Awareness of narcissistic abuse and its effects is quickly becoming more and more widespread. As the survivor community grows online in blogs, forums, Instagram pages, Facebook communities and across real life communities, the number of “healers” and “gurus” who purport to help survivors on their journey continues to expand as well.
While there are many incredible therapists, coaches, spiritual guides, authors, bloggers and advocates in a number of different fields who can provide a great deal of rich wisdom to the survivor community, there are also predators who mask themselves as healers in order to gain narcissistic supply (praise, admiration and/or resources). When consulting these resources, it is important to distinguish between authentic advocates who genuinely want to help and those who are looking to exploit survivors at their most vulnerable stage of the healing journey.
These predatory covert narcissists, like wolves in sheep’s clothing, are incredibly dangerous to the survivor community, because they pose the harm of retraumatizing victims who have already been through the psychological wringer.
Be wary: narcissists come in all shapes and sizes, and can wear many masks, including that of the philanthropist, the spiritual leader and even therapist.
Here are five signs you might be dealing with a narcissistic ‘guru’ or healer.
1. They engage in monopolization and sabotage of any perceived competitors.
Narcissistic gurus and healers feel entitled to be the only source of authority on a certain topic; genuine advocates understand the importance of sharing helpful information, even if it does not come from them. As Dr. Neuharth points out in his article, “14 Ways Narcissists Can Be Like Cult Leaders,” a narcissist ensures that his or her group is in an intellectual bubble of sorts, filtering out any information that threatens to overtake, undermine or compete with the views of the cult leader.
The narcissistic leader or ‘healer’ is not unlike a cult leader who discourages dissent among his or her followers and tries to limit incoming information that could threaten their guru-like status in the community. In this context, he or she attempts to filter out information from the survivor community by disparaging other perspectives and even actively attempting to undermine the credibility of any other healers or advocates who are performing similar work.
Rather than acknowledging that there are multiple voices, perspectives and sources of insight available to the survivor community, narcissistic gurus believe they own the ‘monopoly’ on discussing certain topics or issuing advice.
Many predatory ‘healers’ even go so far as to sabotage anyone they consider to be competition. This includes therapists who are actually covert narcissists in disguise. Genuine therapists are interested in helping their clients and know they don’t have all the answers. Predatory gurus, on the other hand, refuse to see the value of the survivor community benefiting from the wisdom and expertise of multiple people from a variety of fields. They are extremely condescending and treat those they deem “below” them with contempt. These frauds aren’t interested in what is best for survivors. They are more interested in building their own reputation and carrying out their own agendas.
You can usually tell you’re dealing with a narcissistic predator masked as advocate when he or she begins undercutting the work of other popular therapists, writers or coaches in an attempt to elevate their own work. Authentic advocates don’t have the time nor the energy to ever consider anyone as “competition” – they focus on their own work and promote the work of others that they also see as valuable, because they know that the more knowledge and awareness spread on the subject of covert abuse, the better.
2. They charge excessive costs in exchange for minimum value.
Don’t get me wrong – everyone should get paid for their work – whether that work happens to be in the arena of alternative healing methods or something more traditional. Yet there’s a difference between paying for value and overpaying for someone’s grandiose sense of entitlement.
Beware of retreats that cost thousands of dollars or expensive “healing” sessions where the practitioner continues to charge for sessions at an excessive rate without providing quality help. Narcissistic gurus do not believe in cost-friendly options. For them, the monetary gain is far more important than the well-being of their clients.
Narcissistic personality clinical expert Dr. Martinez-Lewi calls these money-hungry ‘healers’ “covert narcissists hiding in holiness.” According to her, survivors who are desperate to heal can unwittingly become “victims of some of the worst covert narcissists–those who play the martyr, saintly role masterfully. [These covert narcissists] 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.”
As survivors ‘bond’ with covert narcissistic gurus, they may continue to hand over their hard-earned money continually without realizing they’ve been taken in. Authentic advocates who want to help survivors may charge for their services, but they know how to do so in a way that is also efficient for the consumer. For example, an author who is interested in providing his or her readers with the best deal may offer a cost-efficient bundle of books; a life coach may frequently provide discounts on coaching programs or offer a free consultation; a therapist may offer a sliding scale for any clients who may be struggling; a local Reiki healer may offer a Groupon or Yelp deal. There are many ways to offer one’s services while remaining accessible to survivors who need it.
For the genuine advocate, their customer’s needs always come into consideration. For a narcissistic guru, the quality of their services are less prioritized than their potential revenue.
3. They exhibit a “their way or the highway” philosophy rather than the idea that “it takes a village.”
As mentioned earlier, authentic healers know that they are not the only voice of wisdom. They understand, intuitively, that their particular skill sets, perspectives and methods may not be for everyone and they are able to acknowledge that without being vindictive, envious or threatened by others in their field. In fact, they encourage their clients to consult other valid resources outside of themselves. If there is something they themselves don’t specialize in or don’t have life experience to refer to, they feel absolutely comfortable referring their clients to someone who can help them as supplementary resources.
This applies to communities for spiritual practices as well. If a yoga instructor hears that one of their students attends other yoga studios, that same instructor encourages, rather than discourages this, knowing that the yogi will become even more experienced as a result. If a meditation teacher sees their student dabble in different types of meditation, he or she doesn’t attempt to convince that same student that there is a certain type of meditation that is the “only” path to enlightenment. He or she doesn’t try to persuade the student to only stick with one type of practice or police their spiritual practices outside of their studio.
Truly enlightened people know that there are many paths to inner guidance and that everyone’s journey is different. They are there not to be the sole voice of reason for their clients, but rather to guide their clients to tap into and honor their own inner voice. True “gurus” don’t act like or position themselves as gurus – they invite others to access their own insight.
4. They participate in unethical practices and violation of boundaries.
Building upon this, genuine advocates for survivors know their source of expertise as well as their limitations. They know how to best help others from their own unique perspective. If they are researchers and writers, they focus on research and writing. If they are therapists, their primary focus is providing therapy to clients. If they are coaches, they do not step over into the territory of therapists by ‘treating’ disorders in real life or practicing trauma treatment methods that they would need to be trained in to offer (ex. EMDR). They are mindful of potential triggers and set clear expectations from the get-go.
Good practitioners in any healing field also do not cross the boundaries of their clients or build any inappropriate relationships that cause their clients to become excessively dependent upon them. They do not bully, coerce, invalidate, sexually violate or retraumatize their clients in any way. They do not become enraged if a client chooses to set boundaries with them. They are able to act professionally and mindfully, knowing what they can and cannot do within their particular realm of expertise. They also do not take it upon themselves to impose their own problems onto their clients or make their clients responsible for their own emotional issues. On the other hand, they know when to respectfully terminate or set boundaries in a relationship where the client is becoming excessively dependent or violating their boundaries.
According to Dr. Disch, “Good, boundaried psychotherapy, pastoral counseling, addiction counseling, bodywork, medical practice, etc. should always be oriented to your emotional and medical needs and not to the emotional needs of the practitioner.”
5. They provide false hope and egregiously improbable promises.
Narcissistic gurus promise miracles that they rarely deliver – lofty claims like the ability to heal medical problems from a distance or heal complex trauma within a matter of minutes. They may attempt to offer programs or books that will help you “fix” an abuser or get them to act in certain ways. They might encourage dangerous forms of spiritual bypassing, shaming victims into forgiving or feeling compassion for their abusers as a way to heal before they’ve even begun processing their emotions. These services are harmful and can be very damaging to the healing survivor, especially if that survivor is looking for false hope that his or her abuser will change or are looking for a “quick fix” for the traumas they’ve experienced.
Authentic healers know their own limitations and understand what they can realistically offer to their clientele within their qualifications. They do not feed their clients false hope in an effort to get more money or clients – instead, they stick to the truth and what will best help their particular clients on their healing journey. They would rather lose out on a potential client if they know that client is better off with a different healer who can best meet their needs. To them, it is not about the quantity of clients – it is about the quality of the connection and services offered.
Be selective and mindful when consulting resources, forums and blogs in the survivor community. Many resources are helpful for the survivor, but others can be retraumatizing depending on the advocates and moderators involved.
It is essential to know the difference between advocates who are ethical, boundaried and have an authentic desire to help and covert narcissists who are looking for narcissistic supply under the guise of being healers.
And remember: a license is never a guarantee that someone is emotionally safe.
Disch, E. (2015, January 01). Treatment Abuse Checklist. Retrieved July 8, 2017, from http://www.survivingtherapistabuse.com/treatment-abuse-checklist/
Martinez-Lewi, L. (2013, August 15). Covert narcissists hiding in holiness. Retrieved July 8, 2017, from http://thenarcissistinyourlife.com/covert-narcissists-hiding-in-holiness-yoga-divas-spiritual-gurus/
Neuharth, D. (2017, April 13). 14 ways narcissists can be like cult leaders. Retrieved July 8, 2017, from https://blogs.psychcentral.com/narcissism-decoded/2017/03/14-ways-narcissists-can-be-like-cult-leaders/
Shahida Arabi is a summa cum laude graduate of Columbia University graduate school, where she studied the effects of bullying across the life-course trajectory. She is the #1 Amazon bestselling author of three books, including Becoming the Narcissist’s Nightmare: How to Devalue and Discard the Narcissist While Supplying Yourself, featured as a #1 Amazon Bestseller in three categories and as a #1 Amazon bestseller in personality disorders for twelve consecutive months after its release. Her most recent book, POWER: Surviving and Thriving After Narcissistic Abuse, was also featured as a #1 Amazon best seller in Applied Psychology.
She is the founder of the popular blog for abuse survivors, Self-Care Haven, which has millions of views from all over the world. Her work has been shared and endorsed by numerous clinicians, mental health advocates, mental health professionals and bestselling authors. For her undergraduate education, Shahida graduated summa cum laude from NYU where she studied English Literature and Psychology. She is passionate about using her knowledge base in psychology, sociology, gender studies and mental health to help survivors empower themselves after emotional abuse and trauma. Her writing has been featured on The National Domestic Violence Hotline, The Huffington Post, MOGUL, The Meadows, Thought Catalog and Harvard-trained psychologist Dr. Monica O’Neal’s website.