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Personality Disorders in Spiritual Teachers

 

By George A. Boyd ©2001

The personality is one of the ways through which a spiritual teacher interacts with his or her followers. This personal connection is conveyed through the teacher's behavior, verbal teachings and moral example.

Until the seeker is able to commune with the spiritual teacher on the higher Planes in the Guide form, the personality of the teacher is the primary mode of communication with the seeker.

In some spiritual traditions, the personality is seen as evil, illusory, or inherently flawed. Spiritual practice in these groups seeks to transcend, suspend, or severely limit the expression of personality-level behavior and communication. Seekers are taught not to cultivate the personality, but to identify with their spiritual essence and remain in union with that higher nature.

When spiritual teachers come from a dysfunctional family environment and/or practice personality suppression for many years, it is not surprising that they may develop personality disorders. Personality disorders may take the following forms in spiritual teachers.

Personality Disorder
Expression in Spiritual Teacher

Obsessive Compulsive

The teacher is obsessed with exact practice of rituals, scrupulous cleanliness, punctuality, and exact practice of meditation techniques. The teacher requires "sinless" behavior, and has perfectionistic standards. The teacher may have followers repeat tasks over and over to get them "right.'

Narcissistic

The teacher demands worship, devotion and sacrifice, dedication of all wealth, time and life by the devotee. The teacher expects the devotee to never to hesitate for a moment with any demand, no matter how costly, dangerous, or degrading, The teacher's needs require immediate attention and fulfillment. The teacher seems to seek continual recognition that he or she is a savior, a Master, an incarnation of the Divine, or a prophet. The teacher's speech may have grandiose references to his or her greatness. The teacher seems unable to sense the distress or concerns of followers, and may discount those feelings as not important.

Paranoid

The teacher has apocalyptic beliefs that the world is coming to an end, or that he or she is the embodiment and fulfillment of a Divine prophecy. The teacher believes that the world is evil, and that the group and its followers are being persecuted by the outside world. The teacher embodies black and white thinking: others are "saved" or "damned", "good' or "evil", "with us" or "against us". There is no middle ground, no shades of gray. When severely paranoid, the leader may stockpile weapons or poisons, actively preparing the group for a coming confrontation with the embodiment of evil.

Schizoid

The teacher withdraws into seclusion and may lead a hermetic, celibate lifestyle. The teacher may be markedly eccentric in his or her attire, mannerisms or speech. The teacher has a highly analytic approach to spirituality, and doesn't seem to express emotions at all. The teacher spends most of the time alone, and seems to have little contact with others.

Schizotypal

The teacher exhibits marked eccentricity in speech and appearance, often with a disheveled appearance. The teacher's lectures communicate very odd ideas, and may be disorganized, even incoherent. The teacher confides experiences with UFOs, space aliens, or great Masters that seem like complete fantasies.

Avoidant

The teacher hides his or her spiritual attainment, tries to find any excuse not to teach. He or she may experience overwhelming shyness in groups or dread group contact. One close disciple may be allowed to convey the teachings by writing or discourse. The followers may be told that the master does not give personal audience.

Dependent

The teacher refuses to let go of his or her former teacher. If the former teacher is living, the teacher may follow his or her predecessor every where. Despite being authorized to teach, the teacher may not feel worthy or capable of fulfilling his or her commission. The teacher may seek excuses not to teach, and may authorize followers to deliver teachings on his or her behalf. The teacher may say these are teachings of the predecessor, and that he or she is unable to hold a candle to the predecessor's greatness. [You may sense this demonstration of humility seems fearful.]

Antisocial

The teacher uses the group to commit criminal acts or raise money for his or her own enrichment. The teacher may use manipulation or deception to get followers to join the group, then use group pressure and coercion to keep the follower loyal to the group, and keep them from leaving. The teacher may exploit the follower's labor by making them work 12 to 16 hour days without pay, often to raise money for the group. The teacher may seduce followers or molest their children. The teacher will find a scapegoat and blame that other person if the teacher becomes the spotlight of negative press, or his or her behavior falls under suspicion.

Histrionic

The teacher uses drama and suspense to influence the emotions of his or her followers. At one moment the teacher may whip them up into a positive mood of hope and expectation; in another moment, he or she may convey disappointment and despondency. The followers seem to have to keep the teacher in a good mood. The teacher may be playful, seductive, or flirtatious with his or her followers, but adamantly denies any lascivious intentions. If things go wrong, the teacher may berate followers without mercy, even when it becomes clear that the teacher's own actions have caused the problem.

Borderline

The teacher seems prone to tyrannical emotional outbursts. The teacher may highly praise and idealize his or her followers, only to shortly thereafter mercilessly castigate and berate them for failing to live up to the teacher's expectations. The teacher seems to see people as only all good and perfect, or evil and degraded. The teacher may have self-destructive behavior or addiction that becomes increasingly apparent. The teacher may threaten to leave this Plane, or leave and never come back (e.g., commit suicide) if followers do not meet his or her demands. Followers may say that they do not know what to expect from their teacher next, and feel frankly abused. [You may sense the teacher is using emotional blackmail to manipulate the group.]

When the teacher acts strange, seekers are sometimes taught that this is the Divine Play (Lila), and that teachers in spiritual ecstasy are not bound by conventional rules for behavior. What may be actually happening is that the teacher's genuine illumination is expressing through the distorted filter of a personality disorder. [In the case of a "spiritual teacher" with anti-social personality disorder, there may be no genuine illumination at all—just a very skillful con-job perpetrated by a master charlatan.]

Normal Personality Expression

While the aspirant may not be able to impact the personality dysfunction of a spiritual teacher, the aspirant can work to clean his or her own filter. The seeker can do this contemplating, "what is appropriate personality expression?" Appropriateness takes into consideration the seeker's own needs, together with the needs of others in the situation, and notes the impact of behavior on self, others, and the environment.

Personality disorder skews the expression of a person's functioning away from the golden mean of "normal" or "appropriate." The aspirant may wish to use the following chart to differentiate the distorted expression of a personality disorder from what might be a more optimal, more effective way of relating and behaving.

Personality Disorder

Distorted Expression

Optimal Expression

Obsessive Compulsive

Over-control, inability to let go

Appropriate detachment and perspective

Narcissistic

Exaggerated self-importance

Appropriate self-image

Paranoid

Inability to trust

Appropriate trust

Schizoid

Emotional suppression

Appropriate emotional expression

Schizotypal

Immersion in fantasy

Appropriate grounding in reality, paying attention to situational cues

Avoidant

Shame, flawed self-image, fear of humiliation

Appropriate self-image, healthy sense of shame and embarrassment, ability to laugh at oneself

Dependent

Lack of belief in oneself

Appropriate sense of confidence and skill mastery

Antisocial

Suppression of conscience, lack of caring for others

Appropriate conscience function, establishment of a support network of loving relationships with others, the ability to love and care for others

Histrionic

Over-dramatization of issues, sexual manipulation

Appropriate perspective on personal issues and appropriate expression of sexuality

Borderline

Lack of emotional control, splitting the world into good and evil

Appropriate emotional control, seeing objects as containing both good and evil

The decision to act in a certain way is often a response to the perceived situation. The question the seeker is pursuing is "what is called for at this time?" or "what is appropriate in this situation?" Maintaining this mindful approach, the aspirant may find he or she has a real choice in the situation, instead of blindly reacting.

The Mudrashram Teachings on Personality

In the Mudrashram® teachings, we encourage individuals to develop both personality and spirituality. We do not see personality as flawed or evil, but as the vehicle through which individuals express in the physical world.

There are times when you must function attentively, sensitively, rationally, and effectively in the external world. For this you need to develop your personality to become a refined instrument for your Soul's use.

You develop your personality by

  • Learning vocational skills to earn your livelihood

  • Honing your social skills to develop effective relationships with others
  • Expanding your knowledge through education

  • Introspecting upon your behavior and attitudes to refine your conscience

  • Exercising your judgment, intuition, and decision-making

  • Reflecting on the results of your performance with an aim to continually improve it

  • Acquiring the skills for independent living and parenting your children

  • Cultivating the ability to listen and to achieve intimacy with others

There are times when you must transcend personality functioning to commune with your spiritual essence. In this time of communion you work to awaken, refine and unfold your spiritual potentials so that you may express a greater measure of love, wisdom and ability in the world. For this, you have the tools of meditation.

We work on both aspects in a balanced way. In this way you can avoid the pitfalls engendered by neglecting either aspect of your nature.

By over-focusing on the spiritual aspect of their natures, some spiritual teachers have developed personality disorders. We believe you can avoid this by

  1. Understanding what is appropriate personality expression

  2. Finding an appropriate balance between your spiritual development and your personality development that keeps you sane

  3. Identifying a spiritual teaching that responds to your needs, but does not require you to "go off the deep end" into the zombie-like trance of a religious cult or into the jihad mentality of fanaticism.

Dealing With a Spiritual Teacher That Acts Strangely

If you discern that a spiritual teacher with whom you have had contact and valued interaction is acting strangely, you may wish to consider what may be producing the odd behavior. If you intuit the teacher's behavior may stem from a personality disorder, or evidence an anxiety syndrome or even a psychotic illness, this may not be sufficient to make you reject the teacher and his or her teachings outright.

You may wish to consider the following things before walking away from the teacher:

  1. If I ignore the teacher's strangeness and idiosyncrasies, is there value in what I am being taught?

  2. Am I making genuine, tangible spiritual progress by pursuing these teachings?

  3. Am I functioning more effectively in my personal life as a result of pursuing these teachings?

  4. Does what I am learning here resonate with my intuition and my heart's touchstone of truth? Is it helping me to understand my Soul's nature and my level of development in the Great Continuum of Consciousness?

  5. Am I contacting the Divine through the practices I am learning here, or through the ministry and guidance of the teacher?

  6. Does the teacher manifest the love, wisdom and power that evidence the state of Mastery? Do I experience Grace, Divine Love and Light, or Shakti through his or her presence?

  7. Does the teacher seem to genuinely care for my welfare, health and happiness? Do I feel genuine love from this teacher?

We will point out that great masters and gurus have arisen who have studied with eccentric, strange, even bizarre teachers. If the guru is an odd bird, but fills you day and night with the love and Grace of God, you may elect to tolerate his or her kookiness.

But if you have made an honest inquiry and your answers to these questions are no, get up and leave. Your human life is a terrible thing to waste in pursuit of a spiritual dead end. Worse is to suffer abuse at the hands of a mentally ill spiritual group leader.

 

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