The unhappy narcissist

Yesterday I wrote about the happy narcissist. We can assume that narcissists will be happy people, so caught up in the wonder of their own beauty and brilliance and enjoying the good things that come their way. However, not all narcissists are happy. Indeed, yesterday we saw that they are not truly happy because true joy is found in love from and love for God.

Furthermore, if we assume that the narcissist will be marked out by arrogant, entitled pride then we may miss a lot of narcissists because they don’t present as happy or confident.  Yesterday I talked about how theologians like Augustine described pride as “love turned in on itself.” I will never forget the day when Mike Ovey pointed out in a lecture that this meant that self-pity far from being the opposite of pride was of the same root. Self-pity is another way in which love turns in on itself.

If pride expresses that self-love in terms of “look at how wonderful I am and how deserving of praise and prizes” pity expresses it as “look at how hard things are for me, how unfair life is and how I need, deserve even your pity concern and help.”

Some people seek attention by using their power, authority and charisma in order to draw the affection of others.  Others seek attention, power and control by becoming dependent. Indeed, we often see co-dependency arise out of relationships between two such people. They feed off of each other.

This seeking of pity can become incredibly manipulative.  It sucks away at joy. How can anyone else be happy when I am not? How can you enjoy life when mine is miserable?  It of course is another form of entitlement. The person believes that everything that has gone wrong for them is the fault of others and therefore they not only need help but deserve it as compensation for what has been done to them. At its extreme it can be expressed as a form of paranoia where the person believes that everything which goes wrong for them is caused by others including spiritual forces. 

Now yesterday I was at pains to clarify that simply being confident or charismatic is not in and of itself evidence of narcissism. So we need to be clear here too. I recognise that there is a risk in saying what I’m saying here.  You see, a lot of people will be reading this who have experienced significant pain and suffering. Some of you will have been physically, emotionally and spiritually battered. Some of you will know the feeling of being floored and then kicked when you are down. This will have left you hurt and helpless and unable to see hope. It will have destroyed your confidence and it will have robbed you of joy.  At the moment you are very much in need of help, love, encouragement and healing.

So please don’t hear me as addressing you if you are in that situation. Although we all need to heed warnings about where the enemy will seek an opening to get in to attack and to tempt.  We all are at risk of this in different ways. 

So how do we help in such a situation where this form of narcissism is at work.  I think the answer is on one level very simple -although perhaps hard to put into practice. I don’t give the attention that they crave but I do give the love and compassion that they need.  Giving attention means getting drawn into the agenda and the false, harmful narrative. It means giving credibility to lies that someone has heard and learnt to believe about themselves. So I should not give tht because it is harmful to them.

But this does not and must not mean that I withhold love. Scripture says that this is the one debt that I can never fulfil and so I must keep on meeting it.  I can continue to care for someone, to treat them with respect, to help them when there is a genuine need, to encourage them in God’s word, in godliness and gifting. I can keep praying for them.  And I can keep doing that even when my love isn’t recognised or acknowledged.