It’s Narcissist Friday!
As late as the 1600’s, scientists were still defending the idea of spontaneous generation. The methods of scientific observation were still being invented and it wasn’t hard to believe that spoiling meat actually created maggots or aging fruit created fruit flies. One scientist actually had a recipe for making your own mice, simply by putting together the kinds of ingredients that constitute a favorable mouse environment.
Well, I don’t know whether a legalistic organization actually creates narcissists or if narcissists are simply drawn to legalism, but the two are certainly found together often.
It isn’t only the teachers. In fact, some teachers of legalism are just as deceived as the people they teach. They just pass on what they have learned and they try to do it in new and better ways. And it isn’t just that narcissistic husbands drag their wives into these organizations. Surprisingly often, the wife is the one who pushes to connect with what she believes will help the family.
In any case, narcissism and legalism often go together. I suppose the control and authority that legalism demands are part of it. Narcissists love to control others. But I suspect that the opportunity for spiritual measurement is even more important.
Narcissists need to know where they stand against others. I have sais that legalism is a system where the participants know they are never as good as they should be, but they also know they are better than you. Legalists never measure up to the standards of the system, but they always know where they stand.
In much the same way, narcissists know their own weaknesses and inadequacies. They are filled with fear and worry and they feel constantly inferior. That’s why they try so hard to push others down. A narcissist always knows where he or she stands against the others in the room. This positioning is part of the self-preservation they have developed throughout their lives.
Legalism is a wonderful environment for positioning. If you have ever been a part of a legalist congregation, you understand what I mean. Comparisons, boasting, lies, even spying and tattling are all part of life in the legalist church. All for the purpose of appearing to be better than others.
So, like the legalist, the narcissist is keenly aware of his shortcomings. But he is also quite certain that he is better than you.
(Note: Perhaps I should give a quick definition of legalism, at least of the way I use the term. Legalism is the idea that spirituality can be achieved and measured by the keeping of laws or standards of behavior. I believe that Christian legalism does not represent the message of Jesus and is a perversion of truth. Christian spirituality is based on a relationship with the Lord who loves us, not on rules and standards of behavior.)
6 responses to “Better than You”
It seems that legalism brings out the sleeping narcissist in people. Dr. Martha Stout, PhD in her book “The Sociopath Next Door” suggests that 4% of the population in the West are sociopaths (who are all narcissists). She mentions that in the East, the number barely reaches 1%. She explains this as a phenomena of cultural nurturing, where as in the West, the individual and the superiority of the individual is highly admired, but in the East, all living things are considered equal. (A leaf is no less valuable than a person. We are all one.) So, depending on an individual’s environment and conditioning, the “sociopathic/narcissistic” tendencies may be controlled by the mere desire for sociopaths/narcissists to blend in and go unnoticed by the rest of us. Legalism, it seems, is a place the narcissist can shine and fine-tune those narcissistic traits because it’s accepted. Just my take. Thanks for the post. ~Paula
Yes, I think several things are happening in legalism. First, there is a natural tendency in all of us toward narcissism. Second, we live in a culture where many of the characteristics of narcissism are valued and rewarded. Finally, legalism is simply a system where narcissism fits. The system attracts the narcissist and the narcissist supports and builds the system. So, we really shouldn’t be surprised by the connection.
are all legalists narcissists? Narcissism equals control and keeping the law. does that mean the controlling, legalist an narcisists?
I agree with Kelly that not all legalists are narcissists. In fact, many legalists are victims of narcissists, trapped by their desires to do right, be accepted, or feel loved. If you think about it, many of the same characteristics that attract victims to narcissists are evident in legalism as well. Legalists appear to be strong, focused, genuinely concerned about you and your life. For people with needs, legalism offers just what is needed. However, it is simply bait for the trap.
How could we have taught a generation that they live standards that they believe they could keep. That is why we need God’s grace and mercy otherwise we are arrogant to believe we can keep God’s standards without the Christ.
My personal opinion is that not all legalists are narcissists. There are some sincere people who have no grandiose scheme but rather feel so rotten about themselves that they hope God will accept them through performance, which they cannot possibly keep up. When legalists find out that the legalistic system is not the way to Christ, they can become completely despondent. Unfortunately there are several responses to legalism…one is adherence that is hypocritical and impossible or one where the legalist dumps legalism and swings clear out the other way into license to sin. Grace living is a balanced life IN CHRIST. There is neither law keeping or licensiousness. Certainly there are narcissists who are legalistic though and I have seen them. I have read the book The Sociopath Next Door. It’s a great read. To be forewarned is to be forearmed.