Image Addiction

It’s Narcissist Friday!

I began my study of narcissism out of my own need.  I worked with people who seemed to exhibit a type of hypocrisy or schizophrenia that defied my understanding.  These folks were model Christians—others looked to them as models. In the particular style of Christianity we were in at the time, these folks were the poster children.  They did all the things they were supposed to do, avoided all the things they were supposed to avoid, and thoroughly enjoyed being the models for others.  But it was all a lie.

I was in a position which allowed me to go behind the scenes in these families. There I found all kinds of marriage and family problems.  I found fear and anxiety and compromise.  Things in reality were quite different from what was seen by the rest of the people.

Now, hypocrisy is certainly not unusual.  We are all hypocrites to a certain extent.  We understand this in the Christian life and in the church. But what I was seeing was something quite different.

These folks put an image of themselves out for others to see.  They manipulated everything they could to maintain that image.  They would lie in the most outrageous ways to maintain that image.  It was the lies that signaled the real problem.

If we have to lie to show others how spiritual we are, we have a problem. If we lie to cover up our sins so others will think we are better than they are, we have a problem.  If we use lies to build ourselves up in the eyes of others, so they will look to us as leaders and teachers, we have a problem.  We need to ask ourselves why we are willing to lie to maintain the image.

Again, it is normal for us to act or even feel different when we are out in the community.  We have learned social skills that enable us to act certain ways with acquaintances or with those we wish to impress.  We all place an image of ourselves in front of others.  Sometimes, however, the image is so important to the person that it truly becomes an substitute for the person’s real life.  The image becomes an idol that demands attention and service.

Here’s an example: a person tells you that his family never watches television.  In fact, they don’t even own a television.  So, I guess that makes him more spiritual than you are.  Okay.  But later you hear about the television shows his children watch.  What’s up with that?  If you were to look behind the scenes, you might hear dad scolding the kids for talking about the television shows.  He has been trying to maintain an image that makes him look spiritual and the kids are threatening that image.  If they mention the television at church again, he says, he will take it away.  Then he reminds them that he only uses it to watch the news and weather.  The kids look at each other because they know that dad watches tv after they go to bed; and it isn’t just news.

So. . . a lie?  Why?  Because the dad doesn’t want to see himself as a person who watches television—and he certainly doesn’t want you to see him that way.  Instead, he puts up an image, a false image, for you to look at.  That’s what he wants you to see when you look at him.  If you discover the truth, he will have a way of explaining away what you heard or saw.  He just borrowed the television for a few days.  The kids needed it for a video series they were watching.  Or he
may outright deny it.

Sometimes these folks will move to a new church when the truth is uncovered.  But more likely they will find a community of people just like them, where no real questions are asked and truth is covered up.  In a church or group where everyone has put up an image, it is dangerous to point out the truth of another person.  Far better just to remain quiet or point at the people who have already been deemed unspiritual.

Image addiction is much like narcissism and, in my opinion, much more likely to be found in the church.  In fact, and this opens a new line of thinking, I would guess that many church fights are the outgrowth of this struggle to maintain these images.  Projection, blaming the victim, avoidance—all the classic psychological techniques for taking the pressure off the problem will be at work.  In a church it can be devastating.

Thoughts?

4 Comments

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4 responses to “Image Addiction

  1. Rebekah Grace

    I have seen this in my own family. I have lived this in my own life, my prodigal life, not my “church” life. I do not have a church life. More often than not, you will find me being painfully the same person out in public that I am at home. I say painfully because it makes me vulnerable to myself and strange to others.

    The pain this very thing caused in my family is so real and so deep that I despise images and anyone who plays this game for their own sake. I find it to be much more disheartening, this image holding life in all it’s hypocrisy, than the truth itself. I would MUCH RATHER you tell me the truth about you, your past, your life, your struggles, your emotions than lie to me. And due to that, I am exactly that way. I have been known to completely freak people out with my honesty. To my advantage or my detriment. I can’t be 2 people at once. I won’t be 2 people at once. I choose not to be 2 people at once. I’m like popeye the sailor man, “I yam who I yam”.

    Last year I tried a church. After about the 3rd service I sent the pastor an e-mail. It was in regards to his most recent sermon about something, now I do not remember? But among other things I said this, “Please know how much your choices affect your children!” Maybe I said it because I was led to and he needed to hear it, or have it on his mind in years to come? Or maybe I said it because it was all in the process of my own healing.

    And finally, one of my most favorite quotes for many years has been:

    I’d rather be hated for who I am than loved for who I am not.

    • Thanks Rebekah! You say it well. My favorite Popeye quote is: “I’s have had enough; I’s can stands no more!” I think that many legalistic families find themselves with one or more children who just can’t handle the phoniness. It’s too much. The stress of trying to be something you are not takes so much time and energy that it just isn’t worth it. The black sheep reveals more about the truth of the family than anyone would like.

      I was just reading something about the pop singer Katy Perry. Sounds so similar. The sad thing is that these kids are labeled as rebellious and evil when they just crave honesty and consistency.

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