The Narcissist’s God

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.”


Filed under Narcissism

28 responses to “The Narcissist’s God

  1. Sadly, I think this is spot on. What really concerns me, though, are the numbers of narcissists in church leadership.

  2. Prairiemom

    Whoa. THIS is an eye opener. I have been lately pondering just exaclty what narcissism is, not according to secular psycology but according to the Bible. When a problem is defined in secular terms that are not found in the Bible, then I think it is hard for me to find a biblical way to process it. I have wondered if the root of narcissism is actually a seared conscience, or maybe being self-seeking, or envy or strife or pride… But, yes, idolatry makes so much sense as being the root of narcissism, defined in biblical terms. And then all of those other sins and issues that seem prevalent with a narcissit are merely symptoms of the idolotry. Thank you. That puts it into much better perspective.

    • When I teach about narcissism, I say that it is a flesh pattern. That means it is a learned way of coping with life apart from the Lord. (I explain the idea of the flesh in a series of posts starting here. )

      Flesh patterns are difficult to overcome because they are so ingrained and we learned them so early. However, the narcissist flesh is stronger than most and is set against any idea of being wrong. So the narcissist rarely seeks the help he needs. He may talk about life in the Spirit, but he doesn’t dare release his flesh.

      Like the idol worshiper, the narcissist seeks his answer, his hope, his love, from the idol/image he has made.

  3. Penny

    O, but where to begin. This is so, so, true. So sadly, heartbreakingly true. The image must be worshipped, carefully crafted and painstakingly maintained. I live in Dallas, where Dallas Theological Seminary is located. A godly man named Howie Hendricks died last week and the memorial is tomorrow. I just learned that it will be attended by a “who’s who” of so-called “leaders” in the modern church–many names that would be easily recognizable. But, sadly, the thot occurred to me how many of those attending will be there simply to “bask in the glow”, to rub shoulders with the “famous” and say they did so, thus elevating their own “importance”. People attending who know me from a former & current church but who would not give me the time of day & would struggle to remember my name b/c I am not “famous”; I did not attend seminary, I am a mere mortal, a person of marginal influence, low worth and therefore of no use to them. People who love to post on facebook/twitter where they are eating breakfast (and with whom), what “leadership class” they are teaching, where their travels have taken them. (i.e.: “Christian” cruises, TED conferences, etc.) along with photos of them taken with others whose stature elevates their own. This past week they have especially loved to post on FB what classes they took from Dr. Hendricks while attending seminary and how it turned them into a spiritual giant. I will be attending his memorial b/c I loved Dr. Hendricks & want to honor him, but I think he would be appalled to know how many will be attending in order to be “seen”, but not to honor the God he loved or Jesus or the Word. It will be a parade, a study of narcissism in the church, and I am dreading watching the Ns fawn all over themselves and each other while they trip over his grave to be noticed, recognized, adored and worshipped. I am sure there will be photos on FB to document their unique, important grief, who they lunched with afterward, what lessons they learned [for their next yet-to-be-written book], and who invited them to a special seminar on campus only for those who “knew him when”. The rest of us can take a number and sit in the back. Yet, the words of Charles Spurgeon ring so true: “Even the best of men are men at best”. O how I long for those in ministry to understand that. Those who do are the better for it.

    • Can you imagine the narcissist church leader, the great teacher, in the Day of Judgment when Jesus says, “Depart from me. I never knew you.” Finally and forever, it will be laid bare. For him, it was never about Jesus. 😦

      • Penny

        No, I cannot imagine. “It is a terrifying thing to fall into the hands of the living God”. Thank you, Dave, for focusing on Jesus. Always, only, ever Jesus. When responding to a N, I find myself saying “I just want Jesus”. So thank you for staying focused on Him. He alone is worthy of worship

  4. In the months and weeks leading up to me finally leaving my narcissistic ex, there were many arguments in which he would beg and plead with me to love him the way he needed to be loved. I asked him how he needed me to love him. He would say, “I need you to need me the way I need you. I need you to love me the way I love you.” (Keep in mind that this was coming from a man who frequently called me a whore and a bad mother as punishments for not agreeing with everything he said, demanded, and did.) I responded to him by saying, “Love shouldn’t be about needing love. It should be about giving and accepting love. And you don’t REALLY love me. You just love the idea of me.” He would sit in silence for a few seconds and then lash out calling me a whore and a bad mother. It’s so tiresome dealing with these horrible, horrible people.

    • Paula, when I divorced my narcissist husband, he was glad it was over because he had already decided that I wasn’t good enough to support his image (mostly due to some health problems I was having that have since been resolved). After the divorce was final, he took me back to court multiple times over custody issues because he wanted the custody agreement to make him look like a decent father. However, in the two years since our divorce has been final he has spent less than 48 hours total with our minor children. Actually doing things with our teenagers doesn’t help his image, so why bother.

      • Elizabeth,
        This is so sad and so common. Sounds like he just wanted to win. He used the kids to bolster his image and to show his superiority. One narcissist I know of, when he was about to lose the custody battle, actually suggested to the judge that the kids be put in foster care. He didn’t really want them. He just wanted to win. These people can be so cruel.

    • Paula, this makes me think of that song I call the narcissist’s song by Billy Currington. I think I sent it to you a while ago. It’s really awful! These people don’t want us to love them like they love us. They just want us to adore and obey, like worshipers should.

  5. John

    I raised kids for six years with my ex-wife narcissist. We looked like the perfect blended family, just the image she craved at the time. What I didn’t anticipate was that those shared times that bring most people closer over time meant nothing to her when the kids were almost grown. The perfect image for her changed to her being a career woman. She took up with a much older work colleague. She told me she did not love me anymore without any emotion and implied she never really did when she was ready to end the marriage. I cried a single tear realizing I had to start my whole life over from scratch, to which she replied, “Let’s not get dramatic”. Since my kids were out of town when we broke up, she did not see them nor did she ever ask to talk to them ever again. After living with the three of us for six years, she had absolutely no attachment to me or them or any concern for our well-being. The new image was really her God.

    • Penny

      I am so sorry, John, that this happened to you. My husband had to come to the same, sad revelation that his mother did not love his father, nor was she capable of loving her children, grandchildren or anyone else. She is only able to love the “image” of her perfect self, just like the mythical Narcissus. No one else is “real” to them. It is so painful to be used like that, & I pray your precious children are protected by your love for them. Dave’s post on being used is especially insightful, as are the posts on who we are in God’s eyes. He loves us. He loves our children. He is real & He is enough.

  6. Onward

    My soon to be ex-husband presented himself as a christian when he came back into my life after a 20 year absence. He knew the talk and could fake the walk. The darkness of the narcissistic heart was soon revealed and was followed by a professional diagnosis. As I endured his abuse, I questioned in mind whether or not he could actually be a christian. As I reflected upon the behavior that seems rooted in the image and activity of Lucifer, I understood that there is no room for Christ on the narcissist throne.

  7. John, Penny, Onward: When you realize that it is all about the image, so much falls into place. Anything can be sacrificed for the god. And if people think the narcissist is the god, so much the better. The amazing thing is that they don’t really experience any loss when they sacrifice to their god.

    • Penny

      I have been “ruminating” this last sentence for the past month: “they don’t really experience any loss when they sacrifice to their god”. It is so, so true! It dovetails perfectly with your other post about them being capable of “little compassion and great cruelty”. In terms of so-called “apologies” [non-apologies, actually] the N is not interested in either repentance or repair because after all, they are “god” and therefore “perfect’. I had been searching for an article about this that I had previously read, and finally found it. The author says when the N attempts to apologize, “what is repaired is not the damage to the relationship, but the subject’s illusion of perfection.” They cannot let go of their idol/image, so the damage done to others is not what motivates them in relationship, but always, only to keep their perfect image intact. Is this why they do not experience any loss?? As long as they have their “image” there is no loss??

      • Right. This is why they can simply move on to the next relationship or apparently forget what they did to you. It has no effect on them to sacrifice you. The image remains intact and that’s all that matters.

  8. Wary

    I stumbled across your blog and really liked reading your posts. You’re totally spot on when you say that narcs love their image, not themselves. My sister is a narc and she constantly strives to state her unparalled beauty no matter what the situation or conversation going on…but she gets raving mad seeing thin mannequins or other pretty girls. Every card I got from her said “Happy Birthday from the world’s most beautiful girl” but she refuses to step out with me if I’m dressed mom then makes me change into dowdy clothes just so we can go whereever we’re supposed to. If my sister really believed that she was the most beautiful girl in the world, she wouldnt rail at mannequins or hate me dressing up. Its crazy how she sighs over supportive families on tv saying she wishes her family was like that. She’s the only one who’ll gloat over every minor mistake and tell everyone about it. She’ll see movies about great sisters and tell me its exactly like us when I’ve been her punching bag since childhood. Literally. I’ve been beaten into unconscious by her on 3 separate occasions, and hit with everything from bare fists to kitchen appliances. Ive been ridiculed at get togethers by recounting every silly childhood accident. My self-esteem was so low, I walked away from God thinking I’d shame him if I stated that I was Christian. I’ve found my way back to him but only after leaving my mum and sister behind. I was very glad to read that you don’t promote that vapid belief that a true Christian would stick by such abuse and keep enduring it. People keep talking to me about forgiveness and I want to put them in my shoes to see if they can take even half the abuse I did. As a Christian, and to prevent being filled with anger and bitterness, I’ve forgiven. But I won’t forget, And I won’t take them back.

    • Wary,

      You have been in an awful situation. I am so sorry! I am thankful that you are out and, yes, you need to stay out. Forgiveness does not mean throwing yourself back into the ring. Forgiveness is giving the abuse and offense to the Lord. He will deal with it the way He sees fit. You can love them from a distance. No one should be abused.

      I love my family and I believe family is important. But I also know that family members can be toxic. There are times when we have to pull away from family to protect ourselves. Maybe someday, when we get healthy, we can minister to them again, but never to be a punching bag, either literally or figuratively. Family relationships are no more important to the Christian life than relationships with friends. In fact, there is a reason we call fellow believers brothers and sisters. (Matthew 12:50)

  9. David

    Thank you for this perspective. I have been in an abusive narcistic relationship for 10 years with my wife. The first 12 years were ok, actually very good. Things changed once the baby came and also the father-in law came into the picture needing some image inhancement for himself. We were a really close family at the tiem.
    Like satan and Eve, he planted seeds of doubt in my wifes head and then slowly nurtured those seeds into deep mistrust where none had existed before. Then, like satan did to Jesus, when he offered him the whole world if he would only worship him, the father offered my wife trips, money, and even built her an expensive lake house, but I had to come second behind him and I was not invited on the trips, only my wife and daughter. Our family made him look good to all his friends. Then he offered my daughter new cars and money for college but only if she goes to his school of choice. And he told her straight to her face with me present, that if she did not go to the school he chooses, she will get NOTHING. If he will do that to his grand daughter what has he done to his daughter my wife. The whole point for him was not for my daughter to go to the school that is the best fit for her, but one that he could brag to his friends about. Keep in mind this is a man that could never keep a wife and is a multi multi millionare. I stood up to him and told him that only 4 persons will be involved in that choice, my daughter, her mother, me, and the college councelor. From that point on he fed the doubts and mistrust in my wifes mind. She had been trained from a very early age to “play the part” to get his attention and money. If I was getting in the way of that, then I had to go. My daughter and I worshipped and cried for the the greatest gift ever given, the sacrafice and resurection of Jesus, Sunday morning. She had planned to spend the afternoon with her mother as Easter has always been a big holiday for the wife, but only in a secular way. When my daughter called to say she was going to her mom’s, her mom told her she was busy. My baby girl cried in my arms for 3 hours Sunday night. You see, if it was just the two of them where would the audience be? Now this man with tremendous wealth is coming for my daughter. I believe in the protection of the cross, but this evil is strong and seeks out the flesh to do its dirty work. My daughter is 16 and strong in the faith, her roots go deep into the good soil, but she is young. I believe we are both targets because of our faith, please pray that she remain strong and grounded in Jesus. This morning I sent a note to my wife that the people she runs with walk in darkness, all of them are divorced, and that my daughter and I extend our hands to please come join us as we walk toward the light because we can not follow her into the darkness. If she accepts then her life will be real, a gift from God, and not an image.

    • Hi David. Wow, what a sad story. It sounds like your father in law is the real narcissist, the one with the power, while your wife is a victim from years back. She may have found something of herself for a while, until he returned to capture her again. This is the evil of the narcissist.

      But what do you do? Sometimes I ask people what options are open to them. If they say they have none, I remind them that they can remain in the situation and wait on the Lord. Your daughter is certainly old enough to see the truth, even if she is barely strong enough to resist the temptations. So, you support her with your prayers and your love. She will see the difference between your love and the fake love of the narcissist. And even if she slips, you welcome her back with love and acceptance. You stand ready to do the same for your wife, with wisdom.

      I never have a problem praying that God would remove certain people. That’s what I feel so that’s what I pray. God doesn’t have to do what I ask. He is wise and good and willing to love me without doing something wrong just because I want it. Yet, there are times when we can ask God to change them or remove them. (Obviously, you don’t try to help God with this!) I have known more than one case where someone prayed and someone else was fired, moved away, or even died. It isn’t unloving to want to protect your daughter to that extent. Our God is strong and accomplishes His purposes.

      Trust the Holy Spirit with your daughter. He is able to protect her heart.

      • David

        Thank you so much for your response. While my daughter and I are suffering because of the destruction of our family, my wife is posting on facebook pictures of her at nightclubs and even with the friends she was with on Easter when she was supposed to be with my daughter. I began ready the bible to my daughter when she was an infant and all through her young days until she began to read by herself. I always have taught her to read the word and worship in spirt and truth. I can relate to what you said about praying for what is in your heart because if its in your heart you can’t hide it from God. Three years ago my wife rangled a trip to France out of her father because I had set a boundry about going the New York with bad characters. My daughter would not go without my permission. Remember, I am not invited on these trips. My wife attacked me with a narcistic rage that you could not imagine. She would do anything, anything if I gave my daughter my blessing to go. I could have asked for sexual favors or anything and the wife would do it. The deal I made was that she read one chapter of the Bible everynight for a year. She agreed. I gave my blessing to the daughter. Then she backed out of the deal and focused on her yoga instead. Then, my daughter made a run at her. Bible study one day a week, which my daughter led, which went no where. My daughter is very concerned because she loves her mother and wants to see her in heaven.

        The pain I feel is that of my soul being torn apart because it is separating from the one I loved so dearly. So there is a big tear on my soul right now. I am very broken right now but I know that for God to help me heal we must be apart. And perhaps for God to do his work my wife must go into the world like the prodigal son for her soul and spirt to long for God. Right now she is into spirtual yoga. Although my flesh yearns for her flesh, my spirt can barely stand to be around her. We are separated and the divorce is pending soon.
        Thank you so much for this outlet. My mind is so distraught that all I can read is the bible and articles about narcisism. Today I have decided that 3 more days of pity party for me to mourn the loss of the one I love and then the focus is going to return to healing me.

  10. Sally

    David. Sir, your daughter is an obedient girl, and I hope you will continue to be the priest of your household. You have had opportunities to say “no”, and have made deals with your unreliable wife instead. Take the opportunities that God gives you, and keep your daughter away from your soon to be ex-wife, and father-in-law, or she will end up the same way as your ex-wife. The dark power these people have is unreal. God has revealed good knowledge to you for your benefit. You know your ex-wife and father-in-law are narcissists. Please use the knowledge that God has so graciously provided to you. It is a spiritual war in which we are engaged. Keep your daughter away from these people as much as possible!

  11. David

    Sally, thank you so much for your response to my earlier message. Its been almost 2.5 years since I first wrote that very “pained” response to Dave’s message. I prayed very hard for the Lord to keep her out of the grasps of the grandfather. Wow, does He answer big. This daughter of mine has an 80% scholarship to a major school in the SEC in another state so no need to rely on the old guy for her college costs. And the freshmen can’t have cars on campus so that issue is not in play. And on her new campus she has found her group of like minded believers to grow with. As for me, I am still broken but not completely. When I wrote those earlier notes I was a pile of mush but each day gets a little better. Some days I fall back into despair but not everyday like two years ago. I can read the newspaper again with focus. I could not do that in the earlier days. As anyone who has been a victim of these creatures knows I am still trying to find joy in just the little things. You know, just laughing without sinking back into the black hole is a major accomplishment.

    The way I see myself and I suppose others is at some point we were at 100%. Then the slow chipping away at your self confidence and worth starts. Slowly you go to 90% then 85% the down down down to maybe 10% of who you once were. Some days I would say I am back up to 60% and some days even 80%. But my goal is 100% again.

    Thanks for your concern for my daughter and me. She is going to be fine. I have told her some things about narcissism and I am sure she has done her own research. I told her about the concept of parental alienation and that if I ever cross that line to tell me, but she has to know why the pain caused by her mom is there and how to protect her heart from the same. Looking forward to being 100%.

  12. Brian

    First of all, thank for such enlightening information. However, I have two questions. First, do you think it is possible to display only some symptoms of narcissism, and perhaps not be a true self-image worshipping narcissist? Second, do you think someone can ever see him or herself as the narcissist they are?

  13. KT

    It all makes sense to me now!!! And just think, I used to be envious of my ex N. Now I only have pity and I remember Psalm 37.

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