Narcissists who use 12-step programs to further their agenda


Today I was reading a couple of new blog articles by Dr. George K. Simon, which can be found here and here. Dr. Simon has written a number of books about psychopathy, narcissism and other “character disorders” (his term for the DSM “Cluster B” personality disorders, which are in part characterized by a lack of empathy or capacity to feel remorse). The two articles I was reading focus on narcissistic/antisocial behavior and addiction.

Indeed, many disordered individuals have a concurrent alcohol or drug problem, but unlike neurotics (people with anxiety issues who have the capacity to feel shame, empathy and remorse–usually so much that they sabotage themselves), the character-disordered are not very likely to seek treatment for their addictions. This really isn’t any surprise, since Cluster B types (especially Narcissists and people with antisocial personality disorder) aren’t likely to seek any kind of psychological treatment or therapy because they’re not the ones suffering–they’re more likely to cause others to suffer. Narcissists and those with APD also think they’re superior human beings who don’t need any help. Instead, they blame their victims for being the ones with the mental or emotional problems.

But there are some character disordered people who do join 12 step programs like Alcoholics Anonymous. They may be aware they have a substance abuse issue, but that’s as far as any insight into themselves goes. These are the “recovered” addicts and alcoholics who lord their recovery over others, and treat their 12-step program like a religion that allows them to believe they are superior to everyone else.


My mother falls into this category. She’s a Narc who, back in the early 1980s, decided she was an alcoholic and became involved with AA. Speeding through the 12 steps at a pace that was most likely unrealistic for most people trying to recover, she went from being merely abusive to intolerably, infuriatingly abusive. While her drunkenness had been mostly unpleasant, at times she could almost be “fun,” or at least so out of it that she handled her abuse of me clumsily and sometimes forgot she was supposed to be abusing me and would shift into treating me as a younger woman she could party with. But after discovering AA, suddenly she became a self-righteous, judgmental, rigid you-know-what who lorded her new “religion” over me in particular. Mind you, I am not dissing AA or any other 12 step program, as they have helped many people turn their lives around and free themselves from addiction. But when narcissists find these programs, they use them to further their own agenda, and as they do with everything else, turn the steps of recovery into weapons to be used against others. Narcissists in recovery programs are as bad as the worst kind of religious zealots and treat the program as if they alone discovered it, seeming to equate themselves with Moses being hand picked by God to discover the Ten Commandments.

They also turn the various slogans associated with these 12 step programs into handy justifications for being even more self-centered, arrogant and unempathic than they already were. My Narc mother, for example, now had handy canned excuses for her horrific treatment of others. For example, if you called her out for a hurtful action or comment, she’d respond with “your feelings are your own responsibility, not mine” or “stop taking my inventory.” If she wanted to belittle you, she’d say “you’re on a dry drunk” (actually she was the one on the dry drunk) or “that’s your addiction talking.” (she thought everyone who wasn’t a teetotaler or occasionally indulged in a little pot was an alcoholic or drug addict).

The 4th step of AA is “taking a fearless moral inventory” and a later step is “making amends to those you have harmed.” While these two steps would seem like holy water is to the devil for a Narc, sending them off flailing and screaming, some narcissists can and do take these steps (others get “stuck” at step 4, and may quit the program), but if they do, they work these steps in a shallow, glib manner, usually only addressing the substance abuse itself, while glossing over any pain they caused others. This is how my mother handled these steps, and when she “made amends” to me, I didn’t feel any sincerity there at all. Her “amends” seemed as phony as an mass-mailed Christmas card from your local bail bondsman. I suppose I’m guilty of “taking her inventory” but that’s how it felt to me. She was never one to apologize for anything, ever. No narcissist is.


Another interesting thing about Narcs who join 12 step programs is they don’t dig any deeper. Many non-narcissist alcoholics and drug addicts come to a point in recovery where they want to learn more about themselves, what makes them tick, and perhaps what led them to self-medicate in the first place. They realize that the addiction, while it very likely has a genetic component, can also be caused by psychological factors and they want to dig deeper to find out why they drank or used in the first place. A Narc will never do that, because any sort of therapy requires introspection into their own behavior and that is terrifying to them–because even they know that all they’ll see when they look into the mirror is….an endless black void of nothingness. As I’ve talked about in previous posts, for whatever reason, narcissists don’t have a true “self”–instead they wear a series of masks meant to dupe others into believing there is something there when there isn’t anything there at all.

So beware of the recovered addict or alcoholic who treats their 12-step program like a religion and uses it as a pedestal to make others feel deficient–you’re almost certainly dealing with a narcissist. And as you might expect, many narcissists are active in churches, especially those that are autocratic, evangelical or fundamentalist in nature, because it allows them an easy way to feel superior even if they haven’t achieved anything notable in life: they’re “saved” and you’re going to hell. Narcissists in 12 step programs use the program’s tenets almost exactly the same way.

31 thoughts on “Narcissists who use 12-step programs to further their agenda

  1. Good post! You are so smart. Love the quote up there about being addicted to ourselves. A recovery program for the self absorbed! Oh, amen to that.

    I’ve observed that same thing in a few 12 steppers. There’s something written in that program that tells them that addiction is only the tip of the ice burg, but that often falls on deaf ears. Addictions are kind of like a symptom, not the beginning and end of all spiritual growth.

    Liked by 2 people

  2. Pingback: We Need a 12-Step Program for the Self Absorbed | Lucky Otter's Haven

  3. Two books I totally recommend for people who have to deal with narcissists on a regular basis: 1. The Verbally Abusive Relationship, and 2. Controlling people. Both books are by Patricia Evans; she has actually written several books about dealing with narcs. I used these to move past my relationship with my ex (and, yes, my mother), and now my daughter is reading them. REALLY awesome books!

    Liked by 2 people

      • They are not actually books on narcissism, but books on verbal abuse and control, which are narcissistic behaviors. Great books! I hope you enjoy them. I know I did.

        Liked by 1 person

  4. How do narcissists get help for being narcissists though? They don’t realise they have a problem and play the victim rather than the bully .

    Liked by 1 person

    • There’s been no evidence that they can ever be cured. Remember, they think they’re perfect and everyone else has the problem. They don’t suffer themselves (they make those around them suffer), so they almost never go for therapy on their own. They don’t have enough insight into themselves to realize there is something very wrong with them and even if they know they are narcissists (some do), they have no desire to change.

      Occasionally a very young child who shows signs of becoming psychopathic can be helped. I did an article about Beth Thomas, a 6 year old girl who was badly abused and was showing psychopathic behavior, and early intervention and putting her in a highly disciplined residential treatment program changed her and she became a normal adult with a conscience and ability to love.

      Liked by 1 person

  5. You are on point about narcissists being in many (evangelical) churches. Narcissists use churches to advance their own agenda. Sadly, few can discern the narcissists manipulative spirit because they are extremely convincing..

    Liked by 1 person

  6. WOW! I just went through/escaped a dangerous narcissistic plot to wreck my life in a 12 step program of NA. Here is what I think makes the 12 steps a perfect haven for abusers: 1) Their is no authority/hierarchy except for sobriety time; however, sobriety time can never be proved and narcs lie 2) W/o hierarchy, each 12 step community (cities, states etc.) can morph into a sickness by intruding narcs who claim 20 yrs clean and guard the 12 step tables like Roman centurions. 3) Vulnerable, desperate, hurting people in the grips of addiction guarantee a continue flow of victims 4) Lastly, since the 12 steps are cemented in the culture, the narc wolves can hide in the open and pretend to be “recovering” while they are just trying to sabotage others.

    Where I am at they are/ appear like dangerous sociopaths…I dropped out of the program cut all ties from FB and cell. And still I have to be cautious because I caught them red handed in the act of fuckin with me like they are some warlocks.

    What Ia m saying is that you can go to a meeting in one town and meet the nicest people and then go to the next town and need to take a shower after the meeting just to get the slime off your back.

    Liked by 3 people

    • This is a really excellent comment, and I think you are very observant and have noticed some things about narcs in these programs that I have not.

      12 step programs are fine as far as they go, but narcissists (like my mother) use them as a way to judge others and not take any further responsibility for her behavior toward others. People who become “addicted” to these programs usually neglect to work on other areas of their life or dig deeper into issues that may have caused their alcohol or drug addiction. They dismiss traditional psychotherapy as not necessary, at least not for them, because the 12 step program is enough for them and becomes their whole life. It is like a religious cult for them.

      Liked by 1 person

    • WOW — this post and Abe’s comment describes exactly what I have experienced in 12-step meetings. I was so badly burned by Narcissists in those meetings that I had to stop going in order to save my sanity.

      I just read this post for the first time tonight because it showed up as “related” to one of your recent posts, Lucky. This is so excellent. I have decided to go back and read your blog from the beginning, as soon as I have the time. You’ve written a lot of good stuff here and I don’t want to miss any of it.

      Liked by 1 person

  7. I’m sorry your mother treated you in such a way. But really, narcs aren’t that bad, I’m one. I think I’m different though, I do cry over love and hatred, and I try to spare some people, making me have to post-pone making someone feel bad. I’m really confused, but I like it. I actually clicked on this looking for a 12step program for npd. And, before you get your hopes up thinking maybe we all aren’t the same, which we aren’t, I was looking to make fun of it.But your article will do just fine.

    Liked by 1 person

    • Have you actually been diagnosed with NPD? You could be borderline (BPD–another cluster B disorder similar to narcissism) because you sound like you do have some conscience and are very emotional. Most mental health professionals these days regard narcissism as a spectrum disorde (the way Aspergers/autism is a spectrum disorder), ranging from mild (DNP–destructive narcissistic pattern disorder) all the way up to to psychopathy and sociopathy at the top. It’s possible you could be a low-mid spectrum narcissist too, but you don’t sound like a malignant narcissist to me. It’s rare for an MN to be as insightful as you.

      I have a list of resources for people wanting to heal from NPD in my header– please take a look– you may be able to find some help or information there about where to get help.

      As far as I know, there are no 12 step programs for people suffering from NPD, but maybe there should be! There are training methods such as CBT (cognitive behavioral therapy) that can help you filter your impulses and behaviors, but don’t address the underlying problem, which would require intensive interactive therapy such as reparenting.

      I am well aware there are degrees and not all of you are the same, Unfortunately in the blogosphere there is a lot of generalization and stereotyping of people with NPD. I’ve been one of the more open minded ACONs about this issue, and have received plenty of hate for it, but I don’t care.
      You may also be interested in this excellent blog, which talks about narcissism as a spectrum disorder and doesn’t demonize all narcissists the way some blogs do:
      Thanks for visiting!


  8. Wow, I am a member of alcoholics anonymous and I believe in my heart of hearts I dated a narcissist. I was just over 2 years sober and he had 17 (he sobered up when he was 18) . He was the guy who was always so serene, pleasant, and seemed genuinely interested in you. I was in school and still a bit wacky. I allowed that man to f#ck my head up bad. When I was stressing ovee school, there was that calm, “oh you need to trust God” So hard to explain, but lookjng back on it I can tell that deep, genuine concern was lacking. I felt so off kilter because of that, then further worried that I was totally missing the spiritual ball. The can very subtly feed off that. Yes I was struggling spiritually, which made so susceptible to the Narc. All the sudden, he snapped because a pipe from the sink was leaking, unbeknownst to me and became very nasty and berating, the complete opposite of the front he put on in the rooms. I allowed that to push me into a one day relapse. Next night after I got out of the hospital, he became the coldest person you could ever meet. I was living in the upstairs of his double. He put my thing, including blankets on the steps and blocked me out, claiming I needed my relationship with God, which was true. But he did it so cruelly and coldly. I was to eventually leave and I will never forget that darkness the complete void of feeling from this man. Prior to my leaving, my dad had stopped by after healing from open heart surgery and the Narc, who had just gotten off work blew up on him for simply knocking on the door. But put up the front of spiritual serenity in front of people in meetings. I had my issues in recovery, but what I did learn by surviving a Narc with only a one relapse, proves to me beyond a shadow of a doubt there is a God and there are demons. And they can easily work through a malignant narc, that is for sure

    Liked by 1 person

    • 12 step programs are great, but they are definitely used by some narcissists as a way to feel morally superior. Then they go about judging and gaslighting using the “slogans”–ie, “you are on a dry drunk,” “you are taking my inventory,” “I am not responsible for your feelings,” ad nauseam. I’m sorry you had to put up with that from the man you dated. Narcissists definitely use these programs as a way to project and gaslight others so they are always “right.” In this way they don’t differ much from self-righteous religious nutcases (usually narcissists) who use religion to abuse and feel superior to others.


  9. Pingback: 12 Step Programs and Narcissism | Kesslerslog's

Comments are closed.