It’s Narcissist Friday!
All the narcissists I have known have been Christians.
Now, there are a couple of things that have to go along with that statement. First, I mean they consider themselves Christians and they want everyone else to consider them Christians. Second, I don’t get out much.
Recently a couple of readers suggested that I write something on the Christian Narcissist. I have to admit that I find that designation to be troubling. It seems like an oxymoron, a term that has two contradictory parts. I am tempted to say that there cannot be such a creature, yet I do know some. In fact, many churches have them. So, here’s what I know:
- Christians are people saved by Jesus. They draw their life from Him, but they draw their behavior from the patterns that developed throughout their early life and from the Holy Spirit. In other words, sometimes we act like Christians and sometimes we don’t. That’s true of all of us.
- Narcissism is a flesh pattern that developed in early life and became the coping mechanism of choice in handling the stresses of life. This happened while the person was very young and has been reinforced constantly throughout life. That means that if such a person would become a believer he or she would almost certainly continue to struggle with narcissistic behavior in relationships.
- Narcissistic behavior can be seen in almost anyone and appears in society as a continuum. Those who practice it intuitively (without thinking) and regularly—to the detriment of their relationships—are the ones we label as narcissists.
- Those whose behavior and values warrant being designated as narcissists are unwilling or unable to care about others in normal ways and tend to use others in their process of handling life. They think of little other than how to manipulate people in ways that benefit themselves or serve the image of themselves they want to promote.
- Narcissism is contrary to the Christian faith. Because the narcissist will not admit failure or need, in order to protect the image, he or she will also not admit sinfulness or unworthiness and will not see the need for repentance or brokenness. Those who receive Christ as life, do so as they understand their own failure and need. Narcissists would find it very difficult to do this.
- However, Christian behavior is easy to fake and many in the church are naïve and gullible and are particularly vulnerable to the manipulations and deceit of the narcissist. The church is a prime hunting ground for narcissists, with little real accountability and significant opportunity for attention and promotion.
- Narcissists are able and willing to adapt their behavior and words for the purpose of promoting their image and will use organizations, such as the church, to accomplish their goals.
So, what do I take from all of this? That none of us should be surprised to find narcissists in church! Are they Christians? That isn’t mine to say. While narcissism is contrary to Christ, narcissistic behavior may be just old flesh patterns at work in the life of the believer. People who exhibit these characteristics will almost always be successful in persuading the majority of the people to accept and honor them, usually because the majority of the people won’t spend enough time to see the truth.
But what do you do about it? Protect yourself. Learn to recognize the behavior that hurts you and others. You almost certainly will not be able to change the minds of church leadership toward the narcissist. They are often the last ones to see the damage these folks can do. If you must call attention to their actions, be sure to point out the behavior, rather than the motivation. Tell what they do. Maybe you can help others by pointing out what you see or by coming alongside victims when they are hurt.
I wish there was a more helpful and effective way of dealing with narcissists, particularly in the church. But the truth is that these people usually win. They are ruthless, willing to use whatever information and opportunities they are given to defend themselves and attack those who threaten them. Most of the time it just isn’t worth it. Churches and volunteer organizations are poorly prepared to deal with predators of any kind. It would probably be better just to find another church.