Scroll through any social media site and it won't be long before you encounter a post on the topic of narcissism. In my experience, these posts all tend to be relatively the same with regard to the overriding message of what one should do when they have a suspected "narcissist" in their midst. If the person in question happens to be your spouse, the advise is replete in support of separation and/or divorce. The message may not be as extreme if this person is an acquaintance, family member, boss or coworker and in those cases, sometimes strategies and techniques for managing interactions with such individuals may be recommended. However, more often than not, one is typically encouraged to cut ties with such "toxic" people.
Let's first take a look at how Merriam-Webster's dictionary defines narcissism which says, "a personality disorder characterized especially by an exaggerated sense of self-importance, persistent need for admiration, lack of empathy for others, excessive pride in achievements, and snobbish, disdainful, or patronizing attitudes." Notice the first part of that definition, a "personality disorder." In the secular world of psychology, personality disorders are considered to be lifelong character traits that are fairly unchangeable. In fact, health insurance companies won't even reimburse clinicians for treating personality disorders as they are considered "incurable." As much as we could really be talking about any personality disorder, I'm focusing on Narcissistic Personality Disorder (NPD) in this post because it's trending in our culture these days and the lies perpetuated by the world and the devil are damaging our faith and walk with Christ.
I strongly believe Satan uses secular psychology to cause us to do what he's done from the very beginning, instigate us to doubt the Word of God. So what does the bible have to say about narcissism? Although the exact word may not be found, we most certainly can find it described throughout scripture.
For where you have envy and selfish ambition, there you find disorder and every evil practice. James 3:16
Fools find no pleasure in understanding but delight in airing their own opinions. Proverbs 18:2
Most of the scriptures related to narcissism are presented as warnings, commands, or admonishments against such traits. At the heart of narcissism is self, while selfishness and pride are at the heart of every sin. When we consider such truth, aren't we all guilty of narcissism to one degree or another? God clearly knows the condition of the human heart and would not give us these verses if they were not found in the heart of every man.
Do nothing from selfishness or empty conceit, but with humility of mind regard one another as more important than yourselves; do not merely look out for your own personal interests, but also for the interests of others. Philippians 2:3-4
Earlier, I said that it seems that "narcissism" and talks of it are trending heavily on social media these days. Consider what Paul said in 2 Timothy 3:1-4,
People will be lovers of themselves, lovers of money, boastful, proud, abusive, disobedient to their parents, ungrateful, unholy, without love, unforgiving, slanderous, without self-control, brutal, not lovers of the good, treacherous, rash, conceited, lovers of pleasure rather than lovers of God—
Could it be that we are indeed in the "last days" and this is why there seems to be an epidemic of narcissism in our world? I don't think it's difficult to argue that this is the case. However, let us consider the gospel, shall we? In 2 Corinthians 5:15, Paul tells us why Christ died for us:
He died for all, so that they who live might no longer live for themselves, but for Him who died and rose again on their behalf.
Did you catch that? So we might NO LONGER live for self, but for Christ. If this is why Christ died, how can we say there is no cure, no hope for the "narcissist?" Who will you believe?
Let God be true, and every human being a liar. Romans 3:4
At this point, you might be asking yourself the million dollar question, what do I do with this narcissistic person in my life, especially if that person is my spouse? How can I survive in this relationship? The answer to that question is simple, but that doesn't mean it's easy. Jesus said,
If you love those who love you, what credit is that to you? Even sinners love those who love them. And if you do good to those who are good to you, what credit is that to you? Even sinners do that. And if you lend to those from whom you expect repayment, what credit is that to you? Even sinners lend to sinners, expecting to be repaid in full. But love your enemies, do good to them, and lend to them without expecting to get anything back. Then your reward will be great, and you will be children of the Most High, because he is kind to the ungrateful and wicked. Be merciful, just as your Father is merciful. Luke 6:32-36
Wow, He "is kind to the ungrateful and wicked." Seems to leave us with little excuse to not also be kind to those who show no gratitude and treat us wickedly. Isn't it the lack of return that makes loving such people so difficult? If we are brutally honest with ourselves, isn't it the fact that we feel it's unjust and unfair that we should continue to love without getting any love in return? Here's where God is at work in you! If you have an unredeemed sinner in your life (aka, a narcissist), God intends to use that relationship for your good.
And we know that in all things God works for the good of those who love him, who have been called according to his purpose. – Romans 8:28
I can't tell you how bonkers it makes me when I hear folks say, "I'm sure God wouldn't want me to stay in this loveless marriage." Number one, name one scripture to back that statement up, you won't find one. Number two, let it not be loveless! As long as you have the power to love, it will never be loveless. The key is looking to Christ. If we look to our spouse or any relationship for our cups to be filled, we will be left wanting. God desires and is absolutely able to fill you with love, joy, and a peace that surpasses understanding (Philippians 4:7). If you're eyes are on that "narcissist" and your hope is in waiting for them to reciprocate, you'll quickly become discouraged and grow weary in doing good for that person.
Let us not become weary in doing good, for at the proper time we will reap a harvest if we do not give up. Galatians 6:9
Be careful not to assume where or when that harvest will be reaped. Trust God to bring about the fruit. Jesus promises that if stay fixed on Him, we will bear fruit.
Abide in me, and I in you. As the branch cannot bear fruit by itself, unless it abides in the vine, neither can you, unless you abide in me. John 15:4
Consider the ultimate goal for every believer: that we be conformed to the image of Christ. What better way for us to truly know the character of Christ than to be placed in a position where we are faced with an "unlovable" person and asked to love them. The world will not encourage this love and most certainly your flesh will rail against it as well! Yet, it is exactly what we need most because in order for us to love like this, we need desperately to be filled with the love of God. When this happens, it's His love that overflows from us to the people in our lives. This is how God loves us. Remember that you too were once unlovable. God is love and it's His love that covers a multitude of sin (1 Peter 4:8).
We love because he first loved us. 1 John 4:19
God calls us to be like Him and choose to love first. He desires to transform us through the most difficult circumstances and relationships in our lives. Are we willing to submit?