It’s Narcissist Friday!
I am increasingly convinced that narcissism is an identity problem. Some of the older psychologists would say that is a problem of the self, but I find that uncomfortable because we usually think of the self as the center of consciousness. So I would say that the narcissist doesn’t really reject his self, but rejects his definition of self—what I would call identity.
For the narcissist, that definition is negative. He believes that he would be rejected if he relaxed or if he showed weakness. If you really knew him, you would hate him. That’s what he thinks. For many, this was the picture of growing up. Mom and Dad tolerated his presence, depersonalized him, devalued him. So he learned to hide what they saw. He became someone else. He adopted a new definition of his self.
He knew it was phony and he still knows it is phony. Yet, he doesn’t have a choice. He can’t be real, so he has to have something. And he craves acceptance. He wants to be loved. But, because he knows the identity he is using is phony, he can’t even feel that love and acceptance. He can’t really receive it because it is given to a false image.
Because he cannot feel the love, he demands more and more of it. He looks past true affection and sees loyalty, devotion, and worship. The deeper the feelings he can cultivate in the other, the more hope he has of feeling the satisfaction of being accepted. But it can’t ever satisfy because it is never directed to what he thinks is the real definition of his self. This is why we call the love others give “narcissistic supply.” It is very similar to a drug that creates dependency but never satisfies.
If the narcissist were able to come out of hiding and find the love and acceptance, perhaps he could release the false image and live again. But few are able to do this because they don’t want to accept the truth. They fear it too much. When they talk with family and friends, or counselors, or even God, they promote the image they believe is acceptable.
When you enter into a relationship with a narcissist and you have a reasonably healthy identity, even as a Christian, the narcissist almost immediately sets himself against your identity. He may do one or both of two things. He may attempt to add your identity to his image by controlling you. He separates you from any independent support, makes you dependent only on him, and takes credit for anything you do that adds to his image. He may even make you the scapegoat for any failure he experiences.
The other thing he may do is seek to destroy your sense of identity. Because he knows of the falsehood in his own heart, he assumes that falsehood in the hearts of others. In fact, he cannot be at peace unless he shows that identity to be false. So he may decide to counter everything you do. He argues with you and points out your failures. He tells you that others do not accept you. He tells you that you are unworthy. He projects his own falsity on you.
Sadly, the narcissist is often very good at these things. Even stable and healthy people can be brought to the point where they forget who they are under constant criticism or manipulation. Solid Christians begin to think they are unacceptable to God and others. They forget who they are and lose their source of support and joy.
Identity is powerful. When we find it and accept it, we have freedom and peace. Once again, the struggle of narcissism and the truth of the message of Jesus are brought together. He is the answer when we find our identity in Him.