If only churches, synagogues, and mosques were safe places for people to learn about God and grow spiritually. But sadly, many are not. Rather, they can become safe places for three of the most intense personality disorders. Regardless of the religious belief system that a person subscribes to, these three disorders can be found within the leadership structure of many religious organizations.

Why? Because followers of the organization come with an honest desire to grow spiritually, fellowship with other like believers, and worship God. They are not suspecting to be taken advantage of, lied to, manipulated, and coerced. They expect this behavior outside of the religious institute not inside it.

Here are the three personality disorders prevalent in religious institutions and how to identify them:

  1. Anti-Social Personality Disorder (Sociopath/Psychopath). This is the most dangerous of the bunch because Anti-Social Personality Disorder (ASPD) is the most difficult to identify and the most treacherous. ASPDs frequently wear a variety of masks and have the ability to be chameleon-like in nature. This allows them to make commitments (which they have no intention of carrying out) while actually doing the opposite. Their ability to deceive is so excellent that even when caught, they are able to talk their way out of anything. The best evidence of an ASPD is the wake of destroyed relationships in their past. If they will stab one person in the back, they will do it to another without any remorse. The danger in confronting ASPDs is that they are highly revengeful and will stop at nothing until a person is completely destroyed. This personality can be violent when provoked.
  2. Narcissistic Personality Disorder. A person with Narcissistic Personality Disorder (NPD) loves to be the center of attention. Religious environments provide a great place for NPDs to be treated superior whether or not they deserve it. Many times they will appear to listen to the advice of others, but their actions do not reinforce it. NPDs believe they have a special relationship with God and therefore should be in complete control. Often, they will degrade, discount, or dismiss those who are not entirely loyal to them. It is easy to pick out the NPD because they are the most charming of the disorders with an unusual ability to appear harmless, caring, and generous. But at the heart of a NPD is a deeply insecure person who will stop at nothing to protect their image and fend off any embarrassment. NPDs can be confronted but only in very small doses and surrounded by excessive praise.
  3. Obsessive-Compulsive Personality Disorder. Obsessive-Compulsive Personality Disorder (OCPD) is not the same as Obsessive Compulsive Disorder (OCD). This article explains the difference: http://pro.psychcentral.com/exhausted-woman/2016/05/difference-between-obsessive-compulsive-personality-disorder-and-obsessive-compulsive-disorder/. In religious circles, OCPDs are very legalistic about the rules and order to the point that they miss the real meaning behind worship. Ironically, OCPDs claim they are not dogmatic but their actions and treatment of those living outside of the rules proves otherwise. There is no compromise with OCPDs, everything is either black or white and they are the principle determining factor as to who falls into which category. By appearance, OCPDs are easily recognizable as they always look very put together and are impeccably groomed. Confronting them can be very successful if it is presented as a better and more efficient way. But be prepared to have a long exhausting analytical discussion.

Having an understanding of these personality disorders and how they thrive in religious environments helps to prevent becoming entangled with them.