Page 1 of 1

An Exploration of Spiritual Superiority: The Paradox of Self

PostPosted: 03 Jan 2021
by ex-l
An Exploration of Spiritual Superiority: The Paradox of Self-Enhancement

Roos Vonk, Radboud University Nijmegen
Anouk Visser, Radboud University Nijmegen


Spiritual training is assumed to reduce self-enhancement, but may have the paradoxical effect of boosting superiority feelings. It can, thus, operate like other self-enhancement tools and contribute to a contingent self- worth that depends on one’s spiritual accomplishments. In three studies (N=533, N=2223, N=965), a brief measure of spiritual superiority showed good internal consistency and discriminant validity. As predicted, it 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.

Our results illustrate that the self-enhancement motive is powerful and deeply ingrained so that it can hijack methods intended to transcend the ego and, instead, adopt them to its own service.

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.

Or, as another author put it in more simple terms, Study Links Mindfulness to Being An Insufferable Dickhead.

Re: An Exploration of Spiritual Superiority: The Paradox of

PostPosted: 03 Jan 2021
by ex-l
Spiritual gurus and journalists have written about this pitfall of spiritual narcissism—the “I am more enlightened than you” phenomenon. But spiritual narcissism had never been studied by researchers. To do this, Anouk Visser and I developed a measure to assess the degree to which people feel they are spiritually superior to other people. For example, participants were asked how much they agreed with statements such as: “I am more aware of what is between heaven and earth than most people” and “The world would be a better place if others also had the insights that I have now.”

In three studies, we administered this spiritual superiority measure to various groups in the Netherlands, including students of mindfulness schools and energetic training schools. As we expected, spiritual superiority was related to communal narcissism, which is the belief that one is more socially skilled and empathic than others. It was also related to the tendency to see oneself as a guide for other people, as indicated, for example, by endorsing the statement: “I am patient with other people, because I understand it takes time to gain the insights that I acquired.” Responses to our spiritual superiority scale were also related to people’s beliefs that they possessed psychic abilities, such as the ability to affect the world around them with their thoughts. This relationship between spiritual superiority and believing one has psychic ability was particularly strong among students of energetic schools. In energetic therapy, the focus is on perceiving or changing people’s spiritual or psychic energy, for instance, reading or healing auras and chakras.
So, are all spiritual quests just an ego trip then? Not necessarily. Spiritual narcissism is not caused by the spiritual philosophy itself but rather by what people make of it. In our studies, students from mindfulness schools showed a lower degree of spiritual superiority than those in energetic schools. This difference may be related to the type of student who is attracted to mindfulness and meditation, as well as to the fact that mindfulness training typically involves explicit attention to the pitfalls of the ego. So as part of their training, mindfulness students learn to be vigilant about this cunning obstruction on their spiritual path.

This vigilance is necessary, because the ego is always on the lookout to reinforce its own individuality, grandeur, and specialness.

Re: An Exploration of Spiritual Superiority: The Paradox of

PostPosted: 06 Jan 2021
by Pink Panther
All I can say is that this aligns with my experience, both within myself and with others.