By Herschel E. Patton
What is it? A disease? Do I have it? Is it fatal? Curable? Yes, it is a disease (spiritual). Yes, you have it – you were born with it, and yes, it is fatal if untreated. It can, however, be successfully treated. Narcissism is defined as “concern for self, feel good about self, erotic feeling aroused by one’s own body and personality” (Webster).
The word has it’s origin in Greek mythology. “Narcissus, in Greek Mythology, the handsome son of the river god, Cephissus and the Nymph, Liriope. He rejected the love of Echo and was punished by Nemesis; being compelled to fall in love with his own reflection in a pool of water. He pined away until he was transformed into the flower of the same name. The Narcissus was considered the symbol of premature death . . .” (Funk & Wagnall’s Encyclopedia).
Dr. Aaron Stern, a noted Psychoanalyst, has written a book entitled ME, The Narcissistic American, in which he writes of this inborn trait, basically the love of self, and its destructiveness. He points out that the baby is born narcissistic, concerned only with self, caring not whom he awakens in the middle of the night or displacing other siblings in the family, for his own desires. Dr. Stern says that unless the child is disciplined to think of others, it is headed for a life of misery and destruction. The doctor continues, “When narcissism is for survival, as with the infant and the founding of a country, it is not as destructive as when one is established, successful, and affluent; that no nation has survived success and the guest for immediate satisfaction.” He mentions the fall of ancient Rome as an example.
Diagnosis And Treatment
The treatment for this destructive, inborn, disease, Dr. Stern says, is in learning self-discipline, self-denial; in learning to love others. He says “too much narcissism causes one to loose the capacity to love others and other things. The more you love and do for others the less narcissist you are.”
Dr. Stern, of course, is right in his diagnosis and needed treatment, but his suggested treatment of this disease is from a social base only. Like so many psychologists, Dr. Stern is an evolutionist and does not believe in God. To treat this destructive disease, he would “program” people, as you would a dog, to deny self-expression, to avoid pain or displeasure, and to receive a greater reward. Society, what it accepts or rejects, would be the basis for determining one’s actions. If society accepts living together without marriage, homosexuality, lesbianism, and incest, there would be no need for restraint of desires, but if society rejected such life-styles, inflicting censure and punishment, then you would be happier and more content to deny self in consideration of others. Continual censure, rejection, and pain from others as one bumps into them in pursuit of personal desires will cause emotional disturbances, leading to physical illness, says the doctor.
While the consequences of being narcissistic and practicing self-denial in preference to others are, indeed, as Dr. Stern points out, what he fails to recognize is the fact that some actions are wrong in themselves, that they should be abstained from for soul preservation, and that a society free from “hang-ups,” as some are want to say, is itself a narcissistic society “gone to seed,” like the ancient Rome – destroyed because of this. There can be no successful treatment of this disease apart from God and His Word.
Is It In The Bible
Really, Dr. Stern has discovered and written about nothing new. This disease, narcissism, its origin, nature, consequences, and remedy is revealed in the Bible, only it is called “selfishness,” “self-love,” “self-willed.”
Jesus warned of those “who trusted in themselves that they were righteous” (Luke 18:9). The Holy Spirit warned of men who were “lovers of their own selves” (2 Tim. 3:2). The apostle Paul warned “every man not to think of himself more highly than he ought to think” (Rom. 12:3), and exorted the Galatians to “bear ye one another’s burdens, and so fulfill the law of Christ. For if a man think himself to be something, when he is nothing, he deceiveth himself” (Gal. 6:2-3).
The self-willed, humanistic course of the Gentile world is thus described by the apostle Paul, “Because that, when they knew God, they glorified him not as God, neither were they thankful; but became vain in their imaginations, and their foolish heart was darkened. Professing themselves to be wise, they became fools . . . changed the glory of the uncorruptible God into an image . . . changed the truth of God into a lie . . . changed the natural use (of women and men) into that which is against nature . . .” (Rom. 1:21-32).
It was this conflict between narcissism and enlightment (knowledge) that Paul personified in Rom. 7:14-25. “For we know that the law is spiritual: but I am carnal, sold under sin, for that which I do I allow not: for what I would, that do I not; but what I hate, that do I . . . . For I know that in me (that is, in my flesh,) dwelleth no good thing: for to will is present with me; but how to perform that which is good I find not. For the good that I would I do not: but the evil which I would not, that I do . . . I find then a law, that, when I would do good, evil is present with me . . . O wretched man that I am! who shall deliver me from the body of this death? I thank God through Jesus Christ our Lord.”
Notice, Paul does not say that the cure (deliverance) is through programing in self-restraint by the evaluation of pain and rewards from society, but in Jesus Christ our Lord. The apostle does present the results of each course as an incentive for making the right choice, taking the right action. “For they that are after the flesh do mind the things of the flesh; but they that are after the Spirit the things of the Spirit. For to be carnally minded is death; but to be spiritually minded is life and peace” (Rom. 8:5-6). The Bible remedy is “love the Lord thy God” supremely, involving the submission of one’s own will to the Lord’s will. This results in forgiveness and leadership that guarantees happiness.
Evils Of Narcissism
Narcissism is the basis for false (vain) religion. “But in vain they do worship me, teaching for doctrines the commandments of men” (Matt. 15:13). False teachers “walk after the flesh in the lust of uncleanness”, and “presumptuous” and “self-willed” (2 Pet. 2:2, 10). Their narcissistic hearers “will not endure sound doctrine; but after their own lusts shall they heap to themselves teachers, having itching ears” and are “turned away from truth to fables” (2 Tim. 4:3-4). Every religious faith or practice not found in Scripture (The Faith) is a result of and manifestation of destructive narcissism. No wonder God demands that preachers and -elders not be “self-willed” (Tit. 1:7)!
Atheistic thinking says that the cure here is to develop love for others, their right to worship in their own way, and acquiesce in every religion. This may remove the conflict in society, but true religion is not society founded; it is of God. Even if society becomes ecumenical through acquiescence, the Lord still says “every plant which my heavenly Father hath not planted shall be rooted up” (Matt. 15:13).
Narcissism is behind the demise of many fundamental moral standards and institutions. It has become a designated philosophy – even a religion (so recognized by the U.S. Supreme Court) known as “Humanism.” The Bible designation of this disease “selfishness,” “self-willed”; its warnings and condemnation keep many from looking favorably toward its advocates and participants, so a new name or title is coined. Giving an evil deed a name or title free from stigma (e.g. sickness, self-awareness, my own person, etc.) is one of the devil’s “cunning devices.” Humanism, narcissism, selfishness, self-centered, self-willed are all one and the same. It is a sure road to destruction, physically and spiritually, a disease that every one has-from birth; but is treatable so that its destructiveness can be averted. Indeed, the treatment is self-restraint and love for others, but one doesn’t have to visit a psychoanalyst or even pay $8.95 for Dr. Stern’s book to learn this. The Lord and His Word (The Bible) is the best treatment for narcissism available. Nowhere are the dangers and destructiveness of “self-esteem” pointed out more clearly than in the Scriptures.
The Lord’s Remedy
It was the Lord, centuries ago, who emphasized love as the antidote for this evil. When Jesus was asked what is the great commandment in the law, he replied, “Thou shalt love the Lord thy God with all thy heart, and with all thy soul, and with all thy mind. This is the first and great commandment. And the second is like unto it, Thou shalt love thy neighbor as thyself” (Matt. 22:36-39). Loving God supremely will result in submitting self to His will, which is always right and best for us. Loving our neighbor as our self will result in thoughts and actions for him instead of for self only. Truly, here is the antidote for narcissism.
Loving the Lord supremely, humbling ourselves before Him, is always for our happiness and welfare, for He only is all wise, powerful, and knowing, using these attributes for us because He, Himself, is love. God never demands anything of man, or leads in a way, but what is for man’s own good. He is the greatest example of love for man, acting for others, that has ever been. Read Jn. 3:16; Rom. 5:5-8; Jn. 15:13.
Submitting ourselves unreservedly to Him is essential to our having the salvation and contentment which He provides and promises. Jesus said, “Come unto me . . and I will give you rest” (Matt. 11:28); “If any man will come after me, let him deny himself, and take up his cross, and follow me” (Matt. 16:24). The Holy Spirit says, “Humble yourselves in the sight of the Lord, and he shall lift you up” (Jas. 4:10); “God resisteth the proud, but giveth grace unto the humble” (Jas. 4:6). When we can say for our lives as Jesus did concerning His passion, “not my will, but thy will be done,” and thus act, damning narcissism will be under control.
His will also directs us to love our neighbor, or others. “Let nothing be done through strife or vainglory; but in lowliness of mind let each esteem other better than themselves. Look not every man on his own things, but every man also on.the things of others. Let this mind be in you, which was also in Christ Jesus: who, being in the form of God, thought it not robbery to be equal with God: but made himself of no reputation, and took upon him the form of a servant, and was made in the likeness of man: and being found in fashion as a man, he humbled himself, and became obedient unto death, even the death of the cross” (Phil. 2:3-8).
Psychiatry properly lists restricting self out of love for one another as proper treatment for the destroying disease of narcissism, but this is treatment only for society – this life. Unless love for God is included, the spiritual hurt and loss is left unchecked and even the social treatment become extremely difficult.
To what extent are you plagued with narcissism? Take a test!
|1. Do you have faith in the omnipotent God of creation?|
|2. Do you believe the Bible to be His complete, inerrant, revealed Word?|
|3. Is your every religious act scripturally authorized?|
|4. Are you willing for your religious faith and practice to be tested by Scripture?|
|5. Is your chief aim in marriage to give satisfaction rather than to receive it?|
|6. Are you concerned about how your actions are regarded by others or affects them?|
|7. In temporal matters, are you willing not to have your way without complaining or criticizing?|
|8. Are you able to rejoice in the success and achievements of others?|
Every “No” answer is indicative of narcissism. You have this disease and every “No” answers suggests “to what degree.” If you answer to question 1 and 2 is “No,” you are doomed. The disease is too far gone. Only the Lord, through conversion, can save you from complete and final destruction. If your answer to question 3 and 4 is “No,” the disease is far advanced. Only radical surgery will treat it. The number of other “No’s” indicate the extent of the disease in you. It will never arrest itself, but will continue to grow, unless properly and regularly treated. Untreated, it is always fatal, both here and in the hereafter.
Truth Magazine XXIV: 33, pp. 530, 538-539
August 21, 1980