It has become much the trend to be “spiritual” these days. There are innumerable individuals who sincerely choose and follow a spiritual path that are genuine and sincere and work consistently to be more aware, more empathic and better human beings. I am not talking about these people. I am addressing those who play the role of spiritual teachers in many of its definitions today.
One phenomenon is the popular rise of the practice of yoga. There are studios popping up; special clothing and gear of every kind. Whole industries have arisen as a result of the popularity of this practice. This is not negative by itself but suddenly you have studios catering to the glamour and money side of yoga rather than the true practice. Among these are a number of what I call Yoga Divas. These are narcissists who teach and take yoga. There are yoga teachers and trainers of yoga students who present themselves as humble, genuine and holy. They may have studied the history, purpose and specific poses and understand this technically and teach their classes but their attention is not on the true purpose of yoga. Their aim is business and business only. It is important for people to make a living if they are providing a valuable service. I am speaking about teachers who are charging astronomical amounts of money for classes and even more to those who want to become yoga teachers. Many teacher training programs are short on training and long on the expense. Beginners are not given enough hands on time or theoretical knowledge to learn the fundamentals of yoga. Hatha yoga is five thousand years old and requires a deep commitment on the part of the teacher and the student.They are not aware that there are narcissistic individuals who are waiting to offer them the full package–a few hours of training with a certificate at the end in exchange for high fees. The Yoga Diva is unconcerned about what her students are learning. She is rushing them through for the purpose of quick monetary reward for her. The idea is to get as many students as possible to increase her income not to teach the principles of this healing ancient practice.
As the Yoga Diva gains more and more recognition, her fees increase tremendously. Now she can command so much more money. Some yoga studios flourish on the backs of vulnerable underpaid employees. The Yoga Diva is extremely demanding and self entitled. She goes on vacations which she calls spiritual retreats (to let everyone know how holy she is), knowing she can leave her business in the hands of the her adoring followers.
Very similar are the attitudes, behaviors and actions of narcissistic spiritual gurus. These human embodied snakes take directly from the ideas of others, attractively package them and use the force and magnetism of their personalities to sell these goods. They offer a shortcut to reaching a higher consciousness over weekends often named “intensives.” The price tag on these “holy retreats” can cost in the thousands easily. I have known a number of individuals who have gotten into these unfortunate situations with phony yogis who are narcissists and even socialized sociopaths.
The manner, speech, gestures, choice of words of the covert narcissist are simultaneously cunning, clever and toxic, especially within this fake spiritual realm. Many individuals are psychologically desperate and emotionally starved and empty. They don’t know where to turn. Regular therapy has not worked for them. Now they turn to the spiritual world, thinking that those who follow these practices will help them to work through their psychological and emotional issues. They become victims of some of the worst covert narcissists–those who play the martyr, saintly role masterfully. They have been taking advantage of emotionally vulnerable and fragile individuals for decades. They know just how to play them. They look deeply into the spiritual neophyte’s eyes and draw them into their trust. That is the beginning of the hypnotic fusing that takes place. The new student becomes highly dependent on the guru and will spend any amount of money and time to be with this person whom he believes can free him from his emotional burdens and painful psychological symptoms, to experience a strong sense of self and personal confidence, to feel lovable. Empty promises are made but never met. The guru knows this going in each time. As long as spiritual guru plays his part well, he continues to attract followers who cast their hard earned money his way.
Learn from these tales of pseudo spirituality and covert narcissism. You will be prepared for whoever comes along and know immediately that he or she is wearing the costumes of holiness. Beneath the sacred robes and ingratiating mien is a snarling beast.
Linda Martinez-Lewi, Ph.D.
Freeing Yourself From the Narcissist in Your Lifewill be published in a paperback edition on August 15, 2013