Notes from a Recovering Narcissist
What is narcissism? The word originates from Greek mythology in the story of Narcissus, a man who was cursed to be infatuated with himself. He wasted away his life staring at his own reflection. This caricature epitomizes the essential nature of the narcissist—self-absorption, egoism. Narcissism involves how the self selfishly processes its own experiences. Here’s the kicker: everyone has narcissistic thoughts, desires, feelings, emotions, and motives. The only person who did not was Jesus, though he was tempted; He always did the Father’s will, and He was completely selfless (John 8:29).
If the word narcissist has a negative sound to it, that’s because it is. Narcissism is false self-love. There is a notion of self-love that is godly. Jesus told us to love our neighbor as ourselves (Matthew 22:39). This godly sort of self-love is based upon God’s love for us. We should love ourselves like God loves us. Such love is based in the character of God. Narcissism makes self the standard for self-love and every other kind of “love.”Narcissists often do not know that they are being narcissistic because they are blinded by the selfish attitudes through which they filter all of their experiences. The first step in recovering from narcissism is to admit that you are one. Hello, my name is Kevin, and I am a recovering narcissist.
Everyone has narcissistic feelings, desires, and thoughts because narcissism is simply the unhealthy focus of self upon self; it is the basis of all sin. That doesn’t mean it need define us, but sin may be so deep that we don’t consciously recognize it. We need to think about what we are doing and why we are doing it. This takes brutal honesty with self. We must know our own motives, and we must be hyper aware of what we are saying and doing. The human heart is deceitful (Jeremiah 17:9), and it is easy to buy into our own rationalizations regarding our motivations.
One of the most deceitful things that a narcissist will do is place the focus on others in a selfish way. This is not just an external “blame” thing (he does that too), but an internal thought process. It is deceitful, because when asked why he is behaving the way he is, the narcissist can say that he is just showing concern for other people. The truth is that the narcissist is focusing on others because he doesn’t want to take ownership of his own life. It is so much easier to focus on other people’s issues because it is difficult to effect needed change in his life. The narcissist can sit back, criticize, evaluate, opinionize, and judge others. He takes great comfort in exposing other people’s sins, weaknesses, and difficulties; it makes him feel better about his own sinful life. He is, essentially, the Pharisee who lifts his eyes to heaven and thanks God that he isn’t like this publican (Luke 19:9-14). His narcissism blinds him to his own faults. Comparing self to others is the essential fault here (2 Corinthians 10:12); instead he should compare himself with Christ Jesus.
The narcissist seeks to find validation in whatever will justify his lifestyle. He already has his mind made up as to how he is going to proceed through life, and he is going to proceed his way, the way that he thinks is the right way, and no one else is going to tell him what to do. However, when he tries to do things his way, he finds himself running into obstacles, problems, and resistance. A lot of this comes from other people and their narcissistic behavior. A lot of this comes from the fact that the narcissist thinks he knows how the world works when he really doesn’t. This resistance creates tension between his ego, other people, and the world around him, and he inwardly doubts himself. He thinks it is a strange thing to doubt himself at all since he is so right about everything. Nevertheless, to assuage his ego, he must find external validation that his way of doing things is right. He is not looking for correction. That would be to admit that his project is fundamentally flawed, which he doesn’t believe. Instead, he looks for systems, beliefs, people, and practices that will support his chosen behavior. When he finds these things, he feels validated, and can assure himself that his way of doing things is indeed correct. He knows this because the things he chose validates him! He never stops to think that self is the problem to begin with, and that his ego really can’t be trusted to get the right answers, but with his validation, he can continue to pursue his own desires awash with the approbation of the systems, beliefs, people, and practices that he deliberately chooses to prop up his ambitions. Proverbs 14:12 states, “There is a way that seems right to a man, But its end is the way of death.”
A common problem among narcissists is judging others. It goes something like this: some Christian does something wrong, or just something the narcissist does not like. He immediately thinks in his mind how awful that person is, and tries to avoid him because that “sinner” is condemned. He would never try to approach the sinner and talk to him about his behavior. He tells himself, “I am so much more righteous because I don’t do that.” He feels validated. He believes this is proof of righteousness, but he isn’t righteous or spiritual at all; he is motivated by the flesh, and the flesh’s desire to justify and preserve self. The spiritual narcissistalso fails to deal with his own sins such as lust, greed, gluttony, anger, envy, and pride. The whole project of judging is about putting the spotlight on another, so that the narcissist doesn’t have to take ownership of his own problems. He isn’t righteous because he does not repent of his sins. Jesus taught against this kind of hypocritical judging in Matthew 7:1-5:
“Judge not, that you be not judged. For with the judgment you pronounce you will be judged, and with the measure you use it will be measured to you. Why do you see the speck that is in your brother’s eye, but do not notice the log that is in your own eye? Or how can you say to your brother, ‘Let me take the speck out of your eye,’ when there is the log in your own eye? You hypocrite, first take the log out of your own eye, and then you will see clearly to take the speck out of your brother’s eye.”