Narcissism from a Biblical Standpoint
When I finally woke up to the insanity in which I lived for 30 years and decided to leave my abusive marriage to a minister, someone sent me an article on narcissism. I had never heard the word before, and certainly did not understand the meaning. The similarities between my husband and the article were eye-opening to say the least. In fact, he could have been the poster child for narcissism. And since hearing stories from other women in similar situations, the common thread in most abuse cases in the church is extreme narcissistic personality traits. Complicating matters further, legalistic views of scripture and manipulation of biblical principles tend to make the abuser think they have certain “rights” granted to them by God, leaving the victim feeling hopeless and helpless.
I heard from a therapist that had dealt with narcissism that there is almost no hope for treatment or repentance for the narcissist. And I just couldn’t accept that. After all, can’t God empower a person to overcome any sin, and doesn’t Jesus’ blood and grace reach even the most degenerate of sinners? And at this very moment, my answer would absolutely be YES! But here’s the thing. Repentance and grace have to be recognized in the heart of the sinner. One has to evaluate the twisted condition of their heart and realize their utter nothingness to see the need for repentance and cry out for the grace of the Savior. Therein lies the problem. The narcissists’ extreme grandiose view of themselves and the recognition of how sick they really are become two polar extremes.
In my case, my husband would be “sorry” for INCIDENTS. He would not be sorry for who he was. Huge difference. Oh yes, he could cry and profusely proclaim his repentance. But it was always followed with BUT. Things like, “But with everything I’ve been through…;” or “I’ve just suffered so much for Jesus. That’s why…;” or “But you did this or that…” Many times he compared his sufferings or his “astounding” spiritual sacrifice to Old Testament prophets like Jeremiah or Elijah, or claimed that no one had been more committed to Jesus than he. His thought process was that because he was so sincere (or considered himself to be so), he was entitled. But he would never admit to that.
You see the picture: “I love Jesus so much. I’m so sincere. I can quote the Bible. My commitment to God is astounding. I sacrifice, therefore God owes me. Sincerity=entitlement. But because I’m sincere, I don’t claim entitlement. And even though I claim that I am nothing, I’m really entitled because I claim I am nothing.”
And if you are thoroughly confused right now, try living in it for 30 years.
It’s a mangled web of using God and His word to get what they want or to make the victim believe things that simply are not true because they can back them up with scripture. And the sad thing is, sometimes these narcissists don’t even realize they are doing it. My husband was so sickened with his own pride that he couldn’t recognize how prideful he really was. He was so entitled, that the sick nature of his actions were either, in his mind, approved by God or had a spiritual basis. His thoughts were, “Yes, perhaps I didn’t handle it right.” But after all, his motives were of the best intentions. Are you kidding me???? And you would be shocked how twisted it can all become, and what applications can be made when you are in that mindset. Excuses can be found for vilest offenses. Believe me, you don’t even want to go there. The memories make me cringe in disgust. That’s how he could physically, verbally, mentally, emotionally and spiritually abuse his son. Because he was “trying to raise him the ways of Jesus.” Or how he could manipulate his own mind into excusing the use of pornography at times because he had “sacrificed so much” since he “could have had a harem” and yet was trying to be “true to his marriage vows.” After all, we all know that pornography enhances the marriage relationship, right? So twisted.
And then this morning, I read a verse that I had never realized before. And it was astounding, and it came out of nowhere. It was the definition of narcissism in a nutshell straight out of the mouth of God. Psalm 36:2-“In their own eyes they flatter themselves too much to detect or hate their sin.” That’s a scary thought. But it answers so many questions. And now what the therapist said all those years ago makes sense. People can get to a point they are too proud to detect their sin. And if you can’t detect your sin, how can you truly repent?
I suppose that’s why the Bible says God hardened the heart of Pharoah. Pharoah’s narcissism ultimately caused his own destruction. And then in 1 Corinthians 5:5 Paul wrote this about the man involved in an incestuous relationship: “hand this man over to Satan for the destruction of the flesh, so that his spirit may be saved on the day of the Lord. ” My guess is that the man was sickeningly narcissistic, could not acknowledge his sin, and was in fact, excusing it. That’s why this trait is so dangerous. It blinds a person to his own faults, hindering true recognition of sin and subsequent repentance. And the strange thing is, many times the church is an enabling factor. The church in Corinth was actually proud of the incestuous man. Let that one sink in. How many times is the church enabling an narcissistic abuser? Many more times than we can count, I am finding.
I want to make it clear that I sit in judgement of no one. And God is the only one that knows the mind and heart of a man. But I also know that repentance brings forth fruit that can be recognized. So where that line is, only God knows. All I know is that I could no longer live in that insanity. It was toxic and the poison was influencing me in ways I didn’t even realize. And I have spent the years since leaving trying to allow Jesus to work on me to become spiritually healthy again. And in spite of all my flaws, I love Him more than ever because of His grace and mercy in my life.
Believe me, I know I am facing a mountain in trying to help others understand the issue of narcissism and abuse in the church I love, and where all of us who have been entangled in this mess are coming from. But this morning the verse in Psalms was more confirmation that even God himself records that it occurs, and that it is wrong. I must keep going. No matter the difficulty I face, I must keep going. I ask for your prayers.