displays these narcissistic traits in your life?  How have you been affected by other’s narcissistic behavior?

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About Dr. Greg

Dr. Gregory Popcak directs the Pastoral Solutions Institute, an organization dedicated to helping Catholics find faith-filled solutions to marriage, family, and personal problems. Together with his wife, Lisa, he hosts More2Life Radio. He is the author of over a dozen books integrating psychological insights with our Catholic faith. For more info about books, tele-counseling and other resources, visit