Being self-centred and self-loving is what we humans do best.
Me, my family, my community, my religion, my state, my country…. we come tuned that way. Rarely do we venture outside this realm.
But time and again Christians and non-Christians have made bold attempts at defying these norms and have put themselves at odds for an outsider.
But what if that outsider is a narcissist?
Narcissist: “A person who takes excessive interest in one’s self and one’s physical appearance.”
Taking this dictionary definition into account, who isn’t one? The name being derived from a mythical character Narcissus who fell in love with himself has been thrown left, right and centre about almost anyone for an act as simple as clicking a couple of selfies to the self-styled god-men and women who demand worship.
Don’t be surprised a good number of them include “Christians” too.
But I am not talking about the regular guy or girl who can’t take their eyes off the mirror. DSM 5, the ultimate authority for psychiatric diagnoses defines Narcissistic Personality Disorder as something far more sinister. These people, or patients rather, imagine themselves to be the very picture of perfection, entitled to belittle whomever they please; also flatter whomever they please (mostly for self-advancement). They totally lack empathy and feel justified to take advantage of others to achieve their own ends. Know someone like that??
The list might have narrowed down, but I am sure you all personally know at least one. The ‘narc’ in my life happened to be a senior colleague and she sure gave me a hard time at work. I regularly had to answer to non-issues that were blown out of proportion. Eventually, my otherwise benign boss had me called to a faculty department meeting for disciplinary action. All the while I was left wondering what was going on? I usually had a good rapport with all my colleagues, her included, or so I believed. But, she managed to turn my entire department against me.
I was not her only target. The narcissist usually leaves a train of victims in their wake. But, with time, I managed to gain the trust of my other colleagues and the truth started pouring in from different quarters. That helped me to get the whole picture of what was happening and eventually, I identified the person behind the curtain.
Hurt to know I was being played, I wanted to confront this person straight away. But my grad school training raised a red flag. I decided to research personality disorders and soon enough could put my finger on it. It was textbook. The textbook goes further to describe that narcissists lack insight and the worst thing you can do is call them out to their face. They will never own it up. There is no kiss and make up. Even if you manage to prove beyond doubt that they are the problem, it just gets stored up as narcissistic injury which will be unleashed at the opportune time.
So, what now?
Does the Bible have an answer to narcissism?
Let’s look into the life of David, our underdog shepherd boy, the only one who stood up to Goliath’s challenge while King Saul and his warriors were quaking with fear. The minute he completed the task, Saul went back on his promises. Saul denied him his first daughter’s hand in marriage. Then, when it looked bad on him, Saul offered his second daughter to David in return for another task that was sure to take his life. And when that didn’t work, Saul specifically asked for David to be his personal harpist, not because he liked music but because he irrationally feared David might plan a move against him, so he kept him close. Two murder attempts later, David decided to flee. He would have never harmed the Lord’s anointed and he proved it by sparing Saul’s life twice. Yet, Saul held malice in his heart against David.
But notice what David did; he went to the Lord in prayer. David distanced himself from Saul, but he did not take matters into his own hands. Matthew 10:16: “Behold I am sending you as sheep among wolves, therefore be as shrewd as serpents and as innocent as doves.”
The root cause
Many psychiatrists agree that the underlying cause of narcissistic personality disorder is a deep-rooted sense of worthlessness that mostly stems from unpleasant childhood experiences in the form of real or perceived trauma. The narcissist perpetrators were likely victims themselves. They have chosen to hide this deep inner void by creating a pseudo persona of perfection, at the same time making sure that the others in their life are degraded so that their own self-degradation is bearable. I know its twisted and I am not making an excuse for them. But there really isn’t much these patients can do to help what they feel or do. There is no single or easy way to deal with them. But I would like to share a few thoughts on doing this the Christian way…
1. Determine if you’re dealing with a true narcissist
Look for the signs. Research narcissism. Yep, that is the first thing I did. And it was a wise decision. I learned about the disorder and realized that reasoning with them, as I would with any normal individual, is pointless.
2. Pray to God for wisdom to deal with the situation
Realize that if God has put them in your life, there is a reason for it. In my case, I was reminded that my faith will be tested like gold in fire. Difficult people and situations should never be a deal-breaker for a Christian. I had to wait for over a year before my other colleagues could begin to see the lies and understand that they were being manipulated against me. In the due course of time, she and her “flying monkey” (a narcissist’s enabler) were singled-out and lost face across the entire department.
3. Guard yourself
Be confident in who you are in Christ. The narcissist is known to lie, love-bomb, gaslight, berate and ignore you. Make sure you don’t give into it.
4. Don’t pay them back in their own coin
Tempting though it may seem, don’t stoop down to the narcissist’s level and react with gossip, insult or anger. Remember vengeance is the Lord’s.
5. Love your enemy
Sometimes it can seem too much to ask since narcissists have a way of sucking the life out of you and they might have been utterly savage in the way they brought you down. But remember, our battle is not against flesh and blood. Understand that these people are also a deceived lot like we once were. This did help me in the course of my own life lessons on forgiveness and compassion.
6. Share your faith
This is the ultimate gift you can give anyone and more so a narcissist. Because only Jesus can truly heal the hurt within by restoring the intrinsic worth of the narcissist and bringing about a genuine change in their personality. And who are we to deny them?
I am not just there with my colleague on this one. It is hard to convince even normal folk that they are sinners who need a saviour, much less a narcissist. But it’s on my heart for sure and I am confident God will make a way. Let’s challenge ourselves to step out of our “me and mine” circle and stand in the gap.
We may be their only hope.
Zephana Estefan, a doctor by profession, has come to the Lord in her late 20s. Ever since, she has had it in her heart to reach out to others struggling with their faith. She has always found writing as her forte and has been writing sermons for local Christian Youth Groups on and off. With the mission statement of 2 Corinthians 1:4, “We can comfort others when they are troubled with the same comfort God has given us,” she hopes to take His message to the one that needs to hear.