Narcissism from a Christian Perspective
The word “narcissist” comes from a Greek myth about a young man named Narcissus who fell in love with his own reflection. After gazing into a pool of water, he became so enamored with himself that he fell in and drowned. While the story of Narcissus doesn't appear in scripture, we can see many parallels with the Jezebel Spirit.
The Jezebel Spirit
While this Jezebel was not the same exact person as described in the Old Testament, it was the same spirit as the evil queen of Israel in 1 Kings. What is the root of the Jezebel spirit? Manipulation and control, which stem from narcissism and self-centeredness.
We are all Narcissists to Some Degree
Becoming more like Christ means growing in other-centeredness, where our heart curves outward toward other people rather than remaining inward. Narcissism is not grounded in love. Narcissism is grounded in fear. Fear of what?
- Fear that you're going to be forgotten.
- Fear that you're going to be ignored.
- Fear that you're not going to be taking care of.
- Fear that you're not going to be loved.
Those who are narcissistic are dealing with all of these fears. Yet perfect love casts out fear (1 John 4:18). We need the Spirit of God to help turn our inward hearts toward other people. How about those who are in a relationship with a narcissist? Aren't they already other-focused by taking care of the narcissist?
Actually, those in a relationship with a narcissist will often struggle with the same fears listed above and thus be sucked in the black hole of narcissism in another. Victims of narcissistic abuse can remain in an abusive relationship for years because they also deal with the same fears. This creates a toxic codependent dynamic that is based on fear and control, rather than love. So how do we recognize and deal with toxic narcissism in another person?
Understanding Narcissistic Personality Disorder (NPD)
Can Those with NPD Change?
Christian counselors may help NPD clients by engaging them with the love of Christ, emphasizing their strengths, showing admiration for these strengths, advocating that family members do the same, and addressing the “emotional dyslexia” as a brain problem that is usually activated in close interpersonal relationships. (Sometimes when NPD is severe, it is activated also in other relationships). God created all human beings with the capacity not to give way to temptation (1 Corinthians 10:13). When tempted, NPD patients can learn not to trust their immediate feelings, but instead to allow other areas of their brains to guide their behavior.
We need to remember that those with personality disorders are suffering, even if they don’t understand how their behavior is hurting others and ultimately themselves. Yet at the same time, those in close relationships with those who have NPD do not have to allow themselves to be subjected to abuse.
Responding to Those with NPD
Recognize that this is not a normal situation.
You are not dealing with an individual who is able to appropriately express and deal with emotions. You are dealing with someone who is inhibited in this area. Using tactics that would work in other relationship situations may not work with an NPD partner—in fact, they may backfire.
Recognize manipulation and abuse.
Those with NPD process their emotions (and identity) in unhealthy ways through their relationships with others. Learn to recognize a type of abuse and manipulation called gaslighting. The term comes from a 1944 film called Gaslight, and is about a woman who is manipulated by her husband into believing that she is slowly going crazy. Gaslighting from an abuser makes a victim doubt their own instincts and sense of reality.
Learn what healthy boundaries are and how to set them. You are not called to be someone else's punching bag. By setting boundaries, you are no longer allowing the person to sin against you. You are stepping aside and allowing them to be responsible for themselves and to be accountable to God. If there is ongoing abuse, it may mean separating—sometimes to the point of no contact.
Take care of yourself.
Recognize that you cannot fill the empty hole inside someone else, especially someone with NPD. While compassion is called for to understand that those with mental illness are suffering, know that you cannot be that person's savior. Lower your expectations regarding what your partner with NPD is able to provide to you emotionally. Take ownership of your emotional health and keep healthy boundaries. See a Christian counselor who can help you in all the areas mentioned above.
Do some research.
Continue to learn about NPD, especially from sources that focus on helping victims of abuse. Learn how to recognize manipulation and set healthy boundaries.
Talk with a Counselor About Narcissism - Meet Brooks Gibson
- “Incurvatus in Se.” Wikipedia, Wikimedia Foundation, 22 Jan. 2018, en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Incurvatus_in_se.
- American Psychological Association. Diagnostic and Statistical Manual of Mental Disorders. 4th ed. Washington, D.C.: American Psychological Association, 1994. Print.
- DiBlasio, Frederick A. “Narcissistic Personality Disorder.” The Popular Encyclopedia of Christian Counseling, by Timothy E. Clinton, Harvest House Publishers, 2011, pp. 242–243.