MD, PhD, FMedSci, FRSB, FRCP, FRCPEd.

Two Dutch scientists tested the hypothesis that spiritual training operates like other self‐enhancement tools and contribute to a contingent self‐worth that depends on one’s spiritual accomplishments.

In three studies, a measure of spiritual superiority showed good internal consistency and discriminant validity. Spiritual superiority was distinctly related to spiritual contingency of self‐worth, illustrating that the self‐enhancement function of spirituality is similar to other contingency domains. It was correlated with self‐esteem and, more strongly, with communal narcissism, corroborating the notion of spiritual narcissism. Spiritual superiority scores were consistently higher among energetically trained participants than mindfulness trainees and were associated with supernatural overconfidence and self‐ascribed spiritual guidance.

Spititual superiority is claimed to be a measure to which degree people feel superior to those “who lack the spiritual wisdom they ascribe to themselves.” The measure’s questionnaires ask people to respond on a scale of 1 to 7 to a series of statements. Example statements include “I am more in touch with my senses than most others,” “I am more aware of what is between heaven and earth than most people,” and “The world would be a better place if others too had the insights that I have now.”

Essentially, the studies suggest that the use of spiritual training techniques such as

  • energy healing,
  • aura reading,
  • mindfulness,
  • and meditation

correlate with both narcissism and “spiritual superiority.” By encouraging self-compassion and non-judgmental self-acceptance, spiritual training should presumably make people less concerned with such things. Yet, it seems to have the opposite effect: it enhances the need to feel “more successful, more respected or more loved.”

The authors argue that, “like religiosity, spirituality is a domain that seems like a safe and secure investment for self-worth. One’s spiritual attainments allow lots of room for wishful thinking, thus easily lending themselves to the grip of the self-enhancement motive.” And because spiritual matters are generally “elusive to external objective standards,” that makes them a “suitable domain for illusory beliefs about one’s superiority.”

The causal arrow might work in both directions, the authors argue:

  • People use spirituality as a self-esteem booster. It allows them to see themselves as special, and they can achieve progress in the spiritual domain relatively easily, as there are no objectively measurable outcomes.
  • Spiritual training attracts people who already feel superior. And the “extensive exploration of one’s personal thoughts and feelings” that spiritual training encourages “may be particularly appealing” to narcissists.

The authors concluded as follows: “The phenomenon of spiritual superiority is widely recognized, both by authors who have written about it and by lay people who have felt the condescension of spiritually ‘enlightened’ others. At the same time, it has not yet been empirically studied before. We developed a measure of spiritual superiority, along with scales for self-proclaimed spiritual guidance, supernatural overconfidence, and spiritual contingency of self-worth. We have demonstrated their reliability and we have presented initial findings on correlations with other variables and differences between types of spiritual training, corroborating the validity of our scales. Our results and our theoretical analysis can stimulate further research into this phenomenon. In the applied domain, this could reveal more insights into the effects of spiritual training, and possibly the conditions and personality characteristics that facilitate genuine spiritual growth. More importantly, our results reveal the sovereignty and tenacity of the self-enhancement motive, showing its operation in a context designed to quiet the ego. This can be understood in terms of dual process models, assuming that self-enhancement is an automatic tendency whereas mindful awareness requires thoughtful processes. Our results thus extend the current body of knowledge on self-enhancement, by including a domain in which self-superiority might be least expected.”

10 Responses to Energy healing, aura reading, mindfulness and meditation correlate with narcissism and spiritual superiority.

  • Well, who’d have thought it?

    David Dunning and Justin Kreuger re-visited, but not referenced.

  • Essentially, the studies suggest that the use of spiritual training techniques … correlate with both narcissism and “spiritual superiority.”

    I am shocked, shocked… oh just insert your own Captain Renault GIF here.

  • Hi,
    This post is very interesting. I think however that some details can make the reading more confortable. A definition of “communal narcissisme” in exemple, because I don’t know if all the readers are verse in psychology, or more spécifically in psychology of personnality and subtypes of narcissism.
    But it still really interesting.

  • In earlier years, when I was much more involved with a patient support charity, I attended various Information Days and other Health Events, at which CAM people from various ‘therpaies’ had stands.

    It was throughly borne in on me that the mental discipline involved in learning these “therapies” seemed scant, in comparison to proper medical training.

    In school, back in the days when classes were ‘streamed’ in high school rather than ‘setted’ by subject, I was in the top stream, but not near the top of it. Not that I ever wanted to go to medical school, but if I had wanted to, my attainments were nowhere near the requirements. You have to be an educational high-flier to get into medical school (in the UK and I guess other countries too) if for no other reason than the fact that demand for places oustrips supply by a very wide margin, allowing the university medical schools to be very picky.

    If you get into medical school, you are CLEVER. And when you are there, to pass the course and the exams, you have to learn a LOT. It is a demanding, mentally and physically taxing training. You have to be very clever to access it, and you must keep up the mental discipline to successfully complete the training.

    I do not believe the same is true for much, if any, CAM (except maybe D.O. courses in the USA). The modalities mentioned in the title of this thread allow people to “qualify” with a minimum of mental discipline or genuine educational effort, attainment or learning experience. They allow persons of a narcissistic tendency to fancy themselves as “therapists” and interact with others from a viewpoint of superiority, but without the need for much intellectual achievement. As Dr Rawlins points out, the Dunning-Kruger effect (which I thank this Blog for introducing me to) is evident.

    When I go to see my GP, I know for certain that he or she is CLEVER, and that he or she has successfully completed a gruelling course of learning, and knows a LOT about the body and health. One can have no such assurance about CAM practitioners.

    This is not to suggest that Doctors never make mistakes, or that every single patient gets the very best of top-notch experiences with the Doctor (or that no Doctor ever succumbs to narcissism). But the training content bar, to begin with, is infinitely higher.

  • An interesting set of comments; If anybody decides to read what is said about Spiritual Gifts just look up the Christian Bible and the Koran. In the Christian Bible, New Testimate 1 Corinthians Chapter 12 (Paul’s Letters) Spiritual Gifts gives some idea as to what is offered to people at conception “A Spiritual Gift”, but only 1 at a time. You have to remember that it can be accepted or rejected so you may come across somebody who appears to see or know things about others.
    Everybody should be aware of what is written and you don’t have to practice it, just be aware.

    • What is a Testimate?

      • It’s a bit like an Exam, mate!

        Seriously though, thanks for this excellent post, Prof E. I live in Glastonbury, UK and a large percentage of the population are prime examples of ‘spiritual narcissism’, their condescending attitude is infuriating, they are in utter denial of any science they don’t like the feel of (5G, vaccinations etc), they are collectively as thick as two short planks yet completely blind to their shortcomings. What a relief to know that someone has studied and quantified the phenomenon.

        Niall

        • What do they do if their child gets a brain tumour? Or even falls and breaks a leg?

          • I’m reminded of a former colleague of mine, Kathryn.

            She taught microbiology in the college where I taught. She complained that the lady coming in to teach ‘crystal therapy’ (there was a flirtation with such modalities as part of some courses) had specified that she could have no more than eight learners in a class, as she didn’t have enough psychic energy for more.

            “What about MY psychic energy?” demanded Kathryn; “I’ve got to teach two difficult microbiology units to classes of twenty-five!”.

          • “What do they do if their child gets a brain tumour? Or even falls and breaks a leg?”

            Generally when it’s something like that, with clear outcomes good or bad, they find their spirit-guide or whatever tends to tell them to go to hospital. Not always though, there are cases of spiritual healing types foregoing science-based medicine even in serious diseases and suffering as a result. I haven’t heard anything along those lines locally but I have a suspicion that my old boss (a nice chap but a confirmed homeopath) tried to treat himself for lymphoma with homeopathy before calling in the oncologists. It’s the sort of thing he would have done.

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