WHAT DOES THE BIBLE SAY ABOUT NARCISSISTIC BEHAVIOUR?
PEOPLE WILL BE LOVERS OF THEMSELVES
~ CHRISTINE LOUIS DE CANONVILLE ~
Narcissism is addressed in the Bible in Paul’s second pastoral epistle to Timothy (2 Timothy 3:1-7) in the fall of A.D.67. Paul seems to be concerned about the character and behavior of leaders within the church, so he warns Timothy to beware of those who act out of a “self-love attitude”. He says, “But know this, that in the last days perilous times will come. For men will be lovers of themselves, lovers of money, boasters, proud, blasphemers, disobedient to parents, unthankful, unholy, unloving, unforgiving, slanderers, without self-control, brutal, despisers of good, traitors, headstrong, haughty, lovers of pleasure rather than lovers of God, having a form of godliness but denying its power. And from such people turn away.” Here Paul names many of the attributes associated (in psychology) to-day with the narcissistic personality we are all becoming so familiar with.
The Science of Psychology and Narcissism as a scholarly study is relatively young, barely more than a century old in fact. However, the term “Narcissism” is not confined to psychology alone, it is also seen through the lens of other disciplines, such as sociology (i.e., Narcissistic Culture); Political Science (i.e., Citizenship and Moral Narcissism); Criminology (i.e., The Narcissist and Threatened Egotism); Theological Anthropology (i.e., Theism and Narcissism); Theology (i.e., Hedonism and Narcissism).
In Psychology, the term “Narcissism” was first introduced by Alfred Binet (Sexologist) in 1887, however, its usage today has grown more from the notions of Freud’s work in 1914. Mankind has been interested in all aspects of mental processes and behaviour over many millennia, as far back as two thousand years ago the Ancient Greeks explored the meaning of the mind through the myth of Narcissus.
CONTRASTING THE BIBLE WITH PSYCHOLOGY:
Let us take a few moments to contrast and compare what St. Paul says to Timothy two thousand years ago with today’s psychological understanding of what narcissism is:-
St. Paul says: For men will be lovers of themselves
Psychology says: The narcissist form of self-love is not a healthy one, as they are really full of self-hatred and self-loathing, which they must disown. Unable to love their True Self, they fall in love with a reflection of themselves (False Self). It is through this projected image that a narcissist is able to generate the much-needed Narcissistic Supply that they crave for their very survival. When I speak of “Narcissistic supply” I am referring to whatever feeds the appetites of the narcissistic defenses, whether that currency is Primary or Secondary Supply.
St. Paul says: Lovers of money
Psychology says: The narcissist needs money to maintain the false image and keep them on the pedestal they put themselves on. Money is the enabler that allows them to surround themselves with symbols of wealth, the flashy car, the big house, the clothes etc. Wealth to the narcissist portrays both psychological and financial power, putting them on a pedestal of “greatness” where they can be worshiped by everybody, including themselves. They are addicted to adoration and attention, money buys that for them. Because the narcissist grew up feeling deprived of love, they are always seeking love substitutes, and money represents that love that they constantly seek. Money, and their attitudes to it, affects all of the narcissist’s relationships. For example, it is a useful commodity for cajoling and seducing people as a source of future narcissistic supply.
The narcissist uses their open display of money to get social approval, this often adds to their sense of entitlement. That sense of entitlement often leads them to feel that they are also entitled to other people’s money, they will use any means for extracting what money they can from others. Their grandiose fantasy leads them to believe that they have more money than they really have, and this often lends them to spend recklessly. Money is also useful when their frail ego takes a blow, when this happens, they are likely to go on compulsive shopping sprees to comfort and calm themselves. Overstretched and in debt, they are always looking for ways of making more money, so they will hound people, or even commit financial crimes to get it.
St. Paul says: Boasters
Psychology says: Boasting is a key trait of narcissism. The narcissist boasts about everything, exaggerating their achievements, success, wealth, education, occupation, conquests, power etc, anything in fact that helps them to build a grandiose image. The narcissist suffers from jealousy and envy, anything another person has they want, so they set out to get it. They use their grandiose image as part of their art of seduction in order to attract others to them for their exploitation. However, once they extract what they want from this person they lose respect for them, they are then soon discarded in a terrible fashion, often ruining their reputation in the process. The truth is that narcissists have little or no self-esteem or self-worth of their own (no such ego functions), in fact their boasting implicitly implies a serious lack of self-worth. Boasting has many advantages for the narcissist; to start with, it acts as a defense mechanism against feeling inferior. In order to mask their underlying feelings of inferiority, not just to the world, but to their own self, the narcissist has to maintain their image of superiority, and boasting helps them do that. When you are in their favour, then you will have to be prepared to endure a pretty much one-sided relationship, where they are the constant topic of conversation, with their “I”, “me”, “my” and “mine”. If you do manage to talk about yourself, you will soon see them become bored and impatient with the conversation, and somehow the conversation switches back to them, and once again they are in the limelight.
St. Paul says: Proud
Psychology says: The narcissist’s inflated pride convinces them that they are superior to everybody else. In such a place of pridefulness, the narcissist is overly sensitive to any form of actual or perceived criticism that could threaten their self-image and cause them shame. They will react harshly and haughtily to anybody who dares to threaten their false self and magical thinking; therefore, threats will not be tolerated for an instant. As the narcissist is always right in their own mind, they will judge anybody in opposition to them immediately as being inferior to them, and therefore deserving of their rage and retribution for daring to attack or humiliation them.
St. Paul says: Blasphemers
Psychology says: Narcissists cannot handle being upstaged in any way; you must not be seen to be more powerful, more successful, more beautiful, more intelligent, in fact “more” anything. To do so renders you to becoming the narcissist’s arch enemy, an instant rival to be spoken of in an irreverent or impious manner. Narcissists are masters at using character assassination as a subtle railing tactic to undermine anybody who poses as a threat to their fragile self. Preoccupied with living in their fantasy of power and brilliance, their fragile ego is easily offended, and can often find offense where none is intended. Whether the threat is real or imagined, the aggressive, attacking and abusive narcissist will retaliate by setting out to expose and destroy any person who poses as a threat, and he will do it in any way possible; defame the person with lies and gossip without conscience, then happily by proxy, where they use others to become unwitting character assassins for them. Many narcissists operate through a “God Complex” that is so arrogant that they consider themselves as living Gods, and more than that, they are a god that does not submit to any mere mortal.
St. Paul says: Disobedient to parents
Psychology says: In the context of the Bible, the parent represents “authority”. The narcissist does not bow to any authority; they see life in terms of self-entitlement in the pursuit of serving their own needs. For that reason, their inner drive is not driven by community values, actually they sneer at them. They do not respect an authority which endeavors to constrain them and make them accountable for their actions; on the contrary, they prefer to live by their own flexible laws and rules of engagement where they are the “authority”. They dedicate their waking time to the constant pursuit of acquiring their own personal authority, and this can be achieved by any means available to them: through their immediate family, the workplace, friends, colleagues, peers etc. Indeed, any type of relationship that guarantees their flow of Narcissistic Supply will suffice, and in the procurement of their much needed supply, the narcissist will gladly misuse their authority in order to reach their goal. Furthermore, the narcissist sees themself as a guru, and therefore is inclined to encourage a personality cult following from all their relationships. Then like all cult leaders, they demand total obedience and control over their dominion.
St. Paul says: Unthankful
Psychology says: Because of their immense sense and expectation of superior entitlement, narcissists are ungrateful and unthankful for whatever they have been given in life. Because they regard themselves as “special”, they seriously believe that they are entitled to have whatever they are given. Generally, with such an exaggerated sense of self-importance, their actual levels of achievements are not in accord with their fantasy. Because the narcissist is addicted to excessive amounts of admiration, they come to expect preferential treatment when dealing with others. In short, they live in a world of fantasy, a world in which they are brilliant, powerful, and successful in every way imaginable. They expect people to dance around them, so why should they be thankful for anything; actually, it is others who should be thankful to be in the service of such resplendence. If one is silly enough to tell them that they are “ungrateful”, they will defend their right to their entitlement to the very end. They will be outraged by your criticism, and they will insist on a full repayment from you before they will ever consider forgiving you, and if they don’t get it, they will hold a grudge on principle, their need for revenge will be high, and you are likely to be alienated.
St. Paul says: Unholy
Psychology says: The purpose of all human life is to become “Holy”, holy means to become “whole”. When we are whole, we are grounded in a sense of our True Self, and the interconnectedness with all that is sacred. That interconnectedness is directed by the natural laws of love, wisdom, reverence, and compassion, where we can be other centered. Narcissists, on the other hand, are solitary beings who are grounded in a False Self that renders them addicted to their own self-centeredness. Focused only on their own needs and wants, they become “unholy” predators cut off from all life (secular and sacred). They are at the centre of their universe, with little or no moral code they become intent on violating everything in their sights in order to get their needs met. In doing so they have no consideration for any damage they cause to others. It is such evil intent that becomes the dualistic opposite of good, rendering the narcissist unholy.
St. Paul says: Unloving
Psychology says: Ego Psychology uses the term “Narcissism” to describe someone who is self-centered, and in love with their own image (as in the myth of Narcissus). Narcissists, by and large, grow up feeling unloved and abandoned. Without experiencing the mirroring of love from another, they lack the ability to love others, or even themselves. Freud spoke of “primary narcissism” as a necessary stage of infant development. He theorized that before a child could love others, it must first learn to love itself. A child devoid of love experiences intolerable painful feelings. In order to survive, they cut-off from these painful feelings and develop an idealized false-self mask that camouflages their suppressed inner feelings of being defective and unlovable. Suspicious and fearful of their own disowned feelings, they then become suspicious of any displays of affection toward them. They interpret these displays of feelings by others as a sign of weakness. This weakness in others then becomes a tool for the narcissist to exploit and manipulate for self-gain. While cut off from their true feelings, they fail to develop true empathy for others. As a result, any so-called love relationship the narcissist develops lacks true warmth of affection for the other person; rather it is a relationship that is totally focused on the narcissist’s self-gain and self-worship.
St. Paul says: Unforgiving
Psychology says: Due to their magical thinking, the narcissist False Self utterly believes that they are unique, omnipotent (all powerful), omniscient (all knowing), in short, perfect in every way. Because they strive for perfection, they cannot face their own shortcomings without it triggering personal shame, and shame causes them to experience narcissistic injury (a threat to self-esteem and self-worth). Their response to narcissistic injury is to invariably fly into a narcissistic rage (Kohut), their rage is a direct reaction to a perceived slight, insult, criticism, or disagreement. So, anybody who dares to humiliate or reject them in any way (whether it be real or imagined) will not be forgiven, and the narcissist will develop an obsessive need for revenge against that person. You may think that you are offering them constructive criticism in a manner that may be helpful to them, but this will not be decoded as being helpful to the narcissist, but rather as a threatening act against them. When they feel threatened, they feel like a caged animal, and this is sure to illicit an emotional volatile response from them. In their effort to build their damaged ego and escape from their intolerable narcissistic injury, the narcissist takes flight into an escape plan that involves powerful destructiveness. For such a transgression their escape plan involves punishing you, bringing you down and devaluing you without any mercy…….metaphorically “killing you off”, as it were.
St. Paul says: Slanderers
Psychology says: Narcissists build an inner shrine to themselves where they self-aggrandize to an extraordinary degree so that they can feel intrinsically superior to all others. Of course, their highly inflated view of themselves is an illusory false self (a pathological ego) that becomes the basis for all future misinterpretations of their reality. Their feelings of being superior in every way to everybody, becomes the source of much pain and envy for them whenever they feel outshined by anybody.
Pathological envy and jealousy is an integral part of narcissism (envy is a desire for what another person has, while jealousy is the fear that something can be taken away). Narcissists are envious of anything in others that they lack in themselves (i.e., beauty, possessions, knowledge, personal qualities, power, skills, achievements, qualifications, relationships, money etc. Their envy consumes them, and the list of their covetousness (“I want, I want”) is endless. Envy is a normal human feeling which can range from mild to severe, from healthy to unhealthy, from positive to negative. For example, “healthy envy” has positive qualities. Healthy envy acts as a valuable guide for your heart, leading you in the direction of what your soul requires, so in effect, the thing you desire acts as a mirror for personal growth. For example, if you envy the knowledge of your tutor in college, perhaps there is a part of your soul that yearns to become a teacher, or to be in a position where you can impart knowledge. Healthy envy is empowering because it brings you nearer to your life’s goal. Whereas unhealthy envy is disempowering because it keeps you bound to a fantasy, making you blind to your own true nature. Because the narcissist acts out of a False Self, they suffer from a twisted heart, leaving them at the mercy of their “unhealthy envy”, and envy that can trigger their feelings of vulnerability, shame, and self-loathing at any moment. Any of these feelings can result in narcissistic injury, to which the narcissist invariably reacts to with rage. In order to rid themselves of such emotional turmoil and recover their equilibrium, the narcissist projects those intolerable feelings outward onto the person of their envy. Once you become the object of the narcissist’s envy you are in serious trouble. In order to improve their own self-image, they are likely to do a character assassination on you. This is not innocent gossip, rather it is an intentional and premeditated smear campaign of “projection and smearing” that is aimed at maligning you in order to tarnish your reputation and make them feel better about themselves. Be warned, they are cold, ruthless, and self-serving, and by the way, they take no prisoners.
St. Paul says: Without self-control
Psychology says: When we speak of the narcissist in relation to “control”, we find we are dealing with a paradox that is somewhat ironic. In truth, most people would consider narcissists to be “control freaks”, when the fact is they are constantly under the threat of losing self-control. Due to some circumstances in their childhood, the narcissist would have experienced a loss of control that would have a devastating effect to their sense of self. With a poor sense of self, they are left feeling very unsafe in all areas of life. The consequences of feeling so out of control, is that they as adults seek to dominate each and every interaction they have, whether it be with an individual or within a group, whether it be in the home, the workplace, or in social settings. This need to control makes them feel powerful. However, their power is not “power with”, but rather “power over”, and this becomes their springboard to verbal and emotional abuse in all their relationships. For the narcissist, power and control go hand in hand. Strangely enough, they see themselves as masters of power and control, however nothing is further from the truth. In reality the narcissist uses acts of control as a major defense against ALL that appears hostile in their eyes. Control is just one of their obsessive multi-addictions in an organized energy-system that they use to insulate their fragile ego from narcissistic injury, to counterbalance their mental peculiarity in their interpersonal connection with others, and to shield them from their constant feelings of inadequacy and worthlessness.
At first glance the narcissist appears to the unsuspecting onlooker as being full of self-control; they come across as charismatic, educated, confident, charming, and sociable. However, whenever the narcissist shows an interest in someone, it is not as innocent as it first appears. Because of their obsessive need for attention, the narcissist is on the constant lookout for the narcissistic supply that they crave. They are really good at making themselves appear attractive to others, they are willing to invest a great deal of energy in the beginning of any relationship so that the person feels safe and secure with them. What the unsuspecting victim does not realize is that they are being enticed to become a source of supply that the narcissist can control and manipulate. When this is achieved, the narcissist feels empowered and in control of everything within their sphere of influence (i.e., the where, the when, the why etc.).
St. Paul says: Despisers of good
Psychology says: Most of mankind is motivated by self-interest, however most can exercise impulse control due to their personal core values. Narcissists on the other hand appear to be disconnected from their personal feelings, therefore lacking a personal value system. This lacking of a value system leads also to a lack of integrity, empathy and a social conscience. Operating from a primary impulse drive of self-interest, they rationalize that morally wrong actions are justifiable where self-glorification is the end goal. Bankrupt of moral obligation, their grandiose sense of entitlement is free to conclude that the world owes them everything, and that rules that apply to everybody else do not apply to them. They are lovers of good, but only when that good applies to them, because they are really true lovers of self. They resent “do gooders” as they trigger their shame. Of course they will deny this, even to themselves, as they boast that they are moral, and lovers of the common good. Their evil behaviour is a direct result of their “lack of the good”, and they will have no moral consciousness about lying about their so-called compassionate, righteous, and generous nature, all of which is a deceptive camouflage.
St. Paul says: Traitors
Psychology says: A traitor is one who betrays another’s trust. So, in what way does a narcissist betray trust? Narcissists are not interested in authentic relationships, that is why they betray people constantly. However, they do need people to boost their fragile ego, that is why they are always on the lookout for their narcissistic supply. Once a narcissist identifies a person as their potential supply, they will be stalked as prey by their predator. Once the hunt commences, then every trick at seduction will be engaged until the person is truly hooked. Once a victim is hooked, they are seen as fair game for total exploitation. Phase one is called the initial “Idealization Stage”, the narcissist puts on their “best face” in order to mould their victim into a symbiotic relationship with them as their narcissistic supply. If their potential prey is part of a group, they will target them in such a way until they manage to separate them from all protective friends. For a while the narcissist will shower them with attention in their bid to glean all knowledge about them, their value system, their vulnerability, their interests, their needs and wants. They will then feign those same common interests in such a way that the unsuspecting victim believes that they have found their soulmate, someone who understands them fully. The victim mistakes what is happening in the relationship as friendship, rather than being a victim who is being used to provide the narcissist with something that they lack. When the narcissist has what they want, they will move into The Devaluation Stage: Almost overnight the narcissist becomes decisively cold and uncaring. The victim’s fall from grace is a hard one, they cannot seem to do anything right anymore; the narcissist’s loving words turn to criticism, everything the victim tries ends in a negative effect, and they find themselves devalued at every turn. Totally confused, the victim has no idea what is happening, and they become increasingly stressed, unhappy, and depressed with the situation. The narcissist “gaslighting behaviour” has reached its peak, and they despise who their supply person has become (weak and worthlessly inferior). Having been devoured, the victim’s utility is exhausted, and the game enters into The Discarding Phase: Once this happens, the narcissist ardor for the game has dampened, in their eyes they have already won the contest, and the fun is over, and they go in for the kill without any remorse. By this time, the narcissist is totally indifferent to any needs or wishes that the victim may have, in effect they no longer exist in their mind. Not so for the victim, they are left confused and raw with emotion, and are eager to find solutions in order to “fix” the dying relationship. It is this behaviour of setting out to find a victim to use, abuse, then annihilate that makes the narcissist such a traitor.
St. Paul says: Headstrong
Psychology says: A person who is headstrong is one that is determined to have their own way, and often this is achieved through willfulness and obstinacy. Headstrong types are not easily restrained; they are ungovernable, obstinate, and stubborn. Narcissists are driven by this type of impulsiveness, even though they do their best to hide behind a facade that helps them to look like they have a self that is controlled and micromanaged. Truth is that their headstrong nature is neither controlled nor well managed. The narcissist lives in their heads, and their headstrong attribute can be detected in their magnetic eyes, which can be seductive one minute (when they want to get their way), or a raging monster the next (when they feel thwarted in reaching their goal). All narcissists have an inordinate fascination with themselves, and they expect this also of their narcissistic supply. So, any act of opposition against them, whether it is real or imagined, is likely to make them become violent, obstinate, ungovernable, intractable, stubborn, unruly, and vengeful.
St. Paul says: Haughty
Psychology says: To be haughty means to act with blatant arrogance or disdainful pride. The narcissist displays all these characteristics in that they consider themselves to be better, more superior than those around them. The haughty narcissist basically has an overall attitude that causes them to scorn others, to see them as inferior, by so doing they set themselves above everybody else. This puts them at the centre of the Universe, with everything revolving around them. They have little or no concern for anybody else, preferring to live by their own rules. It is such pride that often brings them down with the law. Without humility of heart the narcissist has no proper perspective beyond himself. Their haughtiness gives way to grandiosity, an overwhelming need for admiration and entitlement, impaired ability to have empathy towards others, and a lack of commitment to others.
Christine Louis de Canonville:
Psychotherapist, Educator, Author and Supervisor of mental health professionals for over 28 years