It’s not too difficult to spot a narcissist. They are the ones who believe that the world revolves around them. They have an excessively high view of their own importance and abilities. Now, to be clear narcissism should not be confused with confidence. It is possible to have a natural confidence and awareness of your abilities whilst recognising your limitations. In fact such confidence is important in leaders.
So, if you went for a promotion at work and the position was given to someone else then believing that it went to the wrong person and you were right for the job does not make you a narcissist. If you think that given your skills, qualifications, training and experience you were the best person for the role then that may well be a legitimate and sober judgement. However, if you believe that you could do a better job than anyone and that there will never be anyone with better skills, qualifications and experiences for a role then chances are that you might be showing some narcissistic tendencies.
We are talking here about selfishness and pride. Theologians have often talked about this in terms of “self-love” or “love turned in on itself.” I’ve often talked about how our culture is itself increasingly narcissistic. This struck home forcibly a few years back when visiting the Louvre. There I saw a tourist standing among the amazing art and artefacts with their camera but they weren’t photographing the building or its exhibits nor even their friends as they toured the museum. Their camera like most of ours today was in selfie mode. Literally, they had turned the camera in on itself.
The term narcissism comes from Greek mythology. Narcissus was a god who rejected the love of another goddess, falling in love with himself he fell in lost himself in his own reflection. The story is a tragedy. Not realising that the reflection was himself he pined away after this unreachable beauty until he killed himself. Self-love, narcissistic arrogance, pride and selfishness is dangerous and destructive.
Narcissism goes against the two greatest commandments. We are to love God with our whole heart and our neighbour as or rather than ourselves. If I’m self-occupied, if love is turned in on itself then I cannot see the beauty and glory of God. I cannot love him as I should. Nor can I have a deep, compassionate love for others.
The narcissist may seem happy, confident and strong but in fact they are not. They are deeply unhappy at heart. They lack the source of true joy. Often their need to love themselves points to a lack of love received or awareness of it. I recently heard something sad about someone. The comment was that “They never gave us chance to love them.” The reason was that this person had such a sense of entitlement that they expected things to be done for them, needs to be met and qualities to be praised. They were so quick to demand loyalty, praise and provision that they never got to experience those things given spontaneously and voluntarily. Narcissism suggests a lack of awareness and enjoyment of God’s love.
Narcissists are a danger to others and can become controlling, bullying and abusive in leadership. There’s been a lot of focus in recent times on narcissistic leaders and the damage they do. Some of the horrendous examples of physical, emotional and spiritual abuse that we have seen arise out of narcissism. However, we should also be concerned for the narcissist and the danger they are to themselves. They need the saviour to step in to forgive them their selfishness and to remove their pride. They need to experience the unconditional inexhaustible love of God in order that they may find strength to truly love him and love others.