It’s Narcissist Friday!
Let’s face it. No matter what you say or claim to believe, the one you worship is your god. A person might have many gods or just one, but your god will be the thing or things that demand your attention, investment, and obedience.
As Pope Benedict XVI retires from office, he has settled any confusion about authority with a promise to give “unconditional reverence and obedience” to his successor. Now, I understand that the Pope is not God, but he is God’s representative for many people and this is a statement of worship.
So, to whom does the narcissist give “unconditional reverence and obedience”? (Hint: it isn’t to himself.)
I want to make two strong points as I begin this post. First, there are other jerks and jerkettes out there besides narcissists. Not every user or abuser or mean person is a narcissist. Some are egotists, some are just mean. Narcissists are special because of the particular reasons for their cruelties and for the focus of their worship.
Second, contrary to conventional wisdom, narcissists are not in love with themselves. In fact, when we say that, we reveal that we have fallen for the narcissist’s deception. He may appear to focus on himself and his desires all the time. He may want to talk about himself all the time. He certainly has no regard for anyone else. But the thing he loves is not himself.
The narcissist loves and worships the image of himself. Now, that may sound strange to those who haven’t heard it before and it may be old news to those who have studied narcissism. What the narcissist learned, at a very young age, was that whenever he relaxed and acted on his own feelings and ideas, he was rejected. He was stupid, disobedient, worthless, not cool, and unlovable. But he also learned that when he pretended to be something he wasn’t, he got attention and acceptance. The classic example is the little beauty queen who gets all kinds of positives when she is strutting around in fine clothes, but is rejected when she stops to play or begins to act like a little girl. So the little boy became the pretend person and the little girl became the beauty queen. That was how they learned to find acceptance and love.
Over the years the narcissist found many affirmations of his decision. The rejected self had to stay rejected, while the image was fine-tuned to perfection. Any failure or lack was the fault of the rejected self, the image bore no flaw. It looks like the narcissist worships his self, but he works and strives to service this image.
What does this mean in practice? It means he is the best salesman in the company, no matter what his stats look like. He knows better than others who appear more successful, even better than the boss. Failure is either blamed on others (since the image is perfect) or rejected (since it belongs to the rejected self). It means he is never wrong, no matter how far off he is. It means he is the best father the kids could ever have, whether he pays any attention to them or not. It means he is the best lover, the best cook, the best church member—simply the best at everything—because his image cannot be something less.
All nine of the characteristics of the narcissist suggested by the psychological community are easily attributed to this worship of the image. The “grandiose sense of self-importance” is focused on this image he portrays to others. The “fantasies of unlimited success” are due to his belief that the image is and must be successful. Belief that he is “special and unique” simply point to the image. Requiring “excessive admiration” is expecting others to worship the image as he does. The list goes on. Basically the narcissist believes that the image is perfect and will sacrifice anything and anyone to worship it. He also believes that others should worship his image and considers them both stupid and suspect when they fail.
Spouses are surprised to learn that the narcissist married because he thought it would support his image. They are just as surprised when he moves to another relationship for the same purpose. Businesses are built and maintained, not for the sake of money or comfort, but for the image. Friends, churches, even children are used to serve the image.
The narcissist doesn’t say, “Look at me!” He says, “Look at who I want you to think I am.” The sin of the narcissist is the sin of idolatry. The admonitions of Scripture against those who set up images/idols are also spoken against the narcissist.
So, when people ask me if a narcissist can be a Christian, I should probably answer, “Only if Jesus is willing to be second, next to the narcissist’s other god.”