Recognizing Spiritualized Ego – When Recovery Becomes Food for Narcissism


Sober Recovery Expert Author


Everyone enters into recovery the same way – covered in ego.

For most, recovery is the beginning of a process that sheds that layer, eventually allowing for authenticity to emerge. But, for some (especially those challenged by deep wounds that present as narcissism), it is an opportunity for the ego to soak up all the knowledge gained in recovery (pertaining to others and addiction/recovery itself) for the purpose of manipulating and gaslighting others to prevent exposure and healing. These individuals spiritually bypass the work and utilize newfound information and terminology to further evolve the ego, rather than the soul.

In any given situation, the ego sees an opportunity to go deeper into hiding. Recovery is no exception.

The latter creates a phenomenon known as a spiritualized ego.

Spiritualized ego deflects accountability and real recovery, often leading to relapse and/or landing in a socially-acceptable (or even glamorized) substitute addiction. Of course, this level of ego is even more threatening to others than that which was active in addiction prior to entering recovery.

In active addiction, the overactive ego was obvious. Public intoxication, self-destructive processes, legal consequences, tumultuous relationships and other covert displays of dysfunction combined with defensiveness and denial of accountability clued most everyone into the problem. However, the spiritualized ego is sober and therefore not under the influence of substances and typically free of legal consequences. More to the point, it has the voice of wisdom, rather than one that lacks logic (like that experienced in active addiction) and therefore can easily end up leading or even treating others in treatment or recovery.

This poses an obvious threat to the individual and anyone they love, lead or treat.

For this reason, it’s key to know what to look for and how to spot a spiritualized ego in yourself and your recovery community.

Chronic Victimization

There is a vast difference between realizing you have been a victim (of abuse, a crime, etc.) and victimization. The latter maintains a victim stance, seemingly benefitting more from the reality which imposes external blame than one which speaks of survival and personal accountability. Typically, this is addressed in recovery and an internal locus of control is instilled, leaving behind the victim role.

Those with a spiritualized ego tend to exhibit chronic victimization which does not improve with recovery. Though testimonials specific to addiction may give the illusion that victimhood has been abandoned, these individuals often utilize recovery terminology to assert blame and avoid accountability.

In these cases, even family members who have suffered abuse at the hands or words of the individual in active addiction will be blamed, shamed and manipulated through ultimatums disguised as boundaries and dismissive, gaslighting behavior in the name of recovery. In this way, it’s akin to religious abuse which is also a result of spiritualized ego.

Tweaked Accountability

If accountability is taken, it is tweaked to benefit (rather than confront) the ego. This version of accountability typically only accounts for their actions in theory. For instance, phrases like “That’s my inventory, not yours” or “Any problem you have with me is simply a problem within you” or the classic “I’ll worry about my side of the street, and you worry about yours.”

Cherry-Picked Recovery

Just as with the experience of religious abuse, the spiritualized ego likes to cherry-pick recovery. Finding, quoting and attending to only that which best serves the ego and avoids personal responsibility is a sure sign of spiritualized ego.

Typically, this presents when individuals only adhere to the superficial aspects of recovery. They never truly experience a holistic transformation. In fact, they usually simply substitute addictions with more socially-prized behaviors (like religion, exercising, work, and even recovery). Their focus and impulsivity simply shift to the newfound process and the judgments of others who relapse or live outside their way of thinking.

The tweaked accountability used to shut others down is suddenly not applicable, as is the need to take a deep inventory or make full amends. And, if the latter is achieved, it will be equally as tweaked and cherry-picked, leaving the recipient more gaslighted than before and covertly blamed – i.e., “I’m sorry you feel that way.”

Rigid (and Convenient) Boundaries

For those with a spiritualized ego, the idea of boundaries becomes quite muddled. Any attempt of the ego to shut down accountability is recognized as a boundary. Though this is certainly not the definition or point of boundaries, the spiritualized ego is unaware. The ego simply notes that stating “I’m setting a boundary,” regardless of the absurdity that prefaces or follows, prevents the recipient from engaging further (typically out of respect for others’ boundaries).

Additionally, the consequence of confronting or holding accountable the spiritualized ego is a rigid boundary – one which typically finds the recipient abandoned. For the spiritualized ego, the boundaries of others’ are of little concern. Friendships, romantic and familial relationships, and even marriages will abruptly end as a result of this.

These rigid boundaries are a means to bully others into submission. Additionally, they are walls that prevent self-awareness. Self-righteousness, however, is encouraged with newfound sobriety and the awareness of language utilized in recovery.

Big-Book Thumping

This level of self-righteousness is often touted through Big-Book thumping or the pushing of specific recovery program ideologies. Similar to Bible-thumping which utilizes biblical verses to spiritually bypass the experiences and feelings of others and deny them their voice, this is an attempt of the spiritualized ego to both further avoid accountability and perpetuate an active addiction to the acts (not transformative experiences) of recovery.

In any given situation, the ego sees an opportunity to go deeper into hiding. Recovery is no exception. That said, spotting the spiritualized ego within the self and others is the first step in revealing the truth within and without and taking proactive steps accordingly.

If you or someone you know is seeking help from addiction, please visit our directory of treatment centers or call 800-772-8219 to speak to a treatment specialist.

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