(Rev. Sheri Heller, LCSW, Invisible Illness) Amara touted herself as a spiritual healer versed in sundry esoteric techniques such as holographic resonance and cathartic release work. She seemed wise and encouraging. It took me years to see the back-stabbing egomaniac that lurked beneath her mystical new age facade. By the time I woke up to the truth I was privy to the way she smeared my name to clients I sent her way, and recognized how her ‘inspirational mentorship’ was designed to disempower me. When she attempted to lure me back in with her seductive overtures of contrition I refused to be baited.
It was a hard lesson finally learned after a decade of friendship.
Those like myself who were groomed in childhood to be narcissistic supply, desperately sought to break the insidious pattern of falling prey to malignant narcissists. In spite of our efforts we inevitably traversed a torturous phase of recovery, in which we attracted the more polished seemingly altruistic, ‘special’, successful, and even ‘spiritual’ narcissists.
Caught up in fastidiously weeding out the blatant signs of narcissism such as smear campaigns, character assassination, and incessant lies, we lost sight of the subtle nuanced, and stealth ways narcissists maneuver. Desperate to align with kind people of character, we fell for the insidious ploy of conspicuous ‘goodness’ and moral superiority. Like magnets, we gravitated towards those who strategically behaved altruistically and morally so as to gain the upper hand.
These exceptional magnanimous people, highly adept at virtue signaling and grandstanding, are known as covert narcissists and ambient abusers.
The conspicuous assertion of moral values and philanthropic activities so as to ensure a (false) sense of security and glean admiration and trust is descriptive of virtue signaling and grandstanding. Specifically, when a narcissist virtue signals they will overtly broadcast their moral values while highlighting those ‘out there who are morally deficient. Likewise, the virtue signaler might emphasize behaviors, like volunteer work or spiritual proclivities that substantiate their moral superiority.
Grandstanding signifies the moral ‘soapbox’ of self-promotion. Social justice warriors are often exemplary of grandstanding as they righteously promote a progressive cause while stifling the potential for meaningful dialogue.
Grandstanding and virtue signaling is intertwined with the narcissist’s proclivity to gaslight and create cognitive dissonance. Gaslighting is a term that describes false information manufactured and deliberately presented to the victim, so as to make them doubt their memory and perceptions.
It is the appearance of benevolence, honesty, and generosity that fosters trust and ensures control so that when disparagement and derision occurs, it is cloaked as well-intentioned constructive criticism. Indeed, it is the victim’s ‘hyper-sensitivity and paranoia that is characterized as the reason for all misunderstandings.
The more dignified and well-meaning the narcissist seems the more nefarious agendas remain obscured and hidden. By seducing and disorienting the target with grandiose proclamations of virtue, the necessary leverage needed to ‘manage’ and diminish the target’s self-worth is ensured. This furthers the narcissist’s motive to sadistically destroy the supply being gleaned.
One of the many reasons we capitulate and fawn over these insidious people is the collective allegiance to moral relativism. The narcissist capitalizes on the premise that moral principles are ‘relative’ to beliefs and experiences. There is no golden rule of right or wrong, just one’s personal judgment. This is a convenient way of absolving oneself from misconduct, especially if the end is believed to justify the means. This solipsist view claims that one’s reality and the truth are dependent solely on one’s mind. Only the self exists. Hence, if I think it’s moral then it is.
Narcissists spin narratives that reflect a humane agenda, cunningly spewing out confusing word salads that manage to legitimize cruelty and depravity.
For instance, a narcissist is adept at convincing a source of romantic supply that true love places no demands on them. Furthermore, any indication of uncertainty or questioning is merely a reflection of the target’s flaws. The notion of absolute rules of engagement in love is scoffed at as naive and constraining. A malleable source of supply will adapt to this narrative, and will willingly morph into a co-dependent pretzel eager to accommodate whatever edicts the narcissist dictates.
The larger terrain of celebrity worship, social justice warriors, and politics are rife with virtue signalers and grandstanders. Here we see ‘virtuous liberal’ plutocrats touting environmentalism, economic equality, and world peace. They talk a good game.
The surplus wealth and abhorrent behavior of these wealthy elitists is blinded by groupthink. Hence, their ‘do-as-I-say, not-as-I-do’ actions are sanctioned. Primitive cognitive biases and an absence of moral absolutes give the charismatic narcissist free rein to promulgate hypocrisy and heinous agendas.
Edward Bernays, nephew of Sigmund Freud and known as the father of public relations, pioneered the manipulation of the masses through PR campaigns that capitalized on the emulation of archetypal motifs; purposeful symbolic patterns which appeal to collective innate longings. Joseph Goebbels, the minister of propaganda for the Third Reich created a Fuhrer cult based on Bernays’s writings.
Bernays wrote in Propaganda, “In almost every act of our daily lives, whether in the sphere of politics or business, in our social conduct or our ethical thinking, we are dominated by the relatively small number of persons…who understand the mental processes and social patterns of the masses. It is they who pull the wires which control the public mind.”
What Bernays imparts is what virtue signaling, grandstanding narcissists know all too well. The engineering of a glorified persona taps into the target’s unconscious, captivating and controlling them by simply presenting what is desired. We see this achieved through branding, marketing, and advertising, the manufacturing of trends, iconic persons, and causes.
Narcissists rely on the basic premise that we see what we want to see and we see what the powers that be want us to see. This is known as confirmation bias.
The fixation on ‘truth’ that rejects any concrete evidence that is contrary to the prescribed view, is reflected in the mythologizing of narcissistic personalities. The collective longing to escape the challenges of the human condition fuels this tendency to blindly aggrandize high-ranking people.
Case in point is BBC star and philanthropist Jimmy Savile. Knighted by Queen Elizabeth and Pope John Paul II, friends with the Royal family and the Thatcher’s, Saville was a prolific pedophile, sexual predator, and necrophiliac. Yet in the public eye, he conformed to an image of benevolence and virtue.
Similarly, the romanticizing of the British Royal Family obscures a nefarious history of unabashed support of Hitler and the Nazi regime, as well as extensive colonial tyranny in India and capitalizing from the African slave trade.
To see clearly the machinations of virtue signaling and grandstanding we need to be willing to employ critical thinking. Objectively analyzing and evaluating an individual’s conduct requires us to establish moral standards in which we hold others accountable. It requires us to be intelligently guarded as we gather information so as to draw well-rounded comprehensive conclusions. It also necessitates understanding the dark side of human nature and identifying trends throughout history.
Perhaps most pertinent in discerning the prevalence of virtue signaling and grandstanding is ascertaining the intention behind the actions. Intention, not solely behavior, is what truly signifies integrity. Seeing the truth behind motives, whether it be in an individual or an ideology, often obligates us to shatter illusions. This takes courage and the resilience to stand alone. It is only then that we can identify what true goodness is.